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