Forces Network: Vietnam Vet Rides 10,000 Miles Across US In Agent Orange Campaign
A Vietnam veteran who says he was left sterilised by Agent Orange has ridden more 10,000 miles across the US on a motorcycle to rally support to change compensation rules.
Gerry Wright, 70, is one of thousands of former soldiers who sprayed the herbicide during the Vietnam War to kill dense vegetation that provided cover for Viet Cong troops.
Agent Orange has since been acknowledged as causing Parkinson's disease, leukemia, diabetes, prostate cancer and other devastating illnesses.
Retired US Army First Sergeant Gerry Wright claims his exposure left him infertile and caused heart problems, painful skin rashes, excess hair growth and neuropathy.
But current US Department of Veterans Affairs rules state that compensation will only be given for certain symptoms if ex-soldiers reported them within a year of service.
Mr Wright, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1971, claims he was never asked if he had sprayed Agent Orange when he was discharged and only learned of the health risks in 1979 during a medical exam.
He is campaigning for the time limit - which only applies to the certain symptoms - to be abolished.
In May, he took his fight to the country, riding his motorbike through 32 states and covering 10,357 miles over six weeks to gather signatures for his petition.
He won support from Congressman Joe Courtney who, on July 26, presented a bill to the US House of Representatives proposing changes to limits on compensation for veterans.
Now he’s rallying support for the House bill - the Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act of 2018 - and is urging congress to “right a wrong”.
Mr. Wright said: “We weren’t poisoned by the enemy, it was by our own government.
“When we were in Vietnam we would spray this around our camp and everything would die within two days.
“I would stand on the back of a truck in a hat and shorts, no mask, and I just remember whatever came back would burn your nose.
“Around two days afterwards we would start to get blisters on our skin and our faces would get pimples.
“First aid said it was probably heat rash so who are we going to believe? We didn’t have a hospital to go to. We didn’t have a choice.
“It is a constant reminder of Vietnam every day.
“Agent Orange also sterilized me. I accepted that I was never going to have children.
“An opportunity came up and I adopted a beautiful baby girl, but I feel very angry.
“I feel betrayed.”
Gerry said that since his exposure his painful skin rash, pimples and blisters have recurred repeatedly and he was forced to sell his haulage business early due to health problems.
He has received some medical aid for his heart condition and PTSD, but believes he should have received more.
Since retiring around two years ago, Gerry has devoted endless hours to advocating for the rights of veterans affected by AO.
He has also won the support of Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney.
Mr. Courtney said: "They have these Mickey Mouse rules that say if you haven't notified them of the condition within a year of discharge, you can't qualify for VA assistance.
"It's particularly galling because they are asking people 30 years ago to self-diagnose that their condition was caused by Agent Orange.
Gerry, who has an adoptive daughter Devin, 24, and grandson Kaden, one, is now trying to gather as much support for the bill as possible.
He added: “My question is, ‘How can you put an end date on an illness?’“Congress needs to right a wrong.”
The US Department of Veteran Affairs has been approached for comment.