Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

'Greatest Legislation' exhibit travels to Montana

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The Montana Military Museum at Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena welcomes “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” from March 28 through April 26. The multimedia traveling exhibit features illustrated panels, touch-screen video kiosks and rare artifacts that depict the crisis, drama, solution, effects and ongoing success of the GI Bill.

An opening reception to welcome the exhibit is planned for March 28 at 6 p.m. at the museum. The reception will include remarks from American Legion 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee member Diane Carlson Evans of Helena, who on Feb. 27 received the organization’s prestigious Patriot Award in Washington, D.C. Refreshments will be served.

Drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery in December 1943 at a time when medically disabled World War II GIs were returning to their communities at a rate of about 75,000 per month, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was written to provide unemployed veterans support in a difficult economic time. The long-term effect of the GI Bill was to transform the U.S. economy and culture for decades to come.

The GI Bill is often characterized as the most significant social legislation of the 20th century. It is credited for preventing an economic catastrophe after World War II, making homeownership a reasonable expectation for average Americans, educating millions of veterans, and creating an incentive to serve in the military so valuable that the United States has operated as an all-volunteer force since 1973.

“The ongoing story of the GI Bill, and how it has influenced the growth and strength of our nation, spans every generation of The American Legion – from the World War I veterans who originally drafted it and fought for its passage to the post-9/11 era that uses it today,” American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David K. Rehbein said. “This traveling exhibit is an excellent opportunity for communities throughout the country to learn about the roots of this American Legion initiative and understand the power of participatory citizenship in government.”

The traveling exhibit is part of The American Legion’s centennial program. It debuted at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, was presented at the Student Veterans of America national convention in San Antonio and most recently completed a two-month installation at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles.

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Was your post named for a World War I veteran?

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The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission (WW1CC) is seeking information about American Legion posts named in honor of a local or national World War I veteran, along with stories of his or her service, photographs and/or other historical information. WW1CC will endeavor to honor these posts by publicizing this information on its website and in its electronic Dispatch newsletter. Please note: any information received will be maintained by the commission and will become part of the U.S. government's historical records/archives upon the expiry of its mandate. The point of contact is David W. Hamon, VSO/military director for the commission, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (540) 379-8584.

WW1CC has also created a special landing page for veterans, history lovers, family members, friends and community members. At, visitors will find "tiles," easy to access and read, in order to educate, commemorate and honor the Great War, as per the commission's congressional mandate and charter.

The American Legion is a Commemorative Partner of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

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USAA Tips: Military skill sets that help in the job search

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Content provided courtesy of USAA.

The best way to plan and to prepare for a military-to-civilian career transition is to plan your transition like you prepared for a combat deployment. Preparing for a combat deployment is an all-consuming, definitely nerve wracking, and intense period of military duty where you focus on performing at your professional best, planning contingencies, conserving resources, and ensuring that you will be successful under the most demanding conditions.

Plan Your Transition a Year Out Starting the Day Your Terminal Leave Ends.

Most military personnel start planning their transition planning three to six months from when they leave the military. In my opinion, you should plan your transition from when your terminal leave ends, which, best case, means that you have had a job while on terminal leave. The best case for departing the military is to have 30-60 days of terminal leave when you depart the military. That is hard, but it can be done. Your transition planning also needs to include job search, moving, packing household goods, unpacking, selecting a school system, finding an affordable place to live, networking, and all the other items that go with a Permanent Change of Station (PCS ). Finally, like a deployment, plan that things will take twice as long to complete.

Plan Your Transition to Find 6-8 Different Career Tracks.

Finding a civilian job is one career track. On a deployment, your strategic track is to accomplish your assigned missions with minimal casualties, conserving the number of personnel required, and ensuring as little as possible risk to civilians living in your area of responsibility. To accomplish these military missions on deployment, you often plan 5-6 separate ways to achieve mission success. On a deployment, you lose promised resources, the enemy changes tactics, and your mission timeline accelerates. During a military-to-civilian transition, these same changes happen. By having multiple (6-8) career tracks, you help ensure yourself a job and a career by creating and finding may ways to be successful.

Plan Your Transition to Expect Consistent Disappointments.

In a combat deployment, the enemy fails to show up, changes tactics, and does the unexpected. These enemy changes create frustration and disappointment to accomplish missions. During your military to civilian transition, you cannot make a company have job openings, you cannot make a job you want pay more, and you cannot make a company speed up the job hiring process. The best way to contend with disappointment is to create, to find, and to discover multiple options, multiple companies, and multiple mentors that will overcome disappointments. Disappointment happens when we run out of options – in career transition, like combat, you must constantly create options to be successful.

Plan Your Transition to Create Purpose and Structure from Several Different Areas.

Why am I doing this? No one wants to help? No one wants what I have to offer? These questions go through your mind in both combat and in a military to civilian career transition. In both instances, you must personally create a plan for yourself that builds and reinforces your own sense of purpose. Purpose comes from helping others, proving what we can do, and showing how we have been and will be successful in the future often when the audience is skeptical. Creating personal purpose in the military comes from the passionate sense of mission especially in combat. During civilian transition, we must recreate that military sense of purpose in the design and structure of our daily lives. Teaching, volunteering, exercising, learning new things, being an entrepreneur, and under taking new challenges are all ways to inject purpose and structure in transition.

Plan Your Transition to Expect Financial Difficulties.

The military provides a financial safety net that is not present in transition and it is largely not present in the civilian world. Savings, minimizing expenses, and having a realistic budget that is strictly followed are all ways to reduce the likelihood of financial difficulties during civilian transition. The clear majority of financial difficulties in transition happen because the departing service members savings are not large enough and their spending is too high. Saving more, spending less, and finding other, even small, revenue sources during transition are essential.

Plan your military to civilian transition with the lessons from a combat deployment. Do not be sacred. Instead be prepared, expect disappointment, save more, spend less, and create lots of career options to help have a successful transition.

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Indianapolis VA director: We remain laser-focused

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It’s a rare week that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s name isn’t in the national news. But the head of the Indianapolis VA facility said he and his staff aren’t letting news reports get in the way of the care they provide to Indiana’s veterans.

Dr. J. Brian Hancock, director of the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, told Legionnaires in attendance at American Legion Post 495 for Historic Fort Benjamin Harrison Post 510’s March 17 meeting that he remains in full support of Shulkin and recently reminded the secretary of that fact.

“I just wrote a letter to the secretary explaining my concerns for what he is going through right now and reminding him that we remain laser-focused on our veterans. We remain laser-focused on our mission,” Hancock said. “When there’s challenging times, there’s uncertain times, we remain focused.”

Hancock, who has spent more than 30 years in the health-care field as both a physician and administrator, said VA is open to more scrutiny that other health-care providers. “When you hear things about the VA, the press can take a pretty hard stance because we are federally funded and because we are transparent,” he said. “You hear things that go on that make us not proud of things that are happening from time to time – hopefully elsewhere."

Hancock, who spent 25 years in the private health-care sector, said VA regularly completes issue briefs for anything from a water leak to having a veteran die while under VA care. “I will tell you that I have not yet seen an issue brief during my nine years in the VA regarding something that has not happened in the private sector,” he said. “Here’s the difference: They don’t tell anybody.

“So when we get this wave of enthusiasm to send all of your health care to the private sector because they do so, it’s not (that) they do well. They just don’t tell you when they don’t do well. That’s OK. That’s the way it is.”

Despite some rough patches, including a nationwide scandal that broke in 2014, Hancock said VA has improved access to care for its stakeholders. “The VA is not the VA of five years ago, nine years ago and not 20 years ago,” he said. “If I did not believe we were providing the best care possible, I would not stay there. I want to continue to improve what we are already doing. And where we stumble, which we will – and any health-care system will stumble – but we will identify … every opportunity to look at things and see how we make them better continuously.”

Hancock briefly spoke about VA expanding its services to Shelbyville, Ind., via a partnership with Major Health Partners. Approximately 5,000 square feet of physician offices have been donated by Major Health Partners to VA, which will use the space to establish a clinic in April that initially will provide primary and mental health care.

Hancock also told Legionnaires of what he said is VA’s first-ever collaboration with a YMCA to build a combined veteran-based and civilian-based YMCA in Pike Township in Indianapolis. He said 5,000 feet will be dedicated to providing veterans with rehabilitation, health, dietary and mental health needs.

And VA has teamed up with Gov. Eric Holcomb – a member of Post 510 – to use space located in downtown Indianapolis as a veterans resource center. “This will be a one-stop shop for our veterans and unique to the state of Indiana,” Hancock said. “We are very, very proud that we have the fortitude to go where the government has not gone before.”

The son of a U.S. Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, Hancock said it took his father 60 years to talk about what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Hancock’s father had been invited to spend the night of Dec. 6 on either the U.S.S. West Virginia or U.S.S. Arizona but chose to remain in the barracks because he was on duty the next morning.

“If he had slept on board one of those battleships, I would probably not be here today,” Hancock said. “I am committed to making sure that the veterans that we serve are treated every single day, day in and day out, like I would want my father to be treated. That’s my commitment.”

Hancock’s presentation was one of four to five appearances by guest speakers at Post 510’s regularly scheduled meetings. Paul Norton, the post’s second vice commander, urged other Legion posts to take a similar approach in order to attract better turnout at meetings and, in turn, boost membership.

“Bring in someone interesting and someone with credibility,” Norton said. “We’ve been doing that, and it’s working. Posts should think outside of the template of the Post Officer Guide for ways to reach more members and bring them into the post.”

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Legion testifies on 2019 proposed budget for VBA, BVA

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American Legion National Legislative Division Director Matthew Shuman testified before the House Economic Opportunity and Disability and Memorial Affairs subcommittees on March 15, the day of the Legion’s 99th birthday, about the 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget request for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).

Modernizing appeals reform at BVA

Shuman said the passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act was and remains a much-needed improvement to an archaic and dilapidated system. This reform bill not only gives veterans more control by providing three different routes to file their claim, but also allows the VA to render a decision within a year.

“One bill that The American Legion championed, in concert with this committee, was modernizing the appeals process,” he said. “Now that appeals modernization is being implemented, we need to be sure the legacy appeals or older appeals are not forgotten, and given the due process they deserve.”

The president’s 2019 proposed budget includes $175 million for the BVA to support 1,025 full-time employees to implement reform and address legacy appeals. This increase in funding will also provide the BVA with $74 million to hire 605 full-time employees to address appeals, according to Shuman.

The budget request also includes $2.9 billion for the VBA to process millions of rating and education claims, as well as hire an additional 225 fiduciary employees to protect the VA’s most vulnerable veterans who are unable to manage their benefits.

“The American Legion is thankful to see the increase in funding for the Board of Veterans Appeals to maintain the current 1,000 (full-time employees) and hire an additional 600 employees to address appeals modernization reform and focus on the legacy appeals,” said Shuman. “Some of these claims are older than I am and that is simply embarrassing.”

Shuman said the Legion understands the need for VBA to process veterans’ claims within a timely manner and treat them with the respect they deserve. Providing increased funding will allow the VA to process claims faster and better, all for the benefit of the veteran.

Moreover, Shuman said processing claims the correct way will essentially reduce VA’s workload and the negative impact on veterans.

Funding for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program

Shuman said the VR&E program provides comprehensive services and assistance, enabling veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment handicaps to achieve maximum independence in daily living, become employable and maintain suitable employment.

Between 2011 and 2016, VR&E applicants increased from 65,239 to 112,115, creating more workloads for program counselors tasked with developing employment goals and services for beneficiaries. Shuman said the Legion recognized the escalating problems associated with VR&E during its 2016 National Convention in which Resolution No. 345 was enacted.

“Our concern is simple – if funding is being increased to process more claims and appeals, and those claims are indeed adjudicated, it would increase the applicant pool for (VR&E),” Shuman said. “If funding is not increased for (VR&E) to hire more staff to process eligible applications, the potential to overload the applicant pool and the program as a whole increases exponentially.”

Shuman said increasing the output of claims and appeals, while not increasing the number of VR&E program counselors, can turn into a full-blown crisis for veterans who are enrolled in the program. If the processing rate of adjudicating claims is increased and no investment is made into VR&E, the Legion fears this unintended consequence will cause greater concern.

“Therefore, The American Legion would encourage this committee to increase funding for the (VR&E) program, which is simply charged with helping veterans become more productive,” he said.

Fortunately, Shuman said the Legion is pleased that the president’s proposed budget calls for $135.5 million to be allocated for the BVA and related information technology (IT) initiatives to reduce the pending appeals inventory.

Enhancing and expanding access to Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefits

Shuman said The American Legion applauds the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which includes $30 million in funding for the VBA to invest in IT and better implement the bill. This legislation also includes a requirement for the VA to make changes and improvements to VBA’s IT program to:

(1) ensure that original and supplemental claims for educational assistance under Chapter 33 are adjudicated electronically; and

(2) that rules-based processing is used to make decisions on claims with little human intervention.

“There is no doubt this bill will help those who have served,” said Shuman. “The American Legion was and is thankful to be a part of the largest improvements to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.”

However, Shuman said additional funding is needed for IT investment at the VBA. The Legion is pleased the Trump Administration shares the same concern as $30 million would not be sufficient to fully and effectively implement the Colmery G.I. Bill.

According to Shuman’s written statement, he said the Legion remains “skeptical as to how far $30 million can be stretched to cover the sweeping improvements of the Colmery G.I. Bill. Several of the new provisions and implied tasks require work or oversight that is not currently supported by existing VBA IT systems, making manual intervention and processing necessary.”

In addition, Shuman said “this could range from broad requirements to scale the Vet Tech Pilot to sending out automated letters of eligibility to new G.I. Bill beneficiaries.

Trump Administration’s plan to cap Post-9/11 G.I. Bill flight training programs at public schools

In 2015, Shuman said, the Los Angeles Times reported that some institutions of higher learning had instituted extreme costs for flight school fees, as there were no caps in place for public schools. Since that time, increased oversight from the VA and State Approving Agencies (SAAs) has resulted in lowered overall expenditures for flight training from a height of $79.8 million in 2014 to $48.4 million in 2016.

One of the external factors responsible for this reduction was a 100 percent compliance survey conducted by SAAs in 2015, which resulted in 12 suspensions and withdrawals due to violations of the VA’s 85-15 rule. Shuman said the mandate to micromanage flight programs is unsustainable, even as institutions learn to adjust to the requirements while hedging veteran enrollment.

“The American Legion understands and applauds why the Trump Administration has chosen to include this in their budget request,” Shuman said. “However, we can only support this provision if the funds saved from implementing the caps is returned to fund other veteran programs such as the G.I. Bill, or bettering the transition process.”

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