TITUSVILLE — Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Adjutant Tim Peters last week represented the VFW on a call with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester to pledge support for the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021.

This legislation would help millions of veterans access care and benefits for conditions associated with toxic exposures, now and in the future.

VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Kristina Keenan spoke at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, along with members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, TV personality Jon Stewart, and fellow veterans service organizations to support the Honoring our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

This bill would also address the VFW’s top legislative priority of comprehensive toxic exposure reform. Keenan stated, “Congress has the opportunity and the responsibility to ensure that vital care and benefits are provided for those who served and sacrificed for our nation.”

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Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a markup to consider pending legislation including the VFW-supported COST of War Act.

This legislation received unanimous support from the committee. Other VFW-supported bills that advanced included: S.B. 89, the Ensuring Survivor Benefits During COVID-19 Act of 2021; S.B. 189, the Veterans’ Disability Compensation Automatic COLA Act of 2021; S.B. 894, the Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021; S.B. 1095, the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act of 2021; and S.B. 1031, to conduct a study on disparities associated with race and ethnicity with respect to certain benefits administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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On Thursday, the VA announced it will begin implementing the three presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure that were added in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism.

We encourage affected veterans and survivors to contact their VFW department service officer with any questions or concerns they may have or if they may be interested in filing a claim.

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Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said adolescents who are 12-18 years old may receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

CHAMPVA benefit recipients may be vaccinated at their local VA facility, provided the facility has the Pfizer vaccine in stock. Contact the VA facility to ensure they have the Pfizer vaccine in stock. Eligible veterans, spouses, caregivers and CHAMPVA beneficiaries nationwide can walk into their local VA facility’s vaccine clinic to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

Veterans not enrolled in VA care should preregister online at least one hour before arrival to save time. The expanded access to the COVID-19 vaccine at VA is a result of the SAVE LIVES Act. See the VA’s answers to frequently asked questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine in Part I and Part II for more information.

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Here is this week’s prisoner of war and missing in action update:

• Army Pvt. Wayne M. Evans, 21, of Hamilton, Montana, was a member of Battery G, 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine islands in December. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula. The date has yet to be decided.

• Army Cpl. Burl Mullins, 23, of Dorton, Kentucky, was a member of Heavy Mortar Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosen Reservoir. Mullins will be buried in his hometown. The date has yet to be decided.

Charlie Castelluccio, a Titusville resident, is chaplain of northwest Pennsylvania’s 28th District of Veterans of Foreign Wars and is a member of Titusville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5958.

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