Veterans Benefits: Another “gotcha” for Brown and Blue Water Navy Veterans claiming Agent Orange ExposureBy Chris Attig | Permalink
June 3rd in VA Benefits, Vietnam & Agent Orange.
So, you just learned that your U.S. Navy ship in Vietnam has been designated as a “Brown Water” ship by the VA. You think your days of fighting for the legal presumption are over. You call or write the VA to reopen your claim, and the VA tells you that they still need proof you went ashore in Vietnam. What happened?
The VA considers three ports in Vietnam to be open-water ports: Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay, and Vung Tau. They consider these to be extensions of ocean waters and not inland waterways. Why? Well, it traces back to a 1967 ship history from the USS Cleveland (LPD-7), in which a log entry appears: ”Da Nang Harbor is easy to enter due to being open to the sea.” Thanks to that one entry (well, to be honest, the entry just triggered the VA’s thought process), the VA has concluded that when a vessel enters one of these three (3) ports, the sailor must show “boots on the ground”.
Here are a couple ways to think about doing that:
1) If you did go ashore in a docking, swear out a declaration or affidavit stating that, as well as the circumstances you remember. So long as your statement is credible and consistent with the character of your service, the VA will likely give you the benefit of the doubt and require no additional proof. So, if your ship records show it docked in Da Nang for 38 minutes, the VA will probably not give your statement much credit if you say you de-boarded and walked around the port for 2 hours. On the other hand, if you were an officer that went ashore for a meeting (or the coxswain that ferried officers to shore from an anchored vessel), stating this will likely be sufficient to prove “boots on the ground”.
2) Did you serve as a coxswain aboard a ship at anchorage? If so, a statement that you did so serve, and that you went ashore as a coxswain, that may be sufficient to get the presumption of Agent Orange exposure.
Even if you can’t get the presumption now, keep your claim alive and opened as long as possible. Liberalizing rules affecting Agent Orange claims come about fairly quietly, without much advance notice – a claim denied now could be granted 3, or 5 or 10 years from now. Do your best to keep your claim active and open as long as you can.
The Attig Law Firm represents U.S. Veterans who have been denied benefits in their VA Disability claims for compensation due to injuries or diseases incurred during military service. The Firm currently represents peace-time and war-time veterans of all branches of the military, at all levels of the VA disability claim process (VA Regional Office, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims). Contact the Attig Law Firm if you would like to discuss your claim for disability benefits before the VA.
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