Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 scheduled to take effect!

VA regulations have historically provided service connection on a presumptive basis for Vietnam Veterans for certain diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange and herbicide exposure. For the presumptive provisions to apply, generally, a Veteran must have set foot in the Republic of Vietnam or qualify under an additional presumptive category.

Service in Vietnam has conventionally been defined as, “active military, naval, or air service…in the Republic of Vietnam at some point during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975.” See 38 C.F.R. §3.307(a)(6)(iii) 2018; 38 U.S.C.S §1116(a)(3).  Veterans with service on the inland waterways of Vietnam or qualifying service on or near the Korean DMZ, have also been eligible. See 66 Fed Reg. 23166, 23,166 (May 8, 2001); 38 C.F.R. §3.307(a)(6)(iv).

Traditionally, for Navy Veterans, the VA typically classified vessels into two categories; brown water craft and blue water craft. Generally, brown water craft operating in the rivers and inland waterways of Vietnam during Vietnam were eligible for presumptive service connection, while blue water craft operating outside of the rivers and inland waterways of Vietnam, were not eligible. Practically, this meant any Veteran considered “Blue Water Navy” could only obtain service connection for a diagnosed condition related to Agent Orange exposure on a direct basis by showing, in part, actual evidence of exposure to Agent Orange.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (Public Law 116-23) now extends presumptive service connection to “Blue Water Navy” Veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The act was signed into law on June 25, 2019, and is scheduled to go into effect shortly, on January 1, 2020. The new law extends presumptive service connection for Agent Orange exposure to Veterans who Served on a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia. See Public Law 116-23.

Blue Water Navy Veterans who were previously denied for an Agent Orange related presumptive condition will now be able to file a new claim based on the change of law. The law also includes provisions allowing eligible survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy Veterans who may qualify for benefits to file a claim. According to the VA, an estimated 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam-era Veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans and may be eligible for benefits.

For more information on Agent Orange exposure on Navy or Coast Guard ships visit: https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/navy-coast-guard-ships-vietnam/

For more information on diseases associated with Agent Orange visit: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/index.asp

Find Public Law 116-23 at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/299/text

Dear Friends and Clients,

In furtherance of our firm’s culture of commitment to always act with compassion, concern and commitment to our clients, community and colleagues, we have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligations while prioritizing health, wellness and safety of all we can.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced changes to many lives and businesses in our communities, and around the world. We, much like our neighbors and friends, have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligation to our clients, while also prioritizing the health, wellness and safety of our employees.

Until further notice, our offices will be closed to the public to encourage social distancing and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our team is still hard at work, many from home, and you may still call, email, live chat or video conference us if you or a loved one is seeking legal assistance. As the first law firm to offer our clients secure online access to their case file more than a decade ago, we have always been believers in using technology to make life easier and information more accessible. In these present times it has been a smooth transition for us to continue to offer our clients the same seamless and thorough service that you deserve and are accustomed to.

This pandemic is unlike anything any of us have faced in our lifetimes, and while we can continue to emotionally support one another through it all, staying home and keeping your distance is vital to the health and wellness of our communities. It does not feel good to break routines, cancel events and retreat from our normal, day-to-day socializing, but let us remember that, in times of strife, prior generations were asked to go to war and we are simply being asked to stay home. Your isolation equals more lives saved, and more time for medical providers to prepare for the treatment of patients battling COVID-19.

When the dust settles, we will join together with a greater appreciation for our lives, local businesses, loved ones and health. Until then, we will continue to offer guidance from a safe distance.

Very truly yours,

Andrew G. Finkelstein and the staff of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP