Uncertainty About Agent-Orange Presumption For Blue-Water Veterans Is Over
Back in January 2019, the case of Procopio v. Wilkie was decided. The federal court reversed a 1997 VA decision that denied Blue Water Navy veterans who served on ships, disability benefits because they were not "boots on the ground" in Vietnam itself. The Procopio court found that veterans who served on ships offshore during the Vietnam War suffered the effects of being exposed to Agent Orange, regardless if they were “boots on the ground” or not. Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical used as a chemical weapon during the Vietnam War, it was known afterwards to cause an array of health problems to anyone exposed. The problem that many Navy veterans had for years was that they could receive medical care for their illnesses through the VA, but could not receive disability benefits. In order to prevail on a claim for their case -- before Procopio -- they had to prove that their ailments were directly connected to toxic exposure while on duty. This was difficult for many to do and sadly they had to resign themselves with what was available to them. Fortunately, with the Procopio v. Wilkie case, the court ruled to extend eligibility for VA benefits to them as well.
Many were waiting to see if the Department of Justice would appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court and challenge the Procopio decision. Compliance with Procopio -- in other words provide disability benefits to an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 Blue Water veterans -- is projected to cost the government over $1.1 billion. However, to the joy of many, the Department of Justice has finally decided to not appeal, giving up to 90,000 Blue Water veterans the opportunity to receive VA disability compensation. The only conflict is this grants benefits to veterans who served in a designated geographic area of Vietnam [within 12 nautical miles of the shoreline of Vietnam], drawing criticism from some Blue Water advocacy groups and veterans, as it could exclude some veterans by setting these specific geographic limits.
Last month, House lawmakers unanimously passed legislation that was very similar to this case in an effort to ensure any future appeal or legal challenge would not overturn the benefits.
Overall, it seems many veterans will now be able to receive the benefits they rightfully deserve.
If you are a Blue Water veteran with disability likely caused by Agent Orange and you are having difficulty with an adverse decision from the VA, give our office a call and we will see if we can help.