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Veterans Law

List of Blue Water Navy Ships Exposed to Agent Orange

April Donahower

June 22, 2019

Updated: June 20, 2024

Blue Water Navy veterans

Blue Water Navy Veterans

Vietnam-era Blue Water Navy veterans are considered to be those who served aboard ships in the open waters off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  It is estimated that there are between 50,000 and 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans.  Historically, VA has excluded Blue Water Navy veterans from its presumption of herbicide agent exposure.  However, on January 29, 2019, the Federal Circuit issued a decision in Procopio v. Wilkie, to now include Blue Water Navy veterans under the presumption of exposure.  As a result, many more veterans are now eligible for VA disability compensation and have an easier path to getting the benefits to which they are rightfully entitled.

In order for Blue Water Navy veterans to be eligible for presumptive service connection for conditions based on Agent Orange exposure, the following criteria must be met:

VA has established a list of Navy and Coast Guard ships that it acknowledges have been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.  The list serves as a resource for Regional Offices when determining whether a particular Blue Water Navy veteran is eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure and related benefits.  Importantly, the list divides the ships into five separate categories, with categories I and II pertaining to “brown water” vessels (i.e. ships that operated in Vietnam’s inland waterways), and categories III, IV, and V comprised of Blue Water Navy ships.

I.  Ships Operating Primarily or Exclusively in Vietnam’s Inland Waterways

This category includes smaller naval vessels involved with patrolling and interdicting enemy activity in the inland waterways (i.e. brown water) of Vietnam.  It also includes ships supplying and supporting those operations.  Examples of such vessels include swift boats, river patrol boats, and LSTs (landing ship, tank).  All veterans who served aboard these vessels are eligible for the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.

II.  Ships Operating Temporarily in Vietnam’s Inland Waterways

Category II includes large ocean-going ships that operated primarily in Vietnam’s offshore waters for gunfire support of ground operations and interdiction of enemy vessels traveling along coastal waters.  It also includes ships supplying and supporting these operations.  Examples of such vessels include destroyers, cruisers, and cargo ships.

III.  Ships That Docked to Shore or Pier in Vietnam

This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that entered an open water harbor and docked to a pier or otherwise docked to the shore of Vietnam.

IV.  Ships Operating in Vietnam’s Close Coastal Waters for Extended Periods with Evidence That Crew Members Went Ashore

Category IV is comprised of large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted a variety of missions along the close coastal waters of Vietnam for extended periods of time.  Here, documentary evidence has been obtained for all ships in this category showing that some crewmembers actually went ashore.  This group of ships include hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, and seaplane tenders.

V.  Ships Operating on Vietnam’s Close Coastal Waters for Extended Periods with Evidence That Smaller Craft from the Ship Regularly Delivered Supplies or Troops Ashore

This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted supply missions to Vietnam or transported troops into and out of the country through use of smaller landing craft.  Examples here include attack cargo ships, amphibious attack transporters, and landing ship docks.

How Do Blue Water Navy Ships Get Added to the List?

A Blue Water Navy ship gets added to this list when documentary evidence shows that it fits into a particular category.  Such evidence can come from an official ship history, deck logs, cruise books, Captain’s letters, or similar documents.  It is possible for ships to be listed in more than one category depending on its activities.  This list is not exhaustive and continues to be updated.  As such, if your Blue Water Navy ship is not included on the list, you may still be entitled to the presumption of exposure.  VA is not supposed to deny a veteran’s claim based on exposure solely because his or her ship is not on the list.

Sec. Wilkie Orders Stay on All Blue Water Vietnam Veteran Claims

On July 1, 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie ordered a stay on “Blue Water” Navy Vietnam Veterans’ Claims until January 1, 2020.  This stay means that VA officials will not begin processing “Blue Water” claims until that date, at the earliest.  Sec. Wilkie said in a statement that he is issuing the stay to “ensure we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water Veteran community and minimize the impact on all Veterans filing for disability compensation.”

The stay was brought on by language in the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, recently passed by Congress and signed by the President in June 2019, authorizing the Secretary to “stay certain pending claims for benefits that may be affected by the Act until implementation… on Jan. 1, 2020.”

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act extends disability benefits to veterans who served on a vessel “operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line in the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia,” veterans who served along the Korean DMZ from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971, and to children of veterans who served in Thailand born with spina bifida.  Each of these groups of veterans are affected by the stay.

These veterans and eligible survivors of deceased veterans are encouraged to submit disability compensation claims for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure, however the claims will not be decided until at least January of 2020.

About the Author

Bio photo of April Donahower

April joined Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick in August of 2016 as an Associate Attorney. She currently serves as the Appellate Supervisor in our Veterans Law practice. April’s practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about April