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The Age of Coronavirus

John Rowan ©Michael KeatingThe world has been attacked by an unseen enemy more deadly than any found on a battlefield. In just a few months we will soon exceed the number of deaths from the entire war in Vietnam. I hope that by the time you read this, the pandemic will have begun to subside and life will have returned to normal.

I felt like this virus was personal when they kept saying it was especially deadly to older males with some pre-existing conditions. That is almost every Vietnam veteran I know.

Like many of you, Mariann and I have been forced to stay at home, which is not exactly a hardship tour. We get to go outside to walk the dogs and can sit on our small back porch.

The Officers and staff have been conducting business on conference calls and working at home while the office is closed to the public. Some of the Directors go in once or twice a week to collect work, and we have a skeleton staff to collect mail and check phone messages every day.

VVA applied for and received a Payroll Protection Program loan/grant through the Small Business Administration to help pay our staff for two months. So we have been able to keep everyone on payroll for a while, as our main fundraiser, the Household Goods Program, is on hiatus. We hope to get back to normal soon.

I have been particularly disturbed to learn about the effects of the coronavirus on nursing homes and state veterans’ homes. I heard that one veterans home in Massachusetts lost 44 residents. I urge chapters and state councils to reach out to facilities in your areas, especially the state veterans’ homes, to see if they need help.

When we left Vietnam, we thought we were home free. Little did we know that many toxic exposures would come back to haunt us. What is commonly known as Agent Orange has killed more Vietnam veterans than the VC ever did.

After we came to know what was killing us and affecting our children and perhaps our grandchildren, we fought to ensure that we would get the health care and compensation we were entitled to. Little did we know that we would just be the first generation of veterans to suffer from adverse exposures.

While the Gulf War was short with a smaller number of participants, those veterans were exposed to many pollutants that have harmed their health. They have the highest number of disabled veterans of any war period.

Then some military geniuses decided that burning everything in giant pits in Iraq and Afghanistan was a great way of getting rid of waste products. Toxic plumes exposed our troops to deadly elements.

All these misguided projects have ensured that all veterans who follow us must fight similar battles with the VA to obtain the health care and compensation they require.

These issues were included in my annual testimony before the Joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees on February 26. This was my fifteenth session speaking before these committees. Today the poor relationships between the two major political parties have made governing contentious. Thankfully, this is usually not the case in the operations of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees. We have maintained good relationships with all the players on both sides of the aisle through changes in leadership. The Senate Committee is now chaired by Jerry Moran from Kansas. He is an old friend who is aware of our Agent Orange issues, having attended the AO town hall at the 2014 Leadership Conference in Wichita.

Given the long history of veterans being exposed to dangerous substances, VVA calls on Congress to enact the Toxic Wounds Registries Act of 2020, which would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Medicine to review published, peer-reviewed scientific research and recommend future research on the health effects of toxic exposures to be funded by the VA. Illnesses identified as a result of this registry must receive a presumption of service connection by the Secretary.

While this history of exposure is disturbing, the ultimate insult to injury, however, can be found with the discovery of massive pollution on military bases in America. It began with the discovery of fouled water in Camp Lejeune and has now spread to toxins at Edgewood Arsenal and polluted water on airbases due to the harsh chemicals used to de-ice aircraft and other uses. We are only beginning to get to the bottom of this issue.





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