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Washington Update for week of June 25th

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

House Passes Blue Water Navy Bill

 

 

On Monday of this week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which would partially restore the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to those who served on ships in the bays, harbors and territorial seas of South Vietnam.

Agent Orange is a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. It is known to be associated with certain health issues in people who have been exposed to the chemical. According to The Agent Orange Act of 1991, if a veteran served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and has a disease that has been associated with exposure to Agent Orange, they are automatically presumed to have been exposed to it and therefore qualify for disability compensation.

However, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) interpretation of this law, only veterans who have set foot on the landmass of Vietnam or served in Vietnam's inland waterways, known as "Brown Water" veterans, qualify for the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange. This does not include "Blue Water Navy" veterans, who served on ships off the coast.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 would extend the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to veterans who served in the Blue Water Navy.

The legislation also extends the presumption of herbicide exposure for veterans who served on or near the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971. And it would extend health care, vocational training & rehabilitation and monetary allowance to a child who was born with spina bifida if at least one of the child's parents served in Thailand between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 and the Secretary determined that at least one of the parents had been exposed to a herbicide agent during that period.

The bill now moves to the Senate and expectations are that it will go through without much trouble.

TREA supports the bill because the Blue Water Navy Veterans need and deserve this presumption. However, we have been troubled and disappointed that the only way some leaders in the House would agree to this legislation was to reduce the benefits of other veterans in order to pay for the bill.

This has apparently become the way those leaders in Congress have decided to pay for any new veterans' program and we believe it absolutely wrong.

 

 

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Commissaries in the News - Again

 

 

We have reported in the past on changes being made in the commissary system because of pressure from Congress to either reduce or eliminate taxpayer support for commissaries. The Department of Defense has already concluded that without some taxpayer support, the benefit would disappear.

But because of that Congressional pressure DoD has been moving forward with changes to try and reduce expenses. The latest effort is the appointment of a task force to determine the feasibility, economies and efficiencies of combining the business operations of the exchange system with AAFES, NEX and MCX. That study is expected to be completed later this year but we expect them to conclude it would create the efficiencies they are seeking and that they will move ahead with combining the operations. They have stated, however, that they are only talking about the "back room" operations. The stores themselves would remain the same.

The latest wrinkle in the commissary sage came last Friday at a forum in Washington, D.C.. According to a report on Military.com, "All veterans may be able to shop in commissaries and exchanges in the future, if Defense Department officials are successful in pushing their proposal. Officials have asked Congress to allow veterans who haven't already earned the shopping benefit as retirees, as well as civilian employees, to be able to shop in the stores, said Stephanie Barna, special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness."

Although that change is not likely to happen this year, Ms Barna stated that they will keep pushing the idea. "It's something that's very important to us," she said, "and it's something I think ultimately we will achieve."

There is a different change that has a good chance of taking place this year. A provision to allow Purple Heart recipients, veterans with service-connected disabilities, former prisoners of war, and caregivers of these veterans to shop at commissaries and exchanges, and to use morale, welfare and recreation facilities, has been included in the House version of the NDAA. However, it is not included in the Senate version of the bill so they will have to decide whether to include it in the final bill.

 

 

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Report on Water Contamination at 126 CONUS Military Installations is Out

 

 

Last week the first in-depth look at the health risks created by chemical compounds, known commonly as PFOS and PFOA, which are found in hundreds of military water sources at 126 installations across the United States and what illnesses may be linked to even minimal exposure to them was released.

The chemical compounds found in military fire-fighting foam (as well as other types of fire-fighting foam), perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, are "hardy, toxic chemicals that do not degrade in soil or water, and can be absorbed by humans through drinking water, or through the soil or air. The compounds even reach fetuses of pregnant women. The study reported the chemicals have been found in umbilical cords and human breast milk," according to the Military Times.

It found that human exposure could be associated with 'pregnancy complications, thyroid issues, liver damage, asthma, decreased responsiveness to vaccines, decreased fertility and kidney and testicular cancer.'

The report's findings were based on multiple studies of populations near contaminated water sources, civilian as well as military. However, causality could not be directly established because there could have been multiple ways a person could have been exposed instead of just drinking water. The compounds are present in everyday household goods, but are concentrated in firefighting foam, meaning that concentrations around military installations, airports and fire stations tend to be higher.

Here is the full list of installations (from DOD).

Also from Military Times: "Based on 187 peer-reviewed studies where laboratory rats or other animals directly ingested the compounds, the results were more dire. At the highest dosages, the animals experienced liver or other organ failure. At significantly decreased exposure levels the subject rats survived but had increased prenatal loss in pregnant lab rats, and increased loss of the pups after birth. Long-term effects at lower doses included long-term impacts to rat testes and ovaries.

The 'Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls' was produced by the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). To leave a public comment on the report, the study directed respondents to go to regulations.gov. There the study can be searched by name."

TREA has been working with a group called the Veterans & Civilian Clean Water Alliance. This group grew out of veterans who all became sick after serving at the former Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan, but works for everyone who suffers from water contamination across the country. Their goal is to receive the same kind of remedy as those who were exposed to TCE in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. For more information, or to join them at http://veteransandcivilianscleanwateralliance.org/.

The fy 2018 and fy2019 National Defense Authorization Acts contained funding for a nationwide study that will look at eight to 10 military bases to study the effects of PFOS and PFOA exposure. The 2019 bill also supports creation of a national registry for service members, their families and the public to report exposure to the contaminants.

This goes to show that Congress is aware of the problem, but they need more of a push from those they represent. Please, if this issue is important to you, let your member of Congress and BOTH of your Senators know. Thank you.

 

 

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Congress Works on Defense Funding Bill

 

 

The bill that authorizes DoD to spend money - the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fy2019 - is now in a Senate-House conference committee where they will work out the differences between the two versions and come up with one bill that will be sent back to each body for final approval.

At the same time, both the House and the Senate are working on their versions of the fy2019 Defense Appropriations bill, which will provide the money that DoD can spend in the 2019 fiscal year.

The House bill they are working on will provide money for the 2.6 percent pay raise for active duty personnel that the NDAA authorizes. It also provides money to raise the end strength of the armed services by over 15,000 additional personnel. This is divided up between the four branches within DoD with the Navy receiving the most new personnel and the Marine Corps the fewest.

The bill the Senate is working on provides money for the same military pay raise of 2.6 percent. However, it only pays for 6,961 additional personnel for the services, which must be negotiated with the House so they can come up with one figure.

Both bodies have several more steps to take before they finish work on the appropriations bill and TREA will be watching closely and keep you posted about any important developments.

 

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