Veterans News: Blue water vs. brown water navy veterans
By Tammy Walters
Oneida County veterans service officer
The difference between blue water and brown water veterans is significant when it comes to service in Vietnam from January 9, 1962-May 7, 1975. It identifies who the VA concedes was exposed to Agent Orange and who was not.
The differentiation is easier to look at from the viewpoint of ships that served within the geographical boundaries of Vietnam and ships that served only offshore Vietnam. Brown water is meant to describe inland waterways, literally inside the land boundaries of the country. So even though the actual color of the water in close-to-shore locations was certainly brown, if it was offshore and part of, or open to, the deep blue sea, it would not be considered a brown water location for the specific definition being used by the VA.
In fact, the VA has not conceded that the water itself, either for inland waterways or the deep ocean water, contained anything at all related to the presence of Agent Orange. Their definition is only based upon geographical location that will grant an individual the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
For the purposes of granting presumption of exposure, the VA has stated that no ports, bays or harbors are considered inland water regardless of what color they might have been. Even though several VA Regional Offices as well as the Board of Veterans Appeals have awarded presumptive exposure to Agent Orange at times to a veteran who was clearly outside the confines of that definition, those rulings do not set precedence and apply only to the circumstances of that specific individual.
Yes, that is very inconsistent, illogical and seemingly a legal contradiction, but the VA states that each case is unique and associated rulings only apply to that specific veteran. This is a very strong target for a legally-based attack except that VA law is not a part of the American legal system of the public courts. It is based on a set of rules and regulations that stand apart from common law as used in the public courtroom.
For a blue water ship to be considered to have served in brown water, the ship had to have actually passed an imaginary line drawn across the mouth of a river or canal and located itself (at least partly) within the geographical boundary of Vietnam.
Any of the many inlets along the shore, including the ports, bays and harbors, that are open to the sea for deep water vessels are not considered inland waterways under the definition of the Inland Waterways Project 211, which is the office within the VA that releases a list of ships that are acknowledged to fall within the VA definition of ships having been on inland waters or ships that had crew that went ashore. In this latter instance, only those specific crew members that went ashore (and thus had “boots on ground”) are granted the presumption of exposure, not the entire ship’s crew.
Some of the types of brown water ships include, but are not limited to: Landing Crafts, Landing Ships, Patrol Boats, Cargo Vessels, Buoy Tenders, and more. There is a complete list by name at www.va.gov. And as always, you can contact your Veterans Service Office for more information.
Tammy Walters can be reached at [email protected], and Jason Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both can be reached by calling (715) 369-6127.