|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|Government Affairs, July/August 2022|
Preparing for the November Elections
I think it is important for us to remind ourselves that this is an election year. As such, there are certain things that we need to prepare for. First and foremost, we as veterans need to understand that we are not dealing with Democratic or Republican issues; we are dealing with veterans issues.
The most important thing is that we get ready for the election. We need to take the time as individuals and as chapters to make a list of things that are important to us as veterans. The list should be prioritized in the order of importance. The purpose of prioritizing is that we may not get a chance to cover more than one or two items on the list.
We need to find out where all the individuals running for office stand on veterans’ issues. Our list should be mailed to all the candidates, asking them to respond to the chapter by letting us know where they stand on the issues. If we have a facility that will accommodate all of them, we can invite them to come and speak to us at a meeting. If this is not possible, then we can wait until there is a runoff and take the two candidates to a breakfast. If any of the candidates are not knowledgeable about veterans’ issues, then we should provide information to them so they can become knowledgeable.
The goal is to let those running for public office get to know us and understand that we are here and we are engaged in the process. Remember that all politics is local.
If your chapter chooses not to get involved in politics, then step out on your own. Take the time to learn about your members of Congress and interact with them. Work with them and keep them informed about what is important. If they are not informed about veterans and their issues, ask them to start a Veterans Task Force to help them make sound decisions when dealing with veterans and our issues.
The key is to embrace them and show them that you are willing to help them succeed. Once you become known by your elected officials, others will take notice and seek input from you.
THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
The second important item is the upcoming National Leadership & Education Conference. The key words are “leadership” and “education.” The Conference is designed to provide tools for us to learn how to lead at the chapter and state levels. The seminars will have PowerPoints and handouts for participants so that attendees can take them home to their chapters to use as training devices.
No chapter has the funds to send everyone who needs training to the Conference. Consequently, the Conference binder gives them the tools to train other chapter members. We want to train as many members as possible to keep the organization functioning as well as keeping old timers up to date.
THE HONORING OUR PACT ACT
VVA was present at a series of rallies and Hill visits over the Memorial Day weekend supporting the passage of the PACT Act. On June 7, VVA was in attendance in the Senate gallery for the 86-12 cloture vote, a significant sign of bipartisanship. This The Senate went on to approve the bill on June 15. It will go back to the House to reconcile differences in the House-passed version. The Speaker of the House assures us that the bill will pass and be sent to the President to sign into law.The bill, when enacted into law, would:
-Concede exposure to burn pits and toxic environments
-Provide healthcare based on toxic exposures
-Add 24 burn pits and toxic exposure-related diseases
-Add hypertension as a presumptive disease associated with Agent Orange exposure
-Provide a framework for establishing presumptive diseases in the future
-Expand radiation-risk activities to include veterans who participated in radiation cleanup at Enewetak Atoll and Palomares, Spain
-Include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as conceded locations for Agent Orange exposure
When enacted the law will provide benefits for current and future generations of veterans who will not have to endure the injustices that Vietnam War veterans went through for decades while advocating for Agent Orange benefits
Thanks to all who wrote and made phone calls. Without your support, this victory would not have been possible.
VA CAREGIVERS PROGRAM
The Department of Veterans Affairs hosted a two-day Caregivers Summit in May and invited VSOs and MSOs, caregivers, and advocates to offer suggestions on how to improve this program. Most agreed that there needs to be uniformity in each VISN when administering the program and the assessment process is completely flawed. As a result of the summit, the VA has suspended the annual reassessments for participants of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers while the department continues its review.
ARLINGTON ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
The 2017 Arlington National Cemetery report to Congress designated the location for the next national cemetery and called for maintaining the current eligibility standards. But DoD has interpreted the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act as a directive to reduce those eligible to be interred in Arlington to keep it operational. Without congressional intervention, the change in eligibility puts the burden of a solution on currently eligible service members and their families – including those who have long hoped to have Arlington as their final place of rest.
The proposed national cemetery eligibility changes would result in Arlington reaching capacity at some point in the future and would thereby reduce an important military benefit. This plan kicks the can down the road and leaves the problem for future leaders to solve.
When published, the proposed change in eligibility will limit interment to those who received the Purple Heart or Silver Star and above. This change is discriminatory against past, present, and future male and female service members who put their lives on the line in war zones, operating strategic nuclear forces and fighting the pandemic at medical facilities.
The Army has created an eligibility proposal that favors close combat specialties and does not account for our members’ funeral plans. The proposal also would mean that future service members would be unaware of this attempt to reduce their benefits.
Vietnam Veterans of America will work with leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to include language in the FY 2023 NDAA directing DoD to ensure that the next national cemetery provides full military honors and leaves unchanged the current eligibility requirements earned through military service.
To take action, go to the Legislative Action Center at vva.org and send the prepared letter asking Congress to preserve Arlington National Cemetery.
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