Deep Bench: Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act expands benefits and compensation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WZAW) -- On January 1, the Department of Veterans Affairs marked an important milestone in its journey to implement the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. President Donald Trump signed the act into law on June 25, 2019. This law provided a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to veterans who served in the eligible offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975.

Prior to the law, only veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure.

The BWN Act also expanded the time period of the presumption of herbicide exposure for service at the Korean DMZ from April 1, 1968 to September 1, 1967. The law also provides potential spina bifida benefits to children of veterans who are determined to have been exposed to herbicide agents while serving in Thailand. Prior the new law, spina bifida benefits were only provided to children of veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam or the Korean DMZ.

The VA worked with the United States National Archives and Records Administration to obtain deck logs of more than 1,800 ships that will be used to verify veterans’ locations during the presumed exposure dates.

BWN veterans with verified service are eligible 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 and have verified service. Veterans do not need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides.

Willie Clark, the Deputy Under Secretary, Office of Field Operations at Veterans Benefits Administration, joined the Deep Bench via satellite from Washington, D.C. on Monday.

“We will do everything we can to help them to establish a claim and pay these benefits that they are justly deserving of, as expeditiously as possible,” he said.

Clark added that the VA is excited to finally have this as a law.

“We are proud and happy as a result of this new law, benefits are being extended to those individuals, all of which are aged, we understand the demographics, many are very ill, some have passed on sadly, but they’re entitled to benefits, or their survivors are entitled to benefits,” Clark said.

Additional information about Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is available at https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp. You can also call 1-800-827-1000 or 1-800-749-8387.