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Court Rules Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Eligible for Agent Orange Benefits

As related legislation is being debated, veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam War won a significant court victory in their effort to secure Agent Orange benefits. Known as “blue water” vets — to distinguish them from “brown water” personnel who served on inland watercraft — these individuals were previously denied compensation related to the toxic defoliant. The Department of Veterans Affairs had refused to give sailors who didn’t reach the coastline a presumption that they were exposed to the dangerous substance.

In a 9-2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that the law Congress passed to provide disability payments for Agent Orange-related claims was not meant to exclude blue water veterans. The panel ruled that “Republic of Vietnam (aka South Vietnam),” as used in the statute, includes its 12-nautical-mile territorial sea in addition to its landmass. It’s estimated that this could affect up to 90,000 exposed veterans, who should understand such relevant issues as:

  • Proof of exposure — Under the old rule, someone serving on a ship off the coast of Vietnam would receive medical treatment from the VA but no disability compensation unless it could be proved that the individual was exposed directly to Agent Orange. Now, the contact would be presumed if a blue water claimant contracts a disease related to the substance.
  • Related conditions — Some types of cancer and other conditions are referred to as “presumptive diseases” for men and women who served in the Vietnam War. Named diseases include chronic B-cell leukemia, multiple myeloma, type 2 diabetes mellitus, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Proposed legislation — Recently, an effort was made in Congress to clarify the statutory language to include the blue water vets. Depending on how this case proceeds, that might not be necessary any longer.

The VA has the ability to appeal to the Supreme Court, but some congressional leaders are encouraging the department to let the decision stand. After decades of having to wait, blue water vets should take quick action to make their Agent Orange disability claims, no matter what the final result of the litigation might be.

Navy and Coast Guard Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam and Exposure to Herbicide Agents November 2, 2018 (PDF)

Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban advocates for veterans of the Vietnam War and other conflicts who have suffered a disability related to their military service. For assistance with Agent Orange claims and other actions, please call 866-866-VETS or contact us online to make an appointment for a free initial consultation. Our offices are in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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