Blue Water Veterans is a phrase commonly used to describe Vietnam veterans that served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam. The Department of Veterans Affairs treats Blue Water Veterans differently than Brown Water Veterans in disability compensation claims. Brown Water Navy Veterans served on the inland waterways in the Republic of Vietnam.
The distinction between Blue Water Veterans and Brown Water Veterans is crucial. Brown Water Veterans do not need to prove “boots on the ground” in order to receive presumptive status from the VA in compensation claims. This means Brown Water Veterans that can prove they served on a boat that conducted operations on rivers, estuaries and delta areas inside Vietnam and have been diagnosed with a disease recognized to be caused by Agent Orange are presumptively granted benefits.
Blue Water Veterans, by contrast, “must have actually stepped foot on the land of Vietnam or served on its inland waterways” to receive presumptive exposure to herbicides. For many veterans, meeting the boots on the ground criteria is difficult or impossible. Documentation that could prove eligibility has been lost or destroyed or never existed at all. These veterans are denied service connection on a presumptive basis.
Blue Water Veterans that cannot prove they ‘stepped foot’ in Vietnam must prove their eligibility for compensation through the traditional nexus of service, a current diagnosed condition, and a link between that service and the diagnosed condition. This pathway to benefits is more burdensome than a grant of benefits based on presumed exposure to Agent Orange.
Proving a nexus between service and current condition for Blue Water Veterans is a tricky matter. Different reports have shown that barring evidence of direct exposure to herbicides, proving unequivocal exposure to Agent Orange is impossible. In fact, the committee that wrote one report concluded it was impossible to determine whether Blue Water Veterans OR Brown Water Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange at a measureable level.
The distinction between Blue Water Veterans and Brown Water Veterans is based on proximity to mainland Vietnam. But due to the lack of historical data and baseline measurements of toxicity, the science has demonstrated that proximity to mainland Vietnam is not necessarily indicative of exposure to herbicides.
Veterans that served on the blue waters outside of Vietnam could have been exposed to Agent Orange through the wind, through water taken on by their boat, through deliveries from mainland Vietnam to boats stationed on blue waters, or by several other methods. Conversely, veterans that served on the rivers of Vietnam may not have been exposed to Agent Orange at all.
While Blue Water Veterans are less likely than Brown Water Veterans to receive disability compensation based on exposure to Agent Orange, the situation is not entirely hopeless. In my next article I will highlight a BVA case where the Board granted disability compensation to a Blue Water Veteran.
If you are a veteran or a surviving spouse that has been denied benefits by the VA, contact VA Legal Team today for a free case review. The VA makes mistakes. A denial letter from the VA does not mean you are not eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.