|Vietnam Veterans of America|
First, a correction: In the last issue I reported that legislation had been passed that removed the one-year cut-off date for chloracne, acute/subacute peripheral neuropathy, and cutanea tarda. I was premature in my reporting. That action is under discussion, but no final vote has been taken.
I believe I understand why the 21-0304 forms filed for veterans’ children are not at the VA in Denver. Early on, we distributed the forms at Faces of Agent Orange town halls. We didn’t know the proper routing for the forms at the time or the service representatives’ involvement in getting them to the VA. I apologize for that. So if you have not heard anything from the VA on your 21-0304 form, work with your service representative and file again.
The link below will take you to instructions prepared by VVA for completing and submitting the 21-0304 form. If you do not have a computer, ask someone who has one to print a copy for you. https://vva.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/AO-Postcard-nocrops-3.pdf
When you file the claim, send a copy to the VVA Veterans Benefits Department at 8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910 so that the claim can be tracked. Always keep copies of all the paperwork for your files. When the service rep files it with the Regional Office, it will go through the VA process and come back denied.
At that point, the form is supposed to be archived in Denver until the research gets underway, per Public Law 114-315. That is where another problem developed. During the previous administration the VA went off on its own and did not follow the law. We have asked VVA President John Rowan to write a letter or meet with the new VA Secretary, Denis McDonough, to discuss the VA’s failure to follow P.L. 114-315 on research for the children.
Update on bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson-like symptoms presumptives: File now. The VA is working on a policy to address these diseases. Please be patient since nothing works fast in the government. Legislators are also working on getting hypertension listed as a presumptive since the National Academy of Sciences has reported evidence that suggests a link to Agent Orange.
We are hearing that more legislation is being considered to address toxic exposures, including Agent Orange and toxic substances that the post-Vietnam War veterans were exposed to.
In closing, I want to thank the people all over America, where much work is done on education and calls to our legislators. Also a thank-you to the Officers, BOD members, State Councils, the Agent Orange Committee, advisers, AVVA, and the national VVA staff for doing a great job during the pandemic. We will resume town halls as soon as the pandemic and its variants are under control.
April is the month that committee members usually go to Capitol Hill and meet with legislators and committee staffers who work on economic opportunities for veterans. Though we were unable to visit this year, our committee members still had access to their representatives on the local level and via email.
Members also have been attending business forums organized by the Small Business Administration.
The committee continues to monitor legislation that will affect veteran business owners. Two recent bills have been introduced by the House Subcommittee for Economic Opportunity:
H.R.147 The BRAVE Act (Bringing Registered Apprenticeships to Veterans Education) requires the Department of Labor, in the implementation of the Transition Assistance Program, to provide information about apprenticeship programs to members of the armed forces who are separating from active duty. The bill expands an existing monthly housing stipend under the Post-9/11 GI Bill by authorizing the stipend to be used for other purposes.
The VA, in coordination with the Department of Labor, must establish a publicly accessible and user-friendly website that provides information for veterans about apprenticeship programs that are approved under VA education benefit provisions.
H.R.8237 Protecting the Employment Rights of Servicemembers Act updates employment and re-employment rights of members of the uniformed services by making arbitration requirements unenforceable unless the parties consent to such arbitration in relation to employment or re-employment claims.
There will be new economic opportunities for veterans, and the EOC will be here to keep you informed.
On April 13 the veterans of the all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment were honored with their own National Borinqueñeer’s Day. The FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law on January 3, contained an amendment commemorating that day in honor of the regiment and its veterans, as we do yearly for Vietnam veterans on March 29.
The day was celebrated in Puerto Rican communities through the United States and its territories. In Springfield, Mass., I organized a celebration in which we honored two living legends of the 65th: Antonio Morales, 97, who served during World War II, and Victor Rosario, 96, who served in the Korean War and took part in the Army’s last bayonet charge. Both gentlemen were presented with proclamations from the mayor and city council, as well as plaques commemorating their service.
The committee will continue to monitor its resolutions. The following resolutions are being retained:
MA-1 Language-Translated VA Benefits Material. VVA will continue its support for distribution by the VA of materials outlining benefits, programs, and adjudication guides in Spanish.
MA-2 Minority Affairs Coverage in The VVA Veteran. The committee submits a regular column and an annual report on its resolutions. In addition, it recommends feature articles covering the concerns of minority veterans.
MA-3 Asian American and Pacific Islander Veterans. VVA continues its support for the creation of an Asian-American and Pacific Islander working group in the VA. VVA further requests that a study be conducted by the VA on the social and psychological effects of military service on Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans who served in the Vietnam War.
MA-5 Foreign National Vietnam Veterans Immigration. VVA supports legislation to permit free entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who served in the U.S. armed forces and who are Vietnam veterans seeking medical care for service-related disabilities, regardless of length of service. This legislation should also give disabled foreign Vietnam veterans eligibility for naturalization, irrespective of the current 24-month waiting period.
MA-6 Involvement by Minority Veterans Welcome in VVA. VVA continues its commitment to minority affairs programs by encouraging all veterans to become involved at all levels of the organization, and by encouraging VVA to work more closely with other minority veterans organizations. VVA will devote staff and resources to continue a long-range, comprehensive Minority Affairs program directed at recruitment, education, and involvement. The Minority Affairs Committee will monitor the program adopted by the Board of Directors.
MA-7 Puerto Rican Veterans and U.S. Virgin Islanders. VVA renews its commitment for the continuum of health care and VA services to veterans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and their families, and to increase awareness of the availability of these services.
MA-8 Recognition of the Services and Sacrifices Made by the Veterans of the Territory of Guam and U.S. Pacific Islanders. VVA recognizes the contributions made by the veterans of Guam and commends and salutes the veterans of Guam for their contributions during the Vietnam War. Furthermore, VVA strongly supports the improvement of veterans benefits and health care provided to veterans of Guam and other U.S. Pacific Islanders.
MA-9 Awareness and Sensitivity to Racial, Cultural, and Gender-Related Equity Issues. VVA will promote diversity forums and seminars as part of a training program at all levels, especially during the National Leadership & Education Conferences and National Conventions.
MA-10 Self-Determination for Puerto Rico. VVA supports legislation whereby the U.S. Congress would define the political status options available to the citizens of Puerto Rico and authorize a plebiscite to provide an opportunity for Puerto Rico to decide the island’s political status.
MA-15 Korean American Vietnam War Veterans. VVA supports Korean American Vietnam War veterans in their legislative efforts to gain access to the VA health care system, especially for the diagnosis and treatment of Agent Orange exposure and other illnesses, including PTSD treatment and education.
We will be supporting a new resolution coming from New York City Chapter 126, Resolution PR-4. to authorize VVA to support H.R. 5590, the Korean American Valor Act. This bill grants VA health care benefits to South Korean Vietnam veterans who served in Vietnam from 1964-73 and are now American citizens. These veterans need access to health care benefits diagnosis and treatment for all illnesses related to their service in Southeast Asia.
I would like to thank the committee members who have been there with me, encouraging and supporting me as we confront the issues facing us during this difficult pandemic time.
According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), as of April 15, there were 1,584 still missing from the Vietnam War.
One U.S. Navy officer has been recovered and identified. The Navy Casualty Office has been unable to reach the primary next of kin, so DPAA has not released the name. No other missing U.S. personnel have been accounted for from the Vietnam War since September 21, 2020.
The countries and number of missing are: Vietnam-1,244 (North Vietnam-442, South Vietnam-802), Laos-285, Cambodia-48, and the Peoples Republic of China-7.
The total accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 998. Since April 30, 1975, 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 from 1973-75 and recovered in the following countries: Laos-9, Vietnam-53, and Cambodia-1, for a grand total of 1,061.
On April 8 VVA President Rowan received a telephone call from the White House informing him that the POW/MIA flag would be on display above the White House under the American flag. The official said the POW/MIA flag will remain there.
During the Trump administration the flag was moved from atop the White House to a dedicated flagpole on the South Lawn, which was less visible to the public. According to a White House video posted in June 2020, it was relocated in a private ceremony with full military honors, months after President Trump signed into law a bill requiring the flag to be flown at certain federal properties, including the White House, every day.
As of April 15 DPAA has identified 326 of the 394 sailors and Marines missing from the U.S.S. Oklahoma, sunk in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
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 may have a story that could result in locating missing war dead. Contact the Veterans Initiative at:
PTSD & Substance Abuse
Upon returning to America, Vietnam veterans learned that each of us had experienced our own private wars alongside our brothers and sisters in arms.
For those of us managing PTSD or substance use disorder, we learned that no one could understand how the very fabric of our souls was changed by the experience of Vietnam.
Now we find ourselves slowly coming out of a pandemic. We experienced a quarantined, mask-wearing, socially distanced world in different ways, although feelings such as fear, anger, frustration, and confusion are shared by everyone.
All Americans experienced the pandemic together. We are survivors. More will get sick, and some will yet die, but, for now, we have survived. That is where we are now in managing the symptoms of PTSD and recovery from substance abuse. But survival isn’t enough. Survival keeps us alive, but I want us to thrive.
Thriving takes intentional action. Intentional forgiveness is a key factor in thriving. One of the best on-ramps to mental health and thriving is forgiveness. In preparing to forgive, it is usually best to start with someone close to home—ourselves. Only we know for what. Forgiving others for real or imagined slights is the next mile marker down the road. We cannot thrive until we find a way to forgive an entire country. It’s a daunting task but an essential step on the road to recovery.
You may argue that some things just cannot and should not be forgiven. The philosopher Jonathan Lockwood Huie wrote: “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” The forgiveness is not for others but to improve your quality of life. We may not be able to forgive everyone for everything that has been done to us. I struggle with this myself.
Learning how to forgive begins with small actions. The people, places, and situations that feed our anger and resentment have been living rent-free in our heads long enough. They shade our awareness and sensitivity of the good around us and need to be evicted. Screw resentments! I never met a resentment that built me up, only ones that kept me down. Holding on to anger is like holding on to an anchor and jumping into the sea. If you don’t let it go, you will drown.
Intentionally taking care of ourselves moves the needle forward on our mental health. Reaching out for help if the needle is stuck is more important now than ever before. Initiating care or returning to care can seem like a big step, whether by telehealth appointment or in-person.
How you map your journey to care is personal. It might be reconnecting with a behavioral health counselor, or just meeting with other veterans or those you draw support from and swapping stories.
Taking intentional steps to rejoin all our support systems as the pandemic recedes and we can more easily come together is key. While we continue to ride out the pandemic, forgiveness is one thing within our control that we can work on. Work on forgiveness so that we are not just surviving but thriving as we plan our steps out from the cave of quarantine to an even better life.
As pandemic restrictions loosen, we can begin to resume community programs and school projects. It is imperative that we get back into the classrooms and become active with our JROTC program as well.
I have been fortunate to host a dozen or so public ceremonies—with COVID restrictions—and have had small-audience successes in the past four months. Not great, but not so bad either.
The JROTC Cadet Awards program is still active, as is the Eagle Medal program. The JROTC National Award nomination deadline has been moved to June 1 to allow schools with late openings to participate and to allow chapters and state councils to submit their nominations.
Additionally, many individual, chapter, and state council awards will be presented at the National Convention in November. I encourage chapter and state council presidents to submit those award nominations to the Awards Committee. The deadline has been moved to September 1. This is a great way to spotlight your members and say thank-you for their hard work.
Many communities require liability insurance when organizations hold events. Some chapters and state councils buy insurance from local vendors for several hundred dollars. Such insurance is available through Hays Company and is already paid for by Vietnam Veterans of America. Rather than purchasing local insurance, contact the VVA Communications Department to request a Certificate of Insurance for your events.
As outlined in the last issue, all Public Affairs Committee Resolutions remain intact and active.
One proposed resolution stimulated much input from committee members. Resolution PA-5 calls for all active military and veterans to stand and be recognized at all events prior to the Pledge and National Anthem. This recognition is referred to as S.A.F.E. (Salute our Armed Forces Everyday). The resolution encourages implementation nationwide.
While reaction was generally positive in the abstract, its implementation outside VVA seemed problematic. Within VVA, it seemed an empty gesture as everyone would stand. So the Public Affairs Committee chose not to move the resolution forward for consideration or to be presented at the 2021 National Convention.
VA Voluntary Service
The Veteran has returned to a print edition. My thanks to those responsible. I know this is important to many of you who need and appreciate the print version for many reasons.
The last year has been difficult for everyone, and it keeps hanging on. Some Representatives and Deputies, as well as some of our valued volunteers, have disappeared during COVID. I hope as we start to get vaccinated and restore some kind of normalcy all of you will return to your important and appreciated service at the VAMCs and VA clinics.
The VA’s National Advisory Committee for VAVS will hold its 75th Annual Conference May 26-28. It will be a virtual meeting, open to all to listen in. Your local VAMC can provide the information you need to attend. This is a great opportunity to hear VA national staff, guest speakers, and Service Chiefs from around the country discuss VA programs.
The Save Lives Act was signed into law by President Biden with bipartisan support from Congress. The Act expands COVID vaccine eligibility to veterans, their families, and their caregivers. The VA had vaccinated about 6 million veterans. The Act will open up vaccine eligibility to 25 million more people. In addition, the VA has streamlined the registration process to enable veterans who are new to the system to register online. Or they can call the local VA for help in signing up. To speed the registration process, have your DD-214 in hand. This is for vaccines only, but it can be the first step to VA health care.
I received the Moderna vaccine from the VA. The process was easy and the staff was great. I felt more comfortable going to the VA for the vaccine. All the staff, especially the nurses, were friendly, open to questions, and provided the latest information on possible side effects.
Reps and Deps who have stayed in contact with their Volunteer Service Office by attending virtual VAVS meetings know the current COVID situation at their VAMCs. From the information I have received, it seems that although access to VAMCs is limited, managers are actively planning the return of volunteers to their campuses. Some areas are opening up gradually to volunteers who want to return. Some volunteers may not return because of the risk posed by COVID variants. This is understandable.
The veteran population is down, but the need for volunteers is still vital. New variants are a concern, and strict protocols are in force. But people are being admitted to VA facilities, and both volunteers and veterans can use telehealth, MyHealtheVet, or in-person appointments.
VVA and veteran-patients need you to get back to supporting the VAVS program by volunteering where you can and by attending VAVS committee meetings and Veteran Advisory meetings. Donations are still welcome, but contact your local VAVS office to see what their needs are and how to drop them off.
Thank you for your continued dedication to the VAVS program.
Get your shots, stay well, and be careful. You can contact me at email@example.com
The Veterans Benefits Committee met via RingCentral on April 14 for two hours. In attendance were Director Felicia Mullaney and staff members Greg Nembhard, Alec Ghezzi, and Famata Conteh. VVA President John Rowan, Vice President Tom Burke, and Veterans Voices of America Board Chair Rebecca Patterson also attended, along with committee members Jerry Corrigan, Gene Crego, Gary Estermyer, Gumersindo Gomez, Bob Grabinski, John Margowski, Marc McCabe, John McGinty, Greg Pauline, Pete Peterson, Dick Southern, John Weiss, and Chuck Byers.
The VVA VSO yearly grant was presented to the committee in an updated format. It will consist of the grant application and an annual report. It will be presented to the VVA Board of Directors for approval. The committee worked on an MOU with Veterans Voices of America about transitioning the VVA Benefits Program.
Alec Ghezzi gave a presentation on the new VSO accreditation training. It will be held virtually and will include pre- and post-accreditation training. Due to the length of the meeting, a follow-up meeting was held April 20 to finish discussing accreditation training and to review the resolutions that will be sent to the Resolutions Committee for the National Convention.
Veterans Health Care
The Veterans Health Care Committee has submitted changes and revisions to our proposed resolutions to the Resolutions Committee for the National Convention in Greensboro, N.C. We look forward to meeting face to face. I hope most of us will have received our vaccines by then and feel a little safer.
The VA has stepped up and has done an outstanding job distributing coronavirus vaccines to veterans. The committee will continue to monitor this process. We have noticed a hesitancy among Hispanic veterans about getting the vaccine and will continue to work with the VA in reaching out to them.
The VA in Arizona has introduced the Atlas Project. In Wickenburg, a town about 50 miles from Phoenix, the VA has placed a pod inside an American Legion post that will be used for veterans’ telehealth visits for two VA hospitals in Arizona. Veterans can meet with their primary care physicians or consult with specialists in a secure place with easy access.
This will be extremely beneficial for rural veterans who find it difficult to see their VA doctors. We look forward to hearing more about this project; initial reports are positive.
Take care and be safe. I’ll see you in Greensboro.
Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System
There are some 181,000 veterans incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States. Veterans make up about 8 percent of all those imprisoned in federal and state facilities. More than 65 percent of them saw combat, and about 55 percent of those who saw combat struggle with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.
Veterans incarcerated are more likely to be a bit older than other incarcerated persons, and they have fewer prior convictions, but the crimes veterans are convicted of tend to be violent. Fifty percent of incarcerated veterans are white males. Veterans who are housed together are thought of as model inmates. Many Vietnam veteran inmates become institutional leaders in work-study programs, for-profit-then-donation businesses, community service, innovation in the arts, and machine tasks.
The number of veterans facing the justice system is down. The number of veterans incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions also is down. If statistics can make us happy, then let’s be happy about these. We can proudly say that because of Vietnam Veterans of America’s services, fewer veterans are imprisoned today.
Veteran Treatment Courts, the Getting Ahead while Getting Out program, and VVA’s advancement of public awareness of the wounds of war have saved veterans one by one. Of course, there have also been troop reductions, and significantly fewer veterans coming home. Moreover, veterans returning from deployment are smarter, have finer military skills, and are better educated and better skilled than ever before. Plus, they are likely to seek help before making the bad choice of committing a crime.
The committee has begun a study to determine why service-connected disability benefits are reduced while a veteran is incarcerated. As of today, veterans rated at 20 percent disabled or more are limited to a 10 percent disability rate if the veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days.
The VVA position is that veterans’ compensation benefits are awarded for service-connected injuries: combat wounds, PTSD, TBI, friendly-fire explosions, toxic burn pits, helicopter crashes, broken bones, and so on. Therefore, awarded benefits belong to the veteran or the veteran’s family.
We are gathering information. We are studying arguments, pro and con. We plan to lobby Congress to get the House and Senate to take action.
These past few months have been busy for women veterans. The coronavirus vaccine cannot be overlooked. I hope everyone is scheduled for vaccinations. Our hearts go out to everyone who has had a loved one affected by this disease.
The Women Veterans Committee met twice via Zoom in the last quarter and has completed work on the resolutions for the Convention. We reviewed the key points in the Deborah Sampson Act, S.514, and its far-reaching positive impact on women veterans’ rights and VA care. “Persistence got it done” is a motto of the many women and men who served on legislative committees and worked to enact this law. It is worth your time to review it.
I have attended three remote meetings with the Independent Review Commission created by DOD on military sexual assault and sexual harassment. The chair is Lynn Rosenthal. For details, click here.
The commission has been given 90 days to complete its independent review. The emphasis is on accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support. We can help. Anyone who has a history of military sexual trauma or harassment is encouraged to fill out this form by June. The commission is asking for recommendations, as well as your stories. It does not matter how long ago it happened. We will be heard. The long-term effects of these traumas will be reviewed in VA health care to help all of us.
The Center for Women Veterans website continues to be an important resource during the pandemic lockdown. This month there is a great review of women veteran trailblazers posted.
I’d like to point out two of them. Former VVA staffer and Women Veterans Committee member Maureen Elias served as a counterintelligence agent in the Army from 2001-06. She was selected for a High Ground Veterans Advocacy Fellowship and hired at VVA shortly after completing it. At VVA she traveled the nation teaching health care providers about the health effects of military service and advocating for recognition of the toxic effects of burn pits and other toxic exposures. She participated in Senate and House roundtables on women veterans health care and benefits. She now works for Paralyzed Veterans of America as head of government relations.
The second trailblazer I would like to highlight is Eileen Moore, Associate Justice of the State of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal. She served as an Army nurse in Vietnam in 1966. A member of Orange County Chapter 1024, Moore also was a founding member of the federal Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.
In the 1990s Moore began her advocacy for vulnerable veterans in education, community, and legal issues. She revised the MIL-100 form that is used by courts to identify military and veterans and advise them about special statutes for them in criminal courts. In 2008 she helped form the California Judicial Council of Veterans and Military Families Subcommittee. You can read her article, “Veterans Court, California Style,” in the September/October 2010 issue of The VVA Veteran.
Finally, I wanted to mention the VA’s women veterans website. It is a wealth of resources.
You also can talk with your provider, call 855-VA-Women, or check these resources. There are also VA apps for veterans here.
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