Tuesday, September 29, 2009

VA Staffs Office for Survivors of Vets, Service Members

Shinseki: “Voice of Survivors” Will Strengthen Existing Programs

WASHINGTON -- To strengthen the programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the survivors of the nation’s Veterans and military personnel, the Department has staffed an office to serve as their advocate, with a charter that includes creating or modifying programs, benefits and services.

“Taking care of survivors is as essential as taking care of our Veterans and military personnel,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “By taking care of survivors, we are honoring a commitment made to our Veterans and military members.”

The office serves as the primary advisor to the secretary on all issues affecting the survivors and dependents of deceased Veterans and service members. It will monitor VA’s delivery of benefits to survivors, make appropriate referrals to VA offices for survivors seeking benefits and explore innovative ways of reaching survivors who are not receiving the VA benefits for which they are eligible.

VA benefits for eligible survivors include educational assistance, home loan guaranties, health care insurance and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, a monthly payment to the survivors of some people who die on active duty and some seriously disabled Veterans.
More than 554,000 spouses, dependents and other survivors of Veterans are receiving VA benefits. That figure includes nearly 5,000 spouses of World War I Veterans, 90 spouses and 94 children of Spanish-American War Veterans, and two children of Civil War Veterans.

The establishment of this office was authorized in the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2008.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The American Legion aids in G.I. Bill financial relief effort

VA to issue emergency checks to veteran students awaiting benefits

WASHINGTON (September 26, 2009) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says it is preparing to issue checks of up to $3,000 to students awaiting overdue Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki made the announcement Friday night in the wake of reports from The American Legion and other veterans’ service organizations that some students are experiencing undue financial hardships as the result of delays in the reception of G.I. Bill benefit checks. Some students, it is reported, have been forced to borrow money or take on extracurricular work to pay tuition, fees and other educational expenses while they await their newly implemented benefits. The emergency checks will be made available to eligible students through VA regional offices beginning October 1, according to Secretary Shinseki’s office.

“It is heartening to see the Secretary and his department responding so swiftly and decisively to this unfortunate situation,” said National Commander Clarence E. Hill of The American Legion. “This is a brand new benefits program, instituted just weeks ago, so some startup glitches are to be expected,” he continued, “but the VA’s willingness to rectify the problem should be applauded. As I said earlier this week, our veteran students should be free to concentrate on their studies rather than be worried by financial burdens. Secretary Shinseki has echoed my sentiment.

“The American Legion offers its extensive outreach services in implementing the emergency student relief program,” continued Hill. “We are ready to help students apply for and obtain the benefits they deserve.”

Post 9/11 G.I. Bill students can contact The American Legion directly for assistance with educational benefits questions and issues at 202-263-2995 or by sending an email to the vice president of the National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators at askvalerie@legion.org

The American Legion has created a website, www.mygibill.org, to aid veterans in understanding and applying for their benefits under the new Post 9/11 GI Bill.

With a current membership of 2.5-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

VA Patient Care Scam

The VA has received reports that veterans are being contacted by a "Patient Care Group" that claims it is helping to administer the VA's prescription medicine program. "Patient Care Group" is saying the VA recently changed its pharmacy billing procedures, therefore a personal credit card number is now required for prescription payments in advance of filling those prescriptions.

This is a scam! Do not provide credit card information over the phone to anyone who claims to represent the VA! The VA has not changed their pharmacy procedures, and they do not ask veterans to disclose personal financial information over the phone. If you should receive such a call, do not give them any information.

Tell them you are busy and try to get a name and callback number. Report that information to your local police.

Friday, September 11, 2009

U.S. Senate Passes Resolution making September 16, The American Legion Day

Congressional Record

U.S. Senate Passes Resolution making September 16, The American Legion Day

THE AMERICAN LEGION DAY -- (Senate - September 10, 2009)
[Page: S9274] GPO's PDF

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the Senate proceed to the consideration of S. Res. 260, which was submitted earlier today.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the resolution by title.
The bill clerk read as follows:

A resolution (S. Res. 260) designating September 16, 2009, as ``The American Legion Day.''
There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the resolution.

Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, I rise to support this legislation I introduced with Senator LINCOLN, Senator COLLINS, and Senator CHAMBLISS, which would officially recognize this Nation's largest veterans' service organization, The American Legion , and its vital role in communities across the Nation, by designating September 16, 2009, as ``The American Legion Day.''

Nothing describes the role of The American Legion more beautifully than its preamble to its constitution which is recited by its members at the beginning of every official meeting.

For God and Country, we associated ourselves together for the following purposes: To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the Master of Might; to promote peace and good will on earth; to safeguard and transmit to Posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.

I think we all would agree that these are extremely lofty goals for any organization, but amazingly The American Legion continues to work towards these objectives--not for themselves, but for America .

Most people are surprised to learn that The American Legion was actually founded in Paris , France . You see World War I veterans remembered the challenges facing other wartime veterans from previous generations and vowed not to let their fellow comrades face the same hardships, especially those with service-connected disabilities. They were concerned with employment opportunities for returning combat veterans. They were concerned about the survivors of combat veterans who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. They were concerned about medical care for the wounded and ill returning service members.

Now, as at its founding, The American Legion remains focused on supporting military service members and their families. Since December, The American Legion's Operation Comfort Warrior raised over $170,000 to buy merchandise for Wounded Warriors in military treatment centers around the country. The American Legion also established the ``Heroes to Hometowns'' program which helps local communities prepare ``welcome home'' events when wounded warriors are finally released from military or veterans' affairs medical centers. Since the first Gulf War, The American Legion has maintained its Family Support Network which assists deployed service members and their families, especially members of the National Guard and Reserves. Some requests are for financial assistance, but other requests are simply for household chores, such as lawn work or car maintenance, that would normally be done by the soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine, were they not deployed. No request is too large or too small.

Many Legionnaires can be found in public schools on Veterans' Day or Memorial Day talking about their military service in periods of armed conflict to make sure the next generation of Americans understands the sacrifices and hardships of previous generations of wartime veterans. Legionnaires also teach students about the proper display and care of the Flag of the United States .

The American Legion works closely with the American Red Cross--the largest organization of blood donors and a working partner in disaster assistance. Many American Legion Posts serve as Red Cross and FEMA work centers in areas hit by natural disasters.

The American Legion is also proud of its membership's spirit of volunteerism. Each year, Legionnaires volunteer over a million hours of services in VA and military medical facilities, State veterans' homes, and other such community volunteer opportunities.

And one of the most solemn of functions is providing burial details for fallen comrades of every generation. The American Legion Color Guards, Buglers and Rifle Squads perform thousands of burials in veterans' and private cemeteries around the Nation.

As all of us in this chamber know, The American Legion remains today an active and vigorous advocate for service members, veterans and their families here on Capitol Hill. Among its greatest legislative achievements was the enactment of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill of Rights. The initial draft of the GI Bill was written by Legionnaires at the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington , DC . Many consider the GI Bill as one of the greatest pieces of legislation ever enacted.

Congress presented The American Legion its Federal charter on September 16, 1919; therefore, I think it only fitting that we proclaim September 16, 2009, ``The American Legion Day.'' I sincerely hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting this well-earned measure, demonstrating our mutual esteem and reverence for this outstanding organization.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The resolution (S. Res. 260) was agreed to.

[Page: S9269] GPO's PDF

Ms. SNOWE (for herself, Mrs. Lincoln, Ms. Collins, and Mr. Chambliss) submitted the following resolution; which was considered and agreed to:

S. Res. 260
Whereas, on September 16, 1919, Congress issued to the American Legion a Federal charter as a wartime veterans service organization;

Whereas the American Legion remains active in communities at the national, State, and local levels;

Whereas members of the American Legion (commonly referred to as ``Legionnaires'') provide millions of hours of volunteer service to medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs and State homes for veterans throughout the United States ;

Whereas the American Legion continues to sponsor activities for children and youth, including the National Oratorical Contest, Boy Scouts, American Legion Baseball, Boys State, and Boys Nation;

Whereas the American Legion awards millions of dollars in college scholarships to young men and women;

Whereas the American Legion National Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to Legionnaires displaced by natural disasters;

Whereas the American Legion Family Support Network provides assistance to members of the Armed Forces of the United States and their families;

Whereas the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has provided millions of dollars to programs focused on youth in the United States , including the Special Olympics and the Children's Miracle Network;

Whereas the American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance provides grants to veterans with children experiencing financial hardships;

Whereas the American Legion remains second to none in steadfast support of strong national defense;

Whereas the American Legion supports maintaining a viable and principled foreign relations agenda;

Whereas the American Legion is a staunch advocate for the principal missions of the Department of Veterans Affairs;

Whereas the American Legion wrote the original draft of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (58 Stat. 284, chapter 268), commonly referred to as the ``G. I. Bill of Rights'';

Whereas the American Legion continues to support employment programs and opportunities for veterans; and

Whereas Legionnaires believe that a veteran's service to the United States continues long after the veteran is honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States : Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate designates September 16, 2009, as ``The American Legion Day''.

The American Legion leader outlines priority items for Congress

WASHINGTON (Sept. 10, 2009 ) - The newly elected leader of The American Legion has spelled out the veterans service organization’s seven leading priorities for Congress.

National Commander Clarence E. Hill, just two weeks into his one-year term, testified before a joint session of the U.S. House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees this morning, succinctly outlining the Legion’s continuing concern over funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs , VA’s huge caseload backlog and the fate of VA medicine in light of impending changes in the nation’s health care system.

Hill submitted 40 pages of written testimony to committee members, but also offered a few minutes of oral testimony in a packed Cannon House Office Building caucus room. Among the hundreds witnessing the commander’s testimony were Legion leaders from across the nation who had made an annual pilgrimage to Washington to visit their congressional representatives as well as a contingent of wounded warriors from nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center whose presence inspired two standing ovations.

Hill summarized his brief remarks by declaring seven “priority items” for congressional consideration. These included what he called “timely, predictable and sufficient” appropriations “to support the Department of Veterans Affairs’ delivery of quality health care to the nation’s veterans.” The commander also reiterated the Legion’s argument that VA health care be kept autonomous and not rolled into any national health care plan.

Hill also urged passage of twin House and Senate bills that would enable Medicare reimbursement to the VA for medical treatment of eligible veterans, plus improved screening of and treatment for traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.

The Legion commander also urged changes in the newly enacted Post 9/11 G.I. Bill that would expand financial aid to include veterans who wish to pursue vocational and trade school educational opportunities rather than just those presented in colleges and universities. He also encouraged improved regulation of the Local Veterans’ Employment Representative (LVER) and Disabled Veterans’ Outreach (DVOP) programs at the state level to help bolster employment opportunities for veterans.

An oft-repeated topic of discussion during the commander’s testimony was the huge backlog of unprocessed and partially processed VA disability claims. Some sources say the number of claims in the backlog now approach one-million. The Legion leader said that improved training and retention of case workers, plus the institution of measures to, as he put it, “get it right the first time,” thus avoiding repeated and extensive processing of claims, will help free the logjam. Hill and the Legion drew praise for offering solutions to the vexing problem, rather than simply express alarm about it.

Praise was also offered by committee members to each other for their largely bipartisan efforts to address the needs of the nation’s military veterans. The most passionate statement in this regard was made by Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont. “I voted against the war in Iraq,” he proclaimed, “but no matter whether you favor a war or oppose it, it is wrong to blame those who put on the uniform.” His comment elicited loud applause. Testimony is presented annually to lawmakers by The American Legion’s national commander shortly after Congress reconvenes in its fall session.

With a current membership of 2.5-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.