Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rules 9-2 in in favor of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans

Vietnam Veterans of America
January 30, 2019
'Blue water' Navy veterans from Vietnam-era win Agent Orange benefits case
By Ann E. Marimow
January 29 at 4:46 PM
Washington Post
A federal appeals court in Washington sided Tuesday with thousands of Vietnam War veterans who were stationed offshore during the war and developed health problems linked to exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled overwhelmingly for these sailors, finding they are eligible for the same disability benefits as those who put boots on the ground or patrolled Vietnam's inland rivers.
The 9-to-2 decision reverses a decade-old ruling by the court and applies to an estimated 52,000 veterans nationwide. A court majority said Congress clearly intended to extend benefits to sailors who were stationed in the territorial seas and are known as "blue water" Navy veterans.
"We find no merit in the government's arguments to the contrary," Judge Kimberly A. Moore wrote for the majority.
The two dissenting judges warned against overturning the court's previous decision and said such policy decisions should be reserved for lawmakers.
Similar efforts in Congress to broaden benefits have stalled in recent years. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and four former secretaries opposed the legislation, citing cost and the need for further study.
"Recent debates in Congress, which required consideration of the significant cost of the proposed addition of Blue Water Navy veterans underscores why Congress, rather than the courts, should be the one to revisit our interpretation," wrote Judge Raymond T. Chen, who was joined by Judge Timothy B. Dyk.
The appeal was brought by Alfred Procopio Jr., who served on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier deployed off the coast of Vietnam. Procopio, 73, was denied benefits for claims related to his diabetes and prostate cancer. Both are ailments the U.S. government has linked to exposure to the infamous herbicide the U.S. military sprayed to destroy crops and reduce cover for enemy forces.
An administrative board found him ineligible because he was not "present on the landmass or the inland waters of Vietnam."
The ruling Tuesday means Procopio and any other veteran who served within Vietnam's territorial sea will now be presumed eligible for disability benefits if they have one of the diseases that is linked to the herbicide.
Procopio's attorney Mel Bostwick called the decision "crucial and long overdue."
"These Vietnam veterans sacrificed their own health and well-being for the good of the country, and the benefits that Congress provided --- and which the court's decision now secures --- are part of the debt of gratitude we owe them for their service," she said in a statement following the ruling.
"For years, Navy veterans have suffered with the effects of Agent Orange exposure while the VA remained recalcitrant," attorney John B. Wells, a retired Navy commander, who has led lobbying efforts in Congress, said in a statement Tuesday.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will have to assess Procopio's disabilities before calculating his benefits and evaluate other veterans like him with pending cases.
The government can seek review by the Supreme Court. A VA spokesman, Curt Cashour, said the department is "reviewing this decision and will determine an appropriate response."
During the war, those patrolling Vietnam's coastline like Procopio were referred to as the "blue water" Navy in contrast to the "brown water" sailors who operated on inland waterways.
Advocates for the blue water sailors point to studies that show exposure to Agent Orange occurred through contaminated water funneled into ships' distillation systems and used for drinking, laundry and cleaning. Much of the spraying was on low-lying swamps of the Mekong River Delta that flows into the South China Sea, where they were stationed.
A three-judge panel of the court previously heard Procopio's case but did not issue a decision. Instead, the court took the unusual step of rehearing the case as a full panel in December.
The question before the full court was whether Congress intended to give the blue water sailors the benefit of the doubt when it comes to showing their medical conditions are connected to toxic exposure.
One disputed line in the statute that was persuasive to the majority says the presumption, entitling veterans to disability benefits, applies to any "veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam."
In her 19-page opinion, Moore wrote that the inclusion of that language reinforces "our conclusion that Congress was expressly extending the presumption to naval personnel who served in the territorial sea."

BREAKING: Federal Court rules that Blue Water Navy Veterans are eligible for Agent Orange benefits


Court rules VA must pay disability benefits to ‘blue water’ Vietnam veterans

WASHINGTON — A federal court ruled Tuesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot deny disability benefits to thousands of Vietnam veterans who claim exposure to cancer-causing chemical defoliants simply because those vets served in the waters off the country’s coastline, and not inland.
The ruling marks a major victory for so-called “blue water” Navy veterans who have fought the department for years over the denials. VA officials have said the existing scientific evidence doesn’t justify the presumption of toxic exposure for the group and have strongly opposed legislative efforts to overturn their decision.
But the 9-2 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturns past court opinions backing up VA, saying that Congress never intended to exclude  service members in the seas around Vietnam when they awarded presumptive benefits for certain illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Is Monsanto executive qualified for F&W?

It was as if we were passing through an alien landscape. On each side of the dirt road, for maybe 75 or 80 yards, trees had become ghostly, wooden skeletons and all green undergrowth was gone.
It was the first time I had witnessed the dramatic results of the chemical, dropped by C-123 planes to deny the enemy cover along roads such as this one, places where ambushes, of the very close kind, were denied.
It was only later on, after I returned home, that I learned about what Agent Orange did, beyond the obvious aims of the defoliant. Of course, I was exposed to the chemical, manufactured by Monsanto, a company with a dark history of developing products that have a propensity for killing things or drastically altering the ordinary processes of nature. We now know that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans and their children are believed to be suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.
After a long and bitter fight by veterans’ organizations, the Veterans Administration has recognized the connection between Agent Orange and the diseases that have stricken veterans and their children. They include birth defects, infantile tumors, Hodgkin’s disease, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, spina bifida, diabetes and more. The VA has found an unusually high number of birth defects among children born to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
Meanwhile, the people of Vietnam suffer to this day. In September 2017, The New York Times focused on the hell we brought to that country in an article, titled, “The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange.”
It said: “The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as well as American soldiers, should shame Americans. Fifty years ago, in 1967, the United States sprayed 5.1 million gallons of herbicides with the toxic chemical dioxin across Vietnam, a single-year record for the decade-long campaign to defoliate the countryside. It was done without regard to dioxin’s effect on human beings or its virulent and long afterlife.”
And this: “Vietnamese soldiers, from both sides, with perfectly healthy children before going to fight, came home and sired offspring with deformities and horrific illnesses: Villages repeatedly sprayed have exceptionally high birth-deformity rates; and our own Department of Veterans Affairs now lists 14 illnesses presumed to be related to Agent Orange.”
But how is this for irony? President Trump has nominated a woman who is a former executive at Monsanto, the purveyors of death who dreamed up Agent Orange, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The new Agent Orange

Toxic smoke from open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan may be responsible for sickening countless Americans who served there.
Just how many veterans may have suffered cancer and other illness caused by the burn pits remains unclear because military doctors are not even examining service members and veterans during regular medical exams to discover whether those who worked near the burn pits may have been affected by the toxic smoke.
A bill that would have required such screening died in Congress last year. Then, earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a lawsuit filed by service members who claim their illnesses were caused by burn pit exposure.
Now, the Burn Pits Accountability Act has new life. Reintroduced in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar (D. Minn.) and Dan Sullivan (R. Alaska), the bill would require doctors performing routine exams to determine whether their patients were exposed to toxic airborne chemicals. The Defense Department would then determine whether these service members and veterans were stationed near an open burn pit in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The bill was drafted after an increasing number of veterans reported developing cancer and other illnesses after they worked near open burn pits used to destroy everything from everyday garbage to paint and other toxins. In many cases, the open-air burning pits were used in areas without landfills or any other way to dispose of waste.
The anecdotal accounts of rare cancers in veterans have led many to compare the toxic burn pits to Agent Orange, the cancer-causing defoliant used in Vietnam.
Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said he plans to co-sponsor the measure to require screening.
The bill would be a good first step, but much more is necessary. Congress should quickly pass this legislation and then move on to expedite research into the burn pits and the toxins that may be affecting people who worked near them.
Courts and the Veterans Affairs administration contend that there is no evidence yet connecting burn pit exposure to the illnesses reported by soldiers and veterans.
In the case of Agent Orange the government dragged its feet for decades before acknowledging its responsibility and compensating victims for birth defects and other health issues related to the chemical. The U.S. must not repeat this mistake.
Investigating the effects of toxic burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq must become an urgent priority for Congress.

What will the Navy’s denial of Camp Lejeune claims mean for other contaminated bases?

The Navy’s announcement Thursday that it would deny 4,400 claims from Marines and their families who say contaminated water at Camp Lejeune caused cancers and other serious illnesses raised the question of whether any affected military community could ever be compensated for the ailments they now face.
On Thursday, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said that despite the Navy’s acknowledgement there were harmful cleaning solvents and fuels that may have been connected to cancers found in Camp Lejeune personnel from 1953 to 1987, he decided this week to deny claims from those Lejeune lawsuits. In all, the claims sought $963 billion in damages.
Spencer’s announcement seemed to end the families' quest — at least on the military front ― to seek damages.
“I am perfectly cognizant of the fact this will be a disappointment to the claimants,” Spencer said, “However it would be a disservice ... to hold the claims without a decision or a way forward."
Spencer cited three reasons the Navy decided to deny the claims: That recent court decisions found the contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, did not meet the conditions to grant a waiver to allow affected members to sue the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act; that service members themselves could not sue because of the Feres Doctrine; and that the spouses and dependents of service members who could have sued the government for their own cancers have likely passed the time frame in which they could have filed a case. The Navy has been considering the Camp Lejeune issue for 20 years.

VA lung cancer screening should cover Agent Orange exposure

The Roseburg VA recently informed that a low dose CT lung cancer screening program is now in the works. Roseburg Radiologist Dr. Wang is working with the VA in Portland to help establish the program for Roseburg Healthcare System Veterans.
The Portland VA has had a lung cancer screening program since 2015.
Although the screening will be available for smokers or former smokers who meet certain criteria, tt is anticipated that Roseburg’s program, like Portland’s or the Bay Pines VA in Florida, will not include screening for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, which is recognized by the VA to cause lung cancer.
Besides Agent Orange and other herbicides, there are other known carcinogens that veterans were exposed to during their service, such as asbestos, radiation or burn pits.
Approximately 25% of lung cancers occur in people who have never smoked.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Connections: The Early History of Scientific and Medical Research on "Agent Orange"

David A. Butler, Ph.D.
Scientists, accustomed to working with and advancing the state of the art, are apt to forget that those in earlier times did not possess the information they take for granted. Individuals in the legal profession tend to have a better appreciation for this reality since their work is grounded in the evolutionary process that defines precedent; indeed, questions of “who knew what and when” are central to some cases. However, lawyers and judges too can benefit from a better understanding of the facts and mindsets that have informed decisions made in the past.

VR&E’s New M28R: Know What They Know

VA Vocational Rehabilitation has long hidden behind a unknown shield where counselors approve and deny veterans in secret.
What I mean by secret is that veterans were unable to generally find the justification VA would use when denying their claim for benefits in this arena. Recently, Voc Rehab published a new set of manual guidelines called the M28R that spells it out, but it’s impossible to search as VA published it.
View VA’s hot garbage version of the M28R here:
Go figure, right? $150 billion every year and they still post resources like the M28R in a way that makes them impossible to search without spending days digging.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Veterans Affairs new M28R is the guide all Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors must use when making decisions. In fact, they are not allowed to make a decision that runs contrary to it. Instead, Voc Rehab Counselors are now turned into rehab legal monkeys that merely approve and disapprove claims without adding much thought to the claim.

The new Agent Orange controversy: How American justice turned its back on poisoned GWOT veterans

Following a fierce legal battle inside and outside courtrooms that lasted a decade, veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars lost their final chance to receive compensation for illnesses caused by toxic smoke while serving overseas.
The group of veterans had sued the military contractor KBR, Inc. for running huge burn pits, which burned tires and medical waste, near to military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those burn pits created clouds of toxic smoke.
The case was initially heard by a U.S. district court and then by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Both of the courts ruled in favor of KBR, Inc., and now the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by the group, leaving hundreds of veterans seriously sick but without compensation. The rulings reasoned that KBR, Inc. was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military when it ran the burn pits, and consequently cannot be held responsible.
“I returned home from war to face a health care system that failed me and an employer too afraid to understand an uncommon war injury resulting in termination of my law enforcement career,” said Leroy Torres, who served in the Army Reserve for 23 years and came back from Iraq with a serious lung disease. “[I’m] subsequently facing foreclosure, while at the same time receiving VA denial letters for compensation for illnesses still not recognized by VA.”

Vice President visits AO/dioxin victims - No, not ours...

Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh visited poor households and Agent Orange (AO)/dioxin victims in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang on January 21, ahead of the Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations.
She presented 100 gift packages worth VND1.2 million ($51.65 ) to needy families and another 100 worth VND1.3 million to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Monday, January 21, 2019

57 Years ago this month - U.S. launches spraying of Agent Orange, Jan. 18, 1962

After a period of testing, on this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave final approval to “Operation Ranch Hand” — a massive effort to defoliate the forests of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with an herbicide known as Agent Orange.
It involved the spraying of an estimated 20 million gallons of powerful herbicides over rural South Vietnam to deprive Viet Cong insurgents aligned with the communist government in Hanoi of food and vegetation trail cover. To a lesser extent, areas of Cambodia and Laos were also sprayed. The U.S. Air Force flew nearly 20,000 spraying sorties from 1961 to 1971.
During the decade of spraying, more than 5 million acres of forest and 500,000 acres of crops were heavily damaged or destroyed. Some one-fifth of South Vietnam’s forests were sprayed at least once — at up to 50 times the concentration that would be deployed for normal agricultural use.
Kennedy insisted on approving individual spray runs until November 1962, when the president authorized Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam to approve them.

My Band of Brothers Died in Vietnam. Only They Didn’t Know It.

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” — George Washington
Diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, chronic B-cell leukemias, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancer, and soft-tissue sarcomas are just of few of the health challenges Vietnam veterans are facing. Each of them has a direct link to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin.
Most Vietnam veterans are in their mid-60’s and older, and there are those among us who have been fighting these diseases for years — sometimes decades. After all these years and study after study and endless hearings, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs refuses to acknowledge the science that shows the route between Agent Orange exposure and these diseases. There has been no legitimate scientific dispute of the connection between exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange, and a long and ever-expanding list of medical conditions.

VA Renews Opposition to Agent Orange Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs shows no signs of backing off opposition to extending Agent Orange health care and benefits to "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam veterans, setting up another major battle this year with veterans groups and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.
The VA still lacks "sufficient evidence" to prove a presumptive link between service off the coast of Vietnam and the illnesses caused by the widespread use of the defoliant Agent Orange, Paul Lawrence, the VA's under secretary and head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, said Thursday.
"In terms of presumptives, they come with a real requirement of sufficient evidence to indicate it's warranted," he said in a panel discussion on a VA Town Hall webcast.
Veterans who served on the ground or on the inland waterways of Vietnam are now eligible for Agent Orange health care and benefits. But existing studies do not show definitive causation between the illnesses suffered by the estimated 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans and the use of Agent Orange, Lawrence said.
"We understand the situation," he said. "We talked about having more studies in 2019 that would give us more insight into what the causation was and the definitive conclusions behind it."

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rep. Gabbard Leads Landmark Burn Pits Legislation in Congress

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, joined by Brian Mast (FL-18) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), introduced bipartisan and bicameral legislation to evaluate the exposure of U.S. service members to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.
Rep. Gabbard, Founder and Co-Chair of the Post-9/11 Veterans Caucus, said:
“Burn pits are the Agent Orange of post 9/11 veterans. Over 165,000 veterans have registered their names in the Burn Pit Registry, something that’s voluntary, but there are millions of our troops who have been exposed to these toxic burn pits during their deployment. They deserve recognition. They deserve care, and they deserve the services they have earned. So far, our government has failed to fulfill its responsibility to them, and to recognize the toxins they have been exposed to—just like what happened to our Vietnam veterans decades ago when our government ignored their exposure and the ensuing illnesses that came from Agent Orange.
“When I was deployed to Iraq, the cloud of toxic smoke and fumes from the massive burn pit in our camp was a daily reality. I know the damage they cause. I’ve seen the devastating toll that’s taken on my brothers and sisters in arms who survived combat and came home, but are now suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, neurological disorders and more. Today, my colleague and fellow veteran, Brian Mast, are reintroducing burn pit legislation, joined by Senators Klobuchar and Sullivan in the Senate, to make sure they get the services they have earned.”
“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” said Rep. Mast.“These burn pits are emerging as the Agent Orange of my generation.  Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing terrible health effects at a very young age, and we must do more to get them the care they have earned.”

Veterans Claiming Illness From Burn Pits Lose Court Fight

A decade-long fight ended at the Supreme Court this week, when justices refused to hear an appeal by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who say that toxic smoke from burn pits made them sick.
Hundreds of those veterans had sued the military contracting giant KBR, Inc., but lost first in U.S. district court and then again last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The 4th Circuit said KBR was under U.S. military direction when it burned tires and medical waste next to soldiers' barracks, and can't be held liable.
"America has turned its back on its war heroes. It's disgusting," said Rosie Torres, whose husband Leroy was a plaintiff in the case.
Leroy Torres served in the Army Reserve for 23 years. In 2007 he was stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq, a city-sized military installation that produced tons of garbage.
KBR had a contract with the U.S. military to dispose of that trash,. Torres, like many service members, was breathing the smoke from the massive open burn pit.
By the time he came home in 2008 Torres needed immediate hospitalization for what turned out to be lung disease.
"As a husband, a father and a first responder, I have been deprived of my dignity, honor and health," Torres told a congressional hearing last June.
"I returned home from war to face a health care system that failed me and an employer too afraid to understand an uncommon war injury resulting in termination of my law enforcement career," he said — "subsequently facing foreclosure, while at the same time receiving VA denial letters for compensation for illnesses still not recognized by VA."

Trump’s Under-the-Radar Push to Dismantle Veterans Health Care

New legislation threatens to dismantle the most successful American experiment in government-delivered health care. 
Last June, President Trump signed the VA Mission Act, commonly considered the biggest overhaul of veterans’ health care in a generation. Mission was designed to replace the hastily enacted Veterans Choice Program of 2014, which has made it easier for veterans to get care in the private sector if they lack fast or easy access to care inside the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
Choice was a temporary program, one that would offer supplementary private care to veterans while Congress bolstered the VA’s capacity. Yet this work has not happened. Instead, Mission is making permanent the privatizing principles set forth in Choice.
The logical conclusion from the Mission is not as its boosters claim, to shore up the VA for the future and create a system that would be “veteran centric,” but to tear down the agency, brick by brick, visit by visit. This strategy will not only erase what has been the most successful American experiment in government-delivered health care, but will also send veterans out into a private system that is more expensive, less accountable, and unable to meet their particular needs.
The key notion underpinning the Mission Act, that the private sector can offer comparable care to the VHA, is deeply flawed. Study after study (after study) has found that the VHA generally outperforms the private sector on key quality metrics, and that private providers are woefully unprepared to treat the often unique and difficult veteran patient population. The most recent evidence came in a Dartmouth College study published in December, which compared performance between VHA and private hospitals in 121 regions across the country. The results: In 14 out of 15 measures, government care fared “significantly better” than private hospitals.

David Shulkin, Former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs

The Honorable Dr. David J. Shulkin was the ninth Secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  Nominated by President Trump to serve in his Cabinet, Secretary Shulkin was confirmed by the US Senate by a vote of 100-0.  Dr. Shulkin previously served as Under Secretary for Health having been appointed by President Obama and confirmed unanimously by the US Senate.
As Secretary, Dr. Shulkin represented the 21 million American veterans and was responsible for the nation’s largest integrated health care system with over 1,200 sites of care, serving over 9 million Veterans. VA is also the nation’s largest provider of graduate medical education and major contributor of medical research and provides veterans with disability payments, education through the GI bill, home loans, and runs a national cemetery system.

Screwing Veterans - The New National Pastime

courtesy Bruce Jasinski via Paul Sutton
CBO Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028
Published Dec 2018
This CBO Report has been making the news. I went through it and pulled out the parts relevant to veterans and have created this page so you can see what they are looking at. Nothing has been decided as of yet and some seem very unlikely; but, you never know.
Forewarned is Forearmed.
Mandatory Spending Options
Option 34: Narrow Eligibility for Veterans’ Disability Compensation by Excluding Certain Disabilities Unrelated to Military Duties
Option 35: End VA’s Individual Unemployability Payments to Disabled Veterans at the Full Retirement Age for Social Security
Option 36: Reduce VA’s Disability Benefits to Veterans Who Are Older Than the Full Retirement Age for Social Security
Option 37: Narrow Eligibility for VA’s Disability Compensation by Excluding Veterans with Low Disability Ratings
Discretionary Spending Options
Option 30: End Enrollment in VA Medical Care for Veterans in Priority Groups 7 and 8
Revenue Options
Include Disability Payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Taxable Income
Full Report:

Monday, January 7, 2019

I’m Enjoying My Journey Despite Parkinson’s Interference

I received an email from someone concerned that they may be in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease (PD). I have met others who have PD, but not someone in the throes of wondering if their symptoms indeed result from Parkinson’s disease.
I can’t stop thinking about them because the email takes me back to my diagnosis, to the days of wondering what was going on inside and outside of me. I can relate so well, and I can understand all too well.
They are scared, wondering if they have Parkinson’s. I can look back and see myself where this person is now — scared, uncertain, and desperate. I can now see that although the future is still uncertain, I have been blessed with a wonderful doctor, the support of friends and family, and more than anything, the opportunity to encourage others with empathy.
I was not able to see those things at first. Fear took away everything good in my present and future and left hopelessness.
Isn’t the future uncertain for each of us, whether we have been diagnosed with a disease or not? None of us know how the end will turn out or if tonight will be the last time we will tuck our babies into bed.
I recall a favorite quote at times like these: “Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listing, and live every day as if it were to be your last.”
That is how I want to live each day, whether I am fighting Parkinson’s or making peace with it. I want to dance without reserve, even if I stumble. I want to sing at the top of my lungs, even if others think I’m still whispering. I want to live each day as if it is my last opportunity for anything, even if I think I’ll be given a tomorrow.

Privatizing VA health services a bad idea

Military veterans beware. I am writing to let you know there is serious discussion by the current administration in Washington, D.C., to privatize the Veterans Administration’s health services and place the welfare of America’s veterans in the hands of corporate magnates like the Koch brothers and other profit-driven entrepreneurs.
This is an urgent matter for all Alaska veterans and nonveterans alike. Whether you use the VA or not, it is there for most veterans if ever needed.
New rules are being drafted that will govern how veterans can access taxpayer-funded medical care in their community under the new Mission Act. These rules are set to take effect in June of this year. This legislation was passed to get veterans more access to care, which is great, but the Mission Act provides cover for moving veterans care outside of the VA and into the private sector, where profit — and not the welfare of patients — is the great motivator.
Line for service at privatized VA
What is at stake is the future care for millions of Americans who have served our nation. For some veterans, that service brought with it emotional and or physical scars they will carry with them the rest of their lives. For some of these veterans, the scars are obvious: lost limbs or severe physical disabilities. Others suffer from toxic wounds after they were poisoned with Agent Orange or pesticides. Younger vets have suffered from severe brain injuries in recent wars. And of course, there are emotional scars and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our veterans need the best care available, and that is from the Veterans Administration health care services. Veterans know the best place for them to get care is the VA. The VA is the only place that offers treatment that is specifically designed for veterans, where doctors, nurses and other caregivers are trained to look for service-related illnesses such a toxic wounds and PTSD.

Study after study shows that care in the VA is equal to or superior to care in the private sector.
 (Read the following article for more information:
In addition, it costs less to treat a veteran in the VA than it does in the private sector in part because there is no effort to make a profit. There is no profit incentive when one works for the federal government on a salary.
Right now, the unions, including National Nurses United and American Federation of Government Employees, are fighting the privatization effort. The current administration is trying to silence that opposition and has come after the unions by stalling contract negotiations, issuing executive orders designed to gut the unions and washing away worker’s protections that have been in place for decades.

Editorial: Trail of broken promises to Agent Orange victims

THE FAILURE OF the U.S. Senate in December to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is the latest in a long history of wrongs associated with our country’s use of Agent Orange.
Time is running short for many of the veterans who are suffering ailments that may be related to the use of lethal herbicides in the Vietnam War.
You could say the wrongs go back to the 1960s and the decision to use Agent Orange to clear the jungles of Vietnam — without knowing the possible effects on U.S. troops.
But that’s history now, and there’s nothing to be done except perhaps learn from the disaster.
What could be done is to extend to the estimated 52,000 so-called Blue Water Navy veterans and Marines who were on Navy ships the same Agent Orange-related benefits that those who served on the ground or on inland waterways can receive. Instead, the Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly chosen to deny the benefits to those who served on ships just off Vietnam.
And Congress has dragged its collective feet on legislation that would ensure sailors and Marines who patrolled the offshore waters have the same benefits as other veterans affected by Agent Orange.  
When officials approved the use of the herbicides in Vietnam, they naively thought that since they would be targeting enemy areas, the dioxin in the herbicides wouldn’t harm U.S troops. They were wrong.
Then, when increasing numbers of Vietnam veterans and their families began reporting cancers, type 2 diabetes, leukemia, birth defects and other ills associated with Agent Orange, it took lawsuits and challenges all the way to the Supreme Court before veterans began to get help from the chemical companies that made the herbicides. That delay was wrong.

Ben Dover takes charge at VA - The Trump Administration Is Launching Stealth Attacks on Veterans

The Republican Party stands with America’s veterans — until America’s veterans stand up to the party’s donor class.
The GOP relies on former servicemen and women as both a constituency (in 2016, Donald Trump won them by a two-to-one margin), and as reinforcements in its culture war. Veterans command broad, bipartisan respect — and thus, have the power to turn any cause they’re associated with into a sacred cow. Republicans have had little difficulty reframing calls for cutting America’s gargantuan military budget or ending misbegotten wars — or even reducing police violence against African-Americans — as affronts to those who fought and died for this country.
But veterans’ cultural cachet is a double-edged sword for the GOP. The conservative movement exists to undermine the notion that the federal government has an obligation to safeguard the well-being of working-class Americans. And veterans are both largely working-class and disproportionately likely to rely on public programs and public-interest regulations for their well-being. Vets get their health care from the single most socialized segment of America’s health-care sector — and most of their advocacy organizations want to keep it that way. Meanwhile, veterans’ acute vulnerability to predatory lenders has abetted the passage of bipartisan legislation strengthening federal regulations on the finance industry. Which is to say that on a number of economic issues, Democrats are the ones holding the “support our troops” card.
All this presented the Trump administration with a stark choice: It could either show deference to the interests of one of its core constituencies, or maximize its cronies’ ability to profit off of deregulation and privatization (at considerable political risk).
It’s now clear that president Trump has opted for door No. 2.

Reforming veterans benefits will be controversial, but necessary


As part of our commitment to those that have served, taxpayers will spend $100 billion in 2019 towards benefits programs for veterans. Costs for these programs have more than quadrupled since the year 2000. Few programs of this size and importance have received less attention from a policy perspective.
The VA’s disability compensation system is complex, cumbersome and frequently difficult to navigate. The approval process can be frustrating and slow — from obtaining copies of military service records to undergoing a comprehensive evaluation known as the Compensation and Pension examination, which is used to assign a disability rating from 0-100 percent.
The exam itself was first conceived in the 1940’s. It has only been modified through iterative changes and may fail to properly acknowledge some of the most common issues facing today’s veterans, such as post traumatic stress (PTS).  
Veterans who are dissatisfied with initial decisions often seek higher ratings. Despite real progress by VA in recent years, the backlog of appeals remains large and hundreds of thousands of veterans wait on a system impeded by legislative restrictions and its own bureaucracy. This perpetuates an adversarial relationship between the veteran and VA. Many veterans who struggle to obtain an initial benefits’ decision become locked into a complicated process to prove their needs.

Veterans’ Groups Compete With Each Other, and Struggle With the V.A.

WASHINGTON — For generations, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts have been as integral to American political culture as pancake breakfasts, town squares and state fairs. In advocating for veterans — among the country’s most revered and coveted voters — the groups have wielded unquestioned power on Capitol Hill and inside the White House.
Now, nearly a generation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the oldest and largest veterans’ service organizations — known colloquially as “the Big Six” — are seeing their influence diluted, as newer, smaller organizations focused on post-9/11 veterans compete for money, political influence and relevance.
The newer organizations reflect cultural shifts in a smaller community of younger and increasingly diverse veterans who are replacing the older, predominantly male veterans — many of them having served because of a draft for now long-ago wars.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Back to Square One - Ranking Member Roe Introduces the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019

Washington, January 3, 2019 
Washington, D.C. - Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
“The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 would ensure that our Vietnam
Veterans receive the benefits they deserve. This bill mirrors the language of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, which passed the House 382 - 0 during the 115th Congress. One of my final acts as Chairman in 2018 was holding a bipartisan press conference to urge the Senate to pass H.R 299. Needless to say, despite the endless efforts of Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester, the Senate never passed the legislation. This is why I have introduced this bill that mirrors the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 and I encourage my colleagues in the House to once again swiftly pass this bipartisan piece of legislation.
"Currently, Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans are unable to receive the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange because VA’s presumption policy extends only to those who served on land in Vietnam or in Vietnam’s inland waterways. This legislation would extend the presumption of exposure of Agent Orange to our Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans. I hope that my colleagues in the House and Senate waste no time in passing this bill and sending it to President Trump so we can ensure that Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”

New in 2019: Advocates hope to reignite debate over long-term effects of burn pits

Toxic exposure from combat burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t a new topic, but veterans advocates hope it will get new attention in 2019.
Several groups — most prominently, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — in recent months have been pushing the issue back into the public spotlight, in hopes of spurring more public policy reaction from lawmakers.
The hope is that Congress and Veterans Affairs officials can move more quickly on research and support services before another generation of former military personnel starts showing grave health effects from the chemical poisoning.
In fact, much of 2018’s veterans policy on Capitol Hill revolved around Vietnam veterans’ exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange during that conflict. Decades later, the substance has been linked to numerous rare cancers and other detrimental health effects, and veterans groups are still lobbying VA to expand their illness definitions to expand veteran benefits.

New in 2019: VA’s health care rules will be completely rewritten this year

President Donald Trump has been promising expanded health care choices for veterans dating back to his election campaign in 2015.
But 2019 could be the year his administration actually makes that happen.
Veterans Affairs has been working on expanded community care rules for veterans' medical appointments since last summer, when Congress approved the VA Mission Act. Details of that work are expected to be released in early 2019, and a full set of new regulations is scheduled to be released in early spring.
Among other priorities, the legislation mandated a retooling of the department’s policies for veterans seeking private-sector care, a massive undertaking that supporters have hailed as giving more flexibility and freedom to veterans who face long lines at VA hospitals and clinics.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in December hailed the work as part of “a real transformational period at the department.”

Connecticut Veterans demand expanded medical care for Agent Orange victims

Vietnam War veterans say they're fighting for medical coverage due to only some qualifying for Agent Orange benefits at Veterans Affairs clinics.
American soldiers dumped millions of gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Connecticut veteran Gerry Wright says he had no idea the government was poisoning them with the herbicide.
Currently, only ground troops qualify for Agent Orange benefits. Veterans say they want Congress to expand Agent Orange disability benefits to sailors who served on Navy ships off the Vietnamese coast.
"I went to Vietnam and now I'm sick from the Agent Orange," says Paul Scappaticci, a Navy veteran. "I have chronic diseases. I've had two cancers."
A bipartisan plan to expand Agent Orange benefits did not pass in Congress last month. Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie says it's because of cost concerns.
"We came so close during the last session," says Sen. Richard Blumenthal. "... We're going to push for this measure in the very first days of the new Congress."
The new Congress starts Thursday.
Some members of Congress questioned whether the science really links the sailors' illnesses to Agent Orange.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


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

January 15, 2019
Lebanon, Oregon
Contact: Tom Owen

March 23, 2019
Portland, Oregon
Contact: Steve Carr

Parkinson’s Disease Information for Veterans….

From our friend Zack Earp

Massachusetts Judge Sides with 'Bad Paper' Veterans Denied Bonuses

A Massachusetts judge sided with three Afghanistan war veterans who filed a lawsuit against the state, after being denied "Welcome Home" bonuses because of their other-than-honorable military discharges.
In a decision handed down Wednesday, Associate Justice Michael Ricciuti ordered the Massachusetts Veterans' Bonus Appeal Board to reconsider rejecting the veterans. Lawyers in the case estimate that beyond their three clients, the decision means that about 4,000 Massachusetts veterans are now eligible for the bonuses.
"Veterans with bad paper discharges are among the most at-risk veterans and yet are often told that they are ineligible for traditional veteran services and programs," said Laurel Fresquez, an attorney who represented the three veterans. "Thanks to this decision and these three veterans, thousands of Massachusetts veterans will finally have a right to some recognition for their honorable service to our country."
The Massachusetts legislature created the Welcome Home Bonus in 2005 for post-9/11 service members. Under the program, people who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan -- and lived in Massachusetts for a period of least six months before enlisting -- are eligible to apply for a one-time, tax-free $1,000 bonus. The program is run by the state treasury.
Jeffrey Machado, Washington Santos and Herik Espinosa -- three Army veterans named in the lawsuit -- each completed enlistments and re-joined multiple times. They applied for the Welcome Home Bonus and were denied by the treasury and then the Veterans' Bonus Appeal Board, which argued their other-than-honorable discharges from their final enlistments made them ineligible.
Machado, Santos and Espinosa, represented by student attorneys at Harvard Law School's Veterans Legal Clinic, filed a lawsuit in 2017 in Massachusetts Superior Court. In the complaint, they argued the board should take into consideration their prior enlistments, which they completed honorably.
The judge agreed, calling the state's denial "erroneous as a matter of law, arbitrary and capricious." He said the board's decision to deny the benefit disincentivized service members from enlisting multiple times.
"The Bonus Law was designed to reward service to the country," Ricciuti's order reads. "The board's reading would penalize such service for military members who voluntarily remain in combat, a result at odds with the legislature's intent."
In a statement Sunday, Machado, the lead plaintiff, said the decision meant more than the $1,000 - it was a symbolic win for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.
Those discharges, known as "bad paper," can prevent veterans from receiving federal assistance, such as Department of Veterans Affairs health care, disability payments, education and housing. Some lawmakers and veteran advocates have long argued servicemembers with bad paper were, in many cases, unjustly released from the military because of mental health issues.
The Government Accountability Office released findings in 2017 that the Defense Department separated approximately 92,000 service members for misconduct from 2011 through 2015, and 57,000 of them were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other conditions that can change service members' moods and behaviors and lead to disciplinary problems.