A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

April/May 2002

Government Relations

VVA Returns To Vietnam For Agent Orange Conference

By Avery Taylor, Chair of the Government Affairs Committee, with Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations, and Patrick Eddington, Associate Director

For more than twenty years, Vietnam Veterans of America has pursued the issue of promoting on-the-ground research in Vietnam about the health effects of Agent Orange. The first VVA delegation to Vietnam, in December 1981, focused on the issue of POW/MIAs and the fullest possible accounting, and starting joint scientific research in Vietnam.  The conference in early March was the beginning of the culmination of that long-term effort.   

The VVA team was led by National President Tom Corey. He was accompanied by Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee Chair Paul Sutton and by Linda Schwartz, chair of the VVA Veterans Healthcare Committee. 

However, only when the correctly designed studies - particularly large-scale epidemiological studies - pay off in regard to valid scientific evidence of the long-term adverse health effects of Agent Orange, including birth defects in progeny, cancers of all types, respiratory diseases, and diabetes, will VVA be satisfied. This will be extremely helpful to Americans who served in Vietnam and their families. 

VVA was recognized at the closing ceremonies when the co-chairman of the conference noted that without VVA the conference would never have happened. Now we must continue to stay involved in this process to insure that it does not go awry again. 

These studies in Vietnam will provide part of the answers that Vietnam veterans and their families need and deserve. Still, there is a pressing need to get started now on a large-scale epidemiological study of American Vietnam veterans and their children and grandchildren. VVA leaders asked the representatives from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other U.S. government entities present why they have not sought such a study. The only answer seemed to be that unless Congress orders such a study, nothing will happen. VVA will continue to press on this issue and keep you informed. 


VVA continues with a full-court press to secure adequate funding for the VA health-care system.  The Budget Committees have allowed up to $23.9 billion in the congressional budget planning. Now attention turns to the Appropriations Committees. The figure of $23.9 billion is $1.8 billion more than requested by the President who also asked for an increase of over $1 billion.  The increase is a major step for veterans. It is due to strong bipartisan efforts of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, as well as to the far-sighted efforts of the leadership and members of the Budget Committees on both sides of the Hill. But all of us must continue our efforts to the next phase of actually securing the needed appropriations.

We strongly encourage VVA members to contact their members of Congress in this effort. If they do not hear from you, there is no reason for them to assume this is a burning issue with their constituents. 

You may follow developments in this ongoing effort, as well as other VVA legislative and policy initiatives, by visiting www.vva.org and clicking on "Government Relations."  We also urge members to become more active by signing up for regular e-mailings by sending an e-mail to shodge@vva.org 


Taking the case for justice for SHAD veterans to Capitol Hill, on March 19 VVA sponsored a briefing for members of Congress, their staffs, other veterans service organizations, and government investigators. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the leading voice in Congress on SHAD, addressed the audience. He provided background on his efforts to compel the Defense Department and the VA to deal honestly with the potentially hazardous exposures among SHAD veterans. Thompson is spearheading an effort with the Congressional Veterans Caucus to get Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to declassify all SHAD-related records immediately. 

The featured speaker was retired Navy LCDR Jack Alderson, who commanded the five light tugs involved in several SHAD experiments. Alderson disputed DoD claims that veterans were not test subjects. He noted that the experiments were designed to find out how easily chemical and biological agents could penetrate the ships.  


VVA is concerned about the legislative proposals pending in the Senate that would promote what is billed as "managerial flexibility" in the civil and excepted services of the government.  VVA continues to have regular contact with Director Kay Cole James at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and her staff.  VVA contends that OPM permanent staff has aided and abetted ignoring and circumventing veterans preference for more than 25 years. It is time to strengthen the veterans preference laws and the accountability and repercussions for managers who do not accord veterans - especially disabled veterans - with proper preference. 


In accordance with VVA=s founding principle that "Never again will one generation of American veterans abandon another,"  VVA continues to be at the forefront in support of Gulf War veterans issues.

Nearly four years after congressional legislation authorizing its creation, the VA=s Gulf War Research Advisory Committee (GWRAC) held its first meeting at the VA Central Office on April 11 and 12. Committee Chair James H. Binns, Jr., promised the small public audience that the committee would work diligently and quickly to try to find meaningful treatments for ailing Gulf War veterans, even as the search for the causes of the illnesses continue.  

Unlike the ill-starred Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses or the Presidential Special Oversight Board, this first meeting of the GWRAC was notable for the open, vigorous dialogue among committee members. Also notable was the absence of senior managers from the VHA=s Office of Environmental Hazards and Public Health, as well as the Research and Development Office, a fact VVA noted in its public comments at the hearing.  

Two days of discussion and debate produced consensus on two key issues. The first was the need for the committee immediately to gain access to all DoD and VA databases containing medical or other information relevant to Gulf War veterans. In its public comments, VVA reminded the committee that huge quantities of classified information about Gulf War illnesses never have been properly evaluated or declassified.


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