Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) March 1, 2019 - A federal appeals court decided on January 29 that Vietnam War veterans who developed health problems due to Agent Orange exposure while serving on offshore ships were entitled to disability benefits. The ruling means more than 50,000 veterans nationwide may now be able to receive several thousand dollars in disability payments each month.
A 9-2 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed past court rulings backing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA has for years denied the disability claims of “blue water” Navy veterans who patrolled waters off Vietnam’s coastline. The department claimed they were ineligible for the same benefits as service members who were stationed inland.
“The court ruling marks an important step in the effort to win benefits for all veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, no matter where they were located,” commented Florida veterans lawyer David W. Magann. “The hope is that the VA will now extend disability payments to blue water Navy veterans. These service members, who sacrificed their own health, have been suffering from the effects of toxic exposure for a long time through no fault of their own.”
Currently blue water veterans can receive medical treatment for their illnesses through the VA. However, they cannot receive disability benefits unless they prove their health problems are directly linked to toxic exposure while on duty. That is not the case for other Vietnam veterans, who are awarded presumptive benefits for ailments linked to Agent Orange exposure. The U.S. military sprayed the cancer-causing chemical herbicide to destroy crops in Vietnam.
Advocates for blue water veterans cited research that indicated they were exposed to Agent Orange through contaminated water used for drinking and laundry on board their ships. VA officials have argued that the studies do not warrant presumption of Agent Orange exposure for the group and fought legislative efforts to reverse their decision. In their ruling, federal judges sided with advocates saying that obtaining proof of exposure is impossible and unjust. Blue water veterans should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to showing their medical conditions are connected to toxic exposure.
The court decision centered on a case filed by 73-year-old Alfred Procopio Jr. who was stationed on a vessel off the Vietnam coast. Procopio was denied disability benefits for claims linked to diabetes and prostate cancer due to Agent Orange exposure. He was deemed ineligible because he was not located “on the landmass or the inland waters of Vietnam.”
VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the department is reviewing the recent court decision. The government may launch a Supreme Court appeal.