December 1999/January 2000
Government Affairs Report
A Busy Year Ahead: Energetically Seeking Justice
By Phillip A. Litteer, Chair of the VVA National Government Affairs
Committeeand Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations
In late January, President Clinton transmitted his FY 2001 Budget Request to
Congress. The budget reportedly will include a request for an increase of $1.5
Billion to the VA budget, primarily for health care. The Clinton Administration
should be congratulated for this responsible action. VVA urges that you write,
call, or e-mail the President at the White House and thank him for this action.
As we salute the President for doing a much better job than last year, we
also should note that VVA endorses the Independent Budget of the Veterans
Service Organizations (IBVSO) request, which calls for about a $1.7 Billion
increase and an overall spending authority increase of $2.3 billion for VA. It
is important that VVA members tell their members of Congress that while we are
appreciative of this request, it is the bare minimum needed for the VA’s
Veterans Health Administration to continue to function.
The reductions of the period from FY 1996 through FY 1999 have taken a toll
on a system that was brittle before these strains. In many cases, staffing is
too thin to ensure proper care on inpatient units. The system’s capacity to
deliver proper care has been severely damaged, particularly in the areas
treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and for substance abuse treatment.
Additional resources are needed to strengthen the Veterans Benefits
Administration, in which lengthy delays and poor and inaccurate decisions in the
adjudication of benefits claims are the norm.
Additional funding alone, however, will not get the job done. We need strong,
engaged leadership by the VA Secretary and by the VA’s top managers. We need
leadership committed to the most cost effective service possible for our nation’s
While there has been some improvement from the Secretary in the past two
months, he does not have a clear track record on securing results. The most
pressing need at VA continues to be the lack of a clear plan to do a thorough
needs assessment of all the medical needs of our nation’s veterans. Once a
"needs assessment" is completed, a plan must be prepared to restore
the staff and overall capability to meet those needs, focusing on the wounds of
war, both direct and indirect.
While this needs assessment and plans for restoration of lost capability are
being prepared, the best way to secure adequate funding from the Congress is to
ensure that current resources are being used to best advantage.. For most
Vietnam veterans, this means helping veterans reach the point where they are
able to obtain and sustain meaningful employment.
VVA awaits vitally needed action by the Secretary in regard to the testing
for, treatment of, and compensation for hepatitis-C, diseases due to Agent
Orange, and effective quality-assurance systems in both the health system and
the benefits system. The Secretary should take time to listen to the vital
concerns of veterans who depend on this system.
Our Nation’s veterans, and the many fine people who work for VA, deserve
nothing less than committed, empathetic, and high-quality leadership at every
level of the VA.
Veterans Health Initiative
The most significant development in veterans health care in recent
memory--perhaps the most important in the last fifty years-- has been initiated
by Acting Undersecretary for Veterans Health Thomas Garthwaite. In response to
VVA President George Duggins, VVA Veterans Affairs Chair Bob Maras, and others
inside the VA and Congress, Dr. Garthwaite has created the Veterans Health
Initiative (VHI). The task force working on this initiative includes
representatives from Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion, and
from all areas of the VA, including the Veterans Health Administration and the
Veterans Benefits Administration.
A series of discussions on veterans’ health and mental health issues
initiated by VVA PTSD & Substance Abuse Chair Jackie Rector, and supported
by most of the large veterans service organizations, were hosted last Spring, by
Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), the chairman, and ranking Democrat Lane Evans (Ill.)
of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. These sessions made clear the need
for VA to obtain a thorough military history for every veteran who seeks
services from the VA medical system, and to focus on helping these veterans
become well, by means of a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment. That
approach should focus on the individual’s military service and on conditions
that may be due to experiences that occurred in military service.
There are two subcommittees to the Veterans Health Initiative (VHI). One
focuses on the education of VA employees on the special needs of veterans in all
areas of health. The early discussion is centered on recommendations aimed at
certifying clinicians in their discipline, with additional pay incentives to
those who pass certification requirements.
The other VHI subcommittee is focusing on compiling a complete military and
medical history protocol that will be put on the VHA computers. Under this
protocol veterans would automatically be tested for all conditions that may have
resulted from military service, based on branch of service, duty stations,
military occupational specialties, and dates served. A veteran, for example, who
was medic and served in Vietnam would be tested for all tropical diseases and
parasites, hepatitis-C, dioxin in the blood, psycho-social functioning, and
other conditions that may have resulted from service.
The goal is to have a complete physical that resulst in a complete diagnosis
for each veteran, along with a holistic treatment plan that helps the veteran
return to full health.
It is the position of Vietnam Veterans of America that this initiative holds
great promise. We believe it will shift the corporate culture of the VA medical
system back where it should be: caring for he or she who hath borne the battle.
VVA and other members of the Veterans Organization Homeless Veterans Council,
chaired by Bob Piaro, who is also the chair of the VVA National Task Force on
Homeless Veterans, as well as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, are
working closely with key Senate staff members. The aim is to advance the gains
made in the last two years in the House of Representatives in understanding that
those who provide vitally needed services to homeless veterans are essentially
shut out of the opportunity to seek proper resources from HUD or Labor funding
VVA continues to be deeply grateful to Rep. Jack Metcalfe (R-Wash.) for his
leadership on this issue. A January visit by Senate staff to Baltimore’s
Maryland Center for Veterans Employment and Training helped them understand what
can be done with proper resources to help veterans return to the mainstream of
In response to inquiries by VVA and others, Rep. Lane Evans D-Ill.) requested
a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation of the "Ranch Hand"
study being conducted by the Air Force. The GAO report validates what VVA has
been contending for years about the poor handling of the data and results. The
full report is available on the GAO web site http://www.gao.gov.
This report documents that the Air Force has delayed dissemination of the
very valuable data base and analysis. It is difficult to believe that this
effort has not been deliberate. VVA takes the position that justice delayed to
veterans and their families who have suffered greatly from conditions that may
be due to exposure to Agent Orange, is justice denied.
This GAO report validates VVA’s call for authorization and funding for
other studies of the effects of Agent Orange and other hazards to which Vietnam
veterans were exposed in Southeast Asia. Many of these studies, which should be
conducted by independent entities funded by the Federal government, can have
very quick turn-around times to be of maximum use to those who served in
The GAO investigation also validates VVA’s view that no studies of Gulf War
or other veterans should be conducted by the military services--particularly not
by the Air Force.
The Honorable Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Benefits of
the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is moving swiftly toward much needed
reform of the outmoded system at the Department of Labor that is supposed to
assist veterans in finding decent jobs. VVA commends Rep. Quinn for taking on
this vital task. We support his efforts to modernize this system and to ensure
there is proper accountability for the $200 Million that is channeled into these
activities every year.
VVA has the greatest respect for the many Disabled Veterans Outreach Program
(DVOP) workers and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs) who work
tirelessly to deliver quality service to veterans. However, many are impeded by
supervisors and managers.
Some states, such as South Carolina, do a great job of helping veterans get
jobs on a priority basis. VVA believes that these states should be rewarded with
financial incentives. All states and local job service offices should be held to
minimum standards. If those standards are not met, then their funds should be
put up for competition on performance-based contracts to those who can provide
proper service to veterans.
We ask that VVA members go to your local Job Service or similar entities, and
let Calvin Gross, chair of the VVA National Committee on Employment, Training,
and Business Opportunities know what their experiences are. Send a note or
e-mail to the VVA National office care of Calvin Gross. The staff contact is
President's Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities
Vanessa Franklin, legislative assistant on VVA's national staff, has been
elected and sworn in as the junior vice chair of the Subcommitte on Disabled
Veterans of the President's Committee on Employment of Persons with
Disabilities. Franklin, a disabled veteran with over 20 years of service
in the U.S. Air Force, is slated to assume the role of chair of th edisabled
Veterans Subcommittee for the year 2002. VVA, behind the leadership of
National President George C. Duggins and National VVA ETABO chairman Calvin
Gross, is expanding its role at every level in pressing for more and better
employment and small business opportunities for all veterans--particularly
disabled veterans and veterans with other barriers to employment. Franklin
will play a key role in this effort.
Government Affairs Committee
The VVA Government Affairs Committee has been expanded to include the chairs
of all of VVA's national committee and task forces. The idea is to insure
the fullest possible input into the decision making and prioritization
process. It is the intent of the President and the officers that the
Government Affairs Committee serve as a clearing house so that all committee
chairs know what the other committees are doing.
We were pleased to accept the invitation from the Council of State Council
Presidents to attend its January meeting to discuss VVA's proposed national
government affairs priorities and the role that state councils, chapters, and
individual members can play in accomplishing our mission. The proposed
2000 legislative priorities agenda was distributed.
We also distributed materials on how to get access to information about each
state government and legislature and stressed the need for each state council to
have a widely distributed state legislative agenda. We met with more than
a dozen state presidents individually to provide technical assistance and to
If you want to help, please communicate directly with the president of your
state council, or e-mail the VVA Government Affairs Committee through Sharon
Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org Contact Sharon to be
placed on the CapitolWatch daily News About Washington e-mail list.