GROTON, Conn. – Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London held its annual Military Retiree Appreciation Seminar at Dealey Center Theater for retired service members to keep abreast of changes in policy regarding healthcare, legal assistance and more, Oct. 19.
The first half of the event was a briefing held in the theater while the second half took place in Morton Hall Gymnasium where booths and tables were set up for attendees to get further information, brochures or set up appointments.
The ceremony opened with the Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL) color guard, the Silver Dolphins, parading the national colors while Sonar Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Matthew Northfell sang the national anthem.
Prominent among the speakers was U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (CT-2) who spoke about a recent reversal in policy toward Vietnam War veterans effected by Agent Orange.
“On June 25, the president signed into law a much-overdue measure, the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act which finally recognizes the sea services as eligible for Agent Orange benefits despite the fact they did not put a foot on the ground,” said Courtney. “That was a rule put in place in the 2000’s and has unfairly and unjustly blocked members of the Navy and Coast Guard who served in that conflict from being eligible for Agent Orange benefits. This has been a knock-down drag-out fight.”
Sailors and Coast Guardsmen who served off the coast during the Vietnam War were often exposed to Agent Orange but have not been eligible for benefits due to not fulfilling the requirement of having to actually set foot on land in Vietnam. SUBASE New London Retired Activities Office Director Paul Dillon, a retired master chief, has fought long and hard for benefits, as covered in an earlier Dolphin article, “Being for the Benefits of Those Who Served.”
“In the House the bill passed 410 to zero,” said Courtney. “It unanimously passed in the Senate and President Trump signed it on June 25. “Secretary Robert Wilkie has said applications will be open starting January 1st. I just want to recognize Paul Dillon, who is here today, has been an ardent and tireless advocate for this measure for the entire 13 years I have been blessed to be the congressman from this district. This was a grassroots effort by Navy veterans. There were no lobbyists or super PACs, this was old fashioned advocacy at the grassroots level that got this done.”
Other speakers included briefings from the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the base library, military healthcare and legal services. Before the seminar coffee and donuts were served by the SUBASE New London First Class Petty Officers Association and pulled pork sandwiches were served for lunch by the base Chief Petty Officers Association.
The Military Retiree Appreciation Seminar is an annual event held onboard SUBASE New London to keep retired service members and their families in eastern Connecticut up to date on changes in policy.