o-o-O-o-o- The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill on 12 NOV 2015. He had been assigned to the U.S. Army 282nd Aviation Company, 14th Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade. On January 21, 1968, a UH-1D HUEY from the 282nd Aviation Company was tasked as the lead ship in a section inserting ARVN troops at an old French fort approximately 1200 meters east of Khe Sanh. Sgt Hill was aboard the lead helicopter. As the aircraft touched down on the landing zone, NVA troops stood up all around the aircraft and began firing at the aircraft at almost point blank range. As soon as all the ARVN troops were off-loaded, the aircraft lifted off. At approximately 8-10 feet off the ground, the aircraft was hit by either a 57mm recoilless rifle or a direct hit mortar fire, burst into flames, and crashed. Hill had last been seen by the pilot CPT Stiner just prior to the aircraft being hit in the compartment in which Hill was manning his machine gun. Stiner stated that Hill was probably struck by the same volley of rounds that downed the aircraft as his machine gun was observed blown to pieces. Stiner searched the area before taking evasive action, but Hill could not be located. Hill was declared Missing in Action. Although injured, perhaps mortally, there wasno proof that he died. On 15 December 1975, SSG Billy Hill's status was changed from "Missing in Action" to "Died while Missing". On 12 Nov 2015 his remains were accounted for.
Korea The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 20 NOV that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Army Cpl. Charles E. Ivey, 21, of Henderson, N.C., will be buried 29 NOV in his hometown. On Nov. 29, 1950, Ivey was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near Hajoyang, North Korea. During this battle, Ivey was declared missing in action. In September 1953, as part of a prisoner of war exchange known as “Operation Big Switch,” returning American soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war reported that Ivey had died Nov. 29, 1950, during the battle near Hajoyang. A military review board amended his status to deceased in March 1953.
Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned 208 boxes of commingled human remains to the United States, which we now believe to contain the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicate that some of the remains were recovered from the vicinity where Ivey was believed to have died. In the identification of Ivey’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence, dental comparison, and forensic identification tools, including mitochondrial DNA analysis and autosomal (nuclear) DNA testing, which matched two sisters.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on 16 NOV announced the identification of the remains of Sgt. Robert C. Dakin U.S. Army who had been assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in North Korea. Sgt Dakin was lost in North Korea on 12/12/1950.
-o-o-O-o-o- The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on 19 NOV announced the identification of the remains of Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill who had been assigned to the U.S. Army 2nd Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Infantry Division. Sgt Hill was lost in North Korea on 14 FEB 1951.
World War II None [Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | November 30, 2015 ++]
* VA *
VA Appeals Update 14 ► No Mechanism to PreventEndless Challenges In 1985, Ivan Figueroa Clausell filed a claim for a variety of conditions he said stemmed from a car accident while training with the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. The Department of Veterans Affairs ruled that he wasn’t disabled. He appealed and lost. He appealed again and lost again, and again and again. In all, the VA has issued more than two dozen rulings on his case over the years. Still, he continues to appeal. Even after he won and started receiving 100 percent disability pay, he pressed on in hopes of receiving retroactive payments. “I’m never going to give up,” said the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran. “I don’t care how long it takes.” Figueroa’s case is among the more than 425,000 now swamping a veterans appeals system that advocates and government officials say is badly broken.
The appeals system does not have enough staff to handle the record number of veterans — from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Vietnam — filing for disability payments over the last decade, then appealing when all or part of their claims are denied. But experts point to a more fundamental problem. Unlike U.S. civil courts, the appeals system has no mechanism to prevent endless challenges. Veterans can keep their claims alive either by appealing or by restarting the process from scratch by submitting new evidence: service records, medical reports or witness statements. They have everything to gain and little to lose by continuing to fight. “There’s a gold ring and there’s no requirement to get in line,” said Dr. Edward Zech, a thoracic surgeon and former Navy captain who serves as the medical adviser to the Board of Veteran Appeals in Washington. “It is intuitively obvious that there will be a backlog,” Zech said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re never going to catch up.”
Any injury or disease that can be traced back to the time of active duty — whether it occurred in combat or training or on vacation — is eligible for disability pay, with no statute of limitations on when a veteran can apply. The VA processed 1.3 million initial claims last year, a record. The backlog has occurred as the VA has celebrated its success in whittling down delays in processing new claims. Fewer than 80,000 veterans have currently been waiting more than 125 days for initial decisions, down from a peak of more than 600,000 two years ago. The number awaiting appeals, however, climbed from 167,412 in September 2005 to 425,480 this October. Veterans’ advocates say the VA has simply traded one problem for another, having shifted many of the agency’s workers from appeals to initial claims. “They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said James Vale, director of benefits for Vietnam Veterans of America. “Congress doesn’t give the VA enough money to hire the staff to do the job.”
VA officials say the appeals rate has held steady for the last two decades at about 12 percent. The sheer number of cases, however, has become unmanageable. Appeals that can’t be resolved at VA regional offices around the country wind up at the appeals board. The 65 judges who handle cases ruled on 55,713 cases last fiscal year — an all-time high. They held 12,738 hearings, often by video conference. At that pace, it would take five years to see all 65,000 veterans with pending requests for a court appearance, a right guaranteed for any veteran who wants it. While judges can grant or deny a claim, nearly half the time they do neither and instead send it back to a regional office for more thorough review. Cases often remain in the system for years in a slow-motion volley between the appeals board and the regional offices, with occasional detours to federal court. Inside the VA, it has become known as “the churn” and “the hamster wheel.” According to the VA, 74 percent of current appellants are already receiving disability pay but want the VA to recognize more of their ailments or raise their compensation for those already approved. Ultimately about 1 in 10 appeals leads to higher disability compensation.
Some veterans never get an answer. Since 2009, more than 32,000 have died with their appeals unresolved, VA data show. Alison Hickey, who until recently was the top VA benefits official, told reporters this summer that the current procedure was “inefficient and ineffective.” VA officials say there are two possible solutions to the bottleneck: money to hire more lawyers, judges and other staff to process appeals, or a rewrite of the law by Congress. A proposal in Congress would create a pilot program that would fast-track appeals for veterans who give up the right to add new evidence to their cases at a certain point. “That has been incredibly controversial in the veterans’ community,” said Michael Allen, an expert on veterans benefits at Stetson University College of Law in Florida. Above all, the disability system was designed to protect veterans from being shortchanged by the government, and veterans groups are reluctant to support changes that would limit a veteran’s ability to continue pursuing a case. “If they limit veterans to one appeal a claim, it makes the system more efficient at the detriment of veterans’ rights,” Vale said.
Based on records collected by a congressional committee looking at the problem, Figueroa’s is the oldest pending case in the system. He returned to Puerto Rico after Vietnam and became a police officer. In 1977, several months after joining the National Guard, he was ejected from an Army Jeep during a training exercise and broke both arms, according to extensive records he provided. “We hit something in the road and rolled over,” he recalled. In 1986, the VA in Puerto Rico recognized his fractures as service-related injuries but said they weren’t disabling. It rejected his claims for problems with his left hand, wrist and finger, ruling that those ailments stemmed from a mishap while changing a tire on his police car in 1980. It also denied his claim for a “nervous condition” that emerged around the same time and led to his dismissal from the police force.
Over the next two decades, Figueroa’s dispute with the VA largely revolved around which accident — the one in 1977 or the one in 1980 — had caused the problems in his left hand. A breakthrough came in 1996. After shoulder joint replacement surgery, the VA ruled him 60 percent disabled. It later determined that the injury made him unemployable, entitling him to 100 percent disability pay. He now receives $3,068 a month tax-free. He has kept fighting to overturn the parts of his claim that were denied. If his other conditions are finally recognized, compensation could be backdated to when he first applied for them. “I’ve spent a lot of time on this,” Figueroa said by telephone from his house in Cieba, a coastal town about an hour and a half east of San Juan. “But I’m not the only one.” In 2011 — 26 years after he filed his original disability claim — the appeals board ruled that his hand injury in fact stemmed from the 1977 accident, though it was not deemed disabling enough to qualify for payment. He is still trying to get compensation for his pinkie.
More significantly, Figueroa is fighting for recognition of the “nervous condition” that was part of his original claim. He says it is really post-traumatic stress disorder linked to horrors he witnessed in Vietnam. He was diagnosed with PTSD in 1991, when he joined the Army Reserves and was quickly deemed too troubled to serve. The VA has repeatedly denied his claim, saying that his mental health difficulties are unrelated to his military service. The issue is under review by the appeals board. If Figueroa succeeds, he could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive compensation. [Source: Los Angeles Times | Alan Zarembo | November 23, 2015 ++]
VA Privatization Update 01 ► New Poll Indicates Vets Not in Favor Veterans like choice. But they don't like privatization. That’s the bottom line from a new poll out 10 NOV from the Vet Voice Foundation, designed to counter recent proposals that left-leaning advocates say would move Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to an outsourced, privatization model. The poll of 800 veterans, conducted jointly by a Republican-backed firm and a Democratic-backed one, found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates. “Veterans overwhelmingly feel that health care was a promise made for their service and oppose vouchers that may not cover all costs,” group officials said in their report. “Veterans worry that private insurance companies care too much about profit and would make decisions for the care of veterans based on money.”
The results push back poll numbers released by Concerned Veterans for America last month that found nearly 90 percent of veterans surveyed believe officials need to increase health care choices for VA patients, including expanded access to private care physicians. They also point to a larger fight between Republicans and Democrats over VA reform efforts, and how each side is labeling moves to expand health care offerings for veterans in the private sector, but still at government expense. “This poll confirms what nearly every veterans service organization has always said — privatization and voucherization of the VA is a nonstarter for veterans,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, managing director of the Vet Voice Foundation. “There is a lot of debate about ‘choice’ in veterans care, but when presented with the details of what ‘choice’ means, veterans reject it," Eaton said. "They overwhelmingly believe that the private system will not give them the quality of care they and veterans like them deserve.”
The new Vet Voice poll also hints that the issue could be a factor in the 2016 elections, with 57 percent of those surveyed stating they would be less likely to vote for candidates who support "privatizing the VA health care system. Only one in four said that stance would strengthen their support for a candidate. Major veterans advocates have long opposed proposals for privatization, but have been more cautious in their use of the term in recent years, as lawmakers have backed initiatives to increase private care access, like the Choice Card program. Full details of the poll are available on the foundation’s website at http://www.vetvoicefoundation.org/press/VVF-Polling-Memo-151109-Veteransv2.pdf. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane | November 10, 2015 ++]
VA Caregiver Program Update 30 ► Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month VA Caregiver Support Program is acknowledging Alzheimer’s disease Awareness Month. We know so much more about Alzheimer’s disease today than we did 30 years ago. The National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association has provided more insight about the Disease through research. Did you know?
As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease.
About a half million Americans younger than age 65 have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. This is referred to as young onset or early onset.
Studies show that Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is physically, emotionally and financially challenging.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the continued impact on Caregivers will continue to grow as our population ages. Research shows Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease:
Are about two-thirds of Caregivers are women,
34% are age 65 or older,
41% have a household income of $50,000 or less,
Half of primary caregivers of people with dementia take care of parents.
Many of these Caregivers suffer from untreated physical and mental illness due to the stress from caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. If you know of a Caregiver of a Veteran with Alzheimer’s or dementia, please let them know the VA Caregiver Support Program is here to support. The VA REACH program offers amazing support to our caregiver and Veterans, please visit www.caregiver.va.gov to learn more from your local Caregiver Support Coordinator. With VA's Caregiver Support Line assistance is just a quick phone call away. Whether you're in need of immediate assistance or have questions about what services you may be eligible for, the caring licensed professionals who answer the support line can:
Tell you about the assistance available from VA
Help you access services
Connect you with the Caregiver Support Coordinator at a VA Medical Center near you.
Just listen, if that's what you need right now.
If you're just getting started with VA, calling the Caregiver Support Line is a great first step to take to learn more about the support that's available to you. [Source: Veterans Health | November 19, 2015 ++]
VA Scandal News ► Exorbitant Relocation Allowances | 151220 The head of the nation’s largest veterans service organization reacted with disappointment about VA’s refusal to terminate two senior executives that were at the heart of the latest scandal involving exorbitant relocation allowances. “After the congressional hearing investigating the matter, I believed that VA was finally understanding the need to hold people accountable,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett. “Principal Deputy Under Secretary Danny Pummill admitted that VA had an accountability problem, and, as they say, the first step in rehabilitation is admitting that you have a problem. But now we find out that VARO Directors Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves are not being terminated, but are just being demoted. After embarrassing the department and, according to the IG, inappropriately using their positions of authority for personal and financial benefit, they are still allowed to draw generous paychecks and continue employment in an agency that was created to serve veterans. This is an insult and disgrace to all veterans. Any promises that VA officials make about accountability in the future need to be taken with a grain of salt.”
“Rubens and Graves clearly should have been fired,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL). “The fact that VA leaders refused to do so gives me no hope the department will do the right thing and take steps to recover the more than $400,000 taxpayer dollars Rubens and Graves fraudulently obtained.” Pummill, acting undersecretary for benefits at the department since Hickey’s departure, told Miller’s committee that he found the federal firing process “impossible” to navigate. “The civil servants, and I believe this is federal governmentwide, have incredible protections and safeguards, and so the process of taking care of a problem employee takes an incredible amount of documentation, oversight, time and energy, and taxpayer dollars,” he said during a 2 NOV hearing. “And normally [it] ends when somebody outside of our organization comes back and says ‘You missed a step, reinstate the person with back pay.’”
The VA did not immediately respond to a question about whether it plans to try and recoup any of the relocation benefits it gave to Rubens and Graves for their Philadelphia and St. Paul moves. Allison Hickey, former VA undersecretary for benefits, recommended Rubens for the reassignment to Philadelphia and a relocation incentive. Hickey resigned from the department on 16 OCT. Rubens and Graves have not yet filed an appeal of the disciplinary action to the Merit Systems Protection Board, according to an MSPB official. Under the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, disciplined senior executives have seven days to appeal the adverse action to MSPB, which in turn would have 21 days for an expedited adjudication. If MSPB doesn’t render a decision within 21 days of the appeal date, then the secretary’s decision stands.
VA executives Diana Rubens, left, and Kimberly Graves, right, flank Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Nov. 2
VA paid nearly $300,000 in relocation expenses, including costs related to the AVO program for Rubens, and about $129,000 for Graves. Both Rubens and Graves took on fewer job responsibilities in their new positions in Philadelphia and St. Paul, but kept their previous annual salaries of $181,497 for Rubens, and $173,949 for Graves. Overall, the IG concluded that VBA managers reassigned senior executives to circumvent a pay freeze, and also paid many of those executives unjustified relocation incentives. Their new jobs will come with a pay cut since they are being demoted from the Senior Executive Service to the General Schedule pay system. But the two, who originally got into hot water over relocation benefits and improper reassignments, are still entitled to “seek reimbursement for appropriate costs” associated with their latest reassignments “in accordance with governmentwide statutes and regulations that require federal agencies to pay for the geographic relocation of an employee directed to relocate,” said a VA spokesperson. [Source: PR Newswire / American Legion | Andrea Dickerson | November 20, 2015 ++]
Agent Orange Exposed Ships Update 03► Nov 2015 Updated List | Vietnam VA maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records. This evolving list helps Veterans who served aboard ships, including "Blue Water Veterans," find out if they may qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure. Veterans must meet VA's criteria for service in Vietnam, which includes aboard boats on the inland waterways or brief visits ashore, to be presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. Veterans who qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure are not required to show they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides when seeking VA compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
The new additions include the Navy survey ships Sheldrake and Towhee, attack transport ship Okanogan, submarine rescue ship Chanticleer, destroyers Frank Knox and James E. Kyes, and transport ship General W. A. Mann. VA also expanded the dates of eligibility for sailors who served on the destroyer Fechteler and said veterans may be eligible for presumptive status if they went ashore from the guided missile cruiser Dewey or attack transport ships Pickaway or Paul Revere during certain periods during the war.
Find your ship Ships or boats that were part of the Mobile Riverine Force, Inshore Fire Support (ISF) Division 93 or had one of the below designations operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam. Veterans whose military records confirm they were aboard these ships qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure. During your Vietnam tour, did your ship or boat have one of the following designations?
AGP (Assault Group Patrol/Patrol Craft Tender)
LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized)
LCU (Landing Craft, Utility)
LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)
LST (Landing Ship, Tank)
PBR (Patrol Boat, River)
PCF (Patrol Craft, Fast or Swift Boat)
PG (Patrol Gunboat)
STABS (Strike Assault Boats)
WAK (Cargo Vessel)
WHEC (High Endurance Cutter)
WLB (Buoy Tender)
WPB (Patrol Boat)
YFU (Harbor Utility Craft)
Alphabetized ship list If your vessel is not included in the Mobile Riverine Force, ISF Division 93 or above designations, check VA's alphabetized ship list at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/list.asp. Need help determining qualifying service? VA will help determine qualifying service in Vietnam after you file a claim for compensation benefits. To contact VA:
Call 1-800-827-1000 or 1-800-829-4833 (TDD for hearing impaired)
Go to your nearest VA benefits office - www.va.gov/directory/guide/division.asp?dnum=3
Ships will be regularly added to the list based on information confirmed in official records of ship operations. Currently there are 344 ships on this list. A Veteran must file an Agent-Orange related disability claim before VA will conduct research on a specific ship not on VA's ships list. This requirement also applies to survivors and children with birth defects. VA does not have the capacity to research ships when no compensation claim is filed. If you think your ship should be on the list and you are not filing a claim, you may conduct your own research and submit documentary evidence to VA. Documentary evidence includes deck logs, ship histories, and cruise book entries. You may obtain ship deck logs from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. This evidence must show the ship entering the inland waterways of Vietnam, docking in Vietnam, or otherwise sending crew members ashore. A ship that anchored in an open water harbor, such as Da Nang Harbor, is not sufficient evidence for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure. You must scan your documentary evidence and email it to the Veterans Benefits Administration's Compensation Service at 211_AOSHIPS.VBACO@va.gov. Emails sent to this email address are not secure. Please do not include personal data. [Source: VA Secy Vet Group Liason Officer | Kevin Sector | November 23, 2015 ++]