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Court Rules in Favor of Retroactive Benefits to Blue Water Vietnam Veterans

Friday, December 4, 2020

On Thursday, Nov 12th, a federal judge ruled that the VA must honor the terms of a 1991 settlement and pay retroactive benefits to blue water veterans. The decision will affect thousands of veterans who have previously been denied support from the VA.

Stephen Kinnaird, the attorney fighting for this decision, was very excited about the outcome of the case. “It makes a huge difference to veterans and their families,” he said in an interview after the case.

Blue water veterans are those who served off the coast of Vietnam but never actually set foot on land. In the decades following Vietnam, it became clear that these veterans were also at higher risk of health complications that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure. These health problems include leukemia, lymphoma, throat cancer, and many other diseases.

Judge William Alsup rejected arguments that the 1991 settlement was never meant to include blue water veterans. “The objective and reasonable intent of the consent decree was to require automatic read judications for all persons entitled to benefits under the Acts,” Alsup wrote in a 10-page ruling.

For years, the VA resisted the implementation of the agreement they approved in 1991. “[the VA] continues to resist its (the consent decree’s) implementation so vigorously, as well as to resist equally vigorously the payment of desperately needed benefits to Vietnam war veterans who fought for their country and suffered grievous injury as a result of our government’s own conduct,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt in 2007.

Everything changed in 2019 with the ruling in Procopio v. Wilkie, when Blue Water veterans were finally included in the group that the 1991 statute covered. However, while this decision did give Blue Water veterans access to retroactive benefits, it was only possible if they filed new claims.

Last week’s ruling by Judge Alsup ensures that any Blue Water veteran who has had Agent Orange claims denied in the past will automatically have their claim reviewed, without filing a new claim. The ruling will entitle thousands of veterans and their families to millions of dollars.

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