Benefits Related to Agent Orange Exposure
Washington, D.C. (Jan. 6, 2020) – Hill & Ponton announced today the launch of an interactive online map designed to help Vietnam veterans apply for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability benefits under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
Disability attorneys from Hill & Ponton have been serving Blue Water Navy veterans fighting for service-connection for offshore Agent Orange exposure from the VA for more than ten years.
On June 25, 2019, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (HR 299) was signed into law, giving Vietnam veterans who served on a ship inside the designated zone access to service-connected disability benefits for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.
HR 299 gives VA a deadline of January 1, 2020 to begin processing new Blue Water Veterans disability claims. Establishing eligibility using the thousands of map coordinates provided by Congress makes it difficult for veterans to link their own service to the VA eligibility requirements.
In response, Hill & Ponton created a simple, interactive data visualization tool. The map uses U.S. government mapping coordinates showing whether a US Navy ship entered into the ‘Blue Water Zone,’ thereby qualifying servicemembers for disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure during offshore service.
“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for veterans to determine if they were inside the zone,” said Matthew Hill, Managing Partner, Hill & Ponton. “Improving transparency and simplifying access to this data is essential as we support the Vietnam veterans who were impacted during their offshore service by Agent Orange exposure and are now suffering the effects.”
To create the database powering the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 Map, Hill & Ponton collaborated with Ed Ball, Director of Research at Military Veterans Advocacy Inc. and Board Member, Blue Water Navy Veterans Association; using information from the National Archives and U.S. military ship logs.
To utilize the simple online data visualization tool, servicemembers can enter their own service latitude and longitude data or use the preloaded list of ship coordinates.
“I began collecting and plotting deck logs within the Republic of Vietnam territorial waters in 2016 with the goal of making the information publicly available to all Blue Water Navy veterans and surviving widows,” said Ed Ball, USN, Ret., Board Member, Blue Water Navy Association. “Over 1,700 deck logs have been plotted to date and we continue to add new information from the BWNVVA Master List of deck logs.”
Prior to the passage of HR 299, only servicemembers with ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam or who had been exposed to inland waterways were eligible for service-connected disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure. However, Blue Water veterans have also shown symptoms connected with exposure. To determine eligibility under the new law, veterans must show service on a US military vessel while it was in the Congressionally drawn zone.
“As veterans, spouses, and caregivers who have done their own research send us additional data points, we will continue to update the online map.
Together we are crowdsourcing the information veterans need to determine VA benefits eligibility connected to Agent Orange exposure and making it simple and quick to uncover,” said Hill.
Access the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 Map here.
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Mr. Hill focuses his practice on representing the disabled veterans. He is a member of the Florida Bar and the Washington D.C. Bar. He is licensed to practice before the United States District Court in and for the Middle District of Florida, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He represents veterans and their dependents across the nation.
In addition to representing the disabled, Mr. Hill is a recognized authority on VA law. He has authored several books on VA service connected benefits. Mr. Hill gives presentations across the nation on VA disability compensation. He is the treasurer for the board of directors of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA).
Mr. Hill attended the University of Florida and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish in 2002. He was elected into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated Cum Laude. He attended law school at the University of Florida and was awarded the book award in Trial Practice. He earned his law degree in 2005. Before attending the University of Florida, Mr. Hill spent a year in Uruguay where he became fluent in Spanish.
After graduating law school, Mr. Hill was a Judicial Law Clerk to The Honorable Anne C. Conway, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. While working for Judge Conway, Mr. Hill drafted orders, researched complex legal issues, and attended trials and hearings. Mr. Hill also assisted Judge Conway when she sat by designation with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia