|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, July/August 2021|
Since my last column, some things have been moving along. The AO Committee had a Zoom meeting April 8 and discussed important issues for veterans and their children. We came up with three motions to submit to the VVA BOD in the form of letters to the VA Secretary from President Rowan.
Motion 1: For the VA Secretary to use his executive authority to bypass the lengthy regulatory writing and approval processes and direct that the three new presumptive diseases (bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms) in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act be fast-tracked for implementation by the VBA. It appears that the VA Secretary is going to do that.
Motion 2: For the VA Secretary to report to VVA on how and if P.L. 114-315, the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016, has been implemented in keeping with the specific intent and direction of the law. We have not yet received a response.
Motion 3: Deals with the VA Secretary appointing Thomas Murphy as Acting Undersecretary for Benefits, the position he was removed from several years ago. We want this position to be filled immediately with a permanent appointment who is not Murphy, and we want him out of his acting position before he does any more damage. We have not yet received a response.
The committee has done an outstanding job. Now it is up to the VA Secretary to do what’s right for veterans and their families. And it is up to veterans to call or write the Secretary about these issues. We will not give in, and we will work to the end (if there is an end).
It seems that the pandemic is winding down, and we look forward to holding more town hall meetings to keep educating veterans and their families on these issues. I want to thank the Agent Orange Committee for doing a great job, the grassroots who do so much to keep the issue alive, and the BOD, Officers, and the entire staff at VVA. We make a great team.
The tide has turned and we are gaining new members each month. Membership in VVA has topped 89,000. The key is that we are getting new members. Direct your efforts on the chapter level and the personal level to recruit new people. Joining VVA is a bargain at just $50 for a Life membership.
We have received the go-ahead to accept veterans who served in Vietnam from November 1, 1955, to February 28, 1961, as full VVA members. The Membership Department is working on updating the membership requirement on all documents with the new dates. Membership staffers are accepting membership applications for the 1955-61 time period with the registration fee and a DD-214.
BY GUMERSINDO GOMEZ, CHAIR
I am indebted to the delegates at the 2019 VVA National Convention who supported MA-15, the Korean American Vietnam War Veterans resolution. It showed your support for the Minority Affairs Committee. It gives me great joy to have that feeling. Once the resolution passed, Korean Vietnam veterans got busy visiting their legislators to seek support for the Korean American VALOR Act, H.R. 234. They also contacted former Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) and others to support the proposed law.
On May 4, 2021, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved 25 bills, including H.R. 234. When this bill reaches the House floor, I will keep you informed so we can contact our representatives and ask them to vote for it.
In the last committee report I mentioned MA-10, Self-Determination for Puerto Rico. It should have read MA-10, Equal Treatment of 3.2 Million American Citizens of Puerto Rico.
I am looking forward to the Convention in November now that we will be able to interact with each other. I have missed the days of being around a bunch of grumpy old men and women in a room discussing Vietnam veterans’ issues.
I believe the 2021 Convention will be the most significant one we’ve ever had. We have tough decisions to make about our organization and its future. We are still here and in control; my hope is that the decisions that we make will help future generations of veterans.
What we have created should not go to waste with the last-man-standing component of the VVA Constitution. Instead, we must recommit to our founding principle, “Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another.” Thousands of us have benefited from the VVA Benefits Department, which I consider the backbone of our organization. It is up to us to ensure that we continue to help those who cannot help themselves.
I hope that we make the right decision at the Convention and that we can continue going forward with our duties as members of this great organization that has done so much good for Vietnam War veterans and their families, and for the veterans who have come after us.
We have fulfilled our mission; let’s make sure that it keeps going with new generations of veterans, and that our legacy is never forgotten. Hope to see you all at the Convention.
BY GRANT T. COATES, CHAIR
According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency, as of June 8 there were 1,584 still missing from the Vietnam War. There have been no U.S. personnel accounted for from the Vietnam War since September 21, 2020.
The countries and number of missing are Vietnam-1,244 (North Vietnam-442, South Vietnam-802), Laos-285, Cambodia-48, and the Peoples Republic of China-7.
The total accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 998 Americans. Since the April 30, 1975, end of the Vietnam War, recoveries were made in the following countries: Vietnam, 673; Laos, 280; Cambodia, 42; and the PRC, 3. In addition, 63 U.S. personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, and recovered in the following countries: 9 were from Laos, 53 from Vietnam, and 1 from Cambodia, for a grand total of 1,061.
As of June 8 DPAA has identified 340 of the 394 Sailors and Marines missing from the U.S.S. Oklahoma, sunk in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Nearly 86 percent of unknowns from the U.S.S. Oklahoma have been individually identified, and it is expected that 90 percent will be identified by the end of the project, surpassing the original estimate of 80 percent.
The Veterans Initiative program needs your help. Objects taken from the battlefields of Vietnam are more than souvenirs or war trophies. Maps, stories, after-action reports, pictures, and other military items may have a story that could result in finding the location of missing war dead. Contact the Veterans Initiative at:
PTSD & Substance Abuse
BY THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR
During a national critical shortage of mental health professionals in which demand is surging, many Vet Center counselors have been sidelined. This decision was made despite the fact that the VA openly admits they cannot fill all the mental health positions they desperately need to serve veterans.
A recent change requiring licensed mental health professionals to have a degree from an institution certified by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is sidelining men and women without the required certification who have been working in Vet Centers for years. They have been removed from performing supervisory and clinical duties.
So even if you are a Master’s-level Licensed Professional Counselor, you are not allowed to treat veterans in need of help, even if you have been doing just that for several years. This change is based on a variety of official-sounding policy rationalizations. While one might understand the desire to make Vet Center polices mirror those of the VA Medical Centers, Vet Centers were never intended to be equivalent to the hospitals.
Vet Centers were established as peer-to-peer counseling outreach to disaffected veterans returning from war who did not want the rigid, stilted license-over-connection-to-the-vet approach the VA was offering. Counseling at Vet Centers is based on a non-medical model.
The challenge facing counselors who have not graduated from CACREP-certificated colleges and universities is that they now would have to take expensive and time-consuming classes to obtain this new certification—certifications which, ironically, the schools they graduated from may have since obtained. What’s more, the American Counseling Association has said it will work to ensure that the regulations be broadened to be more inclusive and not require graduation from a CACREP program.
But counselors who did not have the certification when they began at the Vet Centers are on their own, according to the VA. Something as simple as a transcript and syllabi review might verify that these counselors have acquired the same knowledge, skills, and attitudes required by CACREP certification and are therefore eligible to continue counseling.
We are not saying that CACREP certification is a bad thing for college and university programs. Meeting the training guidelines helps reassure all of us that we are receiving quality care when using behavioral health services at a Vet Center. What the committee is concerned about is the blunt instrument with which the VA has decided to implement a policy aimed at smoothing out the kinks in the policy handbook while disregarding the hard, quality work done by veterans to help other veterans come all the way home. Veterans who have a long track record of helping other veterans should not be told they cannot work based on this overly aggressive policy correction.
Please reach out to your representatives and ask them to require the VA to put a hold on the CACREP certification mandate process at Vet Centers and work instead to find ways to make sure that this program is implemented with surgical precision and to help those who were providing services continue to do so while the VA helps them find a way to meet the requirements of CACREP certification.
The PTSD/SA Committee looks forward to your feedback and encourages you to raise this issue whenever possible.
To say it is nice to see a lot of faces again would be an understatement. Masks have been the dominant dress code for way too long. I never thought I would ever walk into a bank and be asked to put on a mask.
It has been an extremely difficult and strange 18 or so months. It was a form of detention that we can all relate to. Although strained, I believe VVA members have done an exemplary job keeping their communities up-to-date and keeping Vietnam Veterans of America at the forefront.
I have always believed that good Public Affairs and Public Relations programs are important tools for just about every phase of the VVA. Dealing with legislators and community leaders and staffing an information tent at a public event require a great deal of hard work. And the fact that VVA has grown by 1 percent over last year’s numbers is evidence that even in the most difficult situations Vietnam veterans stick to the task and do not quit.
Many of you have shown that you subscribe to the long-standing tradition of Vietnam veterans: doing what is necessary to complete our missions, protect our brothers and sisters, and never abandoning our generation and the generations that have followed us in service to this great nation.
Imagine how difficult it would be to go to Capitol Hill on legislative matters, work to help veterans in our communities, raise funds for community projects, or host ceremonies of remembrance if no one knows who you are. Your successes open many doors. I believe that despite the pandemic, our members continued to strive toward making sure those around us know that we are still on duty for our brothers and sisters.
I want to thank those who have supported the VVA JROTC program, especially when schools and units were in quarantine. I know it was difficult, yet many of you continued to honor young people, present medals, and send your state council nominees forward for national competition. Due to the pandemic, the deadline was moved to June 1 and the judges have your entries. I know several chapters presented Eagle Scout Medals, and my appreciation goes to them as well.
It is important that we welcome Vietnam veterans into the VVA family. Please get to know, and be able to discuss the benefits of, belonging to VVA with every veteran you meet. When asked what we do, answer with something more than “well, we meet the first Tuesday of every month.” Convince them that they want to join.
Please continue to represent VVA everywhere you go. Speak to veterans at events and recruit. Together we can raise our membership numbers beyond 89,000 by the end of this recruiting year, February 28.
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit.
VA Voluntary Service
On May 26-28 I attended the 75th VAVS National Advisory Committee Meeting and Conference virtually via WebEx. I hope some of you were able to watch at least some of the presentations. It was different from the usual in-person event and more accessible. Many aspects of the NAC were discussed. VA Secretary Denis McDonough addressed the conference and answered questions. He set out ambitious goals.
Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service has been renamed the Center for Development and Civic Engagement. The VA hopes the new title will bring in more nonprofit and professional groups. VAVS volunteers are aging, and the VA needs to develop new contacts beyond the traditional sources. VAVS will still be doing the same role, but its new name will be CDCE/VAVS.
In Pennsylvania we recently held the first state council meeting since 2019. It has been a difficult year for all of us. Our Representatives, Deputies, and volunteers have missed their person-to-person veteran contacts. With the VA shutting down normal operations and with limited access in most hospitals, volunteers were not on campus. Things are beginning to open up, and our volunteers soon will be able to return.
The need for Representatives and Deputies is even greater now. The VAVS program needs them to lead and report to their chapters and state councils about the needs of patient-veterans. The VA fiscal year ends September 30, and our Representatives and Deputies should attend the fourth-quarter meetings. These meetings keep VVA members informed about what’s happening at the VA, and they maintain our active status at the VAMCs and with the VA’s Central Office.
During the pandemic our numbers of volunteers and attendance at meetings were very low. Because of that, the VA froze our status for a year, but that ends September 30. I believe many of these numbers are inaccurate. Our Reps should do their Annual Joint Reviews and talk to their Volunteer Chiefs to make any adjustments.
I will be working to clarify and correct the counts, but I need your help. Let’s work to continue the fine volunteer work we do at the VAMCs and VA Clinics. You can contact me at email@example.com
The following information was written by Alec Ghezzi, the Training Advising Attorney in the VVA Veterans Benefits Department, for the Michigan State Council VSO program. The new training and software he describes will be available for all VVA VSOs across the nation. It is currently being used in Michigan and Massachusetts.
“One of VVA’s most important missions is ensuring that our nation’s veterans have access to the best VA claims assistance possible. That is why VVA’s National Veterans Benefits Program has invested in cutting edge virtual training software to ensure that all of our Veteran Service Officers have access to the latest information and tools.
“Our Learning Management Software (LMS) is a one-stop shop for all of our VSOs’ needs when it comes to learning about veterans law, VA’s systems and databases, and effectively advocating for clients.
“VVA has a team of attorneys that reviews new precedential cases relevant to veterans when they are handed down by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The courts’ decisions are summarized and seamlessly integrated into our LMS. A similar process exists for new regulations promulgated by VA.
“Prospective VSOs are invited to take a series of courses that are part of our Pre-Accreditation Training. They are designed to provide foundational knowledge about our organization and the role of VSOs, as well as set clear expectations for fulfilling the duties of a VA-accredited claims representative.
“Once this is complete and the accreditation paperwork is processed by VA, VSOs are required to complete Post-Accreditation Training.
“This training provides substantive knowledge in the areas of veterans’ law that our VSOs are most likely to encounter and empowers them to begin assisting veterans immediately. Each course includes modules that present information either as text or video. VVA has contracted with NVLSP, the leader in veterans’ law education, to supplement content produced by VVA national staff.
“Assessments are provided throughout to ensure that training content is being absorbed by learners. VVA national attorney staff are available for one-on-one training and Q&A sessions, as needed.
“Although VA only requires re-accreditation every five years, VVA provides ongoing training for VSOs at regular intervals. Our LMS includes Advanced Training courses for more experienced VSOs.
“In addition to training materials, our LMS supports the inclusion of Additional References in our courses, where learners can download handouts and sample arguments. For example, we included a walk-through on how to search through Navy deck logs and prove that a veteran served within the area established by the Blue Water Navy Act.”
Our Veterans Benefits Department is setting the standard on how veterans of all ages are being helped. I thank Alec Ghezzi and Felicia Mullaney for taking the next step in helping all veterans.
Veterans Health Care
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —Thomas Paine
Starting in October, caregivers of veterans who served during the Vietnam War and earlier will be eligible for a monthly payment from the VA. Currently, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) pays only family members and friends who provided care for those who were severely injured on or after September 11, 2001.
The new regulations cover caregivers of veterans who were severely injured in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. This new regulation broadens eligibility by expanding the definition of a “serious injury” to include illnesses and diseases from Agent Orange exposure. Veterans are required to have a single 60 percent or a combined service-connected disability rating of 70 percent and require personal care for a minimum of six continuous months. You also have to be enrolled in the VA health care system. You can see outside doctors for your care, but you have to be seen at least once a year by a VA primary care physician.
Disability ratings are assigned by the VA based on the severity of an illness and how much it decreases a veteran’s overall health and ability to function. The Caregivers program is completely separate from VA Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits. For example, a family primary caregiver of a veteran in Dallas who is unable to perform daily living activities or requires continuous supervision would receive approximately $2,800 a month. If the veteran is able to perform some of the daily living activities, the caregiver would receive about $1,750 a month.
According to the VA, “The expanded regulation addresses the complexity and expense of keeping veterans at home with their families who provide personalized care. This will allow our most vulnerable veterans to stay with their loved ones for as long as possible.”
This extra money could keep more veterans at home. The new PCAFC program sounded better than “sliced bread” for pre-9/11 veterans; however, it has been almost eight months since implementation and veterans are still trying to get their “bread” out of the wrapper. Of the veterans applying for this new program, fewer than 10 percent have qualified.
The new rules have made it very difficult to qualify. I would like to hear from members and their caregivers who have tried and were turned down for this program. The VVA Veterans Health Care Committee will continue to fight for this program and will reach out to the program’s administrators. We will keep you informed of any changes and how they will affect Vietnam veterans and their families.
Veterans Incarcerated & in the Justice System
As the committee continues to investigate the origins of the policy that denies service-connected-disabled incarcerated veterans full VA compensation pension, we have decided to propose a policy change. We believe that since VA disability pensions were awarded prior to incarceration and were awarded for wounds and injuries sustained while on active duty, those pensions should not be reduced while a veteran is incarcerated. Instead they should be placed in escrow until he or she is released. Those funds, available upon release from prison, will help a veteran return to society.
With the assistance of committee members Gary Newman, Don Jones, and Larry Frazee, we expect to present a resolution to that effect at the VVA National Convention in November.
When COVID restrictions are lifted, the VINJUS Committee will continue lobbying in the halls of Congress.
Women Veterans Day was observed on June 12. The date was chosen to mark the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on June 12, 1948, the act enabled women to serve as permanent regular members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and later, the Air Force.
The day is not recognized nationally, but is by several states, either through legislation or proclamation, and by many organizations. The goal of Women Veterans Day is to honor the service of women in the U.S. armed forces and to recognize the unique challenges that they have faced. The concept began when the New York State Assembly declared June 12, 2008, Women Veterans Recognition Day.
The Women Veterans Committee still has a few Women Veteran Honor Coins and several hundred Women Veteran Honor Pins. They can be purchased from Sharon Hodge at the national office.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is working on more than two hundred bills. You can see them all at https://veterans.house.gov
Here are a few:
H.R. 1276: SAVE LIVES Act (COVID-19 vaccine availability at VA for veterans and caretakers)
H.R. 2932: To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2825: To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a registry of certain veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2704: Improving VA Accountability to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Act of 2021
This committee has worked diligently and is committed to securing a better level of care and benefits for veterans. Writing committee members from your states and districts is a great way to keep in touch with them and support their accomplishments.
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