Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Online scholarship contest benefits Wisconsin youth

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From April 3-14 this year, thousands of Wisconsin high-school students will have an opportunity to earn anywhere from $250 to $500 in college scholarships. And it’s all because of The American Legion Department of Wisconsin.

Since 2012, the department has offered an online scholarship contest that tests students on the U.S. Constitution, U.S. flag etiquette, and the U.S., state and county government. The test is open to students in grades 10-12; $500 scholarships are awarded to the top 13 senior finishers, while $250 scholarships go to the top 16 junior and top 16 sophomore finishers.

Participants have 60 minutes to complete the 50-question test and essay question. The top scores are pulled from each Department of Wisconsin district, and the winners are then determined based on the essay question.

“I think it’s important to test the students about what they’ve learned about the Constitution and what they’ve retained from that,” said Dawn Brauner, programs coordinator for the department. “And we needed to do it in a digital format because that’s what the kids are doing. A lot of kids already take paperless tests in school. It’s important for us to offer the same type of format.”

Nearly 5,000 students participated in the program in 2016, and more than 15,000 have participated since Brauner took over the program in 2014.

For more information about the test, click here.

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Department Spotlight: New tool helps Virginia service officers file more claims

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Editor’s note: This is a weekly series of Department Spotlight stories featuring unique programs and initiatives of departments throughout The American Legion. Department adjutants are invited to recommend subjects for their departments by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


A new Veterans Claims Builder software program is allowing accredited American Legion Department of Virginia service officers to file more claims quickly and accurately than before.

Sarah Maddox, a service officer who oversees the state’s Western region, has been working with the Mil Vet Advocacy Project for about two years to conceive and develop the program. It was introduced to other department service officers in January.

“This tool allows us to not only do quality claims but to do more claims to help more veterans,” Maddox says, adding that Virginia has 25 accredited volunteer service officers.

The website walks service officers through a series of questions with veterans for a comprehensive review of their claims. The information, which can be saved and updated later, is private — each veteran selects a personal identification number to log in to their information.

When the service officer and veteran sit down to go over the claim, the tool gives cues to help ensure a thorough claim. It includes questions even experienced service officers may not normally ask: Were you in a military vehicle accident? Were you in a personal vehicle accident while on active duty? Did you play sports in the military?

“If you are a female veteran, there are standard female questions in the program because typically male service officers don’t always ask the female-specific questions,” Maddox pointed out. “It’s pretty comprehensive.”

Maddox worked with Gregg Lysko of Mil Vet Advocacy Project, Inc., to develop the web-based, self-populating system. They are co-founders of Mil Vet Advocacy Project.

“The Legion does amazing work on the claims side,” said Lysko, a Marine veteran. “One of the reasons we came to the Legion is for the additional feedback. If there are questions you don’t see here that you think of, we’ll add them. The program is very easy and adaptable in that sense.”

So far, Virginia service officers have filed approximately 290 claims with the tool since January 2017.

“We have a wealth of knowledge and experience among our service officers,” Maddox said. “It is state of the art technology. We become better service officers. We become better educated. We become better at filing claims. We are constantly learning. This can be constantly updated to meet the needs of the veteran and The American Legion.”

The tool can be used for a first-time veteran visitor or someone already in VA’s system. “We can use this to start a fully developed claim for someone new,” Maddox said. “Or, if it is someone who is already service-connected it’s even better because we know that person is service-connected. And we can look at other possible conditions for his claim.”

It’s been revolutionary for Maddox and others.

“This changes how we operate as service officers,” she said. “We shouldn’t be using pen and paper anymore. We live in a technology world. So why not maximize the use of technology?”

One example is when a veteran has a traumatic brain injury. The software will prompt the service officer to ask if the veteran has a sensitivity to light that is often associated with TBI. If the answer is yes, the veteran’s disability rating could potentially increase.

Norman Jean Newman, Virginia’s department service officer overseeing the Eastern region, emphasized how the software has helped train the volunteers. In Virginia, Newman and Maddox each hold weekly training for their teams.

“It’s a wonderful tool because it sets up the questions for the new service officers when they are interviewing the clients,” Newman said. “If the veteran has carpel tunnel, there is an area in here where you can click on it and it will have a breakdown of what carpel tunnel is; a medical dictionary is included for those who are not familiar with it. This tool pretty much does it for you and it is pretty quick. The new trainee may not know what questions to ask. The tool does it for you. You can’t miss anything.”

Newman also said it helps patients know what questions to ask their doctor and what forms to bring in to VA.

Newman and Maddox, who have a combined 45 years of experience as service officers, say the tool is a welcome change.

“I consider it a blessing,” said Maddox, who has completed claims for veterans spanning from World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re all passionate about the work. We’re all volunteers. We give up our time because we believe in helping the veteran.”


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Legion-created cards educate youth on U.S. flag, poppies

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The American Legion has celebrated April as Children & Youth Month for the past 79 years. During this month, American Legion Family members are encouraged to show their local communities the Legion’s commitment to young people, whether by hosting youth activities at the post or by becoming involved in programs within the community that support young people.

Youth in Glen Falls, N.Y., are learning about the meaning of the American flag and the significance of poppies thanks to a new initiative by local Post 233.

The post created two business-size cards. One features the U.S. flag, and the other features poppies with a soldier next to a comrade's grave. The back of the cards provide detail on the meaning of each - Old Glory is more than 200 years old, represents courage, purity and justice, and must be treated with respect; while poppies honor the more than 1.3 million American war dead. Tony Garcia, a member of Post 233, shared the cards with a Glen Falls superintendent who purchased 3,000 of each to distribute to students and faculty.

“We want to make sure every student has one of these. We want our youth to understand the meaning of the American flag and why it deserves such great respect,” Garcia said. “And we want to help people understand the meaning of poppies.”

The post has plans to distribute the flag cards for a donation during a community Flag Day event in June.

Post 233 has also been working with local high school students for its new American Legion Speaker Series. Two of the three planned speaking events, which are open to the public, have been held at the Salvation Army’s gymnasium on a Wednesday evening.

The first speaking engagement was on local emergency services, the second one featured three survivors of the Nazi occupation, and the upcoming one will involve the local sheriff, who will share what’s going on in the community and how everyone can help.

The Nazi occupation survivors were women from France, Germany and Latvia. They shared their personal stories on how “life changed with instant loss of freedom” with Garcia, who then contacted the government teacher at Glen Falls High School about having three students read their stories to the audience.

Garcia said the women wanted youth to read their stories to provide the audience with a better understanding of their circumstances since they were young during the occupation.

“We are all about conducting programs for our schools and the community,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Post 1181 in Middletown, N.Y., developed a patriotism program for students in grades 3 through 12.

Members of the post and other local Legionnaires go into schools to present the 30-minute program, which consists of videos on Americanism and the birth of America, a flag demonstration, personal statements from Legion members about their time in the service and more. At the end of the program, a video of Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless America” following the 9/11 attacks is played and every student receives a wristband that says “Patriot.”

Post 1181 has presented its Patriots Program to more than 19,000 students in seven school districts.

“We follow the (Legion’s) Four Pillars and realize it is the reason for our existence,” said Vincent Jim Scali, first vice commander of Post 1181 and chairman of the Patriots Program.

For ideas on how to support and promote Children & Youth Month, download a copy of the “April is Children & Youth Month” brochure here. And share how your post is celebrating Children & Youth Month online at

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3 top ways to narrow your job search

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It's not uncommon to hear stories about job seekers firing off dozens of job applications every day for months to no avail. While this approach can yield results, it's by far not an effective way to find a job. The most ironclad method is to network, but that requires a lot of time, patience, and luck. While it's not impossible to find a job from your computer, it can be very challenging.

One of the strongest ways to increase your chances at landing a job with a cold application online is to simply narrow down your application spread. Instead of handing out a filled application to every single company you can find, be more selective about where you apply and how you do it. If you're tired of sending out countless resumes, consider making these three alterations to your job search based on a piece from the Financial Post.

Don't Try to Fit All Requirements

Think you're qualified for a job but don't match all the requirements? Don't fret, apply anyway. Most companies list ideal qualifications, not a comprehensive list of must-haves. If you're strong in other ways, you may be able to compensate for whatever requirement on the list you don't fit. Don't take this as a license to apply to even more jobs; use it to focus on jobs you actually want. It takes time and energy to consider how you can compensate for lacking certain desired skills, so don't waste your precious time on sectors you have no interest in.

Evaluate the Company Culture

It may be difficult to think about if you really need a job, but take a critical look at a company's culture. What do they value? What are the employees like? What kind of management technique does everyone use? There are tons of factors that can make or break your experience. If you get the job then hate working in that office, you've ended up back at square one. Try to avoid companies with values and a workplace culture that you know won't resonate with your personality. Of course, everyone should have some tolerance for less-than-ideal, but you don't want to find yourself hating everyone who works at your company.

Follow Every Instruction on the Job Listing

Do you really need to follow those almost nonsensical details in a job application? Absolutely yes. Companies need to weed out applicants who aren't right for the job, and one convenient way of doing that is including small details about how to apply within the job posting. If someone doesn't follow those instructions, then the rest of their application will likely get chucked. If you can't follow all the rules on a job application, what will companies believe about your ability to follow instructions? Paying attention to details will take more time, but if you set your sights high, it will be time well spent. Don't treat your applications like they're on an assembly line, or else you might miss a critical note.

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Chairman Roe, Ranking Member Walz Announce Hearing to Assess Veterans Crisis Line

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Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.) announced the committee will hold a full committee oversight hearing to assess ongoing concerns regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs Crisis Line (VCL). The members released the following statements: “The men and woman who have worn the uniform of our great nation have sacrificed so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. When they are in crisis, they deserve to have their calls answered in a timely manner by a trained professional,” said Roe. “I look forward to this opportunity to conduct oversight of the Veterans Crisis Line so that our nation’s heroes can get the help they need when they need it most.”   “When it comes to ending the tragedy of veteran suicide, the Veterans Crisis Line is one of our greatest assets; that is why it is imperative VCL works properly so that when a veteran makes that dire call for help, they are able to receive the assistance they need from a trained professional without delay,” said Walz. “Being there for our veterans is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the VA, that is why I look forward to working with Chairman Roe as our Committee conducts oversight on this critical issue.” The following event is open to the press: WHO: House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs WHAT: “An Assessment of Ongoing Concerns at the Veterans Crisis Line” WHEN: Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. WHERE: 334 Cannon House Office Building and streaming at Background: The VCL was established in 2007 with the mission of providing immediate, confidential suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to veterans. Since February 2016, the VA Inspector General (IG) has released two reports documenting serious defects with the operations and management of the VCL. The most recent IG report, which was released on March 20, 2017, found that the VCL had failed to adequately respond to a veteran caller with urgent needs; that VCL’s governance structure, operations, and quality assurance functions are deficient; that VA had failed to implement the recommendations issued in response to the previous IG report; and, that VCL social service assistants were inadequately trained and overseen. During the hearing, the Committee will assess the IG’s findings and recommendations as well as the effectiveness of the actions VA has taken to realign the VCL and rectify its flaws. The Committee will also examine the department’s progress implementing the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act (Public Law 114-247), which Congress passed in 2016 to require VA to develop a VCL quality assurance program and a plan to ensure that each call, text, or other incoming communication is responded to by the VCL in a timely, appropriate manner.

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