NVLSP Hails Procopio v. Wilkie Decision Today Extending the Presumption of Agent Orange Exposure to All Veterans Who Served in the Republic of Vietnam, including Blue Water Veterans
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -January 29, 2019
WASHINGTON - The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) today hailed the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Procopio v. Wilkie which extends the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to all veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, on land or on the territorial seas.
NVLSP originally litigated the Haas v. Peake case in 2008 which challenged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy limiting the presumption of exposure to only Boots on the Ground. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled by a vote of 2 to 1 in Haas that the language whether a veteran served in the Republic of Vietnam was ambiguous. Due to the ambiguity, VA’s interpretation was allowed to stand and it has remained the governing policy for determining Agent Orange disability benefits for the last 10 years until today’s decision overturning Haas. NVLSP filed an amicus curiae brief In the Procopio v. Wilkie case.
“We are heartened that the Court’s landmark decision today unequivocally rights a wrong that is a terrible injustice to all veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in the waters of Vietnam,” said NVLSP Executive Director Bart Stichman. “We are gratified to see that this decision recognizes the legitimacy of Blue Water Veterans claims for disability benefits related to Agent Orange.”
The Court today explicitly found the error in the Haas decision and reversed it, stating:
“Respectfully, the Haas court went astray when it found ambiguity in § 1116 based on “competing methods of defining the reaches of a sovereign nation” and the government’s urged distinction between Regulations 311 and 313. 525 F.3d at 1184–86. As discussed above, international law uniformly confirms that the “Republic of Vietnam” included its territorial sea. And we cannot read into § 1116 an ambiguity that relies on a distinction between Regulations 311 and 313 made by the government only after § 1116 was adopted. Haas is overruled.”
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1981. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVLSP has represented veterans in lawsuits that compelled enforcement of the law where the VA or other military services denied benefits to veterans in violation of the law. NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has resulted in more than $5.2 billion dollars being awarded in disability, death and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors. NVLSP offers training for attorneys and other advocates; connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help when seeking disability benefits; publishes the nation's definitive guide on veteran benefits; and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.