Montana Legislative Issues
National Legislative Issues
Stay informed about the issues that affect Vietnam Veterans.
VA Mission Act Implemenation Date is June 6, 2019
VA’s improvements to Veteran community care under MISSION Act on track for June 6 implementation
As the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s signing of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 approaches on June 6, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making significant strides in implementing major improvements to community care for Veterans.
“The Veteran is at the center of everything we do,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “Through the MISSION Act, Veterans will have more choices than ever in getting timely, high-quality care. Most important, Veterans will be able to decide what is important and best for them.”
The MISSION Act will strengthen VA’s health care system by improving both aspects of care delivery and empowering Veterans to find the balance in the system that is right for them.
For full press release click here.
For more information click here.
Senate Passes Tester Bill to Eliminate Tax on Gold Star Families
Bipartisan legislation eliminates Trump’s tax on Defense Department benefits for surviving children
(U.S. Senate) – The Senate today unanimously passed legislation from U.S. Senator Jon Tester to eliminate the tax burden placed on Gold Star children and their families by President Trump’s disastrous tax bill. The bill’s passage comes on the same day Tester joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to call for passage of the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act, a push to help the more than 65,000 military widows and widowers nationwide receive the full survivor benefits they are due.
The Military Kiddie’s Tax Elimination Bill, also known as the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act, amends a provision in Trump’s 2017 tax bill that substantially increased taxes on children receiving survivor benefits because they lost a parent in the line of duty. The legislation retroactively reverses the increase for Fiscal Year 2018 and permanently repeals the malicious provision inserted in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.
“Gold Star families have endured the unimaginable on behalf of our nation,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “In return for the life of a loved one, our country provides these grieving families with some basic financial support. But these families have been subjected to loopholes that have slashed these basic benefits—and today is a step in the right direction towards the fix they deserve.”
In Montana, there are about 3,500 military survivors affected by the “Widow’s tax” and about 200 affected by the “Kiddie Tax.”
Houses passes H.R. 299 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Act
|Houses passes H.R. 299 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Act by a vote of 410-0
(Washington, D.C.) — “On the eve of the House vote on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, VVA applauds Veterans Affairs Chair Mark Takano (D-CA) and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN) for their leadership and their deep resolve in ensuring our Blue Water Navy veterans receive the healthcare and benefits they have earned by virtue of their service during the Vietnam War,” said John Rowan, VVA National President. “We expect that our Senators in the 116th Congress will do the right thing and pass the bill when it appears before them.”
H.R.299, the first bill introduced this Congress by Chair Takano, is similar to a bill that was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last Congress but was stalled in the Senate by Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), despite overwhelming bipartisan support. Members from both sides of the aisle will again vote to extend benefits to some 90,000 service members who served in the territorial waters off Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange.
“Contrary to the VA’s assertions, noted Rowan, “we have the science that shows the pathways of exposure to this insidious herbicide.” Earlier this year, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie voiced opposition to the legislation, reversing an earlier commitment by his predecessor, Dr. David Shulkin, to “do the right thing.” Secretary Wilke has now reversed his earlier position and has urged the administration not to appeal the U.S. Appeals Court decision in Alfred Procopio, Jr., V. Robert Wilkie, which will, in fact, restore healthcare and benefits to many veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam. It will also extend benefits to veterans who served in Thailand and those who served along the DMZ in Korea at any time. “We applaud Secretary Wilke for his support in moving forward to assist Blue Water Navy Veterans,” said Rowan.
In February 2002, the VA abruptly terminated benefits to the 534,300+ Blue Water U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and FMF Marine veterans, thereby limiting the scope of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam which encompassed ground forces and the inland rivers. Suddenly, offshore veterans stopped receiving VA health care and disability compensation. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, when signed into law, will right this wrong.
Mokie Pratt Porter
Director of Communications
Senate Passes Veterans Benefits and Transition Act
The United States Senate passed Ranking Member Jon Tester’s 21st bipartisan bill, capping off a landmark Congress with numerous victories for America’s veterans.
Tester’s Veterans Benefits and Transition Act contains 18 bipartisan bills, including the following six bipartisan Tester-authored bills to honor Native American veterans, better protect student veterans, and increase the transparency and accountability of the VA’s historic electronic health records transition.
The Servicemembers Improved Transition through Reforms for Ensuring Progress “SIT-REP” Act:Forces schools that receive G.I. Bill benefits to adopt a policy that it will not impose a late fee, restrict a student veterans’ access to campus facilities, or otherwise punish a student veteran due to a late payment of tuition or fees from the VA.
Tribal Veteran Burial Benefits Act:Authored by Tester and Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the VA can now provide headstones or burial markers to a Native American veteran’s spouse and dependents who wish to be buried alongside their loved one in a tribal veterans’ cemetery.
Veteran Debt Fairness Act:Following reports that the VA had been forcing veterans to repay benefits to the VA, Tester authored legislation with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to require the VA to update its information technology systems so that affected veterans are able to review and revise information about their dependents electronically.
Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act:Tester authored this legislation with Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) to require the VA to notify veterans with a straightforward, easy-to-understand electronic or standard mail notification of any debt that veteran owes to the VA and the steps they can take to dispute that debt.
Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act:As the VA undertakes the largest electronic health records change in history, Tester and Blumenthal authored legislation to make the modernization program’s key planning and implementation efforts more transparent and hold the VA accountable by requiring the VA to notify Congress in the event of any significant cost increase, schedule delay, loss of veteran health data or breach of privacy.
Veterans’ Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act:The VA is required to report on the possibility of expanding veterans’ access to dental care. By analyzing access and affordability through VA dental care, oral health needs of eligible veterans, and the number of providers needed to provide such care.
“This legislation is the product of hard work, compromise and bipartisanship,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Sending another VA reform bill to the President’s desk sends a clear message to our nation’s veterans: Serving our men and women in uniform is a responsibility that we should all take very seriously. I have been honored to work with Chairman Isakson this Congress to accomplish so much for our nation’s veterans.”
News from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Nov. 15, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Hypertension Upgraded in Latest Biennial Review of Research on Health Problems in Veterans That May Be Linked to Agent Orange Exposure During Vietnam War
WASHINGTON — The latest in a series of congressionally mandated biennial reviews of the evidence of health problems that may be linked to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War found sufficient evidence of an association for hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). The committee that carried out the study and wrote the report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 11 (2018), focused on the scientific literature published between Sept. 30, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2017.
From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed herbicides over Vietnam to strip the thick jungle canopy that could conceal opposition forces, destroy crops that those forces might depend on, and clear tall grass and bushes from the perimeters of U.S. bases and outlying encampments. The most commonly used chemical mixture sprayed was Agent Orange, which was contaminated with the most toxic form of dioxin. These and the other herbicides sprayed during the war constituted the chemicals of interest for the committee. The exact number of U.S. military personnel who served in Vietnam is unknown because deployment to the theater was not specifically recorded in military records, but estimates range from 2.6 million to 4.3 million.
Hypertension was moved to the category of “sufficient” evidence of an association from its previous classification in the “limited or suggestive” category. The sufficient category indicates that there is enough epidemiologic evidence to conclude that there is a positive association. A finding of limited or suggestive evidence means that epidemiologic research results suggest an association between exposure to herbicides and a particular outcome, but a firm conclusion is limited because chance, bias, and confounding factors could not be ruled out with confidence. The committee came to this conclusion in part based on a recent study of U.S. Vietnam veterans by researchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which found that self-reported hypertension rates were highest among former military personnel who had the greatest opportunity for exposure to these chemicals.
The committee concluded that there was sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to at least one of the chemicals of interest and MGUS, a newly considered condition. This finding is based on a recent study in which investigators found a statistically significant higher prevalence of MGUS in Vietnam veterans involved in herbicide spray operations than in comparison veterans. MGUS is a clinically silent condition that is a precursor to the cancer multiple myeloma, but only an estimated 1 percent of MGUS cases progress to multiple myeloma each year.
While some new studies suggest an association might exist between exposure to the chemicals of interest and Type 2 diabetes, the committee could not come to a consensus on whether this and the other available evidence continued to be limited or suggestive, or merited elevation to sufficient. Both newly and previously reviewed studies consistently show a relationship between well-characterized exposures to dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals and measures of diabetes health outcomes in diverse cohorts, including Vietnam veteran populations. The risk factors for diabetes, such as age, obesity, and family history of the disease, were controlled for in the analyses of most studies reviewed. However, some members of the committee believed that the lack of exposure specificity and the potential for residual uncontrolled confounding influences complicated attribution of the outcome to the chemicals of interest.
In addition, VA asked the committee to focus on three health outcomes: possible generational health effects that may be the result of herbicide exposure among male Vietnam veterans, myeloproliferative neoplasms, and glioblastoma multiforme. The evidence of association for exposure to the chemicals of interest and glioblastoma (and other brain cancers) remains inadequate or insufficient, the committee concluded. While it is appropriate for VA be mindful of the concerns raised about the possible association between Vietnam service and glioblastoma, the outcome is so rare and the information concerning herbicide exposures so imprecise, that it is doubtful that any logistically and economically feasible epidemiologic study of veterans would produce meaningful results regarding the association between exposures and the disease. For this reason, the committee recommended that VA should focus on fostering advancements to inform improved glioblastoma treatment options.
There are relatively few studies on the health effects of paternal chemical exposures on their descendants, and none address Vietnam veterans specifically. Therefore, the committee recommended further specific study of the health of descendants of male Vietnam veterans.
Myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelodysplastic syndromes are diseases of the blood cells and bone marrow. The committee’s search of epidemiologic literature yielded only one relevant paper on these diseases — a study of these cancers in Vietnam veterans that was reviewed in a previous update. Given this paucity of research, the committee recommended that investigators should examine existing databases on myeloid diseases to determine whether there are data available that would allow for an evaluation of myeloproliferative neoplasms in Vietnam veterans and others who have been exposed to dioxin and the other chemicals of interest.
Although progress has been made in understanding the health effects of military herbicide exposure and the mechanisms underlying these effects, significant gaps in knowledge remain. The committee restated recommendations for research activities outlined in previous updates in this series, including toxicologic, mechanistic, and epidemiologic research. Such work should include efforts to gain more complete knowledge through the integration of information in existing U.S. Department of Defense and VA databases.
The committee noted that the difficulty in conducting research on Vietnam veteran health issues should not act as a barrier to carrying out such work. There are many questions regarding veterans’ health that can only be adequately answered by examining veterans themselves, thereby properly accounting for the totality of the military service experience.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.