Blue Water, Public Law 116-23 in Effect

January 23, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

The Blue Water Navy (BWN) Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, signed into law on June 25, 2019 went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The law presumes veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, or who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), have been exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange.

BWN veterans, many of whom are active and retired APWU members or our family members, may now be entitled to service-connected disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Their survivors may be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and burial – memorial benefits whether or not their veteran died prior to filing a claim, a claim was previously denied, or their claim was in process. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida whose parent was a veteran with verified herbicide exposure in Thailand.

To be entitled to VA benefits, veterans must have served between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 within definitive demarcations, and have one or more of the specified conditions related to presumed exposure as defined under section 3.309(e), Title 38 Code of Federal Regulations. There are 14 diseases currently listed for Agent Orange. They include Amyloid light-chain (AL) amyloidosis; chloracne, or other acne form disease consistent with chloracne; all chronic B-cell leukemias including, but not limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia; diabetes mellitus, Type 2; Hodgkin’s lymphoma; multiple myeloma; Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; peripheral neuropathy, early-onset; Porphyria cutanea tarda; prostate cancer; respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea); soft-tissue sarcoma other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma; Ischemic heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Veterans who suffer any one of these listed conditions, but who served outside of the designated boundaries and time periods may still apply for service connected benefits on a direct basis under 38 CFR 3.303, provided herbicide exposure can be established and scientific or medical evidence shows that the claimed condition is causally associated with the exposure.

Veterans wishing to file an initial claim for disability compensation should submit VA Form 21-526EZ or VA Form 20-0995 for previously denied claims. Survivors applying for DIC or burial – memorial benefits should use VA Form 21P-534EZ.

When filing a claim, applicants should state they are filing for one of the conditions related to presumed herbicide exposure such as Agent Orange. If available, they should supply any evidence that supports service dates within the recognized offshore waters of Vietnam, Cambodia, or the DMZ. List names of vessel(s) if known. Medical evidence showing a diagnosis related to exposure to herbicide such as Agent Orange should be provided or the applicant can advise the VA where treatment was received.

Additionally, PL 116-23 made changes to the VA Home Loan Program. Home loans will not be limited to the Federal Housing Finance Agency Confirming Loan limits. No-down payment loans can be obtained, regardless of amount. Purple Heart recipients currently serving are exempted from funding fees. Loan limits for Native American veterans seeking to build or purchase a home on Federal Trust Land were removed. There is a slight, temporary increase in funding fees for veterans and service members for the next two years, while National Guard and Reservists received a slight, permanent decrease. Veterans with service-connected disabilities, some surviving spouses, and other potential borrowers are exempt and will not be impacted by the change.

Veterans and family members with questions regarding VA claims or loans can find guidance at, or seek assistance from a VA accredited Veterans Service Organization representative, attorney, claims agent or VA employee, or contact their VA regional office. A regional office facility locator can be found at DIC applicants can visit to learn more.

Thank You for Your Service.

– Human Relations Department

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