Federal appeals court opens path for benefits for ‘Blue Water Navy’ veterans

Published 9:05 am Friday, April 5, 2019

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), sitting en banc, overturned in a landmark ruling a lower court’s decision January 29 in Procopio v. Wilkie that “Blue Water Navy” veterans could not claim service-connected benefits based on presumptive exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.

CAFC Circuit Judge Kimberly Ann Moore delivered the majority opinion that held presumptive exposure to Agent Orange extends to veterans of the Vietnam War that served within 12 nautical miles of the country during the period of January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975.

According to David Batchelder, Carter County veterans service officer, the term Blue Water Navy veterans refer to persons who served within 12 nautical miles off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam during the war. This is in reference to the water being blue (rather than the brown of shallower water) the further away it was from Vietnam’s land mass.

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The CAFC’s decision analyzed Congress’ intent when passing the Agent Orange Act in 1991, and determined “the intent of Congress is clear from its use of the term ‘in the Republic of Vietnam,’ which all available international law unambiguously confirms includes its territorial sea.”

Batchelder said the ruling has effectively done away with a previous VA requirement that claimants show they were present on the landmass or the inland waters of Vietnam in order to claim the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.

In a memorandum issued by Travis Murphy, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Veterans Services, the ruling “could result in VA disability benefit, survivor benefit, health care and ancillary benefit eligibility for thousands of veterans and surviving family members.”

The government could appeal the CAFC decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the Murphy memorandum and Batchelder have both expressed that so far there has been no indication of further escalation of the litigation by the government.

Batchelder encourages any veterans and surviving family members who have contracted major diseases they believe may have been a result of exposure to Agent Orange to contact his office at 423-542-1824 for assistance. Batchelder’s office is located on the second floor of the Carter County Courthouse at 801 East Elk Ave.