Saturday, June 27, 2015

This just in: Senate to send approved BWN Bill to floor for vote.

This just in from our good friends at the Fleet Reserve Association:
"VA Undersecretary for Health Confirmed After Delay on Agent Orange Info
The President’s nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, president of the Atlantic Health System’s Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center, was confirmed by the Senate this week. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.), sponsor of Agent Orange Blue Water Navy reform legislation (S. 681), had put a “hold” on the Senate vote after the VA failed to provide her with information, which she was lifted after the requested information was provided...
"...In related news, SVAC Chairman Johnny Isakson (Ga.) has indicated that the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (S. 681), which would clarify a presumption for filing disability claims with the VA for ailments associated with exposure to Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War, will be marked up, approved and sent to the full Senate for consideration. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support this bill and its House companion bill, HR-969. FRA NED Thomas Snee and HQ staffers Stephen Tassin and Ben Young met personally with Rep. Chris Gibson (N.Y.) concerning HR-969.  This bill is moving rapidly, and Congressman Gibson requested that FRA assist in ensuring that the bill gets passed swiftly."
There it is, folks.  Hit that CapWiz page NOW!

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 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

Copyright © 2005-2015: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eleventh Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Downer

We got our information from the Federal Register.  We checked back a few days ago and found the Senator Daines amendment to roll the BWN Act into the National Defense Appropriation Act had been stripped out of the bill that was sent back to the House.

That leaves us with a scant 5 days for Senator Johnny Isakson to fulfill his promise to get the bill onto the floor this month.  Contact your Senators and urge them to remind Senator Isakson of his promise. 

We are puzzled that the VA is not satisfied with its role of interpreting the laws Congress enacts, and actively attempts to kill legislation Congress is considering.  The VA has no right, and certainly no business meddling in the Congressional business of lawmaking.

We are even more puzzled that a gutless Senate allows such unconstitutional meddling.  Here we have an unfortunately successful attempt to interfere with the Constitutionally defined work of Congress.

We would offer this, however:  the section detailing how to pay for the BWN benefits was the likely dagger in the heart of the amendment:
"Offset.--Increased Government expenditures resulting from enactment of this section shall be paid from savings achieved by section 605 of this Act."
Section 605 reads:
"SEC. 605. Repeal of inapplicability of modification of basic allowance for housing to benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(a) Repeal.—Subsection (b) of section 604 of the Carl Levin and Howard P.BuckMcKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (Public Law 113–291) is repealed.

(b) Effective date.—The amendment made by subsection (a) shall take effect on January 1, 2016.
 Section 604, Subsection (b) reads:
"(b) BAH for other members living together.—Such section is further amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:
“(q) Reduced allowance for members living together.—(1) In the event two or more members of the uniformed services who are entitled to receive a basic allowance for housing under this section live together, basic allowance for housing under this section shall be paid to each such member at the rate as follows:
“(A) In the case of such a member in a pay grade below pay grade E–4, the rate otherwise payable to such member under this section.

“(B) In the case of such a member in a pay grade above pay grade E–3, the rate equal to the greater of—
“(i) 75 percent of the rate otherwise payable to such member under this section; or

“(ii) the rate payable for a member in pay grade E–4 without dependents.

“(2) This subsection does not apply to members covered by subsection (p).”.
Thus, the amendment was to be paid for by reducing funds from the Basic Allowance for Housing [BAH] of certain members of the active Military [Department of Defense appropriations.]

We have no friends in the Senate with any power.  However, we now have 232 friends in the House.  If only the House Veterans committee would mark up the bill and get it to the floor. 

Time to tickle those Representatives. 

[Note:  We would remind readers that we consider the current language of the proposed BWN bill to be an enormous mistake.  We computed the estimates of how many claims may be involved, and since there were only 229,000 Naval personal who served in Vietnam during the war years, and many of them were Brown Water Navy, and others were shore facility Navy, and that perhaps around 15,000 approved claims by BWN sailors exist, and perhaps another 50,000+ are already dead, the estimated number of claims possible ranges from 10,000 to 50,000.  That is far less than the "hundreds of thousand of BWN claims waiting to be filed" that the VA has been lying about for decades.  Mr. Hughes, who was the attorney from the Soliciter General's Office who represented the VA in the Haas case at the Federal Circuit in DC, stood in front of the panel of judges and stated that there were 800,000 claims that would be filed by the blue Water Navy Veterans if the Haas case was not halted.  They've been throwing numbers like that around for decades.  And they know it is not true. 

Further, we posed that it would be cheaper to go back to using the Vietnam Service Medal as automatically qualifying a Veteran for presumptive exposure to herbicides.  That eliminates the need for all the expensive research into ship's logs, plotting the courses to see when and where they navigated inside the terratorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam.  The administrative saving realized by this would easily reduce the cost of the appropriations.

And we found the money to pay for the bill for ten years.  It is in the real estate holdings of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  They own, and are not using millions of square feet of space in building and acres of open land across the country.  They could divest a tenth of what they own and are not using to pay for the bill.

Finally, using the Vietnam Service Medal as a qualifier shortens the claim processing time from months/years, to a few weeks.  This is a humanitarian consideration.  And this is the option Admiral Elmo Zumwalt recommended in his report to Congress that became the impetus for passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991.  He stated that it was better to include everyone, including some who were not exposed, thereby ensuring that all who were exposed were covered.  To choose the other option, which the VA switched to starting in 1993, eliminates some who were not exposed, and many who were.  --VNVets]

We ask:  Where does the power the VA exerts over a Congress that has excoriated the VA for the past year over their handling of Veterans seeking medical treament?  Where does such power come from that so easily strips a joint amendment by two Senators [Daines and Gillibrand] from a bill that literally MUST be passed by Congress?

Poliical pressure is not strong enough.   Once you throw that reason aside, there can be only one reason, much to the shame of both the VA and Congress.

Give Congress Hell!  A pox on both their houses!

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 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

Copyright © 2005-2015: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eleventh Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Friday, June 19, 2015

NDAA Passes Senate with BWN Amendment: Back to the House!

Yesterday, the US Senate passed the National Defense Appropriations Act for this coming Fiscal Year.  It included an amendment to an amendment to an amendment [etc.].

Here is THE Amendment:
SA 1892. Mr. DAINES (for himself and Mrs. Gillibrand) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to amendment SA 1463 proposed by Mr. McCain to the bill H.R. 1735, to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2016 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

At the end of subtitle G of title X, add the following:

SEC. 1085. CLARIFICATION OF PRESUMPTIONS OF EXPOSURE FOR VETERANS WHO SERVED IN VICINITY OF REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.

(a) Compensation.--Subsections (a)(1) and (f) of section 1116 of title 38, United States Code, are amended by inserting ``(including the territorial seas of such Republic)'' after ``served in the Republic of Vietnam'' each place it appears.
(b) Health Care.--Section 1710(e)(4) of such title is amended by inserting ``(including the territorial seas of such Republic)'' after ``served on active duty in the Republic of Vietnam''.
(c) Effective Date.--The amendments made by subsections (a) and (b) shall take effect as of September 25, 1985.
(d) Offset.--Increased Government expenditures resulting from enactment of this section shall be paid from savings achieved by section 605 of this Act.
The Senate, having passed the bill with changes to the House version passed in May, now will send the bill back to the House to either accept the changes, reject the changes, or call for a conference committee of Representatives and Senators to hash out the differences [the most likely scenario].

That said, if and when the NDAA passes and it still contains the amendment shown above as written, it will not go into effect until October 1, 2015, which is the start of the next [2016] Federal Fiscal Year.  The VA should use the intervening time to put the policy change out in the Federal Register for public review and comments, usually for 60-90 days before finalizing the policy change and instituting the change into their policy manual, which will also require a period of public comment.

Do not expect the VA to move quickly on this.  Their most recent Agent Orange News Letter [Summer, 2015] makes clear the VA's stand on Blue Water Navy exposure:
  • Blue Water Veterans
    The deep offshore waters of Vietnam are often referred to as “blue waters” and naval vessels operating on them are referred to as the Blue Water Navy. Blue Water Veterans are not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides unless they actually set foot in Vietnam (including for liberal leave or work detail) or served aboard ships on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The Blue Water Navy operated large ships which were used to carry out their missions along the Vietnam coastal waters. Some offshore ships including hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, seaplane tenders, and destroyers sent crew members ashore. Veterans aboard these ships who can show they were on shore will be eligible for the presumption of exposure.
  • U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Ships in Vietnam
    VA maintains an evolving list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records. This includes ships of the Brown Water and Blue Water Navy that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways, docked to shore or pier in Vietnam, or that delivered supplies or troops ashore. The alphabetized ships list is available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.
No surprise there.  Look for the policy change to be finalized by next spring.

That said, if you have let your claim lapse, get it going again.  Use any legitimate reason to get it going...change in medical conditions, new evidence that you went ashore, new evidence that your ship went up a river or docked in Vietnam.  If your claim is still open at the Regional Office level, and it has been denied, or is denied between now and when the VA institutes the change, DO NOT APPEAL!  Ask for a Regional Office Review.  It keeps your claim alive at the RO for another year, while an appeal will tie your claim up in the appeals process for two to four years.  If your claim was denied more than a year ago without further action, refile immediately.

Note, the bill is back dated to 1985, so any claim filed after that September 25, 1985 can be reopened and taked back to the earliest date of the claim.  

This would apply to widows and/or dependents of Veterans who had their claim denied, and then died.  Survivors of such Veterans can file for the benefits to be established from the  claim date to the date of death and then file for Survivors benefits.

Remember, always, always, ALWAYS make copies of your documents, mark them with your claim number and name and address, and the date submitted.  Index all the documents you submit and list that index out on a sheet of paper on top of the documents you submit, and mark it with the same info as above.  If you hand carry the documents to the Regional Office, ask for a signed, written receipt.  If you mail them, mail it Registered Mail - Return Receipt Requested. Then the signed receipt will be sent back to you by the Post Office.

Time to "Turn To" again!  We've never been this close.  Get a hold of your Representative and tell him to keep the BWN amendment in the NDAA when they pass it.  I expect the good folks at the Fleet Reserve Association to modify the message on their CapWiz page so you can contact your US Representative through them with a great deal of ease.

We will post it when it happens. 

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 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

Copyright © 2005-2015: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eleventh Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

FRA Needs your help on BWN issue

Once again the good folks at the Fleet Reserve Association have pulled a rabit out of the hat.  Here is their scoop:
Support NDAA Amendment for Blue Water Navy/Agent Orange Presumption - Help Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans!

Senator Steve Daines (Mt.) has filed an amendment to the Senate Defense Authorization bill (S. 1376) that would expand the Agent Orange presumption for VA disability claims to include ships that were in the territorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam.

Please use the Action Center to ask your Senators to support this amendment.
What this means is the the bill currently in Congress, in both Houses, is in competition with the National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA] in regards to the BWN.  Both the House and Senate Versions and the amendment added to the NDAA will result in the same thing when passed.  

But the faster route, and the surer route, is as an amendment to the NDAA.  Please use the link in the text above to contact your Senators to get them to support this amendment and the NDAA. 

Note: The NDAA is the budget for the Defense Department [and some sections of the Department of Veterans Affairs] for the next fiscal year.  It is a heavy hitter and usually passes without too much difficulty, even in a divided Congress.  National Defense almost always trumps partisan politics. 

You can help the Fleet Reserve Association even more by joining if you are not already a member.  And you should be a member.  No one has worked harder that the FRA on the Blue Water Navy issue. 

Do yourself a favor: Join today at http://www.fra.org/

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 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

Copyright © 2005-2015: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eleventh Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.