|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, May/June 2022|
Agent Orange & Dioxin
The committee continues to work on its mission. That mission is to gather information on the effects of toxic exposure, refute the message of chemical company lobbyists, educate veterans and families, pressure the government to take steps to reduce the effects of the exposure, and to stop present and future exposures.
The ultimate goal is to eliminate toxic exposure and have a method to reverse the effects on the body, including the damage to our genes and those of our offspring. Medical researchers are working on reprogramming damaged genes and body functions. We hope and pray for success, but realistically it will not happen in our lifetimes—or the lives of our children.
Over the years we have seen small improvements in enlarging the presumptive conditions. The VVA Benefits Department deals with individuals affected. They can help obtain service connection, which includes health care and compensation.
Not everyone exposed to these toxins served in Vietnam. There are other avenues to seek relief that take more time and effort. I am referring to efforts such as those made by the C-123 group and Blue Water Navy sailors. Some veterans have used attorneys to appeal the denial of their cases. It was through VVA’s efforts that attorneys can be involved.
My opinion: 70 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. The DOD is well aware of all the bases where toxic materials were stored and used.
Our subgroup working with the Air Force and VA has made gains. The advisory group that was included in the Toxic Exposure Research Act has now been appointed. Included are some of our most knowledgeable veterans and researchers. The most pressing issue is the re-evaluation and completion of the Ranch Hand study.
The VA Secretary responded to the law to research toxic exposure for veterans’ children with the excuse that it could not be done because there was no national birth defects registry. But the Birth Defect Registry for Children has been available for several years. An explanation of the registry was in the VVA Web Weekly and is on the VVA website. Contact the registry at Birthdefects.org
The registry can be divided into parents of in-country Vietnam veterans, veterans not in country, veterans of the Gulf wars, children, grandchildren, and the general public. In one survey 60,000 veterans reported having children with birth defects.
BDRC has about 10,000 registrants. We need to help increase registration. It has come to our attention that the CDC supports ten statewide birth defect registries. We are looking to compare them to BDRC.
The committee is looking to modify the Agent Orange town hall meetings. They have been the best way to educate and motivate our grassroots power. The Children’s Toxic Research Law expands our concerns to children and grandchildren of all veterans.
At the VVA April Board meeting the Minority Affairs Committee had an exciting time following a visit from Gregorio Kishketon, who serves on the VA’s Veterans Health Administration’s National Diversity & Inclusion Board. He spoke to us about issues that Native American veterans are having throughout the country. It was very educational for us as we learned about their health care, housing, and VA benefits needs.
We have put Native American veterans on our agenda to explore how VVA can help them. In August we will host a workshop on that subject at the VVA National Leadership & Education Conference.
We were also visited by more than 40 Korean Vietnam War veterans. We are working on two issues with them: becoming honorary VVA members and receiving VA benefits. The VVA Membership Committee voted unanimously to support honorary membership for those Koreans who served in the Vietnam War. The BOD unanimously agreed and 132 Korean Vietnam War veterans were granted honorary VVA memberships at the Board meeting. They were very joyful to become part of VVA. We will continue to induct as many Korean veterans as we can find throughout the nation.
H.R. 234, the Korean American VALOR Act, which was introduced in the House in January 2021, came out of a resolution presented by the committee at the 2019 VVA Convention. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Convention delegates. It asked that Korean Vietnam War veterans who are American citizens, about 3,000 of them, become eligible to receive medical care at the VA. The bill came out of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about eight months ago, but we need support so it can come to the House floor for approval and be sent to the Senate.
We need your help to make this a reality for our Korean Vietnam veteran brothers. They saved many American lives in Vietnam, were exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals, and have the same health problems American Vietnam veterans suffer from due to our service in the war, including PTSD.
We are asking you and your families and friends to call their legislators and ask them to endorse H.R. 234 so it can come up for a vote on the House floor.
PTSD & Substance Abuse
BY THOMAS C. HALL, Ph.D., CHAIR
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is most closely associated with the phrase, “All politics is local.” When advocating for veteran mental health benefits, it could be said that all mental health services are local.
Recently a veteran reported to the committee that in Joplin, Missouri, a brand-new mental health outpatient clinic was locked down on March 24 at 10 a.m. When the veteran discussed this with a local community provider the response was clear and direct: That’s how they are.
This is not the first time veterans have told the committee about this kind of experience. In this case, the veteran was not notified of the closure or given an explanation about why the door was locked and services unavailable.
He eventually entered the clinic when an employee he was meeting used an entry card to open the door. When he later asked the VA behavioral health director in Fayetteville, Arkansas, about the closure, he was told that it was not a locked clinic, and that the only locked VA clinic was at Fayetteville.
I know this is not the VA’s policy. All VA service is local and incidents like this make me wonder, “How is this helping with suicide prevention?”
As the committee continues to advocate for VA behavioral health and specialty clinics, especially those addressing PTSD and Substance Use Disorder, it is important to let us, as well as the VA, know what veterans are experiencing locally.
Now that COVID is receding, veterans have asked me when the VA will start reopening the continuing care groups for those managing PTSD. Many VA clinicians are telling their clients that 8-12 sessions of evidenced-based treatment is all they need or all the VA can offer.
However, they’ve missed one very important reality: We have memory. While evidenced-based treatment works very well for about half of veterans and reduces the worst of the impact of wartime experiences, it does not erase memory. Continuing care is the shock absorber ensuring a veteran in need has a place to go for the kind of reassurance and insights only offered with other veterans managing PTSD. Continuing care groups help veterans manage their symptoms while refocusing on skills and attitudes they learn after going through evidenced-based treatments.
Not all veterans respond to the evidenced-based treatment used by the VA, so the continuing care groups also offer a place for veterans to go to be with other veterans as they process some of the same emotional and psychological trauma and things that work for them. These groups help remind veterans of what they learned in previous treatments.
Simply attending the group sessions is, in itself, suicide prevention. These groups can also help keep symptoms of PTSD from adversely affecting veterans’ lives.
We have seen a slow, steady erosion of these services at VA facilities. Closures due to COVID have further impeded the VA’s ability to keep continuing care groups going. We need you to use your voices and share your experiences.
It is only by keeping tabs on what is happening locally that we can help the VA from becoming a self-licking ice-cream cone. In other words, without our function as a watchdog sounding alarm bells, the VA would be left only listening to those whose jobs depend on reports of how wonderful they are doing.
What gets measured gets attention. Please help the committee by letting us know about the positive things your local VA is doing, as well as the areas where your local VA could benefit by shining a light on areas that need attention.
Public Affairs Committee
BY DENNIS HOWLAND, CHAIR
I want to thank everyone who participated in the planning and support of the VVA-hosted March 29 observance of Vietnam War Veterans Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.: National President Jack McManus, Communications Director Mokie Porter, Special Adviser Marsha Four, and Meeting Planner Wes Guidry, as well as CEO Jim Knotts and Heidi Zimmerman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. It was one heck of an incredible team, an awesome ceremony, and an incredible experience to emcee the program.
My appreciation also goes out to those who traveled to Silver Spring and D.C. for the event. And the Honor Guard from Baltimore Chapter 451, which presented the colors. In the arena of public affairs, this was one of the finest and largest events of the year. I believe many now realize that Vietnam Veterans of America is still very much alive and well.
A special thanks to the guests, Retired Brig. Gen. George B. Price, Dr. Laura Kafka-Price, former VVA President Mary Stout, singer/songwriter John Flynn, who composed a song specifically for the day, and to all those who attended the ceremony. The event at the Wall and the grand reception at the National Press Club shows each of you can be proud of Vietnam Veterans of America. Absolutely incredible day. Our heartfelt thank you.
As we move into 2022 with fewer pandemic restrictions, it is good to start planning events that take us to the forefront of our communities, including Vets in Classrooms programs. Worthy observances coming up include Memorial Day, Flag Day, July Fourth, POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Veterans Day. All are perfect opportunities for us to display the VVA flag and to have our story told as we honor all veterans of peacetime and war.
State council submissions to the National JROTC Award program competition are in the judging phase. This is an outstanding program that places VVA in a public position of honoring young people who participate in their schools’ JROTC programs who may be future veterans. I cannot compliment enough the hard work of our chapters and state councils in their schools to recognize outstanding cadets.
The October BOD meeting has been rescheduled to the week leading up to Veterans Day. More information will be forthcoming.
VA Voluntary Service
BY KEN ROSE, NATIONAL REP
VVA has chosen to be a Last Man Standing organization. But we are still here and there is much work to be done. We have already accomplished amazing things to help veterans, but there is more to do to leave a lasting legacy.
As volunteers, Representatives, Deputies, and VVA members, this issue concerns you. The VA, in the Federal Register, has outlined plans to streamline its Medical Centers. This doesn’t mean improved care. In fact, it could mean much less care from the VA. All 23 Veteran Integrated Service Networks will be affected. These VISNs comprise all the states and territories covered by the VA Health System.
The MISSION Act of 2018 addressed VA health care. The idea of providing care in the community has many aspects that improve VA care. Title II of the Act established an Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) to modernize and re-align the VA’s mission. It also established a nine-member commission, with members named by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The problem is that the nine members were appointed by President Trump, who was interested in privatizing the VA system. Some of the commissioners are not veterans. Who are they? We don’t know. Regardless of politics, this concerns all of us.
The recent military Base Realignment and Closure program was intended to save money. Many bases were eliminated or consolidated. There remains the question of how much savings actually happened. Now the Pentagon wants to open more bases in Europe because of Russia’s aggressive moves to the west. Today’s troops will be tomorrow’s veterans, and they will need health care. So we need to keep them in mind as AIR unfolds.
The AIR process will affect every state and every VA Medical Center. Many are on the list to close. According to the VA, the veteran population is shrinking. But as we know too well, younger vets don’t join veterans organizations and many don’t think they need the VA or its health care.
This should be familiar. We were the same way for far too long when we had a bad feeling toward the VA. So VVA must continue to push the VA to recognize the results of burn pits and toxic exposures.
The commission will consider input from veterans service organizations and others, then submit a report to the President and Congress, which will adopt or reject their findings. If no action is taken, it will become law. This process could take years, but we need to do our part now. Members of Congress need to know how we feel about closures. Many are not veterans, and they don’t understand or care about us.
If you haven’t read the report, go to the March 25 VVA Web Weekly. Start with your own VISN, state, or local VAMC. There’s a lot of material to work through, but we must start.
This is a perfect time to get involved at your local VA, as either a VAVS volunteer, representative, or deputy. VVA chapters and state councils should be involved at the VA on the Veteran Advisory Committee. These meetings are open to the public and provide the opportunity to meet staff, the director, and representatives of local congressional offices. They need to know we are still here and we will be heard.
VVA’s legacy requires your voice. Any questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All the grants have been received and reviewed. The end-of-year reports were due January 31.
VSO training will take place at the Leadership & Education Conference in Greenville, S.C., in August. Most likely, the training will be offered in four separate sessions. The sessions will be recorded and possibly later broadcast in some format. Claim development, evidence, and interview skills will be incorporated in the training.
I asked Marc McCabe to write the committee’s statement of support for Veterans’ Voice of America.
Veterans Incarcerated & in the Justice System
Statistics demonstrate that three years after being released from incarceration, veteran offenders are no more likely to commit a crime than anyone who has never been to prison. According to our committee model, if we can reach offenders with PTSD and TBI several months prior to release and help them with jobs, clothing, housing, and mentoring, we can get them to the three-year mark.
The model conceived by Philip DeVol, Michelle Wood, and Mitchel Libster, the authors of Getting Ahead While Getting Out, may be adapted to fit the needs of veterans who are not career criminals and do not have depraved thoughts and actions—veterans, that is, who served honorably but witnessed wartime events that caused lasting emotional stresses. The VINJUS Committee is committed to their needs.
At the April Board meeting, we discussed methods to reach out to state council presidents to encourage their chapters to join the VINJUS Committee and recruit mentors willing to go inside prisons to help veterans about to be released.
BY KATE O’HARE-PALMER, CHAIR
Spring is here! The National Vietnam War Veterans Day observance on March 29 in D.C was a great event. The committee wants to thank Mary Stout, former VVA national president, for being the keynote speaker. Go to vva.org/vietnam-war-veterans-day-2022/ for more information.
Women veteran legislation took a big step forward this past year:
• MAMMO for Veterans Act—sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Susan Collins (R-Me.)—was unanimously passed March 24 in the Senate. The bill would expand veterans’ access to high-quality breast cancer screening and lifesaving cancer care. This bill now needs to get through the House.
• S. 1031, Government Accountability Office to study race and ethnicity disparities in compensation benefits administered by VA, disability ratings determined by VA, and rejection of claims for VA benefits—sponsored by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.)—was signed into law by President Biden.
• John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act of 2021—sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester and Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Reps. Barry Moore (R-Ala.) and David Trone (D-Md.)—will expand in-state tuition benefits for veteran families. It was signed by the President.
• Protecting Moms Who Served Act 2021—Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Susan Collins, and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.)—mandates the first comprehensive study of the country’s maternal health crisis among women veterans. The U.S. continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. This bill would expand and diversify the maternal health workforce, improve maternal mental health, support community-based programs, train providers, and enhance research and ensure coordinated maternal care.
• H.R. 3967, Honoring our PACT Act, has passed the House of Representatives and now needs to pass in the Senate. This bill would provide veterans with tools to address the health consequences of their toxic exposures during military service and supports health care, research, resources, benefits, and a framework for presumptive diseases in the future. We all need to call our Senators and ask them to support this bill.
The Military Women’s Memorial (formerly WIMSA) continues with renovations during this, its 25th anniversary year. A goal of 20,000 new members has been set for this year. If you haven’t joined, now is the time. The 25th anniversary celebration is scheduled for October 14-16. The dedication in 1997 was an event to remember, and I hope that all of you will be at this event. I remember the 40,000-plus women who formed a sea of veterans at the front of the Memorial. What a great day.
The Women Veterans Committee is updating the women veterans information card. If you haven’t sent in a picture of yourself in uniform, please forward it to me in care of the VVA national office. If there is resource information you think should be included in our updated card, let us know.
There are extreme crises in our world today, and we all have various ways of coping. Remember to share your concerns with others and don’t isolate. Helping another person is the first step out of your inner dilemma.
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