VA to Implement Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act beginning January 1, 2020

By Larissa Tiller, University of Missouri School of Law Veterans Clinic, Columbia, MO

After the Federal Circuit handed down its ruling in Procopio v. Wilkie, Congress signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (Blue Water Act) into law.2 The law officially extended the presumption of service connection for conditions caused by Agent Orange exposure to Vietnam-Era Navy veterans who served within the territorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam. The earlier presumption only extended to soldiers who stepped foot on Vietnam soil and later to those who served in the inland navigable waterways (so-called “Brown Water” Navy veterans).  

Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), elected to exercise the discretionary authority Congress granted him within the Blue Water Act to issue a blanket stay on deciding these cases. Mr. Wilkie asserted in a press release that he believed the stay was necessary to ensure that the VA has “the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filling for disability compensation.”3 The Federal Circuit once again intervened and held that such a stay could not extend past January 1, 2020.4 On that date, the VA will begin to issue decisions on individual claims,5 determining whether these veterans are entitled to the disability benefits that they have long been barred from seeking. Veterans who were issued a denial for their claim can file a supplemental claim, while those claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal will be automatically reviewed. 

  1. This is an update to Out of the Blue: the Procopio Decision and its Impact on Vietnam Navy Veterans, by Larissa Tiller, published in the ABA Health eSource, Vol. 15, No. 9, May 2019.
  2. Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, P.L. No: 116-23, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/299/text.
  3. A extends Agent Orange presumption to ‘Blue Water Navy’ Veterans, July 5, 2019, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/blue-water-navy-veterans-claims-delayed-va-secretary-wilkies-order.
  4. Procopio v. Sec'y of Veterans Affairs, 2019-2184, 2019 WL 6598220 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 5, 2019).
  5. VA extends benefits to offshore Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans January 1st, Dec. 12, 2019, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5376

About the Author

Larissa Tiller is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law and has been accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard as an attorney. She will be stationed in Norfolk, VA.  She may be reached at ldtgyb@mail.missouri.edu