Monday, May 18, 2009

HR 2254: The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009

Marcus Annaeus Seneca wrote:

The conditions of conquest are always easy. We have but to toil awhile, endure awhile, believe always, and never turn back.
HR 2254 is finally here. It promises to right many wrongs perpetrated against so many Veterans by the agency chartered to care for them.

There are things in it that perhaps belong in another bill, and there are some things that need correction, and one item that needs to be added, but overall, this bill restores benefits that were taken away by the Department of Veterans Abuse, from the Veterans who served gallantly in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia [TLC], the Blue Sky Air Force Veterans, and the Blue Water Navy Veterans.

HR 2254 would establish once again the receipt of the Vietnam Service Medal as the qualifying criteria for presumptive exposure to herbicides while serving in and around Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The bill contains a reference to Veterans who served on Johnston Island, a group that perhaps would be better served in what we hope will soon arrive: A toxins bill covering all other herbicide exposures during the Vietnam War era and toxin exposures to our Veterans who served in Gulf War I.

We believe the language citing the Vietnam Service Medal or the Vietnam Campaign Medal as the qualifying criteria for presuptive exposure to be an error. The Vietnam Campaign Medal was awarded to those who served in the combat zone for six months or more, AND who received either the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Vietnam, or the Vietnam Service Medal. One had to have one of the latter two in order to be awarded the Campaign Medal. Instead, we believe the language should read to include the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam, not the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Finally, we believe it is important that retroactivity be covered properly in this bill. While the effective date goes all the way back to 1985, it does not address those who accepted the DVA at their word after a denial and did not file an appeal. All the policy changes to the DVA's M21-1 Manual that resulted in the removal of groups of eligible Veterans from benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991 were done without putting the changes out for public comment, and without making appropriate changes to 38 CFR without public comment, thus depriving the public, including the Veterans of due process, and their Constitutional right to address the government. Ergo, all claims denied after those changes were made were incorrect, extralegal, and should be automatically reviewed for reversal. If language is not included in this bill, all those Veterans will be forced to file separate appeals, and litigations up to and including the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in order to seek the justice required to reverse those decisions. A simple statement to this effect in the legislation would eliminate this problem.

We noted elsewhere today that:

Right and justice have little to do with it. And if you think we and our cause are not part of a larger picture, think again. Our bill [HR 2254] would be an enormous smackdown of the DVA. Our bill would restore faith in the Veterans of the future that their benefits will be there when they need them. Our bill starts the ball rolling toward a complete makeover of the mindset locked in the brains of all those DVA employees. Oh yes, and our bill rights a terrible wrong done to far too many, and does so many years too late for far too many more.

Writing letters to Akaka and Filner at this time are pointless. Akaka is well aware of HR 2254. And he is content to wait until it comes to him passed by the House.

I cannot emphasize this enough. We must focus ALL, repeat ALL of our efforts at getting co-sponsors in the House for HR 2254 and a Sponsor to introduce, and co sponsors for the bill in the Senate. And we are failing miserably at the moment.

Letters do little and take too long. I keep pointing that out. Personal contact. Face to face with your elected Congressional Reps and Sens. Phone calls, get to know their staff, and nicely ask for their assistance in getting your message to the Senator or the Congressman. Go to their offices. This is not yet the time for a March on DC, but it IS the time to march on your elected Congressional delegation.

And do not forget the state representatives. Contact them and ask for their help by getting them to float a resolution calling for the entire state Congressional Delegation to support HR 2254 and the funding for it.

Folks, our bill will sit in the Subcommittee where it now resides until such time as Filner thinks he had enough Co-sponsors to give the bill a chance. The bill will not see hearings until that time. And we are very far below what he needs.
Indeed, the numbers recorded on the polls on the right side of theis page are woefully inadequate to acheive any measure of success in getting HR 2254 enacted.

Here is what we need:

  • We need more cosponsors in the House & Senate.

  • We need full support for HR 2254 AND for its funding, from as many Members of the House and Senate as possible.

  • We URGENTLY need a Senator to Introduce the Bill in the Senate!!!!!

  • We need all 50 state legislatures to pass a resolution calling on their respective state Congressional Delegations to support HR 2254 and its funding --ASAP!

  • We need public awareness of this issue in the print and electronic media.
  • Ladies and genetlemen, fellow Veterans, this is it. Our last shot at obtaining justice, at restoring our historical legacy, at securing our financial legacy for our survivors, and obtaining the medical treatment we require.

    Our enemy is the DVA. They have already struck a blow against us by using scare tactics in their estimates of the cost of HR 2254. We have countered them with Chairman Filner and staff, but every Congressman and Senator you approach needs to be made aware that the bill should cost less than $3 billion the first year [to cover retroactive benefits as well as on going], and a budget bump of less than $1 billion after that, diminishing as time goes on and Veterans and their surviviors pass on.

    Compared to TARP and all the other bailouts, this is a drop in the bucket.

    When you contact your elected officials to get their support make sure you mention this estimate. It is far more valid than the $27 billion the DVA or the DVA inspired Congressional Budget Office "estimated".

    There's not much else to say except this is it. We need to pass this, and hopefully the Toxins Bill when it comes out, along with several other bills you can read about on the trackers at the top of the right sidebar. After that, we'll take stock and see what is next. We have a list of fixes for the DVA, but these are the important first steps.

    Think BIG, folks!

    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 then 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

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