On Jan. 1, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it began processing disability claims for veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard ships in the territorial seas of Vietnam.
But a veterans advocacy group says the new policy still excludes some veterans exposed to the deadly herbicide on ships and in aircraft during the Vietnam War.
VA is expected to start processing Blue Water Navy claims Jan. 1. Here's what to know.
“This may be a good start,” Rob Maness, retired Air Force colonel and executive director of Louisiana-based Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA), said in a statement. “But the battle continues. The new policy specifically exempts those veterans who flew close air support missions and those who served outside of the territorial sea.”
In 2019, a federal court ruled that VA must recognize veterans exposed to Agent Orange who served offshore, the so-called Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans. Congress and the president passed and signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to further codify that decision.
But some veterans could be left out.
“The VA has chosen to interpret the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act too narrowly,” said retired Navy Commander John B. Wells, MVA chairman of the board and director of litigation. “The Congressional action was poorly worded and provided ambiguities seized on by the VA to limit coverage. Although the Act did not replace the original law and did not supersede Procopio, the VA’s constricted reading effectively does so."
That could be particularly true for pilots, who were not explicitly included in the Blue Water legislation or in the court decision.
“Often these Air Force and Navy pilots flew through clouds of Agent Orange to perform their mission,” Maness said. “They should be covered.”