Saturday, July 11, 2020

First post - July 9, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Waiting For An Army To Die Won't Work When A Significant Number of Vietnam Veterans Are Reporting Children and/or Grandchildren With Birth Defects Related to Exposure to Agent Orange:
by Mokie Porter
Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C.the Ford Foundation, announced that it is funding and launching of a full-scale, public-relations campaign to win the sympathy of the American people for the plight of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam
The Ford Foundation and the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin are hoping to mobilize resources and raise awareness for the continuing environmental health consequences of dioxin contamination in Vietnam resulting from the use of A/O, with the end goal of gaining the support of Congress, American business, and the American people to direct U.S. dollars to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. When representatives of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) asked at the June 2nd meeting whether the condition of American veterans, their children, and grandchildren would also be a subject of the public relations campaign, the answer from the chair of the Working Group, came back "We have given you the report."
The June 1, 2009, report, "U.S. Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange: Understanding the Impact 40 Years Later," which was done by the National Organization on Disability with funding from the Ford Foundation, concludes that it is not "too late to correct the lapses in the nation's treatment of veterans who were exposed to dioxin during the Vietnam War." It goes on to state that "One lesson of the Agent Orange experience has been that the consequences of such chemicals are rarely easy to predict, and that the burdens they impose may well be borne for generations." for report and VVA reactions.
The report includes five detailed recommendations for greater clarity and justice: (1) Outreach to All Affected Veterans and their Families; (2) Outreach to Health Practitioners and Disability-Related Service Agencies; (3) Medical Care for Affected Children and Grandchildren; (4) A Fresh Approach to Research; and (5) Direct Service to Veterans and their Families, in Their Communities.
If the Ford Foundation's publicity campaign will focus on the plight of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, but not American victims of Agent Orange, then veterans need to launch our own grassroots publicity campaign to gain the support of Congress, American business, and the American people for the unfinished Agent Orange agenda for American veterans and their families.
The Task Ahead: Don't Mourn, Organize and Publicize in Your Own Communities
This is not just a VVA issue.VVA members, chapters, and state councils need to reach out and work with other veterans organizations in their communities and to be a force multiplier. Many of our members, of course, are members of other veterans organizations, so this will help.
The brunt of the fallout of this one-sided, public-awareness campaign will rest on our members at the grassroots, in chapters and state councils, where the network exists for our veteran families. We cannot allow those veterans outside the VA/VSO network to find out about their A/O exposure from the perspective of the Vietnamese victims, as they watch the Ford Foundation media campaign unfold in print and on television.
While, at this point, we know very little about the when and where of the Ford Foundation media campaign, we expect that it will begin this summer and continue through the year. We anticipate a multi-media barrage, with Ford's efforts directed toward the documentary film industry, the print media, radio, television, celebrities, etc. We have not located the budget for this endeavor yet, but expect that, minimally, it will be in the range of six figures.
This is not about animosity toward Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, but it is a response to the telling of only one side of the story by the Ford Foundation media campaign. That's not the right approach to take and may well create a great deal of pain in those veterans, whose "welcome home" nearly forty years ago, was a slap in the face, or disdain and distance, and who will now, once more, be reminded of the esteem in which their government holds them, as they watch while the Ford Foundation media campaign focuses on the suffering of their former enemy.
What do we need to create awareness? We need real stories about real people to convince the American people and Congress that our A/O problems are real.
We already have two excellent stories, though still in the rough draft stage. More will be needed. If each state would identify at least one family with a child or grandchild affected by A/O, willing to share their story, we will begin to have ammunition to use locally and nationally with the media and with legislators.
One idea that has been suggested is holding veterans health forums at the chapter and state council levels. That's a good way to get local media attention, and a forum to discuss the issue of A/O, as well as all the host of illnesses and maladies associated with military service. It would likely be useful to have a nuts-and-bolts, how-to plan for this type of health forum.
What we need is something that could be shared with other states and chapters, like a "checklist for organizers of local health forums," or a document that has tips for putting on a "high-interest, high attendance, high media coverage veterans health forum in your community.
Ideas other than a veterans health forum will likely emerge, and a forum for the sharing of these ideas, info, intel, and good stories will be needed, if we are to sustain a vital campaign. What works in one area may not work in another area. Local initiative, local creativity, and local enthusiasm and energy will be essential.
This is not just about Vietnam/Agent Orange alone; it is about all toxic exposures in all theaters of our recent wars whether in Thailand, on Eglin Air Force Base, Guam, Puerto Rico, Texas, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.--the larger lesson continues to be this: The cost of war doesn't end when the guns are silent, in fact it takes a generational toll so we, as a nation, must be willing to pay the price.
The report is available at

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Da Nang enjoys effective cooperation with US

Da Nang (VNA) – Over the past 25 years, the central city of Da Nang has worked hard to contribute to the Vietnam-US cooperation through various joint projects, one of which was the dioxin detoxification in Da Nang airport.
According to Vice Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee Ho Ky Minh, the Prime Minister in 2012 approved a national plan of action to address the consequences of toxic chemicals used by the US during the war in Vietnam to 2015 and orientations to 2020. One of the tasks set by the national plan was to detoxify dioxin-polluted soil and sludge in Da Nang airport.
The project on dioxin detoxification in Da Nang airport was conducted by the People’s Air Defence-Air Force with the sponsorship of the US Agency of International Development (USAID, with the goal of treating and isolating dioxin-contaminated sludge to eliminate dioxin exposure risk in the surrounding community, while enhancing Vietnam’s capacity in implementing environmental pollution assessment and treatment activities.
It covered an area of 18.3 hectares with 72,900 cu.m of sludge needing treating. In 2016, the total volume of sludge and soil subjected for detoxification increased to 150,000 cu.m.
Capital for the project came from non-refundable ODA of the US Government through the USAID.
During its implementation from 2012 to 2018, the People’s Committee of Da Nang directed sectors and localities to coordinate with and create favourable conditions for the project, said Minh.
He said that in 2014, the city proposed the project side and relevant agencies to organise training courses on work safety for workers and management officials to avoid risk of exposure to dioxin. Da Nang also sent officials to join the courses.
According to a report from the Air Defence - Air Force, 162,567 cu.m of dioxin contaminated sludge and soil were cleaned, returning about 29 hectares of area for social-economic activities. Dioxin exposure risk for human and environment was minimised. The success of the project helped erase Da Nang airport, which is a former US air base, out of the dioxin hot spot list. Work safety was ensured throughout the implementation of the project and no incident was recorded.

Expand list of Agent Orange illnesses covered for Vietnam vets

Sen. Chuck Schumer announced a plan Tuesday to expand the list of covered diseases linked to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange for Vietnam War veterans, saying it had "broad bipartisan support," and could become law in a few weeks as part of a military spending bill.
"We're about to win this fight," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference at the Veterans Memorial at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.
Accompanied by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and representatives of Vietnam Veterans of America, Schumer said, "I'm here to reveal a national plan to deliver health care and compensation" to veterans.
"The plan … will expand the list of diseases, will provide relief for tens of thousands of veterans on Long Island and many more in New York State and in the country," Schumer said.
The senator said the amendment is scheduled for a vote in two weeks as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Schumer said the amendment had "broad bipartisan support. It will pass." He added, "So we're here to say relief is about to come."
Schumer said there are about 80,000 Vietnam veterans on Long Island and in New York City. New York State has about 240,000 veterans of the war.
Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA automatically accepts that any Vietnam veteran who served in-country between January 1962 and May 1975 probably was exposed to the herbicide.
Agent Orange was not used "maliciously" in Vietnam, Schumer said, but as a way to remove jungle foliage and expose the enemy. But later, "we learned that things like diabetes and leukemia and other things were caused by Agent Orange," he said.

Please ask your Senator to support Tester Amendment 1972 to S.4049

Senator John Tester (D-MT), Ranking Minority Member, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has submitted Senate Amendment 1972 into the Senate version of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), S.4049. This amendment would add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism as service-connected conditions.
Our Vietnam veterans are still suffering from the consequences of Agent Orange. Each of these diseases has met the scientific threshold of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to be credibly linked to Agent Orange. What remains is the addition of these conditions to the list of Agent Orange-presumptive diseases.
Please use the prepared letter on the site and contact your senator NOW to request their support for the passage of Senate Amendment 1972 to end the wait for many of our nation’s Vietnam veterans, so they can receive their disability benefits for their service and sacrifice to our great nation.
Click the link below to log in and send your message:

Ask Your Senator to please support HR. 3224 The Deborah Sampson Act

The number of women Veterans enrolling in VA health care is increasing, placing new demands on a VA’s health care system. To address the growing number of women Veterans who are eligible for health care, Congresswoman Julia Brownley-D-CA-26 has introduced H.R. 3224 the DeborahSampson Act, which passed the House on November 13, by a 399-11 vote and received by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for consideration.
This  bi-partisan legislation when enacted into law would provide additional funding for primary care and emergency care clinicians in VA’s Women Veterans Health Care residency programs, a requirement for gender-specific services at every VA medical facility, a mandate for a new policy to end harassment and sexual assault at all VA locations,  a new assessment on the availability of prosthetics specifically for women veterans, establish a new Office of Women’s Health in the agency, extend coverage of healthcare for newborn children of veterans from seven to 14 days and would require more oversight of women’s health care within the Department of Veterans Affair.
Today, women veterans have earned and are entitled to full healthcare services, including care for gender-specific illnesses, injuries, and diseases as a result of their military service. 
Contact your Senator NOW and use the letter on the site and  urge them to request their colleague Senator Moran, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee pass H.R.3224,The Deborah Sampson Act out of committee and on to the Senate floor for votes and passage.

Report recommends further probe into Agent Orange use on Guam

Unlike samples in 2018, taken as part of ongoing investigations into Agent Orange usage on Guam, soil samples taken in October 2019 did not lead to trace detection of chlorinated herbicides, but did detect dioxins. A report detailing the results is recommending that continued investigation take place to clarify any uncertainty about herbicide types, amounts and locations sprayed.
The report was released Monday by the Guam Environmental Protection Agency in response to inquiries from Sen. Therese Terlaje, but is dated March 30. The report was developed by Weston Solutions Inc. under a task order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 federal on-scene coordinator.
Results from the 2018 sampling indicated the presence of 2,4,5-TP and 2,4,5-T chlorinated herbicides at Tiyan Junction. The 2019 sampling from the area did not detect traces of these compounds, but it did result in toxic equivalency quotient concentrations 1.4 times higher than any other TEQ result.
Moreover, one or more individual dioxin and furan congeners, or substances that are related to each other, were detected in all 10 composite samples, and eight out of the 10 samples had detections of TCDD congener, according to the 2019 sampling report.
The manufacturing process for 2,4,5-T can create 2,3,7,8-TCDD, a type of toxic dioxin. For this reason, herbicide 2,4,5-T was banned in the 1980s.
A Government Accountability Office report noted that draft environmental assessments written in 1999 and 2009 indicated herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T were used for weed control on Guam through 1980. These herbicides were components of Agent Orange. The report, however, did not find definitive evidence that Agent Orange was offloaded on Guam. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

One year later, Veterans Affairs has approved 17,400 Blue Water Navy claims

One year after Congress and the president passed into law a measure to grant Veterans Affairs benefits to sailors who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, VA has granted about 17,400 claims.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act required the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide disability benefits to veterans who served in the waters off of Vietnam. The measure was just one more provision in a decades-long fight to guarantee the same benefits to nearly 90,000 Navy veterans who served in the waters offshore of Vietnam that their land and brown-water comrades were already entitled to after potentially being exposed to Agent Orange.
Since then, the department has received 58,336 Blue Water Navy disability claims, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel told Connecting Vets.
As of May 31, 23,735 of those claims have been processed. And of those that have been processed so far, the Veterans Benefits Administration tracks 17,401 claims granted or about 73 percent of the claims processed so far.
Both the House and Senate passed the bill granting Blue Water Navy vets benefits unanimously and the president signed it into law last June.
About a week after the president's signature codified those benefits, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie delayed all claims processing until Jan. 1, 2020, as first reported by Connecting Vets. That stay effectively stalled the benefits many aging and ill veterans thought they had finally gained with the passage of the bill in Congress.
Pleas from veterans, their families and advocates over the following months rendered no change or response from VA, and those who reached out to the president told Connecting Vets they received no response.
At the time, Wilkie said the department was "working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation."
Veterans were allowed to file their claims, but they were not processed until Wilkie's stay lifted on Jan. 1, 2020.

Adding names to Vietnam Wall is challenging

The design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. sparked debate and introspection, awe and outrage, when it was proposed.
In the decades since, the black granite memorial has become a national shrine, a healing and holy place.
But not everyone who died during the Vietnam War era is on the Wall. And adding names is a cumbersome, bureaucratic process.
Almost immediately after the Wall was dedicated in 1982, requests started coming in from family members of individuals who had been left off, said Tim Tetz, director of outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. That group created the Wall in 1979 and assembled the original list of names inscribed there from military records.
The requests have never stopped. “We didn’t figure almost 40 years later, we’d still be adding names,” he said.
VVMF transferred the memorial to the National Park Service in 1983 but continues to work with that agency to maintain the memorial site.
Over the years, Tetz said, the Department of Defense put in place criteria for inclusion on the Wall: death in the defined war zone; on a combat mission in or out of that zone; or within 120 days of returning home from wounds or sickness suffered in Vietnam. There is some leeway, Tetz said, for soldiers who died from their wounds later, in some cases many years later. DOD relies on the military branches to research the records of those submitted for inclusion.
But those criteria exclude many of those who served, including the 74 sailors who died when their ship, the USS Frank E. Evans, was struck during an international training exercise in 1969 in waters outside the Vietnam combat zone. And they don’t include the 93 Americans soldiers who died when Flying Tigers Flight 739 plunged into the Pacific Ocean en route to Vietnam in 1962.

VA Secretary addresses discrimination complaints at Kansas City VA Medical Center

For the first time, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is publicly addressing the mounting complaints by current and former black workers at the Kansas City VA Medical Center.
The site is facing at least two lawsuits and a growing number racial complaints and allegations.
Some of those complaints include staff members reportedly making lynching jokes, black workers called racial slurs, and illegal personnel practices against black staff.
During his visit, Wilkie promising their voices will be heard, complaints of this kind will not be tolerated and cultural change throughout the agency.
“One charge of discrimination is too many, and I do think that we are on the proper road to correcting that and making sure that everyone feels welcome,”  Wilkie said.
But this trip did not come without raising some questions about the true motives.
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver who represents the 5th Congressional District says he was not alerted about the unexpected trip at all.
’It’s a little disrespectful for the secretary to come into the 5th congressional district, and not even notify me. That’s generally the protocol, when you consider the issue.. which is issues regarding race, it would have been even more reason for him to notify me,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver says he has also received a number of complaints and is speaking with different organizations about the matter.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) spoke with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie following the Secretary’s in-person visit to the Kansas City VA Medical Center (KC VAMC). The purpose of the visit was to discuss discrimination allegations with staff members at KC VAMC.

The Latest Catastrophe at the VA

The VA’s federal watchdog has uncovered filthy conditions at facilities across the country. Yet some 40 percent of all VA hospitals recently suffered from severe shortages of housekeeping staff.
On a warm November day in 2017, Representative Mark Takano, a California Democrat, met with a whistleblower who had serious concerns about the 270-bed Veterans Affairs facility in Loma Linda. Later that day, Takano took a tour of the hospital, and was shocked by what he saw. Grime encrusted the water fountains; the floors of the operating room were noticeably dirty. Takano called for the VA’s inspector general to launch an investigation, which found “inconsistent levels of cleanliness” in the main hospital building, and unwashed floors, dusty cabinets, and a sterile instrument resting on a dirty rack in the inpatient dental unit. The rate of infection among Loma Linda’s patients was higher than the agency average, and the housekeeping department was largely incapacitated by high turnover, poor pay, and shaky management. A separate investigation found the bacteria Legionella pneumophila, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, in the water supply—a discovery that the facility had failed to communicate to clinicians.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Tell USDA to Reject Bayer-Monsanto's Multi-Herbicide Tolerant Corn

Bayer's Monsanto is requesting non-regulated status for corn that will increase the use of drift-prone and toxic herbicides. This means that the planting of a new genetically engineered (GE) variety of corn, which requires substantial weed killer use, will not be restricted in any way. The syndrome of 'more-corn, more-pesticides, more-poisoning, more-contamination' must stop—as we effect an urgent systemic transformation to productive and profitable organic production practices. Because USDA is proposing to allow a new herbicide-dependent crop under the Plant Protection Act, the agency must, but does not, consider the adverse impacts associated with the production practices on other plants and the effects on the soil in which they are grown. Business as usual is not an option for a livable future.
Bayer-Monsanto has developed multi-herbicide tolerant MON 87429 maize, which is tolerant to the herbicides 2,4-D, dicamba, glyphosate, glufosinate, and aryloxyphenoxypropionate (AOPP) acetyl coenzyme A carboxylase (ACCase) inhibitors (so-called “FOP” herbicides, such as quizalofop). Now the company wants this corn to be deregulated—allowing it to be planted and the herbicides use without any restrictions. The petition below, and our formal comments explain the dangers in greater detail.
2,4-D is a phenoxy herbicide that is as well known for its propensity to drift as it is for its damaging health and environmental effects. Approval of Bayer-Monsanto's application would result in adverse impacts and contamination, along with the demonstrated plant-damaging effects. Over the decades of its use, 2,4-D has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, reduced sperm counts, increased risk of non Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson's disease, and hormone disruption, as well as other health problems. 
2,4-D drift has long been a known problem to off-site locations, endangered species, and non-target crops. Many forms of 2,4-D volatilize above 85oF and 2,4-D drift has been known to damage tomatoes, grapes, and other plants. Herbicide concentrations 100 times below the recommended label rate have been reported to cause injury to grapes.

Bayer reaches over $10 billion settlement in Roundup cancer lawsuits

Bayer will pay more than $10 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits regarding claims that its herbicide Roundup causes cancer, the company announced Wednesday.
Monsanto, which Bayer bought in 2018, lost a lawsuit that same year brought by a school groundskeeper who claimed its weedkiller had caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Since then, thousands of U.S. lawsuits have been filed against the company.
Bayer CEO Werner Baumann called the decision to settle the lawsuits the right one in order to end a long period of uncertainty.
“The decision to resolve the Roundup litigation enables us to focus fully on the critical supply of health care and food,” he said in statement. “It will also return the conversation about the safety and utility of glyphosate-based herbicides to the scientific and regulatory arena and to the full body of science.”
The settlement, however, does not contain any admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Bayer will pay $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to settle existing lawsuits and then another $1.25 billion that will cover any potential litigation in the future, the company said in a press release Wednesday.
Kenneth Feinberg, a court-appointed mediator for the settlement, called the deal a "constructive and reasonable" resolution.

Veteran’s win leaves glimmer of hope for others who served in Thailand

Veterans like 73-year-old Dan Tolly, exposed to herbicides while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War, face a knockdown drag out when they apply for VA benefits.
After a years-long struggle, Dan got quite the surprise this weekend in his mailbox. The Department of Veterans Affairs finally approved his claim that his heart disease and cancer were caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange while he served at Ubon Air Force Base. Not only was he awarded disability benefits for life, he got a check from the VA retroactive to 2016.
“I’ve never seen a check like that,” Dan said. “I looked at the amount and it was more numbers than I expected.”
Like Dan, tens of thousands of Americans served in Thailand during the war. 8 On Your Side profiled Dan’s case in a series of reports in September 2019. We forwarded Dan’s records to the VA and asked that it review Dan’s case further.
For years, the military denied it sprayed Agent Orange in Thailand. Of late, the VA has awarded disability benefits for herbicide exposure to personnel who could prove they worked on base perimeters, where the military now concedes it used tactical herbicides.
Dan assembled missiles for F-4 Phantoms. The shop was about 100 feet from the perimeter.
“I walked through the perimeter gate everyday – back and forth, going to work,” Dan said.
“That stuff was mixed with petroleum, so anybody walking across that perimeter would pick it up on their shoes, carry it into the mess halls, the barracks,” explained John Wells, the director of litigation for Military Veterans Advocacy.

Monday, June 22, 2020

VA Reaches 1 Million Veterans and Family Members Through Tele-town Hall Meetings

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has reached more than one million Veterans and family members through telephone town hall meetings held with states across the country.
The weekly meetings highlight VA benefits and give beneficiaries an opportunity to communicate directly with VA Under Secretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D.
“The town hall meetings are an effective way to interact with Veterans and their beneficiaries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Outreach to Veterans is part of our mission and making sure they know about the benefits they have earned is one of the ways we deliver our promise to them.”
Lawrence, who briefs listeners and takes questions from callers, conducts the meetings to ensure Veterans have accurate and up-to-date information. As of June 16, VBA has conducted 25 tele-town halls.
The briefings include updates about VA’s response to COVID-19 and the GI Bill along with the launch of Blue Water Navy Act, Solid Start program and other new initiatives to include the Veterans Benefits Banking Program — helping Veterans to understand and access all services and benefits earned. Veterans and family members are encouraged to join and ask questions about their benefits at 844-227-7557.
Lawrence will continue the telephone town hall meetings sharing steps VA is taking to support Veterans and keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VA denies request to cover veterans exposed to herbicides in the islands

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has denied a rulemaking request from a Louisiana-based veterans advocacy group to cover veterans exposed to herbicides on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Island.
According to Military Veterans Advocacy, Paul Lawrence, the undersecretary for benefits at the VA, claimed that the herbicides sprayed in central Pacific islands had been commercial rather than tactical herbicides.
"Lawrence's dismissal of herbicides as commercial rather than tactical is a distinction without a difference," said MVA Chairman and Director of Litigation John Wells. "The Government Accountability Office noted in a 2018 report that both commercial and tactical herbicides contain the chemicals 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, which combine to make the deadly dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD."
Tactical herbicides include the infamous Agent Orange and other "rainbow" herbicides. There has been concerted interest over many years on whether Agent Orange had been used on Guam. A 2018 GAO report did not find evidence that the deadly herbicide was offloaded on island, but the report does acknowledge, through various military records, that Agent Orange components 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T had been used on Guam in commercial herbicides.
Herbicide 2,4,5-T was banned in the 1980s due to its toxicity.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

In an era of fostering inclusivity, the Department of Veterans Affairs fails again

The Department of Veteran Affairs recently announced its intent to install new bronze plaques bearing a quote from Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan" at each of the nation’s 140 VA cemeteries.
If the past weeks have taught us anything, it is that words matter. White-washing histories means stories and lives of so many are unrecognized and similarly, gender-washing our VA cemeteries only serves to keep the contributions of women service members invisible.
Women are the fastest growing group of veterans and there are currently nearly half a million who use at least one form of VA benefits. Instead of using this knowledge to create a more gender-inclusive VA, the Secretary has decided it is more important to honor the words of a long-deceased president than the service of those he is charged to serve.
This is not the first time the VA has failed women. VA hospitals have been reported to be threatening and dangerous environments for women service members and recognition for female needs ranging from infertility to safety are long overdue. Women veterans are less likely than men to seek care at VA, and advocates say that’s due at least in part to gender and sexual harassment by male veterans at VA hospitals and clinics. Instead of rectifying the problems from within the department, it seems it is digging in its heels to continue to make women feel as if they are unvalued pieces of the war-fighting machine.
Advocates worry that the emergency response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could take away attention from other needed changes within the Veterans Affairs system.
Women veterans advocates worry coronavirus crisis will overshadow other needed fixes
New improvements must be implemented alongside other needs reforms, they warn.
Additionally, the gender of the service member is not the only thing wrong with this quote. A Gold Star child who loses one parent, either a father or a mother to service, is not an orphan unless the other parent too has passed. Here the VA has ample opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of widows — of all genders — who step forward and raise their non-orphaned children as single parents — many of which are supported by the VA.

Veteran missing for a month found dead in stairwell at VA hospital

The body of a missing veteran was found in a stairwell on the campus of a Massachusetts VA hospital one month after he was reported missing.
The 62-year-old man was found dead in a building on the Bedford Veteran Affairs Hospital campus in Bedford on Friday by another resident, according to the Middlesex County District Attorney's office.
The man, who the district attorney's office declined to name was last seen at the facility on May 8 and had been reported missing on May 13. He was found wearing the same clothing he was reported missing in. The DA's office is conducting an investigation into the circumstances of his death, Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman, told CNN.
The man was a resident of Caritas Communities, a non-profit dedicated to preventing homelessness, Kelly confirmed.
The organization runs a residential facility called Bedford Veterans Quarters in a space it leases in a section of a building on the VA campus, Caritas said in a news release. The organization provides "on-site staffing to refer and help residents connect to counseling, medical treatment, employment and other services at the VA," the news release said.
Caritas filed a missing person's report for the man on May 13 and had been working with the VA and the Bedford Police to find the resident, the organization said in a statement.
CNN reached out to Bedford Police about details of the search for the man, but was referred to the Middlesex County District Attorney's office because that office is leading the investigation.
When asked if the man's death was related to Covid-19, Kelly said they don't have a reason to believe it is, but will wait for the medical examiner to rule the cause of death. CNN has reached out to the medical examiner for comment.
Bedford Veterans Quarters has had no Covid-19 cases, Caritas Executive Director Karin Cassel said. According to data provided by the VA, the Bedford VA facility has had 266 cases, including 33 deaths.

S.3446 - Expedite Agent Orange Coverage Act of 2020

S.3446 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)

Expedite Agent Orange Coverage Act of 2020

A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to prescribe regulations providing that a presumption of service connection is warranted for a disease with a positive association with exposure to a herbicide agent, and for other purposes.

from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette - June 16, 1995

June 16, 1995
Jacksonville residents told the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday that they'd rather place a hazardous waste landfill on clean land away from the Vertac site than where passers-by might see it. The landfill, which will hold soils contaminated with dioxins, could be 30 feet high. "In a worst-case scenario, it could be as high as 50 feet," said Doug Keilman, technical director of the Health and Environmental Division for Hercules Inc. Hercules is a former owner and producer of such herbicides as Agent Orange at the Vertac Chemical Corp. site in Jacksonville. The site was declared a national Superfund site in 1982.

Did the Midland flood stir up contaminants that could hurt wildlife?

The flood that was caused by heavy rains and the failure of two dams near Midland caused property damage far downstream. But the long term damage might be in the contamination of wildlife.
Paddling a kayak through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, you can see that it's been flooded. But, for the most part, that's OK. It's a flood plain. It's supposed to flood here rather than in cities downstream.
This refuge is a stopover for migratory birds.
The Cass, the Tittabawassee, the Flint, and the Shiawassee rivers all come together around this 10,000 acres.
“We probably, on average, get about fifty thousand waterfowl,” said Pam Repp, manager of the refuge. Most of those birds have already made the stop in the spring as they headed north.
“We have Canada geese, blue wing teal, green wing teal. We have a lot of wood ducks. Wood ducks do nest here. We support most of the flyway," Repp explained.
That flyway is the Eastern portion of the Mississippi flyway of birds migrating between the southern U.S. and Canada.

VA Benefits – A Basic Understanding of Special Monthly Compensation

What is Special Monthly Compensation?
When receiving a rating decision and a grant of service connection for disability compensation, a veteran is assigned a rating percentage of up to 100% that entitles them to a monthly payment of a certain amount due to their disability related to their military service. Sometimes, however, even a 100% VA disability rating amount may not be enough compensation. For those situations, there are other VA benefits a veteran may qualify for provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs that allows them to receive compensation greater than the 100%. This is Special Monthly Compensation (SMC).
VA Special monthly compensation
The rating schedule is meant to compensate veterans for reduced earning capacity due to their disability. SMC disability benefits are different because they are meant to compensate veterans for non-economic factors, such as personal inconvenience, social inadaptability, and the profound nature of the disability. SMC benefits provide additional compensation at a rate much higher than the 100% rate. SMC is reserved for veterans that have suffered certain severe disabilities, severely disabled veterans who are housebound, or in need of regular aid and attendance or daily health-care services. These rules and procedures for qualifying for SMC can be complicated, so here we will look at a general overview of SMC to make you aware that such benefits exist and that you may be entitled to them.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Advocates Seek Reversal of Policy that Denies Agent Orange Claims to Guam, American Samoa, Johnston Island Veterans

Military-Veterans Advocacy, a Slidell, Louisiana based veterans advocacy group, has reacted to a denial of their request for rulemaking to cover veterans exposed to herbicide on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Island. 
The letter, signed by Mr. Paul Lawrence, Under Secretary for Benefits, claimed that herbicides sprayed on the central pacific islands were commercial rather than tactical herbicides. In a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie dated June 8, 2020, MVA Chairman of the Board and Director of Litigation CDR John B. Wells (USN, Ret.) addressed the reasons for the denial and asked that the Secretary overrule Lawrence and grant the rulemaking request.

"Lawrence's dismissal of herbicides as commercial rather than tactical is a distinction without a difference," Wells wrote.  "The Government Accounting Office (GAO) noted in a 2018 report that both commercial and tactical herbicides contain the chemicals 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D which combine to make the deadly dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD.
"It is not the label assigned," Wells added, "but the chemical composition of the herbicide that wreaks havoc on the human body.  Veterans exposed to that herbicide who have manifested a covered disease or disability should be covered." 
Wells said evidence shows herbicide use on Guam from 1958 through 1980.  Pertinent documents have been provided to the VA.
Although Lawrence admitted in his denial that leaking barrels of Agent Orange herbicide were stored on Johnston Island, he claimed that coverage should be denied because civilian contractors rather than military personnel maintained the leaking drums.
In his letter to Wilkie, Wells scoffed at this reasoning noting that the island was only 241 hectacres or less than one square mile of area.  Wells wrote that "civilians and military shared common areas including latrine and shower facilities, recreational facilities, a common laundry, dining hall, chapel etc. In these close quarters, cross-contamination between civilian and military would have been rampant."
Wells also submitted an affidavit from Dr. Wayne Dwemychuck, a noted Canadian environmental scientist and Agent Orange specialist who has confirmed this analysis.
Wells closed his letter with a request for Wilkie to overrule Lawrence and a promise to commence litigation by mid-July if this did not occur.

Media Contact:
Point of contact
CDR John B. Wells, USN (ret)

VA has a new patient advocacy tracking system

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new tool that allows its health care teams to collaboratively address and resolve issues.
The Patient Advocate Tracking System-Replacement (PATS-R) is a web-based tool that reinforces the culture that patient advocacy is the responsibility of every employee, VA said in a release.
“PATS-R has really modernized the way patient advocates complete their work,” said Katie Braun, a Veteran Experience Coordinator at the Pittsburgh VAMC. “The system has also encouraged advocacy at all levels, and within services lines.”
At 90 percent, veteran trust in VA health care at record high Following several years of research and development, PATS-R is now being used by 24,000 patient advocates and service line professionals at 151 VA Medical Centers and community-based outpatient clinics across the country.
PATS-R empowers employees to actively engage with veterans at the point of service, helping to build a relationship of trust.  It also supports their patient experience with a technological solution for complaint resolution and service recovery, the release states.
PATS-R also taps into VA-wide patient experience feedback, meaning that a veteran’s complete interaction history with VHA follows them wherever they are.

Sons and Daughters in Touch Father’s Day Celebration to be a Virtual Event

The SDIT Father's Day celebration at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been cancelled due to the pandemic. However, in collaboration with VVMF, SDIT is holding a virtual Father's Day ceremony on Sunday, June 21. As part of that program, VVMF and SDIT are requesting that Gold Star families and Vietnam veterans submit tribute videos honoring the fallen and their families.

Submit a Video Here...

VA Unprepared to Deal with a Second Wave of COVID-19, Top Officials Say

The Department of Veterans Affairs is saddled with an antiquated supply chain that is short of personal protective equipment (PPE) -- including N-95 masks and gowns -- swabs and other vital equipment to deal with a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, VA officials said Tuesday.
The VA's health care system currently has about a 30-day supply of protective gear on hand, but would need a supply backstop of at least 60 days or possibly six months to cope with a resurgence of the novel coronavirus in the fall, said Dr. Richard Stone, acting head of the Veterans Health Administration.
At a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, asked, "So, Dr. Stone, we're not where we need to be?"
Stone replied, "That is correct."
In his testimony, he added, "We recognize that a future pandemic wave may test all of us" in terms of the demand for adequate supplies for health care workers to protect themselves and treat patients.
For decades, the VA has relied on a "just in time" supply chain for deliveries that has been severely strained by the current pandemic, Stone said.
"This system has not delivered the response necessary," he said, but stressed that health care workers are adequately protected despite the shortcomings.
"Just in time for PPE is not the way to go," said Deborah Kramer, the acting under secretary for Health for Support Services at the VHA, who joined Stone at the hearing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

June Willenz, Champion of Women in the Military, Dies at 95

She didn’t serve in the military herself. But she saw the armed services denying equal benefits to female veterans, and she crusaded to make a difference.
June A. Willenz, a longtime human rights activist and champion of women in the military, died on May 3 in Bethesda, Md. She was 95.
Her daughter Pam Willenz confirmed the death. She said Ms. Willenz had had a heart attack after emergency hip surgery.
Ms. Willenz was an advocate for women in the armed forces at a time when they were largely ignored. Her 1983 book, “Women Veterans: America’s Forgotten Heroines,” provided one of the first comprehensive examinations of women in the armed services. It exposed inequities between men and women and led to congressional hearings, as well as to improved benefits, services and career opportunities for women.
As devoted as she was to women veterans, Ms. Willenz never served in the military herself. Her focus on
“She had files of causes she wanted to be a part of,” Pam Willenz said in an interview. “If anything crossed her path with a human rights or social justice element, she wanted to dig deeper and see what she could do about it.”
Causes that drew her attention ranged from rape victims in Africa to the mistreatment of pets in the United States.
But her biggest cause was striving to achieve equality and recognition for women and other marginalized people in the armed services. She brought veterans’ voices into the civil rights movement. She was the first woman to lead a presidential subcommittee on disabled veterans; she developed the first Legal Aid project for veterans with discharge problems; and she worked with Congress to create special offices for women and members of minority groups within the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs. She even wrote one-act plays dramatizing the conflicts confronting women in the military.

Contamination detected in Riverside Park soil tests

A Wausau City Council representative is calling for environmental cleanup at a west side park after soil testing performed in April showed multiple exceedances of state Department of Natural Resources soil standards, validating long-held concerns by residents in the area.
For years, residents worried about potential soil contamination in Riverside Park and asserted there may be issues with cancer-causing soil dioxin levels in the that could exceed state standards. Now, that assertion is a reality, after the city’s April 2020 environmental testing revealed concentrations of dioxin and furan that exceed the DNR’s not-to-exceed direct contact limits for a non-industrial setting. Based on the city’s initial analysis, concentrations of one dioxin and one furan were more than double state soil limits for a non-industrial setting.
Multiple exceedances were identified below a culvert that empties into the park and neighbors an area that once housed a cold storage building at the former SNE plant. One area of the cold storage building was used as a “drum accumulation area” for hazardous waste.
Based on initial data and analysis by the city’s consultants, the other eight soil samples taken in the park away from the culvert outfall area also identified low-levels of contaminants, but those concentrations did not exceed state soil standards.

VA acknowledges it’s ‘not there yet’ with coronavirus testing for employees

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not have on-demand coronavirus testing for its employees up and running just yet, despite its best intentions to screen anyone who presented symptoms or believed they had been exposed.
VA has tested about 12% of its health workforce for the virus, Richard Stone, executive-in-charge at the Veterans Health Administration, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday afternoon.
His comments contrast with those the department made one week ago before another congressional committee, when Jennifer MacDonald, chief consultant to the deputy VA undersecretary for health, told a House appropriations subcommittee any symptomatic employee or anyone who wanted a test could be screened.
“We’re not hearing that,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the committee’s ranking member, said. “We’re not hearing that from the folks on the ground. We’re still hearing that they’re not being tested.”
“Senator, you are exactly right, we’re not there yet,” Stone said. “Although we’ve tested over 12% of our employees, and it is our intent to have on-demand testing for all of our employees, we’re not there yet.”
VA’s labs have the capacity to process 60,000 coronavirus tests a week, Stone said, but the department lacked the swabs and cartridges necessary to fully screen employees.
“Simply when we issued the guidance to go to on-demand testing for our employees, we ran out of swabs because of some problems with UPS shipping,” he said. “That was a national problem with the crashing of UPS systems for a weekend. We have now recovered from that. Right now, we have about 60,000 tests available, but we do not have the ability to institute on-demand testing for our employees. It is our intent to get there.”

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Bill aims to help track veterans’ exposure to toxic burn pits

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast is pushing legislation aimed at tracking veterans’ exposure to burn pits overseas.
“There’s no doubt that burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation,” Mast said in a Tuesday statement.
“Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing horrible health effects and are dying as a result.”
These open-air pits are used in some countries to burn garbage and human waste. The pits can emit harmful toxins affecting veterans’ lungs or even causing cancer.
Mast, a Republican, is joined on the bill by former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii in the U.S. House.
“Millions of our brothers and sisters in uniform have been exposed to the toxic chemicals released from toxic burn pits and are suffering and dying without treatment,” Gabbard said.
“This is an egregious failure of our nation to those who serve. It is too late for some, but more are suffering and more need help. While there has been some progress on this front in the Defense Department and [Department of Veterans Affairs], more must be done.”
Mast and Gabbard were behind similar successful legislation, allowing servicemembers to join a registry tracking those who have been exposed to the pits.
“We’ve made progress, but much more must be done, which is why we need this bill to track exposure to burn pits so exposed veterans can get the care they need,” Mast said.
The new bill would require the VA to track cases and brief Congress on numbers each quarter. Health care providers must also inform veterans of the registry should they complain of exposure.