Could deck logs be the key to unlocking benefits for “Blue Water” Navy vets?

Only if Congress acts.

Matt Saintsing
October 25, 2018 - 6:50 pm

Photo Courtesy of Raymond Pierson

Navy veteran Raymond Pierson spent a total of eight hours ashore on an island off the coast of Vietnam half a century ago. That single day grants him a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange and expands a host of VA benefits including medical treatment and disability compensation. 

Pierson left the Navy in 1969 but was diagnosed with an insulin-resistant type II diabetes five years ago, despite no such family history. As the ailment continues to puzzle doctors, it's clear to Pierson the illness stems from Agent Orange exposure. 

Now, he’s collecting evidence to submit a VA claim. Had he not gone ashore, however, he would be ineligible for benefits, just as the nearly 90,000 so-called “Blue Water” Navy veterans, who served in ships off the coast of Vietnam and are fighting for the same presumption currently afforded to their land-based comrades. Cancer, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and other illnesses have shown to be tied to exposure of the dioxin-riddled chemical. 

Photo Courtesy of Raymond Pierson

A heavy rainy season, monsoons and typhoons mean anything sprayed on land during the war made its way out to sea, where Navy ships distilled water for everything from creating steam, to bathing and even drinking. 

 “When you read the scientific evidence for spraying of Agent Orange, they claim they didn’t make it out on the water when we all know that’s not true,” Pierson, who is 69-years-old, tells Connecting Vets. “You’re going to pick up anything in the ocean and distill it to use it for drinking water and washing clothes.” 

Read More: Decades after Vietnam, ‘Blue Water’ sailors still fighting for VA benefits

In the event the Senate passes important legislation expanding VA benefits to veterans like Pierson, he’s helping others determine where exactly their ships were. 

By using old USS Ponchatoula deck logs , a record of notable events near and around ships, Pierson can prove he’s been as close as three nautical miles away from dry land. Between 1967 and 1969, he completed three cruises in the Western Pacific providing fuel and services to over 1,100 Navy vessels. 

“Everybody aboard those ships and those same days, are all similarly and equally exposed,” he says. “You have to gather the evidence." 

The deck logs from his ship, he says, can be used to determine where those ships were making their claim for VA benefits a little easier if Congress sends HR 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 to the White House. That measure would grant a presumption of exposure of Agent Orange to anyone who served inside a 12-mile distance from South Vietnam's territorial waters. 

While the deck logs are available, turning them into evidence is a lengthy and expensive process. 

They can be ordered through the National Archives, and some are available for free. Most of them, however, cost 80 cents per page, with the average having two-pages. Pierson says he spent $450 collecting as many deck logs as he can over the two year period he was there. 

Then, Pierson had to plot their locations using the given latitude and longitude coordinates. “It’s a very complex process put back on the veterans,” he adds. 

Courtesy of Raymond Pierson

In the hopes it can help others, the Blue Water Navy Association is encouraging anyone who has these logs to donate it to them. “That’s what I’m going to do,” says Pierson. 

But all the work will be worthless unless the Senate passes the measure. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, veterans “must have actually set foot on Vietnamese soil or served on a craft in its rivers” to receive VA benefits. 

Congress previously approved disability treatment and compensation payments to Blue Water Navy veterans, but in 2002 the VA reinterpreted the rule and rescinded the benefits. 

This legislation would restore benefits to nearly 90,000 former sailors who served off the coast of Vietnam. The House approved the measure 382-0 in June sending it to the Senate with hopes it would pass without objection.  

Read More: House to Senate: Pass 'Blue Water' Navy bill already

Photo Courtesy of Raymond Pierson

But that changed when VA  officials urged senators to reject the bill. 

“We oppose this bill because the science is not there, and we depend on science,” VA undersecretary of benefits Paul Lawrence told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in August. “We care, so we keep looking.” 

But while the bill is being debated in Congress, Pierson says there are countless other veterans similar to him who need help. 

By passing HR. 299, Pierson says it would be an “acknowledgment that maybe you weren’t a Marine stationed in Saigon, but you were in the United States Navy offshore providing support for everyone that was on shore, and you just happened to drink some Agent Orange.” 

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