Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Plan for ‘blue water’ Vietnam veterans benefits on the move again

For the second time in the last 12 months, House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a measure to ease disability benefit rules for veterans who served on ships off the coasts of Vietnam and suffered serious illnesses they insist are connected to chemical defoliant exposure.
And, once again, advocates are left waiting to see if the Senate will follow suit.
The legislation — the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act — passed 410-0 with strong messages of support from both Democratic and Republican leadership. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the move is needed to correct what he called years of mistakes in denying those veterans disability benefits for their injuries.
 “Congress has failed our blue water Navy veterans, plain and simple,” he said on the House floor before the vote. “Today, we will right this wrong … This bill is the quickest and clearest route to delivering benefits to those who served. They have waited long enough.”
Federal officials have until the end of April to formally decide whether to appeal a court ruling which could grant disability benefits to more than 90,000 veterans.
The measure affects about 90,000 veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam War but never set foot in the country. If they had, they would be eligible for presumptive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a process which bypasses hard evidence connecting a veteran’s illness to their military service because of an established presumed connection between the two.
So while a veteran who served on the shoreline can receive disability payouts after contracting Parkinson’s disease or prostate cancer, a veteran who served on a ship a few miles away would have to provide specific scientific evidence that they were exposed to toxic chemicals while on duty.

House passes Blue Water Navy bill that could grant benefits to 90,000 veterans exposed to Agent Orange

Members of the House voted Tuesday to make permanent a court ruling that grants benefits to about 90,000 sailors who say they were exposed to toxic Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Those sailors, the so-called “Blue Water” veterans, could get a second chance to finally receive the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits they’ve been denied for decades. Last year, a similar bill to grant presumptive benefits to those veterans passed the House unanimously but ended stalled in the Senate.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act will “finally eliminate a 17-year barrier” that “denied access to VA benefits for the scourge of Agent Orange illnesses” and is “a long overdue justice for people who served in the Vietnam conflict,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said, adding that the House should “force the Senate to do the right thing and provide justice for those who served in that conflict and who are still suffering.”
 “Congress has failed our Blue Water Navy veterans -- plain and simple,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Mark Takano. “It was unjust then and it is unjust now. But today we have an opportunity to right this wrong.
 “Congress didn't find the resolve to act until 1991 and it left out key groups exposed to agent orange ... effectively denying their suffering that was a direct result of their service. This bill is the quickest and surest way to deliver benefits to these veterans.”
Veterans who served on ships in the waters off the coast during the war “must provide evidence they were actually harmed by herbicides” under current policy, unlike their comrades who served on the ground. But it’s difficult to provide proof.
Ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., served near the Korean demilitarized zone. “I’ve no way to prove where I walked 40 years ago.”
The bill follows the Federal Circuit Court decision in Procopio v. Wilkie to reverse a 1997 VA decision which denied that Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange while serving offshore of Vietnam. The court decision means the VA should presume that veterans who served in the waters off the coast were exposed to Agent Orange at some point during their service.

Fifty years later, a daunting cleanup of Vietnam’s toxic legacy

In the thriving industrial city of Bien Hoa, about 20 miles east of Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, there is a large air base, just beyond a sweeping bend in the Dong Nai River. During the American war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world. Since the war ended in 1975, a dense cluster of four residential neighborhoods has grown up around the base. Their total population is perhaps 111,000, while the base itself, now home to advanced long-range fighter-bombers of the Vietnam People’s Air Force, has another 1,200 permanent residents.
A small drainage canal, no more than 8 or 10 feet wide, snakes its way from the west end of the runway — an area known as Pacer Ivy — for half a mile or so through one of these densely packed neighborhoods, which is called Buu Long. On a sweltering afternoon last month, toward the end of the dry season, the canal was no more than a stagnant greenish-brown murk strewn with garbage and choked in places with water hyacinths. Nonetheless, a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Mai was washing her hands and feet in the filthy water. Nearby, a fisherman was sitting on a low cement wall near the mouth of the canal. Nothing was biting.
The problem for Buu Long, however, is what couldn’t be seen. The canal is heavily contaminated with the most toxic substance ever created by humans: dioxin, the unintended byproduct of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, for the color-coded band on the 55-gallon barrels in which it was stored before being loaded onto the lumbering C-123 aircraft at the Bien Hoa base and sprayed over vast areas of Vietnam. During the U.S. Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines.

Disband the Veterans Administration

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced its plan to support 500,000 eligible women with health benefits—an appropriate measure for these former service members. But the VA—inept, bloated, and incapable of properly organizing itself—is the wrong federal agency to deliver these much-needed services. Its repeated failures and scandals suggest that it should no longer be entrusted with the care of those who have served America in the armed forces.
Steve attended the United States
Naval Academy at Annapolis
Several years ago, headlines exposed stories of veterans dying due to delayed care. In 2015, the VA issued a report admitting that 307,000 veterans had died while waiting for the agency to process their enrollment requests. This followed stories of 40 veterans dying, with more than 1,400 more waiting for appointments, at VA health-care facilities in Phoenix. In an elaborate scheme, VA managers tried to cover up their malfeasance.
The VA’s track record on treatment, as shown not only by these recent scandals but by its response to Vietnam War veterans afflicted by the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, suggests a continued legacy of inadequate care, negligence, and incompetence. Two recent court decisions show that the VA is making matters even worse.
The first, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, reversed a previous decision by the same court. In 2008, the appeals court had ruled that some 90,000 Navy sailors who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam but never actually set foot on land were ineligible for Agent Orange-related benefits. (The court eventually reversed itself.) The second decision, by a federal district judge in Los Angeles, dismissed a whistleblower’s charges that the private contractor responsible for reviewing veterans’ files had defrauded the government by doing a slapdash job.
The common denominator in both cases was the VA’s disinterest. The VA didn’t believe the “blue water” sailors should be eligible for the benefits, and it trotted out low-level bureaucrats to argue that the contractor had done an acceptable job. In both cases, it was clear that the VA did not prioritize the veterans’ best interests.
Sadly, this fits a pattern. It wasn’t until 1986, following class-action lawsuits, that the VA even admitted that Agent Orange caused problems, beyond acne. Since then, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and numerous types of cancer have been linked to Agent Orange. Some 2.6 million service members were exposed to the defoliant, and to date, the government has paid more than $4.5 billion to veterans and their surviving family members.

VA’s improvements to Veteran community care under MISSION Act on track for June 6 implementation

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As the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s signing of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 approaches on June 6, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making significant strides in implementing major improvements to community care for Veterans.
 “The Veteran is at the center of everything we do,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “Through the MISSION Act, Veterans will have more choices than ever in getting timely, high-quality care. Most important, Veterans will be able to decide what is important and best for them.”
The MISSION Act will strengthen VA’s health care system by improving both aspects of care delivery and empowering Veterans to find the balance in the system that is right for them,
A key aspect of the MISSION Act is the consolidation of VA’s community care programs, which will make community care work better for Veterans and their families, providers and VA employees. When this transition is complete, the following will occur:
Veterans will have more options for community care.
Eligibility criteria for community care will be expanded, including new access standards.
Scheduling appointments will be easier, and care coordination between VA and community providers will be better.
Eligible Veterans will have access to a network of walk-in and urgent care facilities for minor injuries and illnesses.
“Transitioning to the new eligibility criteria for community care should be seamless for Veterans,” Wilkie said. “Veterans will continue to talk to their care team or scheduler as they have been doing to get the care they need.”
VA also has been working closely with community providers to ensure Veterans have a positive experience when receiving community care. For example, VA has developed education and training materials to help community providers understand some of the unique challenges Veterans can face.
Going forward, community care will be easier to use, and Veterans will remain at the center of their VA health care decisions.
In addition to information VA has made available digitally, Veterans enrolled in VA health care can expect to receive a letter in the mail providing details on where to go for more information.
For more information about community care under the MISSION Act, visit https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/58621/new-eligibility-criteria-a-major-improvement-over-existing-rules/.

Monday, May 13, 2019

H.R. 299: Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019

READ ALL ABOUT IT!
To amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes.

1.Short title
This Act may be cited as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
2.Clarification of presumptions of exposure for veterans who served in vicinity of Republic of Vietnam
(a)In general
Chapter 11 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by inserting after section 1116 the following new section:
1116A.
Presumptions of service connection for veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam
(a)
Service connection
For the purposes of section 1110 of this title, and subject to section 1113 of this title, a disease covered by section 1116 of this title becoming manifest as specified in that section in a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, shall be considered to have been incurred in or aggravated by such service, notwithstanding that there is no record of evidence of such disease during the period of such service.

Burn pits, the Agent Orange of our generation

Marine Cpl. Nicholas James Wrobel passed away due to respiratory and cardiac failure. He was 24 years old. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Sweet died of acute myelogenous leukemia. She was 30 years old and left behind a husband and three young children. Army Col. David McCracken lost his life to Glioblastoma Multiforme brain cancer at age 46, leaving behind his wife and children.
All were exposed to the toxic fumes and chemicals released by burn pits while deployed.
While over 175,000 veterans have voluntarily registered their names in the Burn Pit Registry, the Department of Veterans Affairs has admitted there are 3.7 million service members who may be eligible due to their exposure to these same toxic burn pits.
As a soldier in the Hawai’i Army National Guard, I deployed twice to the Middle East. Like everyone else in our camp, I breathed in the toxins from burn pits every single day. Many service members developed respiratory illnesses that we commonly called "the crud" — a persistent hacking cough that never seemed to go away. While deployed, we dealt with the ever-present residual stench from the burn pit fires.
Burn pits have been used at U.S. military bases across the Middle East to burn trash, human waste, petroleum, rubber, and other debris, releasing hazardous smoke into the air. While initially thought of as a temporary measure until incinerators were installed, many burn pits continued to operate, with some still in use today.
Make no mistake: Burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation of veterans.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

AGENT ORANGE TOWN HALL MEETING SCHEDULE

We update our meetings regularly on the Town Hall Meeting Calendar:






May 10, 2019
London, Kentucky
Contact: David Cowherd
270-312-0463

June 1, 2019
Billings, Montana
 (406) 272-578

June 8, 2019
Tucson, Arizona
Contact: George Ross
520-730-6069

June 10,  2019
Saint Marys, Georgia
Contact: Buddy Mcghin
912-322-1040

Some Vietnam veterans are just now experiencing the effect of Agent Orange

Orange should stand for something nice — sunsets, tangerines, Creamsicles. But when it's Agent Orange, the color means poison.
Agent Orange is the herbicide sprayed by the millions of gallons all over South Vietnam during the war from 1961-71. The operation was designed to remove the triple-canopy jungle and other vegetation the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops used for cover. The operation's motto: "Only you can prevent a forest."
The poison got its name from the stripes on the 55-gallon drums in which it was shipped, mostly from several major chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
The Air Force dumped Agent Orange on South Vietnam for 10 years. That campaign exposed an estimated 2.8 million American troops to the deadly dioxin. Most were not affected while serving in-country. But after they came home — often decades later — tens of thousands of veterans paid a price with their health.
House Bill 326, "Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2019," is now pending in Congress. It reads in part:
"Agent Orange exposure continues to negatively affect the lives of veterans of the United States Armed Forces, Vietnamese people, Vietnamese Americans and their children. The lives of many victims are cut short and others live with disease, disabilities and pain, often untreated or unrecognized."
The Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized at least 14 cancers and other diseases related to Agent Orange. The VA says veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits from these diseases. Court cases and congressional action since 1979 have ruled in favor of veterans afflicted by the herbicides showered over the war zone. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush signed the Agent Orange Act, which ordered treatment for cancers resulting from wartime service.

House panel considers 'blue water' bill in wake of court ruling

WASHINGTON — Following a federal court decision that veterans who served offshore on ships during the Vietnam War should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits, lawmakers made their case Wednesday for why legislation is still needed to ensure it gets done.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs met to discuss the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 – the “quickest and clearest route” for providing benefits to so-called “blue water” Navy veterans, argued Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9-2 in January that blue water Navy veterans are eligible for benefits. The decision could pave the way for disability compensation for tens of thousands of veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships but had been deemed ineligible for the same disability benefits as others who served on the ground and inland waterways.
After asking for an extension last month, the Department of Justice now has about a month to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
 “[The ruling] was a huge step forward, but we need to do more,” Takano said. “We need to ensure blue water veterans are protected in the event [it] is appealed to the Supreme Court and overturned.”
The legislation was the first that Takano introduced this year as the new chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Udall Fights For Action To Help New Mexico Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits In Iraq And Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, D.C. ― At two events Tuesday on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) continued his push to improve care for veterans affected by exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan: during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, and at the 2019 Congressional Burn Pits Briefing.
During the hearing, Udall questioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie on his commitment to continuing burn pit exposure research and urged Wilkie to recognize burn pit exposure as a presumed service-connected condition, a standard that would sufficiently acknowledge the negative effects of burn pits and would make it easier for veterans to receive care.
 “Last year’s appropriation of $27 million supports a partnership between the VA and [Department of Energy] for Big Data Science. And much of the work is being done by researchers at New Mexico’s own Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. I would encourage you to continue and increase your work with the national labs. Do you support making the Big Data Science program an annual appropriation? To expand the program to benefit more veterans? For instance, expand data analysis of veterans who were exposed to burn pits?,” Udall asked Wilkie. 
Wilkie responded that he “would not see what happened to veterans from Vietnam and Agent Orange happen again,” referring to the veterans exposed to Agent Orange who had to endure decades of delay before finally receiving VA care and benefits. Wilkie committed to “doing everything [VA] can so we don’t see a repeat of what happened with Agent Orange.”

'Alarming' levels of brominated dioxins found in recycled plastic products

A global study of consumer products made from recycled plastic has found "alarming" levels of brominated dioxins and flame retardants in samples taken from emerging countries, as well as Canada, the EU and Japan.
The International POPs Elimination Network (Ipen) and Czech NGO Arnika analysed 13 samples including a hair clip, key fob and Rubik's-like cube puzzles for brominated flame retardants (PBDE), which are banned or regulated under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
The results were published as the conference of the parties of the Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam Conventions takes place from 29 April to 10 May to consider proposals to strengthen global policies on POPs and waste.
Dioxins measured in samples of children’s toys and hair accessories were at levels comparable to those found in hazardous wastes, including ash from waste incinerators, the study revealed.
Brominated dioxins are extremely toxic in small amounts and form unintentionally during the production of brominated flame retardants, it said.
Additionally, when plastics with brominated flame retardants are recycled and heated to reform new plastic products, more brominated and chlorinated dioxins are formed, it added.
The study found dioxin and PBDE levels in all of the items sampled, with half of the products exceeding the proposed chlorinated dioxin hazardous waste limit. More than half of the samples measured levels of PBDEs that meet current regulatory proposals of 1,000ppm.