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Journal Inquirer: Andover vet’s effort leads to House bill on Agent Orange

August 4, 2018
In The News

After a six-week cross-country motorcycle ride, Andover resident Gerry Wright has more than mileage to show for his effort.

Wright rode more than 10,000 miles throughout May and June to raise awareness of the diseases many veterans suffer from because of their exposure to Agent Orange during their service in the Vietnam War.

In large part due to Wright’s activism and awareness-raising, Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, D-2nd District, presented a bill on July 26 to the U.S. House of Representatives, proposing changes to current limits on compensation for some veterans who were exposed to the herbicide.

Under current law, veterans must have reported the manifestation of two diseases — chloracne, which resembles severe acne, and porphyria cutanea tarda, which can cause excessive hair growth and skin blistering — within one year of the last date of their service in Vietnam to receive compensation for the diseases.

One additional Agent Orange-related condition — acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy — is not covered at all.

“You’re asking people to self-diagnose, (when they) are not medical doctors or professionals,” Courtney said. “It’s really kind of a sinister Catch-22 that you’re asking people to demonstrate something that they’re not qualified, (and) were never qualified, to diagnose.”

Further, Courtney said, many returning veterans focused on reconnecting with their families and dealing with “emotional challenges,” not on self-diagnosing or scheduling medical appointments.

The bill that Courtney presented — the Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act —would remove the time limitations for the manifestation of chloracne and porphyria cutanea tarda, and it adds acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy to the list of recognized diseases.

Courtney said he’s sponsoring the bill because there are many veterans within his district, which covers most of northeastern Connecticut and includes Andover, Bolton, Coventry, and Hebron.

“Agent Orange has been this persistent, nagging gap of care and treatment in the VA system going back decades,” Courtney said. “I’m trying to fill some of those gaps.”

Courtney, who said he has known Wright for years, called Wright “a real giver” who often focuses on making positive changes for others’ lives.