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Wright County News

Posted on: December 24, 2019

Spouses of Vietnam Vets May Be Eligible for Benefits Under Blue Water Navy Veterans Act

The Wright County Veteran Services Office is reaching out to the surviving spouses and dependent children of Vietnam veterans who may be eligible for benefits for “Blue Water Navy” veterans who, for decades, were denied benefits related to potential exposure to Agent Orange during their military service.

In the years following the Vietnam War, the U.S. government acknowledged that all ground troops and “Brown Water Navy” veterans (those who patrolled the inland waterways of the Mekong Delta during the war) were exposed to Agent Orange, a strong herbicide that was used to defoliate jungle terrain for ground warfare. However, for decades, Blue Water Navy veterans and their families were denied benefits based on the assumed lack of exposure to Agent Orange. It wasn’t until 1991 that ground troops and Brown Water Navy vets were acknowledged for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, while Blue Water Navy veterans continued to be denied benefits for their potential exposure.

Wright County Veteran Services Director Greg Pickard said the fight to get access to benefits for Blue Water Navy vets has been a struggle.

“It’s gone on for decades,” Pickard said. “The Blue Water Navy are those who served on ships within the 12-mile territorial waters boundary from Vietnam. It’s called Blue Water Navy, but also includes Marines and Air Force personnel that served off the coast of Vietnam. The argument for years was that, because they didn’t serve on the ground or inside the borders of Vietnam that they couldn’t get benefits, even though there was pretty strong evidence that they had been exposed to Agent Orange, too, and were dying from it.”

That long fight finally ended on June 25, 2019, when President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The Veterans Administration was given until Jan. 1, 2020 to begin deciding Blue Water Navy-related claims. Pickard said that almost all veterans are aware of it, because of extensive veteran-related networks. However, surviving spouses and dependent children of vets who died from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure may not be aware.

“The VA has done a really good job of getting the word out to veterans,” Pickard said. “Between us (Veteran Services Officers), the American Legion, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans), almost all veterans who qualify have been made aware that the VA is starting to hear disability claims for Blue Water Navy vets. But, for the spouses of those who have died – and there are probably a lot of them out there – they may not know that they could be eligible for benefits, too.”

Under the new law, to qualify a veteran must have been diagnosed with a disease associated with Agent Orange exposure. These include AL amyloidosis, chloracne, chronic B-cell leukemia, diabetes mellitus Type 2, Hodgkin lymphoma, ischemic heart disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, porphyria cutanea tarda, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx or trachea) and soft-tissue sarcoma.

The law covers veterans who served in Vietnam from Jan. 9, 1962 until May 7, 1975 in the 12-mile zone off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia. It also extended claims for those who served in and around the Demilitarized Zone in the Korean War between Sept. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971 and children born to veterans who served in Thailand between January 1962 and May 1975 who contracted spina bifida.

Pickard said that, while the process has begun for Blue Water Navy veterans to get to file disability claims, surviving spouses and dependent children of those who died from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure have the right under the new law to potentially access pension, compensation and health care benefits that their spouses had following their service and need to be aware of it. He said for those who are widowed and their spouse qualified under the updated standard, they should contact his office at (763) 682-7325.

“We do most of our work with veterans themselves, but, if we can be of any assistance to the spouses of those Blue Water Navy vets, we’ll do whatever we can to help them out and try to steer them in the right direction,” Pickard said.

Information is available on the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website as to what potential benefits are available by clicking here:

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits/survivors.asp 

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