February 2000/March 2000
A More Responsible Budget, Though Not In Line With IBVSO
By Philip A. Litteer, Chair, Vva National Government Affairs Committee,
And Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations
President Clinton, in his request to Congress, has asked for an increase of
$1.5 billion in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget for the 2001
fiscal year. In testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs
February 17, VVA applauded the administration for submitting a more responsible
budget request compared to the original submittal. In that same hearing,
however, VVA reiterated its full support of the Independent Budget of the
Veterans Service Organizations (IBVSO), which calls for about $200 million more
than the administration request.
VVA expressed concern about how appropriated funds are used to help veterans
become as well as possible. VVA believes that the dollar amounts are important,
and the VA should use those dollars in the most effective and efficient manner.
As the multi-volume VA budget was unavailable at the time of the hearing, VVA
had difficulty determining whether the budget request was adequate.
There has been no thorough assessment to determine the true health care needs
of the veterans of all generations in each section of the country. The VA says
it must close, sell, or rent some facilities because they have no current use.
While VVA is not caught up in the "edifice complex'' that no VA building or
property should ever be let go, our members and leaders ask, "Why are those
beds empty when veterans need care and are waiting many months for
It is time for the VA to do a thorough assessment of the total health-care
needs of veterans, with the focus on a holistic view of what is needed to make
veterans as well and as whole as possible. The additional focus should be on the
totality of the wounds of war and derivative conditions.
All VVA members should contact their senators and representatives and urge
them to support the IBVSO figure of a $1.7 billion increase in the VA budget
appropriation for FY 2001, and to educate them about the need for the VA to
conduct a thorough assessment of the total health care needs of veterans.
West L.A. Land Giveaway
VVA strongly objects to the VA leasing extremely valuable land to the
exclusive Brentwood School in West Los Angeles for an estimated $300,000 per
year, when the land apparently is worth more than $1 million an acre. The key
point for VVA is that the headlong rush to sell off or give away resources for
purposes other than helping veterans is not in the national interest, much less
in the interest of our nation's veterans. In this particular instance, VVA
maintains that the rush to accommodate this wealthy school is a scandal in the
making that the administration can ill afford.
Veterans Initiative Trip
VVA Vice President Tom Corey led a Veterans Initiative (VI) mission to
Vietnam in late February that continued to press for the fullest possible
accounting of those who still remain missing from the war. An additional mission
of this trip was continuing to work with the Vietnamese and the United States
governments toward the goal of conducting joint Vietnam-U.S. scientific studies
in Vietnam on the impact of exposure to Agent Orange on people and ecosystems.
Toward this end, VVA Agent Orange/Dioxin chair George Claxton and Linda
Schwartz, VVA Special Adviser on Veterans Health Care, accompanied the VI
In discussions held at the Vietnam Ministry of Science, Technology, and
Environment (MoSTE) in Hanoi, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Sinh, director of the Department
of Environment, announced a willingness to participate in meetings of Vietnamese
and American scientists to plan for joint Agent Orange research in Vietnam. Sinh
said that Vietnam is ready to begin these meetings in the near future, possibly
within the next 60 days. The delegation also met with U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
"Pete'' Peterson on the Agent Orange and the POW/MIA issues. Ambassador
Peterson has been very supportive of VVA and the Veterans Initiative.
Corey and the VI delegation met with the Veterans Association of Vietnam (VAV)
on the issues of those who remain missing from the war and those who suffer from
the effects of Agent Orange. Lt. Gen. Vu Xuan Vinh, executive board member of
the VAV, expressed his hope that Vietnam Veterans of America would continue to
advocate for further assistance from the U.S. Government and non-governmental
organizations to move toward joint research on Agent Orange, which his
organization considers to be a humanitarian issue affecting Vietnamese and
Hearings on "Ranch Hand''
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chair of the Subcommittee on National
Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations of the House Committee
on Government Reform, will hold an oversight hearing on Agent Orange and the
"Ranch Hand'' study being conducted by the U.S. Air Force. Slated to
testify are the General Accounting Office, which recently conducted a study of
"Ranch Hand,'' and officials from the Air Force, the National Academy of
Sciences, the Food and Drug Administration, and the VA. Also testifying will be
scientists who can shed light on what can be salvaged from the millions of
dollars and thousands of hours of volunteer time expended on this botched
Vietnam veterans and their families deserve a better effort than the Air
Force has expended. VVA also has called for additional studies of Agent Orange
and Gulf War illnesses that are government funded but independently conducted.
As a prelude to the hearing, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with assistance
from VVA national Board member and Vermont VVA State Council President, John
Miner, held a public forum in Montpelier, Vermont, February 26. VVA national
Agent Orange/Dioxin vice-chair Paul Sutton conducted a symposium on Agent Orange
for some hundred veterans who had journeyed through the snow to learn more about
the issues that will be addressed in the upcoming hearing. Rep. Sanders is a
member of the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and
International Relations that will conduct the March 14 hearings on "Ranch
Hand,'' and has consistently supported Chairman Shays in the effort to prompt
more proper government action on Agent Orange and on Gulf War illnesses.
Gulf War Veterans
It has been nine years since the end of the Gulf War, and despite the
approximately $140 million that the Pentagon has spent on investigating Gulf War
undiagnosed illnesses, the government is no closer to resolving the issue than
it was in the early nineties when it first surfaced.
Unfortunately, all signs point to a hollow closure of the issue by the
Pentagon. In a recent meeting at the Pentagon between Bernard Rostker, Special
Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, and veteran service organizations, several new
reports were released regarding various toxins and possible causes of Gulf War
Illnesses. These reports ranged from Water Use to Chemical Agent Resistant
Coating (a paint commonly used for military vehicles) to a Case Narrative on Fox
(chemical reconnaissance vehicle) Alerts in the 24th Infantry Division. Not one
of the reports contained anything substantive. Rostker indicated that his office
of two hundred (with a yearly operating budget of $30 million) is planning to
scale down its operations.
The forced administration of the anthrax vaccine to U.S. military personnel
continues to be of major concern to many current service members. Reports abound
of service members falling ill after taking anthrax shots. Upwards of three
hundred military personnel have refused to take the shots, often at the expense
of their careers and possible jail time.
VVA appreciates the vigilant efforts of Rep. Shays to rectify this situation.
Shays' subcommittee recently released an 83-page report on the Pentagon’s use
of anthrax. The report says the anthrax vaccination has not been adequately
tested, is unsafe, and it recommends the anthrax shots be suspended.
VVA President George C. Duggins has written repeatedly to Secretary of
Defense William Cohen about the inadequacies of Rostker's performance, only to
be answered with generalities, usually in letters written by Rostker himself.
VVA will continue to work with our friends in Congress and elsewhere to get
proper treatment for veterans exposed to Agent Orange and for the men and women
who suffer from Gulf War illnesses.
Vietnam Memorial Stamp
The United States Postal Service unveiled a new Vietnam Veterans Memorial
commemorative stamp January 11. VVA Vice President Tom Corey, VVA Executive
Director Ed Croucher, and others from VVA joined Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Jan
Scruggs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, and U.S. Postal Service
officials at the unveiling. We are grateful for the stamp, however, VVA will
continue to press for the Postal Service to make this stamp available in a
format that can be used to send mail--not just as a commemorative product.
Outreach events in five cities on March 31 and April 1 will test veterans for
hepatitis C. The events are jointly sponsored by the American Liver Foundation,
VVA, The American Legion, DAV, PVA, AMVETS, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and
will occur in Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. The idea
is to increase awareness of the need for veterans to get tested.
Ken Moore, coordinator of the Subcommittee on Hepatitis C of the VVA National
Veterans Health Task Force, and VVA Chapter 20 (Rochester, New York) have
compiled informational packets on how to work with local VA Medical Centers to
conduct effective outreach, awareness, and testing programs for hepatitis C.
President George C. Duggins has encouraged all VVA state councils and chapters
to participate in this effort.
Chapter 20 has worked with the VA medical staff in western New York to
conduct two testing programs and is sharing its expertise with other chapters.
An event took place in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 3-4, 2000, and another
will take place in Miami, Florida, on March 24-25. VVA Chapter 83 (Delaware),
led by VVA service officer Terry Baker, will conduct a Hepatitis C Awareness Day
on Saturday, May 6, at the VA Medical Center Auditorium in Wilmington, Delaware.
All VVA chapters are encouraged to work with their local American Liver
Foundation chapters, VA Medical Centers, and others to insure that veterans get
tested and treated.
Legislative Action Center
The Government Relations Department has a new legislative action center on
the VVA web site. The action center will enable members to contact their
representative and state legislators concerning veteran issues, respond to
legislative alerts, find out what's happening in Congress, search veteran bills,
and check out the executive branches of the federal government.
The address is: http://www.capweb.net/vva/
Even though the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 reaffirmed
veterans’ preference in federal civil service employment, veterans' preference
is facing an attack that could make it irrelevant in federal hiring practices.
Currently pending before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in Washington
is a class-action case filed by non-veteran Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
applicants, claiming that veterans have an unfair and illegal advantage due to
This motion was originally unopposed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
and was allowed to proceed for more than two years without any notice to the
veteran ALJ applicants. On April 22, 1999, the MSPB ruled in favor of the
appellants and against the veterans. Four veterans have appealed to MSPB. The
case is now under review. If the initial decision holds, it will have dire
consequences for veterans' preference throughout the federal government.
OPM has now appealed the case, with strong support and prodding by Rep. Lane
Evans (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. VVA
continues to monitor the case and has ensured that members of Congress and OPM
know how important veterans' preference and the outcome of this case are to VVA,
to its members, and to all American veterans.
G.I. Bill For Education
There is momentum on Capitol Hill for a new G.I. Bill. The current G.I. Bill
pays $536 a month but falls short of covering the cost of today’s college
education. Both Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Evans introduced bills last
session providing for generous education benefits that would have covered near
or the full cost of a veteran's undergraduate education. These bills, however,
never left the House. A modest measure in a Senate omnibus bill last session
would have raised the G.I. Bill to $600 a month, yet the bill never left the
During this session, a major effort is under way by a coalition of veteran
service organizations, including VVA, and higher education associations to
promote a new G.I. Bill. The coalition has offered its version of the G.I. Bill
to Congress for consideration. It would provide an annual benchmark set at the
average cost of a four-year public university, or $975 per month.
On March 1, there was a press conference at the Capitol regarding this
proposal for a new G.I. Bill. It was well attended. Many senators and
congressmen spoke. It was covered in all the major media. Look for a new G.I.
Bill this session, and let your member of Congress know that it is time for a
meaningful G.I. Bill.