On Vietnam War Veterans Day, NVLSP Applauds VA Secretary Wilkie’s Recommendation to Not Appeal Procopio v. Wilkie Decision
-Decision Requires VA to Presume All Who Served in Territorial Waters Offshore Vietnam Had Agent Orange Exposure -
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- MARCH 29, 2019
WASHINGTON – As the country commemorates Vietnam War Veterans and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) applauded the announcement by Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie to recommend not to appeal the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Procopio v. Wilkie. That decision extends the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to all veterans who served in the territorial waters offshore the Republic of Vietnam. This announcement was made on March 26 in a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Secretary Wilkie cautioned that other federal officials may not accept his recommendation, but his determination not to appeal will surely have an impact.
“This is a positive step for Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans,” said NVLSP Executive Director Bart Stichman. “We greatly appreciate Secretary Wilkie’s support in finally recognizing the validity of Blue Water Vietnam Veterans’ claims. We hope that other federal officials will heed his recommendation and grant long overdue disability benefits to Blue Water Vietnam Veterans who nobly served our country.”
In Procopio v. Wilkie, all of the judges on the Federal Circuit convened in 2019 and explicitly overruled its prior holding in Haas v. Peake, finding that Congress clearly intended the definition of “the Republic of Vietnam” to include the Republic of Vietnam’s territorial seas (which would encompass all of Vietnam’s harbors, including Da Nang Harbor).
If the Federal Circuit’s decision in Procopio becomes final, it would open the door for tens of thousands of Blue Water Vietnam Veterans or their survivors to obtain service-connected VA disability or death benefits for diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure. If Procopio becomes final, veterans who served within the 12 nautical miles of Vietnam during the Vietnam era would be entitled to service-connected disability benefits for diseases the VA presumes are associated with Agent Orange exposure. Those diseases include ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and numerous cancers. A full list of the diseases that the VA presumes are associated with exposure to Agent Orange can be found at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/. Survivors of Blue Water Vietnam veterans who died from one of these diseases would also become entitled to service connected death benefits (known as DIC).
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 term “service 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 the decision overturning Haas. NVLSP filed an amicus curiae brief In the Procopio v. Wilkie case.
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.
For NVLSP: Patty Briotta, office 202-621-5698, cell 703-517-1796, firstname.lastname@example.org