Thursday, June 27, 2019

House Veterans Affairs Committee statement on passage of H.R. 299

ChairmanTakano, Ranking Member Roe Statement on Passage of Historic Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Mark Takano and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe issued the following statement after the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, H.R. 299, was officially signed into law:
"Today, we are proud to say that the tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans can rest easy tonight knowing that the benefits that they earned while serving off the coasts of Vietnam will be guaranteed. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is finally law and is the culmination of a decades-long bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to properly recognize these veterans' claims and grant them the justice they have waited for. This day would not be possible without the leadership and unwavering commitment of our House and Senate colleagues, countless veteran voices, and the Veterans Service Organizations behind them including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The American Legion, AMVETS, Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Paralyzed Veterans of America. We are so grateful to each of them and look forward to continuing our work together to ensure that every one of those who have bravely fought for our country is afforded the care, benefits, and services that they deserve."
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 will extend benefits to servicemembers that served in the territorial waters off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange. This was the first bill Chairman Takano introduced this Congress after a similar bill was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last Congress but stalled in the Senate. This legislation will ensure tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans finally get the benefits they've earned and deserve.

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans bill signed into law

President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law late Tuesday, a move that will fast-track disability compensation for personnel with medical conditions related to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.
The enactment follows a decades-long fight by sailors, Marines and others who served off the coast of Vietnam. The law means they will now get the same presumption as ground troops that certain diseases are connected to Agent Orange exposure.
According to Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 90,000 veterans may be eligible for benefits under the law.
The legislation, H.R. 299, extends disability compensation to personnel who served off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, along a line of demarcation spelled out in the law.
Those eligible include veterans with one or more of the presumptive diseases whose claims were previously denied. It also includes those with new claims.
The bill also covers veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Sept. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971, as well as children with spina bifida born to veterans who served in Thailand between January 1962 and May 1975.
While most veterans service organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America, supported the bill, another group objected.
Military-Veterans Advocacy, a group that brought a lawsuit against the federal government for denying benefits to Blue Water veterans, said Wednesday that the law's wording may negatively affect up to 55,000 of the 90,000 veterans who served offshore.
John Wells, a retired Navy commander with Military-Veterans Advocacy, said the area noted in the bill may exclude some sailors whose ships were offshore, but outside the territorial seas.
"This includes a number of carrier sailors who were exposed [to Agent Orange runoff] by the surging waters of the Mekong River that discharged into the South China Sea," Wells said in a statement released Wednesday.

New Information on the Parkinson's-Gut Connection

A few years ago, we told you about a study funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) that linked alterations in gut bacteria to Parkinson's disease (PD). MJFF has continued to support research in this field, and, just a few months ago, we provided an update on research linking alpha-synuclein in the gut to Parkinson's symptoms.
A recently published study has revealed differences in gut bacteria in those with Parkinson's disease based on their medications and geographic locations, adding to our growing knowledge on this connection.
The Gut-Brain Pathway
Thousands of bacteria live in the gut, and they help digest food, make vitamins and support immune function. Gut cells are connected to the brain through certain nerves and via this link, researchers believe changes in the gut could potentially effect changes in the brain. In fact, alpha-synuclein, the sticky protein that clumps in the brains of those with PD, also is present in the gut of people with PD. And, one of the earliest symptoms to emerge in many people with Parkinson's is constipation. A greater understanding of gut bacterial changes may shed light on new ways to diagnose Parkinson's and manage symptoms throughout the course of disease.

Wounded by Chemical Weapons in Iraq, Veterans Fight a Lonely Battle for Help

On Dec. 2, 2005, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters hovered over the northern end of Camp Taji, Iraq, as a nine-man pararescue team on the ground moved toward rows of identical white warehouses during a training exercise. One of the pararescuemen doubled over and vomited, then fell to one knee. Two airmen moved to assist the man, dragging him up by his armpits.
In one of the helicopters, a flight engineer, Staff Sgt. Annette Nellis, started coughing. Her skin began feeling itchy all over. Bile shot up from her stomach into her mouth. Just minutes into the operation, an aerial machine-gunner in another Pave Hawk who was also suddenly experiencing unusual symptoms called in a Code Four — the signal that a helicopter had been hit by a chemical-weapon agent. The pilot pushed into a sharp dive to the ground. The other two Pave Hawks from the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron landed in quick succession, loaded the remaining six airmen as quickly as they could and departed Taji, which before 1991 was a major chemical-weapons storage area. Nellis felt her upper respiratory tract closing up, making it difficult to breathe.
The team’s arrival at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad marked the start of years of medical problems and military negligence for Nellis and three other members of the combat search-and-rescue team. Today they belong to a cohort of American service members who were exposed to chemical agents or suffered exposure symptoms while deployed to Iraq after the 2003 invasion. The New York Times first reported on these chemical-warfare casualties in a 2014 investigation that showed how the military failed to follow its own medical processes or to maintain records for most of the exposed troops.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Growing trend shows patients turning to marijuana to deal with PTSD

The purpose of the day is to bring issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress disorder to light.
One of the big local proponents behind getting the message out is a local marijuana dispensary.
Nevada's cannabis industry has its roots in medical marijuana, and as the budding industry continues to bloom, some dispensaries are noticing a growing trend of patients who are turning to the plant to help deal with post-traumatic stress.
"My friends were all going on this adventure that I kind of wanted to join on," said Matt Koetting.
Koetting's adventure turned into an 11-year career in the Marine Corps, but he was severely hurt halfway through his service, and it has had lingering effects.
"I have a traumatic brain injury," said Koetting. "Frontal lobe, I have reconstructive elbows, broken back, glaucoma in my right eye; a few other things. I'm diagnosed with post-traumatic stress."
Koetting owns a business that provides security guards, all Military veterans, to several dispensaries around the valley. While neither he nor his employees use cannabis due to restrictions around being licensed to carry a firearm, he's become more of an advocate for its use to help treat some of the ailments for which he sees his fellow veterans coming to the dispensaries.
"It's exciting to watch as well, too, because it seems like it's helping people," Koetting said. "It seems like it's helping guys that I know."

H.R. 2359, the Whole Veteran Act

HR 2359, the Whole Veteran Act, would require VA to report on access and availability of several complementary and integrative medicine practices, including: massage; chiropractic services; acupuncture; meditation; yoga, Tai Chi or Oi sang; and Whole Health group services.

From Galápagos to Guam: US Military Bases are a Threat to Local Communities

This month I got two of the most distressing pieces of news I could imagine. The first was a headline: US to use Galápagos island as a military airfield. The second came from my grandmother: two of our family friends are in the end stages of Agent Orange poisoning.
I’m from Guam; one of the countless islands of the Pacific used by the United States military as a base. At just 8 miles wide and 30 miles long, about a third of our island is covered by military installations with more build-up expected. My family and my community know all too well what being used as an airfield means. 52,000 veterans have organized into the group Agent Orange Survivors of Guam to lobby for benefits related to their exposure to the infamous herbicide while serving in the Pacific.

Senators fight to add 'Lost 74' sailors to Vietnam memorial

The effort to add 74 more names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall got one step closer in the Senate on Wednesday, even as the federal bureaucracy pushed back against the idea.
The bipartisan U.S.S. Frank E. Evans Act got its first major Senate hearing yesterday as senators on the National Parks Subcommittee made the case for why the names of the “Lost 74” sailors, who perished when their ship sank more than 100 miles outside the official Vietnam War theater in June 1969, should be added.
The destroyer participated in numerous combat support tours during the Vietnam War. Following one, the ship was sent to the South China Sea to participate in a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allied exercise, where a training accident in the middle of the night resulted in the ship being cut in half by the Australian HMAS Melbourne. Seventy-four sailors died, and only one body was recovered.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


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

August 7, 2019
Jacksonville, Florida
Contact: Char Miller

October 19, 2019
Portland, Oregon
Contact: Steve Carr


Forty years later, taxpayers still are on the hook for the U.S. role in the Vietnam war, with Congress doling out more than $400 million in the last two and a half decades, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
And it may be more decades yet before the funding stops, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan service for members of Congress.
CRS says the problem is all the unexploded ordnance that remains in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
 “Over the past 25 years the United States has provided a total of over $400 million in assistance for UXO clearance and related activities in those three countries through the Department of Defense, Department of State, and United States Agency for International Development, as well as funding for treatment of victims through USAID and the Leahy War Victims fund,” the service reported this week.
“Many observers believe it may still take decades to clear the affected areas.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans who died because of Agent Orange exposure will be memorialized Saturday

Thousands of Vietnam veterans have died of complications from exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange since the war ended.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) "In Memory" program honors those veterans and others who died since returning home from the war but are not eligible for inscription on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
Each year, the VVMF hosts an "In Memory" ceremony for those veterans, inducting them into the program and reading their names on the East Knoll of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
This year, 534 veterans whose lives were cut short because of their service in Vietnam will be honored. To see a list of their names, click here. More than 400 of those 534 honored this year died because of Agent Orange exposure.
 “There are more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; names of men and women who died on the battlefield of the Vietnam War. Those men and women are honored on a daily basis by everyone who sees The Wall. There are many thousands more who died as a result of the Vietnam War, but their deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion on The Wall," said Jim Knotts, president, and CEO of VVMF.
"VVMF’s 'In Memory' program honors those veterans, many of whom came home to fight a whole new battle and never fully recovered either physically or emotionally. It is our duty to make sure their sacrifice is never forgotten."

Robert Dean Stethem - November 17, 1961 – June 15, 1985

Robert Dean Stethem (November 17, 1961 – June 15, 1985) was a United States Navy Seabee diver who was murdered by Hezbollah terrorists during the hijacking of the commercial airliner he was aboard, TWA Flight 847.[1] At the time of his death, his Navy rating was Steelworker Second Class (SW2). He was posthumously promoted to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM).
On June 14, 1985, Stethem was returning from an assignment in Nea Makri, Greece aboard TWA Flight 847 when it was hijacked by members of the Lebanese pro-Iranian organization Hezbollah. The hijackers held 39 people hostage for 17 days, demanding the release of 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
When their demands were not met, Stethem, as a member of the U.S. military, was targeted, beaten, and tortured. Finally, the hijackers shot him in the temple and dumped his body onto the tarmac at the Beirut airport.
One of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was arrested two years later in Frankfurt, Germany. He was tried and convicted of Stethem's murder and sentenced to life in prison but was released in 2005 after serving 19 years. Three others, Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa, were eventually indicted for their involvement in the incident. In 2002, they were added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. On February 13, 2008, Mugniyah was killed in an explosion in Damascus, Syria.

Dioxin discovered at former US military base in Busan

Dioxin, a Group 1 carcinogen, has reportedly been detected at a former US military base site in Busan that was returned four years ago.
“Dioxin has been detected at the US Forces Korea Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) in the Gaegeum and Danggam neighborhoods of the Busanjin district in the heart of downtown Busan,” Green Korea United said on June 12.
“The soil contamination is severe,” the group added. This marks the second time that dioxin has been detected at a returned US military base, after a previous discovery at Camp Market in Incheon’s Bupyeong district.
The group also alleged that the Ministry of Environment (MOE) failed to disclose the findings of an investigation into dioxin contamination last year, with the announcement of its detection coming only belatedly on June 10 during an on-site briefing by the Korea Rural Community Corporation (KRC). KRC has been commissioning a cleanup effort on the site. The MOE study detected dioxin at depths of up to one meter below the surface of the soil. A total of 817 cubic meters of soil was reportedly found to be contaminated, or over 50 25-ton dump trucks’ worth.

Agent Orange, Exposed: How U.S. Chemical Warfare In Vietnam Unleashed a Disaster

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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

‘Blue water’ veterans bill clears Senate, heads to White House for final signature

The Senate unanimously passed legislation codifying presumptive disability benefits status for so called “blue water” Vietnam veterans on Wednesday, sending the bill to the White House to become law.
The move came roughly six months after the measure was stalled in the Senate by parliamentary objections and just a week after the end of a legal battle surrounding the Vietnam veterans’ benefits that has drug on for years.
The legislation, passed unanimously by the House last month, has been a focus of advocates fighting to ensure nearly 90,000 veterans who served on ships in the seas around Vietnam are granted the same Veterans Affairs benefits status as troops who served on the ground or on ships stationed close to shore.
The move all but ends a years long legal fight over presumptive benefits for up to 90,000 Vietnam veterans.
Under current regulations, those troops were assumed to have been exposed to toxic defoliants like Agent Orange, and were given special fast-track status when illnesses related to that chemical contamination surfaced later in life.
But in 2002, VA officials ruled that presumptive status did not apply to the blue water veterans. As a result, they had to conclusively prove their identical illnesses were a result of toxic exposure and not issues that occurred after their military service.

Michael Eckstein

Michael Eckstein, age 74, of Hopatcong, N.J., formerly of Bronx, N.Y., passed away on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.
He was the beloved husband of Susan (nee Segal); devoted father to Craig (Tricia), Matt, (Jim), and Cindi; cherished grandfather (Elmo) to Danny, Maya, Alex, and Martin; loving brother to Stanley and also leaves many nieces and nephews.
Michael served in the US Army during the Vietnam War and was active in the VVA and the Agent Orange cause. He worked at Kulite Semiconductor for over 40 years and retired as the CFO.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 14, 2019 at Louis Suburban Chapel. 13-01 Broadway (Route 4 West), Fair Lawn, N.J. Burial will follow at Cedar Park Cemetery, 735 Forest Avenue, Paramus, N.J.
Donations to VVA Chapter 327, Michael Eckstein Scholarship.

Veterans and transitioning military get a free year of LinkedIn Premium

The one year free upgrade to premium includes an incredibly valuable resource – a library of over 14,000 business, technical, and creative courses on LinkedIn Learning. This means that courses on software development, graphic design, leadership, data science, photography, and more are all available to eligible Veterans. Almost every professional skill has a course on LinkedIn Learning.
LinkedIn Premium also includes features such as InMail, seeing more profiles when you search, access to premium search filters, ability to view expanded profiles, and more. These are great for finding new career opportunities or developing new business leads.
Specifically for the Veteran community, LinkedIn has created two learning paths.
Transition from Military to Civilian Employment: This learning path will help you navigate your job search, helping you build your professional identity, prepare for interviews, negotiate salary, and even get promoted once you’ve been hired.
Transition from Military to Student Life: Covering everything from ACT/SAT/GRE test prep to essay writing, study skills, time management tips, and how to land an internship, this learning path should set you on a course to success – graduation and beyond.

Same Day Mental Health services for Veterans - June is PTSD Awareness Month

Reaching out for help can be difficult, especially for a mental health concern. The military cultural standards of ‘never surrender’ and self-reliant ‘can do’ attitude, so integral on the battlefield, are ingrained in every Veteran. Yet, this defining character asset from military service often presents a barrier to Veterans seeking treatment. The Department of Veteran Affairs understands the difficulty many Veterans have asking for assistance and are ready to Make the Connection. VA has committed to be there for Veterans in their time of need–The Moment Recovery Begins.
In 2018, 1.7 million Veterans received VA mental health services.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has made Same-Day 24/7 access to emergency mental health care the top clinical priority for VA staff. “It’s important that all Veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.” Now, all 172 VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) provide Same-Day Mental Health Care services. If a Veteran is in crisis or has another need for mental health care right away, he or she will receive immediate attention from a health care professional.
Options for Same-Day Services:
An in-person appointment delivered by a provider or another appropriate clinical staff member,
A telephone call with a provider or another appropriate clinical staff member,
Via smart phone,
Via telehealth, and or
Secure messaging.

Cheerios, Nature Valley cereals contain Roundup ingredient, study finds

Twenty-one oat-based cereal and snack products popular with children contain
traces of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, according to tests from the Environmental Working Group. EWG said the tests found glyphosate levels above what it considers safe for children in all but four of the products.
The 21 products that were tested are made by General Mills, including six varieties of Cheerios and 14 of General Mills' Nature Valley products, such as Nature Valley granola bars.
General Mills said food safety is a "top priority" for the company, which said it's working to minimize the use of pesticides on the ingredients it uses. "Most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat," the company said in an emailed statement. "Experts at the FDA and EPA determine the safe levels for food products," which it adheres to, as well as farmers that grow the crops, it added.

Vietnam Veterans Liver Fluke Cancer Study Act.

On May 7, 2019, Representative Lee Zeldin (NY) introduced H.R. 2568, the Vietnam Veterans Liver Fluke Cancer Study Act.
This bill would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services, to conduct an epidemiological study on the prevalence of cholangiocarcinoma in veterans of the Vietnam era.  H.R. 2568 would require the Secretary to provide a report of the study within one year of completion.   
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) is a cancer of the biliary duct system, which includes the gallbladder, bile ducts, and certain cells inside the liver.  One risk factor for bile duct cancer is past infection with tiny parasitic worms called liver flukes, which are found in the fresh waters of Southeast Asia. Veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish during their service in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam veterans, might have been infected.  Once eaten, the liver flukes grow to adulthood inside the human biliary duct system. The irritation and scarring caused by liver fluke infection can lead to bile duct cancer.  Currently, there are no available studies to show that bile duct cancer occurs more often in Vietnam veterans than in other groups.
DAV strongly supports H.R. 2568 as it will help determine if this Vietnam veteran environmental exposure can be linked to bile duct cancer.  This legislation is in accord with DAV Resolution No. 090.
Please use the prepared electronic letter or draft your own to urge your Representative to support and cosponsor H.R. 2568.  As always, we appreciate your support for DAV and your grassroots activism in participating in DAV CAN.  Thank you for all you do for America's veterans and their families.

The VA will now let you go to civilian urgent care centers

Got a sore throat or a sprained ankle and don't want to go to a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital? Got sick at 8:00 on a Friday night and don't want to wait until Monday to see a VA doctor? A new VA program may be for you.
As of June 6, 2019, the VA offers medical care to eligible veterans at selected civilian urgent care facilities nationwide.
This is an expansion of the VA's Mission Act, which itself was an expansion of the Veterans Choice Act. The Choice Act was passed in 2014 as the result of highly publicized problems with veterans not being able to get appointments at VA hospitals in a timely manner.
Under this new expanded program, veterans are eligible to get limited urgent care from civilian doctors regardless of how close they are to a VA facility.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Maude DeVictor

Maude Esther Elmore-DeVictor, 79 of San Mateo, CA passed away peacefully on Sunday, May 12, 2019.
Born March 24, 1940 in Lovejoy, Illinois, she was the birth daughter of the late Mary V. King-Glass and the adopted daughter of the late John T. Elmore and Earlie M. Elmore.
She is survived by her son Vincent DeVictor and his wife Monica of San Mateo, CA.
A Navy veteran, she went on to careers in the U.S. Postal Service, the Veteran's Administration, San Mateo County Deputy Public Guardian, Drug Rehabilitation Counselor, Investigator for the Chicago Dept. of Child and Family Services and finally working 30 years for the U.S. Census Bureau, up until the onset of her illness.
Known as the "Mother of Agent Orange", when employed as a Veteran's Benefits Counselor for the V.A. in Chicago, she investigated and made public the link between the use of the defoliant Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and its effect on the veterans that served there. This resulted in forcing the V.A. into changing its policies to include exposure to Agent Orange as a service related illness/disability. She received many accolades for her courageous and determined actions, including the American Legion Unsung Heroine Award. In 1986 the movie "Unnatural Causes" starring John Ritter and Alfre Woodard debuted, chronicling these events of her life.
Guided by her Buddhist faith and always an activist, Maude volunteered for many community programs throughout her life. Her favorites included, U.N. Election Observer in Nicaragua, Library Commissioner for the City of Richmond, CA, a reading mentor for disadvantaged children and election poll worker.
Her lists of accomplishments were not ones that necessarily benefited her in this lifetime but they were ones that benefited her community and the world.
Memorial Services will be conducted at 1:00pm, June 15, 2019 at Nichiren Shoshu Myoshinji Temple, 2631 Appian Way, Pinole, CA 95464.
In lieu of flowers the family respectfully requests donations be made to the charity of the givers choice in memory of Maude Elmore-DeVictor.

Groups join forces to fight military toxic exposure

More than a dozen veterans advocacy groups will join forces to track and highlight toxic exposure illnesses among former military members in an attempt to push for quicker action on what they see as a looming health crisis.
The Toxic Exposures in the American Military coalition, announced this week, will coordinate efforts from groups like Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veteran Warriors Inc., and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
The focus will be on issues related to exposures in the recent wars, although the groups have also advocated on illnesses related to chemical poisoning in the ranks from earlier periods.
“We must do more to address the illnesses we are seeing in America's service members and veterans as a result of toxic exposures,” said WWP CEO Mike Linnington said in a statement. “We must honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's warriors by working with Congress to provide the necessary care and resources to help those suffering.”
The move comes the same week Department of Justice officials announced they will not appeal a federal court ruling which awarded presumptive disability benefit status to about 90,000 “blue water” Vietnam veterans who served in ships at sea during the war there.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Influx of Navy vets may swamp VA disability system just as it was righting the ship, secretary says

The Department of Veterans Affairs was on track to clear a longstanding backlog of veterans’ disability claims, its secretary said, but the addition of newly eligible Vietnam-era veterans may overwhelm the system.
 “We are about to add tens of thousands of new beneficiaries to the claims system,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said during a stop Thursday at the Salem VA Medical Center. “I’ve seen estimates that go anywhere from 70,000 to 400,000.”
A federal appeals court in January ruled that Vietnam veterans who served on ships off the shores of Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange. With that ruling comes the presumption that the chemical defoliant caused any of an array of diseases. Affected servicemen, called Blue Water Navy veterans, are entitled to medical care and disability payments.
Wilkie said the VA is working with the Department of Defense to figure out how many veterans are eligible.
 “The original metric was to use the Vietnam service ribbon, but the way the Navy worked during those days is if you were attached to the ship’s company and the ship traversed the waters, you got a ribbon. But there may be a third of the crew back in Bremerton, Washington, that didn’t deploy for whatever reason and they got a ribbon as well,” he said. “So we have to do a lot of detective work along with the Navy, and it’s going to take us some time.”
Estimates of the potential costs of disability benefits for the Blue Water Navy veterans range between $1.1 billion and $5.5 billion over 10 years. The range depends on the number of veterans and whether their children and estates will be eligible to file claims.


State investigators said early this week that soil testing in the Otsego area was continuing.
Next week, a new phase of sampling soil was expected to begin along roads where byproducts had been spread for years as dust control decades ago.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (then the MDEQ) began soil tests in March, searching for contamination leftover from the papermaking industry.
A written update to the community Saturday said, “The project team has been working very hard to complete an evaluation of soils in areas where waste materials from the former Menasha Paper Mill have been historically applied or disposed.”
The agency hopes to uncover any PFAS and dioxins/furans in the soil. PFAS is a set of chemicals that consists of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances that are likely carcinogens. Dioxin is a highly toxic contaminant that causes cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and interference with hormones.
The EGLE team collected more than 6,000 samples from area farm fields where paper sludge was applied as a crop amendment and from several private properties where sludge and fly ash were disposed.
“The last phase of soil sampling, the collection of samples from roadside areas where Menasha’s black liquor was historically used as a roadbinder, will occur beginning the week of June 10,” it said.


Horse meat from Ireland is back in the news, after dioxins were detected in chilled Irish horse meat distributed to other EU countries.
It has been classed as a serious food risk in the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.
It was confirmed in May that dioxins, which are environmental pollutants, were found at a level of 27.18 ng/kg (21.8 parts per trillion) in chilled Irish horse meat.
Only one instance was reported in the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, so it is probably an isolated incident.
However, it combines two of Ireland’s worst food scares.
In 2008, all Irish pork products were removed from international shelves due to contamination after pigs were fed dioxin-contaminated feed made from bakery waste which was direct heated with oil fuel containing dioxins -- a repeat of a Belgian contamination incident nearly ten years before.
Then, in 2013, the horsemeat saga erupted after DNA tests showed a Tesco budget burger was found to have almost 30% horse meat.

D-Day for the VHA?

On Thursday June 6, the Trump administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leadership launched its new Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP). Established under the VA MISSION Act of 2018, the VCCP will outsource the care of millions of America’s most vulnerable veterans to an army of private hospitals, physicians, and other providers.

But rolling out this new initiative on anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, could not be more ironic.
Seventy-five years ago, American troops were well prepared for the invasion of Normandy. Today the troops on the home front, the thousands of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, clerks, and administrative staff who have been assigned to help veterans cope with what the Trump Administration has called a “revolution” in veterans’ health care, are deeply concerned about the future stability of this new program. 
Over the course of the last two months, dozens of physicians, local VA medical center leaders, and union activists (not to mention veterans who are expected to benefit from the new options and representatives of veterans service organizations) have told the Prospect, that the VCCP is deliberately designed to set them, and the VHA, up for failure.
Consider these examples of how the program is being undermined: Under the VCCP, veterans who have to drive 30 to 60 minutes or have to wait more than 20 or 28 days for an appointment will be eligible to see private-sector doctors and hospitals. Veterans and their care providers are supposed to discuss whether moving from the VHA to private-sector care doing so is in the patient’s “best medical interest.”  

Pentagon effort underway to make DD-214 digitally accessible, with more privacy

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is working to make the standard military service discharge form — the DD-214 — fully electronic and looking to implement recommendations from a recent report that would include improving the accuracy and privacy of servicemembers records.
The Pentagon’s Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness asked the RAND Corp. to conduct a review of the DD-214 because the department intends to modernize the form by making it fully electronic, and so they wanted to understand which data from the form is used by different organizations and the ways to get it to them more effectively.
 “There are lots of stakeholders and lots of folks who over time use the form,” Patricia Mulcahy, director of officer and enlisted personnel management, said of the RAND review. “So, anything we do, we have to be very deliberate and conscientious of all those stakeholders because we want to make sure first and foremost that whatever we do is better for the member while we continue to protect their privacy.”
Originally created in the 1950s, the DD-214 is a document that servicemembers receive at the end of their service, detailing everything from their military education, the medals that they have earned and the type of discharge they received from their branch of service. This document is crucial for veterans to verify their service and to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs or their local state government. 
One of the major issues found in the review is the different ways that the services fill the form with data, leading to inaccurate information. The Rand report found there are no policies regarding what record systems that the services should use to populate the form and how to do it, “so each service has different systems and methods, some of which are more advanced than others.”

The military services are now working to bring their records into the Integrated Pay and Personnel Systems and the personnel office is coordinating alongside them to make the data from these records automatically included on the electronic DD-214. This is expected to take three to five years, according to Mulcahy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Thank you hardly seems adequate

Justice Department Will Not Challenge Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets

The decision by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco ends months of uncertainty over whether the Trump administration would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Trump administration’s Justice Department informed the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday that it will not challenge a landmark lower court ruling that “blue water” Navy veterans who served during the Vietnam War are covered by the federal Agent Orange Act.
The decision by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco ended months of uncertainty for tens of thousands of former service members or their survivors who may now be eligible for benefits stemming from exposure to Agent Orange. The benefits have been estimated to cost the Department of Veterans Affairs more than $1 billion over 10 years.
 “I am thrilled that the solicitor general has determined not to seek certiorari review,” said Mel Bostwick, a partner at Orrick Henderson & Sutcliffe who represented veteran Alfred Procopio pro bono. “While I have every confidence that the Supreme Court would have upheld the Federal Circuit’s sound decision, the choice by the solicitor and by Secretary [Robert] Wilkie to enforce the court’s ruling now means that deserving Vietnam veterans will not have to endure further delay or uncertainty before obtaining the benefits that they were promised decades ago.”
In January, the so-called “blue water” Navy veterans, who served on ships within the 12-mile territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam, secured a long-sought victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The full court, ruling 9-2, said the Agent Orange Act of 1991 includes those veterans.
Until the ruling by the full Federal Circuit, those veterans had been denied the presumption of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. The Justice Department, supporting the Department of Veterans Affairs’ interpretation, had argued that the Agent Orange Act covered only those veterans who served on the ground or inland waterways of Vietnam.


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Divers located toxic barrels in Wallowa Lake

JOSEPH — It wasn't just an ordinary dive for Lisa Anderson and William Lambert, who always go looking for items in the bottom of Wallowa Lake. This one just happened to be a little different.
Anderson and Lambert, members of Blue Mountain Divers, a nonprofit scuba diving organization that seeks to find, recover, and preserve historic and archeological objects that are now at the bottoms of lakes and rivers, were scuba diving in the south end of Wallowa Lake near the marina in August 2018 where the water deepens abruptly. Working at depths of 50 to 120 feet, where the water deepens abruptly just north of the marina, they found a metal milk jug, and a couple of other odds and ends.
Then the duo saw the barrels.
They bore labels that said "2, 4-D or 2, 4, 5-T WEED KILLER."
 “There were about 25, 55-gallon drums, and a dozen bigger 100-gallon barrels,” said Blue Mountain Divers member Lisa Anderson. “It looked as though they had been there for a while — 10, 20 years or more. The smaller drums were corroded, and whatever was in them had probably already leaked out. But the big ones were sturdier. They seemed to be intact.”
“There were about 25, 55-gallon drums, and a dozen bigger 100-gallon barrels,” said Blue Mountain Divers member Lisa Anderson. “It looked as though they had been there for a while — 10, 20 years or more. The smaller drums were corroded, and whatever was in them had probably already leaked out. But the big ones were sturdier. They seemed to be intact.”
Lambert and Anderson ended their dive, and once home in Walla Walla, contacted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The report the Blue Mountain Divers filed included photographs and videos of one of the 55-gallon barrels, showing the label.
Their report also noted that they did not know whether the barrels were full or empty, or how long they had been in the lake. But what alarmed them was that “the ingredients in 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T were nearly identical to the infamous Agent Orange, and also a known carcinogen,” Blue Mountain Divers said in their report.
Wallowa Lake is the primary source of drinking water for Joseph.

States take up PFAS fight: 'Is this the next asbestos?'

State lawyers are lining up in court to fight PFAS, the vexing group of chemicals linked to cancer but used broadly in cookware, firefighting foam and other materials.
Litigation has increased as research and public awareness of potential impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances has grown in recent years. Now, state lawsuits against chemical manufacturers are piling up, raising the stakes for all involved.
"I think you're going to see a waterfall effect. You're going to see more states doing that," said Akerman LLP attorney Matthew Schroeder, who advises companies on PFAS-related legal risks.
"States are going to follow, cities are going to follow, attorneys general are going to follow," he added. "And it's going to, in turn, lead to significantly more class-action lawsuits."
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked some forms of PFAS — an umbrella term for a broad set of related man-made chemicals — to cancer, thyroid problems and other health issues.
Thousands of individual plaintiffs have already gone to court over the past two decades with alleged injuries. States were largely absent from the legal scene until a series of lawsuits hit the courts over the past year.
New Hampshire is the latest to join the fray, filing two lawsuits last week against major manufacturers for their products' impacts on natural resources. New Jersey filed its own case three weeks ago, raising environmental and consumer fraud claims. Others taking legal action include Ohio, New York and New Mexico. PFAS-related cases in North Carolina and Vermont recently settled.

Veteran, Gitmo whistleblower investigates burn pits and their victims in new book

Shortly after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, the military and its associated contractors had a basic logistics problem to solve: what to do with all of the trash piling up on every facility from small outposts to giant installations such as Joint Base Balad, Iraq?
In most cases, officials decided to burn it in open-air pits. In the years since, thousands of veterans have pointed to those exposures as the source of serious, debilitating, sometimes fatal health problems.
Joseph Hickman, a former Marine turned soldier who previously helped expose prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, began interviewing veterans and active duty military members exposed to burn pits about their health problems and struggles with getting help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. After more than 1,000 interviews, records requests and queries to government officials, Hickman has written the book, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” which was released earlier this year.
Editor’s note: this interview was edited for content and clarity.
Q: What drew you into this topic and what kept you pushing you to develop it into a book project?
A: I knew nothing about burn pits when I served in the military. After leaving service in 2009, veterans I knew told me about medical problems they were having since they served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using skills that I’d learned as a private investigator I started to check out into their claims. I was gathering information and I just kept hitting barriers. I asked for simple stuff like plume samples that they were taking. No one seemed to have them. It made me suspicious.
Q: In an author’s note in your book you first mention how Vietnam War veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and the struggles they had and still have getting recognition and treatment. Why did see that as necessary to include?
A: It’s the same patterns. Burn pits automatically remind me of Agent Orange. They had no problems they were sent to war quickly and come back with these rare health issues. The same procedures put into place to handle Agent Orange as burn pits. First they lied there was any such thing as Agent Orange. Then there wasn’t a problem. Then they admitted it could be a problem but they would have to do more studies. Then they needed a registry and monitoring. Then it was denial, denial, denial and then years later the government could actually afford it so they started doing something. Years and years and years of research that they’re doing until they say, ‘we did poison these people and we’ll make restitution.’ The burn pit victims don’t have that time.

Italy: Taranto residents rise up to stop air pollution claiming local lives

In January, Angelo Di Ponzio lost his 15-year-old son. Giorgio died from a soft tissue sarcoma, a degenerative phenomenon linked to prolonged exposure to dioxin in the air.
"A genocide is unfolding before our very eyes, and the world knows nothing about it," Di Ponzio told DW.
He says his son is just one of many to have fallen victim to air pollution in his hometown of Taranto, in the Puglia region of Italy's deep south.
Time was, the sea-facing city of Taranto was the pulsing heart of Magna Graecia, as the Romans dubbed the coastal region of southern Italy. Today, that grandeur has faded and the location has become synonymous with something quite different.
Ten minutes from the center, in the district of Tamburi, which translates to "drums," a factory spews thick clouds of smoke over buildings stained in various shades of brown.
Conceived as a state-owned property in 1961, privatized by leading steel company Riva Group in 1995, and acquired by private Indian company ArcelorMittal last year, the Arcelor Mittal Italia steelworks, which is known locally as ex-Ilva, sprawls over 1,500 hectares of flatland, making it Europe's largest.
Put together by Italy's National Health Institute (ISS) and the Italian Network of Cancer Registries, SENTIERI, has made a connection between Taranto's cancer deaths and exposure to the emission of hazardous gases, including dioxin, a highly toxic persistent organic pollutant (POP).