The Blue Water Navy veterans — those who were stationed on ships in deep waters off the coast of Vietnam — their survivors and certain dependents will soon receive their long-awaited benefits for exposure related to Agent Orange.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will begin processing claims Jan. 1, 2020. Before President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law in June, only Vietnam War veterans who served on the ground or within inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure.
Benefits include health care, compensation and an Agent Orange Registry health exam.
To speed up the review process, Department of Veterans Affairs officials say they are compiling ship information, digitizing naval records and developing a communication campaign to reach Vietnam veterans.
Veterans in one or more of these circumstances will move up in the claims line:
- Older than age 85
- With life-threatening illnesses
- At risk of homelessness
- In financial hardship
Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore from Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962, and May 7, 1975, as well as those who served in the Korean demilitarized zone between Jan. 1, 1967, and Aug 31. 1971, can apply for compensation if they have developed one of 14 conditions.
"For six months, VA worked diligently to gather and digitize records from the Naval History and Heritage Command in order to support faster claims decisions,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a news release. “These efforts will positively impact the claims process for veterans filing for these benefits."
Survivors can file claims for benefits based on the veteran's service and cause of death from one of the conditions associated with Agent Orange. Children born with spina bifida, if the parent was a veteran with verified service from January 1962 to May 1975 in Thailand, also qualify.
Additionally, the law provides greater access to the VA's Home Loan Program, which provides no-down-payment home loans, regardless of loan amount. The home-loan fee is reduced for eligible reservists and National Guard borrowers who are using their home-loan benefits for the first time.
According to the news release, veterans filing a claim for herbicide-related disability should use VA Form 21-526EZ, “Application For Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits" or work with a VA-recognized veterans service organization to assist in the application process. They may also contact their state Veterans Affairs office.
Blue Water veterans who previously filed a claim that was denied may provide new or additional information regarding their claim when reapplying. To do so, veterans should use VA Form 20-0995, “Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim.” The new law allows Veterans Affairs to automatically review claims now in the review process or under appeal.
Although the VA has said that as many as 560,000 veterans could qualify under the law, advocates say the number is closer to 90,000.