USS Whitehurst Logo by: Pat Stephens, Webmaster, DESA
This article was published in Military Times, 29 January
Court rules VA must pay disability benefits to
WASHINGTON — A federal court ruled Tuesday that the Department of
Affairs cannot deny disability benefits to thousands
of Vietnam veterans who claim
exposure to cancer-causing
chemical defoliants simply because those vets served in
off the country’s coastline, and not inland.
The ruling marks a major victory for so-called “blue
water” Navy veterans who have
fought the department for years
over the denials. VA officials have said the existing
justify the presumption of toxic exposure for the group
strongly opposed legislative efforts to overturn their decision.
9-2 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal
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.
Under current department rules, the blue water veterans can receive
medical care for
their illnesses through VA. But to receive
disability benefits — worth up to several
thousand dollars a month —
they must prove that their ailments are directly connected
exposure while on duty.
That’s not the case for other Vietnam veterans, who are presumed to
have been exposed
to Agent Orange and other defoliants known to
cause serious and rare cancers.
So while a veteran who served on the shoreline could receive
disability payouts after
contracting Parkinson’s Disease or prostate
cancer, another vet who served on a ship
a few miles away would have
to provide evidence of direct contact with hazardous chemicals.
Advocates have said that, given the time that has passed since the
war, obtaining such proof
is impossible and unfair. In their ruling,
the federal judges agreed.
“These statutes cast no doubt on our conclusion that, 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,” the ruling states.
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.
In a statement, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the department is
reviewing this decision
and “will determine an appropriate
Advocates hailed the news as a major step ahead in their effort to
win benefits for the aging veterans.
“This is a big win,” said John Wells, retired Navy commander and the
executive director of
Military-Veterans Advocacy, which helped file
the lawsuit. “We want to work with VA on how
to implement this as
painlessly as possible, but making sure these veterans get all they
Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal
Services Program, said the decision “unequivocally rights a wrong
that is a terrible injustice to all veterans who were
Agent Orange in the waters of Vietnam.”
Legislation that would have awarded presumptive status to the blue
water veterans was
blocked by a small group of senators at the end
of last year, disappointing advocates who
saw the legislative
momentum as their best chance for a victory in years.
Now, instead of granting the benefits to veterans, lawmakers may be
forced to scramble
new bills to cover the cost of the court-ordered
Congressional Budget Office officials had estimated that awarding
the benefits to the
blue water veterans could total about $1.1
billion over 10 years, but VA officials have
insisted the total is
closer to $5.5 billion. Disagreements over whether to use new home
loan fees to pay for the costs stalled the previous legislation.
If the court order stands, VA will be forced to cover the costs
regardless of whether an
offset is agreed upon, a potential drain on
the department’s annual budget. Several new
bills on the issue are
already pending before Congress, and the chairmen of both the
and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees have promised to deal with
quickly this year. In a statement, Senate chairman Johnny
Isakson, R-Ga., said that he
was pleased with the court decision and
would work closely with VA on the next steps.
The full decision is available at the appeals
court’s web site.
. You may obtain a copy of the
USS Whitehurst Deck Logs for the time the ship served in Vietnam
waters.. The instructions are posted on this Whitehurst
Web site. at
www.de634.decklogs/htm. The court has now made you eligible
if you were there. The deck logs will prove you were there.
WWII Era |
Korea War & '50s | Viet Nam & 60s |
Search & Rescue
Enemy Below |
Taps List |
Crews Index |