WASHINGTON -The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) issued the following statement regarding President Trump’s signing of H.R.299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, into law.

“The signing of H.R. 299 into law is long overdue recognition of the suffering Blue Water Vietnam Veterans have endured for our country and its connection to Agent Orange exposure,” said Bart Stichman, NVLSP Executive Director. “But while H.R. 299 commendably gives these veterans and their survivors the right to retroactive benefits, it unfortunately fails to require that the VA automatically identify the thousands of veterans and survivors who are entitled to retroactive benefits back to the date their prior claim was filed.”

“The fruits of H.R. 299 will only be received if veterans and their survivors find out about their rights to retroactive benefits through VA outreach and then affirmatively file a new claim,” said Stichman. “Obviously, only a percentage of those entitled will benefit. Thus, Congress has unfortunately thrown thousands of disabled veterans and their survivors a lifeline that is a foot short.”

H.R. 299 follows the recent Procopio v. Wilkie decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which invalidated the VA rule denying the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to all veterans who served in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam.

With the Federal Circuit’s decision in Procopio, tens of thousands of Blue Water Vietnam Veterans who served in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam or their survivors now can obtain service-connected VA disability or death benefits for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. Diseases the VA presumes are associated with Agent Orange exposure include ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and numerous cancers. A full list of the diseases that the VA presumes are associated with exposure to Agent Orange can be found at PublicHealth.va.gov.  Survivors of Blue Water Vietnam Veterans who died from one of these diseases would also become entitled to service-connected death benefits (known as DIC).

Blue Water Vietnam Veterans previously denied Agent Orange-related benefits can contact NVLSP for assistance by email at [email protected]rg or via phone through NVLSP’s toll-free hotline: 855-333-0677.

From 2005 to 2009, NVLSP litigated the Haas case, which challenged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy limiting the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who had “boots on the ground” or served on the inland waterways of Vietnam.  Unfortunately, the Federal Circuit ruled by a vote of 2 to 1 in Haas that the term “service in the Republic of Vietnam” was ambiguous. Due to the ambiguity, the court allowed the VA’s interpretation to stand. That interpretation has remained the governing policy for determining Agent Orange disability benefits for the last 10 years until the court overturned Haas with its Procopio decision. NVLSP filed an amicus curiae brief in the Procopio case.

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1981. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVLSP has represented veterans in lawsuits that compelled enforcement of the law where the VA or other military services denied benefits to veterans in violation of the law. NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has resulted in more than $5.2 billion dollars being awarded in disability, death, and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors. NVLSP offers training for attorneys and other advocates; connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help when seeking disability benefits; publishes the nation’s definitive guide on veteran benefits; and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies, and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.

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