This essentially provided a greenlight for Blue Water veterans to begin filing claims. The legislation signed later that month was Congress’s attempt to create a bulwark against future litigation. The law also extends presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served near Korea’s demilitarized zone and provides benefits to the children of Vietnam veterans who served in Thailand and were born with Spina bifida.
“Under Procopio, VA has the authority to swiftly grand claims today,” declared Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan in a letter to Wilkie. “In fact, VBA has had procedures in place to apply Procopio since June 4.”
For Vietnam-era veterans whose average age is 73 years old, a six-month delay can be significant.
“Time is of the essence, as a grant of benefits can mean life-saving healthcare,” Wells said. “The saying ‘delay, deny, and hope they die’ is the unfortunate reality for veterans and their families who continue to suffer from the lethal effects of Agent Orange.”
VA has always contended that extension of these benefits would result in a large influx of new claims and cost billions. The agency has estimated that as many as 560,000 Vietnam-era veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy veterans and that the cost of additional benefits could rise as high as $5.5 billion over the next decade.
Veterans advocates say that the total number of claimants will likely be around 90,000, and the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.1 billion over 10 years. Veterans who were previously denied for an Agent Orange-related presumptive condition can file a new claim, and survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy veterans may also file claims for benefits.