Blue Water Navy Veterans Timeline
Vietnam-era Blue Water Navy veterans are those who served aboard ships in the open waters off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and who did not go ashore. This timeline explains the long road Blue Water Veterans have traveled with hopes of eventually obtaining VA benefits.
1962-1975- Blue Water Navy Veterans Service in Vietnam. Specifically, Blue Water Navy veterans served offshore within twelve nautical miles of the landmass of Vietnam.
February 6, 1991- The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was signed into law.
July 23, 1997- VA General Counsel Opinion 27-97 interprets the meaning of “service in the Republic of Vietnam.” VA addresses the question of whether “service on a naval vessel in the waters off the shore of Vietnam constitutes service in the Republic of Vietnam.” VA’s General Counsel Opinion holds that service in the offshore waters does not constitute service in the Republic of Vietnam.
February 2002- VA revises internal policy manual (the M21) to include the “boots on the ground” provision, meaning a veteran must prove he or she set foot on the landmass of Vietnam, or entered an inland waterway, to receive presumptive status. This is when VA began denying presumptive service connection for herbicide-related illnesses to Blue Water Navy veterans who served in the offshore waters.
August 2006 – Haas v. Peake at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CVAC). The CAVC issues a decision stating that the VA regulation providing presumptive service connection for herbicide exposure must include veterans with “service in the waters near the shore of Vietnam, without regard to actual visitation or duty on land in the Republic of Vietnam.”
May 2008- Haas v. Peake at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Here, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturns the CAVC’s August 2006 decision. The Federal Circuit rules that a veteran who never went ashore from the ship on which he served in Vietnamese coastal waters is not entitled to presumptive service connection.
July 9, 2015- Board of Veterans’ Appeals Denial in Mr. Alfred Procopio’s Case. Mr. Procopio, a Blue Water Navy veteran who served off the coast of Vietnam, was denied entitlement to service connection for prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus due to Agent Orange exposure twice by the Regional Office in an April 2009 Rating decision and an October 2009 Statement of the Case. Mr. Procopio appealed to the Board but was again denied in March of 2011.
November 23, 2016- Procopio v. Wilkie at the CAVC. The Court agreed with VA, concluding that because the Board reasonably found that he was not directly exposed to Agent Orange and reasonably found that his prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus were not otherwise linked to his active military service, a denial of service connection was warranted.
May 7, 2017- House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) passes the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017. The Blue Water Navy Act will allow this group of veterans to claim service connection for Agent Orange-related conditions under VA’s regulation of presumption for Agent Orange exposure.
May 4, 2018- Procopio at the Federal Circuit, an oral argument is held.
May 21, 2018- Procopio at the Federal Circuit: Orders for Supplemental Briefing, asking the two parties to answer the following question: “What is the impact of the pro-claimant canon on step one of the Chevron analysis, in this case, assuming that Haas v. Peake did not consider its impact?”
June 25, 2018- Blue Water Navy Act passes the House of Representatives.
August 2, 2018- Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing on Blue Water Navy Act. VA expressed its opposition to the bill, stating that there is still a lack of credible scientific evidence to support that Blue Water Navy veterans were exposed to herbicides during their service at sea.
August 16, 2018- Procopio at the Federal Circuit: Order to Hear the Matter En Banc. The Federal Circuit decides that it cannot apply the pro-claimant canon construction at step one of Chevron and overturn Haas without going En Banc. Therefore, it issues an order to hear the matter before all judges of the court in order to make its decision.
December 7, 2018- Procopio at the Federal Circuit: En Banc Oral Argument
January 29, 2019- Federal Circuit issues a favorable decision in Mr. Procopio’s case, effectively overturning its previous decision in Haas v. Peake. As a result, thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans will now be afforded the same presumption of exposure to herbicides as veterans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam.
July 1, 2019: VA Secretary Wilkie Issues a Stay until 2020.
To learn more, read the full blog here – Blue Water Navy Veterans Timeline