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VVA Committee Reports, May/June 2023 -   -  

Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee Report

Since the last Board and committee meeting, much information has come our way about toxic exposure. We are trying to allocate more space in the magazine for us to get the word out, but if I tried to include all the new information it would consume nearly three pages.

What we can say here is that the PACT Act and the Childrens Research Act expanded our sphere of consideration for toxic exposure as they added two presumptive conditions for Vietnam veterans and approved some presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans. The PACT Act also called on the VA to fund animal research studies, which they had rejected for 30 years for Vietnam War studies.

Our subcommittee meeting with the Air Force and the VA about the Ranch Hand specimens housed at Wright-Patterson AFB is near conclusion. Those specimens will be transported to a university depository by September.

The committee has reviewed the new “Reassessment of Birth Defects for Children of the Air Force Health Study.” This research used the original, unmodified Ranch Hand data. It is my understanding that the conclusions agree with the evidence in the BDRC registry. I will be creating a task force to take the 12 pages of scientific jargon and present the information in an easy-to-understand two-page document.

We received a report from a Texas researcher, Dr. Haley, who reports that Gulf War illness is the result of Sarin gas being blown up during the demolition of a chemical warfare storage facility in Iraq. That meant that anyone downwind could have been exposed. According to Haley’s report, the effects of the Sarin nerve agent will remain in the genetic composition of exposed families for 12 generations, roughly 240 years. No other researcher has repeated this study and come to the same conclusion.

A federal government study reported that some 120 military sites in the United States and Canada are toxic hot spots. The Navy worked for years determining which ships were in the toxic area of the ocean. The PACT Act expanded presumptive to one military site in the U.S. and a few toxic places overseas. Attorneys are still litigating areas of exposure. Most of the communication I receive is from veterans who have presumptive diseases but did not serve in presumptive areas.

The VVA Veterans Benefits Committee has asked the AO Committee to come up with a list of illnesses that should be presumptive. I refused the assignment, as our committee does not work on benefit cases and does not receive reports of denials. The only direct contacts we have with veteran families are in Town Hall toxic seminars.

VVA does not fund medical research. We rely on the research of the VA, NIH, and DOD. We can work with those agencies to provide research, and we can ask Congress to dictate priorities to them.

In 1994, the federal government issued a requirement to all states that any detected birth defect must be included on a birth certificate issued after pediatric examination of the child. According to BDRC, most defects in the children of Gulf War veterans are structural and will therefore not be detected at birth. For Vietnam War veterans’ children, most reported birth defects are functional, are not evident at birth, but do show up later. The federal CHIPS program provides money to the states for disability health care, providing the state requests that money. Each state has developed its own SOP for disabilities and birth defects.

The United States is officially not at war. Some people, including some members of Congress, believe it is time to end services to veterans. That reminds me of the day I was discussing with my senator the need for veteran services. We agreed that service to veterans was part of the cost of war, and I was pleased as he referred to veteran services as “the cost of war” for his remaining time in Congress.

The committee has updated our resources for the Town Hall seminars. VVA President Jack McManus has asked that all seminars supported by chapters be listed on the Town Hall calendar. Our committee is interested in having a standard agenda for all the toxic meetings. We need to know what you want presented. Email me at swilson@vva.org

Minority Affairs Committee Report


It has been two long, busy years for the committee since our last Convention, and we are still going strong. My hope is for the committee to remain as enthusiastic as we were two years ago. After the upcoming Convention we will continue to support minority veterans’ issues, not only here at VVA, but also in Congress and at the VA.

In 2021, we worked to open a new VA Clinic in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria swept the old clinic away in 2017. I visited the clinic in February, and I can report that it is among the most beautiful medical facilities I have ever seen. The front view is spectacular, with the Atlantic Ocean spread in front of you and the smell of fresh sea water and tropical breezes greeting you. The clinic is housed on the first floor of a three-story building, with plenty of space to accommodate all veterans’ medical needs.

In 2022, we dealt with another issue in Puerto Rico: A hospital was trying to stop the construction of a new PTSD Clinic in Hato Rey. This came before the Supreme Court, which allowed construction to continue and the door opening last October.

We have been continually working on the proposed Korean American VALOR Act. We must insure that Korean American Vietnam veterans receive VA medical services. They served alongside us in the war and were affected by Agent Orange, PTSD, and other health issues just as all of us were. A new bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), to continue the effort to get the law enacted.

During the past two years we’ve also looked at Native American veterans’ issues. The Committee brought in well-informed VA personnel to bring us up to date on the many challenges Native American veterans face. We will continue our work on these issues.

I hope to see you at the Convention in Orlando in August. Remember to register and get your hotel rooms and flights done on time. August will be here before we know it. If you have an issue that has to do with minority veterans affairs, do not hesitate to email me at sgtgomez@aol.com or call 413-883-4508.

Membership Affairs Committee Report


Membership continues to grow at a steady pace. This is because you are asking Vietnam War veterans to join VVA. With your continued outreach to Vietnam vets who have recently retired and are looking to connect with fellow veterans who share the same experiences and who want to enjoy the camaraderie from days past, we continue to grow.

Life membership in VVA is a bargain and the best price to join any veterans service organization anywhere in the world. So, keep up your recruiting efforts.

Chapters are reminded that, since elections were held in April, election reports are now due to VVA National and to your State Councils. While you are at it, send in your Finance reports. Getting your reports in early will assure you that you will avoid suspension and are eligible to send delegates to the Convention.

The committee continues to be available to help you find ways to recruit members. We are a membership organization that helps veterans and their families have a better life as we work to get legislation passed to assure benefits for military service. Our members also provide their communities with many charitable services and volunteer time.

If you have any questions or need help in membership matters, please contact me at dsouthern@vva.org

POW/MIA Affairs Committee Report


The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on April 7 that U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Frederick M. Hall, of Waynesville, North Carolina, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Ernest L. De Soto, of Manning, Arkansas, missing since April 12, 1969, were accounted for on March 23.

De Soto was the pilot and Hall the navigator on an F-4D Phantom II assigned to 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 336th Tactical Fighter Wing. The aircraft was one in a flight of three that departed Da Nang airbase for a bombing mission in an unstated area. They were returning from a cancelled strike near Quang Nam Province, when the aircraft ascended into heavy cloud cover. The lead aircraft noticed the plane was not in sight and immediately began an aerial search without success.

As of April 11, 2023, the number of Americans missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War was 1,579: 1,230 in Vietnam, 285 in Laos, 48 in Cambodia, and 7 in the People’s Republic of China’s territorial waters.

VVA’s 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 vi@vva.org

Public Affairs Committee Report


Congratulations to the VVA National Office, state councils and chapters that hosted ceremonies observing the 50th anniversary of the end of U.S. combat involvement in the Vietnam War on National Vietnam Veterans Day. Thank you for honoring our brothers and sisters.

There have been hundreds of ceremonies throughout VVA honoring veterans, Gold Star Families, surviving spouses, those lost in combat, and those lost after returning home due to their service in Vietnam. I look forward to more coverage of these activities in The Veteran. These are great Public Affairs events that offer high visibility to VVA. Please don’t the talk about dissolution slow you down; we haven’t left yet.

The government-funded Vietnam War commemoration period ends on Veterans Day 2025. Between now and then, there will be many opportunities for VVA chapters and state councils to present their stories and get involved in their communities.

In Utah a state legislator wants to introduce a resolution stating that State of Utah “will no longer recognize the use of the term Vietnam Era Veterans.” She believes that the Vietnam War is the nation’s only conflict in which the word “era” is used and that itis insulting. A few years ago, the PA Committee asked the VVA BOD meeting to agree enact a resolution to refrain from using the term “era” and it passed unanimously. I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Email me at dennishowland46@hotmail.com.

There a push to designate U.S. Highway 20 from Massachusetts to Oregon the Medal of Honor Highway. I have contacted legislators in some of those states, as have VVA state Council presidents. I thank them and President Jack McManus for his support. All 12 designations were completed and only a few remain to complete the task.

The next step is to get Congress to endorse the plan. So please contact your members of Congress to get their support to designate the entire stretch as the Medal of Honor Highway Across America.”

There also is a movement to designate — not rename — U.S. Highway 80 from the San Francisco Bay to Teaneck, New Jersey, as Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. I believe VVA chapters and state councils should work to get their cities, towns, and states that don’t have them to designate a highway as Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, POW/MIA Highway, or Gold Start Family Highway. As veterans, you are the face of VVA in your communities. You will be getting questions about the dissolution of Vietnam Veterans of America. Please stay in the know. State council and chapter presidents should keep their members apprised about our future.

I also encourage chapters affiliated with AVVA chapters to keep them in the information loop. They can refer folks with questions to you for answers, but they will get questions.

Please continue your great events, keep Communications Director Mokie Porter up-to-date on your activities, and thanks to every one of you for your service. See you all at Convention in August in Orlando.

Veterans Incarcerated Committee Report


Vietnam Veterans of America’s time is drawing to an end. There are about 16.5 million veterans living in the United States, and since 1978 VVA has worked for all of them when has advocated for the medical needs, social respect, economic freedom, and the honor of the nation’s veterans. VVA has secured through hard work on many fronts respect, honor, and disability compensation for deserving veterans.

As chair of VVA’s Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System Committee, I want to alert the membership that I believe that there are parts and pieces of our organization that must survive. We are a powerful veterans service organization and after VVA dissolves, some of what we’ve worked and advocated for should remain to advance the future understanding of the needs of veterans and their families.

About 82,000 veterans are incarcerated in this country, about 20 percent of whom are behind bars because of combat-related PTSD or traumatic brain injury, conditions that affect the ability to make rational decisions. The VINJUS Committee supports veterans with PTSD and TBI, men and women who served with honor but were emotionally unable to rejoin society or unable to reason properly because of a change in the frontal lobes of their brains.

Servicemen and women who served in the Vietnam War did a good job, but returned home to a nation that, at best, did not honor our service. There was very little respect for our willingness to put our lives on the line for our country. Many came home emotionally drained and weary from carrying the wounds of war. It was from this pain that VVA was born.

VVA has decided to be a last-person standing organization. So we must prepare for an ending. Like all committee members, I have done years of volunteer work, spending countless hours developing our programs and, traveling to and from Board meetings, prisons, and judges’ chambers, giving my heart and soul to incarcerated veterans.

I thank the organization for allowing me to do this work. It is a privilege, and one that has come to represent a significant part of my life. But now it draws down.

As our organization attempts its orderly deconstruction, I intend to search for a way to save parts and pieces of the VINJUS Committee. I aim for federal and state inquiry into the model we developed to serve veterans incarcerated.

With administrative attention and proper funding, VVA’s VINJUS Committee can survive this end and continue as a valuable institution.

Womens Veterans Committee Report


Legislation to improve women veterans’ health care and benefits has improved in the last two years. There has been great teamwork between DoD and the VA to promote interagency research and changes in guidelines for treatment and services. But there is still a long way to go.

The Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2023 led by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont) and Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska) contains many new and important changes in defining Military Sexual Trauma for the digital age, in disability compensation and claims processing, medical examination choice by MST survivors, review guidelines for VA correspondence related to MST, quality of training guidelines for VBA staff reviewing claims, and expanding access to health care.

Pilot programs to provide intensive outpatient services to MST survivors while waiting for residential care need to be created. This bill also requires a GAO study on access to MSAT care at the VA.

Women veterans are the fastest growing group of the veteran population and the numbers have tripled since 2001. Women make up 30 percent of all new VHA patients. Yet, only 44 percent of female veterans are enrolled in VA health care. Trust in the VA is still a hurdle for many women preventing them from availing themselves of VA services.

A comprehensive assessment of the capacity and ability of women veterans’ health programs in the VA, including Compensation and Pension examinations, quality of VBA training, and accuracy of staff review claims, is still in process. Women’s MST claims have been moved to a central claims office to help standardize processing.

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) continues to work for legislation on toxic exposure during military training and service its impact on infertility. The research on women veteran suicide rates needs continued evaluation. The female service and veteran suicide rates are nearly twice that of the private sector.

Instances of sexual assault in the military have been a long-standing problem that in the past few years has increased. The latest SAPR reports shows increases in assaults within the leading military academies. There has been better increase in Victims Advocates and JAG alignment for processing cases to divert some chain of command problems. However, research indicates that toxic command climates continue to be a breeding ground for harassment and assault and inhibits victims from reporting them.

The VA has expanded groups that are eligible to receive care related to experiences of MST. That includes most former service members with an Other Than Honorable or uncharacterized (entry-level) discharges; former National Guard and Reserve members with federal active-duty service or a service-connected disability who were discharged under honorable conditions or with an Other Than Honorable discharges; and current service members.




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