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Blue Water Veterans’ Bill Signed Into Law

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Blue Water Veterans’ Bill Signed Into Law

Late on Tuesday night, June 25, President Trump signed into law H.R.299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, marking an end to the now-famous effort for Vietnam-era naval veterans to obtain disability benefits for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure. For over a decade, versions of this bill have been defeated and stalled at various stages of the legislative process. Now, with the bill finally being signed into law, disability benefits may now be extended to an estimated 90,000 veterans nationwide.

The bill addresses “Blue Water” naval veterans, those who served offshore during the Vietnam War. These veterans are presumed to have been exposed to dangerous defoliants — including Agent Orange — at some point during the conflict. A large body of research has tied these chemicals to various diseases and conditions, including several forms of cancer. The law indicates 15 diseases which will be covered:

  • Hodgkin’s disease,
  • light chain amyloidosis,
  • chloracne,
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
  • porphyria cutanea tarda,
  • prostate cancer,
  • multiple myeloma,
  • respiratory cancers,
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • early-onset peripheral neuropathy,
  • soft-tissue sarcoma,
  • type-2 diabetes mellitus,
  • ischemic heart disease,
  • chronic B-cell leukemias,
  • And spina bifidea for the children of veterans serving in this area.

The cost of the expanded benefits, which was the main point of objection for some lawmakers in the past, is estimated to be between $1.1 billion (according to the Congressional Budget Office) and $5.5 billion (according to the VA). Funding is expected to draw from increased fees on home loans for certain veterans.

A Long Fight

Throughout the 90s, a growing body of evidence suggested a connection between various diseases and cancers, and exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange. This eventually culminated in legislation which now offers benefits to veterans who were exposed to these chemicals and who are currently suffering from related symptoms. However, this legislation excluded Blue Water veterans under the presumption that they were not within a close enough proximity to the chemicals to be affected. In the following decades, various efforts to modify the existing laws were all defeated.

This most recent series of events was instigated in January of 2019, when the US Court of Appeals decided in favor of Alfred Procopio Jr., a naval veteran who was suing for benefits denied under the current law. With this decision, and the subsequent decision by the Department of Justice not to appeal the ruling, the door has been opened to naval veterans hoping to receive benefits. Already, the VA is processing related naval veterans claims, and this bill represents an important step towards officially legislating the process and protecting it from future legal action.

Moving Forward

After an extensive legal battle, the door is now opening to expanded benefits for tens of thousands of Vietnam naval veterans. Veterans who served offshore during the Vietnam War — and who suffer from one of the conditions listed above — should be able to apply for VA disability benefits. This victory has been decades in the making, and thousands now wait anxiously for the policy to be fully implemented.

If you or a loved one are a naval veteran hoping to secure VA benefits for an illness on the list above, finding reliable legal counsel can be an important step toward helping you file your claim properly, and can help you better understand your options under current VA law. The Comerford Law Office, LLC, has extensive experience handling veterans disability claims and has helped many veterans obtain benefits for the first time or modify a previously issued disability rating. If you are considering filing for veteran’s disability benefits, get in contact with The Comerford Law Office, LLC, today to learn more.

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