Monday, December 30, 2019
Did you serve in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975? If so, then you’re considered a Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veteran.
On Jan. 1, 2020, the Blue Water Navy Act of 2019 goes into effect. This Act was signed into law on Jun. 25, and extends the presumption of herbicide exposure, such as Agent Orange, to BWN Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles from the shore of Vietnam and have since developed one of 14 conditions related to exposure. Some of these conditions include Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, many forms of cancer and others.You may now be eligible for disability compensation and other benefits. In addition, if you’re a Veteran who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Sept. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971, you may also qualify for compensation and benefits for yourself and your family members.
How do I know if I’m eligible?
The best way to find out if you’re eligible is to work with an accredited claims representative or Veterans Affairs (VA) regional office to understand eligibility requirements before filing a claim. You don’t need to prove contact with herbicides to be eligible.
How do I file a claim for compensation benefits?
You can file an initial claim (that has not been previously decided by VA), by submitting Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. CLICK HERE to initiate your new claim.
You can also contact an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to assist you with your application. To access a list of VA-approved VSOs, CLICK HERE. You may also contact your state’s Veterans agency should you need additional assistance with the application process.
What if I’ve previously filed a claim that was denied?
VA will be using the new law to automatically review claims that are currently with the VA review process or under appeal. However, if you had an herbicide exposure claim with one or more presumptive conditions denied in the past, you are urged to file a new claim.
When you begin the claims process, be sure to provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding your claim, such as the dates the vessel you were serving on traveled through the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam or updated medical information.
Friday, December 27, 2019
by David Miller
The Department of Veterans Affairs begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020. This extends the presumption of herbicide exposure, that includes toxins such as Agent Orange, for veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The law also applies to veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971.These veterans can apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans no longer need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides.
Survivors of veterans can file claims for benefits, based on the veteran’s service, if the veteran died from at least one of the presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida, if their parent is or was a veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program. The law creates more access for veterans to obtain no-down-payment home loans, regardless of the loan amount.
Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office.
BWN veterans who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA, may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, the VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.
COLA Increase Announced for 2020
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced a 1.6 percent increase in the Cost of Living Adjustment for the calendar year 2020. This directly affects military and federal civilian retirees, survivor benefit annuitants, disabled veterans and Social Security recipients. The new COLA rate is effective Dec. 1, 2019 and the adjustment will appear in the Dec. 30, 2019 payment.
David Miller is a resident of Lexington Township, Maine He is retired Navy.
In Long Island last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is about to launch a major study on ‘toxins.’ But what Schumer pointed out is that Long Island’s own Northport VA already did a 2017 study on a rare, cancer-causing parasitic toxin,liver-fluke that is—more or less—sitting on a shelf, and that cannot simply stay there without the larger VA seeing what might be of use.
“In the Spring of 2017, our local VA in Northport conducted a study on a rare, toxic cancer-causing parasite—and environmental exposures—known as liver fluke,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Now, it was just a pilot study, but Northport examined nearly 100 veterans who may add value to the larger medical questions so many have related to bile duct cancer and Vietnam vets. We have samples, antigen markers, and more; there’s good stuff here from this smaller study, but it is largely sitting on a shelf, and we are here today to say: use what’s useful.”
Schumer says there must, and should, be some use for even aspects of the Northport data as part of the VA’s newly-announced large-scale research effort on toxins and environmental exposures, and he is urging the agency to act. The Senator demanded that as part of this new study, the VA incorporate Long Island’s data, or some of the information from its participants, in hopes to speed the new effort and give local vets the answers –and the care—they deserve. Schumer made the case that the VA should not advance another big study on toxic or environmental exposures without considering the incorporation of Long Island veterans’ data on Liver-Fluke, and the rare cancer that this exposure might deliver.
The final test results are in for Agent Orange soil samples taken in November 2018, and one sample does show traces of 2,4,5-T, a herbicide component of Agent Orange, as well as 2,4,5-TP, also known as silvex.
The findings are stated in a report by Weston Solutions Inc. provided to the Guam Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 17, said agency spokesman Nic Lee. The tests were started at the request of the government of Guam and Joint Region Marianas.
The Guam and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies collected samples from five subsites in off-base areas that were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, officials stated.
"An area off of NCS road, along Route 3 and in the vicinity of Potts Junction and a pipe line tie-in located in Tiyan were among the first areas to be sampled. USEPA’s on-scene coordinator, Harry L. Allen, and USEPA Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team contractors from Weston Solutions Inc. performed the sampling," the release stated.
Friday, December 20, 2019
Larry Heinemann, who said he grew up in a home without books but produced searing works of literature about the Vietnam War, died Wednesday at 75.
“The war,” he once said, “has been like a nail in my head, like a corpse in my house.”
The Chicago native had been living in Bryan, Texas, near College Station, where he’d been a writer-in-residence at Texas A&M University from 2005 until retiring in 2015, according to relatives. He had cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and died at CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan.
The Army veteran’s novel “Paco’s Story” won the National Book Award for fiction in 1987, surprising the literati by besting a field that included Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and Philip Roth’s “The Counterlife.”
He was shipped in March 1967 to Vietnam, where he survived what he called “the longest night of my life.” His battalion and future Hollywood director Oliver Stone’s were engaged in the same battle with North Vietnamese soldiers.
“We killed 500 guys in one night, and trust me, it took all night,” Mr. Heinemann wrote of that battle in his 2005 nonfiction book “Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam.”
“The s--- flew all night,” Mr. Heinemann wrote of the carnage. As the sun came up, “We could finally look out down front: corpses everywhere, bare feet and flies…”
When it came time to bury the dead, he wrote, “We did it like you’d make lasagna — a layer of bodies and body parts, a generously thick broadcast of quicklime. . .another layer of bodies, and so on.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs has more than 49,000 vacant jobs. Of those, more than 43,000 are in the Veterans Health Administration.
Those staff shortages mean veterans aren't getting the care they deserve at VA, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a leader on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie this week. Veterans can't get appointments quickly and high turnover means they struggle to build relationships with their doctors.
VA began reporting its vacancies in 2018, and since then, the number has only increased.
Since learning of the tens of thousands of vacancies, Congress has provided additional powers and incentives to try to help fill those jobs, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said. But the problem remains, and veterans suffer because of it, he said.
"I write today with serious concerns about how VA is making use of the numerous new authorities Congress has provided to help VA identify and address its persistent workforce shortage," Tester wrote. "Despite these new authorities, VA has yet to reduce the number of vacancies."
While patients who see private doctors are scheduling more than 5 percent more appointments, VA in-house appointments have increased 3 percent from fiscal year 2018-19.
"Lack of sufficient medical and support personnel is partially to blame," Tester said.
Tester said he remains "consistently frustrated" that VA hospitals and clinics, "particularly those in rural areas, are dramatically understaffed."
Because VA is short-staffed, Tester said veterans across the U.S. "continue to face barriers to access the quality and timely care they have earned," adding that he regularly hears from veterans that "vacancies and constant turnover in VA facilities negatively impact how quickly they can get appointments as well as the quality of their relationship with their doctor."
Tester called on VA to provide answers on how the additional Congressional resources are being used and how it plans to address the staffing shortfalls.
"Veterans across the country continue to face the effects of an understaffed VA," he said.
WASHINGTON U.S. special operations forces who deployed to a military site in Uzbekistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks found pond water that glowed green, black goo oozing from the ground and signs warning “radiation hazard.”
Karshi-Khanabad, known as K2, was an old Soviet base leased by the United States from the Uzbek government just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because it was a few hundred miles from al Qaeda and Taliban targets in northern Afghanistan.
The base became a critical hub in the early days of the war to provide airdrops, medical evacuation and airstrike support to U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan.
But K2 was contaminated with chemical weapons remnants, radioactive processed uranium and other hazards, according to documents obtained by McClatchy.
At least 61 of the men and women who served at K2 had been diagnosed with cancer or died from the disease, according to a 2015 Army study on the base. But that number may not include the special operations forces deployed to K2, who were likely not counted due to the secrecy of their missions, the study reported.
As part of McClatchy’s continued investigation into the rising rates of cancers among veterans, members of those special operations forces units who were based at K2 are speaking out for the first time because of the difficulty they have faced in getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover their medical costs.
“After returning from combat years later, we are all coming down with various forms of cancer that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] is refusing to acknowledge,” said retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott Welsch, a special operations military intelligence officer who deployed to K2 in October 2001. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government, stung by a report that found burning plastic for fuel is poisoning residents in an East Java village, is allowing the illegal burning to continue while it challenges the environmental study.
Tofu makers in the village, Tropodo, who have long burned waste plastic to fuel their kitchen boilers, have seen sales plummet in recent weeks over fears that dioxin, a toxic chemical, produced from the fires is contaminating their tofu.
Rather than enforce a ban on the burning of waste plastic, much of which came until recently from the United States, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry appointed a panel of Indonesian experts to counter the report released last month by Indonesian and international environmental groups.
At a news conference, officials said the Tropodo test was flawed because it relied on testing dioxin levels in chicken eggs. Eggs are commonly used for testing contamination because chickens effectively sample the soil as they forage and toxins accumulate in their eggs.
“Chickens are smart,” said one government expert, Mochamad Lazuardi, a professor of veterinary medicine at Airlangga University in the city of Surabaya. “They will not eat something hazardous.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor this week to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam-era veterans struggling to get benefits for illnesses related to toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
In his speech, Warner called on the Trump administration to reverse its decision to block an expansion of approved Agent Orange–related conditions that automatically qualify a veteran for benefits.
According to documents obtained by the Military Times, in early 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney blocked a request by then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to add three medical conditions (bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism) to the list of approved Agent Orange–related conditions.
The documents reveal that an estimated 83,000 veterans would have been made eligible for coverage if the decision had gone through.
“There is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent Orange–related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them,” Sen. Warner said. “I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the V-A provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”
The fiscal 2020 budget deal finalized by Congress on Thursday will give the Department of Veterans Affairs another hefty funding increase next year.
The $1.4 trillion budget deal, which avoids a partial government shutdown until at least next fall, includes nearly $217 billion for VA operations, matching the White House’s request for veterans program operations. The total is more than a 9 percent boost for the department, significantly more than most other federal agencies.
That’s the largest budget in VA history, and continues a nearly 20-year run of significant spending hikes in the department. In fiscal 2001, the VA budget totaled about $45 billion. In fiscal 2011, it was about $125 billion.
Those increases have caused concerns among fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill, but not actual public opposition to the VA spending increases.
In an interview with Military Times in November, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said his officials are working to ensure they money is being spent efficiently and effectively but “I haven’t heard anybody get up and say publicly ‘enough is enough’ with the VA budget.”
Mandatory spending on medical benefits and disability claims amounts to almost three-fifths of all VA spending for next fiscal year. Discretionary spending alone, which totals $92 billion, is increasing about 6 percent from fiscal 2019 levels.
The bill includes $80.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, including $9.4 billion for mental health services, $222 million for suicide prevention outreach, $585 for gender-specific care for women and $300 million in rural health initiatives.
Lawmakers included $125 million extra for processing disability claims from “blue water” Navy veterans, whose cases will begin being processed on Jan. 1. That money is designed to help hire new staff and pay for overtime work, not to cover the estimated $6 billion cost of awarding the benefits over the next decade.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's expansion of a program aimed at steering more veterans to private health care is getting an $8.9 billion boost as part of the massive government spending bill approved by the House, setting up a potential battle over the direction of the Veterans Affairs Department.
The deal provides $81 billion for VA medical care to treat 9.3 million veterans, including the $8.9 billion for private care under a law passed last year expanding the Veterans Choice program. Another $11.3 billion is on tap for private care in 2021.
Major veterans groups have cautioned against "cannibalizing" VA programs to pay for Choice, which they worry could lead to privatization of VA.
The program gives veterans wider access to private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or the treatment was not what they had expected. The price tag could soar as the expanded program takes hold, putting the VA at risk of future budget shortfalls.
Democratic presidential contenders including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have urged reinvestment in the VA over expanded private care options. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, a mayor of South Bend, Indiana, have said they will roll back or change some of the Trump administration's rules on Choice.
"As the increasing need for medical care by wounded, ill and injured veterans and their family caregivers is being forced to fit under tight budget caps, we are concerned necessary resources could be shifted away from the VA healthcare system, which independent research has shown provides higher quality care than the private sector," said Joy Ilem, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans.
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
A Tennessee State University alum who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam recently traveled to Southeast Asia and met the widow of the pilot who shot down his fighter jet nearly 50 years ago.
Lt. Col. James W. Williams, 75, said the highlight of his trip back to Hanoi, Vietnam was meeting Nguyen Thi Lam, the widow of Do Van Lanh, the North Vietnamese pilot who shot him down, according to a TSU press release.
Williams was flying his 228th combat mission when his F-4D Phantom was hit over North Vietnam on May 20, 1972. He was then take to the Hoa Lo Prison (aka Hanoi Hilton) and held captive for 313 days, before being released with other American POWs on March 28, 1973, two months after the completion of the Vietnam War.
Last month, Williams, along with several other Vietnam veterans, returned to Hanoi, Vietnam as part of a trip organized by the Dallas, Texas-based group Valor Administration, members of the Vietnam-USA Friendship and North Vietnamese combat veterans. He said he did not know he was going to meet Lam until he got to Vietnam and that the meeting was awkward at first, but changed the more their conversation continued.
“I found out her husband died in 1980,” Williams said. “She showed me pictures of him. I expressed my condolences for his passing. The trip definitely helped me. It gave me some closure.”
The massive federal funding bill introduced Monday would require Veterans Affairs leaders to reveal whether they plan to add new diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.
The legislation includes a provision requiring VA to report to Congress within 30 days the reasons for a two-year delay in announcing any decisions, a cost estimate for adding new diseases and the date VA plans implement a decision.
Following release of the National Academies report in 2016, former VA Secretary David Shulkin said he had made a decision on three diseases and an announcement on the outcome would be forthcoming, but it never came.
In March, Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge at the Veterans Health Administration, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that a decision on new presumptive conditions would come “within 90 days,” but that never happened either.
Those who eat fish two or more times a month from the Detroit River have higher levels of mercury, PCBs and dioxins.
People who eat fish from the Detroit River two or more times per month have higher toxin levels in their blood and urine than national averages, a recent state health department study showed.
Blood and urine samples taken from 273 frequent river anglers had two to three times the average amount of mercury and PCBs, as well as elevated dioxin levels, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The findings, state health officials say, highlight the importance of following Michigan‘s Eat Safe Fish guidelines, which list the toxins suspected in different types of fish and how many meals of those fish are safe to eat in a month or year. That may be easier said than done for many metro Detroit families who rely on fish they catch from the river as a food staple.
When Congress passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and President Donald Trump signed it on June 25, it was applauded as overdue help for retired military exposed to Agent Orange. Little notice was given to how it was being funded: a two-year hike in VA loan fees.
In other words, rather than have the U.S. government pay for the health costs for Vietnam veterans, the bill was being footed by younger soldiers and sailors buying homes with mortgages backed by the Veterans Administration. Most of those buyers were rolling that fee into their loan, meaning they’ll be paying the fee hike off for 30 years, with interest.
A month later, the House of Representatives passed another bill to help veterans, this time funded with an extension to the temporary Blue Water hike in mortgage fees. This bill, H.R. 3504, would pay for adapting homes for disabled veterans and provide educational benefits to military spouses and children. It passed the House in July and is pending in the Senate.
Now, seven members of Congress have written to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to ask that future bills not be paid for by increasing VA loan fees. Seven members of the House signed the Dec. 9 letter, from both major political parties: Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA).
“While we stand behind our support for both bills, we recommend that spending on future veterans’ benefits should be shared by the broadest base of Americans or paid for through the direct appropriation of funds, rather than through offsets that fall squarely on veterans,” the letter said. “We must ensure our veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned in a way that does not reduce the value of other earned benefits and services that are central to their financial and social well-being.”
Friday, December 13, 2019
VA US DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Office of Public Affairs
Washington DC 20420
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
VA extends benefits to offshore Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans January 1st
Law also affects survivors of Veterans, certain dependents and Veteran homebuyers
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020, extending the presumption of herbicide exposure that include toxins such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Prior to the measure, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure.
Former Illinois Congressman Lane Evans is the subject of a new biography. Devin Hansen of Rock Island says it took eight years, plus two years to find a publisher, to finally release "Guts: The Lane Evans Story."
Hansen says he first got the idea in 2006, about the time Evans resigned from Congress due to the effects of Parkinson's Disease.
"I first met Lane in 1983 when I was 8 or 9 years old. I followed his career, as a political junkie growing up, and he always voted the way I would want a representative to vote. So I admired him a lot, and he had a lot of celebrity around here, he helped so many people. He had such a legendary status locally I thought it would be nice to bring that story to a national audience."
He scoured back issues of local newspapers, interviewed friends and associates, and spent time with the Lane Evans papers at Western Illinois University.
Evans' father was a firefighter and his mother was a nurse, and Hansen says Evans never forgot where he came from.
"His brother said politics was their sport - when they were around the dinner table that's what they discussed. And Lane saw how people, especially in the early 80's with the recession, how the working class was getting shafted, and he identified with a lot of people due to his upbringing. When he got into Congress, in the first year he was sleeping on the couch in his office, and he returned 10 per cent of his salary, and he said that constituents don't get these pay raises and benefits, so why should I."
Reporters can remember the day after each election, very early on cold November mornings, seeing a lone figure outside factories in the Quad Cities - that was Evans spending hours shaking hands and thanking his supporters.
And long with organized labor, some of his strongest supporters were farmers, but not all of them.
"The farmers - he kind of had a love-hate relationship with. He quit the Agriculture Committee after his first term and I think that upset a lot of farmers. But throughout his career he was always working for the small farmers, not the big agri-businesses And that was something a lot of people didn't necessarily understand."
Lane Evans also focused his attention in Congress on helping veterans - he served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a $738 billion defense bill that includes two key provisions to eliminate existing burn pits and require the Defense Department to map out where troops were exposed to toxic fumes.
The two provisions introduced by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., could set the foundation for veterans to claim disabilities after falling ill to health hazards caused by burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Egypt.
"We took an important step toward ending the military’s use of toxic burn pits and helping burn pit exposed veterans get the care and benefits they need,” Ruiz said.
The Defense Department banned most burn pits in combat zones amid a whirlwind of lawsuits and claims from post-9/11 veterans that their health took a toll after exposure. Now the military mostly uses clean-burning incinerators. But the Pentagon’s policy gives wiggle room in areas where burn pits are the only feasible way of getting rid of waste. In places where troops are operating in austere conditions installing incinerators might not be possible.
In an April 2019 report to Congress, the Defense Department acknowledged burn pits are a health risk to troops. The report found there are nine burn pits still in operation — seven are in Syria and there’s one in Afghanistan and another in Egypt, which are the burn pits that Ruiz’s provision sets to eliminate.
However, even if the Defense Department compiled a list of burn pits, there could be a number of dead ends with the data. But without any formal mapping, it can be difficult for veterans to prove they served near a burn pit.
EPA and Justice Department announce $245 million agreement for cleanup at the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund site
WASHINGTON (December 11, 2019) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Justice, the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustee Council, and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced a proposed consent decree that would require NCR Corp. to clean up and fund future response actions at a significant portion of the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund site. The consent decree also includes payments related to natural resource damages and past cleanup efforts at the site. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period.
“This is a terrific settlement,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “It not only ensures that responsible parties will continue to clean up contamination at the Kalamazoo River Superfund site, but also ensures that both past and future costs incurred by the EPA and the state will be recovered.”
“This agreement marks a milestone in efforts to clean up Superfund sites in the Great Lakes region, and especially to address the legacy of paper mill generated PCB contamination in the Kalamazoo River watershed,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Under this settlement, cleanup and restoration efforts will be accelerated and that’s really good news for communities in the region and the environment.”
“Today’s agreement is a big step towards cleaning up the Kalamazoo River,” said EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp. “This Administration is committed to cleaning up and restoring contaminated sites so they can be put back to productive use in the community.”
More than 10 years of U.S. chemical warfare in Vietnam exposed an estimated 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese people to Agent Orange. More than 40 years on, the impact on their health has been staggering.
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.
David Shulkin, 60, former Veterans Affairs secretary, was President Trump's only Cabinet member confirmed 100-0 by the Senate. He was fired in 2018.
The title of your book is “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country.” Can you talk a little about what drew you to serve your country in the VA?
You know, the title actually, interestingly, has a double meaning. First of all, the book is really for veterans and about veterans. And so I believe when you raise your hand to defend the country, you go off and you come back and you need our help, that it shouldn’t be this hard to get the help that you need. And so the bureaucracy that veterans in the past have experienced — the wait times; the trouble accessing services; the continued issues they’re having with getting the benefits that they deserve, including [some] Vietnam veterans who are now waiting more than 50 years [and] still can’t get the benefits from exposure to Agent Orange — it just shouldn’t be that hard. But of course, then the second meaning has to do with when you go into public service, whether you’re a career employee or whether you’re a political appointee going in to serve your government, that this should not be the experience that people are exposed to, the environment of personal attacks, the underhandedness and the sabotage of people trying to do their jobs. And we’re still seeing the same thing happening today.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
A ceremony, held by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Vietnam Defence-Air Force Service and the National Action Centre for Toxic Chemicals and Environmental Treatment (NACCET), was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, US Deputy Chief of Mission in Vietnam Caryn R. McClelland, and representatives from ministries and sectors.
USAID plans to clean up 37 hectares at the airbase. The objective is to first eliminate the risk of further dioxin migration off base, working with Dong Nai authorities to clean up surrounding areas, and treating contaminated soil.
The US has government committed US$300 million to restoring the airbase and its surrounding areas, which will take 10 years to complete.
Speaking at the event, Deputy PM Binh hailed the efforts of Vietnamese and US experts for their meticulous preparations for the project.
Over 3.6 million hectares of forest were destroyed while 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange/Dioxin, he said, adding that the toxic chemical was still taking its toll on the third generation.
Military Veterans Advocacy, a veterans advocate group base in Louisiana, is urging Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to have the VA quickly create rules to compensate vets who served on Guam and Johnston Island and were exposed to Agent Orange.
The request was first made a year ago.
‘No policies have yet been crafted’
"Last spring, MVA representatives met with Wilkie, who said he would look into the issue. Wilkie visited Guam in July, but no policies have yet been crafted or implemented to provide care to sick and terminally ill veterans with Agent Orange-related illnesses," MVA said in news release.
The organization has acquired and presented substantial evidence that veterans who served on Guam between 1972 and 1980, and on Johnston Island from 1972 to 1977, were exposed to toxins of Agent Orange, Cmdr. John Wells, the MVA lead attorney, said in the release.
"Secretary Wilkie has that information. We understand that federal agencies require some time to implement policies and new rules, but our first request to Sec. Wilkie on this matter was on Dec. 3, 2018 – 366 days ago. Veterans are sick and dying and can't get proper benefits from the VA," he added.
Tens of thousands of veterans sick from Agent Orange exposure still are waiting on the Department of Veterans Affairs to decide whether it will cover their illnesses.
The veteran service organizations and members of Congress who represent them have had enough.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rep. Josh Harder, another California Democrat, sent a letter to the White House recently demanding the administration step aside and allow VA to extend disability benefits for four Agent Orange-linked diseases.
Democrats in the Senate and VSOs also previously blasted the White House, accusing the administration of "turning your backs on Vietnam vets who are suffering."
An Institute of Medicine report in 2016 found evidence that bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease have likely links to the toxic herbicide. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences found evidence linking hypertension, or high blood pressure, to the toxic herbicide as well.
Expanding the list of health conditions presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure could provide disability pay and health benefits to more than 83,000 veterans.
Two years ago, then-VA Secretary David Shulkin decided to add more diseases to VA's list of health concerns that qualify a veteran for Agent Orange disability benefits, but White House officials stood in Shulkin's way, according to documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to Connecting Vets.
Takano's letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, one of the officials implicated in the documents as allegedly blocking VA's efforts to expand benefits.
"We write today to demand that you stop your efforts to block the inclusion of four diseases in the (VA) presumptive list for Agent Orange exposure," the letter reads. "Media reports and official documents show that you personally intervened to stop tens of thousands of veterans affected by these diseases from getting the health care they deserve."
Friday, December 6, 2019
ROCKFORD (WREX) — December 1st marked 50 years since the Vietnam War Draft Lottery. A process that would pull millions of young men out of the United States, and place them directly onto the front lines.
Dick Nielsen, a Rockford resident, served six tours for the Navy in Vietnam.
Nielsen says he wanted to carry the Navy tradition on in his family. By chance, he enlisted about two weeks before his draft card came.
"I still have my draft card by the way, proof I didn't burn the darn thing. "
James Newbury, on the other hand, says he knew he'd be drafted. So instead, he enlisted in hopes of a shorter tour.
"I volunteered for the service, that way I didn't have to do three years," says Newbury. "I only did two years."
This was was a new frontier for loved ones at home to navigate. For the first time, they had a front row seat.
"For our parents, they could watch on TV and hear the body count from every excursion," says Nielsen.
But as Nielsen and Newbury left their homes to face the unknowns of war, a second battle broke out. This one happening back here in the states. Draft card burning, protests, and unrest mounting across the country as people aggressively opposed the US's involvement.
"I was really mad at this country," says Newbury. "I really was. For what the students were doing and the other stuff. I was mad at them."
As anxiety mounted in the United States, thousands of miles away, soliders like Newbury spent days on end embeded in the jungle. They never knew what danger lurked around the corner.
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The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it will not lift the stay on Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans' claims imposed by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie earlier this year.
The court heard oral arguments last month in a lawsuit filed by veterans nonprofit group Military Veterans Advocacy Inc. (MVA). The lawsuit asked that the court lift the VA-imposed delay on processing Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans' Agent Orange disability claims. The delay affects more than 400,000 veterans or surviving family members who could be eligible for benefits, according to VA.
"Although the court did not lift the stay and found that Congress intended for the stay to apply, we still consider this a win," Retired Navy Commander John Wells, director of litigation and chairman of the board of MVA, told Connecting Vets. "They have stated in no uncertain terms the stay cannot go beyond Jan. 1, 2020."
After decades of trying to win disability benefits from the VA, thousands of Blue Water veterans exposed to toxic herbicide Agent Orange are still waiting for a chance to receive disability benefits -- even after a landmark court decision and a law awarding those benefits passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump.
The lawsuit attempted to overturn a stay ordered by Wilkie and first reported by Connecting Vets in July. The stay was allowed under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed by Congress and the president, Wilkie says, and it stalled all claims processing until Jan. 1, 2020.
An advocacy group has asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to issue rules recognizing the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served on Guam during and after the Vietnam War, so they could receive medical help.
If approved, it could also open the door for Guam residents to seek medical help for the same reasons.
This comes exactly a year after the Louisiana-based Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc. sent Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie a similar rule-making request, without getting a substantive response.
"Unfortunately, many of these veterans are sick and dying. Time is certainly of the essence," attorney John B. Wells, director of litigation for the Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc., wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to Wilkie.
Wells, a retired U.S. Navy commander, also represents a group of veterans who call themselves the Agent Orange Survivors of Guam.
The United States Postal Service has just issued a "Healing PTSD" semipostal stamp that will raise money to be distributed to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for the National Center for PTSD.
The First-Class stamps will sell for 65 cents, a ten-cent premium over the standard price. A semipostal stamp is one designed to fund causes in the public interest and in this case that interest is post-traumatic stress. The extra money will be donated to the cause.
The "Healing PTSD" stamp features a photo illustration of a green plant sprouting from ground covered in fallen leaves, symbolizing the PTSD healing process. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamp with original art by Mark Laita.