Friday, May 29, 2020

VA disputes Yale-linked report, says no evidence Agent Orange was used on Guam

The Department of Veterans Affairs is pushing back against a recent report that says veterans who served on Guam between 1962 and 1975 were likely exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
The report — released May 11, by the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School — says those veterans meet the legal standard for exposure and may have valid claims to service-related disabilities.
The VA disputed the report’s findings in an email to Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.
“There is no evidence agent orange was ever used on Guam,” wrote VA press secretary Christina Noel.
She said the report’s authors failed to consider a 2018 Government Accountability Office report and a recent Department of Defense review on the subject.
“GAO reviewed DOD documents, other government records, and interviewed Veterans alleging Agent Orange exposure and concluded that there was no evidence of Agent Orange or other tactical herbicides, such as Agents White or Blue, on Guam,” she said.
Investigators found extensive use of approved commercial herbicides on Guam but no evidence of Agent Orange or other tactical herbicides, Noel said.
The VA believes Agent Orange causes several cancers, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and others, according to its website. The department also recognizes the herbicide as a cause in some cases of diabetes and diseases of the nervous system, skin and heart.

Dow recovers from Midland flooding

Dow has begun cleanup and recovery at its Midland, Michigan, chemical complex, following flooding from rain and dam failures.
On May 19, heavy rains caused the Tittabawassee River to crest above flood stage. That evening, two dams ruptured, contributing to flooding in the region. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County, and more than 10,000 residents evacuated.
Dow’s manufacturing facility sits on the eastern bank of the Tittabawassee. The facility once made many Dow products, but due to restructuring and divestitures over the years, the company only makes silicones there now.
Other firms operate several former Dow plants on the site. For example, Corteva makes agrochemicals there, DuPont has a methylcellulose plant, Trinseo has latex and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene units, and SK Saran produces specialty plastics.
Dow began shutting down operations at the facility even before the breach of the two dams. The day after the flooding, Dow acknowledged that “there were flood waters commingling with on-site containment ponds.” Its headquarters, at a separate Midland location, wasn’t impacted by the event, the company says.
In a May 22 appearance on the business news channel CNBC, Dow CEO Jim Fitterling said the containment ponds hold brine that the site uses for groundwater remediation and pose no chemical hazards. “To our knowledge, there’s nothing that’s been released,” he said.

Lawmakers seek solutions for vets denied benefits after VA canceled exams amid COVID-19

Veterans have been denied benefits during the coronavirus pandemic because their compensation and pension exams at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been canceled, advocates told Congress Wednesday.
A backlog of compensation and pension exams is growing -- with more than 230,000 delayed during the pandemic so far -- and VA has yet to communicate its plan to address that backlog, lawmakers and advocates said during an online forum held by the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
"The abrupt pause to the process has left some veterans to wonder when and how their claims will move forward," Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said.
No one from VA was present for the forum, and lawmakers were critical of the department's absence.
"VA's insight is critical if we are to determine the best way forward on this issue," said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.
"VA needs to show leadership in the midst of this crisis by showing preparedness," said Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., adding that the numbers of backlogged claims "are alarming, but that doesn't mean we can rush back to normal operations without a plan in place" and that plan should address the "mounting backlog without sacrificing quality."
Beginning in early April, VA began canceling compensation and pension (C&P) exams or transitioning them to telehealth by phone or online.
That was several weeks after President Donald Trump instituted a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, and followed state and local governments enacting stay-at-home orders. Some veterans already had canceled their exams for their safety or had their appointments canceled by contracted providers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Senators Request Unanimous Consent to Pass USS Frank E. Evans Act S. 849

U.S.S. FrankE. Evans Act
This bill requires the Department of Defense to authorize inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in the District of Columbia of the names of the 74 crew members of the USS Frank E. Evans killed on June 3, 1969.

According to the US Navy Awards file, Frank E. Evans served in the waters off Vietnam for 12 days from July to September 1965. Evans was again in the vicinity of Vietnam for 61 days from August to November 1966. Evans returned to Vietnam and served there for 66 days from October 1967 to 20 February 1968. During the Tet Offensive, on 3 February 1968, Frank E. Evans provided naval gunfire support to the 101st Airborne Division near Phan Thiết against the 840th VC Battalion. Evans also spent an additional 14 days in 1969 in the Vietnam war zone.
Collision with HMAS Melbourne
USS Frank E. Evans post collision
At around 3:00 a.m. on 3 June 1969, between Vietnam and Spratly Island, Frank E. Evans was operating with the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy in company with the aircraft carrier Melbourne which was in the process of going to flying stations and all ships in the formation were running without lights. Melbourne radioed Evans, then to port of the carrier, to take up the rescue destroyer position. The logical movement would be to turn to port and make a circle taking up station on the carrier's port quarter. However, since the conning officer on Evans misunderstood the formation's base course and believed they were starboard of Melbourne, they turned to starboard, cutting across the carrier's bow twice in the process. Frank E. Evans was struck at a point around 92 feet from her bow on her port side and was cut in two. Her bow drifted off to the port side of Melbourne and sank in less than five minutes taking 73 of her crew with it. One body was recovered from the water, making a total of 74 dead. The stern scraped along the starboard side of Melbourne and lines were able to be attached by the crew of Melbourne. Around 60–100 men were also rescued from the water.

Parkinson’s Foundation, VA Join to Help US Veterans Manage Disease

The Parkinson’s Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are collaborating on an effort to improve the health and life quality of veterans with Parkinson’s disease.
The two want to provide people who served in the U.S. Armed Forces with better resources and ways to manage Parkinson’s, a disease that affects nearly 1 million people in the country and about 110,000 veterans, half of whom are at least 65. Globally, nearly 10 million people are living with this disease.
“VA and the Foundation are working to increase access to information about Parkinson’s disease,” John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation, said in a press release. “Educating and training VA staff on disease management and therapies, along with improving veterans’ access to direct health services related to the disease is a paramount objective.”
The nonprofit organization currently offers information of help in managing Parkinson’s, with topics including diet and nutrition, emotional wellness, advice for the newly diagnosed, activities of daily living, dental health, sexual health, living alone, and talking to children about the disease.

Plan to remove toxins from pits takes shape

Design work for the removal of toxic waste from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site is nearing the 30% mark, according to Jackie Young-Medcalf, executive director of the Texas Health and Environmental Alliance.
That milestone is significant because it will show the broad shape of plans for the remediation of the site.
The San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site is a former landfill area north of the Interstate 10 bridge over the San Jacinto River that has high levels of dioxin.
The Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the responsible parties to remove the contaminated soil—a project complicated by the location under a flood-prone river and adjacent to a major bridge that is expected to be replaced within a few years.
She said the 30% design package for the southern impoundment area was submitted to the EPA in April, and the 30% design package for the northern impoundment is expected May 30.
“Once you get to the 30% design in the engineering and construction world you can become that much more confident about the direction that the process is going to take,” she said.
“It’s critical that we remain engaged through this process to ensure that remediation is planned as safely and effectively as possible.”


For veteran Megan Kingston, the coronavirus presented extra danger due to her exposure to the smoke that emanated day and night from the burn pits near her barracks at Camp Liberty in Iraq.
"It was quite a fight. Double pneumonia.
 The fever for multiple days. The body aches. 
The bloody noses. Even my eyeballs were in pain."
"The odds were not in my favor," Kingston, of Northern Virginia, says to Fox News regarding her recent exposure to COVID-19. "We were all kind of like going, how did I even pull this one off? It's a miracle for sure."
Kingston served as an Army medic from 2005 to 2009 when she was stationed in Baghdad and then joined the federal government as a counterterrorism officer and served another eight years there until she developed constrictive bronchiolitis in 2018 and was forced to retire. Like scores of other veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she draws a direct connection from burn pits to her illness. Burn pits are a crude method of incineration in which virtually every piece of waste was burned, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste.
The items often were set ablaze with jet fuel as the accelerant, and the pits burned more than 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night. Most service members breathed in toxic fumes with no protection. Kingston says the pit near her barracks at Camp Liberty was the largest in the country.
"I figured something was going to happen to us eventually," she says. "As a medic, looking at all that [smoke], I knew it was toxic. A firefighter knows that you put on a breathing apparatus when you see smoke like that and you don't even go into the building unless you're on air. And we were next to that, breathing it in all the time."
Many veterans like Kingston have developed a myriad of respiratory issues and other serious ailments believed to be a result of burn pit exposure. Many are immuno-compromised and face an increased vulnerability to COVID-19.
“If you had burn pit-exposed lungs and you have more respiratory inflammation on a normal day, you have more vulnerability to the virus once it hits your lungs. So it's a very good time to avoid, avoid, avoid getting infected,” Dr. Nancy Klimas, director of Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University, said to Fox News in a March 25 report on the dangers burn pits veterans face with the coronavirus. “Once infected, they have a greater risk of having a more serious form of the illness."

Sunday, May 17, 2020

NVLSP And Yale Veterans Clinic Issue White Paper That Confirms Veterans Who Served in Guam from 1962-1975 Were Likely Exposed to Dioxin Herbicide Agents Including Agent Orange

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (“NVLSP”) partnered with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization of Yale Law School (“LSO”) to evaluate whether existing evidence satisfies the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) legal standard to establish that veterans who served on Guam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other dioxin-containing herbicide agents.
The relevant VA standard of proof is whether it is “as likely as not” that these veterans were exposed to herbicide agents. We are pleased to share this white paper with the VA and veterans of Guam seeking service-connection for illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure.
We conclude that existing evidence establishes that it is, at the very least, “as likely as not” that veterans who served in Guam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other dioxincontaining herbicides. Official government accounts and credible veteran testimony demonstrate significant dioxin exposure pathways among Guam veterans as a result of spraying, mishandling, and disposal in documented areas. Widespread dioxin exposure is further supported by scientific evidence of dioxin contamination from Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Department of Defense (“DoD”) testing at these sites during the 1980s and 1990s. Accordingly, these veterans are presumptively entitled to disability compensation for any diseases that the Secretary has associated with exposure based on findings from the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Below, we explain in depth the evidence and legal basis for our conclusion. This white paper is accompanied by an appendix of selected relevant sources to document veterans’ claims of service connection for illnesses associated with dioxin exposure.
The weight of the evidence strongly shows that veterans who served on Guam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to herbicides containing dioxin.

Tele-town hall meetings new norm for Veterans Affairs

The Veterans Benefits Administration aims to talk to hundreds of thousands of veterans in a series of town hall meetings, telephonic town hall meetings. They’ve been taking place every few days since last week with more to follow. VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to describe what he’s hearing and telling the veterans.
Interview transcript:
Tom Temin: Dr. Lawrence, it’s good to have you back.
Paul Lawrence: Hey, great, Tom, thanks for having me back.
Tom Temin: How many people have you had engaged so far in these calls?
Paul Lawrence: I’ve done them in 13 states and it’s over 350,000 veterans. So it’s really surprisingly popular and get a lot of good questions. I enjoy talking to veterans because they pose the questions live. Hearing their issues, trying to solve them and then quite frankly, as leaders, trying to figure out how they happened to prevent that from happening again.
Tom Temin: So these, for them then, are places they call in by telephone, it’s not a video conference.
Paul Lawrence: That’s correct, it’s a toll free call and number and then we talked to the veterans. I speak for a few minutes about what’s going on. Then I open it up to questions. Try to get about 20 questions during these tele-town halls. Some I’ll answer because they’re general information. Many require follow up from our team because they’re case specific. We don’t want exchange personal information over the phone. So between us or the state Department of Veterans Affairs, we generally get in touch with the veteran literally within 24 hours and try to figure out how we can help them.
Tom Temin: And if you have hundreds of people on the phone line at one time, how do you know who to take a question from or who’s got a question?
Paul Lawrence: They identify what their question is, it’s screened and we try to pull them up on stuff that we think will be general interest. So for example, a lot of people would actually call and want to talk about their health care issues. I will be unable to you know, share much about that. So we try to pull those off and get them to our health care colleagues. But some that were very much interested in are some common questions about, you know, benefits, about the economic impact payments, the stimulus checks, right? About blue water Navy, stuff we know that’s on everyone’s mind, we try to do that. So if you don’t get through for questions, you at least get some information that will help you with your benefits.

Changes to VA benefits operations forced by coronavirus could outlast the pandemic

In a surprising twist, the forced closure of hundreds of Veterans Affairs benefits offices because of the coronavirus outbreak may actually be helping officials reach more veterans.
“(Since the closings) we’ve done tele-town halls for 12 states so far, and reached more than 350,000 veterans,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence in an interview with Military Times this week.
“I talk for a little bit and then take questions. They’re good to hear, keep me apprised of what our veterans are talking about and what may have gone wrong so we can fix it.
“Ironically, they really have enabled me to touch a group of folks who aren’t on social media, print media, the places we usually go. It seems like we’re reaching an older generation of veterans, and telephone is the way they engage.”
Lawrence, who oversees the distribution of disability, education and other benefits to more than 7 million veterans and family members, said the success of the new telephone town halls have been a silver lining in the ongoing pandemic, which has forced about 97 percent of the Veterans Benefits Administration to work from home.
Department officials have seen an increase in worker productivity since that move, but Lawrence said he isn’t convinced that indicates a permanent change to off-site work would produce more efficiency.
“We’re seeing our employees’ availability and utilization at a higher percentage than usual, but that could be because they have no real (recreation) alternatives right now, and no one can go anywhere on vacation,” he said. “And they know our mission still matters, so these have been some of our more productive times.”
Lawrence said his staff has begun discussing whether they’ll keep using more remote-working options in the future, but dismissed the chances of large-scale changes away from brick-and-mortar benefits offices.
“Our veterans still need to come in there for some questions,” he said. “And for a lot of veterans, social isolation isn’t a good thing. So we want to be there.”

Alaska Native veterans cut off from help struggle amid pandemic, chief says

William Smith and his brother both served in Vietnam, his brother a few years before him.
Smith's brother died of Agent Orange exposure, lying in a hospital bed, fighting to breathe until the end.
The coronavirus pandemic has left Smith reliving his brother's last moments.
"When I look at this COVID-19 going on, I see my brother lying in that bed in the hospital," he said. "They weren't able to get him healthy enough to transfer to Seattle, so I just watched him pass away with a tube in his throat just gasping for every breath."
For Smith, 67, chief of the Valdez Native Tribe, his brother's fate stands as a stark reminder of the risk to veterans that the coronavirus poses, especially in the remote areas of the nation's largest state, where many are increasingly isolated and cut off from help. Smith is vice chairman of the Alaska Native Health Board and serves as vice-chairman and Alaska-area representative for the National Indian Health Board.
Native American and Native Alaskan veterans struggling to access adequate health care is not a new problem. It's a continuous battle, Smith said, and the Department of Veterans Affairs resources they do have were facing a backlog long before COVID-19 struck -- in rural and urban areas.
Native veterans are more likely to live far from VA facilities, tend to have lower personal incomes, higher unemployment and lack health insurance compared to their fellow veterans, according to the National Congress of American Indians. When they do receive care, they often face major cultural and language barriers. Native veterans also struggle to form tribal veterans service organizations, which could help navigate the sprawling bureaucracy of the VA and its claims system.
All this could place them at greater risk during the pandemic -- and not just from the virus.

Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch - OUR VIEW: VA must heed Schumer query on malaria drug

Anyone familiar with the book, “Waiting for An Army to Die” has a pretty good idea of how the US government acts when it comes to veterans’ health issues. The book by Fred Wilcox tells of the horrific treatment of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and the generations of suffering that continues to this day.
It is why we strongly urge US Sen. Charles Schumer to hang tough on his demand for the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain why it allowed the use of the controversial drug, hydroxychloroquine, on veterans for the coronavirus. Use of the unproven drug, Schumer says, may have put patients at unnecessary risk.
The Senate minority leader said VA needs to provide Congress more information about a recent bulk order for $208,000 worth of hydroxychloroquine – a drug used to treat malaria that President Donald Trump has heavily promoted as a treatment for COVID-19.
Schumer’s request came after a whistleblower complaint filed last week by former Health and Human Services official Rick Bright alleging that the Trump administration, eager for a quick fix to the coronavirus, wanted to “flood” hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug. Major veterans organizations have urged the VA to explain under what circumstances VA doctors initiate discussion of hydroxychloroquine with veterans as a treatment option.
“There are concerns that they are using this drug when the medical evidence says it doesn’t help and could hurt,” Schumer told the Associated Press.
Schumer further said that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie needs to answer questions about a recent analysis of VA hospital data that showed there were more deaths among patients given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, including how much patients knew about the drug’s risks before taking it. He said VA needs to address whether anyone at the department was pressured by the White House or the administration to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.
“These are people who risked their lives for us,” Schumer said. “They should be treated only with the utmost dignity, respect and high standards of care.”

VA participating in drug, plasma trials in fight against COVID-19

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced participation in a series of clinical trials and investigations across the nation aimed at finding ways to mitigate or potentially prevent symptoms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in patients.
The trials demonstrate the ability of VA — America’s largest integrated health care network that also maintains a significant capacity for research — to work with government and industry partners on a wide range of solutions during this national health crisis.
“We’re in a position to do things that no one else in the world can do to improve the health of our Veterans, the nation and the world,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is bringing all of its expertise to bear during this crisis, and now we’re leading the way on research into pharmaceuticals and treatments that could improve the lives of thousands of patients.”
VA’s most far-reaching effort is its cooperation with the Mayo Clinic, which is studying whether blood transfusions from people who recovered from COVID-19 can help those who are still suffering with symptoms. Plasma from COVID-19 survivors contains antibodies that may help current patients.
In cooperation with this program, more than 60 of VA’s medical centers and clinics are prepared to perform transfusions of this plasma to COVID-19 patients.
The Food and Drug Administration approved expanded access to convalescent plasma transfusions in April. Patients who are interested in this program can learn more here.

Flight Status - During the Vietnam War, the women who served on special Pan Am flights flew into a war zone to transport soldiers. Why has their role been forgotten?

In the winter of 1968, a Boeing 707, heavy with American troops and body bags, took rounds of antiaircraft fire immediately upon takeoff from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. At once, a right engine burst into flames. It was the middle of the Tet Offensive, when coordinated Viet Cong raids pounded American installations in South Vietnam. A GI sitting by the wing spotted the engine fire outside his window and caught the attention of one of the stewardesses, Gayle Larson, then 25 years old, who sped to the front to alert the cockpit crew of three.
The flight engineer raced into the cabin to inspect. As Larson remembers, the planeload of GIs was unimpressed, “paying no attention to the disaster outside the cabin windows.” The flight was redirected from its original destination — some holiday spot in the Pacific: maybe Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tokyo, no one remembers now — and instead flew to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. The 707 was a first-generation long-distance jet with four engines, but it could fly on just three. In an all-economy configuration, it could carry 180 GIs.
Larson and her roommate, Susan Harris, who was also on the flight, secured the cabin for safety and fed the troops. “We were just trying to make sure everything was okay,” Harris says.
Now in their 70s, Larson, of Portland, Ore., and Harris, of Kingston, Wash., both remember that surviving a sniper attack and an engine failure was a moment of comic juxtapositions: The wing was on fire, but inside the smell of freshly baked Nestlé Toll House cookies wafted through the cabin. During their years of service, it was a ritual for the roommates to mix up and freeze rolls of cookie dough at their home in Sausalito, Calif., for the trips to Vietnam.

Why the Military Can Use Emergency Powers to Treat Service Members with Trial COVID-19 Drugs

Army physicians are turning to drugs approved for other conditions or newly developed treatments such as the antiviral Remdesivir to treat infected personnel.
Infectious disease has always been one of the military’s greatest threats. By its own estimates, the U.S. Army lost almost as many soldiers from the 1918 flu as died on the battlefields of the first World War.
Troops are at risk during an outbreak due to the tight quarters in which they live and work. It is therefore not surprising that all branches of the service – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – have been hit hard by COVID-19. The military has also played an important role in responding to the virus, from evacuating State Department officials from Wuhan in January to its current role building and staffing civilian field hospitals and augmenting civilian research teams.
To mitigate any risk, the Department of Defense has enforced rigorous social distancing policies and a military-wide travel ban halting nonessential deployments.
New treatments
But in addition to measures aimed at keeping people away from sources of infection, the military is also treating active duty personnel who become infected. Because the COVID-19 virus is new, there are as yet no FDA approved treatments. As a result, military physicians are turning to either treatments approved for other conditions or seeking access to newly developed treatments, such as the antiviral Remdesivir, which to date has received FDA emergency use approval only for COVID-19 patients with severe conditions. That presents a significant legal challenge due to existing laws protecting military personnel by recognizing that their obligation to follow orders reduces their ability to provide informed consent.

Vietnam defies the odds on Covid-19

Quick action by the government has helped prevent widespread infection – and turned the tide of public distrust.
If you want to see real Olympic-level panic-buying, head to a Vietnamese supermarket a week before Tet, or Lunar New Year. 
Yet when the coronavirus broke out in China, Vietnam, with which it shares a border, there was only an hour or two of panic-buying before things settled down to normal.
Vietnam has come out of Covid-19 lockdown, and schools have restarted after being closed all year. The economy is restarting, and there’s hope the country could escape the worst economic ravages, or even benefit from plans to diversify manufacturing away from China.
This is a nation that took three goes just to institute a motorbike helmet law people would actually pay attention to.
There are fewer than 300 reported Covid-19 cases, and no reported deaths. International press coverage of Vietnam's efforts has been broad and generally effusive – not something the regime has seen much of for some years, after cycles of corruption scandals and crackdowns. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Resources for Veterans' with Parkinson's Disease

courtesy of our old friend Zack Earp...

Opinion Comparing Vietnam, COVID-19 deaths? They’re leaving something out

Concerning the Bloomberg News Service article by Aaron Blake “The virus death toll has surpassed Vietnam. Is the comparison fair?” in the May 3 Star-Ledger:
It is only fair to compare death rates from Vietnam and COVID-19 when the silent killer Agent Orange is included. No one knows how many hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans this chemical has killed.
While the official U.S. death toll from the Vietnam War may be 58,220, far more of the estimated 3.5 million who served in the war are likely to have died — or are dying — from complications due to exposure from toxic dioxin in Agent Orange. The military used Agent Orange as a herbicide in Vietnam and Thailand from 1962 to 1971.
A 1998-2006 study of more than 13,000 Vietnam veterans, half exposed to Agent Orange and half not, found that the exposed group got prostate cancer at twice the rate as the other group. Also, those in the exposed group were two-and-a-half times as likely to have the more deadly type of metastasis (spreading) form of cancer.
Despite this, the federal government and the Department of Veterans Affairs are not tracking or following up with Vietnam veterans about these health issues. Hundreds of thousands of aging veterans are left to find out about this silent killer on their own.
John Conway, Jackson

I Survived Vietnam. Will I Survive This Pandemic?

Chance rules. Leaders lie. Deaths become statistics. The parallels between the disease and the war are everywhere.
By David Gerstel
Mr. Gerstel is a Vietnam veteran.
May 9, 2020
SARNANO, Italy — A very long time ago, I was one of more than two million American men and women who served their country in Vietnam. We fought; too many of us became casualties and died. We were gone from home and half forgotten, living and dying in an alternative reality.
It was chance that determined survival: which unit required replacements, what transportation was available that day, where the fighting was heaviest and needed support — as random as a typewriter keyboard strike, the list of names carried in a sergeant’s shirt pocket, even a person’s height, which might determine the weapon you carried and where you were placed in the line on patrol.
Some of us felt friends would get you through; others knew that being alone was safer, with less feeling and connection. In the end it was chance. The numbers could be improved but not enough to offset random death. The process of division created us and them, those who walked home and those who were carried.
Now I live in a small hill town in Italy, constructed with old walls to keep out strangers and the Black Death. The country, like the United States, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, and I cannot help thinking how much the experience echoes Vietnam — a comparison brought sharply into focus in recent days, as the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 shot past the number killed in Southeast Asia, a half century ago.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Vietnam publishes themed resource kit for stay-at-home travelers

As Vietnam joins the rest of the world in social distancing to combat COVID-19, the country's tourism board is reaching out with a themed resource kit to keep travelers connected, creative and inspired.
Vietnam Publishes ‘Stay At Home with Vietnam’ Kit for Housebound Travelers
Those who have had to cancel or cut short trips to Vietnam, or are unable to travel to the country this year may enjoy exploring the activities in the 'Stay At Home' kit, created by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) together with the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board (TAB).
The kit, free on, features 360-degree interactive tours of Vietnam's renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites, easy recipes for popular Vietnamese dishes such as banh mi and bun cha, coloring pages celebrating classic Vietnam moments, and suggestions for cultural explorations in books, music and art. The tourism board is also inviting future travelers to explore its 'My Vietnam' series: a collection of insightful videos and personal interviews with locals across the country.
While the country's borders have been officially closed since March 22, the tourism board hopes the 'Stay at Home' kit will offer a piece of Vietnam to those outside, until the country is ready to welcome visitors again. Tourism leaders said the country's fast action and effective prevention system place Vietnam in a strong position to receive travelers again soon.

More than 204,000 veterans, troops sign up for VA burn pit, airborne hazard registry

More than 204,000 veterans and service members have signed on to the Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, VA announced Tuesday.
The registry was established in June 2014 and allows current and former service members to self-report toxic exposures and health concerns using an online questionnaire. That registry and their responses can be used to discuss health issues with doctors and other providers.
“Concerns about the long-term effects of exposure to burn pits remain a priority,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “By joining the registry, veterans, service members and the department will further understand the impact of deployment-related exposures on health.”
VA credited the Defense Department with an extra push to put participation beyond the 200,000 mark, which it called a "major milestone."

Court Ruling Says EPA Can’t Continue Ignoring Toxic Emissions From Paper Mills

Finally tonight, some good news. A federal court last week ruled that the environmental protection agency can’t continue to ignore toxins being released from paper and pulp mills when they set emission rules. The EPA is required to review emissions from corporations every eight years and then to use those set, to set limits on what’s acceptable and what’s not. But ever since that rule was established in 2001 the EPA has never factored in emissions from these pulp mills. These pulp mills are dangerous. They put out dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals like dioxin and mercury right into the nearby environment and for nearly 20 years, the federal government’s been pretending that these emissions don’t exist at all.
But thanks to the last week’s ruling, these dangerous toxins must be counted. Longterm exposure to mercury has been linked to abnormal brain functions and structural changes to the brain that can lead to permanent disastrous alterations in personality. Exposure to dioxin, even in low amounts, can severely disrupt the endocrine system, alter hormones and destroy a person’s reproductive system. And these are just a few of the many adverse effects that these chemicals have on the body. Last week’s ruling might be a couple of decades too late, but it could prevent severe health problems in the future. Maybe that’s good news. Maybe that’s the best we can expect these days.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

National Nurses Week May 6 - 12

For nearly four decades, the United States has honored its nurses with National Nurses Week, held between May 6 and May 12 — the birthday of celebrated British nurse Florence Nightingale. Considered the pioneer of modern nursing, Nightingale first garnered fame after she and her team of nurses reduced the death rate at a British base hospital by two-thirds during the Crimean War in the 1850s.
Florence Nightingale
The contributions of female nurses to the American military, however, reach as far back as the American Revolution when women cared for the fallen on battlefields and in camps. In the summer of 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates of the Continental Army reported to Commander-in-Chief George Washington that, “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Gen. Washington asked for help from Congress, which approved one nurse for every ten patients in Continental hospitals.
The U.S. military officially added contract nurses for the first time soon after the Spanish-American war broke out in 1898 to help care for the overwhelming numbers of sick as well as the injured. More than 1,500 nurses served, including 250 nuns, 80 African-American nurses, and at least four Native Americans. Twenty-one of these women died after contracting illnesses from those in their care.
Acknowledging these nurses’ invaluable contributions in saving lives and hoping to avoid panic the next time war broke out, the Surgeon General established the criteria for a reserve force of nurses in 1899, and in 1901, Congress established the Army Nurse Corps. Seven years later, it created the Navy Nurse Corps.
When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, it had 403 Army nurses and 160 Navy nurses on active duty. By the end of the war, more than 22,000 nurses had served in the military—with several decorated for their actions. Several hundred lost their lives while in service, including many who became victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918.
After the U.S. entered World War II, the American National Red Cross put out a nationwide call for 50,000 nurses to join the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whose four sons were serving in the military, pleaded in an editorial in the American Journal of Nursing in 1942 for young women to join.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Vietnam Lifts Quarantine Restrictions As No Deaths Are Reported

Now let's head to Vietnam, where the coronavirus lockdown is easing. Restaurants and some other businesses are opening, though most schools remain closed. The Southeast Asian nation has just 270 confirmed cases and no deaths. Mass quarantine and aggressive contact tracing have helped convince authorities it's time to ease restrictions. Michael Sullivan reports.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Vietnam has fought and beaten many aggressors in the last thousand years or so - the Chinese, the French and, of course, the Americans. And it's couched its response to the coronavirus in military terms as well, calling it the spring offensive of 2020.
SULLIVAN: If Vietnam and its people are united, Vietnam can win against the pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said earlier this month. If fighting COVID-19 has been a war, then we have won battles, he said, but not the entire war.
SULLIVAN: It's early morning in central Hanoi, and hundreds stand waiting for handouts at one of the so-called rice ATMs, which have sprouted in the country's big cities. Most wait patiently. One even sings as she waits. The delivery system is simple. A plastic pipe sticking out of a makeshift panel pours about six pounds of rice into each person's bag.

What VA isn’t saying about hydroxychloroquine — and everything else related to coronavirus

The Department of Veterans Affairs has sidestepped questions about its response to the coronavirus, veteran service organizations and congressional committees have said, even as the number of deaths at VA hospitals attributed to covid-19 eclipsed 500 on Friday.
Veterans advocates say that in particular, VA has not provided a complete picture concerning the continued use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug touted by President Trump that a study showed had no benefit in treating coronavirus patients and was linked to higher rates of death among veterans.
“Veterans need access to as much information as possible. And we need VA to provide that information,” said Chanin Nuntavong, the executive director for government and veteran affairs at the American Legion, a leading veteran service organization.
VA oversees the country’s largest integrated health system with more than 1,200 medical facilities, from sprawling hospitals to strip-mall clinics. Around 9.5 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care — about half of all U.S. veterans.
The agency has acknowledged shortages of personal protective equipment but said that has not impacted patient care. VA spokeswoman Christina Noel also said the agency, following FDA guidelines, permits the use of hydroxychloroquine only “after ensuring veterans and caretakers are aware of potential risks.”
Here are some key issues veterans advocates say VA officials have not addressed.
Use of hydroxychloroquine
Much of recent criticism launched at VA has centered on its use of hydroxychloroquine, a fixture in Trump’s briefings and on Fox News as a treatment until a study by VA and academic researchers said it was linked to a higher rate of deaths of veterans who received it.