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Veterans Disability Benefits Expand to Include 90,000 Blue Water Vietnam Troops as Dept of Justice Drops Appeal

On June 4, 2019, the Department of Justice announced they are dropping their appeal of a court ruling that will presumptively award disability benefits to “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans. Justice Department officials stated Tuesday, in a filing with the Supreme Court, they would not seek to overturn the decision in the case of Procopio v. Wilkie.

Procopio v. Wilkie reversed a 1997 Veterans Affairs (VA) policy that denied disability benefits to approximately 90,000 “Blue Water” Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemical defoliants, while serving in the waters off Vietnam. The Procopio decision ruled that the VA should presume these veterans were exposed to the same hazardous chemicals at some point during their service as their ground troop counterparts were, and therefore grant them the same benefits.

“This is a huge victory for tens of thousands of deserving veterans who were arbitrarily stripped of their earned benefits,” Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national commander B.J. Lawrence stated. “Now we need the Senate to quickly pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs can never again interpret the intent of law differently.”

The court decision, now that the Department of Justice has formally dropped its appeal in federal court, should stand as the final word on Blue Water Navy veterans’ eligibility for disability benefits, who claim exposure to cancer-causing chemical defoliants while having served in the seas near Vietnam, regardless of whether the federal legislation passes or not.

“The VFW is very glad this case is now over,” Lawrence said. “Now we can focus on getting H.R. 299 passed into law to protect VA benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans and expand much-needed benefits for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Thailand and the Korean DMZ, as well as continue research on Gulf War illnesses.”

A complete list of ailments and diseases that the VA presumes are associated with Agent Orange exposure can be located here:
https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/

These issues arose from a past VA decision to treat Navy veterans disability benefit claims differently from other military servicemembers who served in Vietnam. Previously, ‘blue water’ veterans were able receive medical care from the VA for their conditions, but for them to receive disability benefits, which could be up to several thousand dollars a month, they had to prove their illnesses were directly connected to exposure of toxic chemicals while on duty.

In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in a 9 to 2 decision that Congress had not intended to exclude veterans who served aboard ships in the waters around Vietnam, when they had awarded presumptive benefits for medical conditions connected to Agent Orange exposure.

House lawmakers unanimously passed legislation last month that echoed the court’s decision, ideally ensuring that any future appeal or legal challenge would not be allowed to overturn these benefits.

It is also worth noting that this ruling extends certain presumptive benefits to veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to herbicide-exposed Thailand veterans whose children were born with spina bifida.

Other parts of the court ruling were pulled back by the legislation, as the territorial waters where ships had to travel for veterans to be eligible were more narrowly defined.

The Department of Veterans Affairs fully expects their caseload to increase, since the court’s decision is now final, but the VA had already begun to process some ‘blue water’ veterans benefits since the January ruling.

The Injured Veterans legal team at Gordon & Partners is here for military veterans and their families. Please contact us immediately, if you are having difficulty with your claim or you are not receiving the disability benefits to which you are entitled. Call us at 1-888-231-9144 or fill out the form on this website.

Read the full story here: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/06/05/90000-blue-water-vietnam-veterans-in-line-for-disability-benefits-after-justice-officials-drop-appeal/