“No group of individuals has stronger factual exposure than any other, putting Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel on an equal footing regarding the possibility of exposure to herbicides in Vietnam,” the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association said in a statement.
Initially, the department interpreted the law to apply to anyone in any of the armed services who deployed to Vietnam. But in 2002, the department narrowed its interpretation, requiring veterans to demonstrate that they set foot in Vietnam, or served on boats operating on inland waterways, to claim presumptive exposure to a defoliant.
“If not the smoking gun, this report reinforces the need for benefits to be paid to our Vietnam War Blue Water sailors,” said Jimmie L. Foster, national commander of the American Legion. “Reasonable doubt should be given to the veteran who shows symptoms of having been exposed to Agent Orange, especially if he or she served in a theater where we know the herbicide may have been used directly or carried to by other means.”