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VVA Committee Reports, January/February 2022 -   -  

Agent Orange/Toxic Exposure

As I write this, the Agent Orange Committee has not had the opportunity to meet in person. That does not mean we have been inactive, though. On the bright side, some members of Congress have been able to use the words “toxic” and “exposure” in the same sentence in relation to the military and veterans. That translates into the possibility of getting closer to our goals for veterans and their families.

Also on the good side, the medical community has improved the way it cares for people exposed to Agent Orange and other forever substances. Doctors today use improved testing methods to detect chemical exposure and are willing to ask patients about potential exposures. Universities are receiving research money to target toxic exposures.

Also, the DOD has compiled a list of the places where toxic chemicals were manufactured, transported, stored, and used. Logic dictates that if service members served in one of those locations and have presumptive disease, they should be entitled to the same care as veterans who served in a wartime presumptive area.

VVA is making headway on further examination of the Ranch Hand study with the Air Force and with the VA. We are also working on implementing the provisions of the Children’s Toxic Exposure Research Law.

On the negative side, the chemical companies and the government have not learned the lessons from Vietnam veterans’ sprayed-and-betrayed exposure. The use of toxins in the Gulf War increased to 28 different products. VA-funded research shows that the children of those who served in the Gulf have a higher percentage of structural birth defects. Vietnam veterans’ offspring have more functional defects. New research must include both groups.

In addition, chemical industry lobbyists have been busy on Capitol Hill for the past five years. The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the use of herbicides on more farm products, including oats. Weeds are becoming more resistant to 2-4D, so Dow has been given permission to mix in the main ingredient of Roundup.

The questions remain: What grassroots efforts will our members be able to mount? What financial support will VVA be able to provide to achieve a more directed goal?

Homeless Veterans

As we begin a new year with new VVA Officers, Board members, committee chairs, and VVA staff, the Homeless Veterans Committee looks forward to a very exciting new time in our VVA lives.

The committee will again be keeping abreast of the homeless situation across the country with input from chapters and state councils, as well from individual members. We have had some great ideas come forward, especially with respect to tiny houses and their development throughout the country. We encourage all state councils and chapters to investigate the possibility of creating these communities for our homeless brothers and sisters. The committee will begin working on some new ideas for this project.

With the COVID pandemic, many homeless people have found themselves in even more need of medical and mental health care and treatment. In addition, many more people are homeless or living in near-homeless living conditions. There was a slight decrease in the PIT count between 2019 and 2020. No numbers are available for 2021, mainly due to COVID.

The numbers for January of this year will no doubt show an increase due to higher unemployment. Official unemployment numbers indicate that there are fewer unemployed people. However, that is more than likely due to an increased number of people no longer eligible to receive unemployment compensation.

The committee is always looking for new members with new ideas. People interested in becoming a part of this most valuable committee should contact their chapter and state council to see if funding is available to cover their attendance at the regularly scheduled Board meetings. If funding is not available for travel, other arrangements may be made to facilitate your participation.

If you have new ideas for us to address, do not hesitate to contact me at smiller@vva.org

Membership Affairs

I want to wish you and your family a happy and prosperous New Year. In a way, 2021 wasn’t so bad. At least we had a Convention and are returning to in-person meetings. In January the Membership Affairs Committee met in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The last nine months of 2021 saw a steady rise in membership numbers. They went up and are going to keep climbing.

We did it! We reached the 89,000-member level in November. I know we can reach 90,000 by July. So please renew your efforts to recruit new members. Membership in VVA is a bargain at just $50 for a Life membership.

The Membership Affairs Committee issues a monthly report containing statistics on total membership, region membership, the top 25 chapters in membership, and the number of members in each state. The report also highlights new chapters when their charters are issued.

The VVA Membership Affairs Department staffers in Silver Spring continue to work under difficult conditions both at the office and at home. They are doing an outstanding job in handling the day-to-day operation of the department. Questions are answered quickly and accurately.

I suggest that we all reach out to potential VVA members by email and telephone, as well by postal mail. We also should be checking on members to be sure they are staying safe and staying well.

There are still a lot of Vietnam veterans who have not heard of Vietnam Veterans of America. We need to reach out to them and invite them to join us. Won’t you find just one new member for your chapter? If I can help you with anything that deals with membership, please contact me at dsouthern@vva.org

Welcome Home.

Minority Affairs

A new year has come to us bringing new strengths, motivations, ideas, and knowledge about how to accomplish them. I would like to thank all the delegates who attended the National Convention, braving the pandemic, and voted me back on to the Board. It’s an honor not deserved by me, but you believed that I should continue serving you in this capacity. My promise is not to let you down in the coming two years. Thank you for placing your confidence in me.

Going through the Region Caucuses at the Convention I learned a lot from the delegates as I tried to answer their tough questions. I learned how much they care for this organization and how they hold us Board members responsible for our actions and the way we cast our votes. I thank you for that experience.

The Minority Affairs Committee in the last two years has brought the pieces together for our Korean Vietnam War veterans with the resolution approved at the 2019 Convention. We were able to get a bill—H.R.234—in Congress passed by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and ready to go to the House floor. I urge you to contact your legislators and tell them to support this bill, which would give our Korean brothers the opportunity to get VA benefits. We are working with senators who will support the bill once it gets to the Senate.

At the Convention, delegates approved a resolution calling on VVA to support H.R.234. The Membership Committee also submitted a resolution recommending that Korean Vietnam War veterans be allowed to become members of VVA, which also passed. I thank the delegates for supporting the work that the committee has been doing with minority veterans.

As we commence a new two-year term, we are preparing for a battle to help Native veterans. For a long time we have not visited the concerns of these minority veterans. It’s time that we develop a plan on how to help them. Please let us bring our minds together on what we can do.

Where do we start? This was the main topic before the committee when we met in January in Silver Spring. In addition, I need to hear from Native American veterans about the situations they face, along with their recommendations, so we can put them on our agenda. It is a new era, and we should be ready to go to work on this important issue.

Lastly, the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness is trying to find African American and Native American veterans who received the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if they received the appropriate medal. It’s believed that some of these awards should have been Medals of Honor.

If you are a Vietnam veteran who received the DSC, or if you know of one, even if he has died, please let us know. Call me at 413-883-4508, email Sgtgomez@aol.com or call VVA at 301-585-4000 with the information.

POW/MIA Affairs

According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), as of December 31, 2021, there were 1,584 still missing from the Vietnam War. The countries and number of missing are Vietnam-1,244 (North Vietnam-442, South Vietnam-802), Laos-285, Cambodia-48, and the People’s Republic of China-7.

When Fiscal Year 2021 ended in September, DPAA and private partner organizations had completed 51 Joint Field Activities in 31 countries. They resulted in teams completing 17 recovery and 17 investigative missions. The Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons completed 11 recoveries and 3 investigations. Private partners completed 14 recovery and 12 investigative missions.

In Laos, two recovery teams (RTs), with support from Defense Intelligence Agency-Stony Beach personnel, completed missions. In Vietnam, Vietnamese-led teams excavated three sites, completed a last-known-alive investigation, and undertook the 137th Joint Forensics Review.

During the first and second quarters of FY 2022 (October-March), IP plans to execute three Investigative Teams (ITs) in India; a Recovery Team in Thailand; three RTs and an IT in Laos; a small IT in Kirabati, two Vietnamese RTs; and one IT in Vietnam.

Disinterments of unknowns represent a large portion of identifications made by DPAA. These cases are essential to establishing DPAA’s ability to conduct future recoveries for field losses from World War II and the Korean War. Unknowns interred in VA and American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries represent field recoveries after the war that did not result in identification. With DPAA’s expanded access and research in historical records, as well as advanced forensic identification methods, disinterment and positive identifications are continuing.

The U.S.S. Oklahoma Identification Project has ended. The six-year endeavor to identify the remains of unknown sailors and Marines who died aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma during the December 7, 1941, surprise attack on Oahu officially concluded on December 7, 2021, with the reburial of remains of 33 sailors who were not identified.

The project began in the summer of 2015 with the disinterment of 13,000 highly commingled bones. By the end of FY2021, 354 sailors and Marines who had been buried as Unknowns had been accounted for, more than 90 percent of all missing from the ship: 396 of the 429 sailors and Marines killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma have been identified.

The final ceremony was closed to the public. About 85 family members of those who had served on the Oklahoma attended. The group remains were interred again at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Vietnam War Identification Project (VWIP) began at the start of FY2021. Cases date back to the early 1970s. Almost 1,300 identifications associated with the Vietnam War have been made. There are approximately 170 Vietnam War-related items in the laboratory that are believed to contain possible human remains. Some 35 are still being pursued because they could be the remains of unaccounted-for Americans.

The goal of the VWIP is to review the articles with new technological advances with DNA and isotope testing that could result in case resolutions. Approximately 83 percent of the missing service members for the Vietnam War have at least one Family Reference Sample on file for DNA comparisons.

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 military items may have a story that could result in finding the location of missing war dead. Contact the Veterans Initiative at:

Veterans Initiative Program
Vietnam Veterans of America
8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Public Affairs

Here’s hoping your New Year will be blessed with happiness and prosperity. We all hope that 2022 will be kinder to us and our organization than 2021 was. I look forward to serving in whatever capacity I am asked and any that I am able.

We have many new state council presidents, and I invite them to consider serving on the Public Affairs Committee when we travel to Silver Spring. Please provide me with your input. My email is dhowland@vva.org or dennishowland46@hotmail.com

I received a few calls during the holidays from state council presidents with questions about the VVA JROTC and Eagle Scout medals. Based on those questions, I will attempt to make the programs easier to understand. What you need to know about the JROTC medal is on our website under “Info For Members,” and it would be a good thing for every member to become familiar with that information.

Chapters and state councils may obtain Eagle Scout medals from the VVA Communications Department to present to Scouts (boys and girls) who achieve that hard-earned award. I would like to see a congratulatory letter from the National President presented to the Scout along with the medal. Perhaps we can draft one to meet your needs.

I also have no problem with chapters and state councils presenting this medal to a Scout who may have achieved the honor prior to the creation of the medal. It is a good PR tool and a way to get you in touch with the troops and young people of your community.

The JROTC medal is also obtained through the Communications Department. The medal may be presented to any outstanding cadet in local units. In Utah the chapters present the award in the presence of full JROTC assemblies. VVA reaps benefits from it. Eight of the eleven JROTC units in Utah participate in our Veterans Day Parade and other activities.

The national awards for the top three cadets are strictly monetary: $2,500, $1,500, and $1,000. They are selected from the top cadets nominated by state councils. The medal is meant to give you a foot in the door of your local JROTC unit so you can teach young people about VVA, community service, and the Vietnam War.

As we get further into 2022 I will be creating a group email so that when I need your thoughts or ask for your input I can correspond with you. It won’t be often, but I believe your input is important. If you wish to be on that list, please send me your email address.

Finally, my appreciation goes to the state council presidents and chapters who have participated in the Vets in Classrooms program and veteran interviews. Thank you so very much for all you do.

VA Voluntary Service

As we enter 2022, the third year of the pandemic, it is clear it is not going to disappear. We will have to live with it until we beat it. This will probably mean yearly boosters for some time to come.

The Philadelphia VA will no longer allow cloth masks. Visitors and patients must wear Level 2 or 3 masks. This is due to the widespread and highly contagious omicron variant.

It has been a very challenging period for VA volunteers. For Representatives and Deputies, virtual meetings may continue. Please attend these meetings, either through your computer or by phone. Your VAVS office will provide the necessary links.

Our volunteer hours are way down because access to VAMCs has been limited, but it’s still a good idea to stay in touch with your local VAVS office. They are trying to keep us current on VA needs and activities to help patients. All volunteers need to submit a copy of their vaccination record and booster to return to volunteering inside a VAMC.

On the national level, Voluntary Service’s name was changed to the Center for Development and Civic Engagement. The change accurately reflects the scope of what we do. The element of volunteerism will not go away. Volunteers remain the backbone of what we do at the VA to help veterans. The name change covers three business lines: voluntary service, philanthropic engagement, and partnerships with corporations and other groups that want to help the VA. I will continue to use “VAVS.”

The Compassionate Contact Corps is a way for volunteers to provide compassion, companionship, and support for veterans and their caregivers.

With the holidays over, donations will slow down. Most VAMCs are in need of gift cards, transportation platform (such as Uber) cards, and gas cards.

As always, if you have questions or need to contact me, you can reach me at krose@vva.org Help us re-build VVA’s VAVS program.

Veterans Benefits

At the December 16 meeting of the Veterans Benefits Committee the contract with the Bergmann & Moore law firm was discussed and a motion passed to recommend to the Board that the contract be renewed.

We also discussed the VA Revocable License for Non-Federal Use of Real Property form, which deals with the request for VVA National office space in Baltimore. All VVA accredited staff working in VA Regional Offices should have received similar requests.

Felicia Mullaney reported that the Ohio grant needs to be reviewed and that Vermont was given an extension to apply. All the other state councils and chapter applications have been received and reviewed. Those nine grantees are Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Washington, and Chapter 317 in Missouri. The VBP grants subcommittee met in January to complete the approval process.

Alec Ghezzi reported that the pre- and post-accreditation training is progressing, and that he is working on a state schedule to roll out beyond Massachusetts and Michigan. General discussion included having more form-by-form, line-by-line training for commonly used forms.

The National Convention in Greensboro was discussed and tentative plans for the 2022 Leadership Conference were made. There will be VSO training there, and VA Debt Management is interested in attending. The training will be recorded. President Jack McManus ordered an internal investigation to determine if Veterans Voices of America is a viable option for VVA to pursue.

Gumersindo Gomez discussed the need to offer additional VSO help for Puerto Rico veterans. The committee passed a motion to recommend that $13,000 be set aside to pay for Marc McCabe’s expenses to travel and assist veterans in Puerto Rico.

Veterans Incarcerated & in the Justice System

The committee looks forward to continuing to serve incarcerated veterans and veterans facing the justice system in 2022. COVID restrictions remain, and there has been a significant change in leadership; however, veterans with PTSD and TBI who are in jail or facing a court system remain the focus of our attention.

Our priorities include: 

    1. To advance legislative proposals to correct the VA policy of withholding service-connected disability compensation from inmates
    2. To help inmates upon their release from prison
    3. To advocate for Veteran Treatment Courts
    4. To serve incarcerated veterans

At the National Convention in Greensboro delegates elected Jack McManus to serve as VVA President. Delegates also approved a resolution that keeps VVA a last-man-standing organization.

The VINJUS Committee salutes John Rowan for his dedication to veterans. He served as VVA national president for 16 years, and he was a local, state, and national VVA leader in the decades of turmoil that followed us home from the war.

He was the face of VVA and on a first-name basis with the last five Presidents of the United States. He articulated our power to Congress. He answered all his calls. He commanded leadership, duty, and broad ranges of service to our organization.

John Rowan is a good and honorable man. He is my friend.

Women Veterans

Welcome, 2022! Hope that all you had great holidays and were able to be with family. Our committee had a great session at the Greensboro Convention in November. After much discussion, our resolutions all passed.

Only a few weeks after the Convention, the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee released the House-Senate negotiated agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2022. It contains language that will finally move cases of sexual assault survivors out of the chain of command.

The annual Defense policy bill includes military justice reforms that are the most significant since the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950. Survivors of sexual assault will be guaranteed an independent military attorney outside of the victim’s and the assailant’s chain of command.

These reforms also mandate that domestic violence, stalking, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, child pornography, and any other special-victim offenses are taken out of the chain of command. Prosecutors known as Special Trial Counsels will be under civilian control, reporting to the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. This is a great change.

This bill creates a stand-alone military offense for sexual harassment, but there is a flaw: It fails to provide independent prosecution of these cases. The lack of accountability in this regard must be addressed. The research shows that sexual harassment often leads to sexual assault and other serious crimes.

The NDAA also provides parental leave for both mothers and fathers, expands health and mental health care benefits (including TRICARE), and provides a 2.7 percent base pay increase for all service members. We have lobbied for these changes for the last ten years. It is great to see them finally happening.

Our committee met in Silver Spring to formulate new goals for the next two years. There are many exciting changes with the Military Women’s Memorial (formerly WIMSA) at Arlington National Cemetery, and we hope to help celebrate its rededication in 2023. Committee members Sandy Miller, Linda Schwartz, and Marsha Four attended Veterans Day ceremonies at MWM, and presented Gen. Wilma Vaught with the VVA Commendation Medal. Her dedication in creating the memorial and museum for all women veterans has all of us forever grateful.




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