December 2000/January 2001
Principi Named VA Secretary
By Philip Litteer, Chair, Government Affairs Committee, And Rick
Weidman, Director of Government Relations
President-elect George W. Bush named Anthony Principi to serve as
Secretary of Veterans Affairs in his administration. Principi served as
Deputy VA Secretary in the administration of the President-elect’s
father from 1990 to 1992 and served as acting Secretary for the last six
months of that administration. He also has served as chief counsel and
staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Senate
Committee on Armed Services. Principi is a Vietnam veteran and is a 1967
graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Vietnam Veterans of America has worked well with Principi. His
well-reasoned arguments about pressing issues are of interest to veterans
and their families. VVA wishes Anthony Principi the best in his new role
and looks forward to working closely with him to strengthen services vital
to veterans and to strengthen the Veterans Health Administration and the
Veterans Benefits Administration and to hold these entities accountable
for the quality of performance in dealing with individual veterans. (VVA’s
testimony on the nomination of Principi is on the VVA website at www.vva.org/governmentaffairs
SMITH NAMED CHAIRMAN
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has been named chairman of the House
Veterans Affairs Committee. Smith has long been a champion of improved
services and benefits for veterans. He has worked extensively with the VVA
New Jersey State Council and with the VVA chapters in New Jersey.
VVA congratulates the new chairman and looks forward to working closely
with him on improving the VA medical system, on hepatitis C issues, on
action to improve the troubled VA benefits system, and on other issues
vital to Vietnam veterans and our families.
In early January, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of
Medicine held a public meeting for a progress report on the Exposure Study
being compiled at Columbia University. This study is designed to plot all
of the missions of Operation Ranch Hand flown by the U.S. Air Force using
herbicides in the Republic of Vietnam.
VVA has long been aware of the lack of detailed records of American
spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides from motorized vehicles,
helicopters, and backpacks that could be configured into the purpose of
this study, which proposes an exposure scale based on when and where a
veteran was at a specific time in Vietnam. VVA is concerned, however, that
the published results of this study may be used in the future to rule out
some veterans from being presumed exposed to harmful herbicides in
military service, even though they have health problems that we believe
are likely due to such exposure.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the study does not try to account for
dioxin or other contaminants in drinking water, to which all who served in
Vietnam were exposed. The presumption of the study is that those most
affected were those who were directly hit by aerial spraying. VVA believes
this to be an unsound premise. While taking at face value the assertion of
Dr. Jeanne Stellman that the investigators believe this study will be
helpful to Vietnam veterans and their families, VVA continues to have
reservations, based on its long experience with the VA’s Veterans
Benefits Administration and others who may seek to minimize the harmful
effects of herbicides.
DIABETES IS PRESUMPTIVELY SERVICE CONNECTED
Elsewhere in this issue, the Veterans’ Benefits column discusses the
publication of the regulations that declare adult-onset (type II) diabetes
mellitus to be presumptively service connected for veterans who served in
Southeast Asia. VVA is grateful to outgoing Acting Secretary Hershel Gober
for leading the Clinton administration to take this important step and is
hopeful the Bush administration will move quickly to publish final rules
that are at least as strong, if not stronger.
JOINT U.S.-VIETNAM RESEARCH
VVA is pleased that $850,000 to start research in Vietnam on the
effects of herbicides and other toxins used in the war was included in the
fiscal year 2001 appropriation bill for Health and Human Services that
passed in mid-December. Many of the answers Vietnam veterans and their
families need to prove the harmful effects of Agent Orange and other
toxins will be found in Vietnam. It is through the efforts of Sens. Thomas
A. Daschle (D-N.D.), Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) that
the funds are now available to move ahead with joint research with the
Vietnamese, once agreement on a scientific protocol is reached. The first
step toward an agreement was the meeting between U.S. and Vietnam
government officials in Singapore in late November.
The Clinton administration ended without action on VVA’s petition to
make hepatitis C a service-connected presumptive condition for Vietnam
veterans. A formal petition was filed by VVA National President George C.
Duggins with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on March 23, 1999. VVA has
called on the new Secretary to break the bureaucratic logjams at the
Office of Management and Budget and the relevant sections of the
Department of Veterans Affairs, and to move quickly and boldly to publish
regulations declaring hepatitis C to be presumptively service connected.
VVA will be working closely with members of Congress to seek
legislative action that will result in universal testing for hepatitis C,
adequate resources to treat hepatitis C, and proper compensation to those
who likely contracted hepatitis C in military service to our nation. Rep.
Rodney Freylinghuysen (R-N.J.), a Vietnam veteran, will again introduce
legislation to address the testing and treatment issues, and Rep.Vic
Snyder (D-Ark.), who served as a Marine in Vietnam, will again introduce
legislation that addresses the compensation issues.
VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Before the 106th Congress closed on December 15, 2000, it passed
corrections to Public Law 106-50 that reiterate in no uncertain terms that
Congress intends for 3 percent of all Federal contracts and subcontracts
to go to disabled-veteran-owned businesses. VVA had commented on
regulations published last fall that confused the issue of procurement
set-asides, but which should now be made clear when the interim final
regulations are published in February, based on provisions in the Small
Business Re-Authorization Act of 2000 and in the comments submitted by VVA
and other veterans organizations.
Congress also appropriated $4 million to the newly created National
Veterans Business Development Corporation and extended by two years the
time until the corporation must become self-sustaining.
The outgoing Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Aida
Alvarez, has moved to create the new Veterans Business Development Office
at the SBA and to provide an increase in the resources devoted to this
effort. In a related move, the outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs has
created the Center for Veterans Enterprise at the VA to assist
veteran-owned businesses, particularly disabled-veteran-owned businesses
to sell goods and services to the VA.
VVA, with Employment (ETABO) chair Calvin Gross as our point man, has
been working for legislation that would offer significant hope to improve
accountability for performance in the system of veterans employment
assistance, while still protecting the jobs of disabled veterans employed
by those state agencies currently responsible for delivering the
employment assistance to veterans and disabled veterans under a
With new leadership in the U.S. Department of Labor, particularly in
the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment &
Training, VVA is hopeful that passage of reasonable reform and
accountability measures, including incentives for helping more veterans
and disabled veterans get decent jobs, can be accomplished in the early
months of the 107th Congress. Previous efforts were derailed in the
closing days of the 106th Congress by some representatives of one union
that had virtually ignored the negotiations and hard work of more than two
VVA believes that not taking any steps to correct the current situation
would break faith with the disabled veterans and veterans who desperately
need assistance in finding a decent job. One of the first acts of the new
Congress must be to apply the principles of the Government Performance and
Results Act to federally funded efforts for employment assistance to
veterans and pass meaningful changes in the current system.