President of Vietnam Veterans of America’s State Council Addresses the Council
Larry Holman, the President of the State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, spoke to the Council at its 21 March business meeting on the topic of the “Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) — Not Forgetting Its or the Next Generations.”
First, he explained its origins. VVA came into being because existing veterans organizations at the time were not always welcoming to returning Vietnam veterans – many felt rejected. However, it did not really get started as an organization until the late 1970’s, early 1980’s. It realized there was strength in numbers. Out of their own experiences, came its founding principle and its motto: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” More on its history can be found on its website.
Mr. Holman stated VVA is an active organization and an outspoken advocate for the current generation of war veterans. There is good reason. There are concerns over hazardous exposures, let alone trauma injuries.
Agent Orange exposure illnesses have been a major issue for VVA and it has been at the forefront of getting the government to recognize them. Gradually presumptive conditions have been added based on sound statistical, class studies. Unfortunately, some, such as Senator Tom Coburn, want a more causal relationships established. This is wrong and unfair, Mr. Holman stated. He then went on to list some of the diseases associated with Agent Orange [See our Hazardous Exposures page].
He went onto state that organizations like his “help legislators to understand the picture and what is involved.”
Their education committee is concerned about abuses by for profit colleges in regards to the new GI Bill. He stated these colleges aggressively market but their credits are not necessarily transferrable. They formed their own organization to accredit themselves and so could say yes to the question of transferrable credits. “After four years they get out with a worthless piece of paper and are in debt.” As a result the VVA is working on legislation to fix the situation.
Employment is another concern. Mr. Holman, like many others, figures it leads to other problems, then recited a list of them to include alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, marital problems, etc.
He believes there has been systematic discrimination against the hiring of veterans by Pennsylvania governments. He recounted that Jack Wagner, Auditor General, has confirmed the problem with civil service hires. A recently passed law requiring that a veteran be on the Civil Service Commission is not enough. Holding managers accountable by requiring them to formally explain a decision not to hire a veteran would help.
Their legislative affairs committee has been active and, together with National chairpersons for homelessness and women’s programs, has testified before state Senator Baker, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
It should be remembered that the Vietnam Veterans of America led the fight on accountability and survivors rights in regard to the POW/MIA issue – something affected families wanted and needed.
Proper assistance in PTSD and substance abuse, the creation Veterans ID cards (in Pennsylvania) and also the implementation of Veterans Diversion Courts are other front and center issues. In fact, the Pennsylvania state organization is working on a sentencing mitigation bill, modeled on those of Texas and California. As act of fairness, since many veterans were sentenced before PTSD was recognized or as a contributing factor was acknowledged, he also believes some incarcerated ought to have another review.
Mr. Holman pointed out that VVA has excellent websites and in addition to national’s, recommended the websites of the State Council and Chapters 415 (Lehigh Valley area) and 266 (Philadelphia area). He remarked that one can follow legislative activity in Pennsylvania by going to the Chapter 266 newsletter on their site.
Before taking questions, he wrapped up by saying that not enough of the approximate 350,000 Vietnam era veterans [the eligibility condition] in Pennsylvania have joined veterans organizations, VVA in particular. Nationally, it has only 65,000 members and some 650 chapters. Despite this, it has been amazingly successful organization in advocating for the needs of veterans, not only those of its generation.
Finally, he put in a plug for the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, an auxiliary but independent organization. Any concerned citizen or veteran, young or old, can join it.
Len deRoche asked for those organizations interested in visiting nursing homes to step forward and contact him. The need exists to visit private institutions. Veterans who live there are often forgotten in comparison to those in state-run and VA veterans homes.
The subcommittee, co-chaired by Bob Rothenberger and Phil Hublitz, met on 14 March. Sixty-one schools, colleges and military units have been notified. Seven applications received. All is on schedule. Application deadline is 15 May. Details of the program can be found on our Internet sites.
Joan Ross announced the Rittersville Fire Hall Auxiliary will conduct on 13 April, asecond annual Basket Bingo at the Rittersville Fire Company, 2034 Hanover Avenue, Allentown. Tickets are on sale for $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. One way to reserve yours is by emailing the LVMAC office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds are to be donated to LVMAC for its programs.
Pat diLuzio, our subcommittee chair, will be attending Allentown’s Commission to End Chronic Homelessness meeting on 26 March.
Victory House is again seeking funds from LVMAC, as was done last year, to receive a matching grant from the Alan Shawn Feinstein Foundation. This is an example of how LVMAC sometimes can multiply the use of its funds to meet the needs of the local military veterans community: we look for such opportunities. We are regionally oriented. You can help also by donating to Victory House in the name of the Feinstein Foundation’s “End Hunger Challenge.” For additional details or to give online, go to www.victoryhouselv.org.
Dave Newton and his subcommittee have launched our Employment Workshops. It has marketed its product to over 70 organizations – churches, units, businesses, and government organizations. We started workshops 7 March at the Fowler Center down the road. Currently we have three clients and two more potential ones. Persistence will be required in building a client base. If you are interested or know of someone interested, go our blogsite or website to learn more and to apply.
Unemployment leads to a host of problems. For that reason, the AFL-CIO is holding a resource fair for those who are unemployed on 12 April at the IBEW Hall at 12th and Liberty in Allentown. It is one of the five planned for the state. This should give you an idea of the seriousness of the problem in the valley, despite all the “happy talk” you see in the newspapers. View it as a survival fair. These are some of the organizations attending: Capital Blue Cross, Lehigh County, CareerLink, Educational Opportunity Center, Easton Area Community Center, Second Harvest Food Bank, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Hispanic American Organization, Family Answers, Salvation Army, and lastly, the VA.
HEALTHCARE IN OUR COMMUNITY WITH THE VA (HOCVA)
Eric Johnson conducted his third meeting on 15 March with the VA Liaison Officers from the hospitals and other service providers. The next meeting will be at the VA clinic. The current tasks are:
- 1. Complete an assessment of the current state of mental health and medical services by non-VA hospitals in our area.
2. Develop a protocol to pre-identify/actively screen for veteran patients in order to factor military experience into diagnosis and treatment plans (tailored care).
3. Compile a resource guide or manual to assist in the previous item.
4. Design and deliver education to clinicians and others related to veteran culture and health care implications of military experience.
We are currently awaiting a response to a letter we have sent requesting a CEO level meeting, among other items, of hospital executives with the Director of Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, hopefully at their hospital. This has never been done before in our area. If the VHA wants to improve community partnerships and collaborations, we are going to help them achieve it.
We have also just invited the county Departments of Health Services to become involved.
MILITARY SUPPORT PROGRAM
Dick Moore has distributed about 400 of our new “family PTSD Booklet” entitled Veterans and Families’ Guide to Recovering from PTSD. In March’s VAC we discussed ways to improve the distribution of this product, which has received favorable comments.
Example: Dottie Niklos is in the process of distributing the booklet to district magistrates, police chiefs, and common pleas court judges in Northampton County. Why? Because the booklet identifies PTSD indicators and resources like the Veterans Sanctuary which can be used. Hopefully it will encourage those in authority to seek their treatment and not incarceration. We are going to see if someone in Lehigh County will do the same.
VETERANS SANCTUARY SUPPORT
Treatment Trends’ “Supporting the Homefront Program”, despite massive marketing (200 individuals in 150 organizations and offices), has failed. Not a little of it was due to the failure of government officials in recognizing its value as a supplemental tool. Treatment Trends (TTI) has recommended its cessation. However, the failure releases committed funds to be used for another purpose which LVMAC has had in mind for some while. Due to administrative delays in state government funding and state Bureau of Drug and Alcohol policies, veterans are sometimes delayed or denied treatment they desperately need. It can mean the difference between life and death. We have talked to Treatment Trends about establishing a zero-interest revolving loan program to remedy the situation, to be repaid by the veteran when able. There are several advantages to this. They have agreed.
Therefore, our committee has just provided a seed grant of $13,500 for this year (in installments based on observed use). They can then use the fund to solicit matching funds from other corporations. (On that note, VVA Chapter 415 has submitted a letter of support for a grant from the Veterans Support Foundation.)
No longer will a veteran have to wait for service because of finances.
In discussions with LVMAC, the state DAV has agreed to send a service officer to the Allentown VA Clinic on the first Monday of every month. The VFW has agreed to send a service officer to Victory House and Veterans Sanctuary as needed.
As you might know, we have been more than a vocal supporter of having a separate department of veterans affairs in this state with a cabinet level secretary. The present arrangement under the National Guard is unsatisfactory. We have just learned that the State Council of the VVA has adopted a resolution calling for the same. You should know that started with a Lehigh Valley Chapter, VVA Chapter 415. Something is going on. American Legion District 30 and VFW District 8 have done the same. And I hear the local Jewish War Veterans is considering advocating for a separate department. This is good news for all. It will be a long battle for something the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council once advocated for itself and strangely has turned a blind eye to itself, once Act 66 money for veterans service officers arrived.
PA Voter Law may affect disabled veterans: A controversial proposal requiring all Pennsylvania voters to show certain photo identification at their polling places could make it more difficult for many disabled veterans to cast ballots. The legislation being debated by the state House would not permit disabled veterans to use photo ID cards issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that are not stamped with an expiration date. Republicans who support the voter ID measure say the intention of the bill is to crack down on voter fraud, and they say requiring voters to produce a recent photo is crucial to the effort. But critics say the legislation is a slap in the face to Americans who served their country and are merely seeking to exercise their civic duty. Contact your state representatives if you take issue with this proposed change. [Source: Lancasteronline.com Tom Murse article 12 Mar 2012]
The new Philadelphia Regional Office Director was named 5 March. Mr. Robert McKenrick was expected, coming from another agency, was expected to arrive last week.
eBenefits: This is the sister product of MyHealthyVet and has uses, to include tracking one’s claim if one has what they call Level 2 clearance. It seems to have added value as the National Call Center system reportedly is having problems, like answering the phone. Going to a hospital where a VBA employee is located or down to the Philadelphia Regional Office to enroll can be a pain. So we contacted the Philadelphia Regional Office. While there are no plans to have eBenefits offered at medical center clinics. However, there is some good news is that remote person proofing is now available. However, those veterans who receive direct deposit can dial 1-800-827-1000 and Press 7 (The same telephone number which is having problems being answered.). To complete the remote proofing process, the Veteran must validate certain forms of identification, such as the checking or savings account number of the direct deposit, the name of the financial institution or routing number, and the exact payment amount, all of which is in addition to the basic ID protocol requirements. The Veteran will also be required to provide information on one primary form of identification (e.g., federal or state government ID, passport, Sponsor’s ID card, etc.) [Source: Eileen Kostic, Public Contact, Philadelphia VARO]
VA Launches Personalized Health Benefits Handbook: Veterans enrolled in the health care system of the Department of Veterans Affairs have begun to receive personalized booklets that explain their health care benefits and contain other useful information.
The new booklet, called a Health Benefits Handbook, will provide a personalized listing of health benefits based on each Veteran’s specific eligibility. The handbook will also have contact information for their local VA medical facilities, appointment scheduling information, guidelines for communicating with their clinical team and, as applicable, information about copays.
Distribution of the handbooks began February and starts with Priority Group 1 and is expected to be completed by 2013. Updates will occur to reflect changes to a veteran’s benefits or eligibility. It is also expected there will be an online version for MyHealthyVet
For more information about the Health Benefits Handbook, visit www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhbh or call VA’s toll-free number at 1-877-222-VETS (8387). [Source: VA Press Release, 22 Feb 2012; NAUS Weekly Update, 10 Feb 2012]
PROJECT HEALING WATERS FLY FISHING
The fly tying courses, free to veterans, continue. The next major event is a Fly Fishing Outing is scheduled for May 5th 2012 at Bob Saks’ Pond.
21 March 2012