|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, July/August 2023|
Public Affairs Committee Report
Congratulations to the Top Cadets in the Vietnam Veterans of America 2022-23 JROTC Awards program. My sincerest appreciation to all state council and chapter presidents who participated this year, and to the cadets who are part of the JROTC programs across the country.
The cadets earning top recognition are: William Thomas Powell of Georgia, 1st place; Callie Wade of Utah, 2nd place; Alex Reine of Louisiana, 3rd place; and Navaeh Twomey Ndujufe of Rhode Island, 4th place. I thank the Awards Committee for taking on the difficult task of selecting the Top Cadets.
The JROTC Medal may be presented to outstanding cadets throughout the school year, if you choose to do so, or if a school requests you to participate. The only deadline is the national competition, restricted to one Top Cadet entry from each state council. The JROTC Medal Program has grown considerably over the past couple of years. I believe the Communications Department has indicated that more than 200 were presented to cadets this year. Medals can be requested from Mokie Porter at 301-585-4000, Ext.146, or email@example.com; or from Kathleen Grathwol at 301-585-4000, Ext.178, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Eagle Medal for Scouts achieving that high accomplishment can also be requested from the Communications Department.
In the last issue I commented about the word “era” as it is used in the term, “Vietnam Era Veteran,” and the fact that the Vietnam War is the nation’s only conflict in which the word “era” is used, a fact that many find insulting. I received more than three dozen emails from members who read the column. There were three negative responses and 31 very positive ones. Generally, the negatives were from boots-on-the-ground Vietnam veterans. Others generally felt that the term is divisive, could be damaging to our recruiting efforts, and made many veterans from our generation feel as if they didn’t fit into VVA.
I also received a few emails regarding the organization’s dissolution. Some indicated they are hearing rumors from other veterans’ organizations about the demise of VVA. Three of them believe the decision has been made. This is not true. No decision has been made, nor has any decision been buried in concrete. Work to create a dissolution plan was authorized by the BOD because it is sure to happen. A work group spent long hours of research, talking with members, and writing a comprehensive plan that they felt would be best for all.
Some steps to be considered are dictated by law and cannot be avoided. The plan will be presented to the delegates at the Convention in Orlando. Only after that plan is approved by the delegates will it be implemented.
Once again, I want to thank each of you who responded or took the time to send emails to me about this column. Your input is valued and unconditionally invited. A great place to get answers focused on your concerns is from VVA Communications Director Mokie Porter at 301-585-4000. Our Communications Department is your best source for information and direction.
PTSD/SA Committee Report
BY TOM HALL, CHAIR
I have written in many articles about the life saving power and importance of Vet Centers. And while Vet Centers are part of the VA, they were designed to be more accessible than hospital-based behavioral health services. But what we have observed over the last couple of years, is turning the Vet Centers into just an extension of the behavioral health model found in VA hospitals.
This committee has observed this going on for several years and has brought this message many times to Vet Center leadership to no avail. Each time we have been given a story of how this is a tough job and not for everyone and we are working on it and each counselor has no more than 25 clients. Not true. This year I had the opportunity to speak with line counselors at several Vet Centers. I heard stories of 100 clients assigned to a single counselor. That, in order to meet their quota, counselors are forced to limit sessions to only 15 minutes. Vet Centers are bleeding counselors.
The PTSD/SA Committee wants to know what it takes for accountability and meaningful change to happen in this bureaucracy. Denial and spin seem to be the hallmark of the leadership of the Vet Centers.
There are many good Vet Centers providing innovative and creative healing opportunities and dedicated, caring therapists providing services to our veterans in Vet Centers. But the constant shortage of staff, lack of incentives, and burn out put many good counselors with only one choice - to leave.
The committee would like to remind everyone that Vet Centers were built on a peer-to-peer model. New education impositions are forcing good veteran counselors to provide services at a lower rank level despite successfully providing services for years prior to the new requirements.
Vet Centers are attractive to veterans in need precisely because they are not like the behavioral health offered in the VA hospitals. Vet Centers need the flexibility to meet veterans where they are in a setting that promotes healing and recovery and to speak with someone focused on helping us come all the way home, not on quotas and centralization.
Let’s keep a keen eye on the results of the Vet Center Improvement Act, which requires yearly feedback from personnel working in Vet Centers. The Government Accountability Office will compile the results and share with the VA Secretary and the public.
Also, speak with your members of Congress and ask them to fully fund the Vet Centers at the level needed to fully staff the facilities. And ask them to hold VA leaders accountable to provide quality service to veterans and create a culture that focuses on concerns over quotas.
Credentials Committee Report
BY RICHARD LINDBECK, CHAIR
The VVA National Convention in Orlando is just a short time away, and I hope that everyone who is attending has sent in their registrations. You need to have your chapter’s Election Report and Finance Report sent to VVA National in order to be credentialed at the Convention. If you do not have them at National, make sure to bring a copy to the Convention.
If you are a first-time Convention delegate, you are required to bring a copy of your DD-214, though this is not required if you are a life member. New delegates may also need to attend the new delegates’ briefing on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. In any event, I encourage all new delegates to bring a DD-214 along.
Let’s make it a positive experience for all attending this Convention. Looking forward to seeing all of you in Orlando.
POW/MIA Committee Report
BY GRANT COATES, CHAIR
As of June 9, 2023, the number of Americans missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War was 1,579: 1,238 in Vietnam, 285 in Laos, 48 in Cambodia, and 7 in the People’s Republic of China’s territorial waters. It’s important to note that these numbers are subject to change as investigations uncover new information about the whereabouts of these individuals.
VVA’s Veterans Initiative team embarked on its 30th mission on May 17, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the VI program. The team consisted of myself as POW/MIA Committee chair and VVA Communications Director and Protocol Officer Mokie Pratt Porter. Our journey took us to Vietnam, where we engaged in a series of activities.
The trip began in Hanoi, where we held meetings with representatives of the Vietnamese government. Subsequently, we traveled to Hue, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City, conducting meetings with officials at the provincial, regional, and city levels. We held 29 meetings in 20 days. These interactions reaffirmed VVA’s commitment to the accounting issue and re-established connections with the leaders of the Veterans Association of Vietnam at the national and regional levels.
One of the mission’s key achievements was establishing a partnership with Vietnamese researchers who share the common goal of locating missing war dead. Through exchanging records and information, there is hope for success in locating and identifying missing individuals.
The Veterans Initiative program is seeking your assistance. Objects retrieved from the battlefields of Vietnam hold more significance than mere souvenirs or war trophies. Maps, stories, after-action reports, pictures, and military items may contain valuable information that could contribute to finding missing war dead. Contact the Veterans Initiative at: Veterans Initiative Program Vietnam Veterans of America 8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100 Silver Spring, MD 20910 email@example.com
VA Voluntary Service Report
BY KEN ROSE, NATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE
I received a few responses after I asked for people to become VA volunteers in the last VAVS column. At this stage of our lives, I know this is a hard ask. After serving long terms, some Deputies have moved up to become Representatives. Age and health are our enemies, but many of you continue to carry on. Keep up the excellent work for the need is always there.
With the enactment of the PACT Act and other legislation, more funds are going to VAMCs for infrastructure improvements. Some older hospitals and multistoried locations are getting updated elevators, roofing, plumbing, and more. Rumors are still out there that closures are coming, but so far this is not true. CBOCs are more important than ever, with more services available closer to local areas.
In our contacts with chapters and state councils, as well as in our daily lives, we should always be on the lookout for veterans who still have not enrolled at the VA. Many veterans don’t know about exposures and presumptions for service-connected problems.
The life of the VAMCs depends on veterans coming forward before they need care. I can attest to the good work the VA is doing in providing care for us in eye, hearing, and many other areas. Use these services if you are service-connected, and let the VA help with your health issues.
If you are a VAVS Representative or Deputy, please let me know your current status. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 215-527-3494. I will be glad to answer any questions.
Elections Committee Report
BY SCOTT DeARMAN, CHAIR
The delegates to Vietnam Veterans of America’s 21st National Convention will cast their votes for National President, National Vice President, National Secretary, National Treasurer, ten At-large National Board members, and nine Regional Board members on Friday, August 11. Positions are for two-year terms beginning at the close of the 2023 Convention.
On Page 41 of the July/August issue of The VVA Veteran you will find the final candidates roster for those who have sent the required documents in by the registration deadline and the deadline for publishing in the magazine.
CONDUCT OF CAMPAIGNS
Registered candidates may use the national flag of the United States, the VVA national logo, and the VVA national flag in their campaign materials. Although endorsements from any part of VVA are forbidden, photographs of the candidate wearing VVA state and chapter logos, patches, or insignia are acceptable. They may receive written endorsements from VVA members if the endorsements are on personal stationery.
Candidates may not solicit nor accept campaign contributions in any form from VVA or from any VVA state council or chapter. All of these regulations are outlined in detail in the official Candidate Packet.
RUNNING FROM THE FLOOR
Prospective candidates who did not register by the March 31, 2023, deadline have one last option: Running from the floor. However — and it’s a big “however” — they cannot announce their intent to run for office either publicly or privately; cannot campaign in any way or distribute any campaign materials, including on the Internet; and cannot accept any contributions prior to being approved as a candidate by the Elections Committee at the Convention. Any violation of these rules will result in disqualification from the election process.
At the Convention prospective candidates who wish to run from the floor must complete a Declaration of Candidacy and Eligibility, produce a copy of their DD-214, and sign an SF-180. (Current and former National Officers and National Board members may disregard the DD-214 and SF-180 requirement.) Then they will receive petitions to be signed by delegates. The minimum number of signees will be determined by the committee.
Each candidate must return the petition with signatures no later than noon on Thursday, August 10, along with all required paperwork, the financial statement form, a copy of the DD-214 (if required), and a signed SF-180. Once certified by the committee, the candidate may begin campaigning.
The Election Committee wishes all candidates and delegates a successful convention and thanks everyone for participating in shaping VVA’s future.
Veterans Benefits Committee Report
By JOHN H. RILING III, CHAIR
The Veterans Benefits Committee held a meeting in Silver Spring to discuss proposed changes to VVA’s Veterans Benefits Policy. The committee put forth four motions that were then presented to the Board at its April 22nd meeting and were approved.
VETERANS’ VOICE OF AMERICA
During the meeting, it was announced that Veterans’ Voice of America had received its accreditation from the VA. This achievement marks an important milestone for VetsVOA.
Vietnam Veterans of America has always been dedicated to advocating for veterans rights, particularly insuring that veterans have access to judicial review when their claims for benefits are denied by the VA. With the belief that veterans deserve better, VVA has fought to expand veterans rights and has maintained a unique benefits program to deliver justice to veterans and their families.
Recognizing that the mission of serving veterans will continue beyond VVA’s existence, the VVA staff, in collaboration with the Benefits Committee and supported by the Board of Directors, founded Veterans’ Voice of America. In November 2022, VVA and VetsVOA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate a smooth transition of cases from VVA to VetsVOA over several years, insuring that high-quality representation for veterans will continue and expand.
On April 14, 2023, the VA Secretary authorized VetsVOA to handle VA claims, and since then, all VVA national Benefits staff have been accredited with the new organization as outlined in the MOU. The next step involves gradually and responsibly transferring cases currently handled by VVA to VetsVOA.
The Benefits Committee is working on a detailed plan for this transition and aims to be fully transparent with all VVA members and veterans service organizations about it. Representatives from VetsVOA and the Benefits staff will be at the National Convention in Orlando to answer questions. Town hall meetings can be organized for those unable to attend.
The transition to VetsVOA is the best path forward for the more than 106,000 individuals currently represented by VVA before the VA.
Membership Affairs Committee Report
By DICK SOUTHERN, CHAIR
I am happy to report that Vietnam Veterans of America now has an all-time high of more than 90,000 members. 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 their fellow veterans, and who share the same experiences of military service and want to enjoy the camaraderie from days past, we continue to grow. We are averaging some 200 new members each month.
Life membership in VVA is a bargain, and the lowest price to join any veterans service organization anywhere in the world.
The committee is always 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 for them to get legislation passed to assure benefits for their military service. Our members also provide their communities with charitable work and volunteer time.
We will see you at the Convention in Orlando where we will be awarding growth-in-membership plaques.If you have any questions, or need help in membership matters, please contact me at email@example.com
Veterans Incarcerated Committee Report
By DOMINICK YEZZO, CHAIR
VVA incarcerated chapters in correctional facilities across the United States have been on my mind a lot recently. I am concerned because VVA is about to put a dissolution plan in effect. There is nothing special about dissolving a corporation. But it is a rare event when a solvent, well-managed, thriving corporation that does more for veterans and their families than any other organization in the country shuts down.
The most active incarcerated chapters are supported by VVA chapters in their communities. Florida has Union, Sebring, Crawfordville, and Zephyr Hills, with Union Correctional a standout because of the work the veterans do for the prison and the support of Florida State Council presidents, past and present. Missouri has Jefferson City, Bowling Green, Cameron, and Moberly. Ohio has Grafton, Allen, and SCI, with Grafton being a national model for the VINJUS program because of the strong inmate leadership and the work they have accomplished. Louisiana has Angola, which has an inmate rodeo and a veterans’ market where veteran inmates sell handmade crafts. There are others in Nevada, Maryland, California, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nebraska, and other states.
The work of my committee has only just begun. I have not yet visited all the VVA incarcerated chapters. My staff is small and my budget is limited. Some facilities have administrators who do not want me inside. There are more than 180,000 incarcerated veterans in the United States. About 20 percent struggle with PTSD and TBI. Some are incarcerated because they made an irrational decision at a time and place where a crime was committed.
They are now criminals, but they first served their nation with honor. The VINJUS Committee remembers them.
Our incarcerated chapters are groups of men who structure themselves like a military unit and work for the common good of the correctional facility they live in. When veterans live in a veterans-only ward, there are no discipline problems. I try to educate the public about the power of housing veteran inmates together. We must preserve these chapters. When VVA begins its dissolution plan, I hope the veterans I have worked with as committee chair will come up with ideas to continue their chapters, their work, and their veteran brotherhood.
It may be possible for all the VVA incarcerated chapters to organize into one new group of veterans incarcerated. This will require leadership, planning, and work. Perhaps a new organization could emerge with its own charter. Perhaps it could function nationally, regionally, and locally with its own magazine.
Ideas rule the world. This idea can take shape. It could continue the work of the VINJUS Committee long after VVA has dissolved.
I suggest my incarcerated brothers begin conversations now, and communicate those ideas to all other VVA chapters. I will bring our idea for the continuance of our committee with me to the Convention. On a final note, I reported in error last issue that the Officers Dining Room at the Grafton Correctional Facility in Ohio was taken from VVA Chapter 559. It was not. All donations to the ODR remain allocated to Chapter 559. I apologize to Chapter 559 and to the Warden at Grafton Correctional.
Agent Orange Committee Report
By SANDIE WILSON, CHAIR
Members of VVA involved with toxic exposure problems have been celebrating small steps forward during the past few months.
But history tells us that our wins may not result in the victories we imagine. There is much more for us to complete. Sure, the PACT Act has been implemented, and more veterans are filing claims as a result of military exposure. We can see that in the increase of cases in the backlog. We are not sitting by, waiting for results. VVA members and the VVA Veterans Benefits Department are seeking out veterans to file claims.
There are big questions regarding areas not covered by the PACT Act. Was leaving out Blue Water Navy veterans an oversight? Guam and Thailand finally received acceptance; what about Okinawa and Korea? The forever chemicals were also in those areas.
What about asbestos? Did it cover the pipes on ships and other housing structures? Marines, their families, and others who drank contaminated water during the long exposure at Camp Lejeune can be compensated—Marines by the VA and families or others from the superfund. The questions of if you actually had to live there during that time, or if a veteran can pass the exposure on to offspring remain unresolved.
Other things currently under consideration include exposure in Panama and the effects of burn pits in Vietnam.
Now that the VA has admitted that fathers can pass on medical conditions from toxic exposure, why are the children of male veterans not entitled to receive benefits for the same conditions as the children of female veterans? A male friend refers to that as gender discrimination.
Where are we with implementation of the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2016? The VA Secretary said the lack of a nationwide birth defects registry was the reason for not conducting the requested research. However, during the 1980s, 41 states did compile state birth defects registries. This year, only ten states receive money from the CDC to manage registries. This issue is important for veterans and needs more attention.
Constitution Committee Report
By LESLIE DeLONG, CHAIR
As mandated by the Constitution of Vietnam Veterans of America, Article IV, General Provisions, Section 5, Amendments, the VVA Constitution Committee has reviewed the eleven proposed amendments received by the submission deadline date, April 1, 2023. The Constitution requires that any proposed amendment be submitted to the committee at least 120 days prior to the commencement of the National Convention at which the proposed amendment is to be addressed.
The committee met in Silver Spring on April 21, and electronically several times afterward to review the proposed amendments and determine the recommended action for each. The "2023 Constitution Committee Preliminary Report to the Delegates" includes copies of all the proposed amendments, along with the committee’s recommendations. The report was sent to all VVA chapters and state councils at the beginning of June and also is available online at www.vva.org The Preliminary Report to the Delegates is subject to change after the proposed amendments are fully discussed by the delegates during the hearing process at the Convention. Following the hearing, the committee will review all comments and may revise this report and the committee’s recommendations. All chapters and state councils are invited to have representatives at the Constitution Committee hearing to present their thoughts and opinions to the committee and others in attendance.
Of the 11 proposed constitutional amendments, nine are being reported out of the committee for full discussion and consideration by the delegates. They are numbered and presented in the order of their positions in the Constitution. Two proposed amendments are not being reported out. The delegates may, by majority vote, bring one or both proposed amendments not reported out to the floor for discussion at a designated time during the Convention.
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