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Court rule VA must pay for offshore exposure to Agent Orange.

Vietnam veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam can now claim disability benefits for diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a federal appeals court has ruled. The Aug. 16 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reversed a VA policy that arbitrarily interpreted "service in the Republic of Vietnam" to mean only service on land areas of Vietnam and not waters offshore within its national boundaries.

The case involved a former U.S. Navy sailor who served on an ammunition ship during the war but never actually set foot on Vietnamese soil. The veteran, Jonathan Haas, blamed his diabetes, nerve damage and loss of eyesight on exposure to clouds of the toxic defoliate, which the United States sprayed on Vietnamese jungles, that drifted out to sea, engulfing his ship and landing on his skin. The VA denied his claim, saying that to qualify for disability benefits, Haas was required to have come ashore in Vietnam, and that decision was later upheld by the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA).

"A long-standing DAV resolution has sought to extend the presumption of herbicide exposure to include veterans who served in waters offshore of Vietnam," said National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante. "Veterans who served on vessels in nearby waters had the same risk of exposure to Agent Orange as those who served on adjacent land," he said. "They certainly were at greater risk of exposure than veterans who may have been on land in Vietnam only briefly."

The three-judge panel said VA regulations governing the benefits were unclear. The court said it made no sense for veterans who patrolled Vietnam's inland waterways and those simply passing through the country to receive Agent Orange related benefits while those serving at sea do not.

In issuing its ruling, the court did not actually award a disability to Haas, but sent his case back to the BVA for that determination.

"Veterans who served offshore but did not set foot in Vietnam and who suffer from conditions they believe are caused by exposure to Agent Orange should consider filing a claim for disability. Veterans who have had such claims denied may wish to re-file based on the court's decision. Veterans are encouraged to seek the advice and assistance of a DAV National Service Officer," said National Service Director Randy Reese.
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Title Annotation:Department of Veterans Affairs vs. Jonathan Haas
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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