Great news for Navy veterans of the Vietnam War. President Trump signed the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law on June 25. Years of work by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America and countless other veterans and advocacy groups has paid off. The issue of Agent Orange tactical grade herbicide exposure is no longer in the courts. It is law.
The new law states that "not more than twelve nautical miles seaward" is to be considered as the same as if the veterans were actually boots on the ground. VA has not produced any guidance as to how previously denied claims will be treated, so we have no clear path for those claims yet. For new claims, come in and file them. Now. Don't wait for VA to tell you to get them in.
The Mission Act went into effect on June 6, 2019. This law is a modification of the Choice Act of 2014. There are new provisions for "urgent care" and less restrictions on who is eligible for care in the local civilian sector. The act is far too inclusive for a brief summary of any kind–one of the many VA fact sheets is four pages long–so the best and most important thing for veterans using the VA health care system to do is to contact their VA care providers to find out what they are eligible to do under the new law. Like most everything when it comes to VA benefits and services, each individual veteran is his or her own specific case and his or her own best advocate.
We have not yet been advised of the decision regarding the four new conditions for the Agent Orange presumed list of diseases. Bladder cancer, hypothryoidism, hypertension and "Parkinson's lie symptoms" are still under consideration for addition to the list. The VA told the U.S. Senate an announcement was to be made "in the next 90 days" in testimony on March 26. Ninety days are up, but still no announcement.
There have been significant changes in the way denied claims are appealed. The old Notice of Disagreement has been replaced by Higher Level Reviews and Supplemental Claims. These changes are intended to streamline the process and eliminate years of waiting for decisions on appeals. The jury is still out, so we'll just have to wait and see. There has also been a change to "reopened" claims. Those are claims that were previously denied, but the veteran wants to give it another shot, especially with new evidence to submit. We used to simply send in a new claim on the regular claim forms with the new evidence, but now we have to submit a newly developed claim form to make the VA aware that they had previously denied the claim. It has always been important to keep all the paperwork you receive from VA regarding any claims, but now it has become critical. That old decision will be used in making a new determination on the claim.
Three major moves in the world of veterans benefits with the Blue Water Act and the Mission Act and a new appeals process, keep us busy and on our toes. As always, we are available for help with any veterans' benefits issues, and our hours are the same–8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays. Our telephone number is 217-532-9695 and we are located at 201 S. Main St. in Hillsboro.