Bill would give disabled vets free TSA Precheck

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A new bill backed by U.S. Army Reserves veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth would waive the TSA Precheck fee for veterans with disabilities.

Duckworth, D-Illinois, is a Purple Heart recipient who lost both her legs in combat in Iraq, so she personally understands the problem.

“I’ve been taken into a separate room to strip so that they can see my devices,” she recalled. “It was a full pat down every single time. And for a while, they were X-raying our limbs.”

“I got a pretty thorough pat down,” Sherman Gillums, another veteran who uses a wheelchair, described. “I was very uncomfortable. It was out in public. … It got to a point where I had to file a complaint.”

Duckworth said X-rays are no longer routine, but getting through Transportation Security Administration checks at the airport is still a hassle and it’s time to make it easier for those who have served.

“I figure if you’ve been wounded in the defense of this country, you probably should be given a little bit of a break,” she said.

TSA Precheck allows approved flyers to speed through security without waiting in line or pat downs. But it costs money: $85 for a five-year plan. Duckworth’s bill would waive the fee for about 300,000 veterans with disabilities.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Many of our veterans are unemployed, especially our disabled veterans, and they need a little bit of a help.”

“We want those men and women to get out of their house and see the world if that’s their desire and for the world itself to be more accommodating,” said Gillums, who’s with veteran service organization AMVETS.

A veteran of the U.S. Marines, he was paralyzed 17 years ago during a training exercise.

“In this small way, there’s a chance to show veterans that they’re appreciated,” he said. “It’s not a lot to ask to spend a little more on the people who suffered loss at the hands of defending freedom.”

Duckworth said her bill has bipartisan support. She hopes it will pass Congress by the end of the year.

Blue Water Update

Good evening —

I hope that you are all having a nice weekend. 

A few updates tonight: 

(1) I’ve received several emails asking whether Secretary Wilkie’s stay of Blue Water Navy claims until January 1, 2020, means that Blue Water Navy Veterans “should not bother filing or re-opening a claim” until that date arrives. 

The answer to that question is a resounding NO! 

Please do not delay in pursuing these claims. If you wait to file until January 1, 2020, then you will wind up losing several months of payments if the claim is granted. File now and preserve the earliest possible effective date for the claim. 

(2) The VA issued a press release late in the afternoon yesterday concerning claims filed under the Blue Water Navy Act. 

This press release confirms that when the VA does begin processing claims filed under the Blue Water Navy Act, two categories of claimants will receive priority in claims processing: Veterans over the age of 85 and Veterans who have a “life-threatening illness.” 

Here is a link to the press release: 

https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5280

(3) Many of you have asked how the VA will calculate the effective date for Blue Water Navy Veterans whose original claims were denied. 

The VA just released a “Fact Sheet” regarding Blue Water claims. Of particular interest is the following language: 

“Presumptive Agent Orange conditions granted for Blue Water Navy Veterans may be retroactive to the date VA received your original claim. If you had a previously denied claim and you resubmit your claim, the effective date will be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

With this language, the VA appears to be opening the door to granting at least some re-opened Blue Water cases back to the original date of claim. 

We do not yet know what rationale the VA will use to grant or not grant these retroactive payments. This language is from a VA-issued fact sheet, not from a law or regulation. However, it at least keeps the door ajar for at least some of these cases to be granted back to the effective date of the original claim. 

(4) Lastly, please remember that under 38 C.F.R. 3.156(c), if a claim is re-opened with military records that the VA did not consider when adjudicating the original claim, the effective date of that re-opened claim is always the original date of claim. 

The Blue Water Navy Act has no effect on this regulation. Therefore, if you can provide relevant military records that the VA failed to consider when deciding the original claim, and you are successful in winning the re-opened claim, then the VA should establish the original date of claim as the effective date, regardless of whether this re-opened claim is for a Blue Water Navy Veteran. 

Please let me know if you have any questions. I will continue to provide more updates as new information becomes available. 

Thank you, as always, for everything that you do. 

Respectfully, 

Benjamin Pomerance 

Deputy Director for Program Development 

New York State Division of Veterans’ Services 

Nave Blue Water Veterans

Good morning —

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Independence Day celebration. 

Many of you have asked me how quickly the VA will begin processing disability compensation claims for Blue Water Navy Veterans, now that the Blue Water Navy Act has been signed into law. 

Attached is a new memorandum from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. In this memo, Secretary Wilkie orders the adjudication of claims that are impacted by the Blue Water Navy Act to be “stayed” (postponed) until January 1, 2020. 

We know from the Blue Water Navy Act that the VA has 120 days to provide a report of their “go forward plan” to Congress. We now also know from this memo that the VA is not going to start processing claims under this new law until at least January 2020 (and, if the VA has not finished promulgating its new Blue Water Navy regulations by that point, perhaps even later). 

The one remaining question is whether the VA’s postponement of processing these claims is valid under the Federal Circuit’s decision in Procopio v. Wilkie. The Procopio decision arguably did not grant the VA any latitude to delay adjudication of these cases for several months. 

Instead, Procopio simply stated that Veterans who served aboard ships on the offshore waterways should receive the same presumption of herbicide exposure as any other in-country Vietnam War Veteran. The majority opinion in this case does not provide any clear authority for the VA to treat a claim from a Blue Water Navy Veteran differently than a claim from any other in-country Vietnam Veteran. 

I have heard, but cannot yet confirm, that the Blue Water Navy Association is considering a legal challenge to the VA’s stay by presenting the case that this delay violates the Procopio decision. I will keep you posted as I learn more. 

In the meantime, if you are still seeking to immediately pursue a Blue Water Navy Veteran’s case, I recommend that you cite the Procopio decision, and not the Blue Water Navy Act, as your rationale in pursuing the claim. This could have effective date implications if the Blue Water Navy Association (or anyone else) is successful in challenging the validity of the stay. This is sort of a “Hail Mary pass” at this point, but it seems like the best option in light of Secretary Wilkie’s memo. 

I will keep you updated if more details arise. Thank you, as always, for all that you do. 

Respectfully, 

Benjamin Pomerance 

Deputy Director for Program Development 

New York State Division of Veterans’ Services 

Blue Water Navy Act

Here are some key details from the Blue Water Navy Act that was just signed into law by the President.

Effective Date: The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.

VA’s Responsibility: Within 120 days, the Secretary of the VA is required to submit a report to the Senate and the House of Representatives detailing the Secretary’s plans “to conduct outreach” to Veterans concerning this new legislation and “to respond to inquiries from Veterans regarding claims for disability compensation” under these new statutory provisions.

Translation: Within 120 days, we will know what the VA’s “go forward plan” is regarding these disability compensation claims, including the unanswered questions of whether Nehmer rules will apply to these cases, how the VA intends to prioritize these cases, etc., etc.

Definition of Offshore: A location is deemed to be “offshore of Vietnam” (and thus eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure) if the location is within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, along a line of demarcation intersecting the following points:

“Points Geographic NamesLatitude NorthLongitude East
At Hon Nhan Island, Tho Chu Archipelago Kien Giang Province9°15.0′103°27.0′
At Hon Da Island southeast of Hon Khoai Island Minh Hai Province8°22.8′104°52.4′
At Tai Lon Islet, Con Dao Islet in Con Dao-Vung Toa Special Sector8°37.8′106°37.5′
At Bong Lai Islet, Con Dao Islet8°38.9′106°40.3′
At Bay Canh Islet, Con Dao Islet8°39.7′106°42.1′
At Hon Hai Islet (Phu Qui group of islands) Thuan Hai Province9°58.0′109°5.0′
At Hon Doi Islet, Thuan Hai Province12°39.0′109°28.0′
At Dai Lanh point, Phu Khanh Province12°53.8′109°27.2′
At Ong Can Islet, Phu Khanh Province13°54.0′109°21.0′
At Ly Son Islet, Nghia Binh Province15°23.1′109° 9.0′
At Con Co Island, Binh Tri Thien Province17°10.0′107°20.6′

Spina Bifida Cases: Under this law, benefits are now available for children diagnosed with spina bifida who had a parent who served at covered locations in Thailand (e.g., Royal Thai Air Bases in certain military occupational specialties) during the Vietnam War. (This coverage is already available for children diagnosed with spina bifida who had a parent who served in Vietnam and along the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ] in Korea).

New Starting Date For Korean DMZ Presumptions: The new law amends the starting date for the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to apply to a Veteran who served along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) from April 1, 1968, to September 1, 1967.

Obviously, there are still several unanswered questions — particularly focusing on the mechanics of how the VA is going to handle these cases — but we will have these answers in the VA’s report to Congress within 120 days.

Thank you, as always, for all of the work that you do for Veterans, Service Members, and their families every day.

Respectfully,

Benjamin P. Pomerance

Deputy Director for Program Development

New York State Division of Veterans’ Services

2 Empire State Plaza, 17th Floor, Albany, NY 12223

Phone (518) 474-6114 | Fax (518) 473-0379 | benjamin.pomerance@veterans.ny.gov |

www.veterans.ny.gov

Blue Water Navy Act Now Law!

VFW-championed legislation will benefit tens of thousands of veterans and dependent children

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2019) – The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is saluting the president for signing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law last night.

“Tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War and dependent children born with spina bifida due to a parent’s toxic exposure will now benefit from this new law,” exclaimed VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence, “and the VFW is proud to have helped lead the charge to return these benefits to these deserving veterans and to expand existing benefits to dependent children. We look forward to the Department of Veterans Affairs publishing implementation guidance on their website very soon.”

The VFW-championed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, or H.R. 299, restores VA benefits to thousands of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who had their disability eligibility taken away in 2002 after arbitrary regulatory changes. It benefits veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving along the Korean DMZ with an earlier start date to encompass the timeframe when various defoliants were tested — to Sept. 1, 1967, instead of April 1, 1968 — and expands benefits to children born with spina bifida due to a parent’s exposure in Thailand, coverage that already exists for the children of Vietnam and Korean DMZ veterans. The new law also requires the VA to report on research being conducted on a broad range of conditions possibly related to service in Southwest Asia, which is important for future legislative efforts to create a list of presumptive conditions for veterans seeking VA health care and benefits.

“The VFW is proud of the 116th Congress for ending this benefits inequity, and we salute President Trump for quickly signing H.R. 299 into law,” said Lawrence.

Though the following VA webpages have yet to updated to reflect the new law, veterans and their families can learn more about benefits associated with Agent Orange exposure here, and about spina bifida birth defects related to exposure here. For assistance in filing claims, find an accredited VFW service officer here.

-VFW-

Legislative Update June 2019

National Priorities

 Blue Water Navy bill passed house May 19 HR 299, push

Senate to approve. Call Senator Schumer, 202-224-6542 and

Senator Gillibrand 202-224-4451 to voice support

Veterans Health Care–to aggressively oversee implementation

of VA Mission Act of 2018- concern over proposal to impose $30

Copay for Emergency service visits even for Service Connected

Issues

  • Resource suicide prevention and outreach
  • Require VA to conduct research on Medical Cannibis
  • Expand peer to peer for MST
  • Remove Copay for preventive medication
  • Pass S514 the Deborah Sampson Act to improve health care for woman vets
  • Expand eligibility for VA nurse homes for all VA enrolled

Burn Pits –  Pass legislation to require better Airborne and open burn pit registry

  • Provide Iraq and Afghanistan vets benefits and care for pulmonary conditions
  • Pass HR 663/s191, Burn pit accountability act
  • Establish and fund research on the impact of burn pits on exposed vets

Concurrent Receipt – Pass HR 303 or S208 to allow disabled vets to receive retirement pay and VA disability compensation

  • Pass HR 553, Military surviving Spouse equity act to allow survivors full retirement pay

Transition – Reopen TAP in the community programs

  • Provide grants for private organizations for jobs
  • Open pathways for vets to connect with community, vet organizations in hometowns while still on AD

State of NY Priorities Budgetary

1.Continue funding of VFW Service Officers $125K per year and add $500K for additional SOs  2019 results-VFW received up to $125K

  1. Dwyer Peer to Peer mentoring $3.5M for upstate counties and add $4M for downstate 2019 Results – Dwyer program funding continues at same level as previously but will be spread out throughout the state
  2. Veterans Defense Program, $500K to cover existing veterans defense and add $400K for Defense Counselors practice manual 2019 Results – VDP funding continues at existing level but $220K added to open a Long Island Office
  3. Continue funding for Office of court administration to support vet mentors in existing 30 VTCs and advance the number of VTCs to all counties 2019 Results – no funding for VTC Mentors at this point but on the legislative side, legislation passed house to have VTC available in all counties. A 5937

Legislative Goals –

  1. Vet peer to peer certification option and add centers for women veterans one upstate and one downstate

Support A2945 Ortiz, in Vet affairs and S4261 Parker in Vet and military affairs as amended by the VFW

  1. Child custody considerations for NY military, Support S 5543 Brooks in children and families, need assembly bill to follow established Federal military standards for Family Care Plan via NY Statute to provide reference for Family Courts
  2. Property Tax reductions for Active Duty Service Members,

 Support S2930A Brooks Passed Senateand A5344A (In Vet Committee) Cusick to allow real property to recognize active duty military so they can apply for property tax reductions (As currently written would only cover those in Combat zone)

  1. Fill Currently allocated civil service jobs for disabled vets, support S3300(Passed Senate) Brooks, 2019 and A6297(Passed House)Barrett to require state agencies to identify when posting jobs that fall under the 55C program as 55C Eligible.
  2. Modernize charitable gaming to better enable self-funding of service organizations, reintroduce A7307 Cusick 2018 in racing and wagering, to allow Charity poker fundraising, S3301 (Passed Senate) Brooks
  3. Modernize bell Jars to enable better self-funding and encourage younger members to join, Support S6284 Addabbo in rules, and support A4697 Pretlow amended and in racing and wagering and continue to work with Governor’s office to overcome recent veto. (After multiple meetings with Governor’s Staff this remains held up so is about to be reintroduced with amendments from the VFW)