About 5 years ago, there was a big push inside the VA to fix all the claims of Veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange claims. Entire Regional Offices put other claims on hold to tackle the problem, and no other claims were processed.
And for a good number of Vietnam Veterans, the project ultimately worked – their claims were granted and they started receiving the benefits that the VA told them they were entitled to.
But 2 problems remain:
1) Not every Vietnam Veteran’s claims were fixed. I talk to many Veterans every month that are still trying to prove exposure to Agent Orange – even despite VA rules giving them the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange
2) Many Veterans are entitled to benefits beyond what the VA decided it would pay. They have disabilities that should be service connected, past-due money that should have been paid, effective dates that the VA got wrong, and more.
So in an effort to help Vietnam era Veterans become more aware of the benefits that they might be entitled to from the VA, we have been “going back to basics” over the last few weeks here on the Veterans Law Blog.
Back to Basics: Brown Water Agent Orange Claims.
When it comes to Agent Orange claims, the VA has created one hell of a maze of red tape.
Each group of Veterans are treated differently.
Soldiers that puts “Boots on the Ground” in the RVN get the most favorable treatment. Thailand Veterans are the orphans of Agent Orange….and the VA can’t ever seem to remember that we used Agent Orange in Korea.
Then there are places like Guam, Okinawa, Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where other nations – and our own soldiers – have reported seeing, transporting, storing and using Agent Orange….but the VA continues to play the role of the “See No Evil” Monkey, covering its eyes with Monsanto’s hands.
Then there is the saga of the Brown Water Agent Orange Claim. This used to be a bigger problem than it is now.
Used to be that the VA said that no Navy Vets could get the presumption of service connection for Agent Orange exposure unless they can show that they put both feet onto RVN soil.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case – if you are a Brown Water Vietnam Veteran, you can get many of your current disabilities service connected on the basis of legal presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.
For example, if you were exposed to Agent Orange, and later in life are diagnosed with Diabetes, you are entitled to a legal presumption that your diabetes was caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
What are Brown Water Agent Orange Claims?
Generally, a “Brown Water” Veteran is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam war that never set foot on Vietnamese soil, instead serving on ships that operated outside Vietnam.
For you civilians, the sailors that navigated the Patrol Boat up river in Apocalypse Now were Brown Water Navy.
Brown Water Navy Veterans were on ships that operated in the inland waterways of the Republic of Vietnam, and thus the VA theorizes that they were more likely to be exposed to Agent Orange than their Blue Water Navy cousins.
Why is this distinction important?
A Vietnam Veteran’s classification as a “Blue Water” or “Brown Water” Vet may drastically impact the Veteran’s ability to prove service-connection of their Agent-Orange related conditions, secure VA disability compensation and a whole array of VA benefits, including health care for diseases and/or medical conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.
And there are a lot of conditions that the law PRESUMES are caused by exposure to Agent Orange. And, there is a host of evidence that even skin cancers might result from exposure to Agent Orange.
How does a Brown Water Navy Vet PROVE he was exposed to Agent Orange?
There are a couple ways – I’m not going to list all of them here, but I will point out a couple:
The easiest way is to show that you were on a particular ship designated on the Brown Water List, during the timeframe the shipped entered “Brown Water” or during a particular Brown Water mission.
Make sure – and this crucial – that there is proof in your VA C-File that you were on a Brown Water vessel during the time that it was in Brown Water. How can
you make sure of this? Get a copy of your VA C-File.
Another way – if your ship is not on the DOD list – is to request the deck logs of your ship from the Naval or National Archives. The deck logs will confirm the time/dates of various missions, and from those deck logs, you can prove that the ship was in the Brown Water – or inland waterways – of the Republic of Vietnam.
Don’t be discouraged – the DOD is always adding new ships to this list.
One of our clients passed away before his ship was added to the list – we were able to help his surviving spouse recover 6 figures in past-due benefits, however.
The Attig Law Firm has a personal and professional interest in helping survivors of Vietnam Veterans recovering not only survivor benefits from the VA, but also the benefits that the Veteran should have been paid during their lifetime.
* This post was originally published on October 17, 2010, and has been updated to provide more current information.