Blue Water Navy veterans should be aware that VA has recently updated its blue water navy ship list, which is the registry of ships whose crews are acknowledged by VA to have been exposed to tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The blue water navy ship list now contains more than just the ship registry. It details what evidence is required to prove your claim, depending on your ship.
To me, this seems to be a favorable development for many Blue Water Navy sailors. More will be able to achieve service connection under these new rules. Many who were unable to win their claim under the old standard will now be entitled to the presumption of tactical herbicide exposure that applies to other Vietnam veterans. I will explain how a little later. First, let’s look at how the ship list is now divided.
Subcategories within Brown Water Navy and Blue Water Navy Ship List
The updated ship list divides ships into five separate categories. Categories I and II are “brown water” vessels, while Categories III, IV, and V are all part of the blue water navy ship list.
I. Ships operating primarily or exclusively on Vietnam’s inland waterways:
The inland waterways are often referred to as “brown waters” because of their muddy color and the naval vessels operating on them are referred to as the Brown Water Navy and/or the Mobile Riverine Force. All Veterans who served aboard these vessels are eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure because their primary service was on the inland waterways of Vietnam.
II. Ships operating temporarily on Vietnam’s inland waterways:
Ships in this category entered Vietnam’s inland waterways temporarily as part of their gunfire, interdiction, or support missions. All Veterans who served aboard these vessels at the time of entry into Vietnam’s inland waterways are eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure.
III. Ships that docked to shore or pier in Vietnam
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that entered an open water harbor and docked to a pier or otherwise docked to the shore of Vietnam. As a result of this docking, it is assumed that crewmembers had the opportunity to go ashore for a work detail or for liberty leave.
IV. Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that crew members went ashore
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted a variety of missions along the close coastal waters of Vietnam for extended periods of time. Documentary evidence has been obtained for all ships in this category showing that some crewmembers actually went ashore.
Examples of such vessels include hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, and seaplane tenders. Also included are combat ships, such as destroyers, when evidence shows that crewmembers went ashore.
V. Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that smaller craft from the ship regularly delivered supplies or troops ashore
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted supply missions to Vietnam or transported troops into and out of the country through use of smaller landing craft housed within the mother ship. Examples of such vessels include attack cargo ships, amphibious attack transports, and landing ship docks. The smaller landing vessels within these ships required a crew of from 3 to 14, depending on size, as they ferried supplies or troops to and from shore.
Although official documents show that some crewmembers went ashore with the landing craft, they do not generally provide the names of these crewmembers. Additionally, many of these ships are listed for extended time frames because they routinely traveled back and forth between the US and Vietnam, and between Vietnam and other Asian Pacific ports, as they delivered supplies and troops to Vietnam. Therefore, VA will check naval records to ensure that the veteran was aboard when the ship was in Vietnamese waters.
More Ships May Be Added to the Blue Water Navy Ship List
If you don’t see your ship on this list, don’t give up. This list is evolving and is not complete. Therefore, the VA is not supposed to deny a claim for lack of Agent Orange or other herbicide exposure solely because the your ship is not on this list.
The VA is supposed to still fulfill its duty to assist you with your claim and develop evidence to substantiate your claim. As they request information on ship activity, including requests to the Army and Joint Services Records Research Center for review of deck logs. As they find evidence supporting herbicide exposure to a particular naval vessel, the VA is supposed to add that vessel to the brown water or blue water navy ship list.
Lay Statements for Those on the Blue Water Navy Ship List
Blue water veterans do not automatically get the presumption of Agent Orange/tactical herbicide exposure. They must provide additional evidence to trigger that presumption. The good news is that it is now easier to do that in most cases.
For those in Category III of the blue water navy ship list, it is assumed that crewmembers had the opportunity to go ashore for a work detail or for liberty leave. Therefore, if you were aboard the ship at the time of docking you will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if you provide a lay statement of personally going ashore.
For those in Category IV of the blue water navy ship list, the shore activity of some crewmembers has been documented. Therefore, if you were aboard the ship at the time of documented shore activity you will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if you provide a lay statement of personally going ashore.
For those in Category V of the blue water navy ship list, so long as you were aboard the mother ship during the time frame of offshore Vietnam landing craft activity you will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if you provide a lay statement of personally going ashore with the landing craft. However, VA will check naval records to ensure that you were aboard when the ship was in Vietnamese waters.
VA May Ignore the Blue Water Navy Ship List
I have seen claims where VA does not follow its own guidelines in the blue water navy ship list. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it may be that VA personnel are not as familiar as they should be with the blue water navy ship list updates.
VA has not publicized these most recent changes that allow for lay statements to trigger the presumption of herbicide exposure. As a result, I have seen claims where VA denied the claim for lack of exposure even though a lay statement established “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. If you are in this situation, you will want to appeal.