Full mural

Here is a picture of the mural on the DAV Chapter 102 without the huge crowd that was there when it was unveiled.

When it has come to working on and promoting events much of my philosophy over the years has been loosely based on the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

I remember watching the movie’s main character Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) looking into the Iowa cornfield when he heard the voice say, “If you build it, they will come.” Some of the events in my early days in Florida were not well attended.

Of course, those “early days” were in the late 70’s and people turned their backs on the Vietnam Veterans. That attitude continued until the Gulf War happened and Veterans again became heroes in the eyes of Americans. Then they also started to honor the Vietnam Veteran.

This past 4th of July my philosophy became a reality. The unveiling of the mural we had been working on so long drew a crowd of unsurpassed proportions.

The Chapter Hall had been setup with 45 chairs and as MC of the program I was busy with the final touches. At about 15 minutes before we were to start at 10 a.m. Commander Albert Johnson came to me and said, “We have to move this outside.” I questioned why and was told, as I looked around the room at standing room only, “We are full in here, there are 35 people outside, and cars are still pulling in.”

With the help of everyone we moved the program outside and got started at the advertised time, well not exactly but close. I did start my opening with a statement about always starting my events on the appointed time even in this case.

I pointed out the clock, in the hall everyone had been watching, said it was 10 o’clock on the dot. I also confessed to taking the battery out when it got to 10. After resetting the program outside we only started 6 minutes late. Thanks to everyone for keeping this day on track.

Newport Plain Talk’s Matt Winter did a great job covering the event. He posted a really nice story and lots of pictures. The one showing the crowd and surrounding cars showed the largest crowd at the hall anyone could remember.

Thank you, Matt for the coverage and excellent job. I hope everyone has or will pick up a copy of the weekend edition and see what a great addition this mural will be for Newport’s Veterans. There have been a couple other events locally that also brought up Kevin Costner’s name and I will share more about that later in the column.

BLUE WATER NAVY ACT:

On June 27th Congressman Roe held a news media conference call I was part of to talk about the many things happening in Washington. He was answering a question for one of the other media representatives when he stopped in mid-sentence.

In an excited and elevated tone, he said, “Rob, it’s a done deal. After all these years the President has signed the Blue Water Navy Act!” The Congressman has worked tirelessly for the last eleven years to get these benefits secured for this group of Vietnam Veterans.

Congress had mandated this law take effect on January 1, 2020 and a development on July 1st has put a damper on the celebration. Robert Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has ordered a “stay” on Blue Water Veterans’ claims until that January 1st date and stalling any benefits they may be eligible for.

In his memo, Secretary Wilkie said that the law signed into effect by President Trump on June 25th, “authorizes me to stay certain pending claims for benefits that may be affected by that Act until implementation of the statutory amendments Congress directed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. I exercise that authority.”

Secretary Wilkie’s memo continues to say, “The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) “are ordered to stay decisions regarding claims for disability compensation that are based on service in the offshore waters” of Vietnam beginning Jan. 9, 1962 and ending May 7, 1975, the memo reads. It also states the VBA and BVA, “are ordered to stay decisions regarding claims for disability compensation that are based on service in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone” beginning Sept. 1, 1967 and ending Aug. 31, 1971 as well as claims for benefits for spina bifida from children of veterans allegedly exposed to toxic herbicides such as Agent Orange while serving in Thailand from Jan. 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975. “The stays shall remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2020.”

In a news release addressing this memo Wilkie said, “The VA is dedicated to ensuring that all veterans receive the benefits they have earned, and we are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation.”

The release encourages the Veterans to submit their claims for conditions related to Agent Orange. When processing begins, Veterans who are 85 and older, or with any life-threatening illnesses will have priority. It also states, “Veterans previously denied an Agent Orange-related presumptive condition can file a new claim under the new law, the VA said. Eligible survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy veterans can also file claims for benefits based on their veterans’ service.”

It is my understanding what ships were assigned to the Vietnam area within the twelve-mile limit is still being determined. The National Archives is currently going through Navy ship logs to determine what ships were ordered to the area.

This information will give the dates and length of time the ship was stationed off the coast and provide additional information to substantiate a claim for exposure. There is a list of ships the VA has determined that served in “brown water”, off the coast or up a river is online and provides a presumptive of exposure to Agent Orange.

In a column last month when I wrote about the act passing the Senate, I encouraged those who feel they are eligible to at least file a Notice of Intent, VA Form 21-0966. This form establishes a date for any retroactive monies the future claim will provide. I am including the information from the previous column on how to file the paperwork.

There are three ways you can notify VA of your intent to file a claim.

• Electronically via eBenefits or with the support of a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) through the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal. a. When submitting through eBenefits, you must initiate a claim, complete the personal information page, and hit “save”, which then establishes your effective date while allowing you up to 1 year to complete your application.

• Completing and mailing paper VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC.

• Over the phone or in person. Claimants can call VA’s National Call Centers (800-827- 1000) or tell a public contact representative in person at one of VA’s regional office.

When dealing with the VA I have found, over the last 40 years, that it is always best to get a trained Veteran Service Officer (VSO) to help. You can appoint a recognized representative (VSO), who can notify VA on your behalf using one of the above three methods.

At the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 there are five Service Officers trained to help. You can check with them on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon or call the office at 423-532-8130. You can also contact the Cocke County Veterans Service Officer at 423-623-7911.

NEWS OF NOTE:

The Missions Act information is still coming in. The VA is adding pre-approved doctors and walk-in clinics to their approved provider and locations list. I am working on getting an appointment with the coordinating manager for the Community Care program. That way I can get the information from the horses mouth instead of the other end. I want to give appropriate information on this subject.

American Legion Post 41 meets the second Tuesday of each month at the American Legion’s Cocke County Memorial Building 103 N. Cosby Highway. The next meeting will be tonight, Tuesday July 9 at 5 p.m. with a potluck meal, followed by the business meeting at 6 p.m. Entry will be on C Avenue across from the Newport Fire Department. You can call the Commander, David Mills, Commander at (423) 237-6896 for directions or more information.

Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 at 148 Pine Street. Chapter 102 meets the third Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be July 18 at 148 Pine Street and opens at 6 p.m. with a potluck meal and meeting at 7 p.m. This meeting will include the change of command and discussion of the upcoming year. For more information contact Albert Johnson, Commander at 760-586-1586.

Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to PO Box 224 Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; viewfromthebunker@yahoo.com, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.

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