A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

December 1999/January 2000

Government Affairs Report

A Busy Year Ahead: Energetically Seeking Justice

By Phillip A. Litteer, Chair of the VVA National Government Affairs Committeeand Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations

In late January, President Clinton transmitted his FY 2001 Budget Request to Congress. The budget reportedly will include a request for an increase of $1.5 Billion to the VA budget, primarily for health care. The Clinton Administration should be congratulated for this responsible action. VVA urges that you write, call, or e-mail the President at the White House and thank him for this action.

As we salute the President for doing a much better job than last year, we also should note that VVA endorses the Independent Budget of the Veterans Service Organizations (IBVSO) request, which calls for about a $1.7 Billion increase and an overall spending authority increase of $2.3 billion for VA. It is important that VVA members tell their members of Congress that while we are appreciative of this request, it is the bare minimum needed for the VA’s Veterans Health Administration to continue to function.

The reductions of the period from FY 1996 through FY 1999 have taken a toll on a system that was brittle before these strains. In many cases, staffing is too thin to ensure proper care on inpatient units. The system’s capacity to deliver proper care has been severely damaged, particularly in the areas treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and for substance abuse treatment. Additional resources are needed to strengthen the Veterans Benefits Administration, in which lengthy delays and poor and inaccurate decisions in the adjudication of benefits claims are the norm.

Additional funding alone, however, will not get the job done. We need strong, engaged leadership by the VA Secretary and by the VA’s top managers. We need leadership committed to the most cost effective service possible for our nation’s veterans.

While there has been some improvement from the Secretary in the past two months, he does not have a clear track record on securing results. The most pressing need at VA continues to be the lack of a clear plan to do a thorough needs assessment of all the medical needs of our nation’s veterans. Once a "needs assessment" is completed, a plan must be prepared to restore the staff and overall capability to meet those needs, focusing on the wounds of war, both direct and indirect.

While this needs assessment and plans for restoration of lost capability are being prepared, the best way to secure adequate funding from the Congress is to ensure that current resources are being used to best advantage.. For most Vietnam veterans, this means helping veterans reach the point where they are able to obtain and sustain meaningful employment.

VVA awaits vitally needed action by the Secretary in regard to the testing for, treatment of, and compensation for hepatitis-C, diseases due to Agent Orange, and effective quality-assurance systems in both the health system and the benefits system. The Secretary should take time to listen to the vital concerns of veterans who depend on this system.

Our Nation’s veterans, and the many fine people who work for VA, deserve nothing less than committed, empathetic, and high-quality leadership at every level of the VA.

Veterans Health Initiative

The most significant development in veterans health care in recent memory--perhaps the most important in the last fifty years-- has been initiated by Acting Undersecretary for Veterans Health Thomas Garthwaite. In response to VVA President George Duggins, VVA Veterans Affairs Chair Bob Maras, and others inside the VA and Congress, Dr. Garthwaite has created the Veterans Health Initiative (VHI). The task force working on this initiative includes representatives from Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion, and from all areas of the VA, including the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration.

A series of discussions on veterans’ health and mental health issues initiated by VVA PTSD & Substance Abuse Chair Jackie Rector, and supported by most of the large veterans service organizations, were hosted last Spring, by Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), the chairman, and ranking Democrat Lane Evans (Ill.) of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. These sessions made clear the need for VA to obtain a thorough military history for every veteran who seeks services from the VA medical system, and to focus on helping these veterans become well, by means of a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment. That approach should focus on the individual’s military service and on conditions that may be due to experiences that occurred in military service.

There are two subcommittees to the Veterans Health Initiative (VHI). One focuses on the education of VA employees on the special needs of veterans in all areas of health. The early discussion is centered on recommendations aimed at certifying clinicians in their discipline, with additional pay incentives to those who pass certification requirements.

The other VHI subcommittee is focusing on compiling a complete military and medical history protocol that will be put on the VHA computers. Under this protocol veterans would automatically be tested for all conditions that may have resulted from military service, based on branch of service, duty stations, military occupational specialties, and dates served. A veteran, for example, who was medic and served in Vietnam would be tested for all tropical diseases and parasites, hepatitis-C, dioxin in the blood, psycho-social functioning, and other conditions that may have resulted from service.

The goal is to have a complete physical that resulst in a complete diagnosis for each veteran, along with a holistic treatment plan that helps the veteran return to full health.

It is the position of Vietnam Veterans of America that this initiative holds great promise. We believe it will shift the corporate culture of the VA medical system back where it should be: caring for he or she who hath borne the battle.

Homeless Veterans

VVA and other members of the Veterans Organization Homeless Veterans Council, chaired by Bob Piaro, who is also the chair of the VVA National Task Force on Homeless Veterans, as well as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, are working closely with key Senate staff members. The aim is to advance the gains made in the last two years in the House of Representatives in understanding that those who provide vitally needed services to homeless veterans are essentially shut out of the opportunity to seek proper resources from HUD or Labor funding sources.

VVA continues to be deeply grateful to Rep. Jack Metcalfe (R-Wash.) for his leadership on this issue. A January visit by Senate staff to Baltimore’s Maryland Center for Veterans Employment and Training helped them understand what can be done with proper resources to help veterans return to the mainstream of society.

Agent Orange

In response to inquiries by VVA and others, Rep. Lane Evans D-Ill.) requested a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation of the "Ranch Hand" study being conducted by the Air Force. The GAO report validates what VVA has been contending for years about the poor handling of the data and results. The full report is available on the GAO web site http://www.gao.gov.

This report documents that the Air Force has delayed dissemination of the very valuable data base and analysis. It is difficult to believe that this effort has not been deliberate. VVA takes the position that justice delayed to veterans and their families who have suffered greatly from conditions that may be due to exposure to Agent Orange, is justice denied.

This GAO report validates VVA’s call for authorization and funding for other studies of the effects of Agent Orange and other hazards to which Vietnam veterans were exposed in Southeast Asia. Many of these studies, which should be conducted by independent entities funded by the Federal government, can have very quick turn-around times to be of maximum use to those who served in Vietnam.

The GAO investigation also validates VVA’s view that no studies of Gulf War or other veterans should be conducted by the military services--particularly not by the Air Force.

Employment

The Honorable Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Benefits of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is moving swiftly toward much needed reform of the outmoded system at the Department of Labor that is supposed to assist veterans in finding decent jobs. VVA commends Rep. Quinn for taking on this vital task. We support his efforts to modernize this system and to ensure there is proper accountability for the $200 Million that is channeled into these activities every year.

VVA has the greatest respect for the many Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) workers and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs) who work tirelessly to deliver quality service to veterans. However, many are impeded by supervisors and managers.

Some states, such as South Carolina, do a great job of helping veterans get jobs on a priority basis. VVA believes that these states should be rewarded with financial incentives. All states and local job service offices should be held to minimum standards. If those standards are not met, then their funds should be put up for competition on performance-based contracts to those who can provide proper service to veterans.

We ask that VVA members go to your local Job Service or similar entities, and let Calvin Gross, chair of the VVA National Committee on Employment, Training, and Business Opportunities know what their experiences are. Send a note or e-mail to the VVA National office care of Calvin Gross. The staff contact is Vernessa Franklin.

President's Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities

Vanessa Franklin, legislative assistant on VVA's national staff, has been elected and sworn in as the junior vice chair of the Subcommitte on Disabled Veterans of the President's Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities.  Franklin, a disabled veteran with over 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, is slated to assume the role of chair of th edisabled Veterans Subcommittee for the year 2002.  VVA, behind the leadership of National President George C. Duggins and National VVA ETABO chairman Calvin Gross, is expanding its role at every level in pressing for more and better employment and small business opportunities for all veterans--particularly disabled veterans and veterans with other barriers to employment.  Franklin will play a key role in this effort.

Government Affairs Committee

The VVA Government Affairs Committee has been expanded to include the chairs of all of VVA's national committee and task forces.  The idea is to insure the fullest possible input into the decision making and prioritization process.  It is the intent of the President and the officers that the Government Affairs Committee serve as a clearing house so that all committee chairs know what the other committees are doing.

We were pleased to accept the invitation from the Council of State Council Presidents to attend its January meeting to discuss VVA's proposed national government affairs priorities and the role that state councils, chapters, and individual members can play in accomplishing our mission.  The proposed 2000 legislative priorities agenda was distributed.

We also distributed materials on how to get access to information about each state government and legislature and stressed the need for each state council to have a widely distributed state legislative agenda.  We met with more than a dozen state presidents individually to provide technical assistance and to exchange ideas.

If you want to help, please communicate directly with the president of your state council, or e-mail the VVA Government Affairs Committee through Sharon Hodge at shodge@vva.org Contact Sharon to be placed on the CapitolWatch daily News About Washington e-mail list.

 

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org
 

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