VA Report: Many ‘Inaccurate Decisions’ on Blue Water Navy Veteran Claims

VA Report: Many ‘Inaccurate Decisions’ on Blue Water Navy Veteran Claims
USS Hanson (DD-832), foreground, and USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) sail in the South China Sea in August 1965. (Photo by Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

A sampling of thousands of VA claims filed primarily by veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam showed about 46% were inaccurate, resulting in over- or underpayments to a group familiarly known as Blue Water Navy veterans.


Of the 4,600-claim sample highlighted in a 43-page report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General 2,100 veterans “had inaccurate decisions,” the report states. This resulted in $25.2 million in overpayments and $12 million in underpayments. The bulk of the errors – 95% – “involved [Veterans Benefits Administration] employees not following general rating policies, such as inaccurately assigning retroactive effective dates for evaluations.”


The report’s authors recommended the VA clarify portions of its Blue Water Navy claims process, including how staffers should address potential discrepancies in data generated by the department’s Ship Locator Tool, which uses digitized deck logs to help determine a veteran’s benefit eligibility. Servicemembers aboard vessels operating as far as 12 nautical miles from the Vietnam coast, as well as those who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides and may be eligible for benefits connected to conditions related to that exposure.


Military Times reported the study’s findings on Sept. 7.


[VA.GOV: Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019]


VA officials also said staffers underwent additional training on the claims process. That training wrapped up in the spring of 2021, after the report’s authors analyzed the sample cases.


Veterans with improperly processed claims will receive notification from the VA. Underpaid veterans can expect a letter stating they’ll receive retroactive payments via the same method they receive their regular VA compensation.


Overpaid veterans will get a letter explaining the error and giving them 60 days to reach out to the VA’s Debt Management Center to arrange a repayment plan. If the center doesn’t hear from the veteran in 60 days, it will send a letter notifying the veteran of plans to recoup the funds.


The report also found the VA had “met the outreach requirements” of the 2019 law, doing so via radio and television ads, letters, social media messaging, and other lines of communication.


[RELATED: VA Will Soon Begin Processing Claims for 3 New Agent Orange Illnesses]


MOAA joined other military and veterans service organizations in support of the bill, which was signed into law in June 2019 after failing to clear Congress in previous sessions. A January 2019 Federal Circuit court ruling granted presumptive exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans; the bill further codified and expanded the presumption.


For more information about claiming benefits under the 2019 law, click here. For a general overview of the VA claims process, click here.


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About the Author

Kevin Lilley
Kevin Lilley

Lilley serves as MOAA's digital content manager. His duties include producing, editing, and managing content for a variety of platforms, with a concentration on The MOAA Newsletter and Follow him on X: @KRLilley