The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2002
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
   
 

It's Up To You:
Contact Your Members Now

BY AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
AND RICK WEIDMAN, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS  

During the Memorial Day weekend, our elected officials spoke repeatedly of the sacrifices of veterans. In small towns, large cities, and in Washington, D.C., many speeches were made honoring the sacrifices of generations of American veterans who have served our country.  

These sentiments are genuine, particularly now that our nation is locked in what will be a long and costly struggle. It is, however,  puzzling that veterans' services, particularly the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), continue to be starved for funds.

We need to tell our leaders what we need is full funding of veterans care in FY 2003. America's veterans deserve meaningful action in this 107th Congress to demonstrate that the rhetoric is as real as veterans' needs.

WHAT IS NEEDED

VVA has long agreed with other veterans service organizations that VHA needs a minimum of $25.5 billion for the fiscal year that begins October 1. If veterans do nothing, we are likely to be $1.6 billion short of what we need.Efforts to secure essential funding were led by VVA National President Thomas H. Corey, who visited with many senators in late May.  Also helping lead the way are National Government Affairs Chairman Avery Taylor and State Council Presidents Bruce Whittaker (Maryland), Charlie Mitchem (West Virginia), Alan Gibson (Missouri), and others who have been going office to office on Capitol Hill. 

What VVA members need to do this month is to educate their Members of Congress about the additional money that is needed. Members and their staff need to hear specific examples of how this money would help veterans' lives in their district or state. Without your participation, we cannot succeed. 

Here is a good example of what we mean by your participation. Look at what VVA Chapter 103 in Syracuse, New York, did in cooperation with the New York State Council.  The officers of Chapter 103 arranged for a speaker from the VVA national office to come into Syracuse earlier this year, set up meetings with VA leaders of the local hospital and VISN, the officers and membership of the chapter, leaders of other veterans organizations, the director of Veterans Affairs for New York State, and other veteran leaders. They also taped two 30-minute shows to be aired on the Central New York PBS stations. Finally, VVA Chapter 103 set up a meeting with Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), who chairs the VA-HUD Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over VA appropriations.

The chapter officers, longtime VVA activist and former State Council President Gordy Lane and the members of Chapter 103 are to be congratulated for their initiative. As VVA Region 2  Director Larry Klein noted, this is what we need from every chapter.  While Rep. Walsh was already solidly in our corner on the need for more funds for veterans' health care, he now knows that VVA is behind him in his effort to get a sufficiently large allocation from Appropriations Chair C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.).  We now need action by other members of the House to speak to Reps. Young, Speaker Dennis J. Hastert (R-Ill.), Richard K. Armey (R-Texas), and Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in regard to finding the money to fund VHA properly. It is up to you and your chapter and State Council to do your part now.


VETS VOTE! 

Chapters and State Councils have received Vets Vote! packets.  Every chapter should be out at shopping centers, grocery stores, county fairs, and other events registering veterans, veterans' family members, and other citizens to vote and to let their national representatives and other elected officials know that what they do in regard to meeting our nation's obligations to veterans will be a major factor in how they vote in the primary and general elections in November. We must lead by example and vote ourselves - and get others to vote in the coming elections.


EXPOSURE TO HAZARDOUS MATERIALS 

At the Pentagon on May 22, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld answers a VVA question about declassification of SHAD records. The DoD admitted in a press release on May 23 that American military personnel had been exposed to chemical warfare and biological warfare live agents in SHAD.

Much credit and thanks go to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Neb.) for introducing the Veterans Right to Know bill in Congress the last week of June. This legislation will require establishment of a civilian-controlled declassification board to review all exposures, deliberate and inadvertent, of American military personnel to toxic or hazardous conditions of any sort.  

The purpose of this mechanism is to determine what needs to remain classified for national security reasons and what is being withheld because of bureaucratic protectionism.  Such a board would declassify the names of the individuals involved and documentation about what they were exposed to in the course of military actions in which they participated, knowingly or unknowingly, such as many of the SHAD tests.

The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) held hearings July 10 regarding military exposures to hazardous materials. These included World War II mustard gas experiments, Agent Orange exposures, Gulf War exposures of numerous types, exposures to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Navy's SHAD, and other aspects of the tests that comprised Project 112 during the 1960s. VVA is grateful to all members on both sides of the aisle of the Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee for addressing a serious problem. 

VVA also commends Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) for setting hearings on these exposures in the fall before the Armed Services Committee of the Senate, Subcommittee on Personnel, which he chairs.


DISABLED VETERAN-OWNED BUSINESSES 

The first-year statistics for the number and percentage of purchases by federal agencies and departments from service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses have been completed. Public Law 106-50, The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Act of 1999, mandates that every agency establish a goal that a minimum of 3 percent of all prime contracts and 3 percent of all subcontracts go to service-disabled, veteran-owned-and-operated businesses. 

The first year results show that the VA had .22 of 1 percent of all VA purchases were bought from service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses, despite a clear commitment from Secretary Anthony Principi to achieve the full 3 percent by the end of FY2002. That means that VA met about 1/14 of its minimum goal. That also means, if the VA improves performance for disabled-veteran entrepreneurs by a factor of 14 next year, the agency will barely meet the minimum requirement of the existing law. The Executive Office of the President, which includes the OMB, recorded no purchases whatsoever from service-disabled veterans.

VVA believes that President Bush and his administration can and must do better.  We are even more puzzled by the lack of support for enforcing the law.  As one veteran advocate and small business owner who lost an arm, among other service-connected injuries, has asked, "Exactly which part of helping disabled veterans succeed in business and being able to hire other disabled veterans are you people against?" 

We hope that the President would at some point direct his administration to obey the law.  VVA is working with other VSOs through the Task Force for Veterans Entrepreneurship to seek significant strengthening of the 1999 law during this 107th Congress. Indications of support in the Small Business and Veterans Committees in  the House and the Senate bode well for at least partial action of the GI Bill of Business Rights this year.


HEP C 

VVA participated in the Hepatitis C Consensus Conference held at the National Institutes of  Health in early June.  Representing VVA were National Veterans Health Care Committee Chair Linda Schwartz, VVA Veterans Affairs Chair Bob Maras, as well as Rick Weidman, Pat Eddington, and Sharon Hodge of the national staff.  A consensus conference like this is designed to achieve a general agreement about what is known about a disease or condition and what are the generally accepted ways of treating the disease.  Areas for potential research also are agreed upon at these conferences. Final results should be available by the late summer.

   

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