VA won’t challenge ‘Blue Water’ Navy court ruling

Matt Saintsing
March 26, 2019 - 1:46 pm
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he wouldn't appeal a federal court ruling unlocking benefits for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans.

Photo courtesy of Rep. David Valadao

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs will not recommend an appeal to a federal court ruling unlocking disability and compensation benefits to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange in the waters off the coast of Vietnam. 

In a victory for some 90,000 so-called “Blue Water” Navy sailors, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he does not want to see the Justice Department fight the January ruling, clearing a key barrier for some Vietnam veterans to begin receiving health care and other benefits. 

Last year, the legislation cleared the House unanimously to extend benefits to those sailors who served in territorial waters during the Vietnam War, only to have it fail in the Senate

In January, however, a federal appeals court heard the case of Alfred Procopio Jr., a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who served on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier, but had been denied benefits for diabetes and cancer he says is from exposure to Agent Orange. 

The court agreed with Procopio’s claim. “We find no merit in the government’s arguments to the contrary,” wrote Judge Kimberly A. Moore. 

Currently, to receive disability benefits, these veterans must prove their illnesses are directly connected to Agent Orange exposure, while those who served on land in Vietnam have a presumption of exposure. But since the exposure occurred up to 60 years ago, the court agreed that proving exposure is not realistic. 

The announcement received praise from lawmakers. 

RELATED: Court rules VA must presume exposure for 'Blue Water' Navy veterans

“I think your recommendation will be key,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), adding he hopes that Wilkie’s position would be “endorsed and adopted heartily to bring fairness and justice to our Blue Water Navy veterans.” 

RELATED: Lawmakers reintroduce legislation to help Blue Water Navy veterans

Wilkie said that some 51,000 Blue Water Navy veterans had already seen some benefits. 

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