Last month, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report that looked at possible connections between Agent Orange and Blue Water Navy Veterans who served in Vietnam. The report concluded that there isn’t enough information available to justify tying a presumption of Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water service. But, like a lot of medical reports, if you’re not an expert, the results can be a little hard to interpret—to figure out what it actually means for Veterans.
Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans are those who served aboard deep-water U.S. Navy vessels, but did not dock or set foot on land in Vietnam. On the other hand, Brown Water Navy Vietnam Veterans served on vessels that patrolled the inland shoals and waterways of the Republic of Vietnam.
With respect to Agent Orange, Brown Water Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war (and who have an illness which is presumed to be related to the herbicide) don’t have to prove an association between their medical problems and their military service. There are 14 diseases that fall under this presumption, and they’re referred to as presumptives.
Here’s a little bit of a timeline:
- May 2010: Secretary Shinseki asked the IOM to evaluate whether Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans experienced exposures to herbicides and their contaminants comparable with those of the Brown Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and those on the ground in Vietnam. If so, the IOM was asked to compare the routes of possible exposure and evaluate whether such exposures would lead to an increased risk of long-term adverse health effects.
- August 2010: A new Final Regulation was published, adding two additional diseases, and expanding our definition of an existing disease, on the list of Agent Orange presumptives.
- November 2010: VA began paying benefits based on these additional diseases.
- May 2011: The IOM released the report, concluding that, qualitatively, ground troops and Brown Water Navy Veterans had more “plausible pathways of exposure” to Agent Orange than did Blue Water Navy Veterans. But, because of the lack of data on environmental concentrations of Agent Orange contaminants, the IOM could not compare actual exposures among these groups and concluded that it exposure of Blue Water Navy Veterans to Agent Orange cannot reasonably be determined. VA’s subject matter experts are still in the process of reviewing the findings.
The results of this report do not mean that Blue Water Navy Veterans cannot submit claims and apply for benefits if they believe they were exposed to Agent Orange.
The current claims process for Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans follows the same path as most Veterans submitting claims to VA: They are taken on a case by case basis, but there is no presumed association between illness and service – there must be evidence to support the claim.
There is one disease that’s an exception to these findings: non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Blue Water Veterans claiming non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a disability may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in Vietnam. This is because VA also recognizes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as associated with service in Vietnam or the waters offshore of Vietnam during the Vietnam Era.
VA has recognized claims from Vietnam Veterans whose ships entered inland waterways, and/or docked at specific times and locations, if they claim that they went ashore. So far, this applies to 140 ships and 51 classes of vessels. Veterans who were aboard these ships are eligible for benefits based on the presumption that their diseases are associated with their service in Vietnam.
For more information on Public Health and Environmental Hazards, like Agent Orange, you can visit: www.publichealth.va.gov