Thoughts on the First Nine Months of the 114th Congress

A look at any of the news channels shows a Congress that appears to be in disarray and certainly the last couple of weeks have been full of surprises and a bit of chaos. That being said, the 114th Congress has been a good one for veterans. The session started with unanimous passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act. This Congress has also passed the Veteran’s ID Card Act, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act of 2015, Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 and the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2015. Additionally 87 bills dealing with veterans, from jobs bills to VA reform bills have passed one chamber and are awaiting action across the Hill.

 Two very important bills that are still pending in Committee are the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 969/S681) and the Toxic Exposure Research Act (HR 1769/S901).

 The Blue Water bill will extend the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to those who served aboard ships in the bays, harbors and territorial seas. It is well documented that the Agent Orange sprayed in Vietnam drifted out to the sea where the shipboard distillation system enriched it before distilling it to the potable water system. Military-Veterans Advocacy has provided written and oral testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and visited hundreds of Congressional and Senatorial offices in support of this bill. Currently we have 285 co-sponsors in the House and 31 in the Senate. Military-Veterans Advocacy testified at a Senate Committee oversight hearing on September 29. There was obvious and strong support for this bill on the Committee as Senators grilled the VA. Military-Veterans Advocacy also filed an amicus brief in the Gray v McDonald case that declared the exclusion fo bays and harbors from the presumption of exposure irrational. Military-Veterans Advocacy Executive Director, Commander John B Wels, USN (Retired) has met twice with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson in an attempt to formulate a new regulation. A draft regulation that would have not extended the presumption has been discarded and a new draft regulation is at the White House for a Presidential and Office of Management and Budget review. Military-Veterans Advocacy urges all veterans to use the contact form on the White House web site to urge the President to approve the draft regulation and extend the presumption of exposure. Or call the White House comment line 202-456-1111.

 The Toxic Exposure Research Act will establish a permanent research site to look into all forms of toxic exposure. This will include Agent Orange in areas such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Panama, Guam, Johnston Island and Fort McClellan. The research component will also examine other toxic exposures such as radiation, depleted uranium, asbestos, petroleum fires, burn pits and other sources of contamination. This bill calls for investigation of the effect on veterans but also on their descendants. Military-Veterans Advocacy strongly supports this bill and see it as the follow on to the Blue Water Navy bill. The House bill has 107 co-sponsors and the Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors. There is strong interest int his bill as well and Military-Veterans Advocacy testified in support of it during the September 29 hearing. This bill would result in the type of proactive research done in other countries such as Australia, who discovered the connection between Agent Orange and the Blue Water Navy.

 We are not quite at the half way point of this Congress. Much is being done. More needs to be done. As a priority, the Blue Water Navy bill and the Toxic Exposure bill need t be adopted within the next few months. 2016 is an election year and that will shift attention away from key legislation. Please contact your members of Congress and Senators and ask them to act now.

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