the Memorial Day weekend, our elected officials spoke
repeatedly of the sacrifices of veterans. In small towns,
large cities, and in Washington, D.C., many speeches were made
honoring the sacrifices of generations of American veterans
who have served our country.
These sentiments are genuine, particularly now
that our nation is locked in what will be a long and costly
struggle. It is, however, puzzling that veterans'
services, particularly the Veterans Health Administration (VHA),
continue to be starved for funds.
We need to tell our leaders what we need is
full funding of veterans care in FY 2003. America's
veterans deserve meaningful action in this 107th
Congress to demonstrate that the rhetoric is as real as
VVA has long agreed with other veterans service
organizations that VHA needs a minimum of $25.5 billion for
the fiscal year that begins October 1. If veterans do nothing,
we are likely to be $1.6 billion short of what we need.Efforts to secure
essential funding were led by VVA National
President Thomas H. Corey, who visited with many senators in
late May. Also helping lead the way are National Government
Affairs Chairman Avery Taylor and State Council Presidents
Bruce Whittaker (Maryland), Charlie Mitchem (West Virginia),
Alan Gibson (Missouri), and others who have been going office
to office on Capitol Hill.
VVA members need to do this month is to educate their Members of Congress about
the additional money that is needed. Members and their staff need to hear
specific examples of how this money would help
lives in their district or state. Without your participation, we
Here is a good example of what we mean by your
participation. Look at what VVA Chapter 103 in Syracuse, New York,
cooperation with the New York State Council. The officers of
Chapter 103 arranged for a speaker from the VVA national
office to come into Syracuse earlier this year, set up
meetings with VA leaders of the local hospital and VISN, the
officers and membership of the chapter, leaders of other
veterans organizations, the director of Veterans Affairs for
New York State, and other veteran leaders. They also taped two
30-minute shows to be aired on the Central New York PBS
stations. Finally, VVA Chapter 103 set up a meeting with Rep.
James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), who chairs the VA-HUD Subcommittee of
the House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction
over VA appropriations.
The chapter officers, longtime VVA activist and
former State Council President Gordy Lane and the members of
Chapter 103 are to be congratulated for their initiative. As
VVA Region 2 Director Larry Klein noted, this is what we need
from every chapter. While Rep. Walsh was already solidly in
our corner on the need for more funds for veterans'
health care, he now knows that VVA is behind him in his effort
to get a sufficiently large allocation from Appropriations
Chair C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.). We now need action by other
members of the House to speak to Reps. Young, Speaker Dennis
J. Hastert (R-Ill.), Richard K. Armey (R-Texas), and Tom DeLay
(R-Texas) in regard to finding the money to fund VHA properly.
It is up to you and your chapter and State Council to do your
Chapters and State Councils have received
Vets Vote! packets. Every chapter should be out at
shopping centers, grocery stores, county fairs, and other
events registering veterans, veterans'
family members, and other citizens to vote and to let their
national representatives and other elected officials know that
what they do in regard to meeting our nation's
obligations to veterans will be a major factor in how they vote in the
primary and general elections in November. We must lead by
example and vote ourselves - and get others to vote in the
EXPOSURE TO HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
Pentagon on May 22, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
answers a VVA question about declassification of SHAD
records. The DoD admitted in a press release on May 23
that American military personnel had been exposed to
chemical warfare and biological warfare live agents in
Much credit and thanks go to Rep. Mike Thompson
(D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Neb.) for
introducing the Veterans Right to Know bill in Congress the
last week of June. This legislation will require establishment
of a civilian-controlled declassification board to review all
exposures, deliberate and inadvertent, of American military
personnel to toxic or hazardous conditions of any sort.
The purpose of this mechanism is to determine
what needs to remain classified for national security reasons
and what is being withheld because of bureaucratic
protectionism. Such a board would declassify the names of the
individuals involved and documentation about what they were
exposed to in the course of military actions in which they
participated, knowingly or unknowingly, such as many of the
The Senate Committee on Veterans'
Affairs, chaired by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) held
hearings July 10 regarding military exposures to hazardous
materials. These included World War II mustard gas experiments,
Agent Orange exposures, Gulf War exposures of numerous
types, exposures to chemical and biological warfare agents during
the Navy's SHAD, and other aspects of the tests that comprised
Project 112 during the 1960s. VVA is grateful to all members
on both sides of the aisle of the Senate Veterans Affairs'
Committee for addressing a serious problem.
VVA also commends Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) for
setting hearings on these exposures in the fall before the
Armed Services Committee of the Senate, Subcommittee on
Personnel, which he chairs.
The first-year statistics for the number and
percentage of purchases by federal agencies and departments
from service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses have been
completed. Public Law 106-50, The Veterans Entrepreneurship
and Small Business Act of 1999, mandates that every agency
establish a goal that a minimum of 3 percent of all prime
contracts and 3 percent of all subcontracts go to
service-disabled, veteran-owned-and-operated businesses.
The first year results show that the VA had .22
of 1 percent of all VA purchases were bought from
service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses, despite a clear commitment from
Secretary Anthony Principi to achieve the full 3 percent by
the end of FY2002. That means that VA met about 1/14
of its minimum goal. That also means, if the VA improves
performance for disabled-veteran entrepreneurs by a factor of
14 next year, the agency will barely meet the minimum
requirement of the existing law. The Executive Office of the
President, which includes the OMB, recorded no purchases
whatsoever from service-disabled veterans.
VVA believes that President Bush and his
administration can and must do better. We are even more puzzled
by the lack of support for enforcing the law. As one veteran
advocate and small business owner who lost an arm, among other
service-connected injuries, has asked, "Exactly which part of
helping disabled veterans succeed in business and being able to
hire other disabled veterans are you people against?"
We hope that the President would at some point
direct his administration to obey the law. VVA is working with other VSOs through the
Task Force for Veterans Entrepreneurship to seek significant
strengthening of the 1999 law during this 107th
Congress. Indications of support in the Small Business and Veterans Committees in
the House and the Senate bode well for at least partial action
of the GI Bill of Business Rights this year.
VVA participated in the Hepatitis C Consensus Conference held
at the National Institutes of Health in early June.
Representing VVA were National Veterans Health Care Committee
Chair Linda Schwartz, VVA Veterans Affairs Chair Bob Maras, as
well as Rick Weidman, Pat Eddington, and Sharon Hodge of the
national staff. A consensus conference like this is designed to
achieve a general agreement about what is known about a disease
or condition and what are the generally accepted ways of
treating the disease. Areas for potential research
also are agreed upon at these conferences. Final results should
be available by the late summer.