VFW Urges Blue Water Veterans to Contact a Service Officer

‘This class of veterans was unjustly and arbitrarily excluded from compensation benefits for nearly 20 years.

With the legislative and judicial battles seemingly over for the Vietnam War’s so-called “blue water” Navy veterans, the process for them to receive VA compensation is just beginning.

National Veterans Service Director Ryan Gallucci said that contacting a VFW Service Officer should be a common course of action for all blue water veterans affected by Agent Orange exposure. This would include those who have never filed a claim, as well as those who have filed that were granted compensation and stripped of their benefits.

“This class of veterans was unjustly and arbitrarily excluded from compensation benefits for nearly 20 years,” VFW National Veterans Service Deputy Director Michael Figlioli said. “We are pleased to see Congress and VA make them whole. VFW looks forward to assisting every one of them who seek our help, which is always free of charge and has no VFW membership requirement attached.” 

In June, President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law (P.L. 116-23). It restores VA benefits to Vietnam War blue water sailors (those who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam) who had their disability eligibility arbitrarily taken away by VA in 2002. Those veterans also could be eligible for retroactive benefits.

The law, which goes into effect in January 2020, requires VA to contact veterans who filed a disability claim that originally was denied.

“The VA told us that they are being proactive in reaching out to the veterans who were given benefits then stripped in 2002,” Gallucci said. “However, people will slip through the cracks. VA may not have identified everybody, so it’s important for veterans who believe that they are covered by the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act or the Procopio decision to reach out to a VFW service officer.”

Also in June, the Department of Justice decided not to contest a federal case ruling that paved the way for VA to restore the availability of disability benefits to blue water Navy veterans. In the case of Procopio v. Wilkie, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., ruled that Alfred Procopio Jr., a Life member of VFW Post 6587 in Spring Lake Park, Minn., is eligible for VA disability benefits. The Vietnam War Navy veteran claims his diabetes and prostate cancer diagnosis is linked to Agent Orange exposure off the Vietnamese coast while serving aboard the USS Intrepid in 1964-67. 

The court’s decision also means that VA can no longer deny disability benefits to eligible blue water Navy veterans. To qualify for Agent Orange-related benefits, a veteran must have one or more of the conditions VA presumes to have been caused by exposure.

The 14 presumptive diseases on the list are:

  • Chronic B-cell Leukemia
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancers 
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas
  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Chloracne
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Early onset Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

For help with a disability claim, find a VFW service officer at vfw.org/NVS.

Post Support Needed for PA HB 1048

Media VFW Post 3460 Officers recently met with District 168 State Representative Chris Quinn on September 10 urging him and other State lawmakers to vote HB 1048 out of committee and to the full House of Representatives for a vote. HB 1048 will give veterans organizations and fire companies an exemption from paying the annual PA Liquor License Surtax of $700. The bill has been approved by the State Liquor Committee, but was then assigned to the House Appropriations Committee since the proposed legislation, if passed, will have an impact on the Commonwealth’s finances.

All posts are encouraged to contact their State lawmakers, on both the PA House and PA Senate, asking them for their timely support of HB 1048. If the bill is passed by both chambers of the State Legislature, and signed by the governor, VFW posts will not have to pay the license surtax and can then use the $700 to support the VFW mission.

Posts can receive a sample letter requesting legislative support for HB 1048 by emailing [email protected] and putting “HB 1048” in the subject line. Time is of the essence since the number of legislative work days in the current session are winding down.

Shown are (from left) Adjutant Joe Casey, Commander Jake Knapp, Trustee Mike Nozilo, Rep. Chris Quinn, O.D. Ed Modestowicz, Quartermaster Bob Hughes and Jr. Vice Cmdr Ken Delmar.

Past National, Past State Cmdr. “Big John” Biedrzycki Passes Away

From: National and State Headquarters
Subject: Commander-in-Chief John Biedrzycki

It is with sadness that we inform you that Past Commander-in-Chief John A. Biedrzycki, Jr. passed away Thursday, August 29, 2019, at the age of 73.

Funeral service details are:
Schepner-McDermott Funeral Home, Inc.165 Noble AvePittsburgh, PA 15205Tel: 1-412-921-3661 [email protected]
Viewing times are Monday and Tuesday, September 2nd and 3rd, 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Interment Wednesday September 4th – Service at funeral home and interment at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies Full Military Honors.

John A. Biedrzycki was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on July 22, 2015, at the VFW’s 116th National Convention, held in Pittsburgh, Pa. He had also served in many leadership positions at all levels including as an All-American State Commander.

When he was elected as the VFW’s top officer in 2015, he became the first Pennsylvania VFW member to hold that office since 1971. He was only the 10th VFW member from the Commonwealth to serve as National VFW commander-in-chief.

Mr. Biedrzycki served in the U. S. Army from 1967 to 1970. He served in Korea as a Pay Distribution Specialist with the 7th Infantry Division. His decorations include the National Defense Service Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Korean Defense Medal.

A VFW Gold Legacy member, Mr. Biedrzycki joined the VFW in 1969 at Post 418 in McKees Rocks, Pa., where he was a Legacy Life member. He served in elected and appointed positions at the Post, County, District and Department (state) levels culminating with his election as Department Commander 2002-2003 in which he achieved All American status.

On the national level, he has served on many committees, including Chairman of the National VFW Programs Committee, Chairman of the National Youth, Education and Community Service Committee and Vice Chairman of the National Legislative Committee.

He was named as “Pennsylvania VFW Young Veteran of the Year” and “National Young Veteran of the Year”. He received a Presidential Proclamation from President Jimmy Carter for “Outstanding Community Achievement of Vietnam Era Veterans”.

His leadership helped create the PA VFW’s Voice of Democracy Contest, a student scholarship program that later chosen him as VOD Teacher of the Year. He served as VOD chairman for five years and as a member of the National VFW VOD Committee. Comrade Biedrzycki’s VFW committee service also included national work group assignments focusing on military affairs, legislative, finance, internal affairs, national security and foreign affairs issues.

Big John also served as chairman of the VFW’s Eastern States Conference.

Comrade Biedrzycki was a retired educator. He was employed by the City of Pittsburgh Board of Education as Chairman of the Social Studies Department and Facilitator of the Langley Teaching Academy. He earned a Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude) and Masters of Education Degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He was the recipient of a Hays Fulbright Scholarship for study in West Africa.

Comrade Biedrzycki was honored for his teaching excellence as an All-Star Educator by the Giant Eagle Foundation and the Vira Heinz Endowment. He was selected as an “Outstanding Educator” by the Teaching Academy of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. As the former Baseball coach of the Langley Mustangs, he guided the team to back-to-back City of Pittsburgh Championships.

Comrade Biedrzycki was been married to his wife Bette Jean (Past State President of the PA Ladies Auxiliary) for nearly 50 years. They have a son, John III, an attorney practicing law in Western Pennsylvania and two grandchildren.

Cards may be sent to:
Bette Jean Biedrzycki
625 Magnus Lane
Coraopolis, PA 15108

VFW Celebrates Centennial of Service

For 100 years, the VFW has advocated on Capitol Hill and ensured veterans receive their earned entitlements

For 120 years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has been known for its service to veterans. For the past 100 of those years, the oldest overseas war veterans organization has had an office in Washington, D.C., devoted to just that — service.

VFW NVS Celebrates a Centennial of Service
Director of National Veterans Service (NVS) Ryan Gallucci (left) meets in April 2018 at VFW’s Washington Office on Capitol Hill with Michael Figlioli and Dawn Jirak, his deputy directors. Jirak said that VFW is the “organization of choice” for vets seeking claims help.

Under Commander-in-Chief F. Warner Karling at VFW’s 1919 encampment (forerunner to today’s National Convention) in Providence, R.I., the National Service Bureau (NSB) was formed. It all began as a committee investigating how veterans looking for jobs were being helped by a federal vocational training program.

NSB had two functions: handling claims submitted to the government’s Veterans Bureau and promoting veteran-friendly bills before Congress.

The NSB evolved into today’s National Veterans Service with a network of more than 2,000 accredited service officers. The NSB’s legislative branch is VFW’s National Legislative Service, which has been instrumental in every major veterans legislation passed since the beginning of the 20th century.

VFW service officers are trained experts helping veterans develop their cases by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, VFW service officers assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, as well as employment and training programs.

“Filing for VA benefits is a complex process that’s often the confluence of health care and law. This is where VFW’s highly trained service officers offer their knowledge and experience to support veterans,” said NVS Director Ryan Gallucci. “While much has changed in the past 100 years, our mission has remained the same — to fight for veterans’ benefits.”

The Claims Process Begins
Under the direction of a disabled WWI vet and VFW member, Edward Hale, the NSB worked to respond to thousands of veterans’ valid complaints. 

In addition to Hale, the committee had Sr. Vice Commander-in-Chief Jack Singer and John McGrane of Providence, R.I., all of whom were lawyers.

The NSB endeavored to help veterans by presenting claims before the appropriate government agencies.

The Bureau of Pensions and the War Risk Insurance Bureau — both under the Department of the Treasury — as well as the Bureau of Vocational Training and Rehabilitation were those agencies. 

The committee tasked the Welfare Committees at VFW Posts with being the middlemen between the aggrieved vet and the NSB. The Post was to get specific information from the veteran and then mail it to the NSB in Washington, D.C.

The cover article of the October 1919 Foreign Service magazine (forerunner to VFW magazine) explained the process and pitfalls to avoid:

“To insure promptness and justice in these cases, the Welfare Committee should send none but well-founded grievances to the Special Committee, otherwise much time will be wasted in pushing merely trivial, not susceptible of proof or just plain ‘grouch’ complaints. These will simply gum up the machinery and do much harm to well-founded complaints.”

In 1921, Hale resigned due to a disabling accident, and VFW Commander-in-Chief Robert G. Woodside (1920-22) named Robert B. Handy Jr. as director of the NSB. 

Handy’s dedication to the cause was so great that he once took out a personal loan for $3,000 to help pay VFW bills during lean times.

According to the 1947-published The Story of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, by Katherine Goldsmith, veterans frequently sought the assistance of VFW.

During a five-month period (March through August 1921), 1,225 claims were received, 616 settled and several hundred were pending while further information was obtained. Of the 616 settlements, about 300 received total disability ratings and 275 were miscellaneous claims. Only seven of that total were granted no increase in rating.

“The claims are increasing steadily, and I firmly believe it is the duty of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to do all in their power to assist those comrades who are genuinely in need of assistance,” Handy wrote in the June 1921 Foreign Service magazine. “It takes time and there is a wealth of tedious detail to be overcome, but the best way to do it is to attack the job with a grin and with the same spirit the men who are now in need of aid showed in France.” 

In May 1921, the legislative arm to the NSB broke off and the National Legislative Committee was born. WWI vet Edwin S. Bettelheim Jr., of Washington, D.C., was named the committee’s first chairman.

Rehabilitation Service was the name of the department charged with handling veterans’ claims work. It was headed by James Sheehan.

A Navy liaison officer was added in 1927 to work on services for members and former members of the Navy and Marine Corps. Claims work during this time involved the actual review of veterans’ records, whereas before someone at the Veterans Bureau reviewed claims.

Sheehan resigned in 1933. Joe Chittenden, state service officer for Florida, was named new director of Rehabilitation Service until his death in 1943. 

Under the leadership of VFW Commander-in-Chief Carl Schoeninger (1943-44), the Rehabilitation Service grew. Sect. 535 of VFW’s National Bylaws established a National Welfare and Service Committee. 

In 1944, for the first time in VFW history, there was a full-time paid service officer in each state, as well as the territories of Alaska and Hawaii. To keep all of those individuals on the same page, a training program was introduced.

Training is ‘Intense, Hands-on Experience’
VFW service officer training dates back to 1943, when training schools were established across the country. Fred Beard, former Department of Michigan adjutant, was in charge of the school in Dearborn, Mich. The first course saw 25 veterans receiving instruction on VA procedures, laws, public speaking and familiarity with the VFW Constitution and Bylaws. 

Later, a joint training program with the Disabled American Veterans took place at American University in Washington, D.C.

In 1946, George Ijams became the new director and set up a training school for VFW Department service officers. In the on-the-job training, trainees learned as they worked at regional VA offices.

Most participants trained were college educated or had experience in legal or social service fields.

Ijams also established a “Service Officer’s Maxim,” still being used today. It stated: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

More than 40 years later, an official national training program for VFW Department service officers was established under NVS Director Frederico Juarbe Jr.

“The training program is divided into four distinct phases,” Juarbe wrote in an April 1985 VFW magazine column. “Although the format for each differs, the objective is identical: to enhance technical aptitude to serve more effectively the needs of veterans, their dependents and survivors.”

Today, VFW offers four training courses per year. Some are basic, while others are for those with more than five years in the industry. According to Lauren Barefoot, NVS manager of training and quality assurance, conducting training helps reach a greater pool of people.

“We do everything we can to help others know how to protect veterans’ benefits,” Barefoot said. “Our training is an intense, hands-on experience.”

Most recently, training was held in May at Valley Forge, Pa.

During the event, NVS officially rolled out its new online training with developer PsychArmor Inc.

It allows VFW accredited service officers access to training resources from anywhere, while providing an outlet for service officers to connect with each other through discussion boards.

“It’s a game-changer for VFW-accredited service officers who work for states and counties who many times do not have the opportunity to participate in or classroom training.”

VFW also offers videos referred to as “Hip Pocket” training courses. Videos can be found on YouTube (search for VFW Hip Pocket Training) and on the organization’s Facebook page.

VFW is ‘Organization of Choice’
Veterans preparing to discharge from the military also benefit from VFW service officer expertise.

Established in 2001, VFW’s Pre-Discharge Claims Program (originally known as Benefits Delivery at Discharge, or BDD), is located on 24 military installations. Pre-discharge representatives ensure separating and retiring active-duty personnel receive assistance in obtaining their VA entitlements and benefits upon discharge.

Gallucci said VFW reps help guide military personnel through the claims process. They also are ready to answer questions about education and medical benefits, as well as VA home loans.

He added that it would be ideal to have a VFW office on every installation requiring pre-discharge services.

“Our Pre-Discharge claims program sets up service members for success after they leave the military, and I would love to provide services at as many locations as we can reach,” said Gallucci.

“We’re already in these discussions, so hopefully we’ll see more military sites come online in the coming years.” NVS Deputy Director Dawn Jirak said it’s been her experience that VFW is the “organization of choice” for military officers getting ready to discharge from the military.

“It really speaks to the quality of service our claims representatives give,” she said. “The training program we have developed over the years has exponentially increased the impact of our worldwide cadre of service officers.” 

Looking Forward to Next 100 Years
During the director’s reception at the May training at Valley Forge, a celebration took place. People donned period clothing, and an anniversary cake was cut commemorating NVS’s 100th anniversary. 

Past NVS directors Juarbe, Bill Bradshaw and Jerry Manar were on hand for the celebration.

Gallucci and NLS Director Carlos Fuentes both said they are excited to see what the future holds for VFW, especially within their respective departments in the nation’s capital.

“We are proud that for more than 100 years, NLS has influenced every piece of veteran-related legislation,” Fuentes said. “We continue our fight each day on Capitol Hill to make sure the voices of our veterans are heard loud and clear.” 

Fuentes noted one of the more prominent issues of late is the fight for “blue water” sailors of the Vietnam War who were exposed to Agent Orange. 

As NVS enters its second century of service, Gallucci said that his staff is passionate about the work they do for veterans. 

Deputy Director of NVS Veterans Benefits Policy Michael Figlioli agrees. 

“To be part of this dynamic and energetic team as we celebrate a century of service is certainly a success,” he said. “Reaching a critical number of service members and veterans to educate them on benefits and services available from VA and that of our great organization can be life-changing.”

Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final piece in a series of feature articles on VFW’s accredited veteran service officers. In 2019, VFW is commemorating the 100th anniversary of its National Veteran Service and National Legislative Service offices in Washington, D.C.

This article is featured in the 2019 August issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Janie Dyhouse, senior editor for VFW magazine.

Blue Water Navy Act Now Law! VFW-championed legislation will benefit many thousands of veterans and dependent children

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2019) – The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is saluting the president for signing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law last night.

“Tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War and dependent children born with spina bifida due to a parent’s toxic exposure will now benefit from this new law,” exclaimed VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence, “and the VFW is proud to have helped lead the charge to return these benefits to these deserving veterans and to expand existing benefits to dependent children. We look forward to the Department of Veterans Affairs publishing implementation guidance on their website very soon.”

The VFW-championed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, or H.R. 299, restores VA benefits to thousands of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who had their disability eligibility taken away in 2002 after arbitrary regulatory changes. It benefits veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving along the Korean DMZ with an earlier start date to encompass the timeframe when various defoliants were tested — to Sept. 1, 1967, instead of April 1, 1968 — and expands benefits to children born with spina bifida due to a parent’s exposure in Thailand, coverage that already exists for the children of Vietnam and Korean DMZ veterans.

The new law also requires the VA to report on research being conducted on a broad range of conditions possibly related to service in Southwest Asia, which is important for future legislative efforts to create a list of presumptive conditions for veterans seeking VA health care and benefits.
“The VFW is proud of the 116th Congress for ending this benefits inequity, and we salute President Trump for quickly signing H.R. 299 into law,” said Lawrence.