Updates on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans (Northern District of California Ruling)

Veterans and Veterans advocates have been fighting for Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans for a long time. A recent ruling by federal District Judge William Alsup was another step forward in the fight for Blue Water Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The ruling enforced the 1991 Consent Decree related to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Veteran Benefits Administration chief Paul Lawrence said the VA will comply with the decision, so the decision should not be appealed.

What the Ruling Means

On November 5, 2020, the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans by enforcing the 29-year-old Class Action Consent Decree that arose in Nehmar v. the US Department of Veterans Administration (VA).

The Consent Decree was a decision that stated the VA must look back at previous Veterans’ claims when a new disability is added to the Agent Orange presumptive condition list (a list of conditions the VA assumes were caused by Agent Orange exposure).

When the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law, these Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans became eligible to receive VA compensation for Agent Orange exposure. This ruling was huge because the VA had previously refused to provide benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans for Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

However, after the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 became law, the VA still refused to follow the Consent Decree and go back and look at previous claims submitted by Blue Water Navy Veterans near Vietnam. This ruling changes that.

In essence, the VA should now automatically go back and readjudicate all VA claims submitted from 2002-2019 by Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans related to Agent Orange exposure and award retroactive payments for all claims that were wrongly denied.

Who is Eligible for Retroactive Payments?

To be eligible for benefits for Agent Orange exposure as laid out in the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, a Veteran must have served within 12 nautical miles of the coast of the Republic of Vietnam. The Veteran must have also submitted a claim for Agent Orange exposure from 2002-2019 and been denied.

Another large piece of this ruling is the fact that if the Veteran passed away after filing their claim, the family or estate can still receive benefits. According to estimates, almost 15,000 Veterans and families could receive payments for previously denied claims.

When Will the VA Determine if a Veteran is Eligible for Retroactive Pay?

The ruling laid out a couple of deadlines for the VA:

  • Within 120 days of the order, the VA must identify all the claims that must be readjudicated based on the Court’s ruling.
  • Within 240 days of the order, the VA must determine whether the Veteran served in the territorial waters of Vietnam and the amount of retroactive compensation the Veteran or their surviving family members are entitled to.

While this may seem like a quick turnaround, the VA feels confident it should be able to find the correct claims. In an interview with military.com, Veterans Benefits Administration Chief Lawrence noted, “We tagged certain claims so that we could go back were that ruling to happen.” He elaborated, “We have a history around this; we are prepared.”

America’s Veterans Law Firm

Berry Law is America’s Veterans Law Firm, and your fire support team to battle the VA. We won’t stop fighting until every Veteran receives all the VA disability compensation they are entitled to. If you need assistance appealing your VA claim, Berry Law can help. Contact Berry Law today to schedule a free case evaluation.