Veterans Benefits Information

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Veterans Benefits Information

Paying down debt

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Get serious about eliminating debt. Follow these simple tips from a USAA certified financial planner.

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Paying down debt

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Get serious about eliminating debt. Follow these simple tips from a USAA certified financial planner.

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75-percent target date approaching

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Each membership year, The American Legion establishes 10 target dates for achieving certain percentage of each department’s membership goal. Target dates fall on the second Wednesday of the month unless there is a holiday on that day or at the beginning of that week. The final target date is 30 days prior to the national convention; delegate strength for the convention is determined on that date. Below are the remaining target dates for the 2011-2012 membership year: • Pearl Harbor Day - Dec. 14 (75 percent) • Mid-Winter - Jan. 19, 2012 (80 percent) • President’s Day - Feb. 8, 2012 (85 percent) • Legion Birthday -March 14, 2012 (90 percent) • Children & Youth - April 11, 2012 (95 percent) • Armed Forces Day - May 9, 2012 (100 percent) • Delegate Strength - 30 days prior to national convention Dec. 14 also is the renewal notice cutoff date. Members who already may have paid their dues will receive another renewal notice if National Headquarters has not received the transmittal by this target date.

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Legion hosts women vets focus group

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American Legion staff in Washington, D.C., hosted a women veterans focus group Nov. 29-30 to discuss key issues affecting women veterans and servicemembers.

The 20-person group included representatives from community outreach organizations, the departments of Labor, Defense and Veterans Affairs, and other stakeholders, who discussed the results of a women veterans survey that the Legion conducted in January. The survey indicated that many women veterans have encountered gender-specific problems at VA medical centers, and only about 25 percent of those eligible are actually enrolled in VA’s health-care system.

The group noted that many women veterans perceive VA medical center staff as "not friendly." VA has begun to change its traditionally male-oriented culture through the "Herstory" campaign, the "I Care" initiative, and other programs intended to get VA employees to treat all of its patients with equal courtesy and sensitivity.

Denise Williams, deputy director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, shared an incident where a VA staffer called out for "Mr. Williams" in the waiting room. "Many of VA's workers assume that patients are always male," Williams said. "This is the kind of mindset that needs to be changed."

Amanda Leigh, the Legion’s women veterans outreach coordinator, recalled that she had been asked for the last four digits of her husband’s Social Security Number at two different VA facilities — one in Washington and another in Wisconsin. "This indicates to me that VA is still in need of a culture change when it comes to the treatment of women veterans," Leigh said.

Military sexual trauma (MST) was another topic the group discussed in detail. According to VA, about one in five women in the military screen positive for MST, which can cause post-traumatic stress and depression. VA facilities now have MST coordinators to field calls from victims, and the department’s central office in Washington has recently hired a women’s mental-health program manager.

For its part, the Department of Defense (DoD) has at least one sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) at each post or base. A restricted reporting system that preserves confidentiality for MST victims has also been created, which doesn’t automatically trigger an investigation by military authorities. An MST victim first speaks with an SARC, who then explains options for redress or treatment that are available to the individual. DoD also has created Safe Helpline for MST victims that has an online chat capability and a telephone hotline.

According to DoD, servicemembers suffering from MST in 2010 was about 19,000 — down from 34,000 in 2006. Prosecutions of offenders also went up last year by 50 percent. Commanders and troops receive preventive training on MST and DoD also requires refresher training.

The group noted that women serving in the National Guard can file MST claims if they are assaulted during a two-week training period. "But women cannot file such claims if they’re sexually assaulted during a weekend drill," said Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division. "This restriction needs to be eliminated. A rape is a rape, regardless of what day it happens. This kind of policy only trivializes the severity of the crime. The Army needs to change this policy asap."

Another key issue covered by the group was unemployment and under-employment among women veterans. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University in New York provides training for women veterans and caregivers. It also works with government and the private-sector to create jobs and vocational training opportunities for women veterans. Besides training, the focus group talked about the need to create strategic partnerships with national and global corporations that "can buy into" the need to bring more women veterans into the work force.

Mark Walker, deputy director of the Legion’s Economic Division, pointed out that many veterans get hired but do not keep their jobs. "Every company has a culture. If you don’t understand that culture, you’re not going to do well. You’re not going to be promoted and you may, in fact, be terminated."

Retention is a key to solving unemployment among veterans, Walker said, "and when we place women veterans into companies, we need to make sure we keep them there. We need more accommodations for their physical and mental disabilities, and we need more mentoring for them, especially from fellow veterans."

Such mentors can help women veterans adjust to the private-sector workplace and teach them important skills, such as how to negotiate a salary raise — something they never had to think about in the military. Mentors can also help women veterans with their career development, which is often sidetracked by time-consuming responsibilities to family members.

The National Resource Directory was cited as an excellent online source for women veterans to research opportunities for work, education, training and even assistance for the homeless (sometimes the result of prolonged joblessness). VA has recently launched its VA for Vets website, which will "translate" a veteran’s military occupational specialty into a draft narrative that can be used in a resume. The site also has online mentoring services.


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Videos explain women’s military experiences

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a series of videos in which women veterans describe their experiences serving in the military, ranging from their significant contributions to national safety and security to the challenges they faced during their service and after returning to civilian life. The three- to five-minute videos are part of VA’s ongoing “Rethink Veterans” campaign to increase awareness of women veterans and their vital roles in our nation’s history. The videos can be viewed at www.womenshealth.va.gov or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/VeteransHealthAdmin. The four stories just released were recorded during the July 2011 Women Veterans Summit in Washington, D.C. Women from all eras, conflicts, and service branches were invited to share their experiences. VA plans to release several video vignettes over the next few months. The first four videos include an Army Reservist who served nine years stateside before deploying to Iraq post-9/11, a Vietnam War era nurse who returned from combat with a new sense of family, a Navy veteran who advocates for expanded roles for women in the military, and Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the first woman to deploy with a Strategic Air Command bomber unit. The videos are meant to increase awareness of women’s roles in the military among VA staff and the public. Women veterans make up 1 percent of veterans, 15 percent of active-duty servicemembers and nearly 18 percent of guard and reserve forces. As the number of active-duty women increases, so does the number of women veterans using their VA benefits. VA is working to enhance access and services for women veterans at all VA facilities and change VA culture to be more understanding and accommodating of women veterans. In addition to the videos, VA recently released a 60-second public service announcement about women in the military. The PSA is available for viewing on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=BOP5DCgjxPE and at www.womenshealth.va.gov. Broadcast organizations interested in obtaining a broadcast-quality version of the PSA should contact VA’s Office of Public Affairs (202-461-7600). For more information about VA programs and services for women veterans, please visit: www.va.gov/womenvet and www.womenshealth.va.gov

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.