Good morning, Senator Akaka, Senator Burr, and other members of
this distinguished committee. On behalf of the members of Vietnam
Veterans of America and our families, I am pleased to present to
you VVA’s main legislative priorities for the 111th Congress.
Too often, it seems to many that the government puts off dealing
with the healthcare problems of entire generations of veterans. For
instance, the Gulf War has been over almost twenty years and the
government is finally confronted with evidence that is difficult
to refute that there are real maladies associated with military service,
illnesses that do not constitute as “syndrome” but are
real and debilitating nevertheless. The government’s actions
are unacceptable. Hence the need for legislative remedies. What follows
are priorities that, if enacted and enforced, will, it is our belief
and our hope, make the VA more efficient in caring for our nation’s
Enact legislation to provide Advance Appropriations to fund veterans’ health
care. On this issue, VVA is in lockstep with the other veterans service
organizations that have come together in The Partnership for Veterans
Health Care Budget Reform. This is our main priority. If legislation
is enacted to make Advance Appropriations for the Veterans Health
Administration the law of the land, it will enable VA managers, at
VA medical centers and VISNs, to actually plan for the next fiscal
year while Congress debates the budget. And, while Congress has been
quite generous to veterans in the 110th Congress, as you are well
aware, Congress has been late 19 out of the past 22 years in passing
the budget. We believe that Advance Appropriations will solve many
of the problems encountered by the VHA, and will enable veterans
health care to realize a predictable, reliable, sufficient and, perhaps
most important, timely funding stream.
Legislation also should ensure the restoration of eligibility by
2012 for all Priority 8 veterans who choose to use the VA health
care system. To ensure that the system can accommodate them, we believe
Congress should mandate that the VA increase the income ceiling by
$5,000 every six months. We do not advocate the wholesale entry of
Priority 8s into the system, as the system will be overrun. But you
will be wise to note that Priority 8 veterans, along with Priority
7s, account for 40 percent of third-party reimbursements into the
VA’s coffers. To a very great extent, they do pay for themselves.
Legislation may be needed to transform the VHA to an open, evidence-based
system. This should include taking a complete military history for
each veteran enrollee and using it in the diagnosis and in treatment
modalities. It would also include verifying that all VA physicians
and other clinicians complete each of the Veterans Health Initiative
curricula in the wounds, maladies, illnesses, and other conditions
that derive from military service, e.g., one’s branch of service;
when one served; his/her M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty);
where one served and when; and what one actually experienced. This
should help transform the VHA into a wellness system that focuses
on prevention, early and effective interventions, and innovative
methods of motivating enrollees toward healthy lives as well as innovation
that evolves into better and more effective treatments.
Legislation is needed, again, to mandate that the VA finally conduct
the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS), which would
illuminate the health status, both physical and mental, of Vietnam
veterans – men, women, minorities. The VA has consistently
refused to do this study, citing what we believe are fallacious reasons.
Congressional action, therefore, is very much needed.
And congressional action is needed to ensure that the VA, as well
as the National Institutes of Health, ensure that research is done
on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange, to dioxin. We
ask specifically for research into the potential intergenerational
effects of a parent’s exposure on his/her children and grandchildren.
We receive far too many calls from these folks telling tales of birth
defects and learning disabilities that they were born with and that
have been passed down to their children and they wonder: Could these
health problems derive from a parent’s exposure in Vietnam
to Agent Orange? We wonder this, too.
Additional legislation will be needed to revamp the VA’s compensation
and pension system, stipulating the integration of state-of-the-art
IT to include artificial intelligence, competency-based testing of
all service representatives and adjudicators, and other necessary
reforms. Legislation also should be enacted to automatically give
veterans who file claims for benefits at least 30 percent if their
initial claim is not adjudicated within 90 days, or if their appeal
is not decided within 180 days from the time of filing. Additionally,
legislation should provide for an across-the-board 25 percent increase
in payments for all veterans receiving benefits, including DIC and
non-service pensions, to help them negotiate the economic realities
in these hard times.
Legislation is needed that would mandate the creation within the
VA of a Veterans Economic Independence Administration, to be headed
by an Under Secretary. Such an entity would take responsibility for
the Center for Veterans Enterprise, vocational rehabilitation services,
veterans preference, and would be given functional control over the
Veterans Employment and Training Service, which currently resides
in the Department of Labor.
The VA health care system has evolved principally on the medical
needs of the male veterans. However, according to figures supplied
by the Department of Defense (DoD), 20 percent of new recruits are
women, almost 15 percent of America’s active duty military
are women, and nearly half of them have been deployed to Iraq and
Afghanistan. This has particularly serious implications for the VA
healthcare system because the VA itself projects that by 2010, over
14 percent of all veterans seeking VA health care services will be
women, compared with two percent in 1997. VVA is requesting congressional
legislation to bring into modern times, the delivery of the VA’s
medical and mental health care for women veterans, which would also
ensure that the VA would eliminate disparities in care based on gender.
It would also ensure that the resources are appropriated to make
steady progress toward the goal of virtually eliminating veterans
who are homeless by 2012. Part of the need is for additional authorizing
legislation, and part of what is needed is full funding of programs
that have been proven to work, such as the DOL Homeless Veterans
Reintegration Program (HVRP, which is currently authorized at $50
These represent our significant priorities. We have as well a wishlist
of legislative actions that we will present to you shortly, that
focus on specific areas of concern.
Now, I thank you for your interest and consideration of these issues,
and I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
January 28, 2009
The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is
a non-profit veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c)
(19) with the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately
registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the
House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure
Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract,
other than the routine allocation of office space and associated
resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services
through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives).
This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
John Rowan was elected National President of Vietnam Veterans of
America at VVA’s Twelfth National Convention in Reno, Nevada,
in August 2005.
John enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965, two years after graduating
from high school in Queens, New York. He went to language school,
where he learned Indonesian and Vietnamese. He served with the Air
Force’s 6990 the Security Squadron in Vietnam and at Kadena
Air Base in Okinawa, helping to direct bombing missions.
After his honorable discharge, John began college in 1969. He received
a BA in political science from Queens College and a Masters in urban
affairs at Hunter College. Following his graduation from Queens College,
John worked in the district office of Rep. Ben Rosenthal for two
years. He then worked as an investigator for the New York City Council
and recently retired from his job as an investigator with the New
York City Comptroller’s office.
Prior to his election as VVA’s National President, John served
as a VVA veterans’ service representative in New York City.
John has been one of the most active and influential members of VVA
since the organization were founded in 1978. He was a founding member
and the first president of VVA Chapter 32 in Queens. He served as
the chairman of VVA’s Conference of State Council Presidents
for three terms on the national Board of Directors, and as president
of VVA’s New York State Council.
He lives in Middle Village, New York, with his wife, Mariann.