Legion fights for Blue Water veterans

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A 2006 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims awarded disability benefits to "blue-water veterans" of the Vietnam War for diseases related to Agent Orange. Last spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that decision. So, once again, veterans who served offshore have no Agent Orange presumption, unless they can prove they set foot on Vietnamese soil.

The American Legion has the long-standing position, articulated by National Executive Committee resolutions, of supporting the premise that wartime service in Vietnam's territorial waters constitutes service in the Republic of Vietnam - for the purpose of presumption of exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange.

In June, attorneys representing retired Navy Cdr. Jonathan L. Haas, who originally filed the suit against then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, filed a combined petition for panel rehearing. One week later, The American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart and United Spinal Association filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in support of the petition for rehearing. VA filed its opposition on Sept. 12 and, on Oct. 9, the federal circuit denied the petition for rehearing.

Eight days later, Haas' attorneys filed a petition for a writ of certiorari (an order to review case records) in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the federal circuit's decision; VA's response is due Nov. 21. The Supreme Court only grants certiorari in about 1 percent of cases.

Regardless of the Haas case's final outcome, the Legion will continue to seek and support legislation (such as H.R. 6562, the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2008) that includes wartime service in the territorial waters of Vietnam for the purpose of presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.

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