Anyone reading through the current information would think that all the Blue Water Navy sailors who served in the Theater of Combat offshore Vietnam have received their long-awaited Benefits. But that would be incorrect and no one is providing detailed information about which veterans are eligible for these Benefits and which are not. And many are still unaware that there was ever a question concerning their Benefits at all. The sailors who have recently won their presumption of exposure to Agent Orange are only those who served within a narrow band of water called the Territorial Seas of Vietnam, and then only when south of the 17th parallel. The fact is, this new law excludes many sailors who served on aircraft carriers. That might well be a significant number of Blue Water Navy sailors who served in the Vietnam Theater of Combat who should be eligible for these Benefits.
With the exception of 22 aircraft carriers, nearly every one of the 756 ships serving in the Vietnam Combat Zone between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 probably ventured into the Territorial Seas during each of their WESTPAC Cruises (trips to the Western Pacific, including Vietnam). Although most carriers did not enter these waters, a few did. Many of the aircraft carriers came closest to land while off North Vietnam, north of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), where they are not eligible for presumptive exposure Benefits. The Territorial Sea eligibility applies only when south of the DMZ, offshore of the then-Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam).
As evident by several conflicting estimates, no one, including the DoD, the VA, or the Blue Water Navy Association, knows the number of Blue Water Navy sailors and Marines who served on ships of the Seventh Fleet off the coast of South Vietnam during the final 13 years of that War. But going by one estimate based on each carrier's capability to house a certain number of crew, the 22 carriers that served in the Theater of Combat of Vietnam during that War could account for as many as 415,000 individuals.
The number above reflects the entire crews of all carriers on all deployments to Vietnam. But eligibility for presumption of exposure is granted after only a single exposure, so each individual can only be counted once to arrive at the total number of exposed individuals. Nonetheless, multiple exposures for an individual puts them in a higher risk category for Agent Orange-related diseases.
Not all carriers entered the Territorial Seas, and some carriers made multiple entries during a single WESTPAC cruise in a relatively short period of time. Typically, there would have been very few changes in the members of the crew during the cruise, but there were a number of individual changeouts during any single deployment. Those are not considered in this analysis. Nor do we know the true number of sailors who returned to the Vietnam waters more than once.
In order to arrive at a reasonable number of single individual exposures, we need to make some assumptions regarding the manning of an aircraft carrier prior to each WESTPAC Cruise. Generally, before a carrier sailed, men were pulled from across the Fleet to fill all required on-board positions. If we make an assumption that an average of 60% of the 415,000 carrier crewmembers had two or more deployments to Vietnam, then it is possible that approximately 166,000 sailors and Marines represent the total number of one-time, individual carrier sailor exposures. And don't forget that some of these men could also have returned to the Territorial Seas aboard one of the smaller ships.
To find out exactly when each of the carriers were within the Territorial Waters of South Vietnam, The Carrier Reports were written by three former members of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association (with the help of additional readers). The Carrier Reports can be found at http://www.oldbluewater.com, a website maintained by these original members. The information contained in The Carrier Reports comes directly from the Deck Logs of each carrier.
A Deck Log is one month's worth of a ship's operational records, typically providing three positions of latitude and longitude each day for the purpose of recording exactly where that ship was. To date, an assortment of 511 Deck Logs from all 22 aircraft carriers have been read to create The Carrier Reports and only 53 of those Logs show the carrier within the Territorial Seas of Vietnam. That is approximately 10% of the carrier-months having at least one day within the Territorial Seas. There are still 43 Deck Logs left to read.
Using these assumptions and based on the 511 completed Deck Logs, about 51,000 individuals were exposed. Adding another 10% for the Deck Logs still to be examined leads to a total of about 56,000 individual aircraft carrier veterans who should be granted presumption of exposure to herbicides under the new law. But that also leaves about 110,000 carrier veterans of the Vietnam War not eligible for these Benefits. Extending the eligibility line by about 50 miles seaward would probably cover all these veterans who have been 'left behind'; who served in the Vietnam Combat Zone but whose ship did not pass that imaginary and arbitrary line that marks the edge of the Territorial Seas.
These are still rough figures, and are based on several assumptions, but they may not be far off the mark. It is time that someone puts all the cards on the table so the Blue Water Navy sailors and Marines have an idea which of them will be eligible to file a disability claim for presumptive exposure under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
And those 110,000 who are not eligible for these presumptive benefits, those carrier sailors who have been 'left behind', should never fall for the counter argument that they "will still be covered under the Direct Exposure doctrine." All Blue Water Navy sailors and Marines were "covered under the Direct Exposure doctrine" after the VA removed them from eligibility under the Agent Orange Act of 1991 back in 2002. That is what brought about such a long and hard fight for the Blue Water Navy Agent Orange Act of 2019 - because the VA does not approve claims for Agent Orange 'Direct Exposure' for those who served aboard ships. That was not an acceptable situation then and it is not an acceptable situation now. Nor should it ever be.
You should contact your Congressman if this legislation is not to your liking.
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John Rossie was the original Executive Director and founder of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association in 2007 and served in that capacity through the Fall of 2017.