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VA to Speed Up Review of Disability Claims for Some Vietnam-Era Vets

Newly digitized deck logs allow benefits to be processed faster for eligible Blue Water Navy veterans

Sam Grenco is a Blue Water Navy Vietnam veteran looking through an old photo album on a table

Tribune Content Agency LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

Sam Grenco, a "Blue Water" Navy Vietnam veteran, has health conditions aligned with those caused by a chemical in Agent Orange.

En español | In an effort to expedite disability claims for Vietnam-era veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced on Monday that it has completed efforts to digitize declassified deck logs from 1956 to 1978. The deck logs, also known as ship logs or captain's logs, contain critical service information for U.S. Navy and Coast Guard members that can be used to process disability claims faster.

The VA and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) scanned over 20 million documents from the Navy and Coast Guard that include details of notable events that occurred in and around a ship, as well as the duties and activities of its officers and crew. This information can help validate claims for so-called Blue Water Navy Veterans (those who were stationed on ships in deep waters off the coast of Vietnam), their surviving spouses and certain dependents, by establishing the likelihood of herbicide exposure and gaining eligibility for service-connected disability benefits.

example of a routine June 1, 1968 deck log entry from the USS Colleton at sea in Vietnam

National Archives

Routine deck log entry of USS Colleton, June 1, 1968.

An estimated 90,000 Blue Water veterans were ineligible for Agent Orange-related benefits until January 2020, after the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law. Previously, only Vietnam War veterans who served on the ground or within inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation based on a presumption of exposure to the chemical defoliant.

"The team at NARA recognizes the importance of this effort making it easier for BWN (Blue Water Navy) Veterans to receive the benefits they've earned without burdening them with paperwork,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a news release. “Since January 1, VA has processed thousands of claims and encourages every veteran, dependent and surviving spouse who is eligible to file a claim as soon as possible.”

To date, the VA has provided $641 million to more than 22,500 Blue Water Navy veterans or their survivors.

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Last week, Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and 45 other Senators sent a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees urging them to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the VA's list of Agent Orange-related diseases. Doing so would make 34,000 more veterans eligible for disability benefits, according to the letter.

For now, veterans, dependents and surviving spouses may contact an approved Veteran Service Organization for assistance in filing a disability claim. If you have previously filed a claim that was denied, you can file a new claim based on the recent law. In some cases, retroactive payments will be made based on the date a claim was first submitted. Further information can be found from the VA about filing a claim here and Agent Orange exposure here.

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