A federal court ruled earlier this year that the Department of Veterans Affairs is not allowed to deny disability benefits to thousands of Vietnam War veterans who claimed exposure to Agent Orange and other cancer-causing chemicals simply because they served on ships and not inland. Known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 90,000 military members served aboard these ships on the open water off of the coast of Vietnam and who did not go ashore will now be eligible for the same benefits as veterans who served only a few miles away on land.
New Ruling on Disability Compensation
The United States Court of Appeals determined that the law surrounding the payment of disability benefits to Vietnam War veterans exposed to dangerous chemicals never intended to exclude Blue Water veterans. Under the old laws, Blue Water veterans were able to receive medical care for illness with the VA; however, in order to claim disability compensation, they were required to prove direct connection to toxic exposure while on duty. Inland veterans were only required to show that they contracted an illness associated with Agent Orange and other dangerous chemicals to collect the same benefits because of presumed contact with these elements during their service.
Eligibility for Blue Water Veterans
In order for Blue Water veterans to claim disability compensation under the new ruling, a veteran must be able to prove that he or she served between 1962 and 1975 offshore within 12 nautical miles of the landmass of Vietnam and are currently diagnosed with one of the medical conditions associated with Agent Orange and other dangerous chemical exposure. The list of presumptive conditions associated with these chemicals includes the following:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-Cell Leukemia
- Diabetes Mellitus Type II
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease (including Coronary Artery Disease, stable and unstable angina, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death)
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers, including Lung Cancer
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and mesothelioma)
How to Apply for Disability Compensation
A Blue Water veteran can apply for disability benefits through the VA by going online or applying in person at a Veterans Service Organization. However, it is highly recommended that you use an experienced disability benefits attorney to help you through the process. A lawyer can streamline and expedite the process of receiving compensation, and it minimizes the chances of your application being denied. A lawyer can also help appeal a denied decision and explain your legal options through every step of the process.
If awarded, disability benefits for veterans range anywhere from $140 to a little over $3,050 per month for a single veteran with no dependents. However, special circumstances such as eligible dependents, a spouse, minor children, adult children in school, and dependent parents can increase the amount of disability compensation you receive.