|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|President’s Report, March/April 2021|
2021 Convention in North Carolina
Over the past year COVID has restricted our movements and eliminated all our public meetings. As a result, we were concerned that we would not be able to hold our Convention this year. That would have been a violation of our Constitution. Leslie DeLong, who chairs the VVA Constitution Committee, discovered that the Governor of New York, the state in which VVA is incorporated, had issued an Executive Order allowing not-for-profit corporations to conduct conventions virtually. So, we began to investigate that possibility.
We identified other organizations that have done this, but there were still concerns. Thankfully, the increased production of vaccines and the increased levels of vaccinations have enabled us to reconsider holding an in-person convention. On Saturday, March 6, the Board of Directors agreed that we will postpone our Convention until November 2-6. We believe that the COVID restrictions will be lifted by then, which will enable us to gather in Greensboro, N.C., as we had planned to do. It is too soon to determine what the rules will be, but we will live within whatever restrictions are in effect at that time. Mariann and I look forward to seeing all our old friends.
TOXIC EXPOSURE AND CONGRESS
From Vietnam to the present day, America’s service members have been exposed to toxic substances. Agent Orange has killed more Vietnam veterans than the VC ever did.
After we knew 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 realize that we would just be the first generation of veterans to suffer from adverse toxic exposures.
While the Gulf War was short with a smaller number of participants, those veterans were exposed to pollutants that have harmed their health. They have the highest percentage 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. But those burn pits created toxic plumes that exposed our troops to deadly elements. All veterans who followed 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 March 4, which was conducted virtually. I was glad to see that the other veterans service organizations have joined our crusade to deal with the results of these toxic exposures. It is also a high priority of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
This was my sixteenth session speaking before these committees, both now chaired by Democrats. We have consistently worked with both parties, as the committees are truly bipartisan on most veterans’ issues. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is the new Chair of the SVAC. The Ranking Member is Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), the former Chair. During the hearing Sen. Moran mentioned how pleased he was to participate in the 2014 VVA National Leadership Conference in Wichita. We have been working with him on legislation that would create registries of veterans exposed to toxic exposures.
VVA has called on Congress to enact the Toxic Wounds Registries Act of 2020, which would direct the VA Secretary to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Medicine to review the scientific literature and recommend further research on the health effects of toxic exposures funded by the VA. Illnesses identified as a result of this registry must receive a presumption of service connection by the Secretary. This bill will be reintroduced this year.
While this history of exposure is disturbing, the ultimate insult to injury can be found with the discovery of massive pollution on bases in America. It began with the fouled water in Camp Lejeune and has now spread to toxins at Edgewood Arsenal and polluted water on air bases from the harsh chemicals used to de-ice aircraft and other uses. We are only beginning to get to the bottom of this issue. For details on this and other issues, read VVA’s Legislative Priorities at www.vva.org
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