Blue Water Navy Agent Orange Update
In the past year, a lot has changed for U.S. Navy Veterans who served during the Vietnam War era and did not go ashore in Vietnam or into the inland waterways / rivers (brown waters) of Vietnam. These sailors, known as Blue Water sailors have been denied VA benefits due to Agent Orange exposure for many years by the Department of Veterans Affairs, but now the law has recognized that anyone who served within 12 nautical miles in the territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam was likely exposed to Agent Orange and is, then, entitled to service connection for those diseases known to be caused by that exposure. This change in the law by Congress will lead to grants of service connection for many Veterans, but it’s important to know how to get those disability benefits. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act says:
Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans must have served within 12 nautical miles
Start this process by figuring out where you served. It’s been many years, and not everyone remembers exactly where their Navy ship was if they even knew at the time. A little internet research, however, can tell you when your ship was in or near the waters of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the VA has not made a ship list available to the public. We reached out to Blue Water Navy expert Ed Ball, Director of Research of MVA & BWNA, who has and continues to work on compiling over 1,700 Blue Water ship deck logs since 2016 and he had an important observation ” The Navy and Coast Guard Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam and Exposure to Herbicide Agents, aka ‘the ship list,’ previously used by all claims processors to concede qualifying service, is now restricted to the Records Research Team and designated legacy appeals personnel”. Because of this, our team has been hard at work putting together an interactive map tool using research such as Mr. Ball’s. You can request the deck logs for your ship and find out latitudes and longitudes and input them into our interactive map to find out if and when your ship was within the 12-mile limits. If your ship was in the right place while you were aboard, VA will concede that you were exposed to Agent Orange.
Blue Water Navy Veterans Must Have A Current Agent Orange-related disability
VA has also conceded that certain diseases are caused by Agent Orange exposure. Exposure alone is not sufficient to qualify for benefits, but if you have been diagnosed with one of the presumptive conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, or one of a number of cancers, VA will concede that these disabilities were caused by Agent Orange. Of note, VA is currently considering a number of new disabilities to add to the list of presumptive diseases, such as bladder cancer and hypertension. If you have been diagnosed with one of those conditions, go ahead and file now and get in line to preserve your effective dates. In addition, even if a condition is not listed as a presumptive condition, if your physician has told you that your disability is related to your exposure to Agent Orange, it is worth filing a claim. Service connection can be awarded for a condition if a Veteran can provide a medical nexus between exposure to Agent Orange and the current disability, even if the condition is not presumptive.
How Can Blue Waters Get VA Disability Benefits?
Our understanding is that the VA is not going to seek out Vietnam-era Navy Veterans and reevaluate their cases for Veterans benefits unless a claim has been filed. If you served in the territorial sea and you have an Agent Orange-related disability, and you don’t currently have a pending appeal for those conditions, you should file one as soon as possible. If you filed a claim years ago that was denied by VA, you still need to file a claim to reopen that previously-denied claim. Even if you have a pending appeal for one condition, you need to make sure that you have filed a claim for any other Agent Orange-related conditions as soon as possible. Sadly, many Veterans who filed claims years ago have since passed away, but spouses may file to reopen these claims as well, so go ahead and file these claims in case you are entitled to any accrued benefits (those to which the Veteran would have been entitled) or DIC benefits (if the Veteran’s Agent Orange-related disability contributed to his cause of death).
What Evidence Can I Use to Prove Agent Orange Exposure?
VA is supposed to be doing their own research into which Navy ships qualify for benefits due to herbicide exposure (Agent Orange) and for what time periods, but if you have already determined this information for yourself, submit evidence along with your claims. This could speed up your claim. In addition, make sure that you provide VA with the best medical records that you can obtain. You want to provide evidence as far back as you can, showing when you were diagnosed with the relevant conditions and, to the best of your ability, how severe your condition was over time. If you received health care at VA facilities, this kind of evidence is usually available. Gathering these records can be much more difficult if you received health care from private doctors who may have destroyed records after 7 years. These records can be the key to maximizing your rating.
Carefully Review Any Blue Water Decision You Receive
Once VA decides your claim, it is important to review carefully to make sure that you have received the earliest effective date possible and the highest rating possible for your disability compensation. Check to see if the effective date matches the date when you first filed your claim or when you first developed the Agent-Orange related disability. If not, you may need to appeal the decision. Similarly, check to see if the rating reflects the severity of your condition across time. For instance, if your Parkinson’s disease is rated at a flat 30%, VA probably didn’t consider how this condition affects each individual body part. Similarly, if your heart condition is rated 10% for a 20 year period during which you suffered heart attacks or congestive heart failure, or if your cancer is rated less than 100% for a period of time while you were receiving chemotherapy, you may need to appeal that decision. If you don’t know what the correct effective date or rating should be, or if you don’t know how to prove your case, then consult an expert to help you with your appeal for disability benefits due to Agent Orange herbicide exposure.