(Washington, D.C. ) - "Some of the inequities of the application of presumptive coverage for exposure to
Agent Orange have finally been set aside," said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America. "We
need to spread the word about this decision to all Navy veterans who served in the waters offshore of Vietnam and received
the Vietnam Service Medal (VSM). This Court decision will allow for an untold number of veterans and their families
to receive the compensation and health care they are entitled to, as well as other VA programs," Rowan said.
August 16, 2006, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims rendered a decision in the appeal of Haas v. Nicholson. In
their 31-page decision, the Court determined the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been unlawfully denying presumptive
disability compensation for exposure to Agent Orange (AO) for service members who served in the waters offshore of Vietnam
and earned the VSM.
Numerous veterans who served in Vietnam have been able to qualify for presumptive disability compensation
for exposure to AO. Unfortunately the application of presumptive coverage has resulted in many inequities for
veterans and their families. An example of this can be seen in the VA's denials of presumptive service connection to
service members who served on boats and ships off the coast of Vietnam. Although these veterans earned and received
the VSM, many have had their claims denied by VA for presumptive disability due to AO exposure because they did not step foot
on the ground in Vietnam.
"All veterans who served in the waters offshore need to speak with a
service representative or service officer as soon as possible to see if they have a viable claim for compensation," Rowan
said. These veterans should also participate in the Agent Orange registry exam. I fully expect the VA will attempt
to rescind and revise their interpretation of the law. If you have had a claim denied or have never filed, you must
do so before the regulations change again in favor of the VA."
Blue Water Disability/DIC claims: From 1991 to 2002, the VA took the position that Navy veterans who were awarded
the Vietnam Service Medal as a result of service in the waters offshore Vietnam (blue water vets) were entitled to the same
presumption of exposure to Agent Orange as veterans who set foot on land in Vietnam. As a result, many Navy veterans
who served offshore and their survivors were granted disability or DIC benefits based on an Agent Orange-related disease.
However, in FEB 02 the VA amended VA Manual M21-1 to limit the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to only those veterans
who actually set foot on the land mass of Vietnam. As a result of the policy change the VA has been denying claims filed
by blue water vets for Agent Orange related diseases since FEB 02. In addition, the VA has taken action to sever
awards of service connection in some of the cases that were granted prior to February 2002.
NVLSP has appealed to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims many of the BVA decisions denying
benefits to blue water veterans. NVLSP has argued in these cases that the VA's change of position in 2002 violates
the Agent Orange Act of 1991. On 10 JAN 06, a panel of the Court heard argument in one of NVLSP's
appeals and a decision on the legality of the VA's set-foot-on-land requirement is expected some time this year. In
any case in which you are representing yourself or another blue water Navy veteran/survivor on a claim based on an Agent Orange-related
disease, you should keep the claim alive by filing a timely Notice of Disagreement (NOD) after the VA denial,
and a timely substantive appeal after the Statement of the Case (SOC). If the BVA denies the
claim, contact NVLSP attorney Rick Spataro so that a timely appeal can be filed with the Veterans Court. This is a prudent move
because if NVLSP wins its appeal, the VA will be required to follow the Veteran Court's decision on the pending claim. On
the other hand, if the VA's denial of the claim becomes final, there is no guarantee that the VA will consider the prior final
denial to be a clear and unmistakable error even if NVLSP were to win its appeal.
The U.S. Navy is relying on a historic icon to remind the world of America's strength and courage.
The rattlesnake has been a favorite symbol of independence throughout America's history. Adopted as a uniquely American icon
by early patriots, such as Benjamin Franklin, the rattlesnake represents American unity. Individually, its rattles have no
sound, but united they can be heard by all. And while it does not strike unless threatened, once provoked, the deadly rattlesnake
The rattlesnake was used as a symbol of resistance to British repressive acts in Colonial America.
Flags bearing rattlesnakes and bearing the simple warning "Don't Tread on Me" were flown on the first ships of the Continental
Navy in the Delaware River in 1775.
Today, as America faces unprecedented threats, this historic symbol of our founding has emerged as
a reminder of our origin and true courage. The Secretary of the Navy, Gordon R. England, has ordered all U.S. Navy ships to
fly the First Navy Jack in place of the Union Jack for the duration of the Global War on Terrorism. In a memo to all ships
and stations, England explained, "The temporary substitution of this Jack represents a historic reminder of the nation's and
Navy's origin and will to persevere and triumph."