Good morning Chairman Akaka, Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Burr
and Ranking Member Buyer, and other distinguished members of the
committees of Congress that have the well-nigh sacred responsibility
of being on the front lines to ensure that veterans receive the health
care and other benefits they need, they have earned, and they deserve
for having donned the uniform in the service of our nation.
To preface my remarks on behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans
of America (VVA) and our families, let me offer a quote that I know
many of you have heard before: “The willingness with which
our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified,
shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans
of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
This sentiment was expressed in 1789 by President George Washington,
the father of our country. Today, 43 presidents later, and with American
servicemen and –women engaged in bloody conflicts halfway across
the globe, the needs of three generations of veterans has perhaps
never been greater. And how we as a nation treat them, and how we
as a people appreciate them, will go a long way towards healing them,
and showing future generations the honor of service to country and
Reportage in newspapers and magazines, on cable outlets and television,
in blogs and online publications, bring home the true costs of war:
the catastrophic wounds suffered by our troops and the lifelong care
they will need; the suicides and array of mental and emotional hurts – Post-traumatic
Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury – that plague so many
of them; the economic stress far too many of them are subjected to
when they choose to leave military service, stress that often leads
to foreclosures of their homes for some, and life on the streets
The good news is that there is promising new leadership in the Department
of Veterans Affairs. But General Shinseki and his aides will have
to negotiate a minefield of problems to make the delivery of health
care more effective as well as more efficient, to ensure that there
are enough clinicians and support staff, who are properly trained
and supervised, to meet the growing need for rehabilitation and for
mental health services, as well as meaningful assistance in securing
gainful work and training or education that will lead to work producing
a living wage, and to find ways to cut the outrageous delays in adjudicating
and appealing claims for disability compensation.
At the same time, the VA must accommodate the incremental addition
of eligible so-called Priority 8 veterans onto its rolls. These veterans,
who are not service-connected disabled (yet) but who are willing
to pay co-payments for their health care, have earned the right to
this care. It’s past time that their “temporary” barring
from enrollment in the VA system is ended, and for this we are grateful
to the 110th Congress for having appropriated the funds to begin
the incremental addition of Priority 8s onto the VA’s rolls.
We certainly hope that you in the 111th Congress will continue on
the path that will accommodate all those veterans who are eligible
and who choose to use the VA for their health care.
The VA healthcare system is going to be stretched, and those responsible
for the delivery of services are going to have to respond with a
firmness of purpose, a clarity of vision, and the willingness to
think anew to meet the needs of veterans who are hurting. And you
in Congress are going to have to provide them with the financial
tools – and corresponding oversight – to help them accomplish
THREE OVERRIDING ISSUES
The fullest possible accounting of the fate of America’s POW/MIAs
has long been VVA’s top priority, and our Veterans Initiative
continues to make inroads in this arena. Funding, accountability,
and outreach are our top legislative priorities, however, and our
officers, our Board of Directors, our Chapter and State Council leaders,
our members, and our Government Affairs staff and advisors devote
much time and efforts to transforming these priorities from concept
to reality. Here’s why:
Funding VA Healthcare
Vietnam Veterans of America, in concert with the other members of
The Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, has repeatedly
noted and testified before you that the manner by which health care
for veterans is funded is flawed, and we believe fatally flawed,
despite the largesse of Congress over the last two fiscal years,
and the generous request by the President for FY2010. What is needed
is a new method for funding the VA’s health care system, one
that will ensure it receives a reliable, predictable, sufficient,
sustainable – and timely – funding stream.
We know there has been resistance to this, from both sides of the
aisle. We have been told, point blank, that Congress will not consider
any form of mandatory (or “assured” or “guaranteed”)
funding of health care for veterans. So, while a form of mandatory
funding remains our goal, we, along with the other members of The
Partnership, are endorsing Advance Appropriations.
If enacted, Congress would agree on funding for veterans healthcare
a year in advance. This would enable VA medical center directors
and VISN directors to properly plan for staffing needs, for the purchase
of state-of-the-art equipment, for making needed repairs. They would
not be held hostage when Congress fails to agree on a budget, which
has been the situation, as you know, in nineteen of the last twenty-two
Congressman Filner and Senator Akaka have introduced H.R. 1016 and
S. 423, respectively, that would provide for Advance Appropriations
for the VA’s healthcare operations. President Obama is on record
as supporting Advance Appropriations, as is the new VA Secretary.
VVA will push, and push hard, to get these bills enacted. To accomplish
this, we will need a major grassroots effort, from all of our State
Councils and all of our Chapters. This effort will also require that
all members of Congress take a stand and not just those on the Committees
on Veterans’ Affairs.
Please note, however, that neither VVA nor the other members of
The Partnership simply want to throw money in the hopes that it will
salve the situation. We acknowledge, indeed we demand, that there
must also be real accountability in the management of the Veterans
Health Administration. And in the Veterans Benefits Administration
and the National Cemetery Administration. Measures to ensure accountability
must be built into any system of funding the VA.
We believe that the system of bonuses for senior staff must be overhauled
to reward only the truly worthy, e.g., those who not simply do their
job but take that extra measure to ensure that it’s done well;
to withhold bonuses from those who just do their job with competence;
and to remove those who do their job poorly. The VA should not have
to wait until a scandal breaks before taking requisite action. (And
anyone who follows the VA knows all too well that some sort of national
or regional or local scandal seems to break every year.)
To ensure accountability, you in Congress need to be far more vigilant
in the exercise of your powers, and responsibility, of oversight.
So do we in the VSO community. Because we spend so much, perhaps
too much, of our time seeking the necessary funding for the VA, we
spend far less time than we ought to, to ensure that the funding
appropriated is properly expended. We all need to do a better job
in this regard.
The fact is that fewer than twenty-five percent of veterans actively
use the VA for their healthcare needs, and even many of these are
not familiar with the array of benefits to which they are entitled
by virtue of their service. What of the other seventy-five to eighty
percent who never go to a VA regional office or medical center? Most
of them are, quite simply, ignorant of these benefits – ignorant
because they are uninformed. And they are uninformed because the
VA does a shoddy job at best of outreach to them.
VVA believes that the VA has both a legal responsibility and an
ethical obligation to reach out to all veterans and their families
to inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled, and of
the possible long-term health problems they may experience due to
where and when they served. Populating kiosks in VA medical centers
with booklets and pamphlets is fine, and creating in-house programming
that is rarely watched – Oprah, CNN, and ESPN are far more
popular – don’t nearly go far enough. Because these do
not get into the hands of either the very poor who do not use the
system or the better off who do not need to use the system.
The VA is “experimenting” with paid advertising on television,
an initiative undertaken at the insistence of Congress by Dr. James
Peake during his tenure as Secretary. But what is really needed is
a real strategic plan, one that will employ TV and radio ads, billboards,
and public service announcements as well as cooperative efforts with
civilian organizations and entities in a coordinated effort, yet
one that adapts to regional and local realities.
What is also needed, to get a handle on just how many dollars go
to the VA’s outreach efforts, is passage of S. 315, introduced
by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Alas, this admirable bill
has but a single co-sponsor: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. If
enacted, S. 315 would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to
establish a separate account for the funding of the outreach activities
of the Department, and would establish within this account a separate
sub-account for the funding of the outreach activities of each element
of the Department. The goals of this bill are admirable. We would
hope that ninety-eight other Senators join with Mssrs. Feingold and
Sanders, and that companion legislation be introduced in the House.
Meanwhile, we in VVA are pursuing something that ought to have been
thought of years ago. In partnership with advocacy organizations,
unions, healthcare firms, and others, we have created the Veterans
Health Council to reach out not only to veterans and their families,
to inform them about health conditions that may derive from their
time in service, but also to inform the healthcare community about
these diseases, illnesses, and other maladies – and remember
that the vast majority of veterans do not use the VA. This is not
the forum in which to expand more on this Council, but you will be
hearing a great deal more about it in the coming months.
This is, however, the appropriate forum to suggest the addition
of a fourth administration to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A Veterans Economic Independence Administration, to be headed by
an Undersecretary, would consolidate various currently separate programs
that assist veterans to obtain and sustain meaningful work or training
or education that will lead to a decent job at a living wage. This
new entity would put under the same roof the Vocational Rehabilitation
Service, the Veterans Education Service, an enhanced and expanded
Center for Veterans Enterprise, and functional control if not outright
transfer of the Veterans Employment and Training Service from the
Department of Labor as well as newly federalized DVOP and LVER positions.
This is an idea in which we hope you would find merit, and certainly
enough interest to hold hearings and pursue the legislation that
would be needed to transform this “one-stop shopping” concept
OTHER ISSUES OF CONCERN
There are other, specific issues that are important to veterans
and their families, issues that warrant the attention of Congress
and the American people. What follows are VVA’s legislative
priorities in these areas.
VVA will continue to vigorously oppose any and all efforts to dismantle
the VA healthcare system or curtail its current capacity and mission.
And make no mistake: There are those in the hallowed halls of Congress
who would do away with the VA under the now discredited mantra of “Privatize,
privatize, privatize.” Rather, VVA will push to continue the
expansion of vitally needed organizational capacity.
VVA shall continue to work to ensure that the VA contracts out the
National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study as a robust mortality
and morbidity study of the physical and mental health as well as
overall well-being of Vietnam veterans according to the protocol
established by Public Law 106-419, the Veterans Benefits and Health
Care Improvement Act of 2000. This would result in a true longitudinal
study of the health status of Vietnam veterans.
VA needs to become a “veterans’ health care system,” and
not a general health care system that happens to be for veterans.
Toward this end, VVA will seek passage of legislation to require
that clinicians at VA medical facilities – and private physicians – take
a complete military medical history as a matter of course for all
of their patients who are veterans, as well as their spouses, as
part of the automated patient treatment record.
VVA will seek to change the corporate culture of the Veterans Health
Administration to a culture of veterans’ health and wellness
that will mitigate and minimize the impact of chronic diseases.
VVA will continue to work hard to increase the efforts of the VA
to research and implement long-term care options for aging veterans,
a need that is only going to significantly increase as veterans live
longer, if not healthier. (The “oldest of the old,” individuals
who are 85 and older, is the fastest growing demographic in the country.)
VVA will work with Congress and the VA to re-examine the VA’s
overly restrictive and overly secretive process for putting, or not
putting, pharmaceutical treatments and drugs on the prescription
drug formulary, to bring it into line with the more expansive formulary
used by the Department of Defense, that results from a transparent
and evidence-based methodology.
Agent Orange/Dioxin and Other Toxic Substances
If the VA refuses to initiate research into the potential intergenerational
effects of exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, VVA shall seek legislation
or a congressional resolution to force the VA to do this for the
families of Vietnam veterans whose children and/or grandchildren
are afflicted with birth defects and/or learning disabilities that
may have derived from veterans’ service in Southeast Asia.
VVA will petition the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to add hypertension
(and secondary conditions attributed to hypertension), heart disease,
and Parkinson’s Disease to the list of maladies considered
presumptive to exposure to Agent Orange, dioxin, and other toxins.
VVA will work to achieve enactment of legislation that would make “Blue
Water Veterans,” as well as veterans who served in other locations,
e.g., Thailand, Johnson Island, and military bases in CONUS, where
herbicides were used or stored, eligible for compensation and health
care should they become afflicted with any of the maladies the VA
considers presumptive to exposure to dioxin and other herbicides.
VVA shall work to initiate a “Comprehensive Agent Orange Act
of 2009,” sections of which would extend the authority for
Agent Orange physicals and ensure that the VA’s revised Agent
Orange Registry includes a military medical history; and create epidemiological
registries for those who served in the Persian Gulf War, the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in other areas in the Global War on
VVA shall continue to endeavor to uncover past incidents of toxic
exposures that may have long-term health effects on veterans, and
shall urge the declassification of files held by the Department of
Defense that will shed light on these incidents and the veterans
whose health may have been compromised by them.’
VVA calls for the proper adjustments to be made in the “In
Memory” plaque at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Washington,
D.C., to include elevating and canting the stone tablet for easier
reading, lighting for night viewing, a proper brass plate that explains
the meaning and history of the In Memory plaque, and much better
maintenance, including the installation of a chain fence around it
that is appropriate to the location.
PTSD and Substance Abuse
VVA shall work with Congress to take whatever measures are deemed
necessary to ensure accountability for the organizational capacity
and funding for the diagnoses and treatments of the neuro-psychiatric
wounds of war, particularly for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
and substance abuse – and for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
VVA shall endeavor to extend the authority of the Vet Centers to
treat all veterans and their families, and to increase the number
of Vet Centers and the number of staff at each existing Vet Center
to include a family therapist.
VVA shall work with Congress to ensure that the Departments of Defense
and Veterans Affairs develop, fund, and implement evidence-based,
integrated psychosocial mental health and substance abuse recovery
treatment programs through the Vet Centers for all veterans and their
families, active-duty troops and their families, as well as for those
Reservists and members of the National Guard released from active
VVA shall seek legislation to mandate that the Department of Veterans
Affairs conduct a study of the long-term physical and mental health
effects of in-country Vietnam service on women veterans, to include
an evaluation of the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in this population.
VVA shall seek to ensure that the VA provides the proper training
to employees, has the organizational capacity to provide gender specific
in-patient and out-patient care and treatment for PTSD attributed
to combat exposure or sexual trauma at both VA medical centers and
community-based outpatient clinics, and promotes a corporate culture
that will encourage women veterans to utilize these vital services.
VVA shall seek legislation mandating the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
to develop a plan for the identification, development, and dissemination
of evidence-based treatments for PTSD and other co-occurring conditions
attributed to combat exposure or sexual trauma, along with the development
and implementation of a program for the ongoing education and training
of mental health professionals providing such care.
VVA shall seek legislation to mandate that the VA conduct a comprehensive
assessment of the barriers to and disparities in the provision of
comprehensive medical and mental health care for women veterans by
the VA, including barriers and disparities encountered by women veterans
of differing race and national origin.
VVA shall seek legislation that would ensure the provision of neonatal
care for up to 30 days as needed for the newborn children of women
veterans receiving maternity/delivery care through the VA.
VVA shall seek to ensure that every woman veteran has access to
a VA primary care provider who meets all her primary care needs to
include gender-specific and mental health care in the context of
an ongoing patient-clinician relationship; and that general mental
health care providers are located within the women’s and primary
care clinics in order to facilitate the delivery mental health services.
VVA will seek to secure legislative action that would change the
VA’s Homeless Grant and Per Diem funding from a reimbursement
for expenses to a payment, a change that is vitally needed if community-based
organizations that deliver the majority of these services are to
Because per diem dollars received by service centers are not enough
to meet the special needs of homeless veterans who seek assistance,
and because service centers for veterans are vital in that most local
social services agencies have neither the knowledge nor the capacity
to provide appropriate supportive services that directly involve
the treatment, care, and entitlements of veterans, VVA will seek
legislation to establish Supportive Services Assistance Grants for
VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem Service Center Grant awardees.
VVA urges full funding, to the authorized level of $50 million, for
the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program administrated by the
Department of Labor.
VVA will seek legislation to restructure the Shelter Plus Care Program
of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to include supportive
services dollars much like the SHP Leasing program.
VVA shall work with Congress to ensure that veterans encountering
the justice system are identified as veterans and assessed for symptoms
associated with PTSD and/or TBI and, where appropriate, support alternative
diversionary treatment services. In this context, we recommend that
Congress look to the programs currently meeting with significant
success in Buffalo, New York, and [WHERE ELSE?]
VVA shall endeavor to take measures to support reentry and support
services for incarcerated veterans.
VVA shall seek Congressional action to ensure that the VA provides
benefits veterans who are temporarily confined in jail or incarcerated
Employment, Training, and Business Opportunities
VVA shall strive to ensure that all provisions of executive orders
and public laws pertaining to the employment, training, and business
opportunities for veterans – and especially service-disabled
veterans – be enforced by the appropriate authorities, and
that any attempts to weaken the provisions or fail to fulfill the
spirit and intent of the law should receive appropriate sanctions.
In particular, note that the United States Department of Labor is
still responsible to ensure that there is enforcement of “veterans’ priority
of service” in all programs funded by or through DOL irrespective
of where the DVOP-LVER programs are ultimately located.
VVA shall seek to strengthen Veterans’ Preference laws, focusing
on better implementation by and accountability of managers; and shall
advocate for the institution of veteran-owned and staffed call centers
to report violations, and for the institution of pro-active reviews
of practices and patterns in the recruitment, hiring, and retention
of veterans in the federal workforce.
VVA shall work to strengthen provisions requiring a minimum percentage
for veteran-owned small businesses and a minimum of three percent
for disabled veteran-owned small businesses on all contracts and
sub-contracts with federal agencies, to include the elimination of “offshore
exemptions,” and to extend the requirement to cover all construction
and other services delivered by a state or other unit of government
that is conducted in whole or in large part with federal dollars
(including any and all projects pursuant to any and all “stimulus” packages.
VVA will also work with the Congress toward the institution of meaningful
VVA shall call on the appropriate Committees in the Senate and the
House to hold oversight hearings on the abject failure of federal
agencies to meet their three percent goal for awarding contracts
and sub-contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses in
all federal procurements at the national, regional, and state levels;
and shall work with VVA State Councils to request from their legislative
bodies resolutions calling on Congress to exercise adequate oversight
into federal compliance in this area, as well as to advocate for
state legislation that would provide a preference for veteran-owned
small businesses for state procurements.
VVA will continue to seek judicial action or legislation that would
automatically provide veterans who file claims for benefits at least
the monetary value of a 30 percent rating if an initial claim is
not adjudicated within 90 days from the time of filing, or if an
appeal is not decided within 180 days from the time the veteran files
a Notice of Disagreement with the decision in the initial adjudication.
To promote uniformity in claims decisions, VVA shall seek a change
in the current policy so as to mandate that VA staff, VSO and county
service representatives, and other stakeholders collaborate on developing
uniform training materials, programs, and competency-based re-certification
exams every three years.
VVA shall seek a change in the law to permit service members wounded
in combat and placed on temporary disability status be considered
as remaining on active duty for the purpose of computing leave and
VVA shall seek to secure a pension for Gold Star parents; and VVA
shall continue to seek the permanent prohibition of offsets of Survivors’ Benefit
Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for the
survivors of those who die while in military service, to right an
VVA will support legislation that would ensure that veterans receive
culturally and linguistically appropriate health care as defined
in guidelines issued in 2002 by the VA Undersecretary for Health;
and VVA will work with Congress as well as the VA to address disparities
in delivery of health care or other vital services based on color
or national origin.
VVA shall continue to seek the fullest possible accounting of the
status of any American service member who had been a Prisoner of
War or had been declared Missing in Action (or, in current terminology,
DUSTWUN: Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown).
VVA shall press to have all government documents pertaining to POW/MIAs
declassified and released for public inspection.
VVA shall seek to implement a public awareness program to inform
families of those still listed as POW/MIA of the need to provide
DNA samples for potential future identification of recovered remains.
VVA shall encourage Congress to pass a resolution urging the government
of Vietnam to provide all relevant wartime records and to repatriate
all remains of service members that have been recovered.
The New Generation of Veterans
VVA shall work to solidify the emerging relationship with Veterans
of Modern Warfare (VMW) to give them the benefits of the lessons
we have learned from the legislative battles in which we have engaged.
VVA shall further work with Student Veterans of America (SVA) and
other organizations of our newest veterans to assist in any way we
can, and to work collaboratively with these fine young veteran leaders.
VVA shall work to implement a system of acute stress and mental
health counseling for troops, including Reservists and members of
the National Guard, returning from deployments to Afghanistan and/or
Iraq; specifically, VVA shall push for a full-time family counselor
at every Vet Center and a full-time family coordinator at every VA
medical center. VVA will also push for additional funding for training
of clinicians at community health clinics in the needs or veterans
and their families, as well as additional funding for such clinics
in “hotspots” for returning active-duty troops, active-duty
troops in garrison in CONUS, or areas where there are significant
numbers of National Guard or Reserve troops returning from combat
VVA shall urge Congress to call for a review to determine if the
penalties for military sexual trauma are commensurate with the offenses,
and to act to ensure strict and unwavering enforcement of “zero
tolerance” in all branches of the military.
Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill will help tens of thousands of veterans
receive the higher education they deserve, VVA shall work for the
introduction and passage of legislation to establish and fund veterans’ offices
in colleges and universities to assist veterans returning to school
with educational, financial, housing, and other issues they may face.
Helping veterans go to college is fine; helping them to achieve the
degree they may pursue is perhaps just as important.
Again, on behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans of America and
our families, we thank you for the opportunity to present to you
our legislative agenda and priority initiatives for the 111th Congress.
And we thank you for your service to America’s veterans.
House Veterans Affairs Committee
Witness Disclosure Form
Clause 2(g) of rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives
requires witnesses to disclose to the Committee the following information.
Your Name, Business Address, and Telephone Number:
Vietnam Veterans of America
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100
Silver Spring, MD 20910
1. On whose behalf are you testifying? Vietnam Veterans of America
If you are testifying on behalf of yourself or on behalf of an institution
a federal agency, or a state, local or tribal government, please
question #2. Otherwise, please sign and return form.
2. Have you or any entity you represent received any Federal grants
Yes (No )
or contracts (including any subgrants or subcontracts) since
October 1, 2004?
3. If your response to question #2 is “Yes”, please
list the amount and source (by agency
and program) of each grant or contract, and indicate whether the
recipient of such
grant or contract was you or the entity you represent.
National President Date: 3/12/09
Please attach a copy of this form, along with your curriculum vitae
(resume) to your written testimony.
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 was 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.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA PRIVATE
March 12, 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