By Patricia Kime - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Sep 2, 2011 15:53:09 EDT
The Veterans Affairs Department has expanded its list of Navy and Coast Guard ships whose crews may be eligible for disability compensation as a result of exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
It is an updated inventory of “Blue Water” platforms that operated along Vietnam’s coastline from 1962 to 1975. The designated vessels either entered the country’s inland waterways, docked in Vietnam, or their sailors went ashore, possibly exposing them to the widely used herbicide.
Many of the new ships are landing vessels or destroyers that operated near the shore. The large escort carrier Kula Gulf also was added because it served as a helicopter and troop transport in Cam Ranh Bay for three days in November 1965.
“Posting of the ships list is an important recognition of the sacrifices U.S. Navy and Coast Guard veterans made for this nation,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a Friday release.
VA pays disability compensation to veterans or survivors for 14 medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
Department officials couldn’t say how many veterans might meet the criteria for exposure from the named ships.
The VA ship list is not static; officials said vessels will be added based on documentation such as deck logs, ship histories and cruise books often provided by veterans as well as records kept in the National Archives.
The day before it published the expanded ship list, VA disclosed that in the past year it has paid $2.2 billion in benefits to 89,000 Vietnam veterans or survivors who qualify for compensation under a ruling that added three conditions to the list of health conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure.
The VA faces a backlog of claims as a result of the jump in those applicants, as well as claims filed by troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of claims taking more than three months to process went from 200,000 in 2010 to 450,000 in spring 2011.