An extensive project of digitizing Vietnam deck logs reached completion in late September 2020. The effort was an interagency project between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Improved access to the data held within these records should speed up the processing of Blue Water Navy (BWN) veterans’ disability claims.
Digitized deck logs to quickly substantiate disability claims
According to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, “Through this scanning project, VA contractors digitized declassified Navy and Coast Guard deck logs from 1956-1978 in NARA’s holdings.”
Scanned records included those of the hospital ship USS Sanctuary, which Ferriero served aboard during his time in the Navy. “As a veteran from this era, I recognize the unprecedented value this provides to veterans making these logs easily accessible online,” he said.
These deck logs — also called captain’s logs and ship logs — contain manually recorded details outlining the day-to-day activities of a given vessel or Navy unit. This information is regularly used when processing VA disability benefits claims as it provides evidence of exposure to chemicals used for tactical purposes during the conflict in Vietnam.
As established by the 2019 Blue Water Navy Veterans Act, Navy service members who served less than 12 nautical miles out from Vietnamese and Cambodian waters are assumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. This carcinogenic herbicide is connected with more than a dozen known illnesses and conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, ischemic heart disease and seven types of cancers.
Prior to the BWN Veterans Act, service members stationed offshore did not receive the same presumptive disability benefits as their peers who served inland. Now, BWN veterans can no longer be denied these benefits, which can amount to several thousand dollars per month, depending on the individual’s specific condition and health care needs. The completion of this yearlong digitization project means it will be easier to access proof of a veteran’s service and award the necessary disability coverage.
Access to BWN veteran benefits no longer a burden
According to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, thousands of claims have already been processed this year, using deck log data as it became available. Military Times reported that approximately $641 million has already been issued to 22,524 affected Vietnam veterans.
“The team at NARA recognizes the importance of this effort making it easier for BWN Veterans to receive the benefits they’ve earned without burdening them with paperwork,” Wilkie said in the press announcement.
The total VA payout amount is expected to reach around $5.5 billion over a 10-year timeframe, according to the American Legion. This substantial sum was apparently a topic of concern while the proposal was under consideration.
However, as Ralph Bozella, chairman of The American Legion’s National Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, noted: “The cost of caring for veterans after a wartime experience should never be a deterrent to what a veteran earns in benefits.”
It is predicted that some 90,000 BWN veterans may be eligible for these delayed benefits. Veterans, surviving spouses and dependents are urged to file claims as soon as they can. The VA recommends contacting approved Veterans Service Organizations for support in filing a claim.