Agent Orange has a long history of reporting, court cases, and bills signed into law: the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush and provided benefits to Vietnam-era veterans who were suffering from 14 diseased associated with exposure to the chemical compound during the war. In 2002, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said that a Vietnam veteran must demonstrate that they actually set foot in Vietnam in order to be presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld this position in 2008. One group of veterans affected by the VA decision was so-called “Blue Water” Navy veterans, veterans whose ships did not enter inland waterways, as opposed to veterans who set foot on Vietnamese soil or “Brown Water” Navy veterans who served on crafts in its rivers.
According to the VA’s Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange webpage, the VA presumes that veterans who served in Vietnam, including aboard ships that operated on inland waterways, between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, and veterans who served in or near the Korean demilitarized zone between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, were exposed to Agent Orange. An exception is provided for Blue Water Veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who can be granted service-connection without proving inland waterway service or having set foot in Vietnam.
In June 2018, the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 by a vote of 382-0. The bill would make Blue Navy veterans eligible for compensation through the VA for health conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
If you need help obtaining VA benefits for Agent Orange exposure, you should get help from an experienced veterans lawyer. Berry Law Firm represents veterans all over the country and fights to get them the benefits they need and deserve.
After the House passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, the VA opposed passage of the bill during an August 1 United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing. During the hearing, VA Under Secretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence said there was still no credible scientific evidence to support providing Agent Orange benefits to shipboard personnel who never went ashore in Vietnam or patrolled its rivers.
Lawrence’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of former VA secretary David Shulkin, who told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in March that he made recommendations to White House budget officials to add up to four more conditions to the list of 14 illnesses presumed to be caused by exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War. Shulkin was dismissed as secretary later that month, and Robert Wilkie had only been installed as VA secretary two days before Lawrence’s Senate hearing appearance.
“This committee set the standard to use science to be fair and consistent in cases such as this,” Lawrence said at the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing. “Once that standard is removed from the equation, it becomes nearly impossible to adjudicate a claim of this type on the merits. The resulting lower threshold sets in motion the prospect of uncontrolled demands for [VA] support.”
UPDATE: The Blue Water Navy bill went into effect on January 1. 2020.
“They say there’s no credible science to our claims,” Michael Thompson, a 67-year-old jet mechanic on aircraft carriers, told the San Antonio Express-News. “My answer to them is that the battlefields are littered with credible science and people like me are dropping like flies.”
Bills similar to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 were introduced in 2011, 2013, and 2015, but all failed because of cost concerns. The House version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act attempted to address this by adding a new fee to veterans’ home loans that would cost a typical buyer about $350 over 10 years—although almost half of all borrowers, including disabled veterans, would be exempt from the fee.
If the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is approved, it could provide Agent Orange benefits to as many as 90,000 veterans. The phrase “presumptive diseases” is used by the VA to describe certain cancers and other health problems it recognizes as being associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service.
Presumptive diseases include:
If a veteran is seeking service connection for one of the diseases VA presumes is associated with exposure to herbicides during service, the VA requires:
When a veteran has a disease caused by herbicide exposure, but the disease is not on the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, they can still apply for service-connection if they can provide similar evidence.
If you or your loved one is suffering from a disease that you believe is connected to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War, you could be entitled to VA benefits. You may need assistance raising your VA disability rating or updating your effective date.
Berry Law Firm represents veterans nationwide who are struggling to obtain Agent Orange benefits. Call us or contact us online to have our attorneys review your case and help you understand all of your legal options during a free consultation.
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