Agent Orange: “Boots on ground” and the VA’s definition of “inland waterways”

Today on Observed Veterans Day 2018 we honor those that have so bravely served and sacrificed for our country. Below I review the definition of “inland waterways” and how it has affected a Veteran’s ability to claim Agent Orange exposure.

Essentially, the definition the VA uses for “inland waterways” weighs heavily on whether a veteran actually had “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War which would allow a veteran to make a claim about Agent Orange exposure.

This definition was changed early 2016 when the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims determined that the previous definition was not accurate. However, the new definition the VA put forth “decided that the difference between brown water (inland waterways) and blue water (offshore waters) comes down to brown water being freshwater and blue water being salt water or a mixture of salt and freshwater (brackish water). However, what the VA failed to do was provide any kind of reasoning for why they made this distinction. The provision doesn’t reference any kind of information regarding why salt water apparently has some kind of effect of the toxicity of Agent Orange” (Hill and Ponton). Da Nang Harbor, Nha Trang Harbor, Qui Nhon Bay Harbor, Cam Ranh Bay Harbor, Vung Tau Harbor, Ganh Rai Bay are all considered offshore waters based on that definition. Suffice it to say the new definition did not help the way we had been hoping it would.

As of this month, “The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about the jurisdiction of Courts to review the VA’s decision to exclude veterans who served in various ports in the Republic of Vietnam. This appeal is known as Gray v. Wilkie” (Veterans Law Blog). So the fight continues.

Remember that you can always create a sworn declaration to help your claim that you had “boots on the ground” during this time. The more details you can clearly remember and state in that declaration the better. It’s best to try to keep your claim active for as long as you can and if you have any questions on the matter, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office.


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