Historically, the VA has excluded “Blue Water Navy Veterans” from its presumption of Agent Orange exposure. However, on January 29, 2019, the Federal Circuit issued a decision in Procopio v. Wilkie, to now include Blue Water Navy Veterans under the presumption of exposure. As a result, thousands of veterans are now eligible for VA disability compensation. Before we get into the details of this change, it is important to understand the background of Agent Orange claims.
What is Agent Orange and Why Was it Used?
Agent Orange is an herbicide used by the United States during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is a two equal part mixture of herbicide agents: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Agent Orange also contains the contaminant TCDD as a byproduct of its production. TCDD is the most toxic of all dioxins. Herbicide agents were used in the Vietnam War for two main reasons: One, to kill off the Vietnamese crops in order to interrupt their food supply, and two, to destroy foliage and dense vegetation in the jungle to increase visibility to prevent ambush attacks on U.S. Forces.
It was later proven that exposure to Agent Orange causes serious health issues including cancer, birth defects, rashes, and severe psychological and neurological problems. Exposure occurred when the chemicals were breathed in, ingested in contaminated food or drinks, or absorbed through the skin. Exposure may have also been possible through the eyes or through breaks in the skin.
What VA Benefits Are Available to Veterans Suffering from Disabilities Related to Agent Orange Exposure?
Veterans may be eligible for VA disability compensation if they have a disability related to Agent Orange exposure during service and were discharged under “other than dishonorable conditions.” Veterans who were exposed may also be eligible for:
- Agent Orange Registry health exam, a free exam for possible long-term health problems related to herbicide exposure. Veterans who served in Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone or other areas where Agent Orange was sprayed may be eligible.
- Health care benefits, a full range of medical benefits. There are many ways a Veteran may qualify.
How Do I Qualify for Agent Orange Related VA Benefits? How Do I Satisfy the “Presumption”?
To get VA disability for Agent Orange exposure, the veteran must prove the following:
- In-service exposure to Agent Orange.
- Current diagnosis of a medical condition associated with Agent Orange (a list of these conditions can be found here).
The VA presumes veterans who served in these locations during the specified time periods were exposed to Agent Orange:
- Veterans with boots-on-the-ground in Vietnam; veterans with service aboard a ship which operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam (i.e. Brown Water veterans);
- Veterans with service in or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971;
- Active duty and reservist personnel who had regular contact with C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986.
The VA also recognizes Agent Orange exposure in veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of certain Royal Thai Air Force Bases in Thailand between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. However, Thailand veterans are not entitled to a presumption of Agent Orange exposure, but they can still qualify for VA Disability Benefits if these veterans prove exposure on a factual basis.
Current Diagnosis of a Medical Condition Associated with Agent Orange Exposure
The following is a list of medical conditions associated with agent orange exposure. You can also find the VA’s detailed list here.
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Chloracne (or similar acneform disease)
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers (includes lung cancer)
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
The New Law Allowing “Blue Water Navy Veterans” to Qualify for the Agent Orange Presumption
The VA is preparing to process Agent Orange exposure claims for “Blue Water Navy” Veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
These Veterans may be eligible for presumption of herbicide exposure through Public Law 116-23, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which was signed into law shortly after the ruling in Procopio v. Wilkie, and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. They may also qualify for a presumption of service connection if they have a disease that is recognized as being associated with Agent Orange exposure (listed above).
A “Blue Water Navy Veteran” is a veteran who served on a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, as defined in Public Law 116-23. An estimated 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam-era Veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans.
Blue Water Navy Veterans are encouraged to submit disability compensation claims for conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans over age 85 or with life-threatening illnesses will have priority in claims processing. Veterans who previously were denied for an Agent Orange related presumptive condition can file a new claim based on the change in law. Eligible survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy Veterans also may benefit from the new law and may file claims for benefits based on the veteran’s service.
If you believe you or a loved one suffers from a medical condition linked to Agent Orange exposure, please contact us for a thorough review of your case. Centonzio Law helps veterans and their families nationwide.