A “blue water” veteran is an individual who served in ships up to 12 miles off the coast but who never made landfall in Vietnam. In case you hadn’t heard, under current department rules, “blue water” veterans can receive medical care for their illnesses through VA. However, Vets must submit “scientific” proof that their disabilities are DIRECTLY related to toxic exposure while on duty.
But what does that actually mean?
These kinds of claims essentially fall under a presumptive benefit claims, similar to Agent Orange exposure. Because of the heavy use of chemical defoliants (like Agent Orange) during the Vietnam War, the VA assumes any veteran who served on the ground there and later contracts an illness that could be related to toxic exposure should be presumed to have a service-connected health condition. Or in this case, the Veteran served on a ship. These presumptions significantly reduce the paperwork and wait times for disability benefits, worth up to several thousand dollars a month.
So while a veteran who served on the shoreline could receive disability payouts after contracting maladies like Parkinson’s Disease or prostate cancer, another vet who served on a ship a few miles away would have to provide evidence of direct contact with hazardous chemicals to receive any payouts.
This week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced plans to reinforce that ruling and provide a permanent fix those veterans, who claim exposure to cancer-causing chemical defoliants has caused a host of rare cancers and respirator illnesses.
The Department of Justice has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has advised against doing so. Federal officials have until the end of April to formally decide whether to appeal a court ruling which could grant disability benefits to more than 90,000 veterans.
We’ll keep you updated.