Clintonville resident Dave Nichol struggles with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. He is convinced his condition is the result of exposure to Agent Orange during two tours of duty to Vietnam. But like thousands of other Navy veterans who served on ships offshore, Dave’s claims for disability benefits have been denied.
But a new federal court appeals court ruling has given Nichol reason to hope.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court Circuit has issued a 9-2 decision that says the same disability benefits offered to veterans who had boots on the ground and who patrolled inland rivers should also be offered to sailors who served on ships offshore.
Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant, has been linked to numerous health conditions including Parkinson’s. But the VA has cited a lack of science to connect the chemical to ships that were two miles or more offshore.
So-called “Blue Water Navy” veterans say they pumped water onto their ships that was desalinated and used for drinking, cooking and bathing. That water, they argue, contained runoff from the millions of gallons of Agent Orange sprayed on low-lying swampland.
Nichol’s wife, Jackie Neumann-Bloom says the ruling is long overdue. “You know a lot of these guys have already died,” Neumann-Bloom said. “You know the old tag line, deny, deny, deny until they die. That’s pretty pathetic.”
The ruling means that Nichol should be presumed eligible for benefits. He says he’ll believe it when he sees his first check. “The VA seems to be able to do whatever it wants regardless of what the judge says,” Nichol says. “They’ve proven it time and time again.”
The VA could still appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokeswoman told NBC4 “VA is reviewing this decision and will determine an appropriate response.”