01 March 2013

Workin' the Hill - walking the hallowed halls of Congress

On Thursday, February 27 I had the opportunity to review the C-123 veterans' issues with the knowledgeable staff of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and update them on the devices used by the VA to prevent our veterans' access to essential medical care.

Earlier, experts scientists from NIH had briefed the staff, and personnel from other legislators, regarding the scientific basic for our claims for exposure to Agent Orange. While perhaps only one C-123 veteran is a constituent of Senator Merkley, his enthusiasm for protecting that one veteran's entitlement to VA care is  the same as if thousands more Oregon vets were in the same boat. What is right, simply is right, and Senator Merkley makes that clear.

What his staff also makes clear is that the legislative backing for C-123 veterans is now bi-partisan, and bi-cameral, reflecting the interests of both parties and both houses of Congress. They will continue to press for us in the face of VA interagency and improper interpretation (could we say, creation of their own) laws regarding Agent Orange-exposed veterans. Having joined forces with Senator Burr (R-NC) who is Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Committee and Congresswoman Susanne Bonamici (D-OR) we have an effective legislative presence. Of course, it wouldn't hurt of C-123 veterans around the country worked hard to get their representatives in Congress to speak up on our behalf! (Hint!)

I also had the opportunity to update Merkley's folks on that morning's visit to the Army's Joint Services Records Research Center, which seems to have introduced some archival materials supportive of our exposure claims.

Later that afternoon, I went across the street to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, meeting with their legislative and veterans benefits staff to orient them to the concerns of our group. One of the two managers was already familiar, and we hope for another national resolution of support this summer, following their national convention. This VFW life member appreciates their leadership!

A full day. Followed by the appointment with VA's Director of the VA's Compensation Services, whose responsibility it is to deny C-123 veterans' claims. That department will review claims individually, and then deny them individually, using the same cookie-cutter phrases, in flat denial of outside scientific and medical expertise. The VA's "duty to assist" seems to have been completed (in their view) with the assignment to their staff, and to the staff of Veterans Health Administration, back in 2011, to prevent successful C-123 claims. Since the first teleconference which revealed their establishment of interpretations of scientific tests in a manner to prevent claims, nothing has changed, not a note has been made of any supporting opinions from a wide range of other federal agencies, universities and expert individual physicians and scientists.

Our hope: that the VA will offer suggestions on how our veterans can better prove our case. That the VA will guide us in the proper approach. That the VA will explain how our proofs could have been more persuasive. That the VA will have something they can tell us. That the VA will DO SOMETHING!

We'll see. We'll hope. After all, it is their duty, right?

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