The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decade-old ruling that potentially paves the way for the return of earned disability benefits for so-called Blue Water Navy veterans from the Vietnam War.
On Jan. 29, the Federal Circuit issued its decision in Procopio v. Wilkie, holding that, for determining the presumption of Agent Orange exposure, the operative phrase “served in the Republic of Vietnam” covers service on the Vietnam mainland (foot-on-land requirement), inland waterways and now, service on a ship that came within 12 miles of the mainland.
The Procopio decision did away with the Blue Water/Brown Water distinction. Recall that, previously, the VA distinguished between two types of naval service in Vietnam. The first, Brown Water Navy veterans, referred to veterans who served on ships or other vessels that entered inland waterways. Blue Water Navy veterans, on the other hand, referred to Navy veterans whose vessels remained offshore and never entered inland waterways.
Veterans’ organizations and other veterans’ advocacy groups had long criticized the Brown and Blue Water distinction as inaccurate and unfair. Studies showed that many Blue Water veterans were likely to have been exposed to Agent Orange just as Brown Water veterans. With the Procopio opinion, about 50,000 to 70,000 additional Navy veterans will now be presumed exposed to Agent Orange.
It is recommended that all Navy veterans who were previously classified as Blue Water Navy veterans, who served off the coast of Vietnam on a ship that came within 12 miles of the mainland during the period beginning Jan. 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, contact their local County Veterans Service Officer for more information about Agent Orange-related disabilities and the VA disability claims process.
Richard Schleeter is the veterans service officer for the La Plata County Veterans Service Office. He can be reached at 759-0117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.