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.
The complete list of conditions found on the Presumptive List for Agent Orange includes:
- Amyloid light-chain (AL) amyloidosis
- Chloracne, or other acneform disease consistent with chloracne
- All Chronic B-cell leukemias (including, but not limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
- Diabetes mellitus, Type 2
- Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s, formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s
- Peripheral neuropathy, early-onset
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea)
- Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
- Ischemic heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Veterans Strongly Urged to Apply for Benefits
Along with the updated law comes a strong recommendation by the VA to reapply for disability compensation if a previous claim for herbicide exposure made prior to the law was rejected. The same goes for surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of affected veterans.
Veterans who have never filed a claim are also encouraged to now file one using Form 21-526EZ. Veterans who filed a claim prior to January 1, 2019, and which has been stayed are told to await the decision.
Is My Ship Included on the List?
Ships are added to the VA’s list, titled “Navy and Coast Guard Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam and Exposure to Herbicide Agents” and readily found online, based on documentary proof of their service history in the region.
The list is split into five subcategories based on the ships’ locations and functions, and the collected evidence gathered by the VA determines which subcategory each ship should be added to. The first two subcategories are for any brown water vessel operating within Vietnam’s inland waterways, while the last three subcategories cover BWN ships that either docked in Vietnam or worked within 12 miles off its coast.
- Ships operating primary or exclusively on Vietnam’s inland waterways: This includes vessels of the Brown Water Navy (so-called because of the inland waterways’ muddy color) and Mobile Riverine Force, including swift boats, river patrol boats (PBRs), LSTs (landing ships, tank)
- Ships operating temporarily on Vietnam’s land waterways: This includes destroyers, cruisers, cargo ships, and other vessels of the BWN that primarily operated in offshore waters, but occasionally traveled to inland waterways while providing gunfire support, enemy interdiction, and other support.
- Ships that docked to shore or pier in Vietnam: This includes large ocean-going ships of the BWN that docked in an open water harbor to a pier or onshore, allowing crew members to go ashore for work detail or liberty leave.
- Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that crew members went ashore: This includes large ocean-going ships of the BWN like hospital ships, harbor repair ships, minesweepers, seaplane tenders, and combat ships like destroyers that conducted a variety of missions along the close coastal waters for extended periods of time.
- Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that smaller craft from the ship regularly delivered supplies or troops ashore: This includes large ocean-going ships of the BWN like attack cargo ships, amphibious attack transports, and landing ship docks that conducted supply missions or transported troops into and out of Vietnam through the use of smaller landing craft. Due to these ships’ routine transoceanic voyages, their time frames have been extended, so that veterans of these ships must have service records showing they were onboard the ship while offshore of Vietnam.
The individual ships are listed according to their alphanumeric designations, most often found painted on their forward hulls. You may first find which subcategory your ship belonged to, then search alphabetically by ship type, then numerically by its hull number.
Your VA regional office will also have the complete 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.