Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wherefore art thou VVA?

So, where is the Vietnam Veterans of America [VVA] on these issues we’ve been dealing with over the past few weeks? We have done some digging and find that the VVA, on their website, under Legislative issues, lists and provides information for HR 812, and HR 2634, but S.1629, a bill exclusively for a large segment of their constituency, is missing. Bills introduced in the Senate later than Senator Gillibrand and Graham’s Bill are listed, but not their Agent Orange Act of 2011. Instead they list the bill that would provide money via the State Department to care for affected children in Vietnam, and in the US [children of Vietnamese origin and children of Vietnam Veterans], and Bob Filner’s financially bloated repeat of last year’s no-movement bill.

It’s kind of hard to go through the VVA’s capwiz support system to send messages to your representative and your Senators about S.1629 when it is not listed on the bill list. In contrast, The Fleet Reserve Association [FRA] keeps one open on their Action page.

The American Legion has been exceptionally supportive by publishing several informative articles in their magazine.

To be fair, the VVA presented testimony on its legislative agenda back in March of this year including two paragraphs about Blue Water Navy’s need for justice.

But we need to ask, what is the VVA doing to help the Blue Water Navy Veterans on a daily basis?

Restoration of benefits to the Blue Water Navy sailors from the Vietnam War is as simple as a short bill directing Congress to accept the Vietnam Service Medal, or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam [the two are interchangeable…indeed, the AFEM, granted before the creation of the VSM, is exchangeable for the VSM], as the requisite criteria to establish presumptive eligibility for benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

It really is that simple. And we would remind folks that the Department of Veterans Affairs acted outside the law each time they changed their policy to exclude certain Veterans from presumptive eligibility, starting in 1991 with the Veterans of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia [TLC], then in 1993 with USAF Veterans of Vietnam, and finally in 2002 with the exclusion of the Blue Water Navy from eligibility. Each time they failed to put their changes out for public comment, as is required by the Administrative Procedures Act. Indeed, legally, all three groups are still eligible. By making the medal the qualifying criteria, it clears the DVA of continued illegality and restores the rightful benefits to their proper Veterans.

We have made several attempts to reach out to the legislative folks at VVA, and unlike other Veterans Service Organizations, the door has been repeatedly slammed in our face. No explanation, no reason, simply no response whatsoever. How could a Veterans Organization refuse to work with groups of their very own constituency?

We suspect it is because of our stance on the Blue Water Navy bill in the Senate, and our stance on Filner’s bill last year and this year. We also suspect it is the “Old Boys Network.” Indeed, the folks we’ve been writing about lately constitute an “Old Boys Network”, and operate in support of each other.  Yesterday’s Ed Mattson article was forwarded by none other than self-styled Chief Bozo himself, Paul Sutton. We have crossed electrons with Mr. Sutton on occasion, as one of the prime perpetrators of those who fill Veterans email boxes with a lot of really good information, but also with far too much that is irrelevant to the American Veteran.

He is another one, like Ed Mattson, who demands the whole apple at once…one bill to cover everyone everywhere who was ever exposed to dioxin containing herbicides. His particular niche is Guam. Doesn’t matter, he will try to latch on and get expanded any bill that deals with “Agent Orange”.

We’ve seen no evidence, no record whatsoever that either Mr. Mattson or Mr. Sutton has ever brought a bill of their own before the public, or Congress, dealing with compensation and medical coverage for anyone exposed to “Agent Orange”. They are content to keep their little hamster wheel running at full tilt leaving everyone behind by hijacking the bills of others.

And that is exactly what their approach to all of this is doing: leaving everyone behind!

Their first mistake is in lumping the Blue Water Navy in with everyone else. BWN once was eligible. Now BWN is seeking restoration of those benefits. There is a strong possibility that the appropriation for BWN is still in place.

They fail to see the strategy that if a small subset is successful, it makes the next subset more attractive to a Congress trying to cut benefits because:
1. Subsequent groups will be smaller by the numbers of the successful previous groups. Therefore, subsequent bills will be less expensive than a catch-all bill.

2. Once successful, there is an awareness in Congress to the issue as a whole and it will require less “education" of Representatives and Senators and their staffs.
As for the VVA’s legislative efforts on behalf of the missing pieces from the original Agent Orange Bill, the recent sum total of their efforts [and those of others] has yielded two consecutive bills introduced by Bob Filner that includes Johnston Island, and adds the Vietnam Campaign Medal as a qualifier. The inclusion of Johnston Island invites other locations where Vietnam Era Veterans served and were exposed, like Guam, Okinawa, Korea, and the Philippine, for starters, and anyone who received the Vietnam Campaign Medal [that is the green and white ribbon], to jump on board. This makes the bill prohibitively expensive, especially in the current fiscal atmosphere in Congress.

It makes those efforts irresponsible, doomed to failure from the start. Filner had 267 co-sponsors last session, more than enough to pass the bill, especially in a House controlled by his own party. He never lifted a finger to move it from the Sub-Committee where it was buried, and sat, gathering dust until it died 19 months after he introduced it.

By their own statement after a 2009 joint VA Committee hearing, VVA was trying at that time to craft a bill to cover Blue Water Navy AND the folks on Guam, Johnston Island, etc.

Yes indeed, their constituents served in those locations. And yes indeed their constituents served in the waters off Vietnam.

Sadly, these facts collectively forced Blue Water Sailors of the War in Vietnam to form small subgroups unaffiliated with any of the larger Veterans Service Organizations. We were not getting enough advocacy from the VVA, among others.

And so, we were “…left to fend…” for ourselves.

The Veterans Association of Sailors of the Vietnam War is publicly pledged to fight for Agent Orange benefits for all who have been contaminated, and if we get our group restored, we will not go away. We remain a viable grassroots movement with strength. Our advocacy strategies and tactics are somewhat unique, but effective. We have always advocated for the common sense approach to getting legislation enacted, meaning small bites of the apple. In the long run, it will be faster, more effective, and more complete than the opposite approach.

We certainly expect nothing from the Bozos that would indicate a sudden acceptance of our strategy. We would be shocked if it came. But we want our readers, and our members to know who is doing what, who isn’t, and why our bills aren’t getting passed.


”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 Obama 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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  1. Anonymous17:22

    What the heck is going on. Sounds to me like you are jumping on the band wagon after the fact. Paul Sutton is and always will be a veterans advocate. Blue water , black water no water! The VVA has
    attempted to and has raised the issue of Agent Orange. OOps they didn't listen than and all of SUDDEN THEY SEEM TO BE LISTENING.
    YEA right,smoke and mirrors and they have succeeded in doing one thing. Divide and conquer,slash and burn.
    Am I to believe that the VVA or any other organization of veterans is aganist getting the just due for the sailors, BS
    Corsa VVA DE Kilo 326

  2. We do not jump on any bandwagons.

    I agree, Paul Sutton is a Veterans Advocate, and a good one. But his approach to things is exactly as I described above and in fact makes him one of the folks driving this particular hamster wheel that starts with a Blue Water Navy Bill, and ends with a bloated bill too expensive to pass because groups other than Blue Water Navy keep trying to turn the BWN restoration bills into a let's- clean-our-conscience-and-pay-everyone-who's-been-exposed btll. While that includes the BWN is is simply unrealistic to think it could ever pass Congress. Hence, everyone gets left behind.

    In the absence of proof to the contrary, that's what we are saying here, except we are referring primarily to the VVA. Go back and read it again and based on our experience as depicted here, we can draw no other conclusion. It's been going on since 2008. They say one thing in their legislative agenda and then work to expand the BWN bills when they are introduced. And of course the BWN bills fail because the are suddenly to expensive for Congress to pass.

    You may not like the news, but from where we view things, this is what has repeatedly happened over the past four years.