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A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. has sided with thousands of Vietnam War veterans who were stationed offshore during the Vietnam war and developed health problems linked to exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled overwhelmingly for these sailors, finding they are eligible for the same disability benefits as those who put boots on the ground or patrolled Vietnam’s inland rivers.
The 9-to-2 decision reverses a decade-old ruling by the court and applies to an estimated 90,000 veterans Nationwide. A court majority said Congress clearly intended to extend benefits to sailors who were stationed in the territorial seas off the coast of Vietnam.
The ruling means Navy veterans who served within Vietnam’s territorial sea will now be presumed eligible for disability benefits if they have one of the diseases that is linked to Agent Orange.
The federal court ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot deny disability benefits to Blue Water Navy veteran anymore.
But the 9-2 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturns past court opinions backing up VA, saying that Congress never intended to exclude servicemembers in the seas around Vietnam when they awarded presumptive benefits for certain illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure.
If VA officials opt not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court in the next 90 days — or if the court decides not to hear the case — the result means that up to 90,000 blue water veterans could see disability payouts as early as this year.
Chris Attig, founder of the Veterans Law Blog warns, “The Government has the right to appeal and they probably will.”
But, in the meantime, Blue Water Navy veterans are encouraged to file a disability claim immediately if they have any of the ailments linked to Agent Orange.