Legislation Is Introduced to Establish a Presumption for Blast Exposure

Last Thursday, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) introduced VFW-supported H.R. 5739, the Blast Exposure Protection Act of 2020. This important legislation would establish a presumption of service-connection for disabilities associated with blast exposures, which will make it easier for veterans to prove that health conditions are related to their military service. “Traumatic brain injury and other conditions associated with blast exposure are very serious health issues,” stated VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Matthew Doyle. “Many service members go untreated for blast injuries while in service, which makes it difficult to prove that these conditions were caused by an event in service. The VFW is proud to support the Blast Exposure Protection Act of 2020, which would ensure that veterans who were exposed to blasts during military service receive the care and benefits they desperately need.” The VFW thanks Rep. Velazquez for introducing this legislation and for her efforts to expand disability benefits for veterans.

House Holds Joint Hearing on Military Sexual Trauma

Last Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Health, Oversight and Investigations, held a joint hearing to discuss how VA supports survivors of military sexual trauma (MST). Survivors of MST often exhibit symptoms associated with PTSD, such as anxiety, sleeplessness, intrusive thoughts, agitation, and an inability to concentrate. Many survivors of MST do not report their assaults to their commanders or medical professionals, which makes it difficult to develop a claim for VA benefits. At the hearing, Ranking Member Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) stated, “We need to make sure that veterans applying for benefits for MST related conditions are treated with dignity and evaluated fairly.”

VA Transitioning to New Electronic Health Record System

In May 2018, VA began a 10-year effort to migrate veteran health data into a modern electronic health record that will give VA providers secure access to patients’ complete medical histories from the time they enter military service through transition to veteran status. How VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) effort will affect each individual veteran depends on two primary factors: whether their military records already exist in a digital form, and when EHRM is being implemented in their region. VA will begin deploying its new system in March at select VA medical facilities in the Pacific Northwest, and will install the system nationwide over the next several years.

POW/MIA Update

U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Royal L. Waltz, 20, was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Waltz died between the first and second day of the battle, Nov. 20-21, 1943. Interment services are pending.

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Cpl. Oscar E. Koskela, 22, was a member of Headquarters Company, 29th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, when American forces participated in the battle for Saipan. Interment services are pending.

U.S. Navy Chief Machinist’s Mate Lada Smisek, 42, served at the Naval Ammunition Depot and Submarine Base in Cavite, Philippine Islands, when Japanese forces invaded. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942. Interment services are pending.

U.S. Navy Fireman 1st Class Hadley I. Heavin, 23, of Baxter Springs, Kansas, was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. He will be buried May 23, 2020, in his hometown.

U.S. Navy Fireman 1st Class Rex E. Wise, 21, of South Haven, Kansas, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. He will be buried April 22, 2020, in Braman, Oklahoma.

U.S. Army Cpl. Arthur C. Ramirez, 19, of Pima, Arizona, was a member of Battery B, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950, when enemy forces attacked his unit near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. Ramirez will be buried March 19, 2020, in Marana, Arizona.

Till next week, praying for all service members.


– Charles Castelluccio