Friday, August 29, 2008

Making the case and the effort

We received a comment on the previous post that asked some very good questions. Here is the question:

"...where do we get our info that HR 6562 in its original form is dead?? All I've seen is a letter from people at BWN requesting it...do you have something from Filner, not a phone call to some aide, etc??? An actual statement from Mr Filner?? I still say the original bill can be modified to cover any military who had contact with AO; this can be done during the debate period."
The short answer to the "actual statement part of the question is this: The only person we are aware of who spoke directly to Chairman Filner recently was Larry Scott, the VA Watchdog. The last we heard from Larry he was chasing down a clarification on exactly what Chairman Filner was talking about when he said the bill would not pass this session, and he would resubmit next session with the promised expansion.

The long answer follows.

The sequence of events is this:

Chairman Filner introduced the Bill, HR 6562 on July 22. On July 23rd he had a press conference announcing that bill. He indicated at that press conference his intent to re-establish the Vietnam Service Medal as the eligibility criteria for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange.

About a week later he wrote a letter to an Air Force Veteran promising to add the Veterans from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia [TLC Veterans] to the bill.

That, along with the Blue Water Navy [including Coast Guard and Fleet Marines], and the Blue Sky Air Force, completed the group of Veterans who were supposed to be included in the original Agent Orange Act of 1991, that the DVA had stripped of eligibility, requiring Veterans to prove either boots on the ground or direct exposure.

In his original press release, Chairman Filner indicated that he wanted to restore benefits as the original AO Act of 1991 was interpreted, and that meant the restoration of the Vietnam Service Medal as qualifying criteria for presumptive eligibility for exposure to dioxins. He was quite clear about this.

Then, about 10 days ago, a group of Veterans and advocates sent an expansion package to Chairman Filner asking him to not only cover what is mentioned above, but also to cover Veterans from Guam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Taiwan, Johnston Island, Panama, and many other places where Agent Orange and other dioxin containing herbicides were used.

When Larry Scott reported a day or two later that he had called Chairman Filner and urged him to get the bill passed, he indicated that the bill would not pass this year, but would be resubmitted next session.

We believe that Chairman Filner was referring to the expanded version of the bill.

We think that to be the case, and that it may unnecessisarily delay the benefits to Blue Water Navy, Blue Sky Air Force, and TLC Veterans because while they were to be included in the original AO Act of 1991, and indeed, Navy and Air Force Veterans did collect benefits for a while before the DVA cut them off, and to my knowledge, TLC Veterans never received benefits because the DVA arbitraily wrote their policy to require "boots on the ground", they ARE known to Congress, and the statistics are already in the record of the AO Act of 1991.

We believe then, that HR 6562, while not physically altered from its introduction in July, was altered in the verbal and written agreements that Filner made to the groups asking for inclusion.

There are three important premises to understand here:

1. We do not wish to leave anyone behind, never did, never said so, never indicated it was an option. We don't believe our efforts to get this bill through would do that.

2. The inclusion of the expansion pack will require many hours of hearings in both houses of Congress, working out the details based on the evidence submitted, and what records will likely be subpoenaed from the Department of Defense, to augment those documents already released, thus delaying passage of the resubmitted bill [that won't even be introduced until early next year], for at least a full session, if not longer. That puts eventual benefits as becoming a reality no sooner than mid 2010, or later. That is if the bill passes at all. When Chairman Filner said there was a lot of support for the bill, he was referring to what he originally introduced, not the added expansion package.

3. Chairman Filner would not have submitted the bill if he did not think it stood a chance of getting through this year. We think it still does, as Congress had little time to act on it after its introduction since they went on recess in early August. Thus we believe the bill is still passable this term, IF IT IS RESTRICTED TO BLUE SKY AIR FORCE, BLUE WATER NAVY, AND TLC VETERANS. Since Chairman Filner agreed to resubmit the expanded bill next year, we think it makes sense to still try to get the bill, as introduced, through this session yet. That gets benefits to those mentioned above RESTORED, and makes for an easier passage for the new bill introduced by Chairman Filner that deals with the expansion package.

Less is more in both cases.

In other words, why make Blue Water Navy, Blue Sky Air Force, and TLC Veterans wait at least another full year to get their benefits when there is a slim chance they can get them sooner. Chairman Filner already committed to adding the expansion package but said that would delay the bill until next session.
It is a very convoluted situation but one that begs the logic to keep those two sets of groups separate for many reasons, chiefly that the support in Congress already exists for them, but has yet to be manifest for the groups added in the expansion pack.

No one should have to wait...this is an abomination created by the politics of the past two administrations going all the way back to the Clinton Administration and continued by the Bush Administration. They are the ones guilty of leaving Veterans behind.

In the end, it comes down to one question: Why make a large segment of Veterans wait if there is even the smallest chance of getting their benefits sooner than another group? That is not leaving someone behind, it is simply kicking the door in a little sooner, and establishing both a precedent and the intent of Congress. It will be easier to do with the smaller group, and of course, will be a faster track through Congress.

We are, and have been from the start, a Blue Water Navy site. We have expanded our efforts to include the Blue Sky Air Force Veterans and TLC Veterans as our knowledge of the issues grew. We have always believed that their issues were different and separate from those listed in the expansion pack simply by the unique nature of the fact that 19-21 million gallons of dioxin based herbicides were sprayed on the Republic of Vietnam, and to a lesser extent on neighboring Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia; and the fact that the original intent of Congress in the Agent Orange Act of 1991, despite what the [expletive deleted]holes at the DVA say, was to include anyone who served in the Vietnam Theater of War. The proof that the DVA knew that lies in the fact that they did indeed use the Vietnam Service Medal as the criteria for establishing presumptive exposure to Agent Orange for more than a few years as part of the policy that they wrote when interpreting the parts of Title 38, United States Code, that were enacted as the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

So it may come across as in our self-interest to see this bill pass sooner rather than later. That is true. However, what is also true is that we have an opportunity, no matter how slim, to have that happen, and we cannot allow that to pass without making a full scale attempt to make it happen. We do not begrudge any Veteran the right to benefits, of any kind, not just Agent Orange benefits. We will work as hard to get that bill passed next year, whether it contains benefits for us or not. We have always been thus committed.

Finally, we believe we owe something to our fellow Blue Water Navy shipmates and other Veterans of the Vietnam War who go without benefits because of a miscarriage of justice on the part of the DVA. We owe something to the hundreds of loyal readers who come here daily looking for news, for any kind of word about the possibility of a benefit breakthrough for them, who actually come here looking for encouragement and hope. Many of them, most of them, have extremely heartrending stories to tell. Most are financially and physically handicapped, many have had their wives forced to quit work to care for them, sinking deeper into financial ruin, being forced to sell their home, living in a car, and the like. Many of them staring imminent death in the eye from any number of diseases brought on by the exposure during wartime service in the Vietnam Theater of War. How can I be true to them if I cannot make every effort to get those benefits to them the soonest way possible? How would I be able to sleep at night knowing I had a chance to get their benefits for them in a matter of months, rather than years, and I passed it up because "everybody says the bill is dead this term"? How many more victims must the DVA cause to die without benefits because of an arbitrary, illogical, illegal, and capricious interpretation of Congressional intent, when we have in our power to stop the madness for a large group of Veterans that much sooner, rather than later?

In my mind, there is no choice at all. We must see that this bill gets enacted this term.

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2008: VNVets Blog; All Rights Reserved.


18 comments:

  1. Anonymous23:13

    So there has been no confirmation that the bill has been killed or hi-jacked? All the accusations, scares and drama is on "your belief?" Thanks for the honesty-too bad that you didn't tell the truth that what you had been saying about the HI-Jacking was supposition on your part.

    Keeping everyone worried, upset and mad isn't the way to get a bill passed.

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  2. Oh there was indeed a hijacking. But then, you already know that. There is no supposition about that.

    Obviously you cant follow the chronology and see the truth.

    But the important thing is to get the bill passed. And folks should be worried, upset, and angry.

    It's bad enough when the DVA craps on the people they are supposed to help, it is far worse when other Veterans do it.

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  3. Anonymous00:27

    Come on, Wally, or is it Mike? Look at what has been done here. BWN allied itself with a group of "Me-Too's" and now the whole thing is dead in the water. Filner will not be able to get anything passed with the whole world coverage you are asking for now. If you think things were bad before just watch the opposition come out now. We might have had a good chance but not any more.

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  4. Well, I seriously doubt if you are correct about who posted the above. That is not Mike, and I am pretty certain it was not Wally. There are others, however, who might very well be at work here that associate closely with Wally.

    Why they cling to the fantasy that Filner introduced a bill that would never pass in this session, and use that as a condition on which to rest the hijacking of said bill by loading it down with all the other locations is a mystery.

    Their fight is more about being right or wrong rather than doing the right thing and getting as much as we can with the first pass. But they dare not be wrong and go back on their word to groups other than BWNVVA.

    Me? I don't want to fight other Vets, especially other Blue Water Navy Vets. Getting Congress to move is a big enough struggle without the distraction of a bunch of folks who don't even realize they've been had constantly beating their own drum instead of mobilizing to get the damn bill passed!

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  5. Anonymous12:21

    I appreciate your answer to my post but let me add another question: Why can't HR6562 have a simple statement added to it that states: "and any other place AO can be proven to have been used by the U.S. Military..." or words to that affect. A list of such places and dates could then be compiled and it would only be up to the veteran concerned to prove he or she was, in fact, present at the time of use. We have to do that anyway with the present bill.
    As for those who think you have over-reacted....beats sitting still like a sheep waiting to be clipped.

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  6. Thanks, we try to be pro-active, and like I said above, we cannot let the slimmest of chances go by without an effort.

    To answer your question, that has been done already. The "expansion pack" has been submitted and we believ that was why Filner indicated the current HR 6562 was dead and a new bill would be introduced next session. That is because the new locations and their groups of Veterans will require a lot of committee work and a lot of work with the members to make their case. Theirs will always be a long term project. Ours already hass a great deal of support in both houses.

    Look, if someone on the floor of either chamber wants to add an aemndment to add those outside groups, and it passes, we are all in clover, but we must make sure it will not cost us votes. We need to pass in the House and I do not foresee a problem there, but the Senate is a different story. We need 70 Senators to have a sufficent buffer to override a Veto. And I expect a Veto.

    We may get some very important help from an unexpected source in the coming weeks. I'll keep you posted on that.

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  7. Anonymous17:48

    One of the things that may well come around is the concept discussed above concerning being "present at the time of use." That may prove to be a problem for some since their case is built on the accumulation of dioxin, or the carry-over effect. I am not smart enough, nor have I seen any real proof, that this effect is real. If a person has to actually be present when the material was used, that might cut down on the number who could claim exposure. Not necessarily my personal opinion, but one that should be considered.

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  8. Anonymous18:12

    Thanks, but, to amplify my original question: My understanding of the process says that Mr Filner can modify his bill anytime before it leaves committee, which, by the way, is HIS committee. Adding a simple line sort of like I mentioned is all it would take to make the bill an "omnibus" AO bill....easier than during floor debate of the bill and, it could still at least make a vote this year....

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  9. Marcella Messer18:39

    What about Biden, VP candidate? He was an orignial signer of the 1991 AO ACT and he pro-veteran. Perhaps he can pull some strings.

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  10. Anonymous23:33

    I come here everyday looking for some good news and words of hope. It is really heart breaking one day you see the light at the end of the tunnel and sudeenly you see the end of the tunnel crumbled. I've been waiting to come out of this tunnel for over 5 years.

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  11. As far as the version of the bill we are pushing that will not be an issue because the dates are already in the law [Title 38, US Code], and we have included language that clearly sets the criteria for establishing presumptive eligibility for exposure to Agent Orange will be the receipt of the Vietnam Service Medal, or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in the Vietnam Theater, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia. This applies to Laos, or Cambodia, and in or on the waters off shore of the Republic of Vietnam, on the inland waterways of the Republic of Vietnam, and in the skies over the Republic of Vietnam.

    That said, the situation with other locations will likely be developed as you say, when the Veteran is in the presence of its usage, that is, for example, like the Army Vets who served in Korea along the DMZ. Spraying there was limited to 1967-71 [or 1972]. There were a limited number of Army Units stationed there, and those who were there betweeen 1969 and 1970 are alrady being compenstated based on a decree from the Secretary of the DVA, from evidence made public on the use of Agent Orange by the Department of Defense.

    That, I believe is the precedent for how benefit elitibility will be determined in the future as new areas of exposure are made known to Congress. It is that process that I believe will slow passage of any bill authorizing benefits for AO Exposure in the new geographic locations around the world. And I am not sure, that enough of Congress is willing to support such legislation, but rather think that if each location were to be advanced in a separate piece of legislation, they might be more amenable to such a piece-meal schedule of bills. Either way, the addition of veterans who served outside the Vietnam Theater of War, who were exposed to AO is a whole new ballgame for Congress, including the Veterans who served in Korea that are getting benefits but not by a specific act of Congress.

    That is my opinion. It is also my opinion that they all should get benefits, and as soon as possible. However, one must be pragmatic wwhen dealing with Congress.

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  12. You asked:

    "My understanding of the process says that Mr Filner can modify his bill anytime before it leaves committee, which, by the way, is HIS committee. Adding a simple line sort of like I mentioned is all it would take to make the bill an "omnibus" AO bill....easier than during floor debate of the bill and, it could still at least make a vote this year...."


    You are absolutely correct, and indeed it can be changed anytime up to enactment. However, you miss the logic of Filner essentially saying he will introduce the bill next term. When doing so he is admitting that HR 6562, if it were to include such expansion language would face a much longer path through Congress.

    As we have repeatedly pointed out, there is a HUGE difference between the groups we are attempting to get the bill passed for this term, and the "outside of Vietnam" groups that others are trying to insert into HR 6562.

    Blue Water Navy, Blue Sky Air Force, and TLC Veterans [Thaland, Laos, and Cambodia] were all a part of the original Agent Orange Act of 1991. The DVA established the Vietnam Service Medal as the establishing criteria for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange. Air Force veterans received benefits from 1991-1993 when they were dropped for "flying over the Agent Orange", and Blue Water Navy was dropped in 2002 because we did not "serve in Vietnam" [no boots on the ground]. In other words, those two groups were receiving presumptive eligibility for exposure to Agent Orange, based on how the DVA interpreted the legislation written in the Agent Orange Act of 1991, and the DVA arbitrarily took it away from them. To the best of our knowledge, presumptive eligibility for the TLC Veterans was never given. If any of those Vets got benefits it had to be by proof of exposure.

    Chairman Filner expressly staeed it was his wish to reestablish the Vietnam Service Medal as the criteria so that benefits would be RESTORED to the BWN, BSAF, and TLC Veterans.

    Now, the Veterans groups and advocates who are trying to get their locations and Veterans added to this bill don't seem to realize that restoring benefits that Congress already granted to a group of Veterans is different than establishing eligibility criteria for many different locations where exposure occurred and many different dates. That will be a horrendously long drawn out process. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn;t really understand the situation or doesn't understand the legislative process fully enough, or both.

    The other way to look at it this:

    Because they were to be included in the original AO Act of 1991, Congress essentially merely needs to re-express and clarify their original intent. That is what Filner's bill started out to be.

    Adding the non-Vietnam, non-TLC groups requires many hours of hearings, reenearch, enterinbg research into the Congressional Record, and so on, before the bill will become ready for a vote.

    Hence, our efforts to keep the issues separate. We do not wish to slow anyone down in getting their benefits. So we are trying to get the RESTORATION bill version of HR 6562, as Filner originally saw it, passed Congress this term. He has already committed to an axpansion of benefits bill to be introduced in the next session starting in 2009.

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  13. Marcella asks:

    "What about Biden, VP candidate? He was an orignial signer of the 1991 AO ACT and he pro-veteran. Perhaps he can pull some strings."

    I believe Senator Biden most likely supports at least establishing the restoration of benefits to BWN, BSAF, and TLC Veterans as the original intent of Congress, and most likely supports the addition of benefits for those groups new to Congress who need legislation establishing their benefits.

    I had asked when I started the pll, that folks let me know which Senators and Congressmen they had obtained committments of support from and I would later post the results. Few readers did that, so I have to repost the request for info, which I will do later today.

    Latest count is 20 Representatives and 17 Senators on board. I will be extending the poll for another two weeks.

    By all means contact Senator Biden, or if you know someone from Delaware, ask them to do so. Now that he is a candidate, it might be possible to reach him through the campaign. Same3 for Obama.

    When and if I get clarification of which members of Congress pledged support, I will post their names.

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  14. Anonymous wrote:

    "I come here everyday looking for some good news and words of hope. It is really heart breaking one day you see the light at the end of the tunnel and sudeenly you see the end of the tunnel crumbled. I've been waiting to come out of this tunnel for over 5 years."

    It is loyal readers such as yourself for whom we started this blog, and for whom we are fighting to get HR 6562 passed this session. It has been five years for me, as well. Four years since I received the denial stating "You did not serve ion Vietnam."

    That gnaws at me 24/7/365. It keeps e going, and so do readers like you. I have 300 subscribers. I have an obligation to them to keep them up to date on events that affect them, and to help in any way in bringing about positivbe change in their situations. I am sick and tired at the knowledge that every hour that passes carries away another Veteran without benefits. That means he leaves no financial legacy for his widow or survivors. It is a situation I not only wish to see fixed ASAP, but I wish to see justice for those who have already sailed and for their survivors. I believe what has been done to them is a hideous form of mass murder by criminal negligence, malfeasance in office, and ngligent homicide. Once we get those benefits, all of them, we need to fix the DVA so this will not happen again, and to seek justice by prosecuting those who were a part of this crime against humanity.

    Hang on. We believe help is coming in the form of HR 6562, which we are trying to push through this year. If it does, you may see benefits sometime in the middle of next year.

    In the mean time, please keep up the effort to gain support from your Congressman and Senators.

    Thanks for your loyalty and support. You are why we are here. We owe you no less in return.

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  15. Anonymous12:15

    This is where we disconnect....the presumptive effect of Agent Orange is a fact that was established with the 1991 act. To say in a new bill that it includes ANY exposure by ANY veteran ANYWHERE would only, IMHO, add further clarification. Am I hearing we would have to have hearings and studies to prove AO was the same in the Phillipines as in Vietnam??

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  16. Anonymous wrote:
    "This is where we disconnect....the presumptive effect of Agent Orange is a fact that was established with the 1991 act. To say in a new bill that it includes ANY exposure by ANY veteran ANYWHERE would only, IMHO, add further clarification. Am I hearing we would have to have hearings and studies to prove AO was the same in the Phillipines as in Vietnam??"


    There are two issues here.

    First, Filner's initial form of the bill was intended to RESTORE benefits Congress authorized in the initial AO Act of 1991, and the DVA arbitrarily took away. So, nothing needs to be proven again, as it already was in 1991. Filner's stated goal was to restore the Vietnam Service Medal as the criteria to establish presumptive exposure to Agent Orange. Because the data already exists for these groups the number crunching for appropriations will be fairly simple and straight forward.

    Second, with the exception of the Army troops stationed in Korea, all of the new locations will be new to the DVA, and to Congress.
    There is no record with Congress of contamination or exposure, or, for that matter, spraying of Agent Orange at any of those locations. Everything must be read into the record, the data, the dates, the locations, who served there, and Congress will have to determine if the locations, each of them, warrant benefit coverage. Has a mortality study been done at the request of the DVA for each location? Only then, after Congress has determined who was exposed, how, and when and for what duration, can the appropriations committee do its work. And you can bet the DVA will fight just as hard to derail this package, perhaps harder than the original group.

    If you combine these two groups in one bill you delay the receipt of benefits for the first group. We believe Filner signaled that when he spoke of re-submitting the bill next session. We also believe Filner would not have introduced the original version unless he thought it could be passed this term.

    Finally, no, you are not "hearing we would have to have hearings and studies to prove AO was the same in the Phillipines as in Vietnam??" AO is AO. You can read the DoD report on the VA's website, and determine for yourself how much exposure there was at Subic Bay, at Cubi Point, and at Clark Air Base. But Congress will require the number crunchers to determine who could have been exposed and when, and how.


    Any expansion of the original bill, will require as much work as it took to pass the original AO Act of 1991, perhaps more. It will needlessly delay benefits to the folks Filner intended to have restored, the Blue Water navy, Blue Sky Air Force, and TLC Veterans.

    Although all groups share the commonalit of exposure to Agent Orange, the two groups are separate issues for many reasons, and should, by the way things are done in Congress, require separate bills.

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  17. Noli Capitulo05:04

    Yeah, they also told me that I did not serve in Vietnam and therefore, how did I get awarded combat action ribbon. This was a great insult, it make me feel like, i just found this combat action ribbon inside a cracker jack box.
    I thank you for a great job you are doing for us. I hope again one day or maybe sooner, the light at the end of the tunnel will become a reality.

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  18. We're working on it, Noli. And thanks for your support. But I can't take the credit. It is you and the other readers who are doing the work.

    We said at the introduction of HR 6562,

    "Not only does this legislation restore benefits taken from Sailors in 2002, it also restores the legacies we can leave behind us. I speak not only of the financial and medical benefits the Act will open to us, but also of the historical legacy. No more will a Blue Water, or Blue Sky Veteran receive the claim rejection letter with the words, “You did not serve in Vietnam.” We did serve there, and proudly. This is as important to us as are the benefits."

    Hang in there. This is going to be a very hectic month. Please write a letter to Chairman Filner, and Congressman Hall asking them to continue pressing forward with HR 6562 as introduced. We need to express our will on them. We need to let them know we see a chance to get benefits authorized without a long wait.

    I think they will realize what we are asking and try their best to help.

    Keep looking for that light. There's a definite glow ahead.

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