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Navy veterans from the Vietnam era may be eligible for new benefits after the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged that some "blue water" Navy vessels could have been exposed to Agent Orange while operating close to shore, according to a veterans group.
The Fleet Reserve Association, a not-for-profit advocacy group, said the VA's move could affect thousands of Navy vets potentially sickened by the poisonous chemical.
"This new information from the VA will make it easier for these Navy veterans to prove exposure and will hopefully facilitate more timely determination of benefits," said explains Chris Slawinski, FRA's national veterans' service officer.
"Thousands of Navy veterans who served aboard ships during the Vietnam conflict experience health problems related to herbicide exposure, but their illnesses and disabilities are not automatically considered service-connected in the eyes of the VA," Slawinski said.
Previously, the VA restricted some of these benefits to "boots on the ground" vets, Slawinski said.
The list, published in January, identifies the ships that the VA has confirmed were involved in brown water operations. Sailors serving on those ships during these specific times are potentially eligible for additional benefits.z
The following is the list of Navy vessels that conducted inland operations in Vietnam:
• All vessels of Inshore Fire Support Division 93 during their entire Vietnam tour, including inshore fire support ship Carronade, the medium rocket landing ship Clarion River, LSMR Francis River and LSMR White River.
• All vessels with the designation LCVP — landing craft, vehicle, personnel — during their entire tour.
• All vessels with the designation PCF — patrol craft, fast — during their entire tour.
• All vessels with the designation PBR — patrol boat, river — during their entire tour.
• The destroyer Ingersoll, which operated Oct. 24-25, 1965, on the Saigon River.
• The destroyer Mansfield, which operated Aug. 8-19, 1967, and Dec. 21-24, 1968, on the Saigon River.
• The destroyer Richard E. Kraus, which operated on a coastal inlet north of Da Nang, June 2-5, 1966, protecting Marines holding a bridge.
• The destroyer Basilone, which operated May 24-25, 1966, on the Saigon River.
• The destroyer Hamner, which operated on the Song Lon Tao and Long Song Tao rivers from Aug. 15 to Sept. 1, 1966.
• The destroyer Conway, which operated on the Saigon River in early August 1966.
• The destroyer Fiske, which operated on the Mekong River on June 16-21, 1966.
• The destroyer Black, which operated July 13-19, 1966, on the Saigon River.
• The light guided-missile cruiser Providence, which operated on the Saigon River for three days in January 1964.
• The guided-missile frigate Mahan, which operated Oct. 24-28, 1964, on the Saigon River.
• The attack transport Okanogan, which operated on the Saigon River in 1968: July 22-23, July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.
• The combat stores ship Niagara Falls, which unloaded supplies on the Saigon River and in Cam Rahn Bay on April 22-25, 1968.