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

April/May 2002


Simple Justice 


On March 20, I presented VVA=s annual testimony before the House and Senate Veterans= Affairs Committees. Seated at the table with me were Avery Taylor, chair of VVA=s Government Affairs Committee; Linda Schwartz, chair of the Veterans Healthcare Committee; Bob Maras, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rick Weidman of our Government Relations staff.

The Government Affairs Committee and staff helped me prepare the remarks. It is very much a team effort and represents the best of our collective thinking and recommendations for policy and legislative changes to help veterans. Much of the presentation comes from the work of VVA committees, as refined and approved by the National Board of Directors. The State Council Presidents also offer advice.

I started our presentation with what has always been a primary VVA concern: our commitment to the POW/MIA issue. We have called for a full investigation of the status of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Speicher, the only MIA from the Gulf War.

I stated that VVA strongly recommended that in the VA budget Congress allocate not less than $1.7 billion above the level for FY 2001, just to keep pace with inflation at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Every VA medical facility in the country has a hard freeze on hiring and replacements. The "management efficiencies" VA speaks of are nothing more than cutting staff and reducing services further.  VA needs a supplemental appropriation of $700 million for FY02 right now. Further increases for the FY 2003 budget for VHA operating funds of $25.5 billion are needed in real, appropriated dollars.

The VHA must evolve from a general healthcare system for veterans to a veterans healthcare system that concentrates on the wounds of war and of military service.  For this to happen, a complete military history needs to be taken of every veteran, and used to indicate follow-up tests that should be done based on when, where, and in what branch the veteran served.

VVA strongly supports hearings and prompt passage of H.R. 639, the Veterans Hepatitis C Comprehensive Health Care Act. We also favor action to confirm hepatitis C as a presumptively service-connected condition. 

While VVA applauds the efforts of Secretary Principi to develop better financial tracking and management-information tools, we must move quickly to implement VA accountability mechanisms. The Secretary may need additional statutory authority to insure that VISN Directors, VAMC Directors, managers, supervisors, and others not doing their jobs are held more accountable for performance.

We asked that the Vet Centers have at least 250 more staff and at least an additional $17 million for FY 2002. I pushed hard for establishing a new National Institute for Military and Veterans Health (NIVH) in the National Institutes of Health. This institute would assume the lead role in investigating medical conditions affecting veterans. It also should have the authority and responsibility to insure that veteran-specific topics are adequately explored by the National Institutes of Health.

We also called for a large-scale epidemiological study of Vietnam veterans and their families to be started now. This study must be government funded, but it also must be privately conducted and peer reviewed to have credibility. VVA urges full funding and full implementation of all provisions of P.L. 107-95, the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act.

Veterans need Congress to pass legislation this year that makes meaningful reform in employment assistance programs for veterans. Veterans must be given help to obtain and sustain meaningful employment at the highest level of the their potential. Further, more accountability from federal managers is needed in enforcing the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 and according veterans and disabled veterans their full rights under the law.

We asked the committees to make permanent the authority for care for sexual trauma and requested that Public Law 106-419, which provides for treatment services and certain benefits to children born to women who served in Vietnam, be extended to men and be implemented at an early date.

There was much more of importance to all veterans. VVA tries to stay focused on the issues important  to our membership. As an organization, we will follow through with our priorities and hope others will listen and join with us. We will persist until justice is accorded to Vietnam veterans and our families.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to be sure that veterns recieve adequate dollars to provide quality, timely health care and other services. We are asking you to prepare now to remind those campaigning and others that Veterans Vote. We must be prepared to take action for those who use the VA for their health care.

The key to our success will be what it has always been: that all VVA members and friends care enough about Vietnam veterans and their families to get informed on the issues and to be active as informed veterans advocates. Together we can make great progress toward our common goal of simple justice for veterans.

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