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VVA Committee Reports, July/August 2020

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Agent Orange/Dioxin

MAYNARD KADERLIKWith the pandemic much has changed, but there’s not much movement for veterans as far as the four presumptives. We have waited more than four years for the VA Secretary to report them out. The VA is doing two studies of its own before it will issue a report at the end of 2020. This is a stall tactic. How many more studies need to be done? The current two are labeled “The Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study” and “The Vietnam Era Mortality Study.”  So again, we wait—and they wait for an army to die.

The children’s law, 114-315, is not moving on the research part. So again, our children wait. I thought that in this country we take care of our children. Not so. They are this country’s future. Pretty sad when we don’t care for them after our country poisoned their fathers and grandfathers during their service to the nation.

That said, there are legislators who care about veterans. Many times I get emails that show they are in our corner. At Faces of Agent Orange town halls we tell attendees to call and keep calling their representatives. Let them know we are not going away. We can’t let elected officials not do their job for those of us who served our country. If they can’t help veterans when we come home, stay out of wars. 

I’m sorry that there is not much movement for us and our families. Just remember: United we stand. We can’t give up now after putting so much effort into this issue. Thank you all in VVA, both staff and grassroots.

Economic Opportunities

FRANK BARRYThe EOC hosted its April meeting via Zoom, organized by Joe Wynn of VET-FORCE. There were 54 participants, including government officials, nonprofits, veteran business owners, and EOC members.

Larry Stubblefield, the Associate Administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development at the Small Business Administration, addressed the current status of SBA COVID-19 Relief Operations.

The Paycheck Protection Program applies to any business, nonprofit organization, veterans organization, or tribal business that has under 500 employees, or under the Small Business Administration standard (if greater than 500 employees), or under 500 employees per physical location for all food service and accommodation businesses. They can receive a Small Business Interruption loan up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll, up to a maximum of $10 million.

The loans may be used to cover payroll, benefits, and salaries, as well as interest payments, rent, and utilities. Fees are waived, and collateral and personal guarantees are not required. Payments are deferred for a minimum of six months, up to one year, and there are no prepayment penalties.

The principal of the loan can be forgiven up to the total cost of payroll, mortgage interest payments, rent, utility payments, and any additional wages paid to tipped employees made during the eight-week period after origination. However, this amount can be reduced by the proportion of any reduction in the average number of employees during that period.

In addition, $10 billion in emergency grants has been authorized for small businesses, private nonprofits, sole proprietorships, agricultural co-ops, and employee-owned firms and can be converted into advances on forgivable loans. There’s also an additional $17 billion to pay the principal, interest, and fees on existing federally guaranteed small business loans for six months. One billion dollars is allocated to administration, training, consulting, and education related to these loan programs. For more information, go to sba.gov/paycheckprotection

The existing Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program also got beefed up. It now provides $10,000 in emergency relief for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. These loans do not have to be repaid, making them effectively grants.

Under the expansion of the EIDL program, small businesses affected by COVID-19 can apply for an Emergency Advance of $10,000 that does not have to be repaid. For EIDL loans you can borrow up to $200,000 without a personal guarantee. To review SBA COVID-19 funding options, go to sba.gov/coronavirusrelief

John Lowry, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor-Veterans Employment and Training Service, noted that veterans make up 5 percent of the workforce and his agency is attempting to anticipate the demand in services to enable all veterans to reach their full potential in the workplace. To that end, DOL VETS will lay out a path in the transition process moving from the military to the civilian workforce; leverage strategic partnerships such as with VVA—the focal point for veteran employment for the U.S. government; and adapt to changing demands of the workplace.

Robert Shepherd, the DOL VETS Chief Service Investigator, spoke about compliance issues in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects the civilian employment of active and reserve personnel, including 30,000 mobilized, 1,000,000 overseas, and 940,000 retired. The office receives about 50 complaints a year about discrimination and retaliation.

Lori Adams, Veterans Policy Director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, discussed the new National Labor Exchange Job Bank created in response to COVID-19.

It is the premier national labor exchange, making millions of jobs available from hundreds of thousands of employers in varying industries. Its mission is to provide the most accurate and comprehensive collection of real, online job openings at no additional cost to state workforce agencies and employers.

It collects job openings, updates job feeds daily, and validates each employer. There are some 300,000 participating employers and 454,489 jobs available, many related to COVID-19. The website is: www.NeedAJobNow.usnlx.com

Now more than ever, veterans need our help and the VVA Economic Opportunities Committee will continue to disseminate information for the economic well-being of veterans.

Membership Affairs

DICK SOUTHERNWe are facing difficult times recruiting new members because meetings and events are not being held. I suggest that we reach out to potential members by email and telephone, as well as by mail. We should also be checking our members to be sure they are safe and staying well.

The committee continues to issue a monthly report with statistics on total membership, regional membership totals, the top 25 chapters in membership, and the number of members in each state. The report indicates that we will soon have more than 87,000 members.

Many Vietnam War veterans still have not heard of the Vietnam Veterans of America. We need to reach out to those veterans and invite them to join us. Won’t you find just one new member for your chapter?

If I can help you with anything that deals with membership, contact me at dsouthern@vva.org

Welcome Home.

POW/MIA Affairs

GRANT T. COATES, CHAIRIn this 27th year of the Veterans Initiative Program, 27 missions to Vietnam have been completed. VVA has delivered 303 cases containing information submitted by U.S. veterans on the location or identification of the remains of those killed during the war. The case delivered this time pinpointed a location, identified the units involved, and was accompanied by photographs, maps, and narratives of the event. More than 2,500 Vietnamese war dead have been located based on information contained in VVA’s cases. If all estimates contained in the cases had been retrieved, some 15,000 remains would have been recovered.

Prior to the departure for Vietnam, on January 30, Mokie Porter, VVA Director of Communications and VI Protocol Officer, and I attended the Commencement Ceremony of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Vietnamese diplomatic relations with the United States at Vietnam House in Washington, D.C. Amb. Ha Kim Ngoc, who was the host, had met the VI members several times in Vietnam while he was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of relations with countries in the Americas.

The team departed Dulles Airport on February 6 for Hanoi, with a stopover in Incheon, South Korea. The coronavirus was already appearing in Asia; we took precautions. At Noi Ba Airport, the team was greeted by Bui Van Nghi, Secretary General of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization. He has been a close friend of VVA for years and assists with itinerary arrangements for VI missions.

In Hanoi, meetings started with Amb. Nguyen Tam Chien, VUFO executive member of the Vietnam Union and President of the Vietnam-USA Society, followed by press interviews. In addition to meeting with VUFO, we met with Nguyen Song Phi, Vice President, Veterans Association of Vietnam; and Van Bieu, Vice Manager, Hao Lo Historical Relics Museum, formerly Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), LTC Adam Points, Defense Prisoner of War-Missing in Action Accounting Agency, and his staff; and Nguyen Hong Quang, Deputy Director, Americas Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 7.

In Hanoi, Amb. Nguyen Tam Chien, President of the U.S. Vietnam-USA Society,
reviews the case file with the VI team.

Meetings also were held with Gen. Nguyen Van Rinh, President of VAVA; Gen. Nguyen The Luc, Vice President; and Pham Truong, head of external relations department. Gen. Rinh said that since 2018, with U.S. support, Vietnam has completed the decontamination of the Danang Airport and has begun work on the Bien Hoa Airport. He encouraged VVA to continue to search for remains of Vietnamese missing and continue to educate about unexploded ordnance.

The next meeting was with officers representing the Ministry of National Defense. Along with an overview of activities between Vietnam and the U.S., a detailed report was given by Sr. Col. Luong, commander of the Committee for Search and Repatriation of Remains of Fallen Soldiers.  

“The witnesses are dying,” Luong said. “Our older veterans are the living library of what happened. They have a wealth of knowledge. Our veterans are old; some are over 80, but we still have to go meet with them face to face to interview them.”

Arriving in Hue on February 12, the team met with representatives from the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations of Thua Thien Hue Province: Tran Thi Mai, Ph.D., President; Nguyen Huy Thai, Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Affairs; and Nguyen Dung, Vice Chair, the People’s Committee of Thua-Thien Hue Province. Mai stated: “I am very glad to see the two of you are still well. I have worked with Grant and Mokie many times. We can say we are family.”

The team then met with the People’s Committee of Thua-Thien Hue Province, chaired by Nguyen Dung, Vice Chair. Also in attendance were Nguyen Vinh Sinh, Chair, VAVN Hue; and Nguyen Huy Thai, Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Affairs of Thua-Thien Hue Province. Nguyen Vinh Sinh said: “This is the 23rd year I have known Mokie Porter, and in 2020 we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam normalization. Together we have watched the progress and the development, and now our two countries have our comprehensive partnership. I highly appreciate the efforts and contributions of VVA. This humanitarian initiative on your part has contributed to the recovery of more than 1,000 sets of remains of our fellow countrymen. For Thien Hue Province specifically, you have provided 20 dossiers pertaining to 2,000 cases of Vietnamese MIAs.”

Traveling to Quang Tri Province, meetings were held with VAVN Chair, Vice Chair, Head of Training Committee, and Head of Policy Committee of Quang Tri. The Chair stated: “We have created a cozy and friendly atmosphere, because we are working on humanitarian activities. And as usual, we work together to have a better understanding of POW/MIA Affairs. It is the job of our governments to focus on the lost remains of soldiers. Our focus has had a mutual purpose—the accounting for our countrymen who remain unaccounted for—and that is why we are close together. We will do our best to keep going on this humanitarian project, because this is what is best for all.”

A statement made during the meeting with the Peoples Committee of Quang Tri and the Department of Foreign Affairs captured the meaning of the VI mission: “You came before normalization, and you laid the foundation. Today we are looking toward a brighter future. We are indebted to VVA for its Veterans Initiative Program. You have provided us information to locate the remains of over 10,000 unrecovered from the war. In 1994, I myself assisted in the recovery of a U.S. MIA. And I witnessed the happiness when the family received the remains. However, a lot of Vietnamese are still searching for their loved ones. In my family, three uncles were sacrificed during the war. Recently, we were able to locate all three sets of remains. We should keep up our efforts. Time passes very fast, and a lot of our older witnesses can’t remember the past.”

During past missions, a stop at Firebase Tomahawk was made to honor all war dead of the battle. Due to erosion, overgrowth, and construction in the area, we paid our respects at a monument in Phuoc Loc hamlet instead. In the past visits to the monument, an elderly man was the caretaker of the property. This year his widow said he had died at the age of 98.

A meeting was held with Da Nang’s Union of Friendship Organizations Vice Chair Pham Hu Hoa, Nguyen Thi My Hoa, and old friend Nguyen Thi Kim Tuyen. During the meeting, a request from the Chair’s wife was made: “When my wife found out that I was going to meet with you, she said to me, ‘Maybe they can help find my brother.’ ”

On February 16, the team met with Bui Tin, Executive Vice President of VAVN and former military commander of Da Nang. He said: “We are highly appreciative of VVA’s goodwill and strong commitment. We are active on this issue as well and, on behalf of VVA and the U.S., we cooperate in the recovery of your MIAs. Forty-five years after the war, many widows are looking for the remains of their loved ones. On behalf of the Da Nang VAVN, we thank you, and we ask you to relay the importance of these issues to your government.”

In Tam Ky/Quang Nam, the team met Huyn Con Thien, Chair of the Quang Nam Provincial Association; Ngo Chi Khong, Vice Chair; and Phon Dinh Thong, Vice Chair of the Quang Nam Provincial VAVN.

On February 21, a meeting was held with staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. A briefing of the VI Program was presented as well as an update of the current mission.

A joint meeting was held with the Vice President of Peoples Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, VAVN of HCM City, and the Ho Chi Minh City Union of Friendship Organizations. The VAVN Chair said, “I am grateful for the close relationship between the veterans of both sides. American veterans have provided a lot of information that has helped to recover our unaccounted for from the war. I concur with Mr. Coates. We encounter lots of difficulty in finding them, despite our 45 years of efforts. We will keep trying until there is no hope left. On behalf of the veterans of HCM City and all of Vietnam, I thank you for your work in bringing our nations closer. It is soldiers who feel the pain of war—therefore, it is left to us to do our duty to return our comrades to their families. It doesn’t matter who we fought for, Americans or Vietnamese.”

The final meeting was held with Vietnam’s second highest ranking Buddhist monk. Word of VVA’s longtime assistance in the recovery of the remains had reached Most Ven. Dr. Thich Thien Tam, abbot of the Pho Minh Pagoda. Our presence was requested at the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, and Tam expressed his gratitude for the important humanitarian work helping bring home the ghosts of war.

For the Veterans Initiative Program, the search for information regarding the location of burial sites is ongoing, regardless of the hardships of time or the impact of the coronavirus.

The motivational phrase of the mission: Act like failure is not an option.

PTSD & Substance Abuse

TOM HALLOur freedom stands on the sacrifices of many. And what is sacrifice? It’s the “act of giving up something that you want to keep, especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.”

During this pandemic we have seen countless medical personnel risk their own health to aid those who are afflicted. In Washington, D.C., and across this country memorials honor our fellow citizens who served, who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.

Health care workers today are risking their lives to help their fellow veterans and all citizens fight COVID-19. And just as “Freedom is not free,” which defines the mission of the military, the current pandemic is trying to steal the lives of our fellow Americans. Without life there is no liberty and there can be no pursuit of happiness.

We have all been asked to join in the fight against this deadly viral enemy that already has killed more than 100,000 Americans, including thousands of veterans. How do we serve if we are not involved somehow in patient care?

It is not so difficult, really, to wear a mask and to follow federal guidelines to keep a safe distance from others when we’re out and about. We can still be warriors who protect our fellow Americans if we’re willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort and focus our awareness on where we are in relation to others.

Why wait until the coronavirus hits someone close—a friend, a relative, a neighbor, or a co-worker—before we take this threat seriously, and do the right thing? 

So many Americans have stepped up to this challenge. They deserve our thanks and gratitude. They have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice convenience by the simple act of wearing masks to protect themselves and those among whom they walk.

There are those who say that no one can make them wear a mask when out among others, and they will do what they want under the banner of personal freedom because this is their right. But what about the responsibilities of citizenship? And what of the rights of the rest of us? 

I was a sentry dog handler in Vietnam. Imagine for a moment the impact if I decided not to get my dog, not check out my rifle from the armory, not guard my post because no one was going to tell me what to do. I would have been lucky to get only an official reprimand.

Freedom not to fight this pandemic will be borne on the backs of Americans whose lives could be spared by your service. Usually very few of us have the opportunity to step up and protect our freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

This pandemic has given each of us a chance to fight for the lives of our fellow citizens. The very special weapon on this battlefield is the face mask. So, wear a mask and follow the medical community’s recommendations to help break the back of this very lethal enemy.

Public Affairs Column

DENNIS HOWLANDI hope everyone has remained safe and healthy through the COVID-19 situations. I realize public affairs activities have been limited. It has been a difficult time for all. May God protect each of you and your families from this deadly enemy.

A side effect of the pandemic has been the VVA budget. It has been cut by half for the next fiscal year, including all the money in the Public Affairs Cost Center. This, of course, has an impact on our community and veterans services. Initially we thought we would lose the National JROTC Awards money. In the first go-round of cuts all that funding was taken from the budget and we were faced with having to tell our JROTC units and schools that the money we had advertised at the beginning of the school year would not be available. I was extremely concerned that this would jeopardize our programs and be detrimental to VVA’s credibility.

Fortunately, National Treasurer Jack McManus found a way to return the funds to the JROTC program. The nomination entries for the National VVA JROTC Program are still active and the ten submitted for national recognition are in the hands of the judges. Their report should be coming soon. 

Everything has been done by snail mail or email, so bear with us. When the judges reach their decisions, the awards will be available. First place will receive $2,500; second place, $1,500; and third place, $1,000. Thank you, Jack McManus. The program remains a viable public affairs tool.

You can continue to purchase both the JROTC and Eagle Scout Medals from the National Communications Director’s office as in the past. Contact Sean Webb.

The budget also has hit personnel very heavily. Among the 14 staff members who are being terminated as of July 31 is the Communications Director—an employee of 34 years—Mokie Porter.

I don’t know what will happen to public relations on the national level beyond the reduction in personnel. I am being told that the higher-ups are developing a PA program that integrates social media at a greater level and are “reorganizing the Communications Department.” Not sure what that will be because public relations has been labeled “unnecessary due to the current situation.”

Little do most people realize that your work in the field as VVA representatives is an ongoing public relations task. To have a successful product you need a marketing or public relations tool. I am proud of the jobs you do in representing VVA.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at dennishowland@msn.com or call me at 801-389-1893. Or contact Sean Webb at swebb@vva.org or 301-585-4000, ext. 146.

As one who has appreciated Mokie Porter’s professionalism, integrity, and focus on selling one of the best products in the world—Vietnam Veterans of America—I will miss her direction and her support of the membership. With more than 40 years in the Public Affairs business, I have learned to appreciate the dedication of professionals like Mokie.

VA Voluntary Service

KEN ROSE, VAVS NATIONAL REP In the last issue I wrote that I hoped by now we would be in a better place. But COVID-19 has not gone away, and its effects will be with us for a long time. We have learned to deal with it as prevention, testing, and vaccines are being developed.

The VAMCs, just like private hospitals and government, were not prepared for this crisis. The reaction in the 170 VA Medical Centers was not unlike what we see in normal times: It varied across the country. Like other government branches, the VA had not prepared and did not react fast enough. Many VAMCs isolated their populations and restricted access in their facilities, which helped control the spread of the virus. VA staff have worked hard to protect their veteran patients. But protective supplies were not available to fully meet the needs of a pandemic.

VA Nursing Homes have generally handled the virus better than private and state homes, resulting in fewer deaths. Still, far too many veterans have died.

The VAMCs have employed masks, social distancing, and telehealth outreach. Testing at the 134 VA Nursing Homes is ongoing.

Volunteers mostly have been away from the VAMCs, and programs have been canceled. Nonetheless, volunteers have been busy. Virtual contact with home-based veterans is ongoing, and many—including restaurants and service organizations—have donated to VAMC food pantries for homeless veterans and those in need. Thousands of masks have been made and donated.

One program everyone can participate in is Cards for Veterans. Children and grandchildren can make cards (no envelopes needed) with notes of encouragement and thanks to veterans for their service to cheer them up. We see this at the holidays, but now these veterans have been isolated for months from visitors and volunteers. A card from a child really lights up their day. They should be sent to the Volunteer Service office at your VAMC. They will distribute the cards to patients. Electronic messages are difficult because only a few can be handled at a time. Cards are better and more personal.

Blood donations also are needed—not at the VA but through the Red Cross. Although many are afraid to give blood now, it is safe and the Red Cross is very careful and follows all protocols for the virus. It’s something you can do in and for your community.

VVA and AVVA volunteers at most VAMCs and CLCs have had to stay away. Some of our member-volunteers have no doubt been stricken with the virus. I am afraid many will never return to their hospital assignments for a variety of reasons.

We are all getting older and slower, but we must be strong and do all we can by volunteering at VA facilities. We have always been leaders in protecting our fellow veterans, and it is more important than ever today. Stay strong, stay healthy, and carry on.

Veterans Benefits

JOHN H. RILING IIIThe Veterans Benefits Committee has seen many changes to the work performed by the national staff and the Veteran Service Officers due to the quarantines put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Most Veteran Service Officers have been working from home. How much this will affect future work is yet to be seen. In the business world there has been a movement to have staff work remotely on a regular basis.

To work entirely offsite is very hard for a Veteran Service Officer because so much has to be done in person. Interviews are the backbone of helping veterans. They always lead to a quality claim or appeal. Quality, not quantity, is the unspoken motto of VVA’s Veteran Service Officer program. The VA Regional Offices in Detroit and Cleveland have been open to staff but closed to the public. At this point, no word has been given about when they will reopen, but we hope it will be soon.

Interesting facts from Felicia Mullaney, director of VVA’s Veterans Benefits Program: The VBP represents more than 77,000 veterans and family members of all eras. Thanks to the VBP’s advocacy, more than $80 million in benefits is paid every month. Claimants in 27 states and Puerto Rico are represented by local VVA VSOs. Claimants in the 23 remaining states and the Philippines are represented by the VBP national office at the AMO. The staffs at all of our VSO programs work hard every day for veterans.

Veterans Health Care

CHUCK BYERSMembers of the Veterans Health Care Committee have been meeting remotely every week to discuss VA health care with the VA and the impact of the COVID pandemic on the VA Health Care System.

We started out by writing a small article for COVID-19 care providers—doctors, nurses, and First Responders—thanking them for their support. We also drew parallels between today’s experiences dealing with death and dying and our Vietnam experiences with combat death and dying, as well as the combat wounded in hospitals and in the field.

When we returned home we tried to suppress some of those unpleasant memories, but they remain with us today. We know that many health care workers will need help and support, and that it is okay to seek help.

We have been tracking the number of veterans dying in veterans homes. We want to ensure that the VA has oversight at these facilities, and we want to know how the homes are being managed during the pandemic. We also want to make sure that the death certificates from COVID-related deaths also indicate the complications from service-connected conditions. This will help expedite DIC claims and benefits.

We will continue to monitor this situation. I am thankful that our small committee has taken on some of these tasks. As Vietnam veterans get closer to needing long-term care, it is very important to have this dialogue with the VA: “What is the Future of Long-Term Care for Us and Are You Ready?”

As of today, we still do not have our Pre 9-11 Care Givers Program in place. We understand there have been some delays in implementing this program, but it is a very important program for our generation and we need it now.

Please ask how our committee can help you.

Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System

DOMINICK YEZZOIt’s not over. There was a lull in the number of infections, but now in several states there is a surge in the number of infected people. What occurs in the country occurs in the prison system as well.

The recent spike in coronavirus infections has prompted the Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System Committee to re-state its position regarding safe housing and treatment of veterans. VVA insists that wardens and prison administrators maintain safe space and adequate health and hospital care for its inmates.

We recognize the task is enormous; most facilities are overcrowded and underfunded. In times of national trouble prisons and inmates are never priorities. However, wardens and administrators must advocate for the safety and well-being of veterans incarcerated. They are helpless. They do not control where they live, they do not control who comes in contact with them, who visits, who they live with, what they eat, how they dress, and what safety precaution protocols they can adopt. They are susceptible to infections from correction officers who come from home, from the grocery store, and from the gas station and pizza joint near the facility.

All reports to the committee suggest that inmates are receiving adequate mask, glove, and hand-sanitizing equipment. These precautions are key to health and must continue. As well, all visits and group meetings are canceled, including chapel meetings.

Chapter 1080 in Florida and Chapter 559 in Ohio report that they maintain contact with the Union County Correctional Facility and the Grafton Correctional Facility administrations. Although there is no visiting, the veteran inmates at both facilities know they are thought about daily by their brothers and sisters in VVA.

Women Veterans

KATE O’HARE-PALMERThe world has taken many turns since the last Women Veterans Committee column was written. The COVID-19 pandemic and its shelter-in-place orders have affected us all. Our condolences go out to those who have lost loved ones during this time. The VVA committees did not hold their April meetings. Our budgets have been zeroed out. We will know more about the committees’ futures after the restructuring of VVA.

In April, some of the committee chairs met via Zoom to write a letter of support to health care frontline workers. A copy of that letter is on the VVA website. We are currently working on a review of the crisis of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths in veterans homes. President John Rowan and Linda Schwartz were interviewed last month by Jake Tapper about that situation.

We are compiling a paper for the VA on strategic planning needs for aging veterans. Is the VA truly ready for us? The VA does not have the new Caregiver Program for Pre-9/11 Veterans up and running because of IT issues with the system start date, which was delayed due to the pandemic.

There are currently two million women veterans, 10 percent of the veteran population. Women veterans are the fastest-growing sector of VA health care utilization. Twenty percent of current military personnel are women. In the last column, I talked about the continued emphasis in our committee resolutions on military sexual trauma. The House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs website contains a good review of the last subcommittee hearing on this topic.

On May 15, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Women Veterans Task Force, hosted a live online hearing on “Resilience and Coping: Mental Health of Women Veterans.” Women veterans are twice as likely to die of suicide, yet they are not using the VA mental health care system as male veterans do. Women have a 25 percent rate of being harassed when using a VA facility. They frequently feel isolated and many times are discouraged after having a bad experience with a gatekeeper or clerk at their first visit.

Peer-to-peer support is one system that does work in the VA system for women veterans. Navigating these complex settings can be daunting. Having the director monitor the environment regularly may help identify areas in need. Patty Hayes of the VA described the whole health care integrated model, which includes maternity and telehealth care. Telehealth appointments have increased greatly in the last few months with great success for ease of access.

For women with spinal cord injuries, the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order has put a greater strain on their quality of life. Caretakers have not been able to gain access to homes, which leaves patients’ care to family members—or they just spend more time alone.

The Wounded Warrior Project has just completed a survey of 5,000 of its women veteran members. The full results will be out soon. The survey found a 40 percent increase in the use of the project’s online programs and services in the last two months.

There is still a challenge with obtaining access to special out-of-state programs for women veterans. The referral procedure should be easily accessible. Intercommunication is key.





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