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Veterans Health

VA Renews Opposition to Agent Orange Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets

A Vietnam veteran listens as Agent Orange expert and military historian Paul Sutton addresses the group during a town hall meeting held at the New Jersey State council, Vietnam Veterans of America, at VFW Post 809 in Little Ferry, N.J., on Sept. 27, 2015. (Jim Anness/ via AP)

A Vietnam veteran listens as Agent Orange expert and military historian Paul Sutton addresses the group during a town hall meeting held at the New Jersey State council, Vietnam Veterans of America, at VFW Post 809 in Little Ferry, N.J., on Sept. 27, 2015. (Jim Anness/ via AP)
18 Jan 2019 | By Richard Sisk
The Department of Veterans Affairs shows no signs of backing off opposition to extending Agent Orange health care and benefits to “Blue Water Navy” Vietnam veterans, setting up another major battle this year with veterans groups and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.
The VA still lacks “sufficient evidence” to prove a presumptive link between service off the coast of Vietnam and the illnesses caused by the widespread use of the defoliant Agent Orange, Paul Lawrence, the VA’s under secretary and head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, said Thursday.

“In terms of presumptives, they come with a real requirement of sufficient evidence to indicate it’s warranted,” he said in a panel discussion on a VA Town Hall webcast.
Veterans who served on the ground or on the inland waterways of Vietnam are now eligible for Agent Orange health care and benefits. But existing studies do not show definitive causation between the illnesses suffered by the estimated 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans and the use of Agent Orange, Lawrence said.
“We understand the situation,” he said. “We talked about having more studies in 2019 that would give us more insight into what the causation was and the definitive conclusions behind it.”
He gave no indication of when the studies might be completed.
Blue Water veterans can file a claim, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Lawrence said, but they “must be supported by science.”
He took a similar position on claims by veterans that they suffered illnesses from the toxic fumes of the burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying those claims also must be supported by scientific evidence.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by veterans for damages against companies that managed the open-air burn pits.
Last August, Lawrence and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stunned Congress by announcing their opposition to a bill extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water sailors that had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
The bill had passed 382-0 in the House and appeared headed to easy passage in the Senate with the support of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
However, Lawrence, at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, said, “It’s difficult to hear from veterans who are ill,” but “there is no conclusive science” from a report by the Institute of Medicine to show a service connection.
Major veterans service organizations (VSOs) disputed Lawrence on the evidence, but the bill failed in December when Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, citing the costs, blocked a Senate vote.
The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that about 90,000 sailors could be covered by the bill, which would likely cost about $1.1 billion over 10 years.
Last week, House Democrats reintroduced the “Blue Water Navy” bill, setting up another lengthy battle with the VA on extending Agent Orange benefits.
In a statement, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, the new chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “We must get to work and finally secure the benefits our Blue Water Navy veterans earned over 40 years ago.”
On Thursday, three VSOs — the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — said that passage of the Blue Water Navy bill would be at the top of their legislative agenda for 2019.
“One of our key legislative concerns is ensuring that veterans who were exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals and other environment hazards during their service receive full compensation and other earned benefits,” DAV National Commander Dennis Nixon said in a statement.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at

VA Official: No ‘Secret Plan’ to Privatize Health Care Under Mission Act

Dr. Richard Stone, then VA's principal deputy under secretary of health, speaks at a planning summit in March 2016. (Kate Viggiano/Veterans Affairs)

Dr. Richard Stone, then VA’s principal deputy under secretary of health, speaks at a planning summit in March 2016. (Kate Viggiano/Veterans Affairs)
18 Jan 2019 | By Richard Sisk
The head of the Veterans Health Administration said Thursday that there is no “secret plan” to privatize Department of Veterans Affairs health care under the Mission Act, which expands community-care options and has repeatedly been championed by President Donald Trump.
“There is no such plan,” said Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VHA and its system of more than 170 medical centers and 1,000 clinics nationwide.

Talk of privatization “creates fear and trepidation among our 341,000 brothers and sisters that call themselves employees of the VHA,” he said. “Let me assure you that if you’re an employee of the VA, there’s no plan to privatize. Your job is safe; stay with us.”
The question of privatization loomed over the Mission Act before and after it was passed last year with the intent of consolidating and streamlining the problem-plagued Choice program.
In signing the Mission Act into law last June, Trump said, “All during the campaign, I’d go out and say, ‘Why can’t they just go see a doctor instead of standing in line for weeks and weeks and weeks?’ Now they can go see a doctor. It’s going to be great.”
Despite continuing problems with access, Stone, a former deputy surgeon general of the Army and recipient of the Combat Action Badge, said that veterans themselves have shown that they prefer the VA to private, or community care.
“We can offer access to health care at unprecedented rates” at the VHA, the nation’s largest health care system, he said.
In calendar year 2018, “we did more than 58 million appointments with veterans. That’s 3.7 million more than four years ago,” Stone said. In addition, the VHA has cut wait times for urgent appointments from 19 days in 2014 to two days last year.
“And we continue to get better,” he said.
Stone made the comments at one of the VA’s periodic webcast Town Halls on issues facing the department.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie opened the webcast, pointing to recent studies by the Partnership for Public Service and Dartmouth showing that the VA is “one of the best places to work” in government, and also stating that the VHA provides health care that is as good or better than the private sector.
Wilkie listed his priorities going forward as curbing veteran suicides, implementing the Mission Act, and putting in place new electronic health records to make VA and Defense Department systems interoperable.
He said the VA had recently awarded contracts that could be worth $55 billion through 2026 for implementing the Mission Act for VA Regions 1, 2 and 3, covering 36 states, plus Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The contracts went to Optum Public Sector Solutions Inc., the government-services branch of Optum, the health services arm of UnitedHealth Group. Another regional contract is expected to be awarded in April and two more in December, Wilkie said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at
Related Topics
Military Headlines Department of Veterans Affairs – VA Robert Wilkie
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VA Benefits for Reimbursement of Cremation Expenses

VA Benefits for Reimbursement of Cremation Expenses

A. $300 is available for honorably discharged veterans if one of the following conditions are met:

  • Veteran was receiving a pension or disability benefits from the VA at the time of death.
  • Death occurred in a VA hospital.
  • Death occurred in a VA nursing home or VA contracted health care facility.

B. $2,000 is available if one of the following conditions are met:

  • Veterans died during active duty.
  • Honorably discharged veteran died of a service-connected injury.

C. $300 Burial Plot Allowance is available when an honorably discharged veteran is not interred in a cemetery that is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government if one of the following conditions are met:

  • Veteran was receiving a pension or disability benefits from the VA at the time of death.
  • Death occurred in a VA hospital.
  • Death occurred in a VA nursing home or VA contracted health care facility.

D. Transportation Allowance for deceased veterans will be reimbursed by the VA for:

  • Transportation expenses from the place of death to the cremation facility if the death occurred in a VA hospital or military hospital for retired and active duty personnel.
  • Transportation expenses from the crematory to a National cemetery for veterans that either: Died from a service connected injury, were receiving a VA pension or disability benefits, or died in a VA or military hospital.

Interment In a National Cemetery
Many families of deceased veterans take advantage of interment benefits available through the Veterans Administration National Cemetery System. FREE gravespace for interment of cremated remains is available in any one of a number of VA National cemeteries located throughout the country.

Eligibility Requirements
All honorably discharged veterans, their spouses and minor children who have been cremated are eligible for interment in a national cemetery. In addition, certain members of the Reserve Component of the Armed Forces, World War II Merchant Marines and Commissioned Officers of NOAA and the Public Health Service may also eligible. For a complete listing of eligibility requirements contact your local veterans affairs office or visit the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery System Web Site.

Interment Options
There is no charge for interment of cremated remains in a National Cemetery. Cremated remains may be interred in either an in-ground grave, a garden niche, or placed in a columbarium depending upon the family’s preference. Please note that not all National cemeteries provide for each of these three interment options. A complete listing of VA National Cemeteries and telephone numbers can be found at

Scheduling an Interment
Funeral Director will arrange for an interment in a National Cemetery as part of their service. Normally, all that is required to make these arrangements is a copy of the official military discharge document or a Form DD 214. The funeral director will forward the required documentation to the cemetery director and a tentative date for interment will be set. Cremated remains may not be delivered to the cemetery until interment eligibility is verified and the arrangements are confirmed.

Please note that memorialization in a National Cemetery is available only on an at-need basis at the time of death. Eligible veterans may not reserve burial or niche space in a National Cemetery on a pre-need basis. 

Military Honors
Section 578 on the National Defense Act provides free military honors for eligible veterans whose families request them. The law includes a basic military funeral honor ceremony consisting of the folding and presentation of the American flag and the playing of Taps. The military detail performing this ceremony will consist of two or more uniformed members of the military, with at least one member representing the branch in which the veteran served. Each military branch may also include additional elements of the ceremony such as a rifle volley. In most cases, the funeral director that you select will handle the details of scheduling the military ceremony if they assisted the family is setting up and coordinating the memorial service. For more information about military honors, you may visit the Department of Defense web site at

Headstones, Markers and Monuments
If burial of the cremated remains takes place in a National Cemetery, the VA will provide a free granite or marble headstone or a granite, marble, or bronze marker. If burial takes place in a private cemetery, the VA will provide a free headstone consistent with the cemetery requirements. For veterans who’s cremated remains have been scattered, a memorial monument is available. Most cremation societies will take care of arranging for installation of a headstone, marker or memorial monument at no charge.

VA News Release VA Caregiver Support

 VA announces moratorium on discharges and decreases from comprehensive caregiver programWASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced on 12/21/2018 that it will temporarily suspend discharges and decreases in level of support from its Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers because of continued concerns expressed by Veterans, caregivers and advocates about inconsistent application […]

Marine writes song for those struggling with PTSD or survivor’s guilt

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.[ABOVE] Enhanced-Use Lease authority develops underutilized land and buildings#OperationSong – “He Took My Place” by Gary LimaThis #OperationSong spotlight is on “He Took My Place” by Veteran Gary Lima who served in the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant and the Army as a major. Gary served during the Cyprus Conflict in 1974 […]

Service Connected Matrix

There are additional benefits that you may be eligible for that are based on a favorable decision for a VA benefit and/or based on special circumstances. These are known as derivatives. Service Connected Matrix Non Service Connected Matrix Circumstance Matrix BENEFIT DERIVATIVE Non-Compensable 0 percent disability rating ·     10 point Veteran preference in federal hiring ·     No cost health […]