Good news Wednesday morning, President Trump has signed the HR299 bill into law. Sadly, main stream media has not said a word this morning. A Bill that effectively restores benefits for 90,000 Vietnam Veterans off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam, performing duties that consisted of Naval gunfire support of troops in country, coastal patrol to capture North Vietnamese vessels, and the replenishment of not only ships at sea, but those shore facilities in dire need of food items, ammunition, fuel and various logistic support.
In addition to veterans claims, we have an untold number of widows that are now eligible for DIC or Dependency Indemnity Compensation of $1,319.04 per month, tax free.
So where do Blue Water Navy veterans stand with the passage Procopio v Wilkie and now the HR 299 bill? Excellent Question. As we know Procopio v Wilkie reinstates The Agent Orange Act of 1991 and recognizes the Baseline and 12nm further out to sea known as the Territorial Sea, IAW UN Convention and the Law of the Sea 1982. In the court’s addressing of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Vietnam, they acknowledged that the territory extends beyond the Territorial Sea, which by International Maritime Law is know as the Contiguous Zone, an additional 12nm beyond the Territorial Sea for a total of 24nm from the Baseline. Thus far I have accounted for 28,470 veterans that are known to have operated in the Contiguous Zone but not in the Territorial Sea, this number will rise.
Veterans can obtain copies of their ship’s deck logs with assistance from their County Veteran Service Office, for those that did not operate in the Territorial Sea or closer to shore, but did find they operated in the Contiguous Zone, you would want to file under Procopio v Wilkie prior to Jan 1, 2020. Once HR299 takes effect on Jan 1, 2020, you’re limited out to the Baseline and 12nm beyond for the Territorial Sea.
As for a lookback in the claims process, HR299 mandates Veteran Affairs goes back to the original effective date of previously denied claims and use that date as the current effective date and pay from that date forward to present.
The VA Secretary Wilkie has assured our Agency that he will provide the lookback in Procopio v Wilkie and honor the Baseline and Territorial Sea.
There is no longer a requirement for “boots-on-soil” or “ship traversing the inner waterways” for eligibility for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides. For those that don’t understand how ships can be contaminated with herbicides while out to sea, you need only understand that during monsoon seasons, that create flooding, the contaminated sediment in country ends up attached to carbon particles and flows downstream and deposited in the sea bed for up to over 100km offshore.
Once this contaminated sediment enters into the shipboard water distilling plant, as the dioxin runs through the Superheater process with extreme heat the chemical is enhanced 10 times its original potency. This water was used as Feedwater for the boilers, bathing, food preparation, laundry services, steam, bug juice, coffee, tea, and our everyday drinking fountains in a tropical environment. Keep in mind the cancer incidence for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is higher on ocean going vessels than those having served in country.
See your County Veteran Service Office today and file those claims!
The writer is retired from the United States Navy and the retired executive director of the Shelby County Veterans Service Office.