Tuesday, July 28, 2020

VA works to raise awareness for lung cancer screening in Veterans

Navy Veteran Jim Pantelas has spent the last 15 years working to fund new lung cancer research, combat patient stigma, and improve care for lung cancer patients. His mission is personal: He is a survivor of stage 3 lung cancer, with stage 4 lymph node involvement.
Working together with the Lung Cancer Alliance, now part of the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, Pantelas frequently finds himself on Capitol Hill lobbying to increase funding for lung cancer research and early detection programs.
“Early screening is the single biggest thing that has hit lung cancer in forever. You can talk all you want about immunotherapies that are available for lung cancer, and they are wonderful. But they only treat 15% of the lung cancer population,” says Pantelas.
With lung cancer screening programs, physicians are catching more cancer earlier, when it is still treatable, says Pantelas. Historically, he notes, most lung cancers were caught at stage 4, when treatment options were limited.
Veterans are at greater risk of lung cancer
Some 900,000 Veterans are at risk of developing lung cancer due to older age, a history of smoking, and environmental exposures during or after military service. Each year, VA diagnoses 7,700 Veterans with lung cancer.
“In my era, Agent Orange was a given,” says Pantelas. “If you served a day in Vietnam and you got lung cancer, it was [presumed to be related to Agent Orange]. But it took 20 years to get there.”
VA has partnered with the GO2 Foundation to increase awareness about lung cancer screening and to improve outcomes for Veterans affected by lung cancer. The partnership will allow VA to share Veteran-centric information and resources via the foundation’s 750 Screening Centers of Excellence.

Veteran status left out of census count

On the morning of July 29, 1967, Preston Gardner, a Navy senior chief petty officer, had just finished an overnight shift aboard the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier operating in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
A stray electrical signal ignited a rocket on board. It shot across the flight deck, hitting the fuel tank of a fully armed fighter jet. Seconds later, a 1,000-pound bomb fell from the plane and cracked, sending flames sweeping across the ship.
Gardner immediately positioned himself beneath the deck, spraying water to help thwart further damage. Twenty-four hours later, he was able to remove himself from his position. The flames claimed the lives of 134 sailors.
Gardner knew he would never forget the smell of burnt flesh. The odor lingered as he and surviving crew mates spent 23 days sailing back to the United States.
“It is something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” said Gardner, now 75, of Cheswick.
He is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans alive today who can describe the horrors of the Vietnam War firsthand. Their status as war veterans is central to their identity. Yet when they fill out the 2020 census, they will be unable to designate themselves as such. The census does not collect that information.
It’s not just a point of pride for those who have served. Data generated by the census determines state and federal funding, as government services are allocated according to demographics. Without such a designation, organizations that focus on helping veterans find jobs and housing may not receive enough funding to support the people they serve.

Senate amendment cuts expansion of VA mortgage funding fee

Everyone celebrated when the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed Congress last year and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The bill provided benefits to Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. But hidden in the small print was a detail many legislators overlooked when voting for the bill: It was funded by hiking fees on mortgages backed by the Veterans Administration.
“These are all worthwhile benefits, and we want to see veterans get the care they deserve, but why is Congress choosing to pay for these benefits on the backs of military families?” Chris Birk, director of education for Veterans United, the largest VA lender, said to HousingWire at the time.
Now, another attempt to have active-duty military and veterans pay for benefits for other current or former members of the armed services has been derailed – at least in part – because of an amendment by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to HR 3504, a bill approved by Congress on Monday that provides funds to adapt housing for disabled vets.
The fee hike in last year’s Blue Water Navy bill temporarily increased the VA mortgage funding fee from 2.15% to 2.3% for first-time buyers and from 3.3% to 3.6% for subsequent buyers through Jan. 1, 2022. Most vets roll the fee into their loans, meaning they’re paying off their fee with interest for the time they own their property.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Tester’s Landmark Bill to Provide Benefits to Vets Exposed to Agent Orange Passes Senate

After urging support for his amendment on the Senate floor, Senator successfully passes legislation as part of the must-pass annual defense bill
Republicans Braun, Cruz, Kennedy, Lee, Paul, Scott of Florida voted no
(U.S. Senate) – Vietnam veterans suffering from diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange are one step closer to receiving critical care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) following sustained efforts from U.S. Senator Jon Tester to include his bipartisan legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a must-pass annual defense bill.
Tester took to the Senate floor earlier today to urge his colleagues to support his amendment which would expand VA’s list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism—health conditions that each meet the historical standard for being added to the presumptive list for service-connection as it relates to Agent Orange exposure.
“This is a historic win for thousands of Vietnam veterans who have been suffering from illnesses after being exposed to Agent Orange, but who have been unjustly denied benefits for decades,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “With the inclusion of my amendment in this must-pass defense bill, we are now one step closer to providing our Vietnam War heroes with the treatment and benefits they deserve from VA. But our fight is far from over—taking care of our veterans is a continuing cost of war, and we’ve got to keep extending the list of presumptive conditions to support an entire population of veterans living with other debilitating illnesses as a result of their service.”
Currently, thousands of Vietnam veterans living with chronic health conditions developed as a result of their service are being denied critical benefits and health care from VA. These veterans have been subject to additional and unwarranted delays as a result of the Trump Administration’s repeated calls for further evaluation of scientific research—even though such research has already been reviewed by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which has established the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. Tester’s amendment would require VA to provide a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism—expanding care and benefits for veterans suffering from these three conditions.
For years, Tester has fought tirelessly to push the Trump Administration to provide Vietnam veterans the treatment and benefits they earned. In 2017, he led the charge in urging VA to expand its list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange. In 2018, he repeated the call and urged the Office of Management and Budget to assist the VA in this effort. Earlier this year, Tester led 42 Senators in blasting the Administration for stonewalling critical benefits for more than 190,000 Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions connected with their service. He also held a roundtable discussion with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), stakeholders, and veterans’ advocates to address longstanding issues associated with the effects of toxic exposures on our nation’s servicemembers and veterans.

House lawmakers weigh efforts to help burn pit-exposed vets, cut Agent Orange benefits expansion

House lawmakers passed several amendments into the annual defense spending bill aimed at helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service. But they also removed a measure that would have expanded benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's.
House lawmakers voted on packages of hundreds of amendments proposed for the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass omnibus annual bill that sets the budget, and some policy, for the Defense Department. Since the bill is one of those all but guaranteed to pass in recent years, it's prime real estate for major military and veterans legislation, including on toxic exposure.
Veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service got several nods in the bill, while veterans exposed to Agent Orange were nixed.

VA studied itself — here's what it found

A Department of Veterans Affairs conducted survey found that VA hospitals outperform or match neighboring non-VA hospitals in surgical quality and overall patient safety satisfaction.
The finding comes from a study conducted by VA and university researchers that was published June 26, in the Journal of Surgical Research.
“For veterans, who often have choices in where they receive care, it is in their best interest to make fully informed health care decisions," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a release. ”This study provides valuable information when faced with such an important choice.” 
One year later, Veterans Affairs has approved 17,400 Blue Water Navy claims
Researchers at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire conducted the study. They identified VA medical centers with at least one non-VA hospital within 25 miles in three U.S. regions, the west-southwest, New England and deep south.
The study sampled 34 VA facilities and 319 neighboring non-VA hospitals, using benchmarks created by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Scores from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems were also used, according to the release.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A model for letting go of the past

By the Monitor's Editorial Board
Vietnam and the US, in celebrating a quarter century of ties, show how healing the legacy of war can create trust for close partnership.
Reconciliation among peoples is hard work. Just ask officials of Vietnam and the U.S. On July 11, the two countries celebrated the 25th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. Working through the bitter legacy of their long war has taken that many years. Yet even though much mending is still to be done, Vietnam is now regarded as America’s closest ally in Southeast Asia and a major business partner.
The two have built up valuable trust by helping each other locate their missing soldiers and by jointly reducing the everyday damage from unexploded war ordnance and the American military’s use of Agent Orange. Further progress in their friendship, says Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, depends on “a mentality to let go of the past.”
One bonus of all this hard work is the people ties. Nearly 30,000 Vietnamese attend U.S. schools while more than 1,200 Americans study in Vietnam. For the first time, Hanoi has agreed to allow the Peace Corps to operate in the country. And the U.S. ambassador recently visited Vietnam’s cemeteries for its “war martyrs.”
This steady healing of the war’s aftermath is not the only reason for the closeness. The two are slowly forming a strategic partnership to counter China’s growing use of naval force against Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines over disputed islets, fisheries, and oil deposits in the South China Sea.
Vietnam is allowing more U.S. warships to visit its ports. And for the first time, the United States has taken the position that China’s claims to the South China Sea are “completely unlawful.” Washington may further help Vietnam beef up its maritime forces. Hanoi, meanwhile, is reportedly weighing whether to take Beijing to an international court over its persistent bullying tactics in Vietnamese waters.
Hanoi remains wary of being a close ally of any major power. And the U.S. hardly embraces the Communist Party’s suppression of dissent. Yet the two have squarely faced the pain of their history and are replacing it with lasting bonds. The U.S., for example, is now Vietnam’s biggest export market. The Trump administration has lauded Hanoi’s leadership in the region and its remarkable success in preventing COVID-19 deaths.
As the two keep working on the physical and moral legacies of the war, they are opening a future that few people imagined a few decades ago.

Congress to finally consider adding four conditions to Agent Orange list

WASHINGTON – A measure to fast-track benefits to thousands of Vietnam War veterans was added to the annual defense budget this month,  giving it an audience with Congress after years of effort.
The measure would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering form bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms – conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange. The bill would add the diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs presumptive list, which lowers the amount of proof veterans must provide in order to receive VA benefits.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif., pushed to add the measure to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal2021. The NDAA sets the Defense Department’s annual budget and includes a slew of policies for the Pentagon. It’s one of the only major bills that passes reliably through Congress each year, making it a desirable target for lawmakers to attach other measures.
“Justice is long overdue for our aging veterans currently dying from conditions resulting from their exposure to Agent Orange chemicals in Vietnam,” said Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The reality is that taking care of our veterans is the cost of war — and it must be paid.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced his support for the measure this month. At a news conference on Long Island with Vietnam Veterans of America, Schumer said, “They risked their lives for us in an awful war. Now, they got these diseases because of exposure to Agent Orange. Are we going to back them up? And the answer finally is ‘yes.’”
Veterans have been waiting years for the VA to add the conditions, despite some scientific evidence linking them to Agent Orange exposure.

Watchdog, lawmakers blast VA’s sexual harassment policies as inadequate

Following a new report highlighting that more than one-quarter of women working as Veterans Affairs employees experienced sexual harassment, congressional leaders on Wednesday demanded immediate changes in department policies to ensure that such claims are investigated and addressed instead of being overlooked.
“The department must make the prevention and addressing of sexual harassment a top priority,” a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers stated in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As an institution that is charged with providing healthcare and benefits to survivors of sexual violence, VA must lead on all fronts … on addressing this issue.”
The letter — signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees, as well as Iraq War veteran Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa — came just a few hours after a new Government Accountability Office report lamenting shortfalls in VA training, reporting and oversight of sexual harassment events.
“Absent additional action, some VA employees may continue to distrust VA’s handling of sexual harassment allegations,” the report stated. “Further, VA’s core values, which include integrity, advocacy, and respect, along with its ability to deliver the highest quality services to the nation’s veterans, may be compromised.”
According to federal survey data from 2014 to 2016 — the latest year the survey was conducted — 26 percent of women who worked at VA reported some form of sexual harassment, and 14 percent of male employees said they were subject to similar unwelcome workplace behavior.
Government-wide, the number of women reporting workplace sexual harassment was 21 percent. Among men, it was 9 percent.

VA Secretary says he can’t help K2 veterans without legislation, but veterans counter he can

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told the Washington Examiner Thursday that legislation is needed before the Department of Veteran Affairs can help those veterans suffering from a range of illnesses related to toxic exposure in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
But the small subset of veterans who spent time at a contaminated Uzbek airbase that served as a northern staging ground for the invasion of Afghanistan has long called on a simple Department of Defense regulation change and the VA to cooperate.
“We don’t want our veterans to go through what Vietnam veterans went through in terms of not knowing,” Wilkie told the Washington Examiner in a Thursday press call hosted by Inside Sources.
“Now, the Congress does have to change legislation,” Wilkie said, describing a statutory change to the percentage a veteran is considered disabled after a service-related injury. “We don’t deny medical services to any veteran who is sick.”
But K2 veteran and retired Army Staff Sgt. Mark Jackson told the Washington Examiner that Wilkie was splitting hairs to obfuscate the problem.
“Secretary Wilkie is providing the same vague platitudes that we’ve been getting for 20 years,” said Jackson, who served at the secret base known as “K2” in Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan.
“It’s ironic that he says that he’s trying to prevent what happened to Vietnam veterans because it’s already happening to us,” he said.
“He’s technically correct, any sick veteran can go in and get care,” he explained. “That’s the point is that, without preventative care and early intervention, all we’re going to have is sick veterans.”
Jackson said veterans are denied preventive screenings to detect rare cancers related to their exposure. Now, he and other K2 veterans are hoping legislation or an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act will force the VA and the Pentagon to act.
Asked by the Washington Examiner if he has asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper to conduct the required epidemiological studies that a law would mandate, Wilkie only said the K2 was among a host of things the two agencies discuss.

Trump Administration Clears For-Profit Colleges To Register Veterans Again

For the second time in two months, the Trump administration has sided with the for-profit college industry over a key constituency: veterans. In May, the president vetoed a bipartisan bill promoting debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded by for-profit schools. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing two repeat-offending schools access to GI Bill money.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission laid enormous penalties on several colleges for deceptive advertising. One of the schools had been caught pretending to be affiliated with the Army in one of its online recruiting sites. Another, the University of Phoenix, agreed to pay $191 million for misleading students about job placements.
Reporting of deceptive practices triggered the VA to block the University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corp. — in addition to Bellevue University and Temple University — from enrolling GI Bill students.
"The law says the secretary shall not approve GI bill money for schools that use deceptive recruiting," says Carrie Wofford with Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group.
That'd be a huge blow to the for-profit schools, which need GI Bill funding to take advantage of a legal loophole in what's called the 90-10 rule. The rule requires schools to get a minimum of 10% of their funds from sources other than government aid. The loophole says GI Bill funds don't count toward that 90% maximum quota of federal aid. University of Phoenix is the largest recipient of GI Bill funds in the 80-year history of the program.
After the FTC settlement, the VA announced in March that it would block the offending schools from enrolling GI bill students. But Wofford says intense lobbying by the for-profit school industry ensued, and on the eve of the July Fourth holiday, the VA lifted the ban.

NVLSP Pursues Retroactive Benefits for Blue Water Vietnam Veterans

NVLSP Seeks Class Action Order Requiring VA to Automatically Redecide Thousands of Benefit Claims Denials for Agent Orange-Related Diseases Filed by Vietnam Veterans Who Served in the Territorial Sea of Vietnam
--- More than $4.6 billion in retroactive compensation has been paid to Vietnam veterans who set foot on land but nothing to Blue Water Vietnam Veterans---
WASHINGTON – In an effort to secure retroactive benefits for thousands of so-called Blue Water Vietnam veterans, on July 10, 2020, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) filed a motion for enforcement of the 29-Year Old Class Action Consent Decree in Nehmer v. United States Veterans Administration in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  The motion was filed with the pro bono assistance of Paul Hastings LLP.
The 1991 Consent Decree applies to a class consisting of hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans and their survivors who applied to the VA for service connected disability and death benefits due to exposure to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide used by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War.  That Decree required the VA to pay retroactive benefits to members of the class whenever, during the period from 1991 to 2015, the VA recognized an additional disease is associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
Since 2002, the VA paid under the terms of the Consent Decree more than $4.6 billion in retroactive benefits to Vietnam veterans and their survivors if the veteran set foot on the land mass of Vietnam—but absolutely no benefits to Vietnam veterans who served on ships in the territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam.  The VA’s policy was that these “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans were not covered by the language of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which provided that veterans who “served in the Republic of Vietnam” during the Vietnam era “shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service” to Agent Orange.  But in 2019, in Procopio v. Wilkie, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected VA’s interpretation of that language and ruled that Congress intended that all Vietnam veterans who served on ships in the territorial sea of Vietnam—within 12 nautical miles of the coast—be entitled to the presumption of exposure.
NVLSP’s enforcement motion seeks injunctive relief requiring the VA to redecide the thousands of prior decisions that denied retroactive benefits under the Nehmer Consent Decree due to the VA policy rejected in Procopio v. Wilkie. 
“The VA’s refusal to correct the wrong it has perpetrated since 2002 means that Blue Water Vietnam veterans and their survivors will continue to be deprived of the benefits to which they are entitled under the Consent Decree.  Some of these veterans have already waited far too long for their country to do right by them.  For many of these veterans and their survivors, the overdue compensation could be life-changing,” said National Veterans Legal Services Program Executive Director Bart Stichman. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

‘We are all angry:’ Female veterans take action after Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s death to stop discrimination in military

No justice, no enlistment.
That’s the call from a group of female veterans in the wake of the slaying of Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were found mutilated and buried at the hands of another soldier miles from the central Texas base where she served.
Guillen, 20, was killed April 22 during the workday in an arms room at the base. Her body was moved in a plastic box from the base and hidden near a river more than 20 miles away, according to federal court documents. One suspect, a fellow soldier, is dead, and another is in federal custody. Her remains were found June 30 and confirmed as hers by the Army on Monday.
“We are all angry and we all want to see change,” said Stephanie Gattas, a Navy veteran in San Antonio.
Gattas joined a group of 20 female veterans to write a letter outlining demands to improve the “systemic failures” that they claim led to a military in which victims of sexual harassment are afraid to report other service members and an Army in which a soldier can be murdered on base and it takes more than two months to solve the crime.
“It is our job as women veterans to support our sister in arms at this time. Although her death was tragic, it’s leading to change,” Gattas said. “This is in the name of all those men and women who have not been able to come forward and detail their sexual assault. This is for the women of the past who have been murdered and raped who have not been able to tell their story. For all those women and men who are still not accounted for.”
The women want an enlistment boycott until their demands are met. They are calling “for young Americans to refuse to enlist or accept a commission into any branch of the armed forces until these demands are met and the systemic problems with sexual assault and sexual harassment in military culture are effectively addressed,” according to the letter.

Suit over sex abuse at Kansas VA hospital goes to trial

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit against a Veterans Affairs hospital in Kansas where a former physician assistant molested countless patients involves “the largest sexual abuse scandal in the history of the VA,” a lawyer for one of the victims told a federal judge Tuesday.
“Countless veterans have never gotten their day in court, have never gotten justice,” attorney Daniel A. Thomas said in opening statements. “And more importantly, not a single person from the VA has ever been held accountable.”
The lawsuit being tried via Zoom video conference before U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Crabtree will determine whether the federal government is liable for the actions of Mark Wisner, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for sexual battery and sodomy, KCUR-FM reported.
Wisner was convicted in 2017, and the government does not dispute that he sexually molested veterans by conducting unnecessary genital and rectal exams and prescribing pain medications to make them dependent on him.
“Indeed, all who have heard about these matters cannot help but be outraged,” Justice Department lawyer Larry Eiser said in his opening statement. “A sexual predator in the guise of a health care provider preying upon wounded warriors — outrageous.”
But the government argues it should not be held liable because Wisner’s conduct was outside the scope of his employment and because the damages sought for a lifetime of medical treatment are excessive.
This is the first lawsuit to go to trial against the government over Wisner’s actions. More than 80 of the 100 victims who filed lawsuits against the government settled last year for a total of $7 million.
The trial, brought by a man identified in court documents only as John Doe, is expected to last through the week.

Soldier Makes History as First Woman to Join the Green Berets

An Army National Guard soldier marked a new milestone in the U.S. military Thursday by graduating from the grueling Special Forces Qualification Course (Q Course) to become the first woman to join the Green Berets.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command would not identify the soldier, but confirmed that she graduated from the 53-week course in a ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to a USASOC release.
USASOC Commander Lt. Gen. Fran Beaudette spoke at the ceremony, congratulating the class of approximately 400 soldiers.
"Each and every one of you demonstrated the ability to meet the baseline standards and competencies for admission to our [Special Forces] Regiment," Beaudette said.
The Q Course is made up of six phases and includes training in small-unit operations, advanced Special Forces tactics, language training and unconventional warfare. After graduating, Green Berets typically are assigned to 12-member operational detachment alpha (ODA) teams, which are made up of weapons, communications, intelligence, engineer and medical specialists.
The graduates received the Special Forces Tab and donned the coveted Green Beret, identifying them as experts at conducting complex unconventional warfare missions behind enemy lines.
On their berets, they wear the distinctive Special Forces unit insignia that bears the phrase "De Oppresso Liber," which means "To Free the Oppressed."
Army Special Forces had been one of the last remaining male-only communities after former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter officially opened all jobs involving direct combat to women in late 2015.
In 2015, then-Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first two female soldiers to break through one of the Army's toughest training courses by successfully graduating from Army Ranger School, a physically and mentally punishing 61-day course previously reserved for male soldiers.

With coronavirus cases surging, VA’s ‘fourth mission’ now covers 46 states, Wilkie says

As new coronavirus hot spots have emerged across the country, the Department of Veterans Affairs has so far deployed nearly 1,000 of its own medical professionals to 46 states as part of its “fourth mission.”
The department is currently tracking some 5,254 active coronavirus cases, including 4,655 veterans and 432 VA employees, according to public data.
To date 40 employees have died due to complications from coronavirus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, VA has tracked 26,132 cumulative cases, including a total of 2,624 employee cases.
“We have not been hit particularly hard in the broader sense, in that we have about 600 beds occupied by veterans who have Covid,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve lost about 1,500, but the vast majority of veterans who contracted this have recovered. That has allowed us to increase our footprint across the country.”
The department is currently taking care of 9,000 non-veterans patients with the virus, he said.
VA employees, for example, are assisting some 30 nursing homes in Florida today with the state’s coronavirus response, Wilkie said. The department sent medical professionals on Sunday to help a state-run mental health hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
“It’s balancing for us; our veterans come first,” Wilkie said. “[In] the New York metropolitan area, we did not have a great explosion in terms of veterans cases, at least veterans cases that required hospitalization, and that’s when we opened our doors. We look at conditions on the ground as to where to deploy.”

VA inspector general says former top official steered $5M contract to friend

A former top Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official improperly steered a $5 million contract to personal friends, according to a report released Thursday by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The OIG concluded that the actions of Peter Shelby, who was the VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration at the time, were not only unethical but resulted in the complete waste of government funds.
The report says that "in February 2018, VA awarded a one-year contract to a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) (the Small Business) that provides leadership and development training focused on its concept of 'Serving Leadership.' The contract also involved talent assessment services to be used for evaluating candidates for hiring and promotion decisions."
“When the contract concluded in August 2019, it became evident that VA had purchased services far in excess of what it could use,” the report continued.

Congress releases declassified Pentagon files showing deployed US troops were exposed to dangerous toxins

Washington (CNN)A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday released a collection of newly declassified Defense Department documents indicating that US troops who were deployed to a Central Asian base in the wake of the 9/11 attacks were likely exposed to a dangerous mix of toxins and other hazards, which some believe has led to increased cancer rates among US service members stationed there.
The base in question was a former Soviet military installation called Karshi-Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan, often referred to as "K2," which served as a key logistical hub for US forces during the campaign to target al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Thousands of American troops were stationed there from 2001 until 2005, when Uzbekistan's then-President Islam Karimov ejected US personnel from the country following US criticism of his government's crackdown on protesters and its human rights record.
The documents released Thursday by the House Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on National Security include the 2001, 2002 and 2004 environmental hazard surveys and health risk assessments that the Defense Department carried out on the base.
One survey from 2001 says the soil around the base was contaminated with jet fuel, and that "inhalation of vapors from exposed, subsurface fuel contaminated soils could potentially cause adverse health effects to personnel ... if sufficient exposure circumstances occur," recommending a prohibition against digging into soil contaminated with jet fuel.
A military health assessment from 2004 found that although "less than 10% of personnel will experience [radiation] exposures above background" at the camp, "the potential for daily contact with radiation exists for up to 100% of the assigned units."

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 http://www.veteranstoday.com/article7206.html)

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.