Published in July 2019 | Updated in January 2020.
Nearly fifty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the fight to secure rights for thousands of “blue water” Navy veterans continues on. Earlier this summer, H.R. 299, a bill which extended the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides to veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam from January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975, was passed by both chambers of Congress. On June 25, 2019, the bill was signed into law, known as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The VA is now processing Blue Water claims starting in January 2020.
What Does the Blue Water Bill Do for Me?
The purpose of the act is to grant veterans who served within 12 nautical miles of the Republic of Vietnam within the Vietnam War era the same rights that were previously reserved only for veterans who were “boots on the ground” – i.e., physically present – on the Vietnam landmass. Those rights permit veterans with certain health conditions (such as type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, and respiratory cancer, among multiple other conditions) to be granted presumptive service connection for those diseases, which are known to be caused by Agent Orange and other herbicides which were heavily used in the Vietnam War.
The act also grants rights to children who were born with spinal bifida and whose parent was exposed to herbicides during service in Thailand between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975 – a presumption that was previously applicable only to children of veterans who served in Vietnam and Korea. It also allows for veterans who served in or near the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, the presumptions of herbicide exposure that are extended to Vietnam veterans. More information can be found on the VA’s website.
Why Is This Blue Water Bill Taking So Long?
There has been a great support for extending the presumptions of exposure for blue water veterans across all branches of government. Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a ruling in Procopio v. Wilkie which would extend the same presumptive rights to blue water veterans as other Vietnam veterans. Unfortunately, the VA itself has not embraced the widening of the presumptive class. On July 1, 2019, in response, the VA Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a stay of blue water veterans’ claims and existing appeals until January 2020. Secretary Wilkie has stated this delay is intended to allow the VA to properly allocate resources to blue water veterans’ pending claims and appeals. This may sound familiar – although the Federal Circuit’s ruling in Procopio was issued in January 2019, the VA has yet to implement the ruling in pending blue water veterans’ cases.
Despite public support, the Federal Circuit’s ruling, and now the enactment of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, veterans who have waited decades for their health conditions to be recognized are being asked to wait yet again. For many of these veterans, who suffer from serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer, time is limited. The men and women who incurred these conditions due to government use of dangerous herbicides during their service to the United States deserve the benefits to which they are legally entitled, and no amount of delay on the Secretary’s behalf can change that fact. For now, all blue water veteran and their advocates can do is wait to see how the agency decides to implement these new rules – something with which these veterans are unfortunately all too familiar by now.
What Can I Do Now?
If you have been denied Agent Orange-related benefits whether it’s Blue Water status, Brown Water, or boots on the ground, contact us here! Our VA accredited attorneys specialize in disability and have been fighting the VA for decades. You served our country now let us serve you.