Beginning on January 1, 2020, Blue Water Navy (BWN) veterans who saw service during the Vietnam War are now eligible to join the VA’s Agent Orange Registry and make a claim for compensation in connection to illnesses caused by herbicide exposure. Agent Orange is popularly known as the chemical defoliant used by the U.S. military to destroy portions of Vietnam’s dense vegetation in an effort to expose Viet Cong troop positions and pathways. The herbicide is also believed to cause a number of serious illnesses, which, if suffered by BWN veterans, may now entitle those veterans or their qualified dependents to compensation from the VA.
Who’s Eligible for Agent Orange Benefits?
Following a Federal Court decision on Procopio v. Wilkie, the Blue Water Navy (BWN) Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (or PL 116-23) “extended the presumption of herbicide exposure, such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.”
BWN veterans who served on a ship that operated “not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia” are eligible to join the Agent Orange Registry and make a claim proving service connection to a number of different illnesses. The VA maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that it acknowledges have been exposed to Agent Orange.
The VA includes a list of 14 conditions, including various forms of cancer like chronic B-cell leukemia and other illnesses that are believed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. BWN veterans suffering from those conditions may make a claim for service connection. Also eligible for compensation are children with spina bifida whose BWN veteran parent may have been exposed during their service.
Is My Ship Included on the List?
Ships are added to the VA’s list based on documentary proof of their service history in the region. The collected evidence determines which of five subcategories the ship should be added to. Two of the subcategories are for any brown water vessel operating within Vietnam’s inland waterways, while the three other subcategories cover BWN ships that either docked in Vietnam or worked within 12 miles off its coast.
Your VA regional office will have this list on hand for reference. And bear in mind that the list is continually being updated. At the time of your claim, your vessel may not be added to it yet.
How Do You Prove Service Connection?
Being added to the Agent Orange Registry doesn’t automatically entitle you to additional benefits. Any qualified veteran must provide medical evidence that their condition was caused, or worsened by, exposure to Agent Orange.
Blue Water Navy (BWN) veterans must provide the same level of evidence and have a recorded service history aboard one of the vessels included on the VA’s list of ships presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
BWN veterans who believe they have a condition caused by Agent Orange are encouraged to call VA Disability Group at 844-VET-LAWS to start a claim and get the best assistance you can find to determine whether you are eligible for compensation.