Vietnam Veterans of America
Government Affairs, May/June 2019
A Question of Influence
VVA and other VSOs represent the interests of more than five million veterans, plus their families. Add military service organizations and military unit associations, and you have a few million more. We strive to make our voices heard, individually and collectively, in Congress, the White House, and at the VA.
Despite the power implicit in numbers, our voice is being drowned out by a trio of interests that play an outsize role and that don’t have the welfare of veterans as their reason for being.
First, there are three men who informally advise President Trump, if news reports are to be believed, on VA matters. None of them ever served in uniform.
Then there is the former chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Florida Republican Jeff Miller, now a D.C. lobbyist. Miller and the VA had a mutually discordant relationship, much of it the fault of the VA’s bunker mentality made worse by the Phoenix VA wait-time scandal.
And then there is the Koch brothers-financed Concerned Veterans for America, which is laser-focused on privatizing the VA. One of its key operatives served on the congressionally created Commission on Care, but could not get that august body to go along with the goal of the Kochs to turn the VA into a cash cow. Now this political operative inserted himself into a policy-making position in the administration, to the detriment of those of us who do not favor the dismemberment of the VA health care system.
They attempt to trash the VA for some real, but mostly exaggerated, failings. Their motive is money for private hospitals and clinicians eager to serve veterans despite their general lack of understanding of military culture or comprehension of veterans’ unique, service-connected health conditions.
The overwhelming concern and compassion of VA clinicians for the men and women they serve is palpable. The same cannot be said of the Trio and their acolytes.
AGENT ORANGE REDUX?
It’s “another toxic exposure issue,” Maynard Kaderlik lamented in an email. “At least the Modern Day Warriors’ problems are showing up early after their service. It’s good to know that they are getting an early start with the legislation.
“That would have helped the Agent Orange veterans if it would have affected us earlier (although it was early for some). Not 30-40 years later,” VVA’s chair of the Agent Orange/Dioxin and Other Toxic Substances Committee wrote. “We need to fight for these Modern Day Warriors, too, as this is their Agent Orange.
“They, too, will suffer as we do and did late in life. [But] we will not give up on our Agent Orange and fight to the very last.”
VVA has been united with groups such as Burn Pits 360. They come to Washington, D.C., to sensitize Members of Congress to the ramifications of the health of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. They lobby for legislation that should shed light on the association between exposure to the uncontrolled burn pits at bases in Southwest Asia and a variety of maladies such as constrictive or obliterate bronchiolitis.
They favor, as do we, the Burn Pits Registry Enhancement Act, H.R. 1381, co-sponsored by two Members of Congress who are medical doctors, Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who also lead the Burn Pits Caucus. It was passed by a vote of 416-0 in the House. In the Senate, companion legislation is sponsored by Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
The bill would make the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry a more useful tool for researching the health effects of toxic exposure on service members and veterans. It would allow family members of deceased service members and veterans to enter cause of death in the registry.
The VA’s registry was established in 2014 to collect health information voluntarily from Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. It currently includes more than 170,000 names. The registry, though, is not an end-all, Ruiz said. He plans to introduce additional legislation to secure benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits.
At the end of January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit extended the presumption of exposure to herbicides for veterans who served in the territorial waters, or up to twelve nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam.
Two months later, the VA has apparently decided to recommend that the government not appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, and begin processing claims.
So, If you are a Navy, Marine, or Coast Guard veteran who served in the territorial waters of Vietnam during the war and have one or more conditions presumptive to exposure to dioxin—or if you are a surviving spouse of a such a veteran who died with one of these conditions as a primary or contributing cause of death—get in touch with a county or VSO veterans service representative. For your sake, don’t attempt to file a claim on your own or ask the VA for help.
HEP C NEWS
In mid-March, the VA announced that it is on track to eliminate the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in all veterans willing and able to be treated in as few as two months. The VA is the largest provider of HCV care in the U.S.
In early 2014, highly effective, less-toxic, all-oral, direct-acting antivirals became available, revolutionizing the treatment of HCV. This cure was discovered by a VA researcher supposedly on his own time and in his own lab. He has become a multimillionaire; the VA has received nothing.
As of March 3, nearly 116,000 veterans had started the oral hep C medications; almost 97,000 of them completed treatment and have been cured.
All marketed hep C medications are now on the VA’s national drug formulary. They have few side effects and can be administered once a day for as little as eight weeks.
Go to https://www.hepatitis.va.gov for more information.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, a former Air Force officer and one of the first women to pilot a fighter jet, revealed to a stunned audience at a military sexual trauma hearing that she was raped by a superior officer while in the Air Force.
Sen. McSally, a strong GOP voice on military issues, said that she had kept the assault hidden because she feared how military leaders would handle it. VVA applauds Sen. McSally’s courage in coming forward with this moving testimony.
Thanks in no small measure to research done by VVA Government Affairs associate director Kris Goldsmith, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has launched an investigation of computer bots using fake news to target veterans and active-duty service members.
Goldsmith has been investigating this issue since 2017 after having discovered a Facebook page using VVA’s logo and a shortened version of our name. Some 200,000 viewers—far more than those who follow the real VVA FB page—had followed the politically divisive posts. After determining the page violated VVA’s intellectual property, Facebook disabled it.
Since then, Goldsmith has found more than 160 fake accounts targeting vets and service members with disinformation.
“Veterans organizations have been forced to play defense against a deluge of anonymous overseas actors who work day and night to deceive Americans—stealing our names, logos, and reputations to gain their trust,” he wrote in an editorial in Military Times.
When he identifies an imposter account and has it disabled, it’s often soon recreated under a new email address. For Goldsmith, it’s like playing whack-a-mole.
The chair of HVAC, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), has launched an investigation of bots using fake news to target veterans.
“Doing it alone has been overwhelming, so I’m glad to know that [the committee] is helping,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a huge relief that at least I have somebody else’s eyes on this stuff.”
A 2017 study from Oxford University found that Russian operatives used Twitter and Facebook to disseminate junk news to veterans and service members. Researchers with Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda found trolls and bots targeted military personnel and veterans with propaganda, conspiracies, and hyper-partisan political content, Military Times reported.
Goldsmith maintains that an investigation by the FBI is appropriate. “Until we find the people behind the avatars and impose a cost on them,” he said, “they have no incentive to stop.”
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