More Ships Added to VA’s Agent Orange Exposure List

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) urges all Vietnam veterans to review the latest updates to a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard (USCG) vessels exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam Era. The list, maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is of particular interest to those former service members experiencing health problems related to herbicide exposure, as it may help expedite their claims for VA health and disability benefits.

Click here to view the VA's alphabetical listing of ships.

The list will be continuously updated to include more vessels that operated primarily or exclusively on Vietnam’s inland waterways; ships that temporarily operated in these inland waterways or docked to the shore; and ships that operated in Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that crewmembers went ashore. If a veteran's service aboard one of these ships can be confirmed through his military records during the specified time frames, exposure to herbicides can be presumed and service-related benefits may be available for Agent Orange-related ailments.

“Thousands of Navy and Coast Guard veterans who served aboard ships during the Vietnam conflict experience health problems related to herbicide exposure, but their illnesses and disabilities are not automatically considered service-connected in the eyes of the VA,” explains Slawinski. “The VA restricts this type of presumptive service connection to vets who had ‘boots on the ground’ or can prove their ship operated on inland waterways. Each addition to the VA’s list of exposed vessels will make it easier for these veterans to prove exposure and will hopefully facilitate more timely determination of benefits.”

If you or someone you know served aboard any of these vessels during the times indicated and has herbicide-related health problems, a VA claim for exposure to an herbicide agent should be filed as soon as possible. To start a claim, contact your nearest VA Regional Office (click here for a list of offices) or contact Chris Slawinski, FRA’s national veterans service officer, at vafra@fra.org or 1-800-FRA-1924 (ext. 115). Veterans should understand that the list is not complete and presumption of exposure will not be denied solely because a veteran’s ship is not on it.

FRA is working to reverse the VA’s policy that prevents so-called “blue water” military retirees and veterans – those who served off shore in Vietnam – from claiming disability benefits for diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) proves the distillation process used to generate potable water from sea water did not remove Agent Orange from the water; it actually enhanced the effect of the Agent Orange dioxin by a factor of 10. FRA believes the IOM report provides strong evidence for extending the presumption of exposure to blue water veterans.

Revising the VA’s Agent Orange policy is a top priority for the Association and is repeatedly addressed in FRA’s congressional testimony and in discussions with legislators and their staff. Members of FRA's National Board of Directors brought this issue directly to their elected officials during visits to Capitol Hill in April, where they urged their representatives to support “The Agent Orange Equity Act” (H.R. 812), sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (Calif.), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. This legislation would authorize the VA to presume service-connection for veterans and retirees suffering from ailments related to exposure to Agent Orange if they served in the waters off the coast of or in the skies above Vietnam. Those impacted by herbicide exposure are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their representative to co-sponsor this important legislation. 

Exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic substances is the focus of a feature article in the April edition of FRA Today, the Association’s monthly membership magazine. FRA members are invited to share their exposure experiences and questions at www.fra.org/hottopics.