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."
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Go Ahead and Die! - VA still has no plans to begin processing Blue Water Navy Agent Orange claims until 2020
READ THE STORYBlue Water Navy Vietnam veterans will have to continue to wait until next year before the Department of Veterans Affairs begins to process their long-awaited Agent Orange disability benefits claims.
There was no indication from Congress or VA leaders during a Wednesday hearing on the subject that there was a plan to lift the delay put in place earlier this year.
About a week after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act -- a long-awaited measure to grant benefits to certain veterans who served in the waters off of Vietnam -- VA Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a stay on processing any Blue Water claims until January 2020, first reported by Connecting Vets.
Veterans and members of Congress have repeatedly called on Wilkie to lift the stay and begin processing at least the claims of the oldest or most critically ill. Veteran service organizations have appealed to the White House, asking Trump to lift the stay himself. Some veterans have gone so far as to file a lawsuit to lift the stay.
Dying veterans exposed to Agent Orange and widows of those already passed have come to Washington pleading for benefits.