Veterans share concerns with LaMalfa |

Veterans share concerns with LaMalfa

Doug LaMalfa, U.S. Representative, California's 1st congressional district, taking to Dale Epps a retired Master Sgt. Air Force, Tuesday morning, Gene Albaugh Community Room at Helling Library, Nevada City.
John Hart/ | The Union

Officials celebrate groundbreaking of Shanghai Bend Levee work

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, joined Representatives Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Shanghai Bend construction levee on Wednesday with Sutter Butte Flood Control officials and local leaders.

“It has been a long journey for this community,” said Sen. Nielsen. “Residents can rest easier knowing that their property will be less at risk for floods upon completion of this levee improvement.”

This one-mile upgrade of the Feather River West Levee project is made possible by funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local support. Recognizing the importance of this project, property owners approved an assessment to pay the local cost for the Feather River levee improvements in 2010.

This project is part of a planned $270 million, 41-mile project that will protect 100,000 residents from flooding.

The Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency, a model organization for effective collaboration in planning and financing under Chairman James Gallagher’s leadership, planned for these improvements to the levee since 2007.

To help the community with this project, the State Department of Water Resources staff has been working diligently to assist local flood officials work through the state’s laws and regulations.

“I urge the Corps to expedite its approval process for the remaining 40 miles to avoid any unnecessary delay to this important project,” Nielsen said in his concluding remarks.

— Submitted to The Union

Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. and Vietnam veteran Dale Epps has been caught in the frustrating rigmarole that is involved in filing Department of Veterans Affairs claims since retiring from service in 1977.

Epps, who said he served in Vietnam from 1971 to 1974, has suffered an array of tumors and other medical problems he attributes to Agent Orange exposure.

“I was saturated (with Agent Orange) all the time,” he said. “A lot of us are in the same boat.”

Epps’ story was just one of many told by veterans at the Veterans Community Coffee event Tuesday morning at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. The seemingly endless bureaucracy that accompanies the Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims processing and services to veterans was a major theme of the discussion, sponsored by U.S. Congressman Doug LaMalfa in order to allow veterans and other interested citizens to voice their concerns and comments about veterans’ issues.

“I, as one member of the House, will do everything I can to uphold and affirm what veterans have been promised or implied they would get for serving our country,” LaMalfa said, also noting his work on current legislation on the topic.

“I’m working on an appropriations bill to try and catch up on the horrible backlog on VA claims.”

The amendment to the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill would infuse the 15 worst-performing VA offices with $44 million in funds, according to a June 5 news release.

“We need a groundswell of support from the public,” LaMalfa said.

Epps, who said he is on the Agent Orange Registry, made it clear that he has not received the extent of the medical benefits he is entitled to not only as a military retiree, but also because of the extent of his medical needs, which he says are caused by extensive contact with Agent Orange.

“They take pictures, say how bad it looks, then a couple weeks later I get a denial letter,” Epps said of his Agent Orange Registry Health Exam.

Agent Orange, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is a herbicide blend used as a tactical defoliant during the Vietnam War. It is a carcinogenic hormone disrupter and has been linked to a variety of cancers, skin conditions and birth defects.

Jonn Melrose, the Veterans Services officer for Placer County, commented on the increased backlog of VA claims due to Agent Orange related diseases added by the Board of Veterans Appeals.

“When the Board of Veterans Appeals makes a decision ­ like the Agent Orange presumptives ­ that dropped 300,000 claims into the system,” Melrose said.

“About 2008, you saw this massive spike; I think it about doubled the workload overnight. The VA was blind-sided.”

Presumptive diseases are those recognized by the VA as associated with Agent Orange exposure, which make veterans eligible for health care benefits or other compensation.

Don Hauswirth, an Army veteran who served in the Korean war, spoke about the trouble he had getting a dental appointment at the Reno VA. It would have been a five-month wait, according to Hauswirth.

“Two years ago (U.S. Congressman Tom) McClintock actually got me moved up, I don’t know what he did, but I loaded his gun for him,” said Hauswirth.

Many of the veterans at the coffee event spoke about receiving help from elected officials who, like LaMalfa, pledge to stand on a strong platform of support for veterans.

Pamela Davinson, Nevada County Veterans Services officer, and Jim Foley and Eric Gamblin, Veterans Services representatives, are available to Nevada County veterans to educate them about benefits and services, to assist with filling out forms and to help with transportation needs.

They can be reached at 530-273-3396.

Jessica Snapp is a freelance writer in Nevada County.

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