Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives unanimously passed HR 299, also known as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and forwarded it to the Senate. Upon receiving the bill, the Senate referred it to the Committee on Veterans Affairs and has yet to hold a vote. If passed, this law would allow as many as 90,000 “Blue Water Navy” veterans who served on ships that operated on the coast of the Republic of Vietnam or Cambodia during the Vietnam War to become eligible for VA healthcare and disability compensation for their exposure to defoliants, such as Agent Orange.
If you have questions about your own eligibility for VA benefits based on your potential exposure to Agent Orange under both current law and the proposed bill, you should consult with an experienced Agent Orange lawyer who can walk you through the eligibility requirements.
Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability compensation to veterans who were exposed to dangerous herbicides such as Agent Orange during their military service. Agent Orange, which was made up of a number of tactical herbicides, was used by the U.S. military to remove dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover in Vietnam and Korea. Unfortunately, it was not until decades later that researchers discovered the link between exposure to Agent Orange and certain deadly diseases. In an effort to simplify the process for receiving compensation for these conditions, the VA instituted a policy by which certain diseases are presumed to be the result of exposure to Agent Orange. Under this presumptive policy, veterans who served in Vietnam or on inland waterways between 1962 and 1975 or in or near the Korean demilitarized zone between 1968 and 1971 are not required to prove that their illness began during or was worsened by military service unless their illness is not included on the list of recognized conditions.
One of the few exceptions to this rule applies to blue water veterans suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who are not required to prove that they actually set foot in Vietnam or provided inland waterway service in order to qualify for disability compensation.
Blue Water Veterans Bill
If passed, HR 299 would extend the VA’s blue water veterans exception to make disability benefits available to veterans who did not actually serve on land during the Vietnam War, but who patrolled within 12 nautical miles of Cambodia or Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. Although the change would result in tens of thousands of veterans becoming eligible for benefits, many critics have expressed concern over the scientific evidence, or lack thereof, being used to support the bill. For instance, research conducted by the Institute of Medicine showed that Agent Orange is broken down by sunlight within a few hours and that it is unlikely that any particulate residue would have gotten into the open ocean where it could have posed a risk to shipboard crews. How this evidence will be weighed by the Senate remains to be seen, as the bill continues to linger in the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.
The Legal Representation You Deserve
To speak with dedicated VA accredited attorney James R. Comerford about whether you or a loved one qualify for Agent Orange disability benefits, please contact The Comerford Law Office, LLC at 312-863-8572.