Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans recently won the support of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie for a court ruling that could make tens of thousands of former service members and their survivors eligible for benefits stemming from exposure to Agent Orange decades ago. But now they are awaiting the Trump administration’s decision whether to challenge the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Justice Department’s solicitor general’s office is weighing a challenge to the court ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Any decision to appeal the court ruling would put the Trump administration at odds with Vietnam veterans—and the head of the Veterans Affairs office. The benefits have been estimated to cost Veterans Affairs more than $1 billion over 10 years.
The so-called “blue water” Navy vets served in the territorial waters offshore of the Republic of Vietnam. Until the Jan. 29 ruling by the full Federal Circuit, those veterans had been denied the presumption of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. The Justice Department, supporting the Department of Veterans Affairs’s interpretation, had argued that the Agent Orange Act covered only those veterans who served on the ground or inland waterways of Vietnam.