VSOs Urge Senate to Pass Blue Water Navy Legislation

WASHINGTON – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion and Paralyzed Veterans of America today released the following letter to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs urging the Senate to pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, before the 115th Congress convenes:

September 19, 2018

The Honorable Johnny Isakson, Chairman
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States Senate
412 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Jon Tester, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States Senate
825A Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester:

On behalf of the millions of veterans we represent, we urge you to take every action necessary to ensure that a vote is held by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and then the full Senate, on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, as soon as possible before the 115th Congress concludes. This bipartisan legislation was passed by the House earlier this year by a 382 to 0 vote. It is now time for the Senate to follow suit by swiftly passing H.R. 299.

This legislation would reverse an erroneous decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2002 that made thousands of Vietnam veterans – commonly called “Blue Water Navy veterans” – ineligible for health care and benefits connected to illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange. VA’s decision to issue new administrative rules requiring that a veteran, “…must have actually served on land within the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) to qualify for the presumption of exposure to herbicides” (M21-1, Adjudication Procedures Manual, Part III, Paragraph 4.24(e)(1)) was not based on any new scientific evidence or changes in law, and should therefore be reversed.

Despite statements and inferences made in a recent VA letter to the Committee, the National Academy of Medicine –– formerly called the Institute of Medicine (IOM) –– has not concluded that there is any scientific basis to treat Blue Water Navy veterans differently in regards to Agent Orange exposure compared to their peers who served on the land or inland waters in Vietnam. In fact, the most recent IOM report on Agent Orange published in 2016 found that, “…it is generally acknowledged that estuarine waters became contaminated with Herbicides and dioxin as a result of shoreline spraying and runoff from spraying on land, particularly in heavily sprayed areas that experienced frequent flooding.” Further, the 2016 IOM report found that, “…the observed distributions of these most reliable measures of exposure [to TCCD] make it clear that they cannot be used as a standard for partitioning veterans into discrete exposure groups, such as service on Vietnamese soil, service in the Blue Water Navy, and service elsewhere in Southeast Asia.” In other words, looking at the most current observations and findings of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam veterans, the IOM found that there is not a scientific basis to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans based solely on the fact that their service was in the offshore waters.

In addition, a review of the legal history of the definition of “service in Vietnam” supports restoration of eligibility for Blue Water Navy veterans. In 1990, prior to enactment of the “Agent Orange Act of 1991,” a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that Vietnam veterans who served in the waters offshore were 50 percent more likely to develop Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than other veterans. Subsequently, VA promulgated 38 CFR 3.313, which specifically defined “service in Vietnam” to include, “service in the waters offshore”; which remained in effect following enactment of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Later that year, in November 1991, VA issued M21-1, part III, paragraph 4.08(k)(1)-(2). which noted, “In the absence of contradictory evidence, ‘service in Vietnam’ will be conceded if the records shows [sic] that the veteran received the Vietnam Service Medal,” which was awarded to veterans who served in Vietnam, including those on ships in the waters offshore.

Finally, the undersigned veterans organizations do not support imposing fees on service connected disabled veterans to receive VA home loan guaranties for new jumbo loans authorized by the legislation. VA’s existing home loan guaranty program currently exempts all disabled veterans from paying fees in deference to the price they have already paid with their service, and we therefore urge the Committee to strike this provision from H.R. 299 before passing the legislation.

The brave men and women who proudly wear our nation’s uniform are often asked to serve in the roughest and most dangerous environments on Earth. When they are injured or made ill as a result of their service, a grateful nation must provide them with all of the care and benefits they need and deserve. With our aging Blue Water Navy veterans continuing to suffer and die from illnesses that have already been legally and scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure, Congress must finally provide them long-delayed justice by voting to pass H.R. 299 this year.

Day to Change Direction Event Reports Needed

If your Post or District held a special event to help promote the 3rd Annual Day to Change Direction, National HQ would like you to share your event details with their staff using the form found at this link. These reports help the VFW to tell its story and impact not only to the community but to our partners at Give an Hour, Change Direction, the Veterans Administration, Walgreens & Patients Like Me.

Independent Budget Statement: Conf. Agreement on H.R. 5895

The House-Senate Appropriations Committee conference agreement on H.R. 5895 would provide much needed increases for veterans health care and other critical programs
The House-Senate Appropriations Committee conference agreement on H.R. 5895, which contains funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), would provide much needed increases for veterans health care and other critical programs, including new funding to begin implementing key provisions of the VA MISSION Act.

Although the conference agreement does not meet all of The Independent Budget’s recommendations for FY 2019 funding, it does include significant increases for VA’s medical care, community care, construction, research and IT programs, as well as for benefit claims and appeals modernization.
The Conference agreement does not, however, provide sufficient advance appropriations for FY 2020, falling at least $8 billion short of what VA estimated will be needed to fully and faithfully implement the new community care program, expanded caregiver assistance and other capacity enhancements included in the VA MISSION Act.

While Congress and the Administration must reach agreement as soon as possible to address the significant shortfall in VA’s FY 2020 medical care advance appropriations, it is imperative that the House and Senate pass, and the President enact, this conference agreement to ensure that VA has a full year FY 2019 appropriation in place before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1st.

Are Burn Pits the Agent Orange for Youngest Veterans?

It took Vietnam War veterans nearly two decades to receive compensation from exposure to Agent Orange and now, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to burn pits face a similar battle.

Since 1990, the U.S. military has burned thousands of tons of waste at bases used in the Persian Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and other overseas sites. Veterans who were possibly exposed to toxic fumes from these open-air pits want to know if they were adversely affected.

In response, VA created a Burn Pit Registry in 2014 for veterans who believe they are sick from exposure to burn pits. The registry is open to all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, anyone who served in Djibouti after Sept. 11, 2001, those who served in Operation Desert Shield or Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91, and vets who logged duty in Southwest Asia after Aug. 2, 1990. VA says that so far, more than 141,000 veterans have signed up for the registry.

Marine Lance Cpl. Richard Carmichael, of Warfighter Exchange Service Team, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, disposes of trash at a burn pit on March 6, 2013, at Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. VFW supports pending legislation that would direct the Pentagon to regularly assess troops who were based at locations where open burn pits were used and automatically enroll them in VA’s Burn Pit Registry.

VA officials say they are continuing to study the health effects of burn pits, but that could take years. In the meantime, two young VFW members are pursuing a legislative solution. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who served with the Hawaii National Guard in Iraq and is a life member of VFW Post 2875 in Honolulu, and Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), a double amputee wounded while serving in Afghanistan as an Army explosive ordnance disposal specialist and a member of VFW Post 9610 in Lake Park, Fla., introduced H.R. 5671, also known as the Burn Pits Accountability Act.

The VFW supports this legislation and in 2015 approved Res. 619 on toxic exposures that urges Congress “to invest adequate resources to study, diagnose, and treat conditions and illnesses associated with toxic exposures.”

The legislation would require the Department of Defense to conduct periodic health assessments for U.S. troops who were “based or stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used.” The bill also would automatically enroll those troops into VA’s Burn Pit Registry, unless they opt out.

LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS?
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held its first hearing on burn pits June 7. Ken Wiseman, former associate director of VFW’s National Legislative Service in Washington, D.C., testified at the hearing and called on VA to do more to assess the health effects of burn pits. He also urged the Pentagon to assist in identifying the risks on the battlefield.

“Congress must require DoD to share all data related to burn pits,” Wiseman said during the hearing. “Veterans deserve to know what is making them sick.”

Wiseman, currently the commander of VFW’s Department of Virginia, told Congress that VFW supports the creation of a congressionally directed medical research program (CDMRP) specifically for burn pits.

“The CDMRP has shown progress in identifying causes, effective treatments and biomarkers for Gulf War illness,” said Wiseman, a life member of VFW Post 1503 in Dale City, Va. “The VFW is confident a similar program for burn pits will help exposed veterans finally determine whether their exposure to burn pits while deployed is associated with their negative health outcomes.”

He also testified that VA needs to do more to identify and help women who have health problems that might be associated with toxic exposure.

“VA found some preliminary data showcasing that women who have deployed may have higher rates of pregnancy loss and infertility, but the researchers acknowledged that the study did not include enough participants to confidently deem that data as valid,” Wiseman said.
He added that VFW urges VA to improve its research on burn pits and how they relate to reproductive health issues.

“Women deserve to understand how their military service may or may not have long-term effects on their health,” Wiseman said.
Ralph Erickson, VA’s chief consultant for post-deployment health services, testified at the hearing that VA “acknowledges the many sacrifices veterans make in service of our country, and remains committed to outreach and research on potential adverse health effects associated with exposure during deployment to open-air burn pits and airborne hazards.”

GET RECORDS AND GET DIAGNOSED
Ryan Gallucci, director of VFW’s National Veterans Service, advises any veteran who suspects he or she is sick from exposure to burn pits or other toxic exposure to contact the VFW for assistance.

“Veterans should gather any medical records — both military and civilian — that document conditions they believe resulted from exposure to burn pits,” Gallucci said.

“Those are usually respiratory or gastrointestinal conditions, cancer or related body systems, and so on. We also would ask if they have anything that could easily link these diagnoses to their time in the military.”

Gallucci said that VA doesn’t currently acknowledge any presumptive conditions related to burn pits, but added that benefit claims still can be granted on a direct basis if a service connection can be established. Some conditions for troops who served in Southwest Asia already are considered presumptive, such as functional gastrointestinal disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

“The VFW is helping to make sure that this generation isn’t behind, but some of this is going to rest with VA and Congress to expand presumptive conditions,” said Gallucci, who is in the registry as an Iraq War veteran.

“To date, we succeeded in creating the Burn Pit and Airborne Hazards Registry, and we encourage veterans to register to give VA the mechanism to track health care conditions and do the research necessary to identify trends.”
Gallucci added that he and his staff are seeing these trends emerge in the civilian workforce. He cited a recent Department of Labor decision that allows private contractors who worked on open-air burn pits to seek health care for resultant health problems.

“The next step is making sure Congress moves quickly in approving any new presumptive conditions,” Gallucci said.
In the meantime, he added, VFW wants to help service members get into the VA benefits system even before they separate from the military.
“If you’re still on active duty and believe you have a health care condition related to burn pit exposure, get it checked out and get diagnosed,” Gallucci advised. “At that point, we’re filing for your benefits and documenting these conditions as soon as possible.”

Carlos Fuentes, VFW’s director of National Legislative Service, said he saw first-hand the effects of burn pits when he served with the Marine Corps Reserves in Afghanistan in 2009.

“When I went to the doctor and complained about chest pains, she told me ‘Well, you’re too young to have any type of chest complications,’” Fuentes said. “We can’t wait decades like our Vietnam vets waited when it comes to Agent Orange conditions. Congress and VA and DoD must improve research.”

This article is featured in the September 2018 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Stephanie Gaskell, VFW public affairs specialist. Photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz/U.S. Marine Corps.

New Forms for VFW’s Adopt-a-Unit Program

Dear VFW Comrades, Auxiliary Sisters and Brothers,
If at some point in the past your Post was associated with a military unit adoption through the VFW Adopt a Unit Program, please be advised of the following:

In order for adoptions to be considered “Active” VFW National Headquarters requires an annual report from the Post or Auxiliary recording what has been done with the unit in the past 12 months. It is NOT necessary to readopt a unit.

The VFW Programs Department has started a move to online reporting. This will ease reporting for the posts and streamline the process for the VFW National Programs Dept staff. Although the changes are not posted on the VFW.org web site yet, they are available for you to start using.

Please destroy any old copies of reporting forms that you may have.

For reporting your activities please use:
https://VFWPrograms.formstack.com/forms/adopt_a_unit_report

For adopting new units please use:
https://vfwprograms.formstack.com/forms/adopt_a_unit_application

Any questions can be directed to me by email or phone.

Your Comrade,
John Linstra – MAP, Adopt -A-Unit & Community Service
VFW Programs
406 W 34th St,
Kansas City, MO 64111
(816) 756-3390, Ext 6211
(816) 968-2779, fax

Celebrate VFW Day on September 29th

VFW Posts are encouraged to schedule special activities to celebrate many years of VFW service to veterans, military personnel and communities. May 29 is devoted to the organization, which was officially created in 1899,  and its dedicated members who use the VFW mission to improve life for millions of people across the nation every day. So how will your Post celebrated VFW Day?

How about honoring your oldest and newest members at a special dinner or picnic. Hold a drawing among VFW members to win a few life memberships and Legacy Life memberships. Provide an overview of VFW programs to ensure that your Post officers and members know about the many ways your Post serves veterans, our troops and your neighbors. Invite local military personnel and honor them during your program.

Put a banner outside your Post that reads “VFW Celebrates Service Since 1899 – No One Does More for Veterans and Our Troops!”.

However you celebrate, invite the media to your event. Give reporters a chance to interview your members. Send any photos taken during your Post event to [email protected] along with a caption story.

Changes to Subscription Dues to DMV Model

The changes to subscription dues to a “DMV” model now allows anyone who becomes a member or renews membership after July 1, 2018, to postpone expiration until the last day of their 12th month. For example, if a new member joins on July 5, or an existing member renews on July 5, 2018, their dues now expire on July 31, 2019.

The annual membership card (effective July 1, 2018) reflects the month and year dues expire.

Current members that are in good standing as of July 1, 2018, have been extended in OMS through the last day of the month when their dues are scheduled to expire. Regardless of the month they renewed, as long as they were in good standing as July 1, 2018, they now have until the end of the expiration month to renew their dues.

Members that are in good standing but have not renewed for the 2018/19 membership year will see the changes on their digital ID card reflecting the updated month and year when their dues expire. They will have the option to request an updated annual membership card with the change reflecting the expiration month and year.

The purpose of the changes to subscription dues to a “DMV” model was to streamline the process for both the Post and Department Quartermasters to track expiring annual members. No longer will Posts and Departments have to chase annual members’ dues on a daily basis; instead they can see a block of members during a specific month (one, two & three months out), allowing them to formulate a plan to collect dues at one time.

This also makes it easier for the Department/District/Post Sergeant at Arms to quickly see if a member is in good standing prior to a meeting.

HQ Seeking Candidate for Part-TIme Position

Part-time position available at PA VFW State Headquarters in Harrisburg – administrative/VFW program support person needed for three days a week, 7 hours per day, working out of State HQ. Knowledge about the VFW preferred, but not necessary. General computer and office skills required. To inquire call State Adjutant John Getz at (717) 234-7927.