|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, November/December 2020|
This column is short and to the point. In the last issue I described the confusion the VA has created with P.L.114-315, the kids’ law. The committee has met on this issue several times and soon will meet again to decide how we can legally challenge the VA. The concern, however, is how to do that as frugally as possible.
The three presumptives—bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and hypothyroidism—that have been in limbo for more than four-and-a-half years remain. Perhaps now that the election is over, the VA Secretary will report them out. The committee will continue working to get this done.
In closing, we know the pandemic has slowed the whole world down, and we need to follow the rules to be safe. If you have any questions, please call or email me. I get more done if I talk to you on the phone, so call 507-581-6402. Once it’s safe, I hope we will return to doing more town halls.
I want to thank the Officers, BOD members, and the staff at National for doing an outstanding job keeping VVA alive. Lastly, I thank the VVA members who do so much for veterans and their families. We will not give up, as we have been through too much in our lives. Be safe and God bless.
BY FRANK BARRY, CHAIR
Members of the EOC are on the front lines of this pandemic serving veterans. Here are some of their experiences.
Service-disabled Marc Goldschmitt is the CEO of Goldschmitt and Associates, which is a HUBZone and an 8(a) small business. “Prior to COVID, much of my interaction with other vets and businesses was by telephone, email, and virtual meetings,” Goldschmitt said. “My business has a contingent of work-from-home personnel. However, my most important interactions were personal and social at lunches, conferences, and industry meetings where I could have both planned and ad-hoc meetings that often had multiple vets who had common business issues they needed help with. While I had some experience with the new normal, I’m still working to adjust to a different balance of how I do business, and I feel that I’m missing key components of the camaraderie of my fellow vets.”
Joe Wynn is a USAF Vietnam-era veteran, president and CEO of VETS Group, VET Force Executive Committee, and NABVETS legislative liaison. “COVID is having a significant impact on me both socially and economically,” he said. “VVA dropped me like a hot potato. They never even offered a thank-you for many years of service.
“My social life has taken a significant hit, too, because of COVID-19. Most of my socializing has been participating in veterans outreach events, such as lots of meet-and-greets, receptions, conferences around the country, hearings on Capitol Hill, and VSO affairs. A few Zoom meetings each week do little to fill the void.
“But you can’t give up, give in, or quit trying to achieve your goals, accomplish your dreams, and succeed in life. One thing is for sure: You’ve got to find ways to at least cover your costs and living expenses, and take care of your family, too. These days I’m still advocating for veterans, but I’m putting more effort into the VETS Group Training Academy that I founded in 2010.
“Due to COVID-19, we have now transitioned all of our IT training programs to distance learning online. All of our courses are VA approved. Folks can take advantage of this time to get trained for jobs in the IT Industry in the comfort of their own homes.”
I wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and a happy and prosperous New Year. I think we all deserve one after going through the Great Interruption of 2020.
The last eight months of 2020 have seen a steady rise in membership numbers. Even though those numbers are going up, we have been facing challenging times for recruiting new members because we are limited in having meetings and doing events.
The Membership Affairs Committee issues a monthly report with statistics on total membership, Region membership totals, the top 25 chapters in membership, and the number of members in each state. The report also highlights new chapters when their charters are issued. Do you receive the report?
The Membership Affairs Department in Silver Spring continues to work under difficult conditions. The staff is doing a great job handling day-to-day operations.
I recommend that we all reach out to potential VVA members by email, telephone, and regular mail. We should all be checking on our members to be sure they are staying safe and staying well.
There are still a lot of Vietnam veterans who have not heard of Vietnam Veterans of America. We need to invite them to join us. Won’t you find just one new member for your chapter? If I can help you in anything that deals with membership, contact me at email@example.com
Minority Affairs Committee
Recently, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) took a significant step toward initiating a serious process of self-determination and decolonization that puts the people of Puerto Rico at the helm of decision-making in the form of a bill, H.R. 8113, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020. While this legislation is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction in the ongoing struggle to end the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. It also goes hand on hand with VVA’s Resolution MA-10, which was approved by the delegates at the 2019 Spokane Convention.
In 2017, while Puerto Rico was suffering through the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a natural disaster that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, the White House inquired about “selling” the island. While this heartless suggestion was discarded by the President’s advisers, the incident speaks to how disposable Washington has long viewed Puerto Rico to be.
For more than a hundred years the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been subjected to policies foisted on it by a Congress often uninterested in the welfare of those who live there. This reality touches every aspect of Puerto Rican life: The island receives disparate treatment for Medicaid reimbursement, nutritional support, and a host of other safety-net programs, despite being poorer than the poorest U.S. state. These problems and others stem from Puerto Rico’s unique, long-standing colonial status, which has resulted in the island’s residents being treated as second-class citizens.
The time to remedy this situation has come, but it must be done correctly. Puerto Rico needs to be given the freedom to design its own future. That’s why members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent have introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. The legislation would prompt Puerto Rico’s Legislature to create a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. This body would develop a long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s status—be it statehood, independence, free association, or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.
The Convention recommendations would be voted on in a referendum by the people of Puerto Rico, then presented to the U.S. Congress. The key is that this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans—not dictated to them.
I will meet with Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Velazquez early next year to put MA-10 in their hands so they will know that VVA supports self-determination for Puerto Rico.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced September 25 that U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul A. Avolese, 35, of East Meadow, N.Y., was accounted for on September 21. On July 7, 1967, Avolese was a radar navigator assigned to the 4133rd Bombardment Wing. That day he was part of the crew of a B-52D Stratofortress conducting a bombing mission in Vietnam from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. During a maneuver over the South China Sea, Avolese’s plane collided with another B-52, and both aircraft fell into the sea. Four crew members from his aircraft were rescued, but Avolese was not. He was declared dead on July 24. No further information was released.
DPAA reports that as of October 21, 1,585 still are missing from the Vietnam War.The USS Oklahoma Project has made an additional 29 identifications since August 10, bringing the total to 284. Efforts to complete the USS Oklahoma Project over the next several months are continuing and DPAA is helping U.S. Navy genealogical teams locate families to collect Family Reference Samples.
The Veterans Initiative Program needs your help. Objects taken from the battlefields of Vietnam are more than souvenirs or war trophies. Maps, stories, after-action reports, pictures, and military items could help locate missing war dead. Contact the Veterans Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org or:
PTSD & Substance Abuse
BY THOMAS C. HALL, Ph.D., CHAIR
There is no known cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. But PTSD symptoms can be managed to a point at which they no longer interfere with a person’s ability to navigate work, social, and family life. These symptoms can be managed through the adoption of healthy behaviors and coping skills learned in evidence-based treatments.
Still, there is always the possibility that unanticipated triggers can cause an increase in PTSD symptoms. The VA’s National Center for PTSD has found that evidenced-based treatments, properly administered, can reduce symptoms in about half of veterans with symptoms of PTSD. We at VVA ask: What about the other half?
Many VA leaders insist that evidence-based treatments are the only treatments the VA will offer. PTSD clinics continue to ignore the chorus of veterans asking for continuing-care support rather than brief intervention practices.
To ignore the desires of veterans who want to get well and stay well is a major disservice. The voices of veterans who are in recovery and managing the day-to-day challenges of PTSD or substance use disorders should carry the greatest weight.
Many of us managing PTSD or substance use disorder know that, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.“
Roosevelt knew whereof he wrote, having fought in the Spanish-American War. And yet the voices of those of us in the arena are largely ignored by the VA’s directors of behavioral health.
On this issue this committee is neither timid nor shy. The VA continues to ignore the need for clinicians to run continuing-care groups to help veterans manage their PTSD symptoms. Today, many of the groups at VA Medical Centers are not assigned a clinician. Without someone on staff assigned to monitor the ongoing struggles of these veterans, who will call attention to those who are in crisis?
Many of these groups are led by a peer, someone with the best of intentions but with no clinical training. Worse, some group members have been told to meet at a VFW post or a fast-food restaurant as they try to cope with feelings of betrayal, anger, family tension, suicidal ideation, depression, and other triggers that can cause PTSD symptoms to flare.
Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has closed these continuing support groups. But we wonder what will happen after the pandemic finally passes. Will the VA support and help re-create the continuing-care outreach groups? Veterans who have taken part in these groups describe them as absolutely necessary for maintaining the resiliency necessary to manage the day-to-day triggers that cause a reoccurrence of their PTSD symptoms.
Capricious and arbitrary VA rules limit its ability to hire clinicians in a timely manner. As a result, VA psychiatrists must limit the time they spend with veterans seeking mental health services. Currently, most medical support assistants are instructed to schedule a veteran for only 30 minutes with a psychiatrist (new evaluations are given an hour).
During these evaluations, the psychiatrist is supposed to learn about the veterans’ symptoms, hear their stories, and build connections that will allow the veterans to share the impact that PTSD is having on their lives.
As you have probably already guessed, this scheduling policy dictates the length of time for the discussion but does not meet the real need of the veteran. Since they are only allotted a half-hour with each veteran, the psychiatrist’s time is often reduced to merely monitoring prescriptions. This can reduce a veteran’s experience to a hit-and-run brush with psychiatric medication managers. Is it any wonder that veterans report a disconnection from many VA psychiatrists?
In the military we were trained to improvise, adapt, and overcome problems we faced. Our training built a resilience that has proved crucial during the pandemic. For many of us, this resilience was nurtured, reinforced, and encouraged during continuing-care support groups. The committee asks all veterans to let their congressional representatives know in no uncertain terms how important continuing-care support is to veterans managing the ongoing effects of PTSD and recovery from substance use disorder.
Public Affairs Committee
Not a whole lot is going on in the public affairs arena. We have had no recent meetings of the Public Affairs Committee, and we have had few activities or events. However, we can remain active and involved in our communities as we practice recommended social safety protocols and stay well. The gatherings are understandably small, but our communities need to know that we are alive and well and are still serving veterans.
In Utah, the VVA chapters continue to work on additions to our Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Replica park with the dedication of a War Dog Memorial anticipated around Veterans Day. We will be adding a bronze Battle Cross and a bronze Memory Plaque to honor those who have lost their lives since coming home due to their service in Vietnam.
I would like our chapters to continue visiting their JROTC units as much as possible regarding VVA’s JROTC Medal program. We understand that many schools are not fully operational and getting in can be difficult, but please keep working on it. Also, the VVA Eagle Scout Medal program is still active through Mokie Porter’s office at email@example.com
Please develop a press release—either before or following an event—and send it to every newspaper, radio, and TV station in your area and to all other media outlets that feed into your towns and cities. The release will let them know you are active. On slow news days you just might make the front page. It’s worth the effort.
I would like each chapter and state council to send after-event information to me so that I can include it in this column. It is a great way to share your ideas and events with other VVA members. They may pick up on your idea and run with it.
If you have an event, take pictures and send them along with captions to The VVA Veteran. We also are always looking for photos for the website and social media so please keep National VVA in your information loop. During this period of lockdowns and restrictions it is important to stay safe, busy, and visible. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Even during times of crisis, there are those who take advantage to benefit monetarily. Most recently, Amazon was offering COVID-19 masks for sale that have the VVA logo on them. They are made in China. Neither company selling them was authorized to use the VVA logo. Both have been issued cease-and-desist letters from VVA National.
Press releases from National sent out to state council presidents should be shared with chapters and at-large members. In addition, it’s good practice to forward them to local media outlets.
Good public affairs practices are good recruiting tools. They keep the community informed and let Vietnam veterans know you are there to welcome them into your chapters
VA Voluntary Service
2020 has been a year we will remember. Our children and grandchildren will remember it as a landmark in their lives. We have struggled through the restrictions and limitations of COVID-19. We have made a difference since we returned from war; now we must come out of our isolation for our fellow veterans.
2021 is coming, but it may take the entire year and more to get back to any sense of normality.
I am compiling VVA’s VAVS numbers. They aren’t encouraging; most of us have stayed away from VAMCs because most of them have faced outbreaks of COVID. This pandemic can only be beaten by everyone being responsible.
VAMCs are taking advantage of the lower traffic on campuses to work on needed repairs and new projects. The VA has provided drive-by flu shots and opportunities to donate and help veterans. Your local VAVS office at the VAMC can give you a needs list and help you get started. Veterans and VSOs have been donating supplies and masks to VAMCs and food supplies to VA pantries.
Homeless numbers are growing as the economy and evictions strike many hard.
Although restrictions make it difficult to volunteer and many VAMCs have reduced numbers of patients, there are many things you can do to help. One VAVS program, Compassionate Contact, has lists of names of veterans who might need to be contacted while they are isolated and alone at home. Social Service and homeless programs provide names and contact information. These veterans really appreciate a fellow veteran or volunteer calling them and just talking and making a connection to the outside world.
The holidays are always a giving time, but donations tend to slow down afterward. Next year it will be more important than ever to keep in contact with fellow veterans in and out of the hospital. If you have not gotten your flu shot, get it now. It is more important than ever and might save your life.
If you are a Representative or Deputy, attend virtual meetings. Reps should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JOHN H. RILING III, CHAIR
The Veterans Benefits Committee met September 19 via Zoom. Vice President Tom Burke, Program Director Felicia Mullaney, three program staff, and 16 committee members attended the meeting. The future of VVA’s Benefits Program, especially in light of its commitment to the veterans it serves, was discussed.
VVA’s Benefits Program is not going away. VVA will continue to serve all veterans, dependents, and surviving spouses and help them with their claims with the VA.
Our National Benefits Program currently handles Power of Attorney in 24 states, Guam, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C. The VBC will ask state councils that have VSO programs to submit plans for their future operations. VSO programs that close will shift their Power of Attorney to VVA National. This process will take time. A motion was sent to the Board to approve an MOU with the Iowa Association of County Commissioners and County Veteran Service Officers. These County Veteran Service Officers can be VVA accredited. The motion was approved by the Board.
Felicia Mullaney has had two Zoom meetings with the Minnesota State Council and the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs concerning the continuation of VVA’s MOU with the state after the Minnesota State Council closes down in February.
VVA’s Women Veterans Committee has been thrust into the age of virtual meetings. We join the world as we get accustomed to the shelter-in-place COVID-19 restrictions. I offer my condolences to those with loved ones affected by this virus.
Congratulations to our committee vice chair and Homeless Committee chair, Sandy Miller, for her appointment to the VA National Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. She gave us a report during our October 6 virtual committee meeting about her first review of the Tucson VA Medical Center. She will share a wealth of knowledge with this group.
I have continued to meet with VVA committee chairs and special advisers to finish the five-month project on COVID-19 mortality rates in state veterans homes. This report can be found on the VVA website. It is eye opening and brought national attention to the need for better health practices for veterans.
H.R.8270, the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act of 2020, to amend Title 10 of the U.S. Code to improve the responses of DOD to sex-related offenses and for other purposes, is sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). Our committee has been following Sgt. Guillen’s disappearance and death from Ft. Hood in July.
I wrote a VVA-supported letter to DOD entitled “Do the Right Thing—Stop Military Sexual Assault.” Thousands of veterans were outraged by this crime and demanded action. One of our committee members, Frank Arminio, reported a new benefit for Sgt. Guillen’s family: https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/10/20/vanessa-guillens-family-will-receive-military-death-benefits-after-new-army-ruling.html
On September 30, the Acting Deputy VA Secretary, Pamela Powers, hosted a virtual seminar on New Women Veterans Health Services. This is something that we can watch at home. The Quick Start Guide is: va.gov/women-veterans-health-services-quick-start-guide.pdf It contains a wealth of information on women’s reproductive and post-menopausal health.
Information on whole health resources, including newer holistic health approaches and treatment modalities, can be found at https://www.va.gov/wholehealth and at #livewholehealth. Muscular skeletal pain, nervous system symptoms, headaches, chronic pain, PTSD, and depression are highlighted. Treatment modalities now available at the VA or through a referral to community care include chiropractic, massage, yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture. These may not be readily advertised, and approval from your primary doctor is required for the referrals.
The committee will review our current resolutions and submit any new ones for VVA’s National Convention. Please forward your suggestions to me or a committee member. We are in limbo about our next in-person committee meeting in Silver Spring with the whole BOD.
A question was posed at one of the many Zoom meetings that I have attended: What is your mission, aspiration, and purpose? It may be narrowed down during this new reality to something as simple as calling a friend or sharing a meal. VVA chapters have done exceptional work in filling in community services and sharing resources while practicing safety guidelines. Keep it up.
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