June 2000/July 2000
106th Congress Rushes To A Close
By Philip A. Litteer, Chair, VVA National Government Affairs
Committee and Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations
The 106th Congress is coming to a close. Congress is rushing
to pass the remaining 12 of the 13 appropriations bills that must be
finished and signed by the President in order to keep the federal
government running in fiscal year 2001, which begins October 1. Many
pending issues affect vital services to veterans. Employment services to
veterans, health care, hepatitis C treatment and compensation,
and--perhaps most important--the overall appropriation for the Veterans
Health Administration will be affected by this bill. Also pending are the
important issues of concurrent receipt and improvements to health care for
It is vital that VVA members and other interested citizens let Congress
and the executive branch know their views on issues relevant to veterans
and their families. It is not enough to complain or get mad. Each of us
must care enough to make a difference. Please notify your state council
president if you would like to participate in the VVA Legislative Network,
or just write a thoughtful letter to your senators and representatives in
Congress and let them know how you feel about the key issues.
VETERANS HEALTH CARE APPROPRIATIONS
One of the appropriations bills still pending is the VA, HUD, and
related agencies appropriations bill. Sen. Christopher ``Kit’’ Bond
(R-Mo.), the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Related
Agencies of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and his Democratic
counterpart, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), have delayed moving forward on
the FY 2001 appropriations bill because the Senate did not provide enough
room under the so-called cap for them to come close to providing enough
money for the operation of these agencies.
It is vital that letters are received by Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) to urge
that there be enough money provided to fund the Veterans Health
Administration at a level that is $1.9 billion more than the current year.
Equally as important, those who care about the veterans health-care
system also should call and write their senators to ask that they actively
support the amendment to be offered by Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Paul
Wellstone (D-Minn.) to add $500 million to the amount provided for the
Veterans Health Administration (VHA) by the House of Representatives.
Without this additional money--which would increase the VHA budget by $1.9
billion--the VHA will have to lay off an additional 2,250 employees, thus
increasing already too long waiting times and resulting in additional
reductions in the quantity and quality of health care.
VVA estimates that at least 10,000 vacancies currently exist in the
veterans health-care system because of lack of funds, in addition to the
22,500 positions that have been cut since FY 1996 because of the notorious
flat-line budget deal cut by Congress and President Clinton. Now is the
time to reverse this process and begin to restore the clinicians, doctors,
nurses, and others needed in order for the nation to care for he and she
who hath borne the battle.
The VA has denied a petition filed by VVA National President George C.
Duggins on November 9, 1999, calling on the VA to work cooperatively with
VVA and others to establish a task force to compile existing data to
discover elevated incidence of maladies that may disproportionately affect
Vietnam veterans. This includes a broad range of health problems, from
hepatitis C to cancers of all kinds, to endocrinological and neurological
Vietnam Veterans of America maintains that the VA General Counsel
intentionally misread VVA’s petition to mean that we were concerned with
undiagnosed illnesses. It was clear from our petition that the illnesses
are diagnosed; rather, it is the etiology (or cause) of these maladies
that is in doubt. VVA plans to pursue this effort.
HEPATITIS C SERVICE-CONNECTED PRESUMPTION
The bills that would give presumption of service connection for
veterans who have hepatitis C--HR 1020 in the House of Representatives and
S. 71 in the Senate--still need more cosponsors to get any action in the
few remaining work days of this Congress. We urge VVA members to contact
their representatives and senators to ask why they are not cosponsors of
this vital legislation, if they are not already on board. Please remember
to thank those who are cosponsors and urge them to speak to colleagues.
We also urge you to write to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gober,
the President, and the Vice President to ask why there has been no action
on the March 1999 VVA petition. It has been more than 18 months with no
action. It is time for Acting Secretary Gober to fill the vacuum of
leadership at the VA and move immediately to grant VVA’s petition on
HEPATITIS C HEALTH CARE
VVA continues to work with the VA and with our friends in Congress to
secure more proper addressing of the problem of adequate outreach,
testing, and treatment of hepatitis C. Under Undersecretary Thomas
Garthwaite’s leadership, the VA has done more than the private sector.
But there is a long way to go before the VA response to hepatitis C can be
The biggest problem confronting us in securing proper treatment is that
the massive cuts to the VHA system in the past four years have left too
few acute-care staff to care for these sick veterans properly.
The VA must advance a plan as part of its FY 2002 budget request that
explains how they plan to rebuild the capacity to treat veterans by
restoring needed acute-care staff as well as staff that delivers
specialized services for PTSD treatment, spinal cord injury, the seriously
and chronically mentally ill, and blind rehabilitation.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has introduced legislation HR 5132,
the Veterans Comprehensive Hepatitis C Health Care Act, that would require
outreach testing and proper expenditure of funds for the Centers for
Excellence for Hepatitis C and expand their capability to provide
research, education, technical assistance, and oversight of the VA efforts
to reach, test, and properly treat hepatitis C.
VVA Veterans Affairs chair Bob Maras took the lead role in pushing for
a commitment on the part of VA to do a mailing to all VHA enrollees before
Veterans Day with a brochure from the American Liver Foundation designed
with the cooperation of major veterans service organizations. While this
will help, it is not enough.
The American Liver Foundation is again cooperating with VVA and others
to do a special outreach to veterans using home-access self-testing kits
to test for hepatitis C. There is a reduced cost of only $6 for this
service. For more information, please see your chapter and state
newsletters or the VVA web site. The dates of this testing are November
9-19. Kits may be obtained via the Internet or by calling a toll-free
AGENT ORANGE AND THE TOXIC BATTLEFIELD
The chair of the VVA Task Force on Veterans Health Care, Linda
Schwartz, and VVA Agent Orange and Dioxin Committee chair George Claxton
participated in the International Conference on Dioxin, held in Monterey,
California, in August. As the only representatives of the veterans service
organization community, they were able to communicate the needs of
veterans to the scientists and to learn more about recent research being
done around the world. More than 40 countries were represented.
Immediately following that conference, the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences held a one-day conference on working with
the government of Vietnam to start joint research on Agent Orange and
other toxins that were used during the Vietnam War. Linda Schwartz sat on
the panel that heard public comment. VVA National Vice President Tom Corey
and George Claxton each testified. Corey was the featured public witness.
Members of the panel thanked him and VVA for our tenacious work that
resulted in this meeting being held.
On other fronts, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of
Sciences says that it is on track to deliver a report on the special
review of diabetes by early October. VVA has urged Acting VA Secretary
Gober to act immediately on this report to declare diabetes melitis a
presumptively service-connected disability for veterans who served in
Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War or who were otherwise exposed.
LEGISLATOR OF THE YEAR FOR THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) of Buffalo was awarded the Legislator of the
Year at a ceremony at the VVA Leadership Conference in August. The award
was presented by VVA President Duggins and National Government Affairs
chair Philip A. Litteer. Duggins noted that Rep. Quinn has shown
remarkable leadership on veterans employment and training issues and in
his efforts to improve the overall veterans benefits system.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
VVA continues to press hard for proper implementation of Public Law
106-50, the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act
of 1999. This law was enacted with the signature of President Clinton on
August 17, 1999, yet has not been implemented. VVA is working with the
Task Force on Veterans Entrepreneurship, which includes most of the major
VSOs as well as private-sector veteran-owned businesses, to press the
Small Business Administration and the White House to implement this
We seem to be making progress, with the active support and assistance
of Acting VA Secretary Gober. While there is an agreement between veterans
groups and the administration for implementing this law in all its aspects
by October 1, 2000, the proof will be in the actions of the