Wednesday, November 27, 2019
During Friday’s Democratic Weekly Address, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) stated that the Trump administration has “turned their backs” on veterans by “blocking benefits for those who suffered from illnesses related to the exposure to Agent Orange.”
“Hi, this is Senator Jon Tester from Montana.
And I want to talk about something really important today, that being our veterans.
Our nation’s veterans have made many sacrifices for the freedoms that we enjoy.
And in return for their service, we have an obligation to ensure that these men and women receive the quality benefits that they have earned.
But the Trump Administration— while claiming to support our veterans, has turned their backs on them, blocking benefits for those who suffered from illnesses related to the exposure to Agent Orange.
Agent Orange is a toxic defoliant that was used during the Vietnam War. And it was used in such great volumes, that if you served in Vietnam, you were exposed to it.
As a result of these exposures, Vietnam-era Veterans are now experiencing diseases and debilitating health conditions.
But the Trump Administration doesn’t see it that way. Instead of doing right by our veterans, they are actively denying these veterans—victims of their service—eligibility for the benefits and care that they desperately need.
The White House is refusing to expand the list of presumptive health conditions that have been scientifically shown to be connected with the use of Agent Orange to include four conditions— Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to think that exposure to these toxic chemicals in Vietnam is a cost of war.
Well, guess what? They’re wrong. It is a cost of war. And it wasn’t until a veteran filed a Freedom of Information Act request that we finally figured out what the hold-up was: the hold-up was the Trump administration. They didn’t want to pay for it.
Not another Agent Orange: VA secretary in KC says vets exposed to toxins may get help BY LISA GUTIERREZ
A new study into whether military toxic exposures cause cancer and other illnesses could make it easier for veterans to get their medical expenses covered, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs secretary said Monday in Kansas City.
“I’m the son of a combat soldier from Vietnam. My father was severely wounded. I saw what happened when America waited to address Agent Orange. I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t want Agent Orange to happen again.”
Earlier this month, a McClatchy investigation found significant increases in veterans treated for urinary, prostate, liver and blood cancers at VA health care centers from fiscal year 2000 to 2018.
Some military families question whether veterans’ exposure to toxic environments in Iraq and Afghanistan is to blame.
The VA’s chief research and development officer, Rachel Ramoni, later announced the study. Veterans and veterans’ advocates have spent years trying to get the VA to recognize a connection between toxic exposures and chronic illnesses suffered later.
For veterans who think they were exposed to toxic substances during their service, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a mobile application that will help them answer questions about what this potential exposure means for their long-term health.
Originally designed for VA providers, Exposure Ed now lets anyone view a list of service-related exposures -- broken down by type, conflict and date or location of service. It also has a map veterans can use to find the closest VA facilities and exposure-related programs.
For example, veterans thinking they came into contact with the Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange can use the "Exposures" button on the home page for immediate access to a list of illnesses related to exposure. Or, veterans can input in the time and location they served to view everything they might have been exposed to.
The last option sorts exposure risks by conflict, ranging from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn.
Through the app, users can find studies into the exposure, learn how to apply for benefits and connect with certain VA programs, like the "Agent Orange Registry Health Exam for Veterans."
Biotech giant Monsanto agreed to plead guilty to illegally using a banned and highly toxic pesticide on research crops at one of its facilities on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Monsanto on Thursday was forced to pay $10 million in fines.
The company admitted in court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu that it sprayed the pesticide known as Penncap-M on corn seed and other crops at its Valley Farm facility in 2014, even though it knew the chemical had been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency the year before.
"The illegal conduct in this case posed a threat to the environment, surrounding communities and Monsanto workers," said Nick Hanna, the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, whose office handled the case. "Federal laws and regulations impose a clear duty on every user of regulated and dangerous chemicals to ensure the products are safely stored, transported and used."
The case against Monsanto was brought as the agriculture giant faced a slew of lawsuits arguing that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer.
Federal prosecutors had initially sought to file felony charges against the company for illegally spraying Penncap-M, a nerve agent. But they reportedly agreed to let the company plead to a lesser misdemeanor offense after Monsanto's lawyers intervened at the highest levels of the Department of Justice.
Should service in Iraq and Afghanistan be a recognized health hazard for vets applying for benefits?
Lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would recognize the health hazards posed by oil well fires, burn pits and other pollution sources in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East — an effort they say would help ill veterans who apply for VA benefits.
The “Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition” bill, S. 2950, would declare that service members who deployed to the Middle East in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and after, to Afghanistan and Djibouti following Sept. 11, 2001, and to Iraq beginning in 2003 were exposed to toxins.
The bill stops short of establishing service connection for specific diseases and does not guarantee disability benefits for ill veterans.
But it would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to concede that veterans were exposed to pollutants if they served in the named locations during the specified time frames, effectively eliminating a need for them to prove that they were in close proximity to a pollution source.
Sponsors Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., say the legislation is needed because currently, VA requires veterans to show evidence of their exposure to support benefits claims and frequently rejects claims on the lack of evidence on exposure.
Friday, November 22, 2019
America's Children and the Environment is EPA's report presenting data on children and environmental health.America's Children and the Environment brings together information from a variety of sources to provide national children's environmental health indicators. This booklet presents a selection of these indicators that were updated in 2019 with newly available data. The full set of America's Children and the Environment indicators is available on the America's Children and the Environment website at:
95% of tested baby foods in the US contain toxic metals, report says
Toxic heavy metals damaging to your baby's brain development are likely in the baby food you are feeding your infant, according to a new investigation published Thursday.
Tests of 168 baby foods from major manufacturers in the US found 95% contained lead, 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium and 32% contained mercury. One fourth of the foods contained all four heavy metals.
One in five baby foods tested had over 10 times the 1-ppb limit of lead endorsed by public health advocates, although experts agree that no level of lead is safe.
The results mimicked a previous study by the Food and Drug Administration that found one or more of the same metals in 33 of 39 types of baby food tested.
For years, veterans and their families have told stories of rare cancers, crippling respiratory illnesses, birth defects and more. Their conditions have confounded doctors and experts. How are these young, previously health troops and veterans falling so grievously ill? Why are they dying so quickly?
For years those families have gone without official answers, though they have their theories. Some say they know unequivocally -- it's toxic exposure.
Now veterans have perhaps their first major signal that the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to pursue the matter further. VA researchers recently announced plans to conduct a major study on environmental exposures during military service and the connection to illnesses in those veterans. VA also plans to look at potential intergenerational effects of military exposures, which may or may not include studying children of exposed veterans.
VA Chief of Research Development Rachel Ramoni said VA scientists have spoken with hundreds of veterans about the toxic exposures they say they've experienced during deployments. Because of those conversations, Ramoni said VA is planning "major investment in toxic exposures."
Veterans of multiple eras have been frustrated by the wait times for VA recognition of and payout of benefits for different exposures, including Agent Orange and Gulf War illness.
Veterans "for good reason have been irritated with us as an organization because we have not done a lot of work, especially clinical work, on military exposures," Ramoni said during a conference in Washington, D.C. last week focused on veteran prostate cancer. "I have apologized to them ... I have committed that, in (Fiscal Year 2021), we are going to make major investments in toxic exposures. We are in the planning phases for that now, but in (Fiscal Year 2021), we will start to roll that out. That's something that will cut across all our research."
The scope of the study could also extend to veterans' children, as VA intends to consider intergenerational effects of exposures, Ramoni said.
READ THE STORY
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) delivered performance improvements made for the fourth quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2019 during a late October live webcast.
“The programs serve 4.9 million Veterans and family members and provided $29 billion in benefits in the last four months of FY 2019,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VBA will build on the year’s successes in the new #BestYearEver campaign to further improve service to Veterans.”
A journalist who has been reporting at the front lines of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests revealed on Facebook that he was diagnosed with chloracne a few days ago—a rare skin eruption of blackheads, cysts and nodules, which has been linked directly to dioxin exposure. Hong Kong’s medical experts believe the dioxin exposure came from the use of tear gas by Hong Kong police.
Another internet user also exposed on social media that many police officers had contracted chloracne as well, but senior police officers forbade them to tell others, for fear that it would scare other policemen.
Yuhong Chan, a journalist working for Hong Kong-based Stand News, said in his Facebook post on Nov. 13 that he has been doing on-site reporting of the protests at least once a week in the past two months. He started to experience skin irritation since October. When he went to see a doctor of Chinese medicine a few days ago, he was confirmed to have contracted chloracne.
Monday, November 18, 2019
The US’ use of chemical warfare is far more insidious than what it executed conventionally militarily in Vietnam. Unlike napalm, which immediately scalded its victims, Agent Orange killed and maimed its victims slowly over time, its effects passed down through generations, wreaking untold horrors on a mostly civilian populace.
In the end, the military campaign was called Operation Ranch Hand, but it originally went by a more appropriately hellish appellation: Operation Hades. As part of this Vietnam War effort, from 1961 to 1971, the United States sprayed over 73 million liters of chemical agents on the country to strip away the vegetation that provided cover for Vietcong troops in “enemy territory.”
Using a variety of defoliants, the U.S. military also intentionally targeted cultivated land, destroying crops and disrupting rice production and distribution by the largely communist National Liberation Front, a party devoted to reunification of North and South Vietnam.
Some 45 million liters of the poisoned spray was Agent Orange, which contains the toxic compound dioxin. It has unleashed in Vietnam a slow-onset disaster whose devastating economic, health and ecological impacts that are still being felt today.
This is one of the greatest legacies of the country’s 20-year war, but is yet to be honestly confronted. Even Ken Burns and Lynn Novick seem to gloss over this contentious issue, both in their supposedly exhaustive “Vietnam War” documentary series and in subsequent interviews about the horrors of Vietnam.
A key House of Representatives subcommittee will probe Wednesday whether thousands of Vietnam War sailors who say they were exposed to Agent Orange can qualify for federal benefits — as the list of congressional supporters continues to grow significantly.
McClatchy detailed last month how veterans’ advocates have been frustrated for years in their bid for help. The Department of Veterans Affairs , saying there’s not enough evidence to prove widespread Agent Orange exposure for Navy veterans who served on large ships like aircraft carriers in the South China Sea.
The proposed legislation, which now is co-sponsored by 252 of the House’s 435 members, would grant disability-benefits coverage for potentially tens of thousands of sailors who have certain cancers and diseases associated with exposure to the chemical dioxin, a dangerous ingredient used in the Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War.
The bill, defeated in years past in Congress because of the estimated $1 billion cost over 10 years, is at a crucial political juncture, with a new president and VA secretary and President Donald Trump’s push to spend more federal money at the VA.
Vietnam Veterans of America urges vets to file claims if they were impacted by Agent Orange exposure
ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — There is a push for Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange to speak up now about their health concerns.
Vietnam Veteran’s of America Bureau Chief Marc McCabe visited Okeechobee Thursday to encourage veterans to file claims if they feel they were made sick because of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
McCabe explained they try to visit rural areas where aging veterans might not have the same access to resources to help them.
McCabe says time is of the essence for veterans to file claims now, as a new group of veterans will soon be eligible for reimbursement.
Currently, McCabe said Vietnam Veterans who served in "brown water" in Vietnam, which is the inland waters, could be considered for presumed Agent Orange exposure.
In January 2020, veterans who served in ships as far as 12 miles offshore will also qualify.
As a Pentagon task force works to come up with a plan to address cancer-linked chemicals in ground water on its bases, a group of civilian researchers is exploring a high-tech solution.
The Enhanced Contact Plasma Reactor made its debut in September at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, according to a Tuesday release from the Air Force, in a field demonstration of its ability to break down per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance.
“We are trying to destroy or degrade PFAS impacted groundwater using electrical discharge plasma,” principal investigator Selma Mededovic, of Clarkson University, said in the release.
The idea is that argon gas from the reactor concentrates perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOS and PFOA, generating plasma at the surface. The plasma then breaks down the PFAS molecules.
"This is the only technology that actually destroys PFAS molecules that has been demonstrated at this scale, it doesn’t just remove them from water,” co-principal investigator Tom Holsen said in the release. “All of the other demonstrations that we’re aware of remove it from the water through filtration so there is still a PFAS-containing waste. Our method actually destroys PFAS.”
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Dow Chemical Co. has agreed to an estimated $77 million settlement for environmental restoration projects in mid-Michigan to compensate for wildlife destruction caused by the Midland-based chemical manufacturer.
The settlement, announced Friday and subject to public comment and approval, would "compensate the public for injuries to natural resources," according to a news release from the United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of Michigan.
Dow, which merged with Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co. in 2017, has agreed on settlement terms with the state of Michigan and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.
Federal, state and tribal agencies filed complaints alleging that Dow released dioxin-related compounds and other substances that "adversely affected fish, invertebrates, birds and mammals," and led to restrictions on hunting, fishing and use of public parks, the release said.
The Dow plant released dioxins and other hazardous substances into rivers and their watersheds for decades after opening in 1897.
As part of the reparations, the company agreed to pay for and implement eight natural resource restoration projects throughout Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties.
Twelve "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam veterans have died since the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a stay on processing their Agent Orange disability claims.
On Friday, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a veterans nonprofit group, Military Veterans Advocacy Inc. (MVA), asking that the delay on processing those claims ends. The delay affects more than 400,000 veterans or surviving family members who could be eligible for benefits, according to VA.
"I think we won a strategic victory," MVA Executive Director John Wells told Connecting Vets after the hearing.
Wells feels confident that, at the very least, VA will not be able to extend the stay past the original date of Jan. 1. However, there's a possibility that a decision comes back from the court ending the stay even earlier.
"We'll have to wait until the decision comes out, but I think if nothing else we've prevented the secretary from going past January 1st," Wells said. "From our point of view that would be the worst possible outcome. It might be better but we think that would be the minimum that we would get."
Wells and MVA are optimistic — and sensed that the courts were frustrated with VA much like the veterans are.
"We felt the court had pretty much lost patience with the VA," Wells said. "We also felt they were very concerned because Mr. Procopio had been granted his benefits by that same court back in January and still hadn't received his benefits. The judges did not seem very happy about that."
CA MAU, Vietnam--A 78-year-old Japanese photojournalist who documented the vast and ongoing suffering caused by the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War returned to the jungle here where his life's work began.
What Goro Nakamura saw, now one of the world's largest mangrove wetlands, bore little resemblance to how the area looked 43 years ago, when it was devastated by chemicals sprayed by the U.S. military to remove cover for the opposing side.
The trip to southern Vietnam in October only reinforced his commitment to continue calling for accountability and capturing the scars and aftereffects on younger generations of the years-long operation.
NOT EVEN A BIRD CHIRPING
Nakamura started covering the Vietnam War in 1970. The conflict ended in 1975, and reunification of the country divided for nearly two decades was formally completed in 1976.
That year, he arrived at Ca Mau, the country's southernmost region, having heard about forests dying there and wanting to see it for himself.
It is believed that the U.S. military sprayed more than 70 million liters of Agent Orange between 1961 and 1971 as part of a sweep operation to uncover Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces hiding in the jungle. Ca Mau was one of the targets of the operation.
Nakamura traveled by boat in the waterways of the Cape Ca Mau jungle. What he discovered took his breath away, something he had only heard about until then and was now in front of him.
It was dead silent, with not so much as a bird chirping, he recalled. Nothing but a field of thousands of mangrove trees destroyed by the chemical attacks.
Thursday, November 7, 2019
We update our meetings regularly on the Town Hall Meeting Calendar:
November 14, 2019
Contact: Dan Hunt
March 21, 2020
Contact: Steve Carr
April 25, 2020
Barrington, Rhode Island
Contact: Fran Guevremont
Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Veterans Day—a moment for us to recognize the sacrifices made by all those who have served our country. It is an especially powerful moment for the 18 million veterans still alive today, as they look back on their service and its profound impact on their lives, and those closest to them.
Unfortunately, many of our surviving veterans struggle to live their lives to the fullest because of war’s harsh consequences—if they even live at all. Because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other residual repercussions, the veteran suicide rate is significantly higher than that of the general population. According to the most recent data, more than 6,000 veterans commit suicide on an annual basis. This comes out to an average of 17 veteran deaths by suicide per day.
But, however terrible, even that’s not the end of the story. A veteran’s daily life is littered with countless obstacles, which are often ignored by the mainstream media yet continue to wreak havoc on entire communities.
Perhaps the most significant one is toxic chemical exposure. Any U.S. veteran who fought in the Vietnam War, which amounts to nearly three million service members, is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. This includes the roughly 850,000 living Vietnam veterans who are forced to cope with the ramifications of Agent Orange in their daily lives.
Agent Orange is a herbicide linked to a wide range of debilitating conditions, such as multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and others. The U.S. military used the toxic chemical from 1962 and 1975, spraying millions of gallons over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
However, Agent Orange’s lethal legacy extends far beyond Southeast Asia. In Guam, where one in eight adults served in the Armed Forces, our military’s use of the herbicide has affected thousands of veterans stationed on the Pacific Island. They, and the thousands more who served on the island and now live elsewhere, are dealing with the consequences of Agent Orange on a daily basis. That’s right: It is a daily struggle.
The VA home loan has helped nearly 25 million service members become homeowners. Between no down payment and no mortgage insurance, it’s no wonder this mortgage option remains an attractive one for military borrowers and their families. However, with several changes on tap for the new year, will the program continue to be a popular choice for eligible buyers?
Here are four things you must know about the VA loan program increases coming in 2020.
No more loan limits
Starting Jan. 1, borrowers can say goodbye to VA home loan limits. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 allows home buyers to borrow more than the current loan limit of $484,3509 in most U.S. counties. This change is expected to be a game-changer for military borrowers who are wanting to stay competitive with conventional buyers in higher-priced markets such as Denver and Seattle.
The combination of no loan limits and no down payment will certainly help a number of service members attain their homeownership goals in 2020. That said, veterans shouldn’t confuse the loan limit removal for unlimited borrowing power. You’ll still need to meet the program’s eligibility requirements and have sufficient income.
Higher funding fees
If you’ve taken advantage of your VA benefits before, you know to account for the funding fee at closing. For borrowers who don’t know, the funding fee varies based on your service history, loan amount, and other factors. It plays a major role in the VA program and ensures future service members can also become homeowners.
The funding fee for first-use borrowers will increase from 2.15% in 2019 to 2.30% in 2020. Those using the VA loan a subsequent time will see funding fees rise from 3.3% to 3.6%. It’s worth mentioning the increase is supposed to help offset health care costs for veterans who are dealing with the effects of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.
110,000 Carrier Sailors 'Left Behind'
There has lately been a lot of press coverage for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who did not step foot on the solid ground of Mainland Vietnam or any of its many surrounding islands. This matter concerns their VA Benefit eligibility for presumptive exposure to herbicides (Agent Orange) in Vietnam while serving aboard ships offshore in a variety of direct combat and combat support roles. They recently won a landmark court ruling and have had legislation (that had been kicked around the Legislature since 2007) finally passed and signed into law by the President. They now face an unreasonable and possibly illegal delay of their Benefit awards imposed by the VA.
Anyone reading through the current information would think that all the Blue Water Navy sailors who served in the Theater of Combat offshore Vietnam have received their long-awaited Benefits. But that would be incorrect and no one is providing detailed information about which veterans are eligible for these Benefits and which are not. And many are still unaware that there was ever a question concerning their Benefits at all. The sailors who have recently won their presumption of exposure to Agent Orange are only those who served within a narrow band of water called the Territorial Seas of Vietnam, and then only when south of the 17th parallel. The fact is, this new law excludes many sailors who served on aircraft carriers. That might well be a significant number of Blue Water Navy sailors who served in the Vietnam Theater of Combat who should be eligible for these Benefits.
We know that those who are exposed to trauma are at an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do we know about OEF/OIF and PTSD?
OEF/OIF is an acronym that refers to the U.S.-led conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Specifically, OEF means "Operation Enduring Freedom" (the war in Afghanistan), while OIF stands for "Operation Iraqi Freedom," or the Iraq War.
Veterans from the OEF/OIF conflicts have been found to have high rates of PTSD. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that some 10 percent to 18 percent of OEF/OIF veterans have or had post-traumatic stress disorder and may be at risk for other mental health problems.
PTSD was more likely to be diagnosed in service members several months after they returned from the two conflicts, rather than right away. Here's some information on the conflicts and how PTSD has affected those who participated.
Monday, November 4, 2019
SMITHFIELD, R.I. — From his small home office, former Lt. Col. Ted Blickwedel is conducting a self-appointed mission: to call attention to what he claims is a serious problem inside a little-known Department of Veterans Affairs program that provides free mental health care to combat veterans.
From 2009 until retiring last year, Blickwedel, a former Marine Corps logistics officer, worked as a counselor and therapist at a VA facility in Rhode Island called a "Vet Center."
That facility is one of 300 that VA operates across the U.S. through its "Vet Centers" program. The program includes 80 mobile Vet Centers, 20 vet venter "outstations" and almost 1,000 community access points.
The program began after the Vietnam War as the Readjustment Counseling Service. Its purpose was and is to help combat veterans "readjust" to civilian life at home after returning from deployments.
The centers provide cognitive behavioral "talk therapy" and organize social activities and events designed to get vets out of the house and connected with other vets. All services are free.
Blickwedel, himself a combat veteran, said he got a master's in social work so he could help veterans as a therapist. He told NBC News he found working at a Vet Center to be a "wonderful" experience.
"We witnessed huge changes in veterans. Some of them, their lives completely did a 180," Blickwedel said. "I've personally had veterans tell me that I've saved their lives. That I made a difference for them."