February 16, 2010, Alexandria, Va.                                                       

Vietnam-Era Blue Water Navy Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange and Other Herbicides

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) strongly encourages all Vietnam Navy veterans to review the following list of “blue water” Navy vessels released by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). Crew exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides has finally been acknowledged as these vessels conducted operations on the inland “brown water” rivers and delta areas of Vietnam. If a veteran's service aboard one of these ships can be confirmed through their military records during the time frames specified, exposure to herbicide agents can be presumed without further proof, thus expediting the VA claims process.

“Thousands of Navy 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 Chris Slawinski, FRA’s national veterans’ service officer. “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. This new information from the VA will make it easier for these Navy veterans to prove exposure and will hopefully facilitate more timely determination of benefits.”

The following is the list of Navy vessels that conducted inland operations in Vietnam:

  • All vessels of Inshore fire Support (IFS) Division 93 during their entire Vietnam tour;
  • USS Carronade (IFS 1);
  • USS Clarion River (LSMR 409 [Landing Ship, Medium Rocket];
  • USS Francis River (LSMR 525);
  • USS White River (LSMR 536);
  • All vessels with the designation LCVP [Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel] during their entire tour;
  • All vessels with the designation PCF [Patrol Craft, Fast] during their entire tour. [Also called Swift Boats, operating for enemy interdiction on close coastal waters];
  • All vessels with the designation PBR [Patrol Boat, River] during their entire tour. [Also called River Patrol Boats as part of the Mobile Riverine forces operating on inland waterways];
  • USS Ingersoll (DD-652) [Destroyer] [Operated on Saigon River, October 24-25, 1965];
  • USS Mansfield (DD-728) [Destroyer] [Operated on Saigon River August 8-19, 1967 and December 21-24, 1968];
  • USS Richard E. Kraus (DD-849) [Destroyer] [Operated on coastal inlet north of Da Nang, June 2-5, 1966, protecting Marines holding a bridge];
  • USS Basilone (DD-824) [Destroyer] [Operated on Saigon River, May 24-25, 1966];
  • USS Hamner (DD-718) [Destroyer] [Operated on Song Lon Tao and Long Song Tao Rivers, August 15 to September 1, 1966;
  • USS Conway (DD-507) [Destroyer] [Operated on Saigon River, early August 1966];
  • USS Fiske (DD-842) [Destroyer] [Operated on Mekong River, June 16-21, 1966];
  • USS Black (DD-666) [Destroyer] [Operated on Saigon River, July 13-19, 1966];
  • USS Providence (CLG-6) [Cruiser, Light, Guided Missile] [Operated on Saigon River, 3 days during January 1964];
  • USS Mahan (DLG-11) [Guided Missile Frigate] [Operated on Saigon River, October 24-28, 1964];
  • USS Okanogan (APA-220) [Attack Transport] [Operated on Saigon River, July 22-23, 29-30, 1968 and August 5-6, 1968; and
  • USS Niagara Falls (AFS-3) [Combat Stores Ship] [Unloaded supplies on Saigon Riverand Cam Rahn Bay, April 22-25, 1968.

If you or someone you know served aboard any of the above vessels during the times indicated, 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 (a list is available at www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp) or contact Chris Slawinski at vafra@fra.org or 1-800-FRA-1924 (ext. 115).

FRA strongly supports pending legislation (H.R. 2254 and S. 1939) that would grant presumptive status to all blue water Navy retirees and veterans exposure to herbicides, not just those who served in Vietnam’s inland areas. All veterans are encouraged to visit the Action Center at www.fra.org and ask their elected officials to support these measures.

FRA is a congressionally chartered, non-profit organization representing the interests of current and former enlisted members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. In addition to its advocacy work on Capitol Hill in support of enlisted personnel, FRA also sponsors a national Americanism Essay Contest and assists its members with disaster relief grants. The Association has recently established an Education Foundation that awards scholarships to deserving college students.

The Association is celebrating its 85th anniversary and was named after the Navy's policy of transferring personnel to the Fleet Reserve or Fleet Marine Corps Reserve after 20 or more years of active duty, but less than the 30 years required for retirement purposes. Although the membership requirements have changed as the Association has evolved, our purpose – to preserve and enhance military pay, benefits and quality-of-life programs – is as important today as it was in 1924. As the collective voice for all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard enlisted personnel, FRA speaks on behalf of its members on Capitol Hill. There is no law protecting military benefits, so FRA is here to stand guard.