|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, January/February 2021|
With the override of President Trump’s veto, the National Defense Authorization Act became law. Included in it is recognition—finally—of three presumptive illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
The AO Committee will meet to discuss issues facing the new administration, including the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (the children’s law, P.L.114-315), which the VA is not following. Under consideration is a lawsuit because the VA went off on its own on the research part of the law.
I look forward to doing more town halls as soon as it’s safe. Many Vietnam veterans are unaware that their children’s illnesses are not a coincidence. We need to keep on educating them and their families. There is also the issue of the Ranch Hand samples that the Air Force is still keeping in subzero freezers. Committee members Linda Schwartz and Jack McManus have been in talks with the Air Force on this.
I hope for increased attention from the new administration because President Biden lost a son to toxic exposure in 2015. Many of our sons and daughters have been lost due to our exposure to Agent Orange. Much work remains to be done before they lay us to rest. I will keep the faith and keep doing what I can to see this issue to the end (if there is an end).
Keep contacting your representatives about these important issues. As always, thank you, grassroots people and staff at VVA. You make the difference.
Economic Opportunities Committee members recently attended a Small Business Forum hosted by VET-FORCE. Small Business Administration staff provided us with an update on the current status of veteran business programs.
Larry Stubblefield, the administrator of the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, noted that small businesses are facing an unprecedented economic disruption due to the pandemic. Last March President Trump signed into law the CARES Act, which contains emergency relief funds for American workers and small businesses. In June SBA resumed accepting new Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications from eligible small businesses, nonprofits, and agricultural businesses.
Stubblefield also talked about the Paycheck Protection Program, which has distributed $3.6 million. The December stimulus package allocated more money for the program.
There are Veteran Business Outreach Centers in all 50 states. They have been transitioning back to in-person events. They have served some 46,000 clients, 26,000 of them in training. Stubblefield noted that there is a demand for start-up assistance.
The Boots to Business Program, which started in 2013, has trained more than 20,000 vets. It helps veterans transition to civilian life and is now run virtually.
Here are some important websites for veteran business owners:
This New Year will bring new economic opportunities for veterans, and the EOC will be here to keep you informed.
The last nine months of 2020 saw a steady rise in VVA membership numbers. We are going to keep those numbers climbing. Renew your efforts on a chapter level and a personal level to recruit new members. Membership in VVA is a bargain at just $50 for a Life membership. Spread the word.
The Membership Affairs Committee issues 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 also highlights each new chapter when its charter is issued.
The Membership Affairs Department in Silver Spring continues to work under difficult conditions both at the office and at home. Priscilla Wiley and Brenae Jones are doing an outstanding job handling the day-to-day operation of the department. Questions are answered quickly and accurately.
I suggest that we all reach out to potential VVA members by email and telephone, as well by mail. We should all be checking on fellow members to be sure they are staying safe and staying well. Just do a little outreach to your members.
Many Vietnam veterans have not heard of 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 email@example.com
The VVA Minority Affairs Committee continues to support self-determination for Puerto Rico based on its citizens’ military contributions to the nation. We need the entire veterans community and their families to support this effort and ask their representatives in Congress to grant the people of Puerto Rico self-determination. In the November 3 elections, Puerto Ricans voted 52.7 percent in favor of statehood.
I draw readers’ attention to the November 13 article in The Washington Post entitled “Puerto Ricans Voted to Become the 51st U.S. State—Again.” Written by Abdiel Santiago at Stanford, Alexander Kustov at Yale, and Ali A. Valenzuela at Princeton, it presents a clear overview of the statehood issue and how opinions about Puerto Rico are formed by white Americans.
If you are a minority veteran having issues and needing help, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 413-883-4508 or email Sgtgomez@aol.com
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last September that U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul A. Avolese of East Meadow, New York, killed during the Vietnam War, had been accounted for.
According to DPAA, as of the end of last year 1,585 remain missing from the Vietnam War. The countries and number of missing are North Vietnam-442, South Vietnam-803, Laos-285, Cambodia-48, and the Peoples Republic of China-7.
A total of 998 Americans have been accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War. Recoveries were made in the following countries: Vietnam-673, Laos-280, Cambodia-42, and China-3. In addition, 63 U.S. personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975 and recovered in Laos-9, Vietnam-53, and Cambodia-1, for a grand total of 1,061.
The pandemic continues to affect DPAA activities. Procedures to collaborate remotely are being implemented. A second virtual meeting connecting more than 350 DPAA members worldwide was recently held. DPAA reported that one military member and two contractors tested positive for COVID-19 and that all have recovered.
In September DPAA and the Defense Intelligence Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will increase the capabilities of DIA’s Stony Beach analysts in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and improve joint intelligence research efforts in Vietnam War cases. Established in 1986, the Stony Beach Program has provided language specialists trained to conduct interviews, leverage relationships, and pursue case leads in Southeast Asia.
With restrictions in place since late March due to Hawaii COVID-19 policies, disinterment operations finally resumed in October at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with the exhumation of 12 World War II veterans’ remains.
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 other military items could help locate missing war dead.
PTSD & Substance Abuse
The holiday season, coupled with the impact of almost a year of isolation and loneliness because of the pandemic, has had an impact on our ability to communicate. As we enter this New Year, now more than ever it is important to work hard to communicate truly and authentically.
The committee has seen reports of massive increases in calls to veteran crisis lines, so we know that many veterans are reaching out for help. You have probably heard about VA’s #BETHERE campaign, urging friends to be there to help when a veteran needs someone to talk to. We would like to share some ways to be there for your brothers and sisters during these wintry months as we finish riding out this pandemic.
When speaking with others it can be easy to brush off the how-are-you question with “I’m fine,” or “I’m good,” when really, what we need most is to be honest about how and what we are feeling. Or as I like to say, we should flush our mental toilet and get that stinking thinking out. Doing so not only allows us to bring our deeper or isolating thoughts up to the light of day, but also opens the window for others to be authentic and open with you.
Opening up and being honest about our feelings and concerns brings the risk of being judged, misheard, or rejected. Vulnerability like this can be scary and uncomfortable.
The bargain is this: You can keep the misery you have and feel the pain get worse, or you can take the risk of experiencing the initial pains associated with engaging with those who care about you and then engage in more satisfying conversations.
I want to prepare you: Talking more deeply about what is going on can initially make your pain get worse, but then it will begin to dissolve. But by holding it in, you have no option for relief from those feelings and that pain.
As always, the choice to share or not is ours. I compare taking the risk of sharing your feelings to taking your weapon to an armorer to adjust its functioning so it will have less chance of failing in the field. For a while, without your weapon, you may feel naked and anxious. No way around it. But you want your weapon to work at maximum efficiency to protect you and those who depend on you.
So think of your brain as that service weapon. It is worth some discomfort to have a better quality of life.
KNOWING WHAT TO SAY
As a mental health professional I am trained in the art of listening. Even so, I learned new ways to communicate in the Brooks column. In fact, I found myself a little surprised that it worked when I used one of them to have a deeper conversation with someone I care about.
The committee hopes our physical isolation will end soon. We know that physical isolation does not mean we must be emotionally or psychologically isolated. We will once again have conversations face to face. Consider incorporating one or two of these methods into your conversations. Be brave, be open, and be vulnerable, and share your feelings with others. Remember: We, just like those we care about, are more than any one thought or feeling. We can all survive this together.
Congratulations to the many chapters and state councils for your continued public affairs efforts to keep VVA in the forefront in your communities. You have continued our work on behalf of all veterans while dealing with impossible odds presented by the coronavirus and its financial challenges.
These activities are in line with the character of all Vietnam War veterans. Dealing with impossible odds is not new to us. Taking on challenges and succeeding is difficult but a large part of the history of Vietnam veterans. It’s who we are.
The VVA JROTC Medal Program continues. It requires flexibility and work by the chapters. Navigating COVID-19 regulations and protocols can be exhausting and frustrating. However, the result is worth the effort.
The Eagle Scout Medal is another program that can have positive results for VVA’s legacy and our community involvement. Information on both programs is available on the VVA website, www.vva.org
Click on “Info for Members,” then “VVA Awards and Nomination Forms.” This will bring up the following: the National Awards Nomination Form, National Awards Criteria, Medal Nomination Form, Minority Affairs Committee Diversity Award Criteria, Minority Affairs Committee Diversity Award Nominations Procedures, Eagle Scout Medal Program, Eagle Scout Certificate, JROTC Medal and Ribbon Program, JROTC Certificate, VSO of the Year Nomination Form, and VVA Awardees at the 19th National Convention
The website contains a wealth of information and great tools for honoring members, chapters, and state councils, as well as members of the community. Great public affairs tools. These programs are administered by Communications Director Mokie Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-585-4000, ext. 146. I am available at email@example.com or 801-389-1893.
Thank you to the few who have sent me information on the activities of their chapters. In Utah, chapters have held limited ceremonies for Veterans Day, dedicated a new Vietnam War Dog Team Memorial, three Wreaths Across America ceremonies, and one for Fallen Law Enforcement Officers. They have also participated in homeless veterans food pantry and assistance programs, and have made contact with ten JROTC units.
I look forward to serving with you again this coming year. Your outreach work and community involvement has had an immeasurable, positive impact on recruiting new members. We hope for fewer pandemic restrictions in the coming months and greater attendance at our activities.
VA Voluntary Service
As we move into 2021, the VAMC system, like the rest of the world, will follow guidelines and limit access. During much—if not all—of this coming year, we will not go back to normal. The vaccines are arriving at the VAMCs. Staff are getting vaccinated first, followed by patients, then volunteers.
Most VAMCs allow only limited access to protect staff and patients. Access questions should be directed to your local VA. In most facilities you enter through a special screening area, and then you are given a card saying you are cleared to enter. If you are sick, call first. These procedures have very effectively controlled the spread of the virus. Only volunteers approved by the Voluntary Service Office are allowed to visit patients.
Many VVA volunteers have stayed away. Instead, they have donated pantry goods, clothing, and money.
Some VVA volunteers are extraordinary for their longtime dedication to veteran patients. Virgil E. Akers at the Huntington, W.Va., VA has put in a total of 17,758 volunteer hours. Larry Prososki, who volunteers at both the Battle Creek and Detroit VAMCs, has some 15,000 hours. And Rocky Snow at the Western Massachusetts VA has some 25,000 hours. These hours show a long commitment to serving veteran patients. If you know any extraordinary VVA volunteers, please let me know about them.
One thing that no one tracks is how many miles volunteers drive to get to their assignments. Prososki drives 150 miles each way to Detroit. Many volunteers spend their own money on gas. Others drive vans long distances to take patients to VAMCs and bring veterans to appointments. Our volunteers work hard and are seldom recognized for their service.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
VVA’s Veteran Benefits Program has shown great success in recent years, as indicated by VA figures. Out of all the organizations that represent veterans and their families, the VBP has consistently had one of the lowest denial rates. VVA ranks among the top three organizations for the past three years in having the least number of cases denied. Just last year the VBP had only 14 percent of its claims denied; 16 percent in 2019; and 12.5 percent in 2018.
Training and testing for VSO accreditation have slowed down. These issues will be addressed as needed. In addition, the National office reports a heavy workload that is partially due to some states shutting down their VSO programs.
The temporary closing of the National Records Center in St. Louis will undoubtedly create a backlog of claims processing. The backlog also will increase due to those filing as a result of the Nehmer case and the three presumptives that were included in the newly enacted National Defense Authorization Act.
In addition, IHP deadlines are becoming an overwhelming task due to the numbers of appeals that need to be handled by current staff. Every day more claimants are reaching the age of 75, which entitles them to expedited processing. The National VVA attorney staff has undergone many changes. Reassignment, replacement, and new hires have been necessary. National will hire another attorney to help handle the caseload.
The Minnesota State Council will shut down in June or July. No Minnesota chapter has volunteered to take over the program; due to policy issues, National is not allowed to step in. However, VVA National will retain the POA for those in appeal and for those who have scheduled hearings. Letters will be sent to claimants informing them of the situation and suggesting they change their POA to other organizations.
Veterans Incarcerated & in the Justice System
The New Year allows us to think through last year, to remember what we have done and what we failed to do, and to look ahead with the resolve to do good. There is a new administration in Washington, and I am impressed that the VVA Board of Directors Zoomed in early December with Joe Biden and his staff.
VVA President John Rowan and Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government, are already known to Biden. I expect VVA will have good access to the new administration. We also will continue to work with members on Congress on both sides of the aisle. We owe allegiance only to veterans and their families.
This may be a smart time for VVA to lobby for the repeal of long-standing regulations that affect incarcerated veterans. This year our committee will attempt to end the regulation that denies incarcerated veterans with service-connected disabilities full compensation for their injuries.
A good soldier who served well and sustained an injury, in combat or otherwise, prior to incarceration and who was awarded a VA medical disability rating of 20-100 percent can receive only 10 percent of the monthly award. VINJUS believes that incarcerated veterans are entitled to full compensation for injuries sustained while on active duty. The events post-service that led to incarceration should not cause the denial of rightful compensation. Moreover, many are serving time because they suffer from PTSD or TBI, which are disabling results of war.
The government holds the position that an abundance of money to an inmate will cause that inmate to have unfair advantages while serving time. In truth, prisons, like the rest of the world, struggle with the good and the bad. There are drugs and weapons in jails, and some inmates and guards break institutional rules with impunity.
But veterans remain the exception. Statistics prove that veteran pods, veterans in separate housing, and veterans in chapter groups have few discipline problems. Moreover, the disability compensation money could be placed in a trust that a veteran would receive upon release. Those funds could be used for critical needs such as food, housing, clothing, and health insurance for a veteran and his or her family. It also could create hope for the inmate while waiting for the bright day of release.
We will work to end the argument that disability benefit money in the hands of inmates causes institutional disharmony. We answer with this: Let’s put it in the bank.
We have moved into 2021, and all of us are ready for a clean slate to start a year that will bring a more positive outlook. I want to thank all the committee members for their work last year and extend condolences to those who have lost loved ones and friends due to COVID-19.
Our committee continues to work on H.R.8270, the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act of 2020. Guillen was murdered on April 22, 2020, by another enlisted soldier at Ft. Hood. Her dismembered remains were found two months later by the Leon River. Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and the five civilian members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee unveiled the results of a three-month investigation of the Fort Hood command climate and culture on December 8.
The independent review, which was directed by Secy. McCarthy, arose from concerns voiced by family members, veterans service organizations, Congress, and Hispanic advocacy groups during the investigation into Guillen’s disappearance and murder. The report can be found here.
It offers findings and more than 70 recommendations intended to benefit Fort Hood and the entire U.S. Army. Be prepared before reading this report. Parts of it are shocking to read. Graphs depict the number of sexual assaults, harassments, thefts, drugs, larceny, AWOLs, and more.
Secy. McCarthy has taken significant measures to hold military leaders responsible and has instituted a new policy on missing soldiers. He has formed the People First Task Force to map out a plan to tackle issues identified in the report. That a military installation continued to run with this level of dysfunction is inconceivable.
Another shocking incident took place during a virtual VA town hall meeting in December. During the meeting women veterans were cold-called and without warning were put into a group conversation about sexual abuse. 87,000 people were called. This event was poorly handled, potentially harmful, and didn’t build any positive connections with the veterans. Women veterans took to social media that night to express outrage over the intrusion into their privacy and the VA’s lack of concern about the potential harmful effects of the event.
That incident took place following reports about VA Secretary Wilkie’s serious mishandling of a sexual assault claim at the Washington, D.C., VAMC last year. VVA joined five other veterans groups calling for Wilkie’s immediate firing. VVA and the other VSOs had lost confidence in his ability to lead in needed reforms to help women veterans.
The committee soon will review our resolutions prior to this year’s Convention. I ask all of you to go to the VVA website, read the Women Veterans Committee Resolutions, and forward your recommendations. Again, thank you for all that you accomplish in your communities for women veterans.
The Women Veteran Honor pin has finally arrived. It looks just like the challenge coin, but it is lapel size. You may order ten pins for $30. You can reach me at email@example.com for details.
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