|Vietnam Veterans of America|
Your Vote: Your Right, Your Duty
The Government Affairs Committee is comprised of the chairs of all VVA national committees. We are the capstone committee of VVA. Our goals are to make sure that we stay on top of all significant pieces of federal legislation dealing with veterans and help develop legislation that addresses veterans’ issues.
As Americans, you and I have a debt to pay. Our forefathers sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears to insure that we have the right to live in a free country and to vote for those that we want to govern us. Thus, Americans are obligated to insure that the rights that were passed on to us are passed on to the next generation. We are obligated to guarantee that those rights are not altered or degraded in any manner. The only way that we can insure that this will happen is to vote.
Every person of voting age needs to exercise that right. Just as our forefathers sacrificed so much for us, we must sacrifice for the next generation. The Government Affairs Committee is dedicated to making sure that the membership receives all of the materials, training, and guidance necessary to prepare them for the elections.
We also keep the membership apprised of the legislation that pertains to Vietnam veterans and other veterans.
The membership must tell us what their needs are. We are not mind readers. Consequently, members must communicate with their chapter and state council presidents to let them know what their needs are so they can inform our committee.
The National Leadership & Education Conference will be held in August. This gives everyone plenty of time to find out what materials they have on hand, what additional materials are needed, and the training needed. If you are unable to communicate with individuals in your area, you can contact us and we will insure that you get the necessary materials that you need. We have many handouts and other materials on our website. If you do not have a computer, call us or go to a public library or team up with someone who does. If necessary, we will mail the materials to your chapter.
The most important thing is that members take the time to determine what their shortcomings are so we can assemble the materials and get them out in time for them to use them. We will have a Board of Directors meeting in April. If you put your list together, we can send the materials back with your state council president.
The most important thing is that members do whatever is necessary to educate themselves so that they can insure that the freedoms that we received will be passed on. The Leadership Conference is another opportunity to receive training, training materials, and to communicate with others. If there are seminars that should be presented, we must identify them by the April Board meeting. At the end of the Leadership Conference, attendees can take extra binders back to their chapters. The binders contain images of the slides from each presentation.
There are many ways of getting information out to the membership. We must do our part in passing on the freedoms that we have inherited. If the desire is there, we can make sure that it happens. As our Founding Principle says, we do not want to leave another generation behind.
The Government Affair Committee will be launching a grassroots campaign to convince Congress to add hypertension to the Agent Orange presumptive disease list. VVA will be pushing two bipartisan bills, H.R. 1972, Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2021, introduced by Reps. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) and Peter Stauber (R-Minn.), and companion bill S.810, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. We will not be able to achieve this unless we have membership support.
On March 2 VVA National President Jack McManus testified before the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees, presenting VVA’s Legislative Priorities and Policy Initiatives for the Second Session of the 117th Congress. His testimony highlighted the most important legislative and policy issues facing Vietnam veterans and their families.
THE TRUE COST OF OUR PROMISE
VVA participated in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Roundtable on H.R. 3967, Honoring our PACT Act of 2021, introduced and hosted by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) on January 19, along with 11 other veterans service organizations. We discussed the framework of the bill, which would make it easier for toxic-exposed veterans to prove their exposures. By some estimates, it will make 3.5 million veterans exposed to burn pits eligible for VA health care. The bill establishes a presumption of service connection for more than 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers shown to be connected to toxic exposures.
A companion bill, S. 3003, was introduced by Sen. Tester. VVA fully supports the framework of H.R. 3967 and provided additional comments on the legislation during the roundtable discussion.
VVA agrees that the standard in the new presumptive determination framework should be “positive association,” but with the caveat that the provision from 38 U.S.C 1116, related to Agent Orange, should be applied to all toxic-wound cohorts under the Honoring our PACT Act: “An association shall be considered to be positive for the purposes of this section if the credible evidence for the association is equal to or outweighs the credible evidence against the association.”
However, with regard to future determinations of potential new presumptive conditions, the highly complex Honoring our PACT Act leaves veterans with qualifying service in Vietnam and Korea significantly worse off than under the framework in current law. The bill’s repeal-and-replace of the existing Agent Orange presumptive determination framework would instead use one that is much more restrictive than current law. Therefore, the Honoring our PACT Act framework is much less likely than the current law to result in VA adding additional presumptive conditions. This repeal-and-replace of the current framework is a non-starter that VVA strongly opposes.
The year 2021 marked 45 years after the Vietnam War, and Congress finally granted Agent Orange presumptive status to bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s disease-like conditions. Now, 31 years after the Gulf War, Congress has granted presumptive status related to those who served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations: Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Djibouti.
VVA is hopeful that this bipartisan legislation will be enacted into law in the 117th Congress. Congress needs to do the right thing and stop putting up political roadblocks. If you were injured while on active duty in the military, you should immediately be compensated for those injuries, no matter where, when, or how they occurred.
To see the roundtable, go to http://veterans.house.gov Click on “events,” and then “virtual forum.”
VVA was pleased to read in the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress that the number of veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night in January dropped to 19,750, a far cry from the 49,000 in January 2009. Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki saw the need and introduced a comprehensive plan to end homelessness, which included discharge planning for incarcerated veterans re-entering society, supportive services for low-income veterans and their families, and a national referral center to link veterans to local service providers. Additionally, the plan called for expanded efforts for education, jobs, health care, and housing.
VVA believes that we were on the right track with the passage of P.L. 107-95, the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001, which the VVA National Homeless Veterans Committee worked on for more than ten years before it passed. The Homeless Committee is grateful for the decreased number of homeless veterans; however, we will not take a victory lap until we end homelessness among all veterans.
PROPOSED LEGISLATION AND POLICY
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have asked for help in directing DOD, through the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, to designate a new national cemetery that would provide full military honors and insure continued honors for those currently eligible and for future service members. Language to that effect was included in the FY22 DOD Authorization Act, P.L. 117-81.
VA Secretary McDonough supported the nomination of Dr. Carolyn Clancy as VA Under Secretary for Health. At the end of 2021 the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee had yet to send her nomination to the full Senate.
Sen. Tester supported the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2021. This critical legislation, when enacted, will amend Title 38 of the U.S. Code to expand VA health care and benefits for military sexual trauma and other purposes.
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) supported the Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act of 2021, which, when enacted into law, would revise the VA’s standards for mammography screenings to include veterans who have served in locations known to have been associated with toxic exposures.
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) supported H.R 2281, the Dust Off Crews of the Vietnam War Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill directs the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the Dust Off crews of the Vietnam War in recognition of their heroic service.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) supported the Protecting Benefits for Disabled Veterans Act of 2021, to amend title 38 of the U.S. Code to codify the authority of the VA Secretary to assign a total disability rating to a veteran by reason of employability and for other purposes.
Sens. Tester and John Boozman (R-Ark.), supported S.2533, the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options for Veterans Act and its companion bill, H.R. 2533, introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.). This bill would significantly improve veterans’ access to high-quality mammography and breast cancer care.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) supported H.R. 3492, the Gold Star Families Benefits Protection Act, which would amend Title 10 of the U.S. Code to extend certain morale, welfare, and recreation privileges to recipients of the Gold Star lapel button.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) supported the VA Employee Fairness Act of 2021, H.R.1948, which, when enacted into law, would insure VA’s Title 38 health care professionals’ access to the same workplace rights currently granted to other VA clinicians and federal employees.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) supported S.1965, the Planning for Aging Veterans Act of 2021, which would direct the VA Secretary to improve long-term care provided to veterans.
Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas) supported H.R 3367, The Gold Star Children’s Act, to amend Title 5 of the U.S. Code to provide the children of certain permanently disabled or deceased veterans preference eligibility for appointments in the civil service and for other purposes.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Rep. David Cicilline (R-R.I.) provided written recom- mendation on how to strengthen the legislative language in S.1944, the Vet Center Improvement Act of 2021.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) supported S.1488, The Military Hunger Prevention Act, which would establish a basic-needs allowance for low-income, regular members of the armed forces. Language to that effect was included in the FY22 DOD Authorization Act, P.L. 117-81
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Ranking Member, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, supported S.1863, the Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel Who Served Act, and its companion bill, H.R. 4624, introduced by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), which addresses gaps in veteran’ health care to insure that the VA serves veterans residing in rural and remote locations.
As a result of VVA’s May 24, 2021, letter to VA Secretary McDonough and grassroots advocacy support, on May 27, 2021, the VA began implementing provisions of the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, P.L.116-283, adding three conditions to the list of those presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange herbicide.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) supported S.1520, the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2021. This legislation calls for amendments to Title 10 of the U.S. Code to modify procedures for courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and for other purposes. Language was not included in the FY22 DOD Authorization Act, P.L. 117-81.
Reps. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), the Chair, and Rick Allen (R-Ga.), the Ranking Member of the House Education Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions opposed the introduction of legislation by the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which was re-introduced by Rep. Frank Palone, Jr. (D-N.J.), contending that it would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of millions of veterans and military retirees.
VVA agrees that out-of-pocket costs are exorbitant and Americans deserve unfettered access to high-quality health care, but this legislation includes many provisions that would hurt the most vulnerable populations by hamstringing innovation and restricting access to care.
VVA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS AND POLICY WEBSITE
For more on VVA legislative and policy issues, go to www.vva.org, use the drop-down menu on “What We Do,” and click on “Veterans Advocacy” for our Legislative Action and Testimony.
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