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VVA Committee Reports, January/February 2024 -   -  

VINJUS Committee Report


It’s a brand new year, but the same old issues exist for veterans incarcerated.

Parole boards, which hold the power to release inmates or keep them in prison, remain unchanged and unchallenged. Hundreds of veteran inmates have waited years for a hearing, spent years preparing for a hearing, and thereafter tortured themselves for years wondering why they were denied parole. There are hundreds of parole boards in the country that make decisions on the futures of veterans incarcerated based on incomplete information.

There’s no denying that being on a parole board is a tough job. It is difficult to release from prison someone who’s committed a crime. The crime and its details must be properly reviewed. What happened to the victim? Was there a weapon involved? The character of the veteran inmate also should be taken into consideration, including their prison record. The veteran’s character should be revealed by face-to-face interviews with meaningful questions.

A determination on the question of parole is made based upon an internal review of the answers to questions such as: Is this veteran safe on the street? What if I make a mistake and free someone who will cause further harm? Am I mandated to protect the public from known criminals, or to protect the veteran from undue length of incarceration? Has the incarceration satisfied society’s mandate to put bad people in jail?

I believe that parole board appointees should try to understand veterans’ issues when deliberating over their releases. Medical and psychological exams should be included in the veteran’s paperwork, including evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury at the time of arrest. I also entreat parole boards to consider a veteran’s military record, including service in a war.

I hereby volunteer to appear at any parole board training classes to speak about the thorny issues of PTSD and TBI. I am not soft on crime. I am also, however, not willing to leave behind anyone who served in the U.S. military with honor and who was damaged by the wounds of war

Agent Orange & Toxic Exposures Committee Report


Many potential parents and grandparents look forward to producing healthy children despite the many potential health risks that may affect them. After the birth of a child, a pediatrician does a physical exam, and any structural defects are noted and indicated on the child’s birth certificate.

The Birth Defects Registry received funding from AVVA during the 2023 Convention. Registry information is needed for future research, so please help by going to birthdefects.org and completing the questionnaire. Do note that another group not sharing our goals has developed a website using a similar name - birthdefect.org. Make sure to go to the correct website.

There are four categories in the registry: children and grandchildren of veterans who served in-country during the Vietnam War; children or grandchildren of veterans who served elsewhere during the war; offspring of veterans of the Gulf Wars; and children with defects who were not conceived by veterans.

The VA did not follow the law to implement toxic exposure research for children and grandchildren of veterans, citing the lack of a birth defects registry. That’s why numbers are important. Information from people in these categories is needed to perform the appropriate research. The website has been revamped to make it easier to register.

The government form to file for disability for veterans’ children and grandchildren has been modified by the VA. The new form has been expanded to include all health problems related to a parent’s toxic exposure. That means veterans with affected children will need to file their claims with the help of a Veterans Service Officer.

Now is the time to plan and schedule an educational session in your area to get the word out to veterans and their families about what we have achieved and how they can help us accomplish the rest of our mission. Materials are available but chapters should read the instructions on our website before emailing me to schedule an event. My email is swilson@vva.org

Women Veterans Committee Report


Happy New Year to all. As we enter the new year, we look forward to highlighting an array of upcoming events and programs. VVA’s Web Weekly recently posted a link to an article by Rebecca Kheel that discussed how cases of sexual assault and other serious crimes in the military will now officially be handled by independent prosecutors instead of commanders.

These independent prosecutors are part of a team called the Office of Special Trial Counsel. They will comply with congressional mandates to remove prosecutorial decisions for 13 serious offenses from the chain of command. This is a long-overdue change.

Among the many services available to all veterans is the VA’s Intimate Partner Violence Assistance program. This isn’t a topic that is easy to discuss. But according to recent studies, one-in-three women and one-in-four men report experiencing intimate partner violence. There was an uptick during the pandemic, but these figures still reflect broader trends. Twenty percent of women who experience this type of violence later threaten, attempt, or die by suicide. By being attentive listeners and staying informed about these resources, we can provide crucial support to friends in need.

I would like to recommend a podcast for women veterans called “She Wears the Boots,” produced by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration Office of Women’s Health and available at https://www.spreaker.com/show/she-wears-the-boots-a-podcast-for-women and other platforms.

I also extend my gratitude to those who have engaged with my recent columns and shared their interests concerning women veterans’ issues. Considering many of our members’ senior status, I have been getting questions about resources for home care and community care services. These programs have expanded, with information readily available at VA clinics and hospitals. Rural outreach initiatives are underway to equip additional VA mobile clinics, enhancing service accessibility in outlying areas.

Lastly, maintaining and expanding the Birth Defect Registry remains a top priority for us. The more cases that are in the registry, the more preventable causes of birth defects we can discover.

This important data collection project will help provide answers for the difficult questions parents of affected children face. Please take the time to go to https://birthdefects.org/national-birth-defect-registry/"

VA Voluntary Service


As we enter the New Year, volunteering again faces challenges. Since last December, infection rates from flu, Covid, and RSV have drastically increased. Some hospitals have reinstated mandatory masking, and some are restricting access to sensitive wards. The VA Medical Centers and Clinics will likely follow suit, with masking for in-patient visiting.

The causes appear to be a combination of holiday, family, and community gatherings, as well as the fact that many people have not followed up on vaccines and boosters. All the shots are available at the VAMCs and clinics. If you are enrolled at the VA, make an appointment today. It’s important to you and those around you. It’s not too late to get vaccinated. The new strains are not going away.

2024 will be an important year for VVA and our legacy. The numbers of Representatives and Deputies have dropped off considerably, but there are some encouraging signs, including inquiries I’ve received from VVA members to volunteer. I will continue to follow up and will find out how many Reps. and Deps. are still serving. If you have been unable to continue volunteering, please let me know.

All Representatives and Deputies should make a point of attending VAVS meetings, either in person or remotely. Be sure to sign in as a VVA Rep. or Dep. The Veteran Advisory Committee meetings (each hospital has one) are also important to keep your chapter and state council informed about VA activities, programs, and volunteer needs.

As Representatives, one of your most important functions is to complete the Annual Joint Review. The AJR for VVA comes up in May. This can be done either in person or by phone. The Chief of Voluntary Service (now known as the CDCE) will be happy to help you with the process. It’s easy.

There is a section on the AJR Goals and Objectives. It would help to have two or three obtainable goals ready for your meeting. Goals could be increasing numbers of volunteers or visits to the VA. There is a comment section for your observations during visits. Remember that you are VVA’s eyes and ears inside the VA.

If you have questions or problems, please contact me by phone 215-527-3494 or email at krose@vva.org. Thank you, and stay healthy.

Public Affairs Committee


I hope everyone had a marvelous holiday season. 2024 promises to be a very active and busy year for Vietnam Veterans of America. When 2025 rolls around, I certainly hope everyone can say “Job Well Done.” I’m sure we will.

It is good to remember that any event in our communities that focuses on honoring veterans, even if it isn’t hosted by VVA, is an event worth attending and wearing something with the VVA logo on it to let everyone know that we are still an active part of the community. You may find yourself invited to help with that program the next time it is held. Also, a veterans’ observance day that is not being commemorated may be a great opportunity for your chapter and state council to organize an event.

A lot of our effort in 2023 was spent working on designating U.S. Route 20 across the northern United States, from Bend, Oregon, to Boston, as the National Medal of Honor Highway. VVA President Jack McManus sent a letter of support and many of you worked to encourage legislators to vote in favor of the legislation.

VVA member Dick Tobiason in Oregon reports that the U.S. Senate passed the National Medal of Honor Highway legislation (S.1478) on December 19, 2023. Next up, VVA members need to encourage their members of the House of Representatives also to vote for passage of the legislation.

Another thing we will be looking at in 2024 is an expansion of the JROTC Medal or some other type of honor, allowing young people in Civil Air Patrol Units and Sea Cadets to participate in a VVA Medals Program. I have had many requests for that in the last year.

There will be a lot of activity regarding the National Service Survey being put together by the Public Affairs Committee. We hope that when you read this, we will have presented a proposal to the National Board of Directors for a survey to be sent to all VVA members, asking them if they agree that the organization should publicly support mandatory National Service. National Service would consist of serving in the military, or in nonmilitary government programs such as the Peace Corps or the Teacher Corps. If a survey comes to you indicating it is being conducted on behalf of VVA, spend a few minutes to answer it.

As I have said so many times in past issues of The Veteran, I believe a sound Public Affairs and Communications program has the potential to help every aspect of VVA, including recruiting new members, fundraising, and lobbying Congress. Make sure you read the reports in The Veteran—they often provide great ideas for community projects, which increase our visibility and help with fundraising and membership growth.

The National Leadership & Education Conference will be held in Reno, August 20-24. Plan to attend if you possibly can, as the Conference is an outstanding way to increase your knowledge about our organization and helps provide direction for our leadership on every level. Registration and other Conference information will soon be available at vva.org.

Every VVA member joined the best VSO around, and it requires every one of us to be involved in VVA’s many missions. Be the leader in your community. You will find it pays off.

I wish everyone an extremely Happy New Year and a successful 2024.

PTSD/SA Committee


The PTSD/SA Committee congratulates the VA and especially the Vet Center leadership on establishing two new Vet Centers and three outstations. While we welcome this expansion, we maintain our continued concerns regarding staffing and client load, which seem to be an ongoing and widespread challenge.

We have heard first-person reports that some counselors carry up to 100 clients and provide services in 15-minute increments. While we are sympathetic to the fact that this overloading of counselors can be a function of many other issues, a veteran in distress should not be forced to endure such poor conditions.

As we have noted in previous columns, in the past few years, the Vet Center leadership has suspended the frontline privileges of some 250 counselors for not being certified as is required in a school setting. These same veterans hold advanced mental health degrees from accredited universities and had been successfully providing services in Vet Centers for years.

It appears to us, therefore, that the VA is refusing to use trained mental health personnel from the military, while at the same time citing national provider shortages as the main cause of staffing challenges. To make matters worse, the VA pays these providers less than their counterparts at VA medical facilities, thus disincentivizing working at Vet Centers.

Vet Centers were established to provide veterans with access to peer-to-peer outreach and mental health providers. When challenged on the change in requirements for Vet Centers, VA leaders use the “Chicken Little” defense, implying that the litigation sky will fall on them if they don’t have school-counselor certifications for those working with war veterans. However, many clinicians in private practice hold their own insurance for litigation concerns without the same certification.

In short, VA, policies and procedures have discounted or blocked many sources for professionals with mental health training, such as physician assistants. Many PAs have a year of fellowship in mental health and more than 30 percent are former military medical officers, having been trusted to provide mental healthcare while on active duty. Yet, the VA refuses to see them as mental health providers for veterans.

In a perfect world, our feedback would be seriously considered, but we instead see the VA subtly suggesting that we don’t understand the big picture, adding that they are addressing these issues and will follow up and get back to us. While the VA has followed up as promised, they have done so with no plan for change.

The Vet Centers and their dedicated staffers save many veterans and continue to be a beacon of hope. Our feedback is based on our love and respect for Vet Centers, as are our concerns for policies that block fully staffed Vet Centers and could contribute to staff burnout.

We encourage all veterans and family members to contact this committee and their members of Congress with concerns, ideas, or complaints to help all veterans come all the way home.

Membership Affairs Committee


As VVA moves into a new fiscal year, we will be driving our membership to an even higher number. Can we increase the membership numbers to 92,000? Yes, we can.

The committee continues to be available to help you find ways to recruit members. We are a membership organization that helps veterans and their families have better lives, and works for legislation to assure benefits for veterans’ military service. Our members also provide their communities with charity work and volunteer time.

One in every three males 65 years and older is likely to be a Vietnam War veteran, based on 2020 U.S. Census data. That’s a lot of prospective members to keep in mind as the Membership Affairs Committee presents Growth in Membership Awards at the National Leadership & Education Conference in August in Reno. The competition is based on the number of members gained from July 2023 to June 2024 in categories based on chapters’ membership numbers.

We continue to grow with some 600-plus chapters, averaging some 200-plus new members every month. Life membership in VVA is the best membership bargain in any veterans service organization anywhere in the world. Keep recruiting.

If you have any questions or need help with membership matters, please contact me at dick.southern@gmail.com

POW/MIA Committee


As of January 2, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency continues its mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country in the Vietnam War. Currently, the number of servicemembers still unaccounted for stands at 1,577. The breakdown by country is: Vietnam - 1,237; Laos - 285; Cambodia - 48; and the Peoples Republic of China territorial waters - 7.

The DPAA late last year announced that Marine Corps Capt. Ronald W. Forrester, who had been missing in action in the Vietnam War, was accounted for on December 4. A member of Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron 533, Marine Attack Group 12 in the 1st Marine Air Wing, Capt. Forrester was navigating an A-6A Intruder during a nighttime mission over North Vietnam in the winter of 1972, when his aircraft lost communication and did not return. Despite an extensive SAR operation, neither Capt. Forester nor his aircraft were found, and in 1978, his status was changed to KIA.


The Veterans Initiative Program seeks your assistance. Personal items, maps, stories, after-action reports, pictures, and military items retrieved from the battlefields of Vietnam are not merely keepsakes or war trophies. They hold the key to possibly locating the final resting places of missing war dead. Your contributions and dedication to uncovering these stories play a critical role in our ongoing efforts to bring every servicemember home.

As we remember and honor those who have served and sacrificed, let us also commit to the ongoing task of accounting for every missing American. Together, we can ensure their legacies of bravery and sacrifice are never forgotten.

Contact the Veterans Initiative at:
Veterans Initiative Program
Vietnam Veterans of America
8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100
Silver Spring, MS 20910




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