VA faces legal challenge over Blue Water Veterans claim procedures

The Illinois Association of Country Veterans Commissions and National Veterans Legal Services Program have filed a complaint in federal court seeking FOIA access to Blue Water Veteran documents at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Photo credit File photo

The Illinois Association of County Veterans Assistance Commissions has filed a complaint in federal court seeking access under the Freedom of Information Act for Blue Water Veteran documents the Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to turn over.

The IACVAC and National Veterans Legal Services Program filed the complaint on Nov. 10. The complaint alleges the documents detail a hidden procedure by the VA to adjudicate the claims of Blue Water Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.

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“Veterans, their advocates, and the public deserve to know how VA is treating Blue Water veterans and how the agency decides their claims,” said Andrew Tangen, President of IACVAC. “VA is supposed to work with representatives of claimants in an equal partnership to serve veterans and their families. It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to know how VA is adjudicating these claims.”

To shed light on how VA is processing claims and why it is denying certain claims, IACVAC filed a FOIA request to VA seeking a copy of its “Blue Water Navy Standard Operating Procedure” referenced in VA’s Adjudication Procedures Manual. VA denied the request, triggering the lawsuit to compel VA to produce the procedure.

Congress passed a law in 2019 to help Blue Water Veterans more easily obtain service-connected VA benefits for diseases caused by exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange. Veterans represented by members of IACVAC have had their claims denied by VA through a tool VA created to review the deck logs of US Naval vessels, with no further development, according to the complaint.

“Almost 50 years after the end of the Vietnam War, veterans of that era are still fighting to get the recognition and benefits they deserve,” said Renee Burbank, Director of Litigation at NVLSP. “Blue Water Veterans deserve to know how VA handles their claims, so veterans and their advocates — including organizations like IACVAC and NVLSP — can ensure they get the VA benefits they have earned.”

VA officials had no comment on the complaint.

Reach Julia LeDoux at

Featured Image Photo Credit: File photo