Bianca Cruz’s Navy career started with a job she loved on a ship in Japan, but after she was sexually assaulted by a sailor, her military life spiraled downward, ending with a “bad paper” discharge after serving 20 months. “If it weren’t for the sexual assault, I would still be in Japan,” said Cruz, 22, a Navy hospital corpsman, who returned home in November 2015. Cruz is among the thousands of sexual assault victims who have been pushed out of the military with a less than honorable discharge, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in May, Booted: Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors. The Navy diagnosed Cruz with a “personality disorder,” which the Rights Watch report said the military regularly uses to trigger quick dismissals of sexual assault victims.
Cruz is appealing to the Navy Discharge Review Board, requesting that her discharge status be upgraded from general (under honorable conditions) to honorable. Her current discharge status prevents her from receiving G.I. education benefits and re-enlisting in the military.
From his kitchen table in Italy via Skype, deported U.S. Army veteran Arnold Giammarco said the years apart from his family have been “devastating.”
“It’s tough,” said Giammarco, a legal non-citizen veteran of the Army and National Guard, during a Skype interview with C-HIT. He was deported in November 2012 for nonviolent drug and larceny convictions for which he had previously served jail time. “You can’t hold your wife,” he said, dabbing tears from his eyes. “You can’t hold your daughter.”
Giammarco, 60, had lived in the United States since he was 4, but never became a citizen. In 2011 federal immigration officers arrested him at his home in Groton and detained him for 11 months, then deported him. He has been fighting to return to Connecticut ever since, with the help of free legal representation from Yale Law School clinics.
In response to requests from a Connecticut veteran and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to extend Agent Orange benefits to veterans who served in Korea in 1967. “Eugene Clarke, of Redding, Connecticut has been instrumental in bringing a light to shine on these problems,” Blumenthal said, referring to the Army veteran who has spent years fighting to get benefits for veterans who served in Korea in 1967. C-HIT first reported on Clarke’s efforts Tuesday. The VFW presented testimony Wednesday to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees, asking that the VA grant benefits to veterans with illnesses that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure. Now, the VA provides the benefits to veterans who served in Korea from 1968 to 1971.
A Connecticut veteran who has spent years trying to gain Agent Orange benefits for veterans who served in Korea in 1967 has persuaded the Veterans of Foreign Wars and two other veterans’ organizations to take his case before Congress. On Wednesday, VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. will ask Congress to pass a law requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to grant VA health care and compensation to veterans who served in Korea in 1967 if they have illnesses linked to Agent Orange. Biedrzycki’s prepared testimony states that current VA rules exclude many veterans “who now suffer from diseases and illnesses that have been directly linked to the chemical defoliant.”
Carlos Fuentes, VFW senior legislative associate, said documents provided by Army veteran Eugene Clarke of Redding swayed the national organization to seek the benefits change through Congress. The documents include proof of test spraying of defoliants in Korea in 1967 and of veterans’ exposure to Korean government spraying. Fuentes said VFW efforts to convince the VA to change its policy have been unsuccessful.
A U.S. Army veteran found dead in a public bathroom at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven died of accidental heroin intoxication, according to Dr. James R. Gill, the state medical examiner. Zachary Paul-Allen Greenough, 28, of Uncasville, was participating in a residential program where he was free to leave the hospital campus during the day, according to Pamela Redmond, spokesperson for the West Haven VA hospital. She said, as a result, Greenough could have obtained the drugs “anywhere.”
She said the VA would not comment on the cause of Greenough’s death, which occurred on Dec. 22, 2015. She said an investigation by the hospital’s Patient Safety Program has been completed, but the results are not yet available.
The federal government will pay for disabled veterans now residing in assisted-living facilities, under a bill passed by Congress in December. But the measure doesn’t cover veterans who may move to such places in the future. Disabled veterans living at retirement homes, including those at Seacrest Retirement Center in West Haven, HighVue Manor in Hamden, and Mattatuck Health Care in Waterbury, were told in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that coverage of their housing was a mistake and would end. The coverage began in 2010. U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro obtained extensions for the Connecticut veterans who sought her help and she proposed the language in the bill approved that ensured their coverage would continue.
People with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population and 68 percent of the mentally ill have at least one chronic physical health condition, studies show. They don’t receive the care they need because mentally ill people are often discriminated against by medical practitioners and their mental illness can make it difficult for them to be proactive about their care, according to several mental health professionals. Daniela Giordano, public policy director of National Alliance for Mental Illness of Connecticut, said the problem is often a lack of understanding of mental illness by some health care providers. Giordano said she knows of people with mental illness whose “thoughts and comments were dismissed” by medical providers who view these patients through “a different lens.”
A state project is addressing such barriers to necessary medical care faced by low-income mentally ill people. Under the program, called Behavioral Health Homes (BHH) and based in mental health facilities where people are already receiving outpatient services, staff members coordinate participants’ mental health and primary care.
The Pentagon is not doing enough to make its sexual assault prevention strategy effective, according to a Congressional watchdog agency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Department of Defense (DOD) has failed to: identify risk factors that “promote sexual violence” in the military community and in military leadership; communicate the strategy to military bases to ensure consistency among Armed Services prevention programs; and undertake methods to measure if the strategy is working and whether changes are needed. The report to Congress notes that sexual assaults reported to the military increased from 2,800 in 2007 to 6,100 in 2014, but adds that they represent “a fraction” of actual incidents. The report cites a 2014 RAND survey, which estimated that 20,300 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in the prior year. The report concludes that the DOD needs to take actions to better address the problem.
Very few veterans take advantage of a Pentagon policy designed to make it easier for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to upgrade their discharge status and become eligible to apply for veterans’ benefits, according to a Yale Law Clinic report. At a news conference Monday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., veterans, and Yale law students, blamed the Department of Defense for not adequately publicizing the policy to veterans with less than honorable discharges. Since new guidelines were announced last year, just 201 of tens of thousands of eligible veterans applied for a PTSD-related service upgrade, according to the report. Blumenthal called the statistic “a staggering, outrageous fact.”
“Veterans on the streets of New Haven or Connecticut or the rest of the country have no idea about this,” Blumenthal said. “It takes a vigorous and rigorous effort, which the DOD committed to and they have failed,” he added.
For the first time, all Connecticut health insurance companies will be required to cover infertility treatment for people age 40 and older. The state’s Insurance Department said that failure to provide the coverage constitutes age discrimination in violation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new requirement takes effect Jan. 1. “Limits to coverage that are discriminatory run counter to the clear intent of the Affordable Care Act and we must ensure that our state laws and guidelines are compliant,” said state Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade.