Court decides ‘Blue Water’ Navy veterans should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 29, 2019 

WASHINGTON — A federal court ruled Tuesday that Vietnam veterans who served on ships offshore during the war are eligible for benefits to treat illnesses linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange – a decision that has the potential to extend help to thousands of veterans.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9-2 in favor of Alfred Procopio, Jr., 73, who served on the USS Intrepid during the Vietnam War. Procopio is one of tens of thousands of “Blue Water” Navy veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships and were deemed ineligible for the same disability benefits as those veterans who served on the ground and inland waterways.

The decision comes one decade after the Department of Veterans Affairs denied Procopio’s disability claims for diabetes and prostate cancer. The court’s ruling reverses a previous decision from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which upheld the denial because Procopio couldn’t show direct exposure to Agent Orange.

“Mr. Procopio is entitled to a presumption of service connection for his prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus,” the decision issued Tuesday states. “Accordingly, we reverse.”

Judge Kimberly A. Moore, who wrote on behalf of the majority, added: “We find no merit in the government’s arguments to the contrary.”

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