Stephen “Butch” Whitehead, Commander

Ensuring accountability in 2020

It was a tremendous pleasure to see so many of our dedicated members, advocates and supporters at the 2020 DAV Mid-Winter Conference in February. I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie at the event, but my experience this year as national commander is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my days.

Even in this role, I continue to learn new things about advocacy and the veteran landscape each time I visit Washington. I’m thankful for the imparted knowledge and am compelled to share my biggest takeaway from my recent visit—all of our legislative accomplishments are for naught if we don’t monitor the implementation and progress of VA reforms that are put in place to better serve veterans and hold the VA, lawmakers and other government officials accountable for their outcomes.

In January, the VA finally began processing disability claims for Blue Water Navy veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange in the waters off Vietnam decades ago. For months, the VA cited IT problems as it delayed processing these claims, withholding earned health care and survivor benefits for thousands of veterans and their families. But Blue Water Navy veterans have waited long enough for these benefits, and further delays are not acceptable. It’s imperative for us to make noise on behalf of all Blue Water Navy veterans who have filed such a claim to ensure they receive a favorable decision in a timely manner.

Additionally, DAV will be soliciting feedback from our members as the VA MISSION Act approaches its first full year of implementation. We need to hear about your experiences—good and bad—so we can properly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Legislators and policymakers shouldn’t only hear about VA-authored statistics pertaining to this law. They need to hear about real-life experiences from real veterans utilizing the VA health care system. I highly encourage you to participate in our survey when it reaches you.

Finally, we need your help in gaining as much support as possible for S. 2950, the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act of 2019. This bipartisan legislation, which was crafted from an original DAV concept, would codify a concession of exposure to help ensure that veterans who served near burn pits have less red tape to deal with when, and if, they need to file a related claim for a service-connected disability. I ask you to call your elected officials and voice your support for this bill and ensure our post-9/11 veterans don’t have to fight the VA for decades for disability benefits the way Vietnam veterans did with Agent Orange.

As always, thank you all for your tremendous work and advocacy on behalf of our nation’s veterans. I humbly ask that you all remain steadfast in your efforts this year, because if we don’t advocate for ourselves and our fellow veterans, who will?

 

If you want to find out more about the National Commander, you can find his biography here.