WASHINGTON (CN) – In the latest face-off in a longstanding dispute between the government and Vietnam veterans injured by Agent Orange, the Federal Circuit denied disability compensation to veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam.
Agent Orange, the controversial herbicide used by the U.S. military to clear brush and vegetation during the war, caused so many health issues that the government has since passed a law allowing veterans exposed to harmful herbicides to collect disability pay for diseases such as respiratory cancers, myeloma and Hodgkin’s disease.
But to receive the money, a veteran must establish that the disability was service-related and occurred “in the Republic of Vietnam.”
The case calls into question the “service connection” of veterans who served on ships off the Vietnamese coast but never went ashore.
The appeals court held that the government permissibly requires a veteran to have been “present within the land borders of Vietnam at some point in the course of his duty.”
In his dissent, Judge Jeremy Fogel argued that the foot-on-land requirement arbitrarily excludes veterans who faced equal or greater risk of exposure – including those who served directly off the coast, where winds could pick up the harmful chemicals sprayed along the shoreline.