Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion honor guard makes wrong a right

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The honor guard at American Legion Post 72 in Orem, Utah, stays busy conducting military honors at more than 130 funerals a year. At its most recent funeral, the honor guard did its best to right a wrong.

A week earlier, while Post 72’s honor guard was attending another funeral – that of a fellow post member – the wife, family and friends of World War II veteran Wally Norton sat graveside waiting for another honor guard to show up. It never did.

The lack of a military honors burial left Norton’s wife of 31 years, Nedra, in tears. According to the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, Norton's family friend Sheron Drake wanted to make sure both Wally and his family got the funeral he’d earned through his service in the U.S. Army.

Drake contacted Post 72 to request an honor guard. There never was a question what the answer would be.

“I’m sure (the funeral experience for Nedra) was not good,” Post 72 Commander Brad Prescott said. “People think they’re going to have an honor guard and it doesn’t show, that’s very disconcerting. We do not want to have that happen for that very reason.”

Prescott said Post 72’s honor guard has long been a source of pride and a regular attendee at funerals for area veterans. “Last year we did 134 funerals, and we’ve gone to around 60 or so this year,” he said. “The mortuaries contact us about three to four days out, we email our guys and they come. They’re very, very dependable. I never worry about people showing up.”

On June 16, Post 72’s honor guard was at Lindon City Cemetery to provide Nedra with a folded flag and a 21-gun salute. Utah’s Patriot Guard Riders gave the widow an escort from her home to the cemetery.

“Between our post and the (Patriot Guard) Riders, we had a very, very nice service,” Prescott said. “It turned out extremely well.”

Nedra told the Daily Herald that the June 16 service made up for the previous disappointment she’d felt at the lack of a military burial for Wally. “It was just beautiful, wasn’t it,” she said of the service.

Nedra’s daughter, Vonnie Norris, told the Daily Herald the second funeral service brought some closure to her mother. “This morning she gets up and goes, ‘I don’t feel any sadness. I just feel such a relief and happiness,’” Norris said.

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Ohio post retires flags, instills patriotism

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More than 100 Legion Family members, Boy Scouts, community members and others joined together to give more than 500 tattered American flags the proper sendoff on June 14 at American Legion Post 557 in Wintersville, Ohio.

At the post’s annual flag retirement ceremony, one by one flags were dipped in kerosene and safely burned in a barrel. About 30 youths from two Boy Scout troops and Young Marines were among those who participated in retiring the flags.

“It means a lot to the community,” said Post 557 Commander Holly Lewis. “For the next generation, it’s really important to teach the next generation to respect our flag and the proper way to dispose of one. I can’t tell you how many of these kids can’t tell you what our flag means or understand the proper handling and care of it as well.”

Lewis has a vision for what a successful flag etiquette program would look like in her community.

“There wouldn’t be a child in this community who didn’t respect the flag and respect what it stands for but they would know the proper handling and care,” she said. “We’re not there yet but with our passion and willingness to do these types of events, we’ll get there eventually.”

Such community events are vital for Legion posts, said Past Department Commander Dave Hilliard, a member of American Legion Post 274 in Steubenville.

“It’s important because it brings the community out,” he said. “Our job is to get the community to come out and support us. You see the Boy Scouts and Young Marines. Those are the future — future veterans and members. We’ll send a lot of these kids to Boys State. And they will learn what we stand for, and the community will know what we stand for.”

Hilliard said that any post — even those smaller than Wintersville — can have successful community events. “As long as the posts work their programs, they will grow. I have a small post and we are growing. When we started growing and getting into our community, the community started embracing us. Now, we are getting younger veterans who want to be a part of the Legion. Small posts can grow and serve their community by working programs like this.”

Retired Marine Sgt. Jack Ernest gave a 20-minute address before the ceremony in which he educated the youths on the colors of the flag, proper etiquette and more.

“It’s not just a piece of cloth,” said Ernest, a Vietnam War veteran who has made more than 40 humanitarian missions to that nation. “When I see the color red in our flag, it means so much more to me than that. Oftentimes, when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I have trouble finishing because of what I see in it. I begin to choke up, tear up and sometimes cry.”

To Ernest, the red represents Terry, a fellow Marine he served with in Vietnam.

“The fighting was fierce that day,” Ernest recalled. “Many were killed that day. Many of us were wounded. When the fighting had stopped, I yelled for Terry. He never answered me. When I crawled over to where he had taken up his position, I soon realized that Terry would never again be able to stand or to say, ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag.’”

Ernest concluded with a warning to the future generations in attendance.

“Death occurs when the soul departs the body after which the body begins to decompose,” he said. “And so it is with a nation. Patriotism is the soul of a nation; it’s what keeps a nation alive. When patriotism dies and a nation loses its love, loyalty and respect for the nation, then that nation dies and begins to decompose.”

Ernest’s speech and the flag retirement ceremony had a big impact on Boy Scout Troop 3 from Steubenville. Members were attending their first flag retirement event.

“It’s really cool,” said Clayton “Zeke” McGalla, leader of Scout Troop 3. “We knew there was a proper way to retire a flag. We didn’t know how they were going to do it. I thought it would be a good thing for the boys to be a part of.”

McGalla said his Scouts would talk about what they learned when they reconvened later. There were many valuable lessons to take away.

“They need to maintain the path that people like Jack and people before him and other veterans have laid for them,” said McGalla, whose son is a 100-percent disabled veteran. “Some of our Scouts might go on to defend the flag wearing a uniform. I just want our boys to leave here knowing that it is not simply a flag. There are many men and women who gave life and limb, my son included, so that we can be free and be able to retire a flag in freedom and not in secret.”

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Legion testifies on challenges facing veteran-owned small businesses

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Davy Leghorn, assistant director of The American Legion's National Veterans Employment and Education Division, testified June 7 before the Subcommittee on Investigation, Oversight and Regulation. Leghorn’s testimony focused on the challenges facing veteran-owned small businesses operating as wholesale distributors under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Surgical Prime Vendor-Next Generation (MSPV-NG) program.

“MSVP Next Generation not only reduces federal contracts for veteran-owned businesses, but also sidesteps the rule of two,” Leghorn said. “Privatizing the functions of the VA Office of Acquisitions and Logistics presents a conflict of interest and harms small businesses.”

The “rule of two” is an obligation for government purchasing officials to conduct market research. If it validates that two small businesses can do the job at a fair and reasonable price, then the contract is set aside to be awarded to small businesses. The Veterans Health Care, Benefits and Information Technology Act of 2006 intended for the VA to adhere to the rule of two even after they have met the minimum goals for utilizing service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. This was affirmed by the Kingdomware Tech. Inc. v. United States Supreme Court decision in 2016. Since then, the VA has created internal regulations and policies to work around the court’s ruling, leveraging the narrative that veterans’ lives are at stake due to the burden placed upon them by the decision.

“We believe VA is the most qualified to deliver health care services to veterans, and we want them to step up to their responsibilities,” Leghorn said. “The intimation that the adherence to the Vets First procurement priorities could potentially cause catastrophic disruption to the health care supply chain is markedly false.”

To help the VA carry out their mission of serving America’s veterans, Congress established the Veterans First Contracting Program, also known as Vets First. This program gives the VA authority to award sole-source contracts to veteran-owned small businesses so long as they are a responsible source. The contract falls between $150,000 and $5 million, and the contract can be made at a reasonable price.

“Despite this authority, the VA has continued to impede its own authority and work against the intentions of Congress by creating internal regulations and policies that make it harder to award contracts to veteran-owned small businesses,” said Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss.

The VA filed a justification and approval to move thousands of medical products under the control of four prime vendors, according to Kelly. Many of these products could be purchased from veteran-owned small businesses. Instead, the VA is including small businesses at the subcontracting level and have provided no details for a plan.

“The VA has used many excuses for these actions, the most common being that it’s too burdensome or too expensive to work with veteran-owned small businesses,” Kelly said.

The American Legion is an advocate for reasonable number of federal contracts to be set aside for veteran-owned small businesses, according to Resolution No. 154.

“It is clear from today’s discussion that the theory that contracting with veteran-owned small businesses is expensive and burdensome is nothing more than a misconception,” Kelly concluded. “Therefore, the VA needs to take their responsibility to help America’s veterans succeed in all aspects of life seriously. We shouldn’t try to meet goals for veterans — we should try to exceed them.”

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Proactive health readiness key to Men's Health month

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As Men’s Health Month continues through June, the focus is on preventative care. Preventive care means getting annual checkups and seeking care right away when you notice symptoms to increase the chances of an early diagnosis and successful treatment. According to Army Capt. Taccarra Linson, Army public health nurse at Landstuhl Army Medical Center (LRMC), "Preventive care guarantees a high quality of life."

Statistically speaking, men have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, chronic liver disease and suicide. "Men don't get care until later when later could essentially be too late," said Linson.

It is important for family members to encourage men to seek medical attention on a regular basis for routine visits and early treatment when they notice changes in their bodies or with their mental health. 

Prostate health

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men. However, when caught in the early stages, the recovery rate is 100%. Men should pay attention to changes in urine flow and frequency of urination. Changes occur naturally as men age and do not necessarily mean you have cancer. However, regular health checkups and seeking medical advice from your primary care provider early on is necessary for early detection and treatment.

Safe sex

"Twenty five percent of men and seventy five percent of women don't show signs or symptoms of gonorrhea or chlamydia," said Army Sgt. Talon Sipes, non-commissioned officer of public health nursing at LRMC. "However, they can pass it along to their partners and never know they had it in the first place. Bottom line, we encourage safe sex practices and the use of protection." Free condoms are available at the LRMC pharmacy and at the public health clinic in building 3705.

Physical fitness

Physical fitness certainly helps everyone stay healthy, but choose a program that works for you. Then, if you experience pain or discomfort, seek medical attention early on instead of waiting for the issue to get worse. "For example, back pain might just be a tight muscle; easily treated," said Linson. "But, if you wait and power through it, you may end up with a pinched nerve or worse."

Even workplace supervisors should get involved. "For the leaders, when you show concern for your soldiers, they take better care of themselves," said Linson. "Better to lose a soldier for an hour than for six weeks of convalescent leave. It really comes down to mission readiness."

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.

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Legion testifies on legislation addressing VA staffing shortages

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Roscoe Butler, American Legion deputy director for health care in the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, testified June 13 before the Subcommittee on Health to voice the Legion’s support for five pieces of pending legislation, which included bills addressing the severe staffing shortages plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

There will be a shortage of more than 100,000 doctors by 2030, including medical officers, nurses, psychologists, physician assistants and medical technologists, according to a March 2017 study commissioned by the Association of American Medical College.

“The American Legion has identified and reported staffing shortages at every VA medical facility and reported these critical deficiencies to Congress, VA Central Office (VACO), and the president of the United States,” Butler said.

H.R. 5521, the VA Hiring Enhancement Act, seeks to address the shortcomings in the recruitment and retention of qualified medical professionals. The bill will speed up the hiring of newly recruited doctors and allow them to immediately begin treating veterans at the completion of their residency by allowing VA to make binding job offers of up to two years before a physician completes their residency program.

According to Butler, the bill also releases physicians from non-compete agreements. This helps to ensure that "when a qualified physician who is an applicant for appointment to a position in the Veterans Health Administration has entered into a covenant not to compete with a non-department facility, the individual will not be barred from accepting an appointment to a position in the Veterans Health Administration.” Through the establishment of a pilot clinical observation program for pre-med students preparing to attend medical school, H.R. 2787, the Veterans-Specific Education for Tomorrow’s Medical Doctors Act, aims to address these issues. The American Legion passed two resolutions supporting legislation that addresses the recruitment and retention problems VA faces. They are Resolution No. 115, Department of Veterans Affairs Recruitment and Retention, and Resolution No. 377, Support for Veteran Quality of Life.

The shortage of medical professionals — particularly those with highly specialized skillsets such as orthotics and prosthetics — requires Congress to ensure that resources and funding are available to continue the education and training of such clinicians. H.R. 3696, the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act, requires the secretary of the VA to award grants establishing and expanding master’s degree programs in orthotics and prosthetics. By admitting more students, providing better training faculty, expanding facilities and increasing cooperation with VA and the Department of Defense, this bill addresses the needs of the approximately 90,000 VA patients with amputations.

Testimony supporting two other pieces of pending legislation — H.R. 5693, the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act, and H.R. 5938, the Veterans Serving Veterans Act of 2018 — were submitted to the subcommittee by The American Legion. H.R. 5693 authorizes VA to enter into contracts to place veterans who cannot live independently in non-VA medical foster homes. Currently, veterans enrolled in Home Based Primary Care through the VA can choose to receive care at a medical foster home, but veterans eligible for nursing home care through the VA are not eligible to receive care at these homes, nor does the VA cover the expense. This bill requires VA to provide nursing home care at a veteran’s request and the veteran can then be placed in a medical foster home that meets VA standards. American Legion Resolution No. 114, Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Agreements with Non-VA Providers, provides the foundation to support this bill.

Finally, H.R. 5398 expands an existing database to include members of the armed forces in the talent pool to meet VA’s occupational needs. The recruiting database covers every vacancy in the VA with the ability to select applicants for positions different than the one for which they originally applied. To be known as the “Recruitment Database of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs,” the database will provide the military occupational specialty or the skillset corresponding with each vacant position, as well as qualified servicemembers who could be recruited for these vacancies before separating from service.

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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.