As of writing this article, blue water Vietnam Veterans are entitled to the same presumptive service connection as if they had boots on the ground in the Republic of Vietnam. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled that blue water Vietnam Veterans are entitled to receive benefits for illness because of exposure to Agent Orange.
Vietnam Veterans know that for many years the VA has distinguished between what is known as “blue water Veterans” and “boots on the ground” Veterans. Blue water Veterans are Veterans who served aboard ships off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam, or in Vietnam’s deepwater ports, between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. Boots on the ground Veterans are Veterans whose feet physically touched the ground in the Republic of Vietnam, even if just for one second, during that same period. For the sake of brevity, “brown water” Veterans (those who served in Vietnam’s navigable rivers and in-country waterways), Veterans who served on airbases in Thailand, and other Veterans who have been added to the presumptive service-connection list will simply be included under the category of “boots on the ground” Veterans.
In Procopio v. Wilkie, 2017-1821 (January 29, 2019) (click here for the decision), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that Congress had always intended all members of the uniformed services who served within the twelve nautical miles territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam to be entitled to the presumptions detailed in 38 U.S.C. §1116. Congress, the Court states, never had any intention of differentiating between blue water Veterans and boots on the ground Veterans. The Court goes further to state that the VA never had the authority to add the boots on the ground requirement at a later date. In adding this later requirement and subsequently denying Veterans who had served in the territorial waters off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam for Agent Orange related presumptive service-connected conditions, the VA ceased applying the applicable law accurately. As of the day this article was written, February 1, 2019, the decision in Procopio had not been appealed.