THE LINGERING HEALTH EFFECTS OF AGENT ORANGE — HEALTHLINE — Veterans are still suffering from the illnesses caused by the toxic herbicide used during the Vietnam War. They want to know why the VA doesn’t offer more help.
Most of the media coverage of President Obama’s trip to Asia has focused on whether the president should apologize to Japan for the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
According to Obama administration officials, there are no plans to apologize for this bombing, which took the lives of more than 100,000 Japanese civilians.
But might the same question be asked about Agent Orange in Vietnam?
The U.S. military sprayed the toxic herbicide, along with other deadly defoliants, over more than 20 percent of South Vietnam between the early 1960s and early 1970s in an attempt to flush out their enemies.
Agent Orange doesn’t get as much press as it used to, but its profound lingering effects remains a significant international public health issue in 2016.
VETERAN RETURNS LOST PURPLE HEART, DOG TAGS TO FELLOW VET — FOX NEWS — WAKEFIELD, N.H. – A Vietnam veteran was reunited with his missing Purple Heart and dog tags thanks to the kindness of another veteran.
WMUR-TV reports the items were returned to New Hampshire’s Barry Hutchinson on Thursday after he lost them when a box fell out of his truck during the process of moving.
The box was found in Wakefield by Jason Murphy, a medically retired veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Murphy spent a month trying to trace the military honors before seeking the help of Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit whose mission is to return military medals of valor to their owners.
RAND PAUL: “I’LL BE DAMNED!” BEFORE GOVERNMENT TAKES GUNS FROM VETERANS — TOWNHALL — The avid proponent of American liberty and individualism, Sen. Rand Paul took the stage at the NRA-ILA forum and spoke of our natural right to own and bear arms.
“We must always remember that the Second Amendment can only properly be defended when we defend the rest of the bill of rights. You can’t defend the second Amendment unless you defend the First amendment,” Paul said.
He went on to warn the audience of the trampling of the Fourth Amendment and how important it is for governing bodies to acquire search warrants before investigating individual citizens.
He also mentioned new legislation that proposes veteran’s with PTSD not be allowed to own firearms.
“I’ll be damned before I let the government take guns from the veterans who fought to preserve this country,” he said. “I will do whatever necessary to defend our god-given rights.”
VA HOSPITAL SHUTTERS OPERATING ROOMS DUE TO BLACK AIR PARTICLES — WASHINGTON FREE BEACON — A Department of Veterans’ Affairs hospital on Long Island was forced to close its five operating rooms after air ducts began to emit sand-size black particles.
The air ducts are part of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s HVAC system, which provides heating, ventilating, and air conditioning and therefore controls air quality and helps mitigate germ transmission.
New York Times reported:
An environmental analysis of the air quality at the Northport hospital by Environmental Analysis Associates, a San Diego firm that specializes in the identification of indoor air-quality problems associated with dust contamination, found that the particulates came from oxidizing metal and crumbling concrete in the building’s duct system, which was built in the early 1970s. The report … linked the operating room contaminants to Northport’s decaying building. The kinds of particles deposited in the operating rooms were “typically associated with galvanized duct corrosion and metal piping/fittings,” the report said. It also mentioned that “low concentrations of fiberglass fibers”–irritants to the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract–were detected.
OBAMA SIGNS BILL TO ALLOW FEMALE PILOTS’ ASHES AT ARLINGTON — FOX NEWS — Obama has signed a bill into law that will again allow the ashes of female World War II pilots known as WASPs to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
The women served in a unit called Women Airforce Service Pilots. They flew noncombat missions to free male pilots for combat.
They were considered civilians during the war, but federal law since 1977 granted them veteran status. They had been eligible since 2002 to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors.
But in March 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh revoked the WASPs’ eligibility to have their ashes placed at the cemetery.
The bill Obama signed Friday reverses McHugh’s decision.
The WASP program ran from 1942 to 1944. Just over 1,000 women served in the unit.
WWII VETERAN REUNITES WITH MAN HE RESCUED FROM A CONCENTRATION CAMP — NEWSWORMS — In a attractive video that’s sure to tug at your heartstrings, retired U.S. Veteran Sid Shafner reunited with Marcel Levy, a man he saved from a concentration camp over 70 years ago. Back in 1945, now 94-year-old Sid Shafner helped liberate some 30,000 prisoners from a concentration camp in southern Germany. Levy, who was only a teen when he was saved by Shafner, was the last remaining survivor of his family when he was freed.
Friends of the Isreal Defense Forces sponsored the trip. The two immediately became friends and saw each other face to face for the first time in two decades on May 10. “Everything I have today, all of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, is due to you, Sid”, he says softly.
SENATES APPROVES AMENDMENT THAT SUPPORTS PERMANENTLY DISABLED VETERANS — EXAMINER — The US Senate unanimously approves an amendment that will help ensure that permanently disabled veterans to have student loans forgiven. The amendment, introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Angus King (I-ME) and Chris Coons (D-DE), was included in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill, This bill will help more disabled American veterans obtain the student loan forgiveness benefits they are entitled to under current law. The American Legion, Student Veterans of America, and Veterans Education Success have all endorsed the amendment.
“Veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country and who are permanently disabled shouldn’t be trapped in government red tape trying to have their student loans forgiven,” Senator Portman said. “Approving this amendment brings us one step closer to ensuring that disabled veterans are able to have their student loans forgiven expeditiously.”
BLINDED VETERANS TAKE ON RANGER TRAINING — THE TIMES — (NAPSI)—For two years, some of the toughest training in the military has been enjoyed by some pretty tough American veterans, in this case members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA).
With unusually high levels of strength, stamina and endurance, they spend a long weekend of rigorous U.S. Army Ranger training at Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Georgia.
With travel sponsored by BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee and the idea brought to fruition by the Association’s National Sergeant at Arms Danny Wallace, the trip to Camp Merrill and the subsequent training to be an Army Ranger is for the blinded veterans much like it is for actual Ranger recruits.
“We display our unstoppable drive not only to ourselves but to the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” Wallace affirmed after the first Ranger experience in 2015.
AMERICAN LEGION EXPRESSES MIXED REVIEW FOR PROPOSED VA BUDGET — PR NEWSWIRE — The American Legion shared discontentment for the House’s proposed 2017 Military Construction-VA (MILCON-VA) appropriations bill, while praising the Senate’s proposal.
Today both the Senate and the House put forth varying versions of MILCON-VA, with the Senate providing the requested funding for the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) and the House falling short of that request.
“We have serious concerns about funding shortfalls in future years. How does Congress expect the VA to provide adequate health care to our nation’s military veterans if they are not providing the needed funding to carry out those health care needs? We are grateful for the Senate’s proposal. However, The American Legion fully expects all of Congress to provide the much needed funds that the President is requesting for the VA,” American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett strongly expressed.
This follows much criticism in recent years of VA’s ability to treat military veterans and process disability claims and appeals in a timely manner, and also repair an aging and crumbling infrastructure that is suffering from mold and insect infestation.
ARMY VET WAS AMONG FIRST TROOPS SENT TO VIETNAM — THE BULLETIN — In the service: Barney Seney, 72, was among the first American soldiers sent to Vietnam in March 1965. Seney served in the U.S. Army from 1964-66 as part of the 716 Military Police Battalion Company B. The company served in Vietnam from March 1965 to April 1966. They were among the first 25,000 troops sent to Vietnam. When they shipped out there were 250,000 American troops in the country. “It was the early days,” Seney said. “We had no idea what we going into. When we arrived on the first day we were supposed to secure the embassy in Saigon and it was blown up with a car bomb.” Seney’s unit protected military leadership and escorted troops to their positions. He said there was a curfew in Saigon but the enemy would come for strategic positions by firing on troops and creating enough of a diversion to plant bombs to destroy hotels and other buildings. His company lost several soldiers during fighting. “But I had it real, real easy compared to some other guys,” Seney said. “We lost a commanding officer who was such a good man and we lost some other real good guys, too. But compared to other people it was a cake walk.” Seney said by the time he came home, Americans had begun protesting the war. “We were told not to wear our uniforms.”
HOUSE VOTES TO EXPAND BENEFITS FOR VIETNAM ‘BLUE WATER NAVY’ VETS — MILITARY TIMES — Veterans who served on Navy ships off Vietnam and have diseases linked to Agent Orange were buoyed Thursday by House passage of a measure that could expand their Veterans Affairs benefits.
An amendment added to the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill would require the department to presume these veterans were exposed to the toxic herbicide and provide health care and compensation if they are sick as a result.
The initiative still must pass the Senate before it becomes law, but it marks a major step forward for a cause that has languished in Congress and at the VA for years.
“Members from both sides of the aisle have been fighting to make sure these sailors get the health care they need,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. “We will never turn our backs on our service men and women.”
VA already has presumed that sailors and Marines who served on ships on inland waterways in Vietnam faced the same risks as those who served on the ground and provide them benefits if they have one of several diseases linked to herbicide exposure, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy.
FEDERAL EMPLOYEE GROUPS BLAST VETERANS FIRST ACT — FEDERAL TIMES — A group of 12 federal employee unions and associations are voicing their displeasure with several provisions in the Veterans First Act.
The group—which includes the Senior Executives Association, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association and Federal Managers Association—penned a May 18 letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., outlining three sections in the omnibus reform bill that the coterie said undermine employee rights.
“If enacted, these provisions would undermine constitutionally-guaranteed protections available to Department of Veterans Affairs employees who are subject to discipline for misconduct or performance,” the letter said. “Moreover, these provisions would fail to protect the integrity of services to our nation’s veterans by permitting the VA’s workforce to become vulnerable to undue political influence.”
BILL HITTING DUE PROCESS FOR VA STAFF IS OKAY WITH UNION — WASHINGTON POST — Senate legislation ripping due process rights for Department of Veterans Affairs employees is getting battered for being too strong and too weak at the same time.
While the bipartisan co-sponsors say the “Veterans First Act” would force greater accountability for VA staffers, a letter sent Wednesday by a dozen federal employee organizations points to ways the bill would “undermine constitutionally-guaranteed protections” and allow “the VA’s workforce to become vulnerable to undue political influence.”
The legislation was proposed by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The committee approved the bill with no dissent.
Most groups in the employee organization coalition don’t represent VA staffers. But those groups are worried that approval of the bill could establish a precedent undermining civil service protections across government.
ANOTHER BIG STEP: CONGRESS MOVES TO ALLOW VA DOCTORS TO RECOMMEND MEDICAL MARIJUANA TO VETERANS — ALTERNET — The House on Thursday approved an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that should ease access to medical marijuana for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), serious wounds, and other debilitating conditions.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure in its version of the appropriations bill last month. And later on Thursday, the Senate as a whole passed the appropriations bill.
Authored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Joe Heck (R-NV), the measure would bar the spending of federal funds to enforce a Veterans Health Administration policy that prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal. Once the measure becomes law, VA docs would no longer face penalties for discussing medical marijuana with patients or for providing recommendations for patients to participate in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
SENATE VOTES TO APPROVE VA FERTILITY TREATMENTS — MILCOM — A measure approved by the Senate on Thursday will allow military veterans with groin or reproductive injuries to receive fertility treatments through the Veterans Affairs Department.
The VA is currently prohibited under a 1980s-era law from paying for in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatments. The military health care program Tricare does cover the procedure for injured troops, but only while they are still on active duty.
The newly approved Senate measure would lift that VA ban.
“This amendment is about fulfilling our promise to the military families who we ask to sacrifice and serve our country on our behalf,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington State democrat who has long championed the change, said in a statement last month.
SBA GRANT ESTABLISHES UTA CENTER TO HELP VETERANS WITH ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS — EUREKALERT — The University of Texas at Arlington College of Business has been awarded a two-year, $500,000 Small Business Administration grant to establish a Veterans Business Outreach Center that will offer educational, training and consulting services to veterans who are starting a business or franchise.
The UTA Veterans Business Outreach Center is the second such center established in Texas, the center in the largest metropolitan area to date and the 19th center nationwide. Among the existing centers is one at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg.
The UTA grant will support:
HOUSE VOTES TO BAN BONUSES FOR SOME FEDERAL SENIOR EXECUTIVES — GOV EXEC — Senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department would not receive bonuses in fiscal 2017 under a major spending bill the House passed on Thursday.
The fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations measure includes a provision that prohibits the department from using any funds in the legislation for senior executives’ performance awards. It’s the first time the language has been included in the base MilCon-VA spending bill. An amendment banning bonuses for all VA senior executives was successfully added to the fiscal 2016 MilCon-VA legislation, but was not included in the eventual omnibus package Congress had to pass at the end of last year to avoid a government shutdown. There have been other legislative efforts over the past few years to limit or prohibit VA’s senior executive corps from receiving annual performance awards, for which they are eligibler under Title 5.
SENATORS LINK HIGHER TRICARE FEES TO HEALTH CARE GAINS — MILITARY ADVANTGAGE BLOG — The Senate Armed Services Committee is embracing some TRICARE fee increases proposed by the Obama administration, particularly for working age retirees and their families. But it links those fee hikes to some surprising and long overdue improvements in patient access and quality of care.
This is a far different and seemingly less strained approach than adopted by the House, which would delay most TRICARE fee increases for a generation so they impact only persons who enter the military after 2017 and begin to retire 20 or more years later.
On TRICARE fees alone, military beneficiaries almost certainly would prefer that the House provisions prevail when a conference committee meets to iron out differences in the two versions of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill. But Democrats charge that the House only was able to defer hard decisions on military compensation by voting to fund just seven months of Iraq and Afghanistan war operations next year.
DECAYING LONG ISLAND V.A. HOSPITAL CLOSES OPERATING ROOMS — NY TIMES — Usually, there are 10 operations a week scheduled at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island. But since mid-February, the hospital’s five operating rooms have stood empty and unused, shut down after sand-size black particles began falling from air ducts.
The ducts are part of the hospital’s HVAC system. Providing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, the system is integral to improving the hospital’s air quality and mitigating the airborne transmission of germs that could lead to infections.
Patients in need of surgical treatment have been sent to other facilities, such as Stony Brook University Hospital a half-hour away, or to sister facilities like the James J. Peters V.A. Medical Center in the Bronx or the Manhattan campus of the V.A.’s New York Harbor Healthcare System, said Philip Moschitta, Northport’s director. Others are being referred to the V.A.’s Choice Card program, which allows some veterans to obtain taxpayer-funded care from private doctors, though it has been troubled by delays.
HOUSE APPROVES MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS FUNDING BILL — US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES — The U.S. House today approved the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill (H.R.4974) on a bipartisan vote of 295-129.
The legislation contains $81.6 billion in funding – $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level – to house, train, and equip military personnel, to provide housing and services to military families, to maintain base infrastructure, and to support veterans’ benefits and programs. Of this funding, $63.3 billion was provided via an advance in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill last year.
Within this total, $73.5 billion is provided for the Department of Veterans Affairs – a 3 percent increase above fiscal year 2016 levels – including additional funding to address management problems and health care shortages, and to increase the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of its services to veterans.
LIES THEY TELL TRANSITIONING VETERANS: YOUR MOS IS YOUR DESTINY — MILCOM — For some years, all transitioning military personnel have been required to complete career planning classes before they leave active service. Known by acronyms like TAPS, ACAPS or GPS, these courses aim to confer to the soon-to-be veteran the skills, attitude and contacts he or she will need to conduct an effective job search. During those precious hours, well intentioned contract instructors labor to convey the best-practices experiences of the thousands of personnel who have transitioned before. Much of the content is good, like how to write a resume, but many of the learning points are unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. While teachers struggle to hold the attention of daydreaming of home men and women of all ranks, the service members learn lessons that will be damaging to their transitions. Veteran job seekers who are ambitious and driven will do well to beware of these counterproductive messages and in many cases do the opposite of what is taught.