A lot of positive things have happened over the course of 2019 within the Veterans Administration, including both Health Administration and Benefits Administration.

Our brand new Dubuque Community Base Outpatient Clinic opened at the former Kmart building this summer. This not only expanded the space over the previous clinic by four times, it provides specific medical care in a more private setting.

Our local veterans will still have to travel to Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center for some care, but many will now be able to be seen locally. One of the biggest changes is that the audiology van will be making periodic trips to the Community Base Outpatient Clinic to provide hearing tests.

As veterans, we saw a new medical bill passed, called the

Mission Act. This replaced the Choice Card. With this bill, veterans who meet the qualifications and guidelines will be able to use a local provider for their medical care. They must have permission from the Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center to receive this outside care.

Veterans should not allow this provider to perform other medical services without permission, as the result will be that they will have to pay for these services.

We strongly encourage veterans to stay on top of their billing because if it goes to collection, it will take a long time to get it straightened out. The Iowa City center has no authority of paying back bills and/or payments.

Within the Veterans Benefits Administration, we saw passage of HR299 Bill (Blue Water Navy Vietnam Act). This extends the presumption of herbicide exposure to over 90,000 veterans, easing the pathway to disability benefits for those who developed herbicide-related diseases.

This is a huge landmark for our brothers and sisters who have been fighting for years to prove that their ship was in the waterways of Vietnam. Passage of this bill into law will also help a lot of surviving spouses — those whose spouses passed away from one of the 14 presumptive diseases of Agent Orange.

Although this is great news for our Vietnam veterans, I am concerned about the decision of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to implement a six-month extension for veterans starting their claim. This also applies to the veterans who have had their claims sitting in the appeal process, some going on five years.

Alongside this new law, our elected officials in Washington need to advocate on behalf of our veterans to push Secretary Wilkie to add four other presumptive diseases (hypertension, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson-like symptoms).

Our elected officials in Washington are taking credit for passage of this bill. It is imperative that we make sure that this issue does not get ignored or delayed and that extensions aren’t continuously given. These veterans have been waiting for years to receive this benefit and medical care for serving our great nation. They should not have to wait any longer!

My staff and I consider it an honor and privilege to help and serve all of our local veterans, their spouses and dependents. We are merely a voice of five, so we encourage our veteran families to pressure our politicians to make due on the promises they made.

When we raised our right hand and were sworn into the armed forces, we promised to protect and defend our nation’s freedom. As veterans, we deserve the benefits and entitlements we have been promised and selflessly earned.

The author has been with the Dubuque County Commission of Veterans Affairs since 2012 and its executive director since 2016. His 20-year military career included two tours in Afghanistan, one in Iraq and two deployments to Asia. He served with the Marines, Army and Army National Guard. His email address is Randy.Rennison@dubuquecounty.us.

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