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Some Veterans Left Out of Blue Water Navy Veterans Act Coverage

In late 2019, a federal court ruled that the VA must begin to recognize veterans who served in the waterways in the areas surrounding Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange, known as the Blue Water Navy Veterans. The President and Congress solidified this ruling with the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. The act outlined that beginning on January 1st, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs must begin processing disability claims for veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving about ships in the territorial seas of Vietnam.

Though this is a big step in the right direction for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, many have been left out. “This may be a good start,” says Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel and executive director of the Louisiana-based Military Veterans Advocacy, “but the battle continues. The new policy specifically exempts those veterans who flew close air support missions and those who served outside of the territorial sea.”

Retired Navy Commander John B. Wells, MVA chairman of the board and director of litigation also commented, “The VA has chosen to interpret the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act too narrowly. The Congressional action was poorly worded and provided ambiguities seized on by the VA to limit coverage.”

This is especially troubling for those groups that were exposed to Agent Orange but were not stationed within the geographical confines of the new law. This includes pilots who flew through clouds of Agent Orange during missions, and service members who slept near the perimeter in Thailand, where Agent Orange was also used. Brian Moyer, MVA director of Central Pacific islands, notes that the law also does not include those stationed on Johnston Island, where Agent Orange was stored and leaked.

Bill Rhodes, a retired Marine staff sergeant and Thailand veteran and MVA director of Thailand veterans, says that “This policy is way too narrow. Many of the barracks backed up to the perimeter and personal who did not have duties on the perimeter slept there, yet they are not covered. Additionally, vehicles and personnel would track the herbicide into the base interior, increasing the exposure.”

The numerous accounts from these top officials point out that the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is incredibly short sided. It fails to acknowledge the full geographical range of Agent Orange and it appears the VA has capitalized on this aspect of the bill, denying coverage for many affected by the chemicals.

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