Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal's Republican challenger, Dan Carter, is reviving a 6-year-old controversy about whether the Democrat intentionally distorted his Vietnam-era military service, but it's questionable whether it still strongly resonates with many veterans.
Leaders of veterans' organizations contend Blumenthal, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been a strong political ally during his first term in the U.S. Senate, pushing for bills addressing everything from reducing suicide among veterans to helping vets re-enter the workforce.
"As far as my personal feeling, yeah, he lied about it. But since then, he's done more for veterans than anybody in the Senate," said John Schmidt, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Connecticut.
Blumenthal's first U.S. Senate campaign erupted in crisis after The New York Times reported in May 2010 that he inaccurately portrayed his military service in several instances. The story included quotes and a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had "served in Vietnam" when he actually served stateside for six years in the Marine Reserve, after completing six months in Marine boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
The state's popular attorney general at the time, Blumenthal acknowledged he had "misspoken" and meant to say he served "during Vietnam" instead of "in Vietnam." He said the statements were "totally unintentional" errors that occurred only a few times out of hundreds of public appearances. Months later, he went on to defeat Republican Linda McMahon in the November election.
Carter, a Republican state representative from Bethel and Blumenthal's challenger, said many people he speaks to on the campaign trail haven't forgotten about the misstatements. Some, he said, are still angry about it.
"He misspoke multiple times. When I'm talking to people, it comes up pretty frequently," he said. "There's no statute of limitations on that. It comes up all the time. As an Air Force veteran myself, I don't think you should embellish your service."
This week, Carter issued a news release criticizing Blumenthal's first television ad in the 2016 campaign as "political opportunism at its worst." It features the widow of a Connecticut serviceman who was suffering from PTSD and took his own life. In that same public statement, Carter said Blumenthal "lied about serving in Vietnam to score political points," posting a link to news coverage on MSNBC about the issue.
When asked about the criticisms, Marla Romash, a campaign adviser, said Blumenthal "works his heart out for veterans" and that he's a "tireless advocate helping our veterans get the care and services they need."
Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America, said his national organization was well-aware of the controversy in 2010. But he credits Blumenthal with becoming one of the four or five people his organization goes to for help on significant issues.
"Among the Democrats, he is the guy," he said. "He's the most responsive."
Ronald "Rusko" Rusakiewicz, the adjutant/quartermaster at the Connecticut VFW, said there are still some veterans, especially from the Vietnam era, who remain angry with Blumenthal. Some vets from around the country turned in their VFW membership cards after Blumenthal used a VFW hall in West Hartford in 2010 to explain his misstatements.
"I think most of that has gone away," he said. "I personally just think maybe it's time to just see that he's working hard for veterans and we can possibly get over this."