The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to review the cases of 16,830 “brown water” Navy and other Vietnam-era veterans whose disability claims related to the herbicide Agent Orange were denied, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s office said.
Akaka, D-Hawaii, said the VA denied claims without properly determining whether veterans served in Vietnam’s inland waterways, referred to as “brown water,” or served in other locations where they may have been exposed to Agent Orange.
Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urged the VA to reconsider cases in which claims by Vietnam veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange were denied without obtaining relevant military records.
Akaka sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on March 30 saying veterans’ affairs committee staff visited VA offices, reviewed 80 randomly selected claims “and found some alarming trends in adjudication.”
Most of the files reviewed did not have evidence such as deck logs, a captain’s history or other documents which would make it possible to determine whether the veteran served exclusively offshore, and was ineligible for presumption of exposure to Agent Orange, or served on inland waterways, and could have had exposure, the letter said.
Shinseki wrote back on Sept. 17 saying that he agreed that a review of all 16,830 affected cases was warranted “and will be conducted to identify and correct any case that was improperly denied.”
“I commend VA for responding to data showing that many Navy vessels thought to have stayed at sea actually traveled into the inland waters of Vietnam,” Akaka said in a statement. “As a result, veterans who served on these vessels are eligible for the same benefits as Vietnam veterans who served on land.”
Agent Orange was used in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides to remove leaves from trees that provided cover for enemy forces, the VA said.
The VA said it has recognized certain cancers and other diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, and that veterans, their children and survivors may be eligible for compensation benefits.
Claims had been held in abeyance by the VA while litigation was pending concerning veterans who served on “blue water” ships away from shore and their exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Those claims were subsequently denied.
Many of those veterans actually served in the “brown water” or inland waters of Vietnam, and should have received the same presumption of exposure as veterans who had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, Akaka’s office said.
The VA presumes that veterans who served in inland waterways were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides.
With the review, some veterans who were previously considered “blue water” veterans will have their claims re-evaluated for evidence of “brown water” service, or evidence of service in other locations where the VA acknowledges that herbicides may have been used, such as the perimeter of Air Force bases in Thailand, Akaka’s office said.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee website provides a list of ships the VA has acknowledged traveled in inland waters, as well as evidence about other ships that the committee has received at http://veterans.senate.gov.