In 1977, DAV was approached by Dr. John Wilson of Cleveland State University concerning a doctoral thesis he had titled “The Forgotten Warrior Project.” His thesis was to clarify and provide a diagnosis for what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans. Dr. Wilson had previously approached all the major service organizations and they declined any assistance. However, DAV saw the value of this research and agreed to fund and publish the study.

The study resulted in the creation of the DAV Vietnam Veterans Outreach Program, which was implemented in six cities. Within six months, DAV witnessed the benefit of these counseling centers were having on Vietnam veterans—they now had a place to talk to others like themselves. DAV expanded the program to 63 cities, one of which was Boston.

Through the cooperative support of DAV and Dr. James Goodwin, a combat Vietnam veteran and psychologist from Denver, we finally opened the door for PTSD to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III). Senator Alan Cranston of California, a ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to include PTSD as a disability in the 38 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which provides the law governing the VA.

As part of DAV’s statistical record keeping, another common thread was weaving its way through the Vietnam veteran’s story: an unusually high rate of illness, including skin and respiratory problems, and cancers. Unwittingly our organization was accumulating data concerning Dixon Exposure, or Agent Orange.

The VA eventually took over the centers and continued the project, incorporating them into what today are the Vet Centers. When DAV first saw the merit of Dr. Wilson’s study, little did we know the impact that both Agent Orange and PTSD would have on the world stage. DAV’s involvement in the research and lobbying behind these issues may not be well known by the public, but our commitment to those who served has enabled us to help millions of wounded warriors.

DAV fully supports Senator Rush's legislation to make the Secretary of Veteran Services a cabinet level position.
It is unfortunate that the Secretary of Veteran Services is really a Secretary in name only answering to the Secretary of HHS and not the Governor.
Our Veterans deserve a seat at the table communicating directly with the Governor. Thank you Senator Rush for filing this important legislation.Today, I filed legislation to place the Secretary of Veterans’ Services as part of the Governor’s cabinet; therefore, responsible for reporting directly to the Governor. Currently the “Secretary” reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, not the Governor, which is a total disservice to our states almost 400,000 Veterans!

This legislation will ensure that the voices of Massachusetts veterans, our active and reserve service members and their families are heard loud and clear!

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The DAV is saddened and disappointed by yesterdays report on the tragedy at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

DAV hopes this tragedy is the catalyst for real change both within the Soldiers' homes system and within the Department of Veteran Services. Both the soldiers' home system and DVS are in need of reform and modernization.

DAV has officially requested that the House and Senate create a special joint committee to examine the way in which the Commonwealth cares for older Veterans. We have asked that this committee be granted subpoena power for both records and testimony. DAV urges it be properly staffed with investigators and experts to conduct a broad and in depth examination of the entire soldiers' home system including whether this system should continue in its current form. Legislative recommendations should be made at the conclusion of the investigation.

DAV is encouraged that the Governor will be announcing reforms. We urge his administration to take a deep and broad look at our veterans services systems with the goal of systematic change and improvement. We urge that the selection of the next Secretary of Veteran Services will be conducted with full transparency and with input from Veteran advocates.

DAV feels that a systems review of this magnitude is long overdue. There have been many attempts to make legislative changes to this system over the years. However without a full and detailed understanding of the current needs and holes in services no meaningful change is possible. This is a serious public health issue. We as a Commonwealth owe it to our most vulnerable and honorable citizens to do better.

This oversight review, if conducted under the proper legal authority, staffing and funding will lay out a path to reform. All of the Commonwealth’s veterans deserve to feel confident that if they one day become a resident of a state-run veteran care facility that they will flourish and not perish. It will require all of us to take a hard look at how we serve our elderly Veterans. It will be difficult but we must have the courage to do better for these men and women.

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