After a federal court declined to lift a delay on Blue Water Navy disability claims imposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, claims processing is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2020.
After decades of trying to win disability benefits from VA, earlier this year, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. The law grants many of the veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam disability benefits for exposure to the toxic herbicide.
Shortly after that bill passed, though, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie invoked a measure in the law that allowed him to stay those claims and not begin processing them until the law officially goes into effect on Jan. 1, as first reported by Connecting Vets.
A lawsuit attempted to overturn that stay, but a federal court ruled that the original law allowed Wilkie to issue the delay.
The lawsuit also attempted to clarify the Procopio v. Wilkie Federal Circuit Court decision, which reversed a 1997 VA decision to deny that Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange while serving offshore of Vietnam. The Procopio decision earlier this year meant that the VA should presume veterans who served in the waters off the coast were exposed to Agent Orange at some point during their service, and as a result were eligible for related VA benefits.
But both routes to benefits for Blue Water veterans were shut down by the stay and with the court's decision, will remain closed until the first of the year at the earliest.
More than 400,000 veterans or surviving family members could be eligible for benefits, according to VA. About 77,000 Blue Water veterans were previously denied claims by VA.