Veterans with Parkinson’s disease related to Agent Orange exposure, and who served in waters offshore of Vietnam, can now file a disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to receive benefits.
Last month, the president signed into law Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 299). The bill was introduced in Congress in January 2019 by Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and one of the original drafters of the legislation. By the time this bill came to a vote in the House, it had 333 co-sponsors.
“We applaud Congress for passing, and the president for signing, this important legislation,” said Ted Thompson, senior vice president of public policy for MJFF. “Now, veterans with Parkinson’s who served off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia will have access to deserved benefits from the VA,” he added.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officially recognized Parkinson’s as being associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service back in 2010. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide disability compensation to veterans suffering from illnesses which are “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era. However, in 2002, the VA narrowed the scope of Vietnam veterans qualified to receive compensation to those who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam or who served in inland waterways. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam, known as “Blue Water Navy” veterans, no longer met the criteria. H.R. 299 restored the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to include “Blue Water Navy” veterans. In addition to the Navy Vietnam veterans, the legislation also expands presumptive disability benefits to troops who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) advocated in both the House and the Senate for passage of the Blue Water bill. In 2017, we sent a letter of support to Representative David Valadao (R-CA). This legislation passed the House in 2018 but was never acted upon in the Senate. This year, the House passed the bill just before Memorial Day weekend, and the Senate passed it unanimously on June 12.
Those eligible include veterans with Parkinson's disease whose claims were previously denied and those with new claims. A provision in H.R. 299 states, “A veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975,” will be eligible for disability compensation for presumptive conditions of herbicide exposure. An additional provision adds that a “location as being offshore of Vietnam if the location is not more than 12 nautical miles seaward of a line commencing on the southwestern demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia.”
Specific details about dates and locations of service can be found in Section 2 of the Act: Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 299). It is estimated that 110,000 veterans in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease. If you’re among them and believe you may now be eligible for benefits, you can contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at www.va.gov or by calling 1-844-698-2311.