Early yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit struck down the VA’s policy of denying disability benefits to Vietnam-era blue-water Navy veterans for exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides on a presumptive basis. In a case called Procopio v. Wilkie the court decided that veterans who served within the “territorial waters” of Vietnam are now entitled to presumptive service connection for diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure.
The court’s decision will come as a relief to many veterans who are suffering from diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure but who have been denied benefits by the VA because they served in the waters surrounding Vietnam. Before today’s decision the VA interpreted the Agent Orange Bill, which requires the VA to presume that certain diseases are connected to a veteran’s service in Vietnam, to only apply to veterans who served on land or in “brown water”—the inland waterways of Vietnam. This rule prevented veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam from being able to receive this favorable presumption even if they were exposed to Agent Orange during their service.
The Procopio v. Wilkie decision now extends this favorable presumption to veterans who served within the territorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam, which the court defined as the “12 nautical mile territorial sea” off the coast. This means that veterans who served within 12 miles of the Vietnam coast and have a condition that the VA recognizes as being caused by exposure to Agent Orange may now receive the presumptive service connection that was formerly only extended to veterans who served on land.
Tuesday’s decision will hopefully bring relief to some of the nearly 2.7 million veterans who served in Vietnam and marks another ruling from the courts recognizing a failure by the VA to serve our nation’s veterans.