Friday, May 25, 2012

As We Celebrate Memorial Day


This weekend many of us will join with friends and love ones to honor our brave men and women in uniform.

Since our nation’s founding, many have given their lives in service to our flag and our country.  On Memorial Day we pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Having served our nation in a time of war, we join with all Americans in thanking our troops and all other veterans and military families for their service and commitment to our great country.

We wish all a very Happy Memorial Day to you and to your family.  Remember that we wouldn't be the land of the free if we weren't the home of the brave.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

VVA Seeks President’s Help to Study Dow’s Dioxin Corn Seed


Vietnam Veterans of America Press Release | May 23, 2012 

The following is the text of a letter sent earlier today by John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), to President Barack Obama.

“Your obvious concern and efforts on behalf of the health and well-being of America’s veterans and military families, and the overall health of our nation, are very much appreciated by Vietnam Veterans of America. This is why VVA seeks your immediate assistance in staying the deregulation of Dow Agro science’s much ballyhooed 2,4-D-resistant corn seed until an environmental impact study can be conducted and its subsequent results evaluated by scientists who are not affiliated with Dow Agro science.

“To date, no fewer than seven environmental statutes bear on the registration and deregulation of this crop, bred to withstand high levels of herbicides, including 2,4-D, technically known as a chlorinated phenoxy acid in ester form, which comprised what was commonly called Agent Orange, known for the orange stripe around the 55-gallon drums in which this insidious defoliant was stored and shipped during the Vietnam War.

Although there is a lot that science has learned about the effects of dioxin on the human organism, there is still a lot that science has yet to learn. We do know, for instance, the dioxin builds up in the soft fatty tissue, where it remains for years and can do considerable damage. Now, Dow and Monsanto wish to release genetically modified corn that has increased resistance to 2,4-D. What will this mean to Vietnam vets, who have already been exposed to this chemical through our military service? To our progeny? We believe there has been little serious epidemiological investigation by the VA or the CDC or the NIH into this very real issue. To add insult to potential injury, Dow’s naming of this weed-control method “Enlist” is, unintended or not, a slap at all Vietnam veterans.

 “The USDA did perform an environmental assessment on this seed and concluded that its deregulation would have no “significant” impact on the environment. We disagree. We submitted formal comments regarding this issue in a letter on April 27, 2012, to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Given what we know, we have major concerns about the effects on biodiversity, human health, cumulative environmental impacts, and the security of the world’s food supply.      

“The increased use of 2,4-D could significantly harm the economic interests of farmers who grow broadleaf crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, and grapes, which are damaged by 2,4-D. The potential for cross-pollination and destruction of other varieties of corn and other crops has not been seriously addressed in the environmental assessment, although it is a factor in whether or not this corn is a plant pest and can itself be considered a noxious weed because of its impacts on other plant species. Dow has also acknowledged that its ultimate goal for its new variety of corn is to eventually seize the market. Should this come to pass, USDA fails to address how increased use of Dow’s product could then impact human health.

“Democracy and free markets cannot exist without an informed citizenry. We have not been provided with enough information to make intelligent decisions regarding the protection of other plants, human health, and the security of the world’s food supply if Dow’s petition moves forward. USDA’s APHIS program has prepared an environmental assessment that raises more questions than it answers, and raises concerns of significant impacts to the future of our crops, our world food supply, and our natural environment. NEPA and the CEQ require an environmental impact statement be prepared under 40 C.F.R. § 1508. We are not calling for a complete ban of this new product at this time. We are simply not willing to be lied to or withheld information from again. Vietnam veterans were lied to about our exposure to chemicals which claimed many lives long after our troops left Southeast Asia.

“Mr. President, at the time when we honor veterans who have laid the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom, we ask that you honor the public trust and continue to regulate Dow’s product until the USDA performs a proper environmental impact statement on this major federal action and opens the process to appropriate public involvement.

“We thank you for all you have done for veterans and our families, and for active-duty troops and their families.”
 
Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation’s only congressionally chartered veteran’s service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA's founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Accessing VA & DoD Information is Getting Easier

May 21, 2012 by Rob Reynolds

It’s great to see how access is changing since the end of my service with the 82ndAirborne Division and U.S. Army Special Forces when a parachute accident ended my military career. Ever since then, I’ve had to learn how to navigate VA. While I now work for VA, I’m still just like many of you. When I got out of the service, I didn’t have a clue about VA or how to navigate the system. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows a bit about the concept of “hurry up and wait.” My experience as a service-connected disabled Veteran trying to access benefits was no different. But I’m here to tell you, I believe VA is changing and while it is not perfect, we’re stepping up to give you the service and support that you have earned and deserve.

For years now I’ve listened to my fellow Veterans, service members and their families talk about VA and ask, “Why can’t the process be easier and less cumbersome?” or, “When is VA going to modernize and improve customer service?” People want better, easier and faster access to services and benefits.  Yet as much as I’ve heard some people complain, I’ve also met a ton of folks who still don’t know anything about VA and the benefits they are entitled to. There are more than 22 million Veterans in the US and yet only 8 million currently use VA in some form. We know that 73 percent of Veterans who do use VA want to connect via online, but many still don’t know about what online resources the VA offers.

VA has been working hard as part of our Veterans Relationship Management (VRM) initiative to fundamentally transform your access to VA benefits and services.  A big part of this effort is the eBenefits web portal.  eBenefits is a joint VA & DoD initiative that gives Veterans, service members and their family members free, 24/7 access to more than 41 VA & DoD-related self-service features, with more coming each quarter. eBenefits is the single online source for lifelong access to VA & DoD benefits information. More than 1.4 million users are now registered on eBenefits, but we need to ensure all of our fellow veterans are registered.

Now I realize eBenefits is not perfect, but I also know firsthand that the access and capabilities now being provided didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. There are also a lot of dedicated folks working hard every day many that are also fellow Veterans and Disabled Veterans to try and give us what we need and have been asking for.

I know the biggest complaint we still get is about how hard it is to find out about the status of your claims. You should know that nine thousand people are checking their claims status every month on eBenefits. Are you one of them? Do you know that with eBenefits you can submit your benefits claim electronically, monitor VA benefits payments, view scheduled VA appointments, get a civil service preference letter for federal hiring and much more?

I know that many Vets and transitioning service members are looking for jobs and soon you’ll be able to search for jobs within the VA, receive employment counseling, and apply for VA Compensation Benefits using a wizard style tool. We’ve also just launched a new feature to streamline the eBenefits registration process and make verifying your identity easier.  You can now obtain your premium account all on-line using the registration wizard, which means you no longer have to visit a VA Regional Office or call the 1-800 number that is hard to get through and why I like the on-line ability with additional features getting delivered every quarter.  We’re constantly listening to your feedback to improve the site and give you more of what you want and need.

Now yes, I work for VA, but this isn’t just about doing my job. For those that know me, I live it every day. I want to make sure you don’t have to go through the same things I did all those years ago.  eBenefits is the easier way to connect with VA & DoD, and once you register, you have an account for life.  Go to the eBenefits home page, check it out and register for your free, personalized eBenefits account today. I’m registered and I hope you will take the time to register as well.  I need your help in making sure our fellow comrades are aware, so please pass the word.

Rob Reynolds is service-connected disabled Veteran and the Director of Benefits Assistance Service at the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 2012 Newsletter

The May Newsletter is going out today in emails, and tomorrow in the U.S. Mail.  If you haven't got your copy yet and would like to read it now, click this link.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. More about the Veterans Crisis Line.