The Department of Veterans Affairs previously tried to deny thousands of Vietnam veterans disability benefits after they were exposed to chemical defoliants classified as carcinogens, but no longer. A federal court ruled that the VA must pay up, a huge victory for the “blue water” Navy vets who have been engaged in the legal battle for years in spite of government denials that they were ever exposed or that payments were not justified legally.
The basis for the VA denial of veterans benefits? The VA does not believe there is enough evidence that the sailors were exposed to these carcinogenic chemicals. According to the VA defense, the organization should not have to pay benefits because they served off the coast of Vietnam. The organization has already paid those who served inland.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9-2 in favor of the vets.
The ruling stated that Congress had no intention of excluding those who served off the coast, when they had already provided a disability benefit for everyone else exposed to Agent Orange. The VA already allowed all blue water veterans to receive medical care, but disability requirements required they proved the connection to Agent Orange and their symptoms, only because they served on a ship off the coast instead of on the mainland. The new ruling guarantees they receive both medical care and disability benefits.
The veterans’ defense argued that proving a connection between their illnesses and the chemical exposure is not possible because of the large amount of time that has passed, and federal judges agreed with the assessment.
.” ..By using the formal term ‘Republic of Vietnam,’ Congress unambiguously referred, consistent with uniform international law, to both its landmass and its 12-nautical-mile territorial sea,” judges said.
The VA has the option to make a formal appeal to the decision, which would bounce the case to the U.S. Supreme Court within three months. If the VA does not appeal, or the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, then 90,000 veterans will receive the benefits in a year or two.
Previously, some senators blocked legislation that would have righted the wrong last year. Because they did not pass the legislation, they now have to find funding in order to pay for the settlement award, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to over $1 billion over the space of a decade.