|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|President’s Report, January/February 2021|
A New Year, Finally
BY JOHN ROWAN
I was never so happy to see a year end. 2020 was the year from hell. 2021 begins with some hope for relief from the COVID pandemic and new benefits for all veterans affected by Agent Orange.
The introduction of various vaccines gives us some ability to save everyone from the ravages of COVID. The United States has lost more than 400,000 people to this insidious virus, equivalent to the U.S. death toll from World War II. The VA is beginning to provide vaccinations to veterans over 65, which includes all Vietnam veterans. I received my first shot on January 13 at the St. Albans clinic in New York City. My second shot is scheduled for February 3. I heartily encourage everyone to take the vaccine when offered.
Every time I hear about the susceptibility of people with pre-existing conditions, all I can think about is Vietnam veterans. I tried to get the VA to include our spouses, but they declined. However, caregivers are included. My wife Mariann is scheduled to get her shot from the state, if they don’t run out of vaccine first.
After being held up by the VA throughout the Trump administration, legislation authorizing the addition of three new illnesses to the Agent Orange presumptive list passed at the end of the year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act after Congress overrode the President’s veto. We will be distributing a pamphlet explaining everything about the three new illnesses (bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson-like symptoms) and how to file a claim, as soon as the VA clarifies the regulations.
PRESIDENT BIDEN AND A DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been sworn in. The election of Democratic senators from Georgia has given the Democrats control of the Senate. They have retained control over the House of Representatives, although with a smaller margin. We have been working for the past two years with the Chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and look forward to working with Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the new Ranking Member. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Phillip Roe (R-Tenn.), who retired last year after having served as the committee’s Ranking Member and Chair, for his many years of service to veterans. We wish Dr. Roe, a Vietnam-era veteran, and his family well in his retirement.
The new chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). He had been the Ranking Member, and we have a great relationship with him. The new Ranking Member will be Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Ky.), the previous Chair.
VVA & COVID-19
Last year was made difficult by the restrictions surrounding the pandemic and our need to stay safe. While the vaccines may help in the long run, we will still face many restrictions until a significant percentage of the population is inoculated. This means our ability to travel and hold meetings will be limited for quite a while. For example, the hotel next to headquarters announced it will be closed until at least 2022. We also know that airline flights have been cut back severely and many jurisdictions limit the number of people at gatherings.
Therefore, we have determined that we will be unable to hold Board of Directors meetings in April and October. As for the August Convention, we are investigating the feasibility of holding it virtually. We had been under the impression that VVA’s Constitution limited our ability to hold online meetings with voting. However, thanks to the dogged persistence of Constitution Committee Chair Leslie DeLong, we have learned that on March 7 New York Governor Mario Cuomo issued Executive Order #202 that modifies “Section 603(b) of the Not-for-Profit Corporations Law to the extent necessary to permit annual meetings of members to be held remotely or by electronic means.” Because VVA is incorporated in New York, we fall under this executive order.
The various Convention Committee Chairs, Vice President Tom Burke, and I will meet soon to outline virtual Convention needs—including registration, passwords, and voting—in order to prepare a proposal for contractors to determine if they can provide the technical assistance to enable us to gather delegates who would be able to vote on resolutions, constitutional amendments, officers, and both regional and at-large directors. We have been using RingCentral/Zoom to have Board discussions. Under our contract they may be able to provide all the services necessary to hold a virtual Convention. We will keep everyone informed as we proceed.
Ironically, by going to a virtual Convention we may get greater participation. We are allowed 1,800-2,000 delegates based on our membership numbers, but the highest number of delegates we ever had was 818 at the 2017 New Orleans Convention. Given the reduced cost to support a delegate, more delegates might get involved. We will miss the comradery of an in-person meeting, but safety comes first.
THE NEW YEAR
Several issues were included in the omnibus veterans bill passed at the end of the year. Dealing with these issues, clarifying the regulations regarding the three new AO diseases, as well as maintaining our veterans’ benefits program, keeping up our advocacy efforts, as well as our usual office operations, all with a reduced staff, will keep us busy this year. However, our first priority is to stay safe. So, as Dr. Artie Shelton always reminds us: Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay at a safe distance even after you get the vaccine.
Meanwhile, let us mourn those veterans and family members lost last year to this terrible disease and for any other reason.
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