Thousands of Vietnam-era veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange, and are now living with related illnesses, may soon have access to disability benefits they were denied for years.
In January, a Federal Court of Appeals ruled the VA cannot deny Blue Water veterans certain benefits related to Agent Orange, and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week he will not ask the Department of Justice to fight the court’s ruling.
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Federal officials have until late April to appeal the court’s decision.
Thomas Kamarad served in the Navy aboard USS Intrepid in the late 1960’s.
He, like thousands of other Blue Water veterans, served on ships off the coast of Vietnam.
Though serving on the USS Intrepid, Kamarad says he couldn’t avoid exposure.
“I was exposed to Agent Orange, I believe, because we loaded the planes,” he said.
He tells Action News Jax he experienced the effects of Agent Orange beginning in 2016.
“I was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he said.
A message to veterans on the VA’s webpage titled “Agent Orange Exposure in Vietnam Waters,” reads, “If you served on a Blue Water Navy ship on the inland waterways of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975 — or you ever came ashore in Vietnam — you likely had contact with Agent Orange...”
It goes on to instruct veterans to find out if they qualify for disability compensations or benefits for illnesses believed to be caused by Agent Orange contact.
However, for Blue Water veterans who did not go ashore or serve on a ship that entered inland waters, the page reads, “You’ll have to show that you had contact with Agent Orange in another way while serving in the military. We decide these claims on a case-by-case basis.”
The VA does not require Blue Water veterans to prove exposure if they’re diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He says the VA covered his medical expenses, and his cancer is now in remission.
But he tells us he was denied benefits related to Agent Orange because he was a Blue Water veteran.
“When I was first diagnosed in 2016, I immediately filed and the VA denied me benefits,” he said. “I wasn’t boots on the ground or Brown Water.”
He says he’s excited to file his claim for a second time. Federal officials have until later this month to decide whether to appeal the court’s ruling.
“Now I have an appointment with the VA here in St. Augustine next Thursday so we can resubmit the paperwork and file again for benefits,” he said.
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