New ruling promises fix for ‘Blue Water’ Veterans

Last week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced plans to back a ruling that promises a permanent fix for ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam veterans who claim that their rare illnesses are caused by exposure to chemical defoliants while in service.

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes.com “[The] “blue water” veterans problem centers on the idea of presumptive benefits claims. Because of the heavy use of chemical defoliants (like Agent Orange) during the Vietnam War, 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.”

Under current VA department rules, veterans who served in ships up to 12 miles off the coast that never made landfall are eligible to receive medical care for their illnesses through VA. However, in order to receive these disability benefits, they are required to provide scientific proof that their illnesses are directly connected to toxic exposure while on duty. Advocates have said that, given the time that has passed since the war, obtaining such proof is unrealistic and almost impossible.

Now, the fate of disability benefits for “blue water” Vietnam veterans will be among the key priorities that lawmakers address when they return from their district break at the end of the month. In addition, the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have introduced similar plans, and is preparing for an in-depth hearing on the topic early next month.

The Department of Justice has until the end of April to appeal the ruling, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has advised against doing so. Earlier this month, Wilkie claimed that he was collaborating with lawmakers on possible strategies for granting benefits and how to finance them. The House hearing is also expected to touch on the financial aspect. These benefits are estimated by Congress to cost around $1.1 billion over 10 years.

To learn more about ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam veterans benefits, click here.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability