Shannon: Hi, I’m Shannon Brewer. I’m an attorney with Hill & Ponton.
Mary: And I’m Mary Klements. I’m a Claims Advocate working for Hill & Ponton.
Shannon: So, something exciting happened yesterday in veterans’ law and we just wanted to kind of touch basis with you today and talk to you about what happened.
Shannon: Blue Water veterans have been working for a really long time now to try to get equal benefits with the other Vietnam veterans who … and to be entitled to all the same things they’re entitled to. And yesterday, the Federal Circuit Court in Washington, DC made a huge landmark decision that could really change things for Blue Water veterans. So, we just want to talk to you about that today and let you know what to expect and what’s happening.
Shannon: Mary, can you explain what the difference is between Blue Water, Brown Water, Boots on the Ground, what those terms mean?
Mary: Yeah. So, Boots on the Ground is veterans who actually landed in Vietnam and walked, like physically walked the terrain and were heavily involved with the vegetation and all the actual land mass.
Mary: The Brown Water veterans are veterans who may have been on ships but then they were sent up into the waterways on boats for whatever reason.
Mary: And then, Blue Water veterans are veterans who never actually went up the waterways or landed on ground and stayed on their ships several miles off land. They never actually set foot in Vietnam.
Shannon: Okay. And so the reason this is all important is because in, I think it was 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act and what that did was tell the VA that we’re gonna assume that anybody that was ever in the Republic of Vietnam, if they served in the Republic of Vietnam, you have to assume that they were exposed to Agent Orange.
Shannon: The VA comes along and they say, “Well, that makes sense for the Boots on the Ground veteran. They were there, they were exposed. That makes sense for the Brown Water veterans, they were in the rivers.” They drew a line and said the Blue Water veterans, this doesn’t make sense for.
Shannon: Now, the problem with that line has been, that line is arbitrary and they just drew this line and said, “We’re gonna go along the edges of these rivers and we’re gonna say, this is where the Brown Water stops,” which is obviously problematic since you can’t stop Agent Orange from continuing on down that river into the Blue Water.
Shannon: And there’s no way to know where that stops.
Shannon: So, the reason that matters is because once a veteran is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, they’re also going to be presumed when they come up with one of these disabilities that the VA recognizes as related to Agent Orange. Say, ischemic heart disease for example. The VA will also assume that that disability was caused by the Agent Orange exposure.
Shannon: So, if you can’t ever prove that you were ever exposed to Agent Orange, it becomes almost impossible to get service connected for those disabilities.
Shannon: Now, about 10 years ago, a case went to court to the Federal Circuit. It was called the Haas case. The Federal Circuit Court decided the VA had the right to draw that line. They were allowed to separate Blue Water from Brown Water to clarify what the Congress meant in the Agent Orange Act. What did they mean, the Republic of Vietnam?
Shannon: Ever since that time, we’ve been fighting where that line should be. Blue Water vets, excuse me, have been fighting where that line should be.
Shannon: So, we know the Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange in the air through their drinking water. They would pull that water in, take the salt out of it. They would come in close to the shore to do that and in doing that, pull that Agent Orange water and they weren’t filtering that out. They were not getting rid of the Agent Orange out of that water.
Shannon: So, we’ve known that they were exposed, but because they didn’t have that presumption, they haven’t been allowed to have the service connection. So, this new case, Procopio that came out yesterday, it decided that what Congress said in their 1991 Act was clear. They didn’t need the VA to clarify it for them. They said, Republic of Vietnam and when you look at history, when you look at what is included in Republic of Vietnam, what that term should mean, it’s pretty clear, at least to this Court that they included the water. They included the territorial seas, which is 12 miles out from the coast.
Shannon: So, at this point, the Court says, Congress was clear. VA never had a right to make that judgment. They never had a right to draw a line at all, no matter where that line was drawn.
Shannon: Things can still change. Decision’s not final. Came out yesterday. There are still things that are up in the air, but at this point, what this case does for our Blue Water veterans is to put into place a presumption that they were exposed to Agent Orange, which allows them to get service connection for their disabilities.