Veterans Benefits Information

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Veterans Benefits Information

WWII veterans serve as Veterans Day parade grand marshals

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Constantine (Coz) DiGiullo, 102, and Veria Wagoner, 101, were grand marshals of Albany's 63rd Veterans Day Parade, held on Monday, Nov. 12. They are members of Joseph E. Zaloga American Legion Post 1520 in Albany, N.Y. Both are WWII Army veterans, and have over 60 years of membership at Post 1520.

Two cadets, dressed in WWI uniforms to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI and standing behind the honorees in the photo, are from Albany High School's JROTC program; they were honorary grand marshals, They represented two Albany Medal of Honor recipients: William Henry Johnson and Patrick F. Dunn.


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Enroll before TRICARE, FEDVIP Open Season closes Dec. 10

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Open season closes on Dec. 10, 2018. Do you want to make changes to your TRICARE health plan, or enroll in a dental or vision plan with the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP)? Then you must act now. Your coverage will start on Jan. 1, 2019.

Two different open seasons are now underway until Dec. 10, 2018.

TRICARE Open Season

Outside of TRICARE Open Season, you won’t be able to make changes to your plan unless you experience a TRICARE Qualifying Life Event (QLE). A TRICARE QLE is a certain change in your life that may mean different TRICARE options are available to you. Examples are marriage, the birth of a child, or retirement from active duty.

Federal Benefits Open Season

  • Federal Benefits Open Season is for retiree dental coverage or vision coverage through FEDVIP. If you have TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP), provided by Delta Dental, and want dental coverage in 2019, you’ll need to choose a FEDVIP dental plan. TRDP ends on Dec. 31, 2018.
  • Active duty family members may enroll in a FEDVIP vision plan, if enrolled in a TRICARE health plan.

After the Federal Benefits Open Season, you may only make changes to your existing FEDVIP plan if you experience a FEDVIP QLE. Remember that the FEDVIP QLEs may be different from the TRICARE QLEs.

Learn more on the Open Season page. If you need to take action, take command and do so before open season closes next week.


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American Legion testifies on military sexual trauma, PTSD claims

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American Legion Deputy Director of Claims Services Greg Nembhard testified Nov. 29 before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

Nembhard’s testimony focused on reports published by Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) on unwarranted medical examination for disability benefits, processing inaccuracies involving veterans’ intent to file submissions for benefits and trauma, denied post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims related to military sexual trauma (MST), and The American Legion’s System Worth Saving program. The VAOIG reports cite inaccuracies, inadequate training, lack of specialization and poor quality of VA examinations done by contracted medical examiners.

“The American Legion wants to protect veterans from these, and other inadequacies, and urge the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) to take swift corrective action," Nembhard testified. “We believe that a variety of factors cause these shortfalls. Including a lack of funding, understaffed VA facilities, and contracting companies solely focused on their bottom line —at the veterans’ expense.”

VA often denies victims of MST benefits based on a claim of PTSD — despite MST being a cause of PTSD — because they cannot produce evidence of the assault. MST victims often do not report the assault for varying reasons including “concerns about negative implications for performance reports, worries about punishment for collateral misconduct, and the perception of an unresponsive military chain of command.”

A total of 169 MST-related claims that were denied were reviewed. The review concluded the VBA did not correctly process veterans’ denied MST-related claims in 82 of 169 cases. VAOIG estimated 1,300 of 2,700 MST-related claims denied were processed incorrectly during the review period.

“Veterans should not experience additional harm in the process — especially when processing MST-related claims,” Nembhard said. “Finding ways to ensure these veterans receive the services they deserve is one of the highest priorities of The American Legion.

"The growing diversity of veterans means that a system which primarily provided care to male enrollees must now evolve — and adapt — to meet the needs of all veterans and to provide them the best possible care.”

The mission of The American Legion's System Worth Saving program is to “assess the quality and timeliness of veterans’ health care, the claims process at VA Regional Offices (VARO), and provide feedback from veterans about the care and services offered.” Reports from these site visits are then compiled into a publication that is distributed to the president, members of Congress and VA officials.

“We believe in quality of care at VA facilities, we remain committed to a strong VA, and we believe that VA is a system worth saving,” Nembhard said.

The American Legion “remains committed to a VA that is appropriately funded, staffed, trained and empowered to conduct internal quality reviews and oversight,” he concluded.


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Farmers market grows Virginia post

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As a way to serve her fellow veterans and community, joining a veterans service organization has been on Veronica Soria’s to-do list. So when Soria saw American Legion Post 290’s booth at the Long’s Family Market in Stafford, Va., on Oct. 14, the retired Marine veteran said, “This is it.” She joined The American Legion that day.

Soria is one of more than 60 veterans that has joined Post 290 since last April when members set up a tent at the weekly farmers market. The community exposure every Sunday since then has not only grown post membership, it’s also increased membership in Post 290’s newly formed Legion Riders chapter and its Junior Shooting Sports Program.

Having a booth at the farmers market was about “getting out in the community and raising awareness and letting veterans know that we’re still here, we’re able to help them and their families … we are more than just a building,” said Post 290 Adjutant John Haehn, who has been at the farmers market – which runs until Thanksgiving – almost every Sunday since it opened. “It really has done a tremendous amount for the post.”

Haehn, a post-9/11 veteran, was approached by Robin and Lester Long – owners of the farmers market – about the idea of having a booth alongside the nearly 55 other vendors. “One of the things we’ve wanted to make sure was part of our plan was giving back to the community,” Robin said. Since Lester is a retired Army veteran, they wanted to bring the military community to the market. And that was by inviting Post 290. “It’s nice to see the post flourish and grow so much this year.”

Lester is now a member as well.

Opening day of Long’s Farmers Market was a brisk 36 degrees. Haehn brought his own pop-up tent, placed Legion brochures that he found at the post in blue bins, and gathered around a heater with other Post 290 members. “We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but we actually had (two) people sign up that day. It went forward from there,” he said.

By the second weekend at the market, 15 new members joined the post. And Haehn had a Post 290-branded tent made.

“Being at the farmers market has been a really good way to get our post back into the community,” Haehn said. And offer potential new members another way to join.

Recruiting

Soria said she would not have walked through Post 290’s front doors to join “because not everybody’s comfortable with that.” However, seeing the post at the market “I think is the best thing. It incites (veterans) to come.”

Post 290’s recruiting success has come from being engaged about what the post does for veterans, youth and the community, and who is eligible to join the Legion Family.

“Actually being here physically, we’ve had a lot more people go, ‘I didn’t know I could join (because I’m still in the military);’ ‘Do I have to be a wartime veteran or have to deploy?’ and ‘Oh so my wife can actually join, my kids can join, this can be a big family thing?’ Absolutely yes,” Haehn said.

“Talk to them, hear their story, learn about that individual. There are families out there that want to be a part of something.”

After that, Haehn said recruiting becomes a natural process.

“Being out at the farmer’s market we’re able to reach hundreds of people every Sunday and allow them to know all of our programs – Boys State, Girls State, Legion Baseball, family dinners, bingo nights,” Haehn said. “They see we’re doing great things in the community and they’re like, ‘Oh I want to join, and I want my family to be a part of this.’”

It’s because of this that Post 290’s Legion Riders chapter has grown and its Shooting Sports program was saved from dissolving.

Program growth

Legion Riders Chapter 290 got underway in June with six members. It now has 35 because of the farmers market.

When Haehn approached Riders Chapter 290 Director Fred Santiago about being at the farmers market, Santiago said, “I think that’s a great idea to go outside into the community and start looking for motorcycle enthusiasts that were in the community that would like to join our riders and our post. It’s a perfect venue to get from the outside of the walls of our post and get out into the community which is what The American Legion is all about.”

Santiago is at Post 290’s booth almost every Sunday with his motorcycle, which he says attracts people who are motorcycle riders and oftentimes veterans.

“Not only did we project out into the community saying yes we are here, yes there is an American Legion post in Stafford County, when they started seeing the motorcycle and they started talking to us about the different programs that we have, not only about riding motorcycles but also what the riders can do for the post, what the riders can do for the community.

“Yes, we do bring new members in. But we’re getting the word out to the community what we do.”

The post’s Shooting Sports program was about to go away due to only six participants. Now, the program has 21 youth marksmen from market attendees picking up flyers about the program from the Post 290 booth.

“I’m trying to get more visibility for The American Legion in general,” Haehn said. “Even if it’s just going to the farmers market on Sundays and getting out there and saying, ‘Hey, this is what we do.’ That’s what I’m trying to do to help our post grow and stay alive.”

 

 


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Texas post nears reopening 16 months after Hurricane Harvey

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To Robert Bailey, American Legion Post 7 in Port Arthur, Texas, is home.

It’s where Bailey, the post commander, bonds with fellow members. It’s where he cooks meals every Sunday. It’s where families enjoy the barbecue pits and nearly Olympic-sized swimming pool.

But since Hurricane Harvey rolled into town Aug. 29, 2017, the post has been closed. The storm’s rains flooded the post, leaving up to three feet of water in some places.

“When we arrived, there was water up to my chest,” Bailey recalled. “When we came into the hall, I literally cried. It broke my heart. To come back to where it is now is a total blessing. I thank God and everybody around me for what they have done.”

Hurricane Harvey caused more than $125 billion in damage, dropped 40 to 60 inches of rain in parts of southeastern Texas and inundated hundreds of thousands of homes. The mayor of Port Arthur said the entire 144-square-mile city was submerged.

For more than a year, contractors and Post 7 members have chipped away at the work needed to fix the damage and reopen the building. It’s been a long haul.

“I’ve been in a state of depression since all this stuff happened,” Bailey said. “I care more for this post than I do for my own house. My house is eight blocks away. Right now it is completely gutted. I have devoted all my time to this place because I love it so much. I love all the guys here.”

Reconstruction has included gutting and replacing nearly everything in the 10,000-square-foot building — new floors and tiles, a total roof replacement, rebuilt electric, new walls and more.

“We’re in the final stages,” Bailey said, aiming for a grand reopening in January and a big celebration in honor of the post’s 100th anniversary later in 2019. “Once everybody comes back and sees it, everyone will be happy again. When we reopen I will be happy. I’ll be back to being me again, as my wife says. She says I haven’t been myself in about a year.”

On the road to recovery, Post 7 and its members have received assistance from sources like The American Legion National Emergency Fund (NEF), which granted the post $10,000.

“It definitely helped us get back on our feet again,” said Bailey, noting the post received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Texas American Legion. “The National Emergency Fund helped a lot of our members out. If y’all didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be here. For helping Rudolph Lambert American Legion Post 7 — thank you.”

NEF grants are available to American Legion members and Sons of The American Legion members, as well as posts, who are recovering from a natural disaster. Individuals may receive up to a $3,000 grant, while posts may get up to $10,000, in immediate financial assistance.

Hundreds of NEF grants were doled out in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which walloped parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in 2017. Donations to NEF will allow the program to continue to assist victims of natural disasters. Click here to make a contribution to NEF.

Wayne Newsom couldn’t stand to see the post in its state of devastation.

“I couldn’t come in,” said Newsom, who has been a post member for about seven years. “I saw the damage from outside and I had to drive off.”

He didn’t get water in his house but his garage was flooded by Harvey. “I didn’t get upset about that. But this (damage at the post) hurt my feelings. There is so much joy here. Children play in the swimming pool. It’s a real good place for families. This is our home.”

Post 7 also represents home to Lucinda Clary, the adjutant and a member of the Auxiliary unit.

Clary evacuated Port Arthur before the hurricane hit. “When I came back and saw the post, I was heartbroken,” she recalled. “It looked like a ghost town. It had no atmosphere. It was an abandoned building.”

Bailey, Clary and other Legion Family members were determined that it would reopen. She scrubbed in the kitchen, helped serve meals to other volunteers and pitched in wherever needed.

“To me this is family and you don’t abandon family,” said Clary, who was a medic in the Air Force. “As long as this building stands and represents the Legion, I’ll be here.”

Before the grand opening, the post is expected to reopen for members in a couple of weeks.

“It will be tears but not because I am sad,” she said. “They will be because I will see people who I have not seen in a while. To have us all back under one roof is going to be fantastic.”


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