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

December 2000/January 2001

Government Relations

Principi Named VA Secretary

By Philip Litteer, Chair, Government Affairs Committee, And Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations

President-elect George W. Bush named Anthony Principi to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in his administration. Principi served as Deputy VA Secretary in the administration of the President-elect’s father from 1990 to 1992 and served as acting Secretary for the last six months of that administration. He also has served as chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Principi is a Vietnam veteran and is a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Vietnam Veterans of America has worked well with Principi. His well-reasoned arguments about pressing issues are of interest to veterans and their families. VVA wishes Anthony Principi the best in his new role and looks forward to working closely with him to strengthen services vital to veterans and to strengthen the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration and to hold these entities accountable for the quality of performance in dealing with individual veterans. (VVA’s testimony on the nomination of Principi is on the VVA website at www.vva.org/governmentaffairs 

SMITH NAMED CHAIRMAN

Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has been named chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Smith has long been a champion of improved services and benefits for veterans. He has worked extensively with the VVA New Jersey State Council and with the VVA chapters in New Jersey.

VVA congratulates the new chairman and looks forward to working closely with him on improving the VA medical system, on hepatitis C issues, on action to improve the troubled VA benefits system, and on other issues vital to Vietnam veterans and our families.

AGENT ORANGE

In early January, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine held a public meeting for a progress report on the Exposure Study being compiled at Columbia University. This study is designed to plot all of the missions of Operation Ranch Hand flown by the U.S. Air Force using herbicides in the Republic of Vietnam.

VVA has long been aware of the lack of detailed records of American spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides from motorized vehicles, helicopters, and backpacks that could be configured into the purpose of this study, which proposes an exposure scale based on when and where a veteran was at a specific time in Vietnam. VVA is concerned, however, that the published results of this study may be used in the future to rule out some veterans from being presumed exposed to harmful herbicides in military service, even though they have health problems that we believe are likely due to such exposure.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the study does not try to account for dioxin or other contaminants in drinking water, to which all who served in Vietnam were exposed. The presumption of the study is that those most affected were those who were directly hit by aerial spraying. VVA believes this to be an unsound premise. While taking at face value the assertion of Dr. Jeanne Stellman that the investigators believe this study will be helpful to Vietnam veterans and their families, VVA continues to have reservations, based on its long experience with the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration and others who may seek to minimize the harmful effects of herbicides.

DIABETES IS PRESUMPTIVELY SERVICE CONNECTED

Elsewhere in this issue, the Veterans’ Benefits column discusses the publication of the regulations that declare adult-onset (type II) diabetes mellitus to be presumptively service connected for veterans who served in Southeast Asia. VVA is grateful to outgoing Acting Secretary Hershel Gober for leading the Clinton administration to take this important step and is hopeful the Bush administration will move quickly to publish final rules that are at least as strong, if not stronger.

JOINT U.S.-VIETNAM RESEARCH

VVA is pleased that $850,000 to start research in Vietnam on the effects of herbicides and other toxins used in the war was included in the fiscal year 2001 appropriation bill for Health and Human Services that passed in mid-December. Many of the answers Vietnam veterans and their families need to prove the harmful effects of Agent Orange and other toxins will be found in Vietnam. It is through the efforts of Sens. Thomas A. Daschle (D-N.D.), Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) that the funds are now available to move ahead with joint research with the Vietnamese, once agreement on a scientific protocol is reached. The first step toward an agreement was the meeting between U.S. and Vietnam government officials in Singapore in late November.

HEPATITIS C

The Clinton administration ended without action on VVA’s petition to make hepatitis C a service-connected presumptive condition for Vietnam veterans. A formal petition was filed by VVA National President George C. Duggins with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on March 23, 1999. VVA has called on the new Secretary to break the bureaucratic logjams at the Office of Management and Budget and the relevant sections of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to move quickly and boldly to publish regulations declaring hepatitis C to be presumptively service connected.

VVA will be working closely with members of Congress to seek legislative action that will result in universal testing for hepatitis C, adequate resources to treat hepatitis C, and proper compensation to those who likely contracted hepatitis C in military service to our nation. Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen (R-N.J.), a Vietnam veteran, will again introduce legislation to address the testing and treatment issues, and Rep.Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who served as a Marine in Vietnam, will again introduce legislation that addresses the compensation issues.

VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

Before the 106th Congress closed on December 15, 2000, it passed corrections to Public Law 106-50 that reiterate in no uncertain terms that Congress intends for 3 percent of all Federal contracts and subcontracts to go to disabled-veteran-owned businesses. VVA had commented on regulations published last fall that confused the issue of procurement set-asides, but which should now be made clear when the interim final regulations are published in February, based on provisions in the Small Business Re-Authorization Act of 2000 and in the comments submitted by VVA and other veterans organizations.

Congress also appropriated $4 million to the newly created National Veterans Business Development Corporation and extended by two years the time until the corporation must become self-sustaining.

The outgoing Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Aida Alvarez, has moved to create the new Veterans Business Development Office at the SBA and to provide an increase in the resources devoted to this effort. In a related move, the outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs has created the Center for Veterans Enterprise at the VA to assist veteran-owned businesses, particularly disabled-veteran-owned businesses to sell goods and services to the VA.

EMPLOYMENT

VVA, with Employment (ETABO) chair Calvin Gross as our point man, has been working for legislation that would offer significant hope to improve accountability for performance in the system of veterans employment assistance, while still protecting the jobs of disabled veterans employed by those state agencies currently responsible for delivering the employment assistance to veterans and disabled veterans under a grant/contract arrangement.

With new leadership in the U.S. Department of Labor, particularly in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment & Training, VVA is hopeful that passage of reasonable reform and accountability measures, including incentives for helping more veterans and disabled veterans get decent jobs, can be accomplished in the early months of the 107th Congress. Previous efforts were derailed in the closing days of the 106th Congress by some representatives of one union that had virtually ignored the negotiations and hard work of more than two years.

VVA believes that not taking any steps to correct the current situation would break faith with the disabled veterans and veterans who desperately need assistance in finding a decent job. One of the first acts of the new Congress must be to apply the principles of the Government Performance and Results Act to federally funded efforts for employment assistance to veterans and pass meaningful changes in the current system.

   

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