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

October 2000/November 2000

 

Government Relations

The Never Ending 106th Congress

At press time, the 106th Congress had six of the thirteen required spending bills left to pass. The Congress passed a two-week Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government functioning until Congress returns after Veterans Day.

VA BUDGET APPROPRIATION

The Fiscal Year 2001 VA-HUD appropriations bill, which Congress passed in October and was signed by the President, accomplishes many of the goals Vietnam Veterans of America set forth almost a year ago. While we did not get the additional Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care appropriation VVA feels is truly needed to prevent the further diminishment of services, the $1.4 billion added to the bill is the largest one-year increase ever. Of the $20.3 billion for veterans’ health programs, $351 million is slated for medical research.

A group of good friends of veterans, led by Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and aided by the united support of the major veterans organizations, tried to secure an additional $500 million for veterans’ health services. This would have prevented another loss of VHA staff (up to 2,250 positions) in FY 2001. The Senate leadership, fearing that this effort would succeed, resorted to the tactic of putting the VA-HUD appropriation into the Transportation bill and bringing it to the Senate floor under a closed rule. This prevents any amendment. While our effort did not succeed, VVA is grateful to our good friends in the Senate.  In other provisions, $24.7 billion was provided for veterans’ benefits, of which $22.8 billion goes toward compensation and pensions for veterans. As authorized in separate legislation passed by the Congress and signed by the President, VA cost of living adjustment (COLA) for calendar year 2001 will be equal to that of Social Security beneficiaries. Based on the Consumer Price Index released in October, that increase will be 3.5 percent.

Also included in the VA-HUD appropriations bill is $400,000 for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans to do technical assistance, training, and support activities that will assist community-based organizations, local veteran organizations, and local chapters of veterans’ service organizations trying to help homeless veterans.

FUTURE VETERANS HEALTH-CARE FUNDING

It is VVA’s position that an additional increase of some $2 billion for veterans health services will be needed in FY 2002 just to keep up with medical inflation. We also believe that an additional $1 billion will be needed to begin to restore the organizational capacity lost by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in the last five years--particularly in such specialized services as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment, services to blinded veterans, services to the seriously and chronically mentally ill, and spinal-cord injured veterans.

The Independent Budget of the Veterans Service Organizations (IBVSO) calls for an increase of $2.479 billion for FY 2002. VVA may well again endorse the IBVSO. However, VVA also believes that the diminishment of the organizational capability of the Veterans Health Administration in such areas as acute care staff for hepatitis C, the dramatic diminishment of in-patient and residential programs for treatment of chronic acute PTSD, and the limitation of alcohol and substance abuse programs is of such magnitude that it will take increases of about $1 billion per year for several years to bring the VHA back into compliance with the VA Eligibility Reform Act of 1996.

The new President will submit his FY 2002 request to the Congress for consideration next year. However, the document is being framed now by the VA and by the Office of Management and Budget. The effort to insure sufficient resources for 2002 must begin now.

SEN. HAGEL HONORED

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has been a great champion of veterans’ causes in the Senate since his arrival in 1997, was selected as VVA’s Legislator of the Year for the U.S. Senate. Sen. Hagel was chosen on the basis of his leadership in securing meaningful legislation for veterans’ preference, championing of homeless veterans, assisting in business opportunities for Vietnam veterans, and for his steadfast advocacy to assist veterans and educate young people about the Vietnam War.

Sen. Hagel was wounded while in Vietnam. He is the only former enlisted Vietnam veteran in the Senate. He also was the keynote speaker at VVA’s commemorative service marking the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, held on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE FOR VETERANS

Public Law 106-50, the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999, set a goal of 3 percent of all federal contracting and subcontracting go to disabled-veteran-owned businesses. President Clinton signed this law on Aug. 17, 1999. However, we are still waiting for proper regulations to implement this requirement. The SBA finally published regulations Oct. 11, 2000, under intense political and legal pressure from a united front of the veterans’ community. But the regulations do not meet either the letter or intent of the law in regard to procurement goals.

Legislative fixes have been inserted into the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 2000 by Sen. "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.), with the strong support of Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.). The original version of this act became a Christmas tree that included $250 billion in tax cuts and many other extraneous provisions, leading to a presidential veto in late October. VVA hopes Congress will pass a version of this act that the President will sign before Thanksgiving.

DUGGINS APPOINTED

President Clinton appointed VVA National President George C. Duggins to the Board of Directors of the new National Veterans Business Development Corporation. The same legislation that created a 3% goal for disabled-veteran-owned businesses created the corporation to provide a formal mechanism that joins public and private resources to assist veterans and disabled veterans who already are self-employed or own their own small business. The corporation also will provide services and assistance that will help veterans--particularly disabled veterans--start their own businesses.

VETERANS HEALTH CARE

Congress passed, and the President has signed into law, legislation that will provide a much needed increase in nurses’ pay, provide better coordination and enhanced status of physicians assistants in the Veterans Health Administration, provide for benefits and health care for natural children born to women Vietnam veterans who served in-country, provide better pay to help recruit and retain dentists in the VHA system, and mandate a follow-up study of the landmark National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, which was conducted in the mid-1980s. The new study will examine PTSD and will include a full physical to build on the basis of the baseline information established in 1984 to produce a longitudinal and potentially very significant study. The study will be government funded, but independently conducted.

The same omnibus bill provides for special monthly pay for women who have radical mastectomies resulting from service-connected conditions. Both this provision and that providing health care and benefits to offspring of female Vietnam veterans with birth defects resulted from the efforts of the VVA Women Veterans Committee, led by chair Marsha Four. The chair of the Veterans Health Care Task Force, Linda A. Schwartz, also testified for these provisions, arguing that all birth defects in children born to both women and men who served in Southeast Asia should be accorded health care and other benefits.

VVA has long maintained that the VA health-care system must become a Veterans Health Care System and not just a general health care system that happens to be provided for veterans. VVA has praised Thomas Garthwaite, the VA’s Undersecretary of Health, for his Veterans Health Initiative (VHI), which is designed to educate VHA staff in the special nature of veterans health care and establish the universal practice of taking complete military histories and testing veterans for all of the conditions and diseases that veterans may have been exposed to.

MILITARY HISTORY

It is now the law that complete military histories must be taken by VHA and used in the diagnosis and treatment of veterans. The law gives VHA nine months to report to Congress on the status of the computerized systems to accomplish this task for all veterans who use the VA health-care system. This legal mandate reaffirms the vision of Dr. Garthwaite (and of VVA) that this is the necessary first step toward a wellness model that deals with all of ways in which a veteran’s health may have been adversely affected as a result of military service. Initial testing of the computerized system is due to begin at VHA in early 2001.

AGENT ORANGE & DIABETES

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science on October 11 released the results of the special review of Type II-adult onset diabetes requested by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs last year. The report finds a ``limited suggestion’’ of a positive association between exposure to Agent Orange in military service and an elevated risk of developing diabetes years after that exposure.

VVA National President Duggins immediately sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Hershel Gober reiterating VVA’s petition of April that the Secretary issue regulations immediately to declare adult-onset diabetes to be a service-connected presumptive condition. While VVA has not yet received a reply to President Duggins’ letter, we remain hopeful that such regulations will be issued this year.

In related developments, VVA has written to the panel performing the biannual review of studies of health effects of Agent Orange and other toxins present in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. We asked the panel to consider important evidence of PCBs and other chemicals that were also present in the war zone and which work on the body in a manner that is similar to dioxin, only compounding the already significant dioxin exposure.

VVA also testified in a similar vein before the Scientific Advisory panel of the Environmental Protection Agency that is moving to finish a formal review of the scientific studies and make a recommendation to Administrator Carol Browner concerning action on dioxin. VVA asked for action now due to the dangers of re-exposure to dioxin among Vietnam veterans and their families already exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The chemical industry and agribusiness joined with Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) in arguing for no action at this time. VVA is grateful to Rep. Ralph Hall (D-Tex) for resisting heavy industry pressure and siding with veterans on this important issue.

HEPATITIS C

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), a Vietnam veteran, introduced legislation to insure proper outreach and testing for hepatitis C in all areas of the country. The proposed legislation also contains very important provisions that would insure that funds appropriated by Congress for treatment of hepatitis C get put to the proper use at the service delivery level. More than 60 co-sponsors were secured, but action on this legislation will have to await the 107th Congress, which convenes next year. Rep. Frelinghuysen plans to introduce this legislation again in January. VVA has helped secure support for this measure in the House of Representatives, and for a companion bill in the Senate.

It is also anticipated that Acting Secretary Hershel Gober will act favorably on VVA National President George C. Duggins’ petition of March 23, 1999, and move to declare hepatitis C to be service connected presumptive under certain conditions. We anticipate that the VA regulations will be more restrictive than VVA thinks such regulations should be, but will likely include all veterans who received blood or blood products, served as medics or in another medical capacity, or who had a solid organ transplant while in the military. Should such regulations be issued this month, it will be a big step forward in efforts to properly care for and compensate affected veterans. However, there is more to be done for those veterans who may not be covered by such regulations.

At the end of October, VHA Undersecretary for Health Thomas Garthwaite transferred responsibility for supervising and leading VHA effort on hepatitis C to Lawrence Deyton, who has been in charge of VA services for veterans with HIV and AIDS for the past few years. VVA takes this as a positive sign that VHA is prepared to take many of the steps that we believe are necessary to meet the challenge of this silent epidemic.

   

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org

     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America ® 
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright © 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.