Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Veterans food convoy delivers gratitude

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Over the past 32 years, the Department of Idaho American Legion family has provided three state veterans homes with nearly $1.5 million in food and monetary donations. The longstanding tradition started in 1982 when then department commander Frank Dalton declared the “Veterans Food Convoy” his commander’s project, donating $8,000 in food in its first year to the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise.

The success of the food convoy grew to include two more Idaho state veterans homes in Lewiston and Pocatello where a convoy of trucks and cars filled with canned, boxed and frozen food parades to the homes every year after Veterans Day.

“This has been a Legion family event since its first year, and it’s a tradition that’s looked forward to,” said Idaho Department Commander Michael Thurlow, who has been involved with the convoy for the past 18 years. “We are very proud of this event; this is how we in Idaho choose to take care of our veterans.”

Thurlow added that at 73 years old, Frank Dalton still attends every Boise food convoy in the rain or snow. “He lines all those vehicles up; he is like the conductor of the orchestra," Thurlow said. "That is special.”

Planning for the food convoy begins after the Department of Idaho’s convention in July. Posts are tasked with working with food distributors in their area, as well as promoting the food convoy through radio and newspaper announcements, telling local residents where to drop food or monetary donations off. Schools, farms and businesses also support the food convoy by donating and collecting food.

For example, Wada Farms and Liberty Gold Potatoe Co., provide potatoes year-round for the three state veterans home – 9,000 pounds of potatoes was delivered to the Boise veterans home during the food convoy. And D.L. Evans Bank, which has branches in 12 Idaho cities, puts food donation boxes at all of their locations. Additionally, several elementary and middle schools in Pocatello donated 2,011 cans of food for the convoy by hosting a food drive on Veterans Day.

Between the three Idaho state veterans homes, the food convoy delivered $63,000 in food and cash donations in early November to feed the 280 veterans living in the homes.

“It’s awesome to see the support from the community, and it’s great for the veterans to see and feel that the service they provided to their country was not in vain,” said Josiah Dahlstrom, administrator for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Pocatello. “We will definitely take advantage of the kindness and generosity of others and let that roll into our veterans so they can feel the love this holiday season.”

When Lynne Jones, food service operations manager for the Pocatello veterans home, reaches for a can of food from the pantry, she will oftentimes find small handprints cut out of construction paper. The schools that participate in the food drive tape students’ handprints to the cans and write messages on them, such as “Thank you for keeping me safe.”

“When you walk into the front doors you are so humbled because this isn’t just another place, this is where are veterans are so we try to make sure that their meals are outstanding,” Jones said. “The American Legion food convoy is an answer to prayers. America’s finest are here, and it’s our privilege to take care of them and with the Legion’s help, we can make sure that they are fed well.”

Jones said one veteran she was taking care of was so ill that the only thing he could eat was bean and bacon soup. “And the food convoy came up and they had bean and bacon soup,” she said. “When I served the soup to the veteran, he would touch my hand, a tear would fall, and he would say, ‘Thank you.’ The American Legion food convoy is making an impact on our veterans and their wants and needs.”

The food and monetary donations also help the veterans’ homes budget by allowing the staff to provide special meals and ensuring that the veterans enjoy activities away from the facility. The three Idaho veterans home will serve prime rib on Veterans Day and take the veterans to local fairs and on fishing trips.

“It’s the most exciting and wonderful thing that The American Legion does this for us,” said Phil Hawkins, activities coordinator for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise and a member of Post 151 at the veterans home. “Serving prime rib would never happen if it wasn’t for the food convoy. The food convoy allows us to take care of our veterans.”

Currently, Idaho is the only department to conduct a veterans food convoy, but Legion family members from Idaho hope the idea of feeding veterans will spread into other departments.

“When you come to the food convoy and see the camaraderie, it’s the Legion family at work,” said Ron Adams, past department commander of Idaho. “It’s veterans helping veterans.”

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Refinance your VA home loan

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Many American families are still struggling to afford home loans made at the peak of the housing bubble. The good news, for veterans with VA home loans, is that relief is available through the VA.

The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) allows homeowners with mortgages through the VA to refinance their mortgage to a lower fixed interest rate with no out-of-pocket expense. The IRRRL doesn’t require a new appraisal, so even if your home is “underwater,” – meaning that you owe more on your mortgage than your house is presently worth – your loan could still eligible for a refinance.

Additionally, the IRRRL does not require a minimum credit score. So even if your credit has taken a hit due to the recession, you can still qualify for a new loan. In fact, there is no minimum credit score for the program at all.

Not only can the IRRRL be used to reduce your interest rate, but you can also use it to refinance out of an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) into a secure fixed rate. Or you could use the loan to change the term of your mortgage from 30 to 15 years. Either of these options could result in an increase to your mortgage payment, but may be a wise decision, depending on your individual financial needs and goals.

An IRRRL can also be utilized for a property which you no longer occupy. You simply must certify that you previously occupied the home. So if you moved to a new location but still own a home with a VA mortgage on it, or if you’re using a home you once lived in as an investment property, you may still be able to refinance the property with an IRRRL.

The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan is an excellent benefit that could substantially improve the financial situation of many veterans. So if you’re looking to make your monthly mortgage payment more manageable, or are seeking to restructure your loan to better achieve long term goals, talk to a lender about your options through the IRRRL.

More details on the program can be found on the VA website at: Or simply contact a lender experienced in VA programs.

Nate Shultz is the director of Business Development for Montage Mortgage, LLC. He is an expert in the areas of VA lending programs, Federal Housing Administration programs and conventional mortgage programs.

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Undercooked, under-prepared, under the weather: Holiday food tips

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PENSACOLA, Fla. -- During the holiday season, there will be numerous dishes cooked in a variety of ways that can lead to adverse health problems if they are not prepared or cooked properly.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly one in six Americans get sick from foodborne diseases each year. Out of that, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 lead to fatalities.

“A foodborne illness is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract caused by food or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses or chemicals,” said Hospital Corpsman First Class Alfred Coble, leading petty officer of Preventive Medicine, Naval Hospital Pensacola. “Common symptoms of foodborne illnesses include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills.” Read More

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DARPA’s Synthetic Biology Work Targets Diseases, New Materials

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2014 – Soldiers, military scientists and Defense Department civilians are on the ground in West Africa to help stop history’s largest Ebola outbreak, and now innovators at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are turning their job of changing what’s possible to the fight against infectious diseases.

During an interview at the Defense One Summit here yesterday, DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar spoke with Defense One technology editor Patrick Tucker about the potential of synthetic biology to contribute to national security.

“What’s happening today broadly in biology is the intersection of this scientific field with physical science and engineering and information technology,” Prabhakar explained, adding that DARPA itself is doing “a handful of things” in biology. Read More

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DoD Agency Offers Public Geospatial Intel to Help Ebola Fight

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2014 – In a contribution to the Defense Department’s fight against West Africa’s deadly Ebola virus disease outbreak, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has launched its first public website of unclassified geospatial intelligence data.

NGA’s mission in support of national security is to visually depict and assess situations on the ground using satellite imagery and other geographically referenced information.

The public website, covering the West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, is a new venture for the necessarily secretive intelligence organization. Still, NGA has for years provided geographical intelligence to first responders during most major natural disasters. Read More

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