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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Shinseki Vows to Support Military Members, Vets

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2012 – Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki offered assurances that VA will make good on its promises to veterans and those currently serving in uniform, despite growth in demand for its services and benefits and federal belt-tightening initiatives.

Shinseki sat with American Forces Press Service during the 26th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic this week in Snowmass Village, Colo., to discuss VA’s $140.3 billion budget request for fiscal 2013 and what it means for those who serve or have served in uniform.

With a 4.5 percent increase in discretionary funding over fiscal 2012 funding levels, Shinseki said it sends a clear message to the nation’s 22 million living veterans. "The nation honors and appreciates their service," he said. "It has not forgotten and will not forget."

The funding increases will go primarily toward medical care, disability pay and pensions, jobs and educational and training programs. They also will help build momentum in three priority areas Shinseki has identified: increasing access to care, benefits and services; eliminating the disability claims backlog; and ending veterans’ homelessness.

Shinseki said the budget request — up from $99.9 billion when he arrived at VA in 2009 — was an easy sell to President Barack Obama, who he said has been a staunch advocate of veterans.

"He gets it, both that sense of obligation, and a responsibility to ensure that these men and women we have sent off to do the nation’s business have an opportunity to get back to some kind of normalcy in their lives, and that VA is responsible for carrying that load," Shinseki said of the President’s support for veterans.

The VA’s workload is anticipated to grow, Shinseki said, with an estimated 1 million service members expected to leave the military during the next five years. And based on the experience of 1.4 million veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan who have left the military as of September, he said the newest veterans will be twice as likely as those from previous generations to take advantage of VA services and benefits.

Shinseki noted that 67 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to VA for services or benefits ranging from health care to insurance, home mortgages and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education. That’s a far-higher percentage than for previous generations, he said, noting that roughly 8.8 million, or about one-third of all 22 million living U.S. veterans, are enrolled with the VA.

"So looking down the road, that percentage is going to be pretty significant," he said.

In some respects, VA has become a victim of its own successes and what Shinseki called a "very aggressive" outreach effort to encourage veterans to take advantage of VA programs. "In the last three years, we have pushed very hard to get the message out," he said. It’s been a two-prong effort, he added, to educate new veterans, and to "reach out to those who may have tried us and been disappointed in the past to say, ‘This is a new VA. Give us another try.’"

The message has clearly resonated, with about 800,000 new veterans enrolling with VA over the past three years and beginning to take advantage of its services.

"As a result, we have been able to present what I think is a good argument for why VA’s budget needed to be reinforced, Shinseki said.

The VA budget request includes $52.7 billion for medical care, up 4.1 percent. VA officials estimate that 6.3 million veterans will use its health care services, including about 610,000 veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The request includes $6.2 billion for mental-health, up 5.3 percent from current levels. VA will use the additional funding to conduct more outreach and screenings, better address post-traumatic stress disorder and enhance programs that reduce the stigma of seeking mental-health care, officials said.

The budget also will fund expanded gender-specific care for women veterans and medical research focusing on traumatic brain injury, suicide prevention, PTSD and other needs, officials reported.

New funding in the 2013 budget request, officials said, will help veterans prepare for and secure jobs, building on a national program that includes tax credits for employers, corporate hiring pledges, job fairs and other initiatives.

The budget request will cover Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits for an estimated 606,000 service members, veterans and family members during fiscal 2013, officials said. A separate funding increase of $9 million would expand the "VetSuccess on Campus" program from 28 college campuses to 80 to provide outreach and supportive services for about 80,000 veterans transitioning from the military to college.

Meanwhile, VA’s vocational rehabilitation and employment program will expand services to wounded, ill and injured service members to ease their transition to civilian life, officials said. Program participants are expected to increase from 108,000 in fiscal 2011 to 130,000 next fiscal year.

The budget request proposes $1 billion over five years for a Veterans Job Corp. This effort, projected to put 20,000 veterans to work, would leverage military-acquired skills for jobs protecting and rebuilding U.S. public lands.

Shinseki said VA and the Defense Department are collaborating better than ever before to ensure a smoother transition from the military to VA-assisted ranks.

A task force that blends both departments’ expertise is exploring ways to improve transition assistance programs and weave health care, employment, education and entrepreneurship offerings into them. The idea, Shinseki explained, is to put transitioning service members "on a vector to that next phase of their lives, as opposed to the uniform coming off and then having them ask the question, ‘What am I going to do now?’"

The goal, he said, is to gear transition assistance programs toward providing veterans "a clear set of choices," that both departments can help support.

Shinseki noted other areas where the close DOD-VA partnership already is helping service members and their families and veterans. VA is the insurer for everyone in the military carrying Servicemembers Group Life Insurance. VA administers Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for service members and their families as well as veterans. VA hospitals already provide specialized care to many active-duty patients.

"So the connection is there," Shinseki said. "And I want all service members and their families to understand that we are there for them, and that is our only mission."

Biographies:
Eric K. Shinseki
Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs

Related Articles:
VA Secretary Opens Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

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Subcommittee Holds Legislative Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) received testimony considering eight pieces of pending legislation: H.R. 4142, H.R. 4114, H.R. 2051, H.R. 2498, H.R. 2377, H.R. 2717, H.R. 4168, and H.R. 4213.

The American Heroes COLA Act (H.R. 4142), introduced by DAMA Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jon Runyan provides for annual cost-of-living adjustments to be made automatically by law each year in the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain service-connected disabled veterans.

“With the passage of the America Heroes COLA Act, veterans will never again have to depend on Congressional action to receive an increase to the cost-of-living adjustment they have earned through their service. Instead, these increases will become automatic from year to year just as Social Security benefits increases are adjusted automatically every year,” said Runyan.

Also introduced by Rep. Runyan were H.R. 4114, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012 and H.R. 4213, which would require judges of the United States of Appeals for Veterans Claims to reside within 50 miles of the District of Columbia.

“H.R. 4213 will ensure a more efficiently run Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims by requiring judges to fully engage in their caseload and manage their offices by maintaining a household reasonably close to their work location. This will have the desired effect of ensuring veterans receive justice without unneeded delay due to the extended commute of federal judges,” stated Rep. Runyan.

Retweetables:

@HouseVetAffairs: #VA Subcommittee hears testimony on new #vets legislation: http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-holds-legislative-hearing

@HouseVetAffairs Former Senator and war hero, Max Cleland, testifies before #VA Subcommittee on #vets legislation

@HouseVetAffairs: @RepJonRunyan looks to lock in #COLA for #vets: http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-holds-legislative-hearing


Please feel free copy paste and retweet spread the word on this important hearing.

Help IAVA Team Bravo

Sean,

Today is the last big push. Have you chipped in yet?

Every hour the Storm gets stronger. Our teams are making critical progress in DC this week. We’ve met with over 100 congressional offices and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. And in record-time we’ve spearheaded the introduction of two important bills to combat vet unemployment. One will protect the New GI Bill for hundreds of thousands of vets. The other will expand the military’s Transition Assistance Program so vets can get career support long after they separate from the service.

Can you pitch in to help us push Congress to support these crucial bills? We’ve got 26 vets in this fight against 12,000 lobbyists. But every dollar you donate to support our teams will be matched by a generous IAVA donor–and push us closer to our goal by midnight Friday.

Storm the Hill 2012 has been a huge success and we’re not letting up on Capitol Hill. Today, we’re taking our message straight to the White House to meet with the President’s team and get buy-in from the Commander-in-Chief.

For the rest of the week and the rest of the year, we will continue to drive up support for our fight against vet unemployment. But we can’t keep up the momentum without you.

Thank you for having our back.

Ramsey

Ramsey Sulayman
Iraq Veteran – Team Bravo
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Disabled Vets Experience ‘Miracles on Mountainside’

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 28, 2012 – Ralph Gigliotti of the Veterans Affairs Department’s Rocky Mountain Network had warned about 400 disabled veterans gathered here for the annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic to expect miracles to unfold in the days ahead.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Jon Engles, who lost his right leg and most of his right arm in a 2000 motorcycle accident, experiences his own personal miracle climbing a rock wall and skiing at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. DOD photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Tomorrow, each of will start chasing your miracles on the mountain," he told the veterans as they prepared to kick off a six-day clinic jam-packed with sporting events designed to push them to new heights and enhance their rehabilitation. Midway through the clinic, even some of the skeptics say they’re experiencing firsthand why the popular event, now in its 26th year, has come to be known as "Miracles on a Mountainside."

Anthony Jeffries admits he resisted coming to his first clinic this year. A Marine Corps veteran rendered a quadriplegic during a 2007 car accident, he said the staff at his VA treatment facility in California "practically beat me with a stick" to get him to participate. "It was the fear of the unknown," he said.

But on the clinic’s opening day, Jeffries accomplished something he never dreamed possible, skiing down Snowmass Mountain on adaptive skis. "I don’t smile much, but I was smiling a lot then," he said. For Jeffries, the run down the mountain was the springboard to a whole new world of opportunity. Now he’s looking forward to the clinic’s trapshooting event, which he hopes will be a foray to his longtime love of hunting.

Jeffries’ mother, Nancy Barrington, said she’s seeing the change in her son since arriving here. "He’s starting to open up," she said. "He’s seeing that there are still things he can do."

Jeffries agrees. "I figure that if I can ski down a mountain, I can probably do a lot of other things that I thought I would never be able to," he said.

That, Gigliotti said, is exactly what the winter sports clinic is designed to help veterans realize.

Alan Burger, a 50-year-old Navy veteran who lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident 30 years ago, experienced his own personal miracle during a clinic-sponsored outing at the T Lazy 7 Ranch in nearby Aspen Highlands. He took the controls of a hulking snowmobile and navigated through the snow-covered trails — the first time he’s driven a vehicle in three decades since his life-altering accident.

"It was awesome!" he exclaimed before climbing back into his wheelchair. "I wanted to go faster!" The freedom was so liberating, he said, that he now plans to apply for his driver’s license as soon as he gets home to Kansas City, Kan.

Burger called the experiences at the winter sports clinic "an epiphany for me," and another major step in his road to physical and emotional recovery.

Always in constant pain due to his injury, he had found himself spiraling into substance abuse. But on May 31, he’ll celebrate a year of sobriety, and swears, "I’m never going back." Instead, he said he’s been focusing on getting himself in shape, putting in three to five miles a day in his wheelchair as part of his exercise and nutrition regimen.

Berger said the clinic has opened his eyes to even greater possibilities. Gone, he said, are the days when he felt he had no choice but to sit on the sidelines watching others enjoy life. "This had made me realize that I can do anything I want to do," he said. "I don’t have to be a spectator anymore. I can get out there and live life."

Jon Engles had plenty of spectators cheering him yesterday on as he experienced his own miracle at the winter sports clinic. A former Navy petty officer 3rd class who lost his right leg and most of his right arm in a 2000 motorcycle accident, Engles struggled up a 24-foot rock-climbing wall positioned in the middle of Snowmass Village.

Clinic participants gathered to encourage him as he labored inch by inch up the wall, finally exploding into cheers when he reached the top and rang the bell to announce his accomplishment.

Among those celebrating was Tricia Strombom, Engles’ coach from the VA Center in Portland, Ore. "This is huge," she said, an extension of a transformation in Engles she said began on the ski slope the previous day.

"I looked at his eyes, and you could just see the switch flip," she said. "You could see that moment of ‘Wow, I can do this. And if I can do this, what else can I do?’"

As he reveled in his achievements, Engles said, it’s the support and camaraderie he’s found in his fellow disabled veterans that makes them possible.

"I love being with all the veterans," he said. "There’s no pretense. It’s everyone together, encouraging each other and just about having a good time."

What draws them together, he said, is a common understanding of what each other is experiencing and a common base. "We all served, and come from the same blood," he said.

Jose Lopez called the supportive atmosphere these veterans provide each other a key to his rehabilitation. An Army veteran who was working as a Defense Department civilian sports specialist in Germany when a 2007 motorcycle accident landed him in a wheelchair, Lopez said he initially feared he was destined for a nursing home.

One of his therapists introduced Lopez to adaptive sports a year later, and he quickly began taking advantage of every opportunity offered to him. "It changed my life so much," he said. "I do more things now in a wheelchair than when I was walking."

Thinking about how far he has come, and watching other disabled veterans move forward in their rehabilitation, Lopez said he understands what makes the winter sports clinic the "Miracle on a Mountainside."

"It’s everyone together, creating that atmosphere of support," he said. "That’s the miracle."

Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Mission ReDefined
Related Articles:
VA Secretary Opens Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Paralympians Provide Example, Inspiration to Disabled Vets

Subcommittee to Hold Legislative Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Thursday, March 29, 2012, at 10:00 a.m., in Room 340 of the Cannon House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will hold a Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4142, H.R. 4114, H.R. 2051, H.R. 2498, H.R. 2377, H.R. 2717, H.R. 4168, and H.R. 4213.

WHO: Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

WHAT: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4142, H.R. 4114, H.R. 2051, H.R. 2498, H.R. 2377, H.R. 2717, H.R. 4168, and H.R. 4213

WHEN: 10:00 a.m., Thursday, March 29, 2012, Room 340, Cannon House Office Building

WITNESS LIST

Panel 1

The Honorable Frank Guinta

U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Barney Frank

U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Mike McIntyre

U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Joe Donnelly

U.S. House of Representatives

Panel 2

Col. Thomas Moe, Director, Ohio Department of Veterans Services

Constituent Witness on behalf of H.R. 2051

Capt. Wilbur Jones,Constituent Witness on behalf of H.R. 2717

Daniel Bendetson,Constituent Witness on behalf of H.R. 2498

Michael Bendetson,Constituent Witness on behalf of H.R. 2498

Panel 3

The Honorable Max Cleland, Secretary

American Battle Monuments Commission

Mr. Thomas Murphy,Director of Compensation Service

Veterans Benefits Administration

~Accompanied by~

Richard Hipolit, Assistant General Counsel

Department of Veterans Affairs

Panel 4

The Honorable Bruce E. Kasold,Chief Judge

United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

Panel 5

Mr. Raymond Kelley,National Legislative Director

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Ms. Verna Jones,Director of the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission

The American Legion

Summary of legislation to be discussed:

H.R. 4142: American Heroes COLA Act, introduced by Rep. Jon Runyan.

H.R. 4114: Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012, introduced by Rep. Jon Runyan.

H.R. 2051: Veterans Missing in America Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Patrick Tiberi.

H.R. 2498: Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank.

H.R. 2377: RAPID Claims Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Donnelly.

H.R. 2717: To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to designate one city in the United States each year as an "American World War II City", and for other purposes, introduced by Rep. Mike McIntyre.

H.R. 4168: Caring for the Fallen Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Giunta.

H.R. 4213: To amend Title 38, United States Code, to require judges of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to reside within fifty miles of the District of Columbia, and for other purposes, introduced by Rep. Jon Runyan.

Voice of Warriors – VOW To Make A Difference

Voice of Warriors – VOW To Make A Difference

Beth Pennington, VOW Talk Radio Hostess.

Subcommittee to Review Dole-Shalala Commission Recommendations: Five Years On

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, at 10:00 a.m., in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will hold an oversight hearing entitled, “Reevaluating the Transition from Service Member to Veteran: Honoring a Shared Commitment to Care for Those Who Defend Our Freedom.” The Subcommittee will review the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), a program implemented to streamline the Disability Evaluation for wounded, ill, and injured service members.

WHO: Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

WHAT: “Reevaluating the Transition from Service Member to Veteran: Honoring a Shared Commitment to Care for Those Who Defend Our Freedom.”

WHEN: 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, March 28, 2012, Room 334, Cannon House Office Building

WITNESS LIST

Panel 1

John Medve,Office of VA-DOD Collaboration

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Jim Neighbors,Director, Requirements and Strategic Integration

U.S. Department of Defense

Panel 2

Dr. Gail Wilensky,Senior Fellow

Project HOPE

Mr. Ken Fisher,Chief Executive Officer

Fisher House Foundation, Inc.

LTG James Terry Scott USA (Ret.),Chairman

Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation

Panel 3

Mr. John Wilson,Assistant Legislative Director

Disabled American Veterans

Mr. Phil Riley, Senior Benefits Liaison

Wounded Warrior Project

Mr. Eric Greitens,Chief Executive Officer

The Mission Continues

For more news from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, please visit:

Veterans.House.Gov

Find us on Facebook at: Facebook.com/HouseVetsAffairs or follow us on Twitter at:

@HouseVetAffairs

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Veterans Job Readiness Workshop Sponsored by Sen. Addabbo & Assemblyman Miller

We’re a month away from this workshop on Friday, April 27 between 10 AM – 3 PM — this is a heads-up for veterans in Queens and elsewhere and their spouses. Please mark your calendars! This free event is open to all veterans and spouses ONLY. Please bring veterans ID (VA ID; active military ID, DD214, etc.). Spouse should bring service member’s DD214 and proof of marriage. There will be FREE parking in the North garage only of Atlas Park Shopping Mall. The event will be in the former retail space of Border’s Book Store, near Chili’s restaurant.

Best Regards,

Judy

Vets JR Final Flyer.pdf

Growing Missile Threat Needs Robust Defenses, Official Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The United States is well protected against the current threat from limited intercontinental ballistic missile attacks, but the threat is growing, underscoring the need for a robust and flexible defense system, a senior Pentagon official said here yesterday.

Development and deployment of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System protects the United States against the current threats posed by nations such as North Korea and Iran, Madelyn R. Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, said at the 10th Annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference.

With 30 ground-based interceptors in place, the United States is well protected against the current threat, she said at the conference, sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

"Maintaining this advantageous position is essential," she added. "As the threat matures — and it will — we will continued to improve the GMD system, including enhanced performance by the [interceptors] and the deployment of new sensors."

Creedon outlined the Defense Department’s ballistic missile defense plans and priorities as part of the military strategic guidance President Barack Obama issued in January. She detailed U.S. progress in sustaining a strong homeland defense, strengthening regional missile defense, and fostering increased international cooperation.

Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request to Congress includes $9.7 billion

VA Construction Projects Face Scrutiny for Delays, Accountability, and Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs questioned VA officials regarding four major construction projects in Orlando, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, Denver, Colorado, and New Orleans, Louisiana, estimated to cost more than $3 billion, as well as to receive status updates on VA major medical facility leases, which collectively have start up costs of $442 million, across the country.

With extensive problems arising at numerous sites, Committee Members expressed frustration over delays, accountability issues, and potential cost overruns. Of the 55 major medical lease sites currently authorized, only five are open, 38 are behind schedule, and 14 are delayed three or more years.

“As the VA health care system has grown, it appears that we have come to a point in the Department’s major construction and lease program where the administrative structure in VA is an obstacle that is not effectively supporting the mission,” stated Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “As a result, our veterans are the ones who are left without services, and our taxpayers are the ones left holding the check.”

The Orlando VA Medical Center was a main topic of discussion at today’s hearing. The project which is now expected to double its original cost estimates and has been delayed more than two years – the facility is not expected to open until fall 2013 – has faced numerous, costly issues including oversight, design, and significant changes.

“Clearly there are problems with the design, procurement of specific medical equipment, change orders, and how they all fit together,” Miller noted, “not to mention the lack of accountability and oversight within VA to address these systemic problems.”

VA officials admitted that the ultimate responsibility for the problems at VA construction sites around the country lay with VA.

“We cannot and must not allow the problems in Orlando, or elsewhere, to persist,” stated Miller. “It is vital that reputable, long-standing companies want to work with VA on these significant flagship projects that are so important to the delivery of care.”

Retweetables:

@HouseVetAffairs: #VA Construction faces scrutiny on major #VA construction for #vets: http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/va-construction-projects-face-scrutiny-for-delays-accountability-and-costs

@HouseVetAffairs: #Vets deserve better than to wait for care, + #VA construction projects impede care, delay jobs & costs the taxpayer: http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/va-construction-projects-face-scrutiny-for-delays-accountability-and-costs

For more news from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, please visit:

Veterans.House.Gov

Find us on Facebook at: Facebook.com/HouseVetsAffairs or follow us on Twitter at:

@HouseVetAffairs

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032712 VA Construction FINAL.pdf