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Veterans Benefits Information

In Defense of Veterans

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The American Legion objects to an Op-Ed essay linking military service and white supremacy.

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USAA says data safe from ‘Heartbleed’ bug

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In light of the recent “Heartbleed” security bug, USAA is alerting its members that there is no evidence that the financial services provider or its members have been affected. Heartbleed is a flaw found in software that is widely used to enable secure access to websites.

In a news release, USAA — The American Legion’s preferred financial services provider — says its security certificates have been replaced twice since the Heartbleed outbreak was publicized on April 7. Akamai, the hosting provider for usaa.com, implemented security patches on April 4 before the flaw was made public. A second update followed an announcement by Akamai that it identified a group of servers that did not receive the initial Open SSL patch for the Heartbleed bug.

USAA has no indication that its earlier security certificates had been compromised by Heartbleed or that Akamai’s disclosure impacts USAA directly, the release stated.

USAA says it has aggressive fraud detection programs in place, which are designed to detect any unauthorized activities. Based on information gathered by USAA’s fraud detection programs, the security team has not seen any increased threat activity due to the Heartbleed vulnerability.

Still, USAA encourages members to change their passwords. Here are some tips when you change your password:

• Use our password strength indicator.

• Create a strong password that has a combination of letters, numbers and punctuation.

• Make it different from your other passwords.

• Don’t write it down in a visible place.

• Don’t use words or names.


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Army Couple Embraces New Normal in Fight Against Cancer

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Col. Lenny Kness, and his wife, Lt. Col. Heather Kness, run their first Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 25, 2009, in Washington D.C.

 

FORT BRAGG, N.C.-- Fort Bragg Army Col. Lenny Kness, chief of staff, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), is an avid runner.

So it was no surprise in October 2011, that he would stay the course, as planned many months before, and run the Army Ten Miler.

Just days earlier, he had arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., after receiving the devastating news that no one wants to hear -- he had brain cancer.

With his doctor's permission and the unexpected company of his wife, Heather, Lenny stayed on track and they ran side-by-side through the streets of the nation's capital. For the first time that they could remember, the couple slowed down to enjoy the scenery, wave to people and slap hands along the way.

"It was a nice way to feel normal," said Heather, an Army lieutenant colonel.

After watching her husband of more than 20 years suffer a seizure in Afghanistan, where she was deployed as the 44th Medical Brigade's executive officer, she accompanied him home to the United States, by way of Germany, for further testing and treatment.

The couple said one of the hardest moments for them was when the doctor in Germany broke the news and hearing his best survival prognosis -- 18 to 36 months.

A biopsy and extensive testing confirmed that Kness had Stage 2 cancer in the left lobe of his brain, called astrocytoma. As one doctor explained to him, "It's sprinkled throughout the brain like pepper in mashed potatoes."

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, "Astrocytomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes -- star-shaped cells that make up the 'glue-like' or supportive tissue of the brain."

Kness was referred to the National Institute of Health, and in April 2012, with the help of Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center in Fayetteville, N.C., he began radiation and chemotherapy.

After hearing the news, the couple made a decision to continue living what they describe as their "new normal."

Throughout his treatments, Kness planned his race schedule to keep the two in step. In 2012, he timed his chemotherapy treatment cycle start date so that he could run the Marine Corps Marathon. Two days after his last radiation and chemotherapy cycle, he won his age group at the 2013 Fort Bragg Ten Miler and was selected for the Men's Masters team.

Every day for 30 days, starting the last week in April until the first week in June 2012, he took a low-dose chemo pill. During the week at 3 p.m., following his regular duties as the 1st Theater Sustainment Command Support Operations officer, he would receive radiation treatments at Cape Fear.

He completed 12 months of treatment finishing in May 2013. Since then, doctors have done quarterly checks and have not found any new cancer activity.

"For me, I count this as a thankful event. We found out early, have been able to adjust, treat and go after it. It is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives," he said.

Kness considers himself fortunate. Other than being a little tired and losing his left eyebrow, part of his right eyebrow, and having to keep his hair short to hide the patches, he has been able to continue working, exercising and living life to the fullest.

"I continue to live on and live a great life. For me, the quality of life is everything over the quantity. What a waste to live to be 99 [and be] miserable," Kness said.

Lenny and Heather feel this experience has taught them a great deal and helped them to put life into perspective.

"I had to stop looking things up on the Internet and researching," Heather said. "As a caregiver I had a desire to be empowered and control things, but I learned that I could not control the tumor. Slowly I learned I could control diet, exercise and a good state of mind."

Although they were already considered healthy by most standards, following the diagnosis they cut meat and dairy from their diets, only eating fish on rare occasions. The couple is doing all they can to live a better life and control what they can, Lenny added.

"I've really become more aware of the impact of cancer on soldiers and their families, realizing how many people it affects, especially in the military," said Heather, noting that cancer not only affects the patient, but so many families and friends of those with cancer.

Lenny and Heather enjoy running as couple and logging countless miles competing in races ranging from 5Ks to marathons. They started out competing in local races such as Fayetteville's Cinco de Mayo and Dogwood Festival runs, and now do their best to participate in two national marathons a year. Often you will find them training on the Cape Fear River Trail or the familiar roads of Fort Bragg and Pope Field.

Since 1997, they have called Fort Bragg home, only leaving for a couple of years in between.

On May 4, Lenny and Heather will lace up their running shoes once again and run 26.2 miles in the All American Marathon. The race will begin in downtown Fayetteville and proceed through the city streets and up the All American Freeway until reaching the gates of the Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces on Fort Bragg.

Heather said that after a decade plus of serving here it will be nice to run a marathon on her home turf, and she feels running local races are a great way to see Fayetteville and the community. She said their support and encouragement gives her the motivation to keep going and stay strong through the miles.


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Military Medicine Also Benefits Civilians

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This article originally appeared in the publication, U.S. Medicine.

 

Throughout every war, the Military Health System has made significant medical advancements to help protect our troops. Our innovations not only save the lives of our service members but also impact the lives of civilians back home.

It is vital that the progress we make is carried over into mainstream medicine so that it also benefits the larger population. I am dedicated to continuing to move forward with the care we provide to our troops and to sharing our progress through our partnerships with civilian medical communities.

I can already see the many ways in which our most recent advances have helped civilians, from military medical personnel who use their trauma care training to help their communities back home to the effect that our investments in research and medical technology have had on our society at large.

Bringing Trauma Training Back Home

Military medical personnel are trained to provide the highest quality care under the most trying circumstances. They are able to quickly recognize and treat critical injuries on the battlefield using advanced technologies and procedures. They have made courageous sacrifices in their commitment to provide life-saving, world-class care. On the battlefield, they often make the difference between life and death.

Their impact goes far beyond the front lines, however. They bring their remarkable dedication back to their communities in inspiring ways. They are often the neighbors, friends and professionals in our communities who act quickly and heroically when the unexpected happens.

Never has the impact of military medical training on civilian life been more apparent than during the Boston Marathon bombing. Service members participating in the marathon immediately reacted to the crisis to assist the injured. They used makeshift tourniquets to control bleeding, a procedure commonly used in combat. Recent advances in tourniquet technology led by the military are already being used by civilian emergency medical technicians, police and first responders.

Service members also helped coordinate triage efforts during the bombing by ensuring that the seriously injured made it to hospitals within the “golden hour” — the window of time in which doctors have the greatest chance of preventing death. The past 13 years of combat have allowed us to improve our ability to quickly move wounded service members out of harm’s way and provide care in under an hour. This system has led to the highest rate of survival from wounds in the history of warfare and undoubtedly came into play on that tragic day in Boston one year ago.

Military medicine also played a role in the treatment of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen others in Tucson, Ariz., after they were shot at by a gunman in 2001. The victims received emergency care from a local trauma surgeon who is a former Navy captain. He relied on his years of experience treating complex bullet wounds in combat to carry out life-saving procedures in the hours after the shooting.

Our youngest service members are also making a huge difference in their communities with their recent military training. Last year, two military medical students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences used their training from a combat medical skills class to help three victims of a car accident in Gaithersburg, MD. The students witnessed the accident, then quickly assessed the situation and set up a triage area before paramedics arrived.

These are just a few examples of how our military medical education and training saves lives right here at home. If these incidents in Boston, Tucson and Gaithersburg are any indication, I believe we can translate our current unparalleled rates of survival during warfare into civilian medicine. Battlefield trauma care can inform the training of civilian emergency medical technicians and paramedics, so they are as prepared as possible to handle crisis situations here at home and improve their emergency response systems.

Using Battlefield Breakthroughs to Benefit Civilians

Military medicine’s impact on civilians doesn’t stop at our ability to deliver effective, high-quality trauma care anywhere, anytime. The battlefield also drives breakthroughs in medical technology and research that have far-reaching implications.

Our recent innovative strategies for saving limbs are already being incorporated into civilian practices, particularly in light of the Boston bombings. Additionally, our research aimed at helping service members with lost limbs has resulted in more functional prosthetics that enhance life for all amputees. The latest prosthetic to come out of the military is an artificial arm and hand that is controlled by the brain. I am confident that further advances in prosthetic technology will continue to find their way to the civilian world and help all those with lost limbs.

Our unrivaled investment in face transplant research to help service members with devastating combat injuries has actually benefited civilians the most thus far. As a result of our efforts with our civilian partners, seven face transplant surgeries have occurred in the United States, primarily on civilian patients. These surgeries are transforming modern medicine as we know it by opening the door for other medical advancements in immune-related diseases such as allergies, cancer and blood disorders. Countless people will be impacted by this critical work.

The military has also figured prominently in the development of new vaccines, which have helped protect generations of people. Our involvement has led to significant contributions to life-saving vaccines including for yellow fever, typhoid, pneumococcus, hepatitis A, adenovirus, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella, meningococcal disease, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B. malaria and HIV. We continue to make significant contributions in this field. We remain dedicated to continuing our long tradition of supporting research efforts to address new health threats that affect all of us.

Our research efforts have also led to the development of blood-clotting products, robotic exoskeletons, surgery directed by robots, spray-on skin to repair burns and new techniques to address traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. These visionary advancements were born out of our duty to support our wounded warriors, yet have much broader implications for the health of all our citizens.

Preserving the Military and Civilian Medicine Connection

I am confident that the innovative wartime medical solutions we have developed to help our service members will continue to be adopted by mainstream medicine. I look forward to seeing how military and civilian medicine will transform and grow in the coming years.
We plan to continue to make seminal contributions to military and civilian medicine. Our progress thus far, however, must be preserved. We must continue to collaborate closely with our civilian partners to ensure that our advancements last well beyond times of war.

With this in mind, we will continue to invest in partnerships with our civilian counterparts so that our advances can be shared with the population at large. Collaboration promises to ensure that everyone everywhere benefits from healthcare professionals who know how to apply the latest technology and treatments.

The Military Health System has succeeded in previously unimaginable ways. I want to make sure the remarkable things we have achieved are a reality for everyone in our nation. I hope we can all take comfort in the fact that as more and more of our military medical men and women come home, they will be returning with skills, experiences and qualities that will help us here during our gravest times of need.


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Dellinger, president talk veterans in Oval Office

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In a one-on-one meeting this morning in the Oval Office, American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger shared the Legion’s concerns on a variety of issues with President Barack Obama. The 20-minute meeting was part of a busy morning for Dellinger, who earlier spent an hour with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

During the meeting with Obama, Dellinger said the pair discussed easing licensing and credentialing requirements for veterans, the White House’s Joining Forces initiative and the Legion’s role in reducing the VA claims backlog through promoting the use of fully developed claims.

“The meeting went very well,” Dellinger said. “I thanked him for what he did as an administration in moving a lot of these issues forward. He recognized (fully developed claims), and we talked about the interoperable medical record (between VA and the Department of Defense). I asked him about milestones, and he said, ‘We’re working through that process.’ They’re having regular meetings, and his staff is an integral part of all of this to ensure that it stays on schedule.”

Dellinger didn’t get an opportunity to address the Legion’s concerns with sequestration with Obama. “We wanted to do that, but time didn’t allow it to happen,” Dellinger said. “I’m sorry that it didn’t because I think it’s important we continue that fight. Sequestration’s not good for anyone.”

During his meeting with Shinseki, Dellinger said VA construction projects, the claims backlog and shared medical records with DoD were discussed. But a large portion of the conversation focused on transparency within VA and how the agency is dealing with a rash of preventable deaths of its patients. During an April 9 hearing in which Dellinger provided oral testimony, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. – chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs – said that dozens of VA hospital patients in Phoenix may have died while awaiting medical care, and that committee staff investigators also have evidence that the Phoenix VA Health Care System keeps two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for doctor appointments and treatment.

“They are taking this very seriously and looking at these issues,” Dellinger said. “A lot of this would never have come to light if it hadn’t been for their efforts to go back through the records and see what they thought were preventable deaths. He identified 78 cases, and 23 have been attributed (to being preventable) at this point. They’re going to do further reviews on those, also. But he says any death is a tragedy, and we agree with him on that. But they also need to be more transparent, and he says he is working on that.”

Dellinger said he was told both by the president and Shinseki, “That if you all see anything … let us know and we will act on it. And as the president stated, we’re the boots on the ground. We’re out there every day and working hard for our veterans. He realizes that, and he thanks us for what The American Legion does for veterans.”


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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.