During the Vietnam War, thousands upon thousands of soldiers were exposed to Agent Orange – a powerful herbicide used to clear out thick jungle foliage and expose the enemy. Only years later did the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs determine that the chemical was toxic to humans and likely caused a wide range of medical issues in a large number of soldiers exposed to the substance. Soon, exposure to Agent Orange was linked to several types of cancer, nerve issues, digestive problems, skin conditions, respiratory problems, and diabetes.
After years of struggle, the VA decided that any Vietnam veteran who set foot on solid ground in Vietnam during the war was automatically eligible for veterans’ disability benefitsif they suffered from a disease or condition linked with Agent Orange exposure – and finally, thousands of veterans got the support that they needed. However, one large group of Vietnam vets were ignored: those who patrolled the waters outside of Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 but who never stepped onto land. These “blue water” veterans continue to be denied benefits despite their symptoms and needs.
While the United States has conducted a study that determined that blue water veterans were probably not exposed to Agent Orange (although there are several plausible ways that exposure could have occurred), other countries with similar issues, such as Australia, found that their deep water seamen were affected and have awarded them disability benefits as needed.
What should you do if you are a blue water veteran who believe that your health issues are connected to your exposure to toxic herbicides during your service? Speak to an attorney about your medical issues and your service to determine whether or not you should attempt to seek benefits. In addition, know that there are several activist groups that you can join who are fighting for the rights of those who served on deep sea vessels in Vietnam and who are struggling with disabilities related to Agent Orange exposure.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.