|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|VVA Committee Reports, September/October 2023|
Constitution Committee Report
The committee reported out nine proposed amendments at the 2023 National Convention. What follows is a summary of the adopted amendments and their significance. The two proposed amendments that the committee did not report out were not brought to the Convention floor.
Many thanks to the Constitution Committee members for their hard work and support over the last two years. And a richly deserved thank you to the Convention delegates for a job well done.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 01, ADOPTEDArticle 1 National Provisions
Section 3 - Membership, Paragraph A
Proposed Change: Strike the words indicated by the
A Membership in the Corporation is open to any veteran of the military service of the United States of America, who served on active duty during the dates established by federal law for the Vietnam War, paying, in advance, dues set by the national board, and conforming to, and complying with, this Constitution, bylaws, and rules of the Corporation now or hereinafter in effect. The national board shall have the right to set rules for waiver of dues in situations it deems appropriate. Members shall file
Veterans who desire to become members of VVA have been sending their DD Form 214 to the National office for some time. This amendment simply clarifies that the chapters no longer need to maintain members' DD 214s in their files.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 02, ADOPTEDArticle 1 National Provisions,
Section 4 - National Board, Paragraph B, 3,
Proposed Change: Strike the words idicated by the
3 At-Large Directors- There shall be ten at-large directors, who shall be elected for terms of two years by a plurality of the delegates at the national conventions.
a To qualify for election,
eb a candidate must have held an elected position at the national, state, or chapter level for any continuous period of twelve months prior to the date of the opening of the national convention or the date of appointment.
c At-large candidates not elected shall be alternatives, ranked by the number of votes received, and who shall fill, in turn, any vacancy occurring in the office of at-large director.
Related Articles/Sections/Paragraphs Affected:Article I, Section 4 - National Board, Paragraph C
C A vacany on the national board shall arise on the death, resignation, inability, refusal of a director to serve, or a regional director no longer maintaining their physical residence in the region they were elected to represent. The unexcused absence of a director from attendance at two board meetings deemed as a resignation from the national board.
Prior to the passage of this amendment, National Board directors submitted nominations from VVA members who qualified and wished to be considered for vacant A-Large position. The directors then voted on the candidates to determine which would fill the vacant position. This amendment ensures that a member filling a vacancy for the office of At-Large-director has been accepted by the Elections Committee and therefore is qualified to fill the position and has addressed the delegates at a biennial Convention. Members will know in advance who the alternates are to fill vacancies in the At-Large director positions.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment -03, ADOPTED AS AMENDEDArticle 1 National Provisions,
Section 4, National Board, New paragraph B
Proposed Change: Add a new paragraph B.
B. The National Board shall
Related Articles/Sections/Paragraphs Affected:Renumber the paragraphs follwing.
Reason for Proposed Change:
The delegates amended this by striking "have full power and authority to." As amended, the provision directs the National Board of Directors to implement the "Strategic plan for the future of the VVA, the State Councils, and Chapters" after the delegates at a biennial Convention have adopted the plan.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 04, ADOPTEDArticle 1 National Provisions,
Section 6 - National Conventions, Paragraph C, 1
Proposed Change: Strike the words indicated by the
C The delegates, and their voting rights as concerns the business before the convention, shall be as follows:
1 Each chapter shall be entitled to one vote for its first
Reason for Proposed Change:
It takes fifteen members to start a chapter and now chapter with at least fifteen members will have the right to seat a delegate at the Convention.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment - 05, ADOPTEDArticle 1 National Provisions
Section 11, Conference of State Council President's Meetings, Paragraph B
Proposed Change: Strike the words indicated by the
B The Corporation shall ensure that the conference has the opportunity to meet,
The Corporation will now ensure that the Conference has the opportunity to meet prior to each regularly scheduled quarterly national board meeting.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment - 06, ADOPTEDArticle 2 State Provisions,
Section 7 Meetings
Proposed Change: Add a new Paragraph C
C Five voting delegates of the state council shall constitute a quorum for any state council that is unable to obtain a quorum at two consecutive meetings. This quorum will continue until the bylaws are amended to meet the needs of the council.
Some State councils are unable to obtain a quorem because of bylaw requirements, and the inability to obtain a quorum prevents amending bylaws to resolve the issue. This amendment, which supersedes any council bylaw, allows a state council to temporarily establish an attainable quorum until bylaws can be amended.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 07, ADOPTEDArticle 2 State Provisions,
Section 8 - Committees
Proposed Change: Insert the bold underlined words.
The state council may establish the standing committees defined in Appendix II to this constitution and may establish such special committees as are necessary or proper to the conduct of the business of the state council. If established by a state council, an Election Committee shall consist of three members whose duties shall be to receive nominations up to and including the day of any election, submit a slate of candidates before an election and serve as tellers at the election. Each of the standing committees shall perform the functions ascribed to it in Appendix II. The president of the state council shall appoint the chair of all such committees, who shall then appoint the members of said committees, subject to the approval of the state council. The committee chair may nominate qualified non-members to serve as non-voting special advisors to the committee.
There is no provision in the VVA constitution for establishing an elections committee on the state council level. This amendment gives guidance on establishing such a committee, as well as the number of members on the committee, and allows state council presidents to appoint a chair of that committee with the approval of the state council members.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment - 08, ADOPTEDArticle 3 Chapter Provisions,
Section 4 Meetings of Chapters
Proposed Change: Add a new Paragraph H.
H Five voting members of the chapter shall constitute a quorum for any chapter that is unable to obtain a quorum at two consecutive meetings. This quorum will continue until the bylaws are amended to meet the needs of the chapter, but not later than the next annual meeting.
Some chapters are unable to obtain a quorum because of a chapter bylaw requirement, and the inability to obtain a quorum prevents amending bylaws to resolve the issue. This amendment, which supersedes and chapter bylaw, allows a chapter to temporarily establish an attainable quorum until the bylaws can be amended.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment - 09, ADOPTED AS AMENDED
Article 4 General Provision, Section 3, Electronic Meetings, New Paragraph C
Proposed Change: Add a new paragraph C.
C Subject to any limitations established by rules adopted by the national board, state councils or chapters; members not present in person may be permitted to
The delegates amended by striking "participate fully" and inserting "fully participate virtually." As amended, this provision allows meetings to be = held when some members are physically present and others are present but use an internet platform. Members who are not present in person at a meeting shall be recognized in roll call, and vote on all motions brought before the national board, state council, or chapter if not restricted by their bylaws or by a special rule of order. This does not allow for conference calls or any other types of electronic communication
The VVA Constitution Committee: Leslie DeLong, chair; Barry Rice, Fred Barks, Ken Holybee, Shelby Pinkerton, Beverly Stewart, Gerry Corrigan, Grant Coates, and Jack Dean; Mary Miller and Kaye Gardner, AVVA.
Veterans Benefits Committee Report
BY JOHN H. RILING, III, CHAIR
The Veterans Benefits Committee met on August 9 during the Convention to discuss proposed resolutions. Resolution VB-31 was rewritten for an update, but it was otherwise unchanged and passed unanimously on the Convention floor. A proposed resolution from Thomas Ludka was not adopted by the committee. It will be sent back to him for rewriting and potential submission at the 2025 National Convention. This meeting was one of the shortest of the Convention.
I attended the Veteran Service Officer breakfast on August 10. During the breakfast, it was announced that the Veteran Service Officer of the Year award went to Gary Estermyer from Michigan, who serves as the Chief Veteran Service Officer and Director for the Michigan VSO Program. Runners-up were Florida’s Marc McCabe and John Cook of Texas.
As I had been recused from the Awards Committee due to Gary Estermyer’s submission for the award, I was unaware that he won until that morning. Congratulations to him. I look forward to working with the Veterans Benefits Committee under the leadership of Director Alec Ghezzi.
VINJUS Committee Report
BY DOMINICK YEZZO, CHAIR
We’ve aged, and we have yet to ensure the continuity of our work for future generations of veterans. Now Vietnam Veterans of America, primarily men in our 70s and early 80s, grapples with what to do with the great organization we forged. It worries and pains me to consider the possibility that the Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System Committee’s work will end.
I have the seed of an idea for a proposal: a Veterans Incarcerated Organization independent of VVA, run solely by veterans in a central penal location, with chapters wherever veterans in America are incarcerated. Each chapter’s mission could be to advance service to the prison community, model and nurture personal integrity, and support individual professional development.
The organization’s founding principle could be: “Veterans Incarcerated in service to the institution they reside in, and Veterans Incarcerated in service to the self-betterment of fellow veteran inmates.”
This task will not be easy. Leaders, leadership, unity, and a willingness to find solutions can make it a reality.
For this organization, there must be rules: no discipline problems or violence, veterans should be housed separately, and the work must serve the institution, the local community, and the advancement of inmate personal and professional integrity.
Agent Orange & Toxic Exposures Committee Report
BY SANDIE WILSON, CHAIR
It has been a long struggle, but we have secured multiple victories in the fight against the toxic exposure menace. We have won some enhancements, and we are hopeful about securing more until we have achieved complete victory.
The PACT Act has provided an opportunity to recognize additional health problems and to extend care and compensation. This applies to Vietnam War veterans and to those who served later. However, the main problem with the PACT Act is that veterans who served in areas contaminated, but not listed, are not currently receiving fair treatment.
Our committee is not responsible for filing the forms necessary for veterans to benefit from the PACT Act. That is the responsibility of the VVA Benefits Department. As members, you can help by directing fellow veterans to service officers. There are legal professionals working to have more areas of contamination accepted, and they would appreciate political advocacy from members.
Issues related to the toxicity of waste handling have not yet been recognized by the VA.
Concerning the wins achieved by the Ranch Hand task force, I have profound gratitude for the acknowledgment that men can contribute to birth defects. A male veteran with children experiencing health problems related to his service can now cease his claims about gender discrimination by the VA.
The refusal of the government to accept animal research results has been eliminated. The VA has contracted for several animal studies related to Gulf War veterans and is open to conducting Toxic Exposure Research for the children and grandchildren of veterans.
The 93 million Ranch Hand specimens now being held in cold storage will finally be accessible to non-VA medical researchers.
Is toxic exposure medical research still a priority issue among our membership? Are there ideas for proceeding with input from members who have adult children? Your thoughts and insights are vital to this ongoing conversation.
AVVA arranged for Bette Mekdeci from Birth Defect Research for Children to speak at their Convention luncheon. BDRC is the only nationwide birth defect registry. It is comprised of four groups: in-country Vietnam veterans, non-in-country Vietnam War veterans, Gulf War veterans, and the general public. Admission to the registry can be made by completing a form online at birthdefects.org
It’s the only registry we’ve found that allows parents to make an entry, making it a crucial resource for identifying needs for medical research.
Some 3,000 in-country Vietnam veterans have offspring in the registry. This percentage has proven insufficient to grab the attention of medical researchers. Registration is free and can be done at home, and medical researchers have designed the questions to rule out potential toxins.
The task force working with the Denver VA Regional Office, which received the claims filed for affected veteran children, presented their report recently. The VA now has a policy for storing the claims for children of veterans. These claims are essential for justifying the need for research and compensation.
A wide range of health problems are linked to the service of both male and female veterans, opening new avenues for investigation and support. Parents with military service can help other veteran families by filing a claim with a service officer for any health issues in their children and grandchildren potentially connected to toxic exposure.
Educational seminars are available, and can be scheduled by calling me at 734-216-4862. Resource information has been revised and printed.
Please think inside and outside the box.
Minority Affairs Committee Report
BY GUMERSINDO GOMEZ, CHAIR
Warm greetings from the Minority Affairs Committee, freshly renewed from the Convention in Orlando. I must extend my kudos to the Convention’s organizers. Despite the heat, it was a great event for us all.
I want to thank all who made it to the Convention. We had more than 700 delegates. Special thanks to the 443 delegates who supported me with their votes for an At-Large seat on the Board of Directors, allowing me to come in third in the field of 16. This tells me that you, the delegates, approve of the work we’re doing on the Board, and more importantly, the accomplishments of the Minority Affairs Committee.
Connie G. Evans, a Native American who served as a nurse in Vietnam, was selected by the Minority Affairs Committee to receive the Minority Affairs Committee Award at the Convention. It was an honor to have such a distinguished figure among us. She served as a guest speaker at the celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Wall on November 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
We presented an amendment to resolution MA-16, Support for South Korean War Veterans, requesting that the Korean government cover the health services that Korean American Vietnam veterans will receive through the VA system, once S-2648 passes the Senate. Sponsored by Senator Mike Braun (R-Indiana) and co-sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), this amendment was approved by the delegates. I ask for your support by contacting your senators and urging them to co-sponsor S-2648.
In the next two years, the committee will continue to address the issue of equality for veterans in Puerto Rico. Veterans services and health benefits on the island are not on par with those in the continental U.S., and veterans there are treated as second-class citizens. This issue is crucial to the veterans community in Puerto Rico, and VVA strongly supports their cause.
A troubling question arose at the Convention regarding veterans who have died but remain in cold storage due to a lack of funding for proper interment. The committee will collaborate with regional directors and state council presidents to investigate how many veterans are in this state. Our intent is for these veterans to receive proper burials with military honors.
We ask for your assistance in this matter. If you know of any instances of this happening in your community, please let us know so we can take prompt action.
If you have any issues that you would like the committee to engage in, email Sgtgomez@aol.com or call 413-883-4508.
Women Veterans Committee Report
BY KATIE O'HARE-PALMER, CHAIR
The VVA Convention in Orlando has concluded. Resolutions WV-5, focusing on Women Veterans Research, and WV-8, which addresses Military Sexual Trauma, were approved by the delegates. The information-packed week provided an abundance of insights, and I hope that your chapter delegates will share the knowledge they gained.
During our committee hearings we reviewed issues pertinent to women veterans. Many chapters celebrated June 10 as Women Veterans Day, and are working with state legislators and city mayors on a bill to honor women veterans annually.
On July 28, President Biden signed an executive order implementing sweeping changes to the military justice system’s handling of sexual assault cases. The reforms, which received bipartisan approval in Congress, transfer serious criminal cases from the victims’ chain of command to trained prosecutors. Our WV-8 resolution has called for this change since 2013, and we’re thrilled to see it finally in place.
The PACT Act has brought many positive changes for veterans who served during the Vietnam War, allowing them to file claims for illnesses linked to their service. However, we learned during our committee hearings that women who served at Ft. McClellan are not receiving compensation for health issues related to Agent Orange exposure. This issue will be the next focus for our committee, and I encourage those affected to reach out to us.
Sandie Wilson, VVA Agent Orange Committee chair, also highlighted the need to file claims for children with birth defects (using VA Form 21-0304) by women who served in Vietnam. Out of nineteen presumptives, only two claims have been filed. If you have children with birth defects, please file your claims with the VA and enroll in the National Birth Defects Registry.
Our guest speaker at the Women Veterans Breakfast, Connie Evans, delivered an inspiring speech about her service at the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam and her subsequent years of service with the Indian Public Health Service on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Her speech was recorded and will be available on our website soon. Evans also received the Minority Affairs Committee’s 2023 Award at the Convention.
Mark November 11 on your calendars, as it’s the 30th anniversary of the dedication of Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. VVA will host an event at the Military Women’s Memorial on November 10 to honor the legacy of women veterans in VVA. Stay tuned for more details.
Our committee has purchased a Military Women’s Memorial honorary brick in the name of Lynda Van Devanter, our first Women Veterans Committee chair, to commemorate her work for all veterans. Our Women Veteran Honor coins and pins are once again available for purchase. Order forms can be obtained from the national office.
It has been a privilege to serve as your committee chair. Please let us know what topics you would like the committee to explore.
Credentials Committee Report
By RICHARD LINDBECK, CHAIR
The 21st VVA National Convention has concluded. It was a successful gathering in which we made significant progress on the future of VVA.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped keep things running smoothly: the VVA staff, AVVA members, and VVA members. Without AVVA’s assistance, setting up the Convention Hall wouldn’t have been possible. They were outstanding.
Special thanks to those who supported my re-election to the Board of Directors At-Large. I’ll continue to keep everyone updated on what we’re working on for VVA.
We had 703 registered delegates at the Convention, making it the second-largest delegate count since I became the Credentials Committee chair. A big shout-out to the one state council that sent a delegate from each of its chapters: Alaska. As far as I know, they’re the only state to have accomplished this. Let’s see if more state councils can send a delegate from each chapter at the 2025 National Convention in New Orleans.
Thank you for making my job run smoothly.
Resolutions Committee Report
By JOHN MARGOWSKI, CHAIR
This year, the Resolutions Committee proposed two original resolutions not associated with any other VVA committee: Proposed Resolution 4, which would establish a Legacy Task Force; and Proposed Resolution 5, which would set a tentative date for the VVA National New York Corporation to finalize the dissolution and distribution of assets process. Both resolutions were adopted with amendments.
Resolution 4 was amended by removing language that specified who could be appointed to the Task Force.
Resolution 5 was adopted as amended after considerable and thoughtful debate. The delegates, while acknowledging that the VVA Board of Directors must begin the lengthy process of preparing the Plan of Dissolution and Distribution of Assets required by New York State law, voted not to set even a tentative date for completing the dissolution process required. The delegates therefore amended the resolution by removing the tentative date of February 29, 2028, and replacing it with “at a date to be determined.” Another notable resolution, Government Affairs proposed Resolution 8, which declares VVA’s support for naming the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center for former VVA President Thomas H. Corey, was adopted unanimously without debate by the delegates. The complete list of the resolutions adopted at the 21st National Convention will be available on the VVA website, https://vva/org
My thanks to the Resolutions Committee members: Greg Paulline, Chuck Renevier, Barry Rice, Bob Seal, and Beverly Stewart, for their invaluable input. A very special thanks to Sharon Hodge, VVA Staff Resolutions Committee Liaison, for her years of dedicated work throughout the entire process. Thank you to all the committee chairs, members, and Convention delegates who proposed, debated, and adopted the resolutions.
PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee Report
By THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR
I have written a lot about the life-saving power and importance of Vet Centers. Vet Centers are part of the VA, but were designed to be more accessible than hospital-based behavioral health services. Over the last couple of years, however, it appears that the VA is turning Vet Centers into an extension of the behavioral health model found in VA hospitals.
The committee has brought this message many times to Vet Center leadership to no avail. Each time we have been told that working at the Vet Centers is a tough job and not for everyone, and that they are working on it, and each counselor has no more than 25 clients. But that’s not true.
This year I had the opportunity to speak with counselors at several Vet Centers. They told me about 100 clients being assigned to a single counselor, and that, in order to meet their quotas, counselors are forced to limit sessions to only 15 minutes. As a result, 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 hallmarks of the leadership of the Vet Centers.
There are many good Vet Centers providing innovative and creative healing opportunities with dedicated, caring therapists, providing services to veterans. But the constant shortage of staff, lack of incentives, and burnout give many good counselors 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 rules are forcing good veteran counselors to provide services at a lower-rank level, despite successfully doing their jobs for years prior to the new requirements.
Vet Centers are attractive to veterans in need, precisely because they are not like the behavioral health model offered in VA hospitals. Vet Centers need the flexibility to meet veterans where they are, in a setting that promotes healing and recovery, and that allows veterans to speak with someone focused on helping them 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 Vet Center personnel. The Government Accountability Office will compile the results and share them with the VA Secretary and the public.
Please contact 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.
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