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Local Vietnam Veterans Encouraged by Passage of 'Blue Water' Bill

photo of Bob Papesh
Bob Papesh (right) visited the travelling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Northfield over the weekend, and says he's felt the effects of Agent Orange. The new bill expands eligiblity for VA benefits for people who served in the Vietnam War.

A bill that would expand Veterans Administration benefits for about 90,000 people who served in Vietnam is being applauded by area vets.

The “Blue Water Navy Veterans Act” reverses the VA’s position that only people who served on land – or inland waters – were eligible for benefits as they got sicker due to exposure to Agent Orange. Now, people who served on the seas around Vietnam will also be eligible.

Joe Volny from Sagamore Hills served in Vietnam in 1969-70. While visiting the travelling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at Northfield VFW Post 6768 over the weekend, he shared his support for the legislation.

“Just because you’re sitting out on a battleship or something, they should be allowed, too. I mean, it should be all equal. To me, [if] you’re there, you’re there. Whether you’re standing on the ground or not standing on the ground – that wasn’t your choice. You were ordered to go there.”

The proposal also expands benefits to veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone in the late 1960s, and it calls for an updated report on the health of Gulf War-era veterans. Congress unanimously passed the bill and it’s now headed to the president’s desk.

Bob Papesh from Ravenna served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam from 1965-71. He says he’s felt the effects of Agent Orange himself.

“We ate the food that was saturated with water. We drank the water. We walked through the brush. We slept and helicopters blew it all over you. They sprayed it on us. And everybody said, ‘don’t worry.’ Well, I guess it’s time to worry. Some guys aren’t here; it’s too late for them.”

The bill was co-sponsored by 11 members of Ohio’s congressional delegation, including Youngstown-area Congressman Tim Ryan.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.