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The VA Extends Benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Jan. 1st

The Department of Veterans Affairs begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020. This extends the presumption of herbicide exposure, including toxins such as Agent Orange, for Veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. This change was required by legislation and a federal court mandate (Procopio v. Wilkie). Prior to these measures, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground or within Vietnam's inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure.

Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The law also applies to Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971. These Veterans can now apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans no longer need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides. The specific conditions can be found by searching for "Agent Orange" online.

Survivors of Veterans can also file claims for benefits, based on the veteran's service, if the veteran died from at least one of the presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida, if their parent is or was a veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program. The law creates more access for Veterans to obtain no-down-payment home loans, regardless of the loan amount. Also, the home loan funding fee is reduced for eligible Reservists and National Guard first-time borrowers who use their home loan benefit. Certain Purple Heart recipients do not pay any funding fee. The VA's website describes these and other benefits.

Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office.

Blue Water Navy Veterans, who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA, may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, Veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, the VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.

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