The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
Double Speak And Double Talk
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
"Your claim is not that you are
being lied to, your claim is not that you are being misled into
believing something that is not true. Your claim is that you are
being lied to even though you know you are being lied to. So you
are not being harmed by it.'' This was the position advanced by
the Department of Justice attorney representing both the
defendants and the government as the official position of the
U.S. government and the Department of Defense in federal court
on May 25, regarding the withholding of crucial data veterans
needed for proving their VA claims due to SHAD exposures.
At issue was the latest motion hearing in the lawsuit Vietnam
Veterans of America, et al. vs. Robert S. McNamara, et. al
concerning the denial of access to key materials concerning the
deliberate exposure of U.S. military personnel to biological
warfare agents, chemical warfare agents, and so-called simulants
without their knowledge and consent during the 1960s and early
During the same hearing, the position taken by the Department of
Justice was that VA never asked for crucial dosage information
involving the 6,000 veterans we know were exposed. This will
come as a surprise to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony
Principi, because VVA has uncovered hard evidence that he asked
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for this information. The
government attorney also falsely implied to the judge that VVA
had refused to pay for copying the needed documents. In fact,
DoD never asked, and in most cases denied, that the documents
existed. Most of the documents are not classified now, nor were
they ever classified. The government withheld these documents
from public view because they wished to
avoid what they described as "possible public embarrassment.''
Many veterans who participated in SHAD have died prematurely.
Many more are sick from illnesses that may have been caused by
these exposures forty years ago, in a manner similar to Agent
Orange. Yet the administration appears to believe that the
bureaucrats who are withholding information needed by these
veterans must not be subject to "embarrassment'' and that it is
okay for government officials to continue to lie to veterans
because we know they are lying to us.
Perhaps it is finally time for a hearing and serious
congressional action reaffirming the veteran's right to know
what he or she was exposed to in military service, as well as
any and all information (including dosage reconstruction) that
is pertinent to that exposure to toxins and potentially
hazardous materials or conditions.
The amendment sponsored by Sen. James Talent (R-Mo.) and Sen.
Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) passed the Senate on June 18 as part of
the FY05 Defense Authorization bill S.2400. This amendment would
strengthen requirements on the Department of Defense to properly
screen the health and fitness for duty of Reservists and members
of the National Guard before calling them to active duty. This
needed legislation also would require DoD to perform full health
screenings of all troops prior to sending them overseas in any
deployment. It also would require that DoD take blood and tissue
samples before and after deployments, and properly preserve
those samples so that years later it could be determined if a
service member had been exposed to toxic materials or diseases
overseas that resulted in illness. If done properly, this would
avoid situations where veterans, like SHAD participants and
Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, spend years trying to
prove harmful exposures.
The proposed legislation also would set up a proper medical
tracking system, make testing and tracking mandatory, and
require periodic reports by DoD to Congress on how it was
carrying out the provisions of this bill, as well as providing
for periodic investigations by the General Accounting Office and
for civilian oversight boards.
William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of Defense for Health
Affairs, led the fight by the administration and the Department
of Defense to stave off the most meaningful changes. Despite the
best efforts of Sens. Clinton and Talent, the Committee on Armed
Services weakened some of the most important provisions of the
bill at the behest of administration officials in DoD.
VVA and the National Gulf War Resource Center strongly supported
this valiant effort by Sens. Talent and Clinton to safeguard the
health of Americans serving in the military today, as did
several of the other major veterans service organizations. While
the provisions need to be strengthened as soon as there is
another opportunity, the provisions that were passed will help
service members serving today in many ways. VVA is grateful to
Sens. Clinton and Talent for their strong efforts.
Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) introduced an amendment to the
S.2044, FY05 Defense Authorization Bill, that would make
important strides toward providing adequate funding for the VA
health care system. VVA and most of the other veterans service
organizations have joined together and called for mandatory
funding at a proper level for the VA hospital system.
Sen. Daschle crafted a way to solve the dilemma faced by
Congress in how to accomplish proper and adequate funding by
calling for continuing discretionary funding for the next ten
years at the FY 2004 level of $26.2 billion for veterans' health
care. Additionally, the Daschle amendment would provide for
mandatory funding each year calculated on the number of veterans
using the system and indexed for medical inflation. The amount
available next year under the Daschle proposal would be an
additional $4.7 billion in mandatory funding to be delivered by
the Comptroller of the United States on October 1 to the VA,
whether the discretionary spending package is enacted by then or
The amendment originally was scheduled for debate and a vote on
the afternoon of June 22, the 60th Anniversary of enactment the
GI Bill. This would have been fitting and proper. However, the
majority leadership at the last minute postponed the debate and
vote in order to insure that several senators who strongly
favored the amendment would not be available to participate in
the debate nor vote on this legislation.
In the end, the amendment never made it to the Senate floor
because the vote to waive the budget rules of the Senate failed,
49 to 48. Sixty votes were needed to waive the budget rules and
consider the Daschle amendment.
FORUM ON MANDATORY FUNDING
VVA life member Lane Evans (D-Ill.), who also serves as the
Ranking Member on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee,
sponsored a forum on June 3 on the issue of funding veterans'
health care. Evans is the author of H.R. 2318, the "Assured
Funding for Veterans Health Care Act,'' which has 184
co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. He was joined by Sen.
Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who sponsored S.50, a companion bill, in
the Senate. Johnson is the only member in either the Senate or
the House who has a son or daughter serving on active duty in a
The discussion put on the record the arguments for mandatory
fundingand certainly for a significant change in how the VA's
medical operations are funded. Speaking on behalf of VVA
President Tom Corey, Rick Weidman noted VVA believes some
members of Congress "are genuine in their belief that two-thirds
of the federal budget should not be on 'automatic pilot,' as
they call it, and that Congress should exercise and not abdicate
their right and duty under the Constitution to set spending
levels each year as appropriate for each program.
"However, Congress has not done so thus far,'' Weidman noted,
"and two successive
administrations, in collusion with the Office of Management and
Budget and to some degree the leadership of one or both bodies
of the Congress, have acted so as to hold appropriations to an
unconscionable inadequate level.'' How unconscionable is this
level? He pointed out that "each veteran user on a per capita
basis will receive 58 cents for each dollar that a Medicare
"To those who are resistant to the idea of mandatory funding, we
say: If you have a better idea, one that will fix the system and
restore the funding base to 1996, the year eligibility reform
was enacted, we're certainly open to hearing a proposal. Because
what we have now is a formula for disaster.''
To salvage the VA health care system for future veterans, three
things are needed: (1) A reliable and predictable funding
stream; (2) greater accountability of senior managers in the VA;
and (3) a true veterans health care system, as opposed to a
general health care system that happens to be for veterans.
That's what the New York Times, in an editorial, called
the machinations in the
Executive Branch that will result in devastating cuts to the
budget for the VA's medical
operations. According to estimates by the non-partisan Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities, veterans' medical care would be
slashed by $1.5 billion in FY 2006 after a less draconian cut of
some $380 million in FY 2005. "And the administration recently
submitted legislation to impose caps that would result in
further reductions in every year after [FY 2005] through 2009,''
The Times noted.
This is unacceptable. The enormous deficits are "being created
by the White House's fiscal recklessness,'' the Times
noted. "Although the fate of specific programs has not been
decided, there is no way the administration can take a
multibillion-dollar whack out of the relatively small budget for
domestic discretionary programsa mere one-sixth of federal
spendingwithout hurting services that are both popular and
All of the VSOs oppose these cuts, which will cause the VA to
retrench even further on the services it provides to some six
million veterans. We must do everything in our collective power
to derail these ill-considered plans.
After much wrangling, VA Secretary Principi finally announced
the VA's plans for enhanced services in the great CARES
realignment. VVA has adopted a wait-and-see attitude, reserving
judgment on the efficacy of the plan. While we applaud the
construction of two new VA Medical Centers in Las Vegas and
Orlando, "We will carefully review and consider what Secretary
Principi endorses and what he rejects from the proposals to
modernize the VA's medical infrastructure recommended by the
CARES Commission,'' VVA National President Tom Corey said. "The
yardstick we will use to measure these decisions is simple: Will
the enhancements actually get funded and the work done? Will
they enhance the availability and quality of health care for our
"We will give careful consideration to the long-term as well as
the immediate consequences of these decisions, which will set
the course for the VA's medical operations well into the future.
"We can say, however, that for this restructuring to succeed, an
infusion of at least $10 billion will be needed to rebuild the
infrastructure of VA facilities over the next five to six years.
"VVA also wants to applaud the efforts of the CARES Commission,
chaired by Everett Alvarez, which has done a tremendous amount
of work to meet its mandate, particularly with regards to
expanding 'special needs' services for blinded veterans and
veterans suffering from spinal cord injuries.''
To find out how Senators voted on the Daschle amendment, go to
www.vva.org The roll call vote
was 49 yeas, 48 nays, and 3 not voting.
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