Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Gerry Wright a veteran from Andover (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday one of his first legislative actions when Congress reconvenes in a few days will be to reintroduce his Blue Water Navy Veterans Act, designed to give full insurance benefits to those who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during that war.

At a Legislative Office Building press conference Wednesday, Blumenthal, surrounded by a group of veterans who served in the armed forces in Vietnam, said he was “angry and frustrated” that the legislation came within a handful of votes of passing the Senate just before it recessed in December. “We came close, but close is not enough.”

“Many of these veterans are tragically passing away before they can receive these benefits,” Blumenthal added.

“But I will reintroduce it this month – when Congress reconvenes,” Blumenthal vowed. “It’s a matter of simple justice.”

The bill had passed the U.S. House 382-0 in June, but failed to get enough votes for debate in the Senate last month.

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Blumenthal co-sponsored the Senate measure and has been a vocal advocate on behalf of Blue Water Navy veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the war.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would remove excessive obstacles veterans have faced in qualifying for health care and benefits for conditions resulting from toxic chemical exposure during their service aboard Navy ships in Vietnam.

Since 2002, only veterans serving within the land boundaries of Vietnam are presumed to have health conditions resulting from chemical exposure Agent Orange.

Blumenthal said this is wrong.

“This herbicide was a toxin that affected our troops serving off the shores on the coast of Vietnam just as it did the men and women in uniform in Vietnam in-country itself. And they should be compensated equally,” he said.

Blumenthal said his bill will also include the Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act, to ensure that all veterans exposed to toxic substances who served in the Korean DMZ from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971 also receive timely access to health care and benefits.

One of those speaking at Wednesday’s press conference was 68-year-old Paul Scappaticci, of Manchester, who served in the Navy on a vessel a few miles off the coast of Vietnam during the war.

He washed, bathed and drank water from the South China Sea.

He has had two cancers, nerve damage in his hands and feet and has cysts all over his body.  Paul along with nearly 90,000 surviving Vietnam Blue Water Veterans believe they, like the troops on the ground, are now suffering health affects from Agent Orange.

Agent Orange is the toxic defoliant that the U.S. sprayed across Vietnam during the war. It is known to cause serious health problems.

“I will not give up my fight (to get benefits),” Scappaticci said. “Taking care of the nation’s veterans is part of the cost of war.”

Scappaticci, getting more emotional as he spoke, said the health issues he’s suffered, due to the war, aren’t just confined to him.

“My daughter has some effects from Agent Orange because of me,” Scappaticci said.

Another speaker was Gerry Wright, a 69-year-old Andover resident, who was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam war from 1968 to 1971.

“I wasn’t Blue Water – I was boots on the ground,” Wright said. “But I, too am angry and frustrated. We all drank and showered in this contaminated water. We are very frustrated with the VA.”

“Why have they waited to so long,” Wright went on. “Three-hundred-and-seventy of us die each day,” he claimed. “Are they going to wait for all us to die,” he asked.

Blumenthal explained that part of the reason why the Blue Water legislation didn’t pass was that it didn’t make the regular calendar, meaning proponents attempting to raise it before the session ended in December fell a few votes short of getting the measure called to the floor of the Senate.

“We were slow walked and stonewalled,” Blumenthal said. He added that those who aren’t in favor of the legislation are concerned about potential cost impacts that will be incurred by the VA.

Garry Monk, executive director of National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, said federal officials are making a mistake if they think the issue will be forgotten about by those who served the country.

“We will be here until it’s done,” Monk said. “We are veterans — we aren’t going anywhere.”