|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|President’ Report, September/October 2020|
The Leadership Conference That Never Happened
Our National Leadership & Education Conference was supposed to take place in Dayton, Ohio, in July, but then COVID-19 intervened. The pandemic also has forced us to publish an online-only version of The Veteran, and cancel all our regular in-person Board of Directors meetings. We have begun to hold BOD meetings on Zoom and will soon have a Conference of State Council Presidents meeting online. In addition, any necessary Board motions are being dealt with by Secretary Bill Meeks through online discussions and voting. We hope that things will get back to normal next year, but that may depend upon the development of a vaccine (See article on Vaccines).
THE FUTURE OF VVA
Last year at the National Convention the delegates overwhelmingly supported Resolution GA-21, which charged the Officers and Directors with investigating the legal and constitutional requirements for opening up our membership to post-Vietnam veterans under a new name that would be inviting to a more-inclusive membership. All proposals were to be presented to the delegates at the 2021 Convention for their approval. This led to a lot of discussion and concerns from the membership, particularly from those who do not want to change our name. Well, they do not have to worry about that anymore.
Under the authorization of the Resolution the Officers began to investigate the feasibility of implementing it. VP Tom Burke and I attended the Student Veterans of America Convention in January. We spoke to recent veterans who are leaders of new veterans organizations, to our families and friends, and to several veterans who are on our staff. It became apparent after these discussions that new veterans are not terribly interested in taking over VVA in its present structure.
VVA is basically a century-old style of veterans organization. Like the Legion, the VFW, and other organizations created after World War I, we are based on membership dues, local chapters, state entities, and a national leadership in control. The newer organizations are often local and live on the Internet. They are usually run by Boards of both veterans and financial supporters. Interestingly, while the new veterans rely on email to communicate with each other, they still desire to get together in person.
While the newer veterans may not be interested in inheriting an older-model veterans organization, they do appreciate our government affairs/advocacy efforts and our veterans benefits program, and would like to see them continue. A new organization called Veterans Voices of America, which was founded by new veterans, including several VVA staff members, may be interested in eventually taking over these operations. If they are successful in getting off the ground, we may be able to entertain establishing a relationship with this new group to continue helping veterans, including us in our old age. One thing should be clear from our experience under the pandemic: It has highlighted our health concerns and limitations and the need to plan our future.
Our fundraising efforts have taken a big hit because of the lockdowns during the pandemic. As a result, we had to reduce our budget significantly. It’s problematic to go anywhere, so it was not a big deal to eliminate our travel budget. However, we did have to eliminate a dozen staff. Thankfully, we were able to give them severance packages.
Thanks to the efforts of VP Burke and Treasurer Jack McManus, our assistant Contina Foster, and other staff members, we are reorganizing our staff, which will enable us to continue to serve veterans and their families.
CONTINUING TO SERVE
While we have had to spend an extraordinary amount of time on saving our organization, we have not stopped our efforts on behalf of America’s veterans and their families. I hope you have seen the VVA report on COVID-19 deaths in State Veterans Homes (See the Report and an Article in this issue). When the pandemic was identified, the disease had already infiltrated State Veterans Homes in eastern states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, resulting in a high number of deaths.
Thankfully, that number was less in other states that had some time to react. The most disturbing part of the report was the hands-off attitude of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, despite the significant amount of funds provided to the homes by the VA and the requirement for their oversight of these facilities.
Our attorneys continue to fight to get veterans the disability benefits they earned. This has resulted in some veterans receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive payments. This sounds great, but it just means they had to wait years to get the benefits they deserved.
We are still active in the halls of Congress. The Senate passed legislation that would add three diseases to the AO presumption list: bladder cancer; hyperthyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. We wanted hypertension also, but the Republican leaders would not agree to add it. We await a final agreement between the House and Senate to finalize the addition of these diseases.
Legislation was passed that will expand the Post-9/11 Caregiver program—which allows family members to be paid to take care of veterans—to cover veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. We also await movement on legislation that calls for investigating the full impact of toxic exposures on service members both overseas and in the United States.
On November 3 we will hold a Presidential election. It has already become a bitter affair. I urge everyone to lower the rhetoric and vote for whomever you like.
Because this election will be highly contested in the middle of a pandemic, there will be a need for poll workers to help people vote and to count ballots. I am aware that VVA members in Michigan were approached to work on the elections. If you are comfortable doing that, I urge you to consider it.
I have also learned that some chapters are considering volunteering to assist folks coming out to vote. They would help people line up and perhaps provide them with refreshments while they stand in line. Either endeavor would be a public service. I urge those who are able to participate.
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