Blue Water Veterans & Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

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UPDATE: As of January 2020, Blue Water claims are being processed.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in certain cells, lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. Lymphocytes are in the lymph nodes and other lymphoid tissues, such as the spleen and bone marrow. There are multiple types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which are named according to the types of lymphocytes affected or the body part affected. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can exist in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, adenoids, tonsils, digestive tract, and bone marrow. Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can include:

In September of 1990, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report on the health effects of Agent Orange, particularly addressing Vietnam veterans’ risk of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This report ultimately led Congress to pass the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which added non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to the list of conditions that are presumed to be service-connected due to Agent Orange. By 1990, the VA had denied 1,600 disability claims for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with 200 cases pending. The granting of these claims was contingent on the veteran’s having served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, either on the ground or aboard a ship that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam.

The CDC study in 1990 observed six cancers present in the participants who had been selected for the study. The cancers included lymphoma (Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s), sarcoma, nasal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, and primary liver cancer. The purpose of the study was to determine the risk of Vietnam veterans in contracting any of the six cancers. The CDC chose those six cancers specifically because the published results of other studies suggested that they were associated with exposure to phenoxyherbicides—the most common of which being Agent Orange. Past studies previously conducted on this issue had focused on the association between cancer and exposure to herbicides; however, these studies produced inconsistent results. As the researchers explained, self-reported exposure to Agent Orange is not necessarily 100% accurate, especially since there is no real way of measuring or proving exactly how much a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange. So, instead, the CDC focused on the association between the cancers and Vietnam service.

What the researchers found was fascinating. The results of the study suggested that Vietnam veterans were found to have a roughly 50% increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—but the statistics were not what you would expect. What the results indicated was that the risk of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was not related to the known patterns of spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. In fact, the pattern of risk seemed to be the opposite of the pattern of use for Agent Orange in Vietnam. Accordingly, the estimated risk tended to be lower among Vietnam veterans who served in combat units on ground, in the Army, or in the Marine III Corps. Nor was there a greater risk associated with Vietnam veterans who served during the period of the heaviest spraying, between 1966 and 1969.

So who did have the highest risk of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? The Navy! And the astonishing part is that the high risk subgroup did not include Navy sailors who had sailed the inland waterways of Vietnam. Rather, the risk of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma tended to be higher among Navy veterans who were stationed on ships off the coasts of Vietnam. The researchers offered no explanation to this odd finding, but were very careful to explain in some detail their methodology in determining the irrelevance of multiple factors that could have contributed to this finding. In short, the study proved that the lack of direct exposure to Agent Orange does not necessarily rule out a veteran’s likelihood of contracting a cancerous condition.

For 25 years, Blue Water veterans—Navy veterans who served in the open waters of Vietnam—have had to watch as thousands of Vietnam veterans are awarded compensation benefits, while the Blue Water veterans get denied over and over because they did not serve on a ship that went into the inland waterways of Vietnam. Now, the new H.R. 969 bill in Congress reinforces the 1990 finding that Blue Water veterans are just as likely to suffer from the effects of Agent Orange as their compatriots on land.

UPDATE: As of January 2020, Blue Water claims are being processed.

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  • Thank you to the firm of Hill & Ponton!! Brian Hill and his staff were able to get my 100% disability with the VA for my exposure to herbicides in Thailand. I have been fighting for this for many years and kept getting denied, after consulting with Hill & Ponton I decided to let them help me and it was the best decision I could have made. I found their professionalism to be outstanding.

    – Chip P.

    North Carolina

  • They got my disability rating after I was denied twice. They knew exactly how to format and submit the claim. I was rated 50%, Hill & Ponton weren’t done, they found other medical that related to exposure and submitted additional claims. I could not have received a disability rating without Hill & Ponton. If you need help, choose Hill & Ponton.

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