Many Vietnam veterans have been negatively affected by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ decision, in 2002, to only provide presumptive coverage of Agent Orange-related illnesses to veterans who had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. Thankfully, this fall the bipartisan U.S. senators from Virginia (Mark Warner and Tim Kaine) have co-sponsored legislation aimed at reinstating the kind of presumptive coverage Congress had previously afforded, in 1991, “Blue Water” veterans who served their country during the Vietnam War at sea rather than on land and suffer from illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure.
“Regardless of whether they served on land or at sea, those who have fallen victim to Agent Orange exposure deserve access to the same benefits and compensation,” Senator Warner told the media in September. “We owe our heroes no less.” Approximately 175,000 sailors and Marines served on ships during the Vietnam War. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act could provide VA disability compensation to 50,000 or more surviving Vietnam veterans exposed to some of the 20 million gallons of toxic chemicals American forces sprayed on Vietnam from 1962 to 1970.
“Unfortunately, servicemembers in Vietnam who were located in the territorial waters are not currently included in important VA coverage,” Senator Kaine told the press last month.” I have heard from many Virginians and veterans service organizations on this important issue, and I am happy to join my Senate colleagues, as well as other members of the Virginia delegation, in supporting the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to restore coverage to all of our servicemembers who were exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam. I hope the Senate can work together to find an acceptable pay-for to ensure this legislation is passed quickly.”
If the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passes, Blue Water veterans (of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force and Merchant Marine) would be provided service connection for Agent Orange-related disabilities if they served within the “territorial seas” of Vietnam. The “territorial seas” in question are designated as within approximately 12 miles off the Vietnamese coast. As the August Free Press reported last month, “The bill would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by reinstating presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.”
Navy veteran Keith Martel, a retired command sergeant major who was profiled this fall in the Albany Times Union, is a good xample of the kind of veteran whose VA disability case would be made simpler by the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. Martel – who also provided assistance at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and during the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq - supported the American war effort by working on ships around Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. VA denied Martel service connection for Agent Orange-related prostate cancer for years because he “only” worked on ships – a cruel technicality – but when Martel proved he had made service-related trips to mainland Vietnam he was finally granted a 100% disability rating.
The new legislation would grant service connection to many Vietnam veterans who bravely served during the Vietnam War but never stepped foot on the mainland. In Martel’s case, as the Albany Times Union reported, “The ships he worked on turned the contaminated seawater into drinking water that was ingested by crews. The desalinization process did not remove the herbicide's toxic dioxins, and may have concentrated them, according to studies.”
Blue Water veterans such as Keith Trexler—profiled in the Allentown Morning Call last week—deserve service connection, too. Trexler continues to be denied service connection for prostate cancer because he served in the Navy on ships just off the Vietnam coast, but would be granted disability benefits from VA if the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passes.
At the offices of Attorney Sean Kendall, we are here to answer any questions you might have about Blue Water issues and the proposed legislation. If you have questions about The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act or need help with any other VA disability related issues, please give us a call right away at 877-629-1712.