VA extends Agent Orange presumption to 'Blue Water Navy' veterans

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to process Agent Orange exposure claims for "Blue Water Navy" veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.

These veterans may be eligible for presumption of herbicide exposure through Public Law 116-23, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which was signed into law June 25, 2019, and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. They also may qualify for a presumption of service connection if they have a disease that is recognized as being associated with herbicide exposure.

The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act gives VA until Jan. 1, 2020, to begin deciding Blue Water Navy related claims. By staying claims decisions until that date, VA is complying with the law Congress wrote and passed.

"VA is dedicated to ensuring all veterans receive the benefits they have earned," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "We are working to ensure we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water Veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation."

Blue Water Navy Veterans are encouraged to submit disability compensation claims for conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans over age 85 or with life-threatening illnesses will have priority in claims processing.

Veterans who previously were denied for an Agent Orange related presumptive condition can file a new claim based on the change in law. Eligible survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy Veterans also may benefit from the new law and may file claims for benefits based on the veterans' service.

The new law affects veterans who served on a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, as defined in Public Law 116-23. An estimated 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam-era veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans.

For more information about Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam waters (Blue Water Navy Veterans), visit https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/navy-coast-guard-ships-vietnam/.

Veterans seeking more information should contact their Veterans Service Officer, call VA's toll-free number at 800-827-1000 or visit the VA Blue Water Navy Agent Orange website.

VA overhauls religious, spiritual symbol policies

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently revised its directives permitting religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination.

The move aims to simplify and clarify the department's policies governing religious symbols, and spiritual and pastoral care, which have been interpreted inconsistently at various VA facilities in recent years, resulting in unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays.

Effective July 3, these changes will help ensure that patrons within VA have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels as requested and protect representations of faith in publicly accessible displays at facilities throughout the department.

"We want to make sure that all of our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S.Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department."

The new policies will:

•Allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities.

•Allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.

•Allow VA to accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and distribute them to VA patrons under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles. This includes the following values: a display that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols and practices; respect and tolerance of differing views; and endeavors to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination.

VA-Verizon partnership offers unlimited access to video telehealth service

WASHINGTON -- As a result of a partnership with Verizon, veterans who are customers of the telecommunications company, as of June 27, will have unlimited access to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' VA Video Connect telehealth app.

Veterans will be able to access VA Video Connect, which uses the cameras on computers, smartphones or tablets, to let veterans talk and interact with their VA care team over a live, encrypted video stream, anywhere across Verizon's nationwide 4G LTE network, without incurring data charges.

"VA's telehealth app for streaming live video sessions between patients and health care providers is another testament to our shared journey to fully integrated, seamless access to health care for our veterans, no matter where they live," said Robert Wilkie, VA secretary.

Accessing VA Video Connect is easy: For iOS devices, VA Video Connect is available at the Apple App Store; for all other devices, a telehealth session launches automatically after a Veteran user selects an emailed session.

"We're proud to deepen our support of veterans," said Mike Maiorana, senior vice president, Public Sector, Verizon. "Regardless of whether they live in city centers or rural areas, veterans should be able to access the VA's telehealth resources."

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