Understanding Priority Group 6 Eligibility for Vietnam Veterans
Health benefits for medical problems related to agent orange exposure have been a source of much confusion for Vietnam vets. The following from an article in the March 2016 VFW Magazine should help to clarify.
Eligibility for enrollment in the VA health care system is determined by qualifying in one of eight priority groups. Priority Group (PG) 6 incorporates seven categories of veterans. The fourth category pertains to “Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975”. On the surface, that statement suggests that simply serving in Vietnam automatically bestows eligibility for enrollment. However, it is misleading because it leaves out an essential element in the equation.
To clarify and elaborate on eligibility for PG 6 Southeast Asia Theater veterans, we asked the following questions of VFW’s National Veterans Service, the department familiar with VA rules and regulations.
Q. Does merely having served in the Republic of Vietnam (former South Vietnam) guarantee automatic enrollment in the VA health care system?
A. No. Eligibility is predicated on presumed exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides on land in Vietnam or on a ship operating on the inland waterways of Vietnam, as outlined in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations under Sec. 3.307(iii): “Service in the Republic of Vietnam includes service in the waters offshore and service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam.”
Q. What about veterans who served in Thailand?
A. Veterans who were stationed on military bases in Thailand and were possibly exposed on or near base perimeters also fall under ,T1G-6. Examples would include servicemen who performed guard duty on the perimeters or Air Force security police who regularly patrolled the perimeters.
Q. Are there any recipients of the Vietnam Service Medal not covered under Priority Group 6?
A. Yes. Sailors who served aboard ships in the “Blue Water” Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin/ South China Sea are currently excluded. Also, Air Force crew members who flew B-52 bombing missions from Guam do not qualify.
Q. If a veteran enrolled in the VA system based on Agent Orange presumption, applies for VA disability compensation based on one of the 14 qualifying diseases and is denied, how does that affect his qualification for Priority Group 6?
A. All 2.6 million Vietnam veterans who served “boots on the ground” are deemed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. So if they develop any health conditions potentially related to that toxic exposure, they are entitled to care through PG 6, ”unless there is affirmative evidence that the veteran was not exposed to any such agent during that service.” Veterans can be denied admittance under PG 6 if the condition they seek treatment for did not result from toxic exposure. At that point, they may be considered for Group 7 or 8, unless they have an unrelated service connected rating.
Q. If a veteran needs assistance in enrolling in the VA system and/or is denied admittance, where can he or she go?
A. Contact an accredited VFW service officer at your nearest VA regional medical center. A list of service officers is available at www.vfw.org/NVS. Select your state beneath the “Find a Service Officer” box and click “Go” to get the name and contact info for your state service officer.
VFW Magazine• MARCH 2016