Blue Water Navy vet renews fight for recognition

Groton — In recalling his military service in Vietnam, Paul Dillon, 79, of Gales Ferry made a point to advocate for "thousands" of so-called Blue Water Navy veterans, who, like him, suffer from presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.

Initially, Blue Water Navy vets, who served on ships in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the war, were granted recognition and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Agent Orange Act of 1991. A regulation change in 2002 stripped them of this coverage. There's been several efforts in Congress, including two identical bills currently stalled in the House and Senate, to restore recognition to these vets.

"It is a disgrace that the VA continues to refuse recognition and compensation to these veterans," Dillon said Wednesday during his remarks at a ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base's commissary honoring veterans. He encouraged those in attendance to reach out to their representatives in Washington in support of the bill.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin announced on Nov. 1 that he is considering possible new presumptive conditions that may qualify for compensation for Agent Orange exposure.

Dillon, who served in the Navy from 1956 to 1980, said the federal government recognized that the combination of herbicides sprayed during the war caused his own prostate cancer because he spent time off his ship, a Navy cruiser, and on the ground in Vietnam. Several of his shipmates have died of their illnesses without receiving that same recognition.

He served three years in Vietnam on the Navy cruisers USS Providence and USS Oklahoma City. During that time, 18-hour workdays were not uncommon, and there was often firing all day and all night, he said. More than 58,000 U.S. military personnel died during the war, he pointed out, including his best friend, whose name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today, Vietnam veterans are dying at a high rate.

"It's never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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