The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2006
Meet John Rowan. Click his picture to read his biography.
Funding, Accountability, Outreach

In the last issue of The VVA Veteran, we published VVA's 2006 Legislative Agenda and Policy Initiatives. Using this booklet, Rick Weidman, Bernie Edelman, Sharon Hodge, from our Government Relations staff; Carl Tuvin and Jim Kuhn, our legislative consultants; and I spent several days in recent weeks visiting our Senators and Representatives in their offices on Capitol Hill.

For a few days, John Miterko, our Government Affairs Committee chair, and Al Gibson, a member of our Board of Directors and ETaBO Committee chair, joined us. Between us we visited over forty offices.

While we met mainly with senior staffers, we also spoke to more than two dozen Senators and Representatives face to face. As often happens in these kinds of exercises, we also were able to chat with many other Senators and Representatives we met as we walked through the halls of Congress.

In all of these encounters, we pointed out the areas that are critical for the effective and efficient delivery of health care services and service-connected disability benefits earned by veterans—especially funding, accountability, and outreach.

In each of these meetings, we pointed out that we believed these items were important because Vietnam veterans are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses and will require more health care than any previous generation of veterans. While our numbers may be smaller than our predecessors, our health care needs for service- connected illnesses are greater.

I also had the privilege of testifying on your behalf before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. While we cannot take complete credit, I am glad to report that a few days after our testimony, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced a proposal to add $1.9 billion to the administration’s VA budget proposal, earmarking specific items for increased staff in the Veterans Benefits Administration to help with the backlog on claims, one of our main concerns.

This effort was a good start, but it must be followed up by your efforts in the field. Take the Legislative Agenda to your local elected officials. Get them to draw up resolutions supporting our positions. Go to the local office of the Representatives and Senators in your state, and ask them how they feel about these issues. Most of the people we spoke to were sympathetic, although some were concerned about costs. We reminded them that veterans’ benefits are the long-term costs of war that must be met.

One way of getting out the word is a town hall meeting. Elsewhere in this edition is a “how-to” on these programs developed by our colleagues in Florida. Consider putting on such a program in your area. You might also consider inviting your Member of Congress to a chapter or state council meeting like Chapter 77 in Buffalo, N.Y., did. This way they can get to know their local veterans, as well as our needs. 

During our travels on Capitol Hill we became aware of two issues of interest to retirees: proposed increased fees in the Tricare health care program, and the so- called “widows tax.” The first issue speaks for itself. The second issue is more complicated. Military personnel can avail themselves of a Special Benefits Plan, which allows their spouse to receive a portion of their pensions upon their death. However, if the retiree dies of a service-connected illness or in any other way enables the spouse to be entitled to Dependent Indemnity Compensation (DIC), the pension is reduced, dollar for dollar, by the amount of DIC received. This is unconscionable.

Look for the articles in this edition that provide more detail on these issues. They would like to separate the retirees from the veterans community, but we are all veterans.

As I noted last time, if you need any assistance, please contact our Government Relations team in the national office. Remember, together we are unbeatable.


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