MVCC Minutes

Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee Meeting

Maine Veterans Homes, Augusta

Subject:  Notes from 9 November 2019 Meeting

From: Brenda Pennels

Meeting opened with Chair Gary Laweryson leading the committee in the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of Silence. 

ROLL CALL:

Chair Gary Lawyerson – Present

1st Chair Kelley Wynne – Present

2nd Chair David Patch – Excused

Secretary – Brenda Pennels (Acting) – Present

Treasurer – Kevin Woodward – Present

MOPH – 1

AMVets               – 3

MCL – 1

DAV- 3

KWV- 0

VVA – 0

VFW – 3

VFWA – 2

Midcoast Council – 1

MOAA -1

Secretary’s report:  Minutes from November meeting sent to Kelley Wynne on 11/26.

Treasurer’s report:  None. (Excused)

Reports: 

#1 Senator Angus King’s Office – No one present

#2 Senator Collins Office – Chuck Mahleris

  • Senator Collins joined a Bipartisan Group in Introducing Legislation to Improve Transportation Services for Rural Veterans.  Bipartisan bill would permanently expand travel assistance programs & clarify requirements for volunteer drivers to connect more veterans to care
  • Senator Collins part of a bipartisan group to introduce legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to systematically track victims, scammers and trends to proactively protect veterans and survivors across the country from predatory pension poachers. 

#3 VA Medical Center –Tracye Davis, Director

  • Distributed a flyer for the Open House – Togus Campus.  Saturday, December 14th 9-12pm. The focus will be on the history of the Togus VA and all of the services offered. There will be holiday activities and an opportunity to meat the clinical staff.  Fisher House Tours will be available. Wreaths Across America ceremony at noon at the flagpole. 
  • Fisher House Construction Complete.  Hired a manager – Patrick Crowley from the VBA.  Will start accepting families by the end of the calendar year – dependent upon Patrick hiring his team. 
  • Smokefree VA- October 1st was “soft rollout” for employees, veterans, visitors. January 1st will be full implementation.  Policy for hospice patients was originally left up to the Directors, but has been changed to include hospice in the smoking ban.  Tracye is fighting back and may need the support of the MVCC.
  • Portland CBOC ground-breaking will be in March. New facility will include 77 additional FTE.  Requesting funding to bring some staff on early.  Goal is to the be first VA facility to open it’s doors fully staffed and equipped. 
  • Groundbreaking for new Community Living Center (CLC) in April.  Phase I will commence in April, Phase II will be delayed due to funding. 
  • Interview process underway for new Chief of Staff.
  • Mission Act new official 3rd party administrator is Optum for Community Care.  Urgent Care still being administered by Tri-West.
  • Question from James regarding Caregiver Support – There will be a phased implementation starting in Spring or Summer 2020. 
  • Discussion about dialysis center temporarily closed a year ago due to staffing issues.  Search is on for a nurse manager but has been unsuccessful to date.  The unused equipment will be offered to another facility within the VA Health System.  When nurse manager is hired VA Maine is authorized to buy all new equipment.  The perception may be that the closing is permanent, which is not true.
  • Question from Gary to Christ Smith, VBA regarding why cancer from cigarette smoking is not recognized as service-connected.  Chris will investigate. 

(Update:  Chris forward the following information on 12/10)

Service connection associated with tobacco use:

The first question was associated with why service connection is not permitted for identifiable residuals of injury or disease due to tobacco use that began during active duty or due to longstanding dependency that began during active duty.  The short answer is that VA cannot service connect on a direct basis, but can on a secondary basis.

According to 38 CFR 3.300(a),“the awarding of [direct] service connection for a disability or death that results from the Veteran’s use of tobacco products during service [and thereafter] is prohibited.”  However, the VA Office of General Counsel provided a precedent opinion on October 28, 2003, that concluded that secondary service connection may be established for a tobacco-related disability or death that is the result of or aggravated by a service-connected disability unrelated to tobacco use. 

From our manual:

IV.ii.2.K.4.f.  An Example of a Claim for Secondary SC for a Disability Related to Tobacco Use After Service    Facts:  A Veteran with an SC evaluation for PTSD claims secondary SC for tobacco-related emphysema.  He states that he started smoking cigarettes after service because of anxiety related to PTSD. Result:  Award SC for emphysema on a secondary basis if it is shown that symptoms of PTSD resulted in the Veteran’s use of cigarettes cigarette smoking caused by PTSD was a substantial factor in causing (or aggravating) emphysema, and emphysema (or an increase in its severity) would not have occurred if the Veteran had not smoked cigarettes. Rationale:  Per VAOPGCPREC 6-2003, secondary SC may be awarded for disability related to tobacco use after service that is the result of or aggravated by SC disability unrelated to tobacco use.

#4 Congressman Jared Golden’s Office  – Emily Manter

  • Congressman Golden continuing to push for mental health beds. 
  • Letter on November 7th asking VA Secretary to address late payments to providers.
  • Letter on Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Mammograms)
  • Conducted townhall in Dixfeld at the American Legion moderated by the town manager.  Issues included claims, phone system, substance abuse and the difficulty in shipping packages overseas to service members.  Funds needed to renovate American Legions. 

#5 Congresswoman Chellie Pingree – Not Present

#6 Veterans Benefits Administration – Chris Smith

  • The Continuing Resolution is causing some budgeting issues with the VBA, mostly surrounding the lack of overtime available.
  • An authorization for an additional 30 personnel (actively hiring) will bring the VBA to over 200.
  • Blue Water Navy claims will be processed effective 1 January.  At this time claims will not be process at VA Maine – but VA Maine reps will still be trained in the event that something changes.
  • VBA still looking to move to a new location.  Request for Solicitation will go out in 2020.  Ideal location would be in Augusta close to the highway. 
  • Congratulations to Patrick Crowley on his selection for the Fisher House Manager position.    
  • Question about VA benefits for grandchildren of Vietnam War veterans.  Chris will investigate.

Update:  On 10 December Chris provided the following information

Compensation for Agent Orange exposed Veterans based on grandchildren diagnosed with thyroid conditions.  

H.R. 326 – Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2019, was introduced 1/8/19 an discusses the notion of transgenerational effects associated with exposure to herbicides and calls for more research.  At present, it is with the House subcommittee on Health.  There have been a few similar bills proposed in the not too distant past.  In the 114th Congress, there was H.R. 1769, Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2016, which was never passed.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/326

#7 Maine Veterans Home – Kelly Kash

  • Distributed MVH 2020 Calendar
  • Maine Veterans Homes rated 5 of 5 Stars.
  • New Augusta MVH on track to open in 2021. 

#8 Voluntary Services

  • Volunteers will be helping out at the December 14th Open House.
  • Donations coming in from many organizations. Wish List includes Gift Cards for Groceries and Gas, Warm attire, underwear (all clothing must be new with tags), electric razors for coumadin patients, Trac Phones.  Accepting Cash donations for the Fisher House (Storage is an issue!)
  • Question about a donation made by DAV Chap 6 in Bangor that didn’t generate a thank you letter.  Follow-up during business hours 7 am to 4pm.  Phone 207-621-4886.

#9 Maine Bureau of Veterans Services –Dave Richmond

  • MBVS will be open for Open House on the 14th.
  • Wreaths Across America Update:  Wreath laying will be between 8-9am at Mount Vernon Road Cemetery and 9-10am at Civic Center Drive.  MBVS will be at the Togus Cemetery at Noon for WAA. 
  • MBVS hosted Wabernaki Cultural Awareness with VA Maine. It was a great event and will be done again next year. 
  • November 11th, 2020 will be the Native American Memorial dedication in Washington, DC.
  • On December 19th all of the LD’s that counted as Emergency Bills will be announced and signed.
  • LD 1231 and HP 835 – An Act Regarding Mental Health Care for Maine Veterans (2017) is coming to a close.  This pilot program provided mental health care to 231 Maine veterans. 
  • The first Thursday of every month there is a public meeting at the Civic Center Drive Cemetery to plan for Memorial Day.  10 am.  Next meeting is January 2nd
  • Eligible Veterans can register for Maine Service Coins on MBVS Website.

New Business:

  • Issue raised about the CBOC in Lincoln having offered space for a new female VSO to have office hours 1 day a week.  Progress has been stalled.  According to Tracye the CBOC Manager can determine if there is space available. 
  • Gary asked what the VFW Dept of Maine will be doing for Memorial Day.  VFW will update next meeting. 
  • Gary shared some examples of how the MVCC has achieved results with veterans’ issues in the past. 

Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee Meeting

Maine Veterans Homes, Augusta

Subject:  Notes from 9 November 2019 Meeting

From: Brenda Pennels

Meeting opened with Chair Gary Laweryson leading the committee in the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of Silence. 

ROLL CALL:

Chair Gary Lawyerson – Present

1st Chair Kelley Wynne – Present

2nd Chair David Patch – Excused

Secretary – Brenda Pennels (Acting) – Present

Treasurer – Kevin Woodward – Present

MOPH – 1

AMVets               – 3

MCL – 1

DAV- 3

KWV- 0

VVA – 0

VFW – 3

VFWA – 2

Midcoast Council – 1

MOAA -1

Secretary’s report:  Minutes from November meeting sent to Kelley Wynne on 11/26.

Treasurer’s report:  None. (Excused)

Reports: 

#1 Senator Angus King’s Office – No one present

#2 Senator Collins Office – Chuck Mahleris

  • Senator Collins joined a Bipartisan Group in Introducing Legislation to Improve Transportation Services for Rural Veterans.  Bipartisan bill would permanently expand travel assistance programs & clarify requirements for volunteer drivers to connect more veterans to care
  • Senator Collins part of a bipartisan group to introduce legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to systematically track victims, scammers and trends to proactively protect veterans and survivors across the country from predatory pension poachers. 

#3 VA Medical Center –Tracye Davis, Director

  • Distributed a flyer for the Open House – Togus Campus.  Saturday, December 14th 9-12pm. The focus will be on the history of the Togus VA and all of the services offered. There will be holiday activities and an opportunity to meat the clinical staff.  Fisher House Tours will be available. Wreaths Across America ceremony at noon at the flagpole. 
  • Fisher House Construction Complete.  Hired a manager – Patrick Crowley from the VBA.  Will start accepting families by the end of the calendar year – dependent upon Patrick hiring his team. 
  • Smokefree VA- October 1st was “soft rollout” for employees, veterans, visitors. January 1st will be full implementation.  Policy for hospice patients was originally left up to the Directors, but has been changed to include hospice in the smoking ban.  Tracye is fighting back and may need the support of the MVCC.
  • Portland CBOC ground-breaking will be in March. New facility will include 77 additional FTE.  Requesting funding to bring some staff on early.  Goal is to the be first VA facility to open it’s doors fully staffed and equipped. 
  • Groundbreaking for new Community Living Center (CLC) in April.  Phase I will commence in April, Phase II will be delayed due to funding. 
  • Interview process underway for new Chief of Staff.
  • Mission Act new official 3rd party administrator is Optum for Community Care.  Urgent Care still being administered by Tri-West.
  • Question from James regarding Caregiver Support – There will be a phased implementation starting in Spring or Summer 2020. 
  • Discussion about dialysis center temporarily closed a year ago due to staffing issues.  Search is on for a nurse manager but has been unsuccessful to date.  The unused equipment will be offered to another facility within the VA Health System.  When nurse manager is hired VA Maine is authorized to buy all new equipment.  The perception may be that the closing is permanent, which is not true.
  • Question from Gary to Christ Smith, VBA regarding why cancer from cigarette smoking is not recognized as service-connected.  Chris will investigate. 

(Update:  Chris forward the following information on 12/10)

Service connection associated with tobacco use:

The first question was associated with why service connection is not permitted for identifiable residuals of injury or disease due to tobacco use that began during active duty or due to longstanding dependency that began during active duty.  The short answer is that VA cannot service connect on a direct basis, but can on a secondary basis.

According to 38 CFR 3.300(a),“the awarding of [direct] service connection for a disability or death that results from the Veteran’s use of tobacco products during service [and thereafter] is prohibited.”  However, the VA Office of General Counsel provided a precedent opinion on October 28, 2003, that concluded that secondary service connection may be established for a tobacco-related disability or death that is the result of or aggravated by a service-connected disability unrelated to tobacco use. 

From our manual:

IV.ii.2.K.4.f.  An Example of a Claim for Secondary SC for a Disability Related to Tobacco Use After Service    Facts:  A Veteran with an SC evaluation for PTSD claims secondary SC for tobacco-related emphysema.  He states that he started smoking cigarettes after service because of anxiety related to PTSD. Result:  Award SC for emphysema on a secondary basis if it is shown that symptoms of PTSD resulted in the Veteran’s use of cigarettes cigarette smoking caused by PTSD was a substantial factor in causing (or aggravating) emphysema, and emphysema (or an increase in its severity) would not have occurred if the Veteran had not smoked cigarettes. Rationale:  Per VAOPGCPREC 6-2003, secondary SC may be awarded for disability related to tobacco use after service that is the result of or aggravated by SC disability unrelated to tobacco use.

#4 Congressman Jared Golden’s Office  – Emily Manter

  • Congressman Golden continuing to push for mental health beds. 
  • Letter on November 7th asking VA Secretary to address late payments to providers.
  • Letter on Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Mammograms)
  • Conducted townhall in Dixfeld at the American Legion moderated by the town manager.  Issues included claims, phone system, substance abuse and the difficulty in shipping packages overseas to service members.  Funds needed to renovate American Legions. 

#5 Congresswoman Chellie Pingree – Not Present

#6 Veterans Benefits Administration – Chris Smith

  • The Continuing Resolution is causing some budgeting issues with the VBA, mostly surrounding the lack of overtime available.
  • An authorization for an additional 30 personnel (actively hiring) will bring the VBA to over 200.
  • Blue Water Navy claims will be processed effective 1 January.  At this time claims will not be process at VA Maine – but VA Maine reps will still be trained in the event that something changes.
  • VBA still looking to move to a new location.  Request for Solicitation will go out in 2020.  Ideal location would be in Augusta close to the highway. 
  • Congratulations to Patrick Crowley on his selection for the Fisher House Manager position.    
  • Question about VA benefits for grandchildren of Vietnam War veterans.  Chris will investigate.

Update:  On 10 December Chris provided the following information

Compensation for Agent Orange exposed Veterans based on grandchildren diagnosed with thyroid conditions.  

H.R. 326 – Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2019, was introduced 1/8/19 an discusses the notion of transgenerational effects associated with exposure to herbicides and calls for more research.  At present, it is with the House subcommittee on Health.  There have been a few similar bills proposed in the not too distant past.  In the 114th Congress, there was H.R. 1769, Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2016, which was never passed.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/326

#7 Maine Veterans Home – Kelly Kash

  • Distributed MVH 2020 Calendar
  • Maine Veterans Homes rated 5 of 5 Stars.
  • New Augusta MVH on track to open in 2021. 

#8 Voluntary Services

  • Volunteers will be helping out at the December 14th Open House.
  • Donations coming in from many organizations. Wish List includes Gift Cards for Groceries and Gas, Warm attire, underwear (all clothing must be new with tags), electric razors for coumadin patients, Trac Phones.  Accepting Cash donations for the Fisher House (Storage is an issue!)
  • Question about a donation made by DAV Chap 6 in Bangor that didn’t generate a thank you letter.  Follow-up during business hours 7 am to 4pm.  Phone 207-621-4886.

#9 Maine Bureau of Veterans Services –Dave Richmond

  • MBVS will be open for Open House on the 14th.
  • Wreaths Across America Update:  Wreath laying will be between 8-9am at Mount Vernon Road Cemetery and 9-10am at Civic Center Drive.  MBVS will be at the Togus Cemetery at Noon for WAA. 
  • MBVS hosted Wabernaki Cultural Awareness with VA Maine. It was a great event and will be done again next year. 
  • November 11th, 2020 will be the Native American Memorial dedication in Washington, DC.
  • On December 19th all of the LD’s that counted as Emergency Bills will be announced and signed.
  • LD 1231 and HP 835 – An Act Regarding Mental Health Care for Maine Veterans (2017) is coming to a close.  This pilot program provided mental health care to 231 Maine veterans. 
  • The first Thursday of every month there is a public meeting at the Civic Center Drive Cemetery to plan for Memorial Day.  10 am.  Next meeting is January 2nd
  • Eligible Veterans can register for Maine Service Coins on MBVS Website.

New Business:

  • Issue raised about the CBOC in Lincoln having offered space for a new female VSO to have office hours 1 day a week.  Progress has been stalled.  According to Tracye the CBOC Manager can determine if there is space available. 
  • Gary asked what the VFW Dept of Maine will be doing for Memorial Day.  VFW will update next meeting. 
  • Gary shared some examples of how the MVCC has achieved results with veterans’ issues in the past. 

NEXT MVCC MEETING:   Monday, January 6th,  Maine Veterans Homes Augusta, 6pm.  

NEXT MVCC MEETING:   Monday, January 6th,  Maine Veterans Homes Augusta, 6pm.  

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