On Jan. 1, 2020, the VA began processing disability compensation and dependency and indemnity (DIC) claims for Vietnam-era Navy veterans and their survivors exposed to the defoliating toxin commonly known as Agent Orange, or AO.
This veteran group, familiarly known as Blue Water Navy (BWN) veterans, had long contended that their ships, having steamed within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam, had ingested the toxic AO runoff into their watering producing systems. Drinking and bathing from the water produced on those vessels thus exposed those veterans to Agent Orange.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law June 25, 2019. The act gave the VA the remainder of 2019 to prepare for the implementation of BWN veterans’ claims into the Agent Orange presumptive program.
If a veteran is diagnosed with one of the presumptive conditions and can prove service in Vietnam -- and now service within 12 nautical miles off the coast -- then that condition is “presumed” to be service-connected and given a VA disability rating.
Over the summer, the VA received the deck logs from every surface vessel active during the Vietnam era and used a geographic locator tool to determine when each vessel “crossed the line.” The VA cross-references each claimant’s DD-214 or personnel record to determine presumption – in other words, to find out whether the veteran was assigned to that vessel on a day it operated within the 12-nautical-mile zone.
To date, BWN submariners from the Vietnam era are excluded from presumption, as their sensitive deck logs were not included in the original grouping from the archives. There is no official estimate of when, or if, this last group will be included.
The current list of 14 Agent Orange presumptive diseases can be found here.
The Senate draft version of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would add three long-awaited conditions to the AO presumptive list: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. A fourth condition, hypertension, was removed pending a study expected in late 2020. The House’s draft NDAA does not include language adding these conditions to the list.
Below are the July BWN Claim Report figures as of July 31.
Blue Water Navy Claims for Processing (3,027 received in July)
- Total Claims for Processing: 63,818 (includes 55,916 veteran claims and 7,902 survivor claims)
- Pending Claims: 34,858 (includes 31,196 veteran claims and 3,662 survivor claims)
- Completed Claims: 28,960 (includes 24,720 veteran claims and 4,240 survivor claims)
The VA completed 2,903 claims in July. Of the 28,960 total completed claims, 20,690, or 71.4%, were granted, with total retroactive benefit payments of $583,840,584. Here’s a breakdown of the total completed claims:
- Veterans: 72.6% of completed claims (17,957 of 24,720) were granted, with total retroactive benefit payments of $523,066,664.
- Survivors: 64.5% of completed claims (2,733 of 4,240) were granted, with total retroactive benefit payments of $60,773,920.
The most common granted BWN Agent Orange disabilities were diabetes mellitus, malignant growths of genitourinary system (prostate cancer), arteriosclerotic heart disease (coronary artery disease), coronary bypass surgery, and malignant growth of the lung (lung cancer).
The most common reasons for denial were no diagnosis of a presumptive condition and that presumptive status had not been established, meaning no proof of exposure. In other words, that no record exists of the veteran’s vessel crossing over the 12-nautical-mile threshold.