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Veterans Benefits Information

'We've all invested in VA'

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TriWest Healthcare Alliance President and CEO David J. McIntyre Jr. had messages of thanks, commitment and reassurance while addressing The American Legion’s 101st National Convention.

While thanking the Legion for its vigilance and advocacy on behalf of veterans, the head of the coordinator of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ community health-care program also offered up another message.

“We are not here to privatize VA. Period,” McIntyre said. “There was a time in the (Department of Defense) and with Tricare when that same conversation was going on. We opposed it then, and we oppose it now.

“We’ve all invested in VA. It needs to be strengthened. Our role is not to replace VA. Our role is not to tell a veteran what they should be doing, because the VA and veterans need to be at the core. Our responsibility to make sure that there are providers available when needed to deliver the care.”

McIntyre said that 90 percent of veterans eligible for urgent care have to drive no more than 30 minutes from their house to get access. And, he added, TriWest already has supported the making of 2 million veteran appointments across the nation in a network with 1.1 million providers. “And we’re paying our bills in less than 20 days to 98-percent accuracy,” he said. “We’re not perfect, and we’re never going to be. But we’re aiming for a very high bar. There’s a day when I want that to be in five days.”

McIntyre thanked The American Legion for both working for veterans and working with TriWest. “I came here today to say ‘thank you’ for your input, for your feedback, for your pushing,” he said. “I want to thank The American Legion … for being insistent. For being supportive. For being a teammate in this journey of ours. It has been the privilege of our life to be engaged in this work. It’s what we do. It’s all we do. It’s why we built this company.”

But, McIntyre said, “I also came here more importantly to double-down on a commitment. It’s a commitment we started with The American Legion right after the (2014 VA crisis started). The commitment was we would do our part to stay focused and flex to support VA’s community care needs. That we would forge ourselves with the input of The American Legion and other (veteran service organizations), so that VA – who is necessarily needing to be in charge – might more perfectly deliver on its responsibilities and its privilege to support the health care needs of those that have served in defense of freedom.

“That’s a commitment that I reiterated with to those that lead The American Legion at the signing of the MISSION Act. And it’s a commitment that we reiterate today, because a couple of weeks ago we were informed that we will have the privilege of continuing to serve at the VA’s side for years to come as the next-generation contractor in the (VA’s Region 4 Community Care Network).”


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Anderson wins Legion law enforcement award

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On Aug. 28, Lt. Jane Anderson of Colorado Springs, Colo., received the American Legion Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award at the 101st National Convention in Indianapolis. The award has been given through the Legion's National Security program since 1997, to a well-rounded law enforcement officer who has exceeded the duty requirements expected of their position and has demonstrated a distinct pattern of community service coupled with professional achievement. The award especially takes into account heroic acts.

Prior to retiring in July, Anderson had been with the Colorado Springs Police Department for 30 years, serving in a variety of units and mentoring numerous employees both sworn and civilian.

"I am truly honored and humbled by this experience," Anderson said. "I want to thank The American Legion ... for your never-ending support for first-responders."

Learn more about The American Legion's National Security program and platforms at www.legion.org/security.


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Boys State, Boys Nation alum receives Legion Patriot Award

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Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president, was appreciative to have the opportunity to express his gratitude to The American Legion Aug. 28 on stage at the 101st National Convention in Indianapolis after receiving the organization’s Patriot Award.

Between visiting his World War I grandfather’s Legion post in Pennsylvania, representing the Department of Indiana in 1966 at Hoosier American Legion Boys State and then Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., “I saw this organization always as one of the great emblems of our country and a great asset to our country,” said Daniels, a member of The American Legion 100th Anniversary Committee.

The American Legion's Patriot Award is presented to outstanding citizens who perform great deeds and acts of exemplary service. Daniels was given the award for his advocacy of patriotic values during his career in public service. During his two terms as the 49th governor of Indiana, Daniels said his No. 1 responsibility was to support the Indiana National Guard. He visited U.S. military troops deployed overseas, appeared at Blue Star Salute events and met with Gold Star family members. As president of Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., he has created a veteran-friendly campus with a thriving reserve officer training corps program. And through his leadership at Purdue, tuition has not increased since 2012.

Daniels said Boys State and Boys Nation is his most vivid and memorable encounter with The American Legion, and for that he shared in his speech to Legion delegates why he was appreciative to show his gratitude, as well as leave the Legionnaires with a thought.

While attending one of the Legion’s prestige youth programs, Daniels said “our country had its arguments and had its divisions but in general Americans were patriotic and grateful. They understood how incredibly fortunate we all have been to live in this country and the freedoms we enjoy. As important and as valuable as the programs like (Boys State and Boys Nation) have been and the example that the Legion sets has been, we’ve never needed it more than today.”

Daniels said the results of a recent survey showed that currently only 60 percent of Americans say that patriotism is important to them. That number is a low 40 percent among young people. He believes the lack of patriotism is from youth not having been taught enough about American history, and even misinformed, as well as not knowing about civic traditions.

“It’s not their fault that they don’t have as much appreciation as they should for the wonders that this country has meant to the world and for the great gift it has given to each of us,” Daniels said. “Ignorance of that kind can lead to ingratitude, and in combination those are two very dangerous character traits for a country of free people trying to govern themselves.

“So I want to say thank you for this award … and more so for the chance to encourage you to press on. The example of this organization, individuals in your communities, what you represent in your local communities … what you do as a national organization, all of these things, have always been throughout your century ann incredibly important part of American life. Never more so than today.”


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Rader wins Legion firefighter award

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On Aug. 28, Jan K. Rader received the American Legion National Firefighter of the Year Award at the 101st National Convention in Indianapolis. The award has been given through the Legion's National Security program since 2010, to a firefighter who has exceeded the requirements expected of their position and shown a distinct pattern of community service and professional achievement. The award takes into account individual heroic acts. Those eligible include active firefighters and emergency medical technicians who are certified firefighters.

Rader is chief of the City of Huntington (W.Va.) Fire Department. She has been a firefighter for nearly 25 years, and is the first woman to serve as chief of a professional fire department in the state. Rader is on the front lines of the fighting opioid addiction in Huntington, which has garnered her attention from several media outlets.

"I'm very humbled by this," Rader said. "Your first-responders have a very similar makeup to those of you in this room today. I thank you for allowing me to be here and to be a part of this."

Learn more about The American Legion's National Security program and platforms at www.legion.org/security.


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Wilkie: Combating veteran suicide requires 'a national conversation'

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Standing in front of delegates to The American Legion’s 101st National Convention in Indianapolis, Department of Veterans Secretary Robert Wilkie said that he and President Donald Trump are of one mind when it comes to the department’s most urgent mission.

“Suicide prevention is the No. 1 clinical priority of the president of the United States. It’s my top priority for veterans,” Wilkie said on Aug. 28 in Indianapolis. “As long as we are still seeing veterans struggle, we must all guide them back to the community of this brotherhood, this military family. They need our love and support.”

Wilkie said of the 20 or so veterans that take their own lives each day, half are over age 65 – the majority of those Vietnam veterans.

“Let me put that into historical perspective,” he said. “Lyndon Johnson left Washington, D.C., 50 years ago in January, and we are still dealing with the after effects of that conflict.”

Only six of the 20 veterans committing suicide daily are in the VA system. Those in the system, Wilkie said, are screened for mental health when they walk into a VA facility. VA also provides same-day mental health care.

“But just as important, we are talking about this issue more within the active-duty force,” Wilkie said. “The practice of my father’s generation – not to talk about these things – is now giving way to an open discussion among our active servicemembers, who have now learned the importance of looking out for signs in themselves and signs in their comrades of distress.

“But no VA secretary, no federal department, can solve this problem from Washington, especially when most of those veterans we need to reach are not in our system. We will not get anywhere on veteran suicide until this nation has a national conversation about life. And that is a conversation that veterans can start today.”

Wilkie asked that the conversation include veteran service organizations. “The federal government needs to build those partnerships with organizations like the Legion, are states and localities, to get to those in the community who can deliver aid directly to those in need,” he said. “For example, there’s important legislation in the Congress now that would let VA direct funding to groups like yours, to community partners across the nation, so they can support veterans at risk of suicide.”

Wilkie also brought up the issue of opioid addiction and noted that VA has reduced its opioid prescriptions by about 51 percent during the current administration. He also said VA is looking at other pain treatment options that “would never have been considered in my father’s day: yoga, tai chi, acupuncture. If I had told my father that I would treat the pain of his wounds with acupuncture or tai chi, my nose would be flat against my face. But culture is changing, and we’re giving veterans healthier alternatives as a result.”

Wilkie called the MISSION Act “the most successful piece of legislation since the GI Bill” and “the greatest change in our department since Omar Bradley sat at the desk that I now occupy.”

The MISSION Act has “revolutionized the way we look at veterans by saying … that it is VA’s job to fit the needs of the veterans, instead of forcing America’s veterans to design their health care around the needs of the VA bureaucracy,” Wilkie said. “Under MISSION, veterans can now get care in their community if a VA facility is too long a distance away, or if VA does not have the care they need, or even when that veteran says ‘it’s in our best interest to go elsewhere.’

“And finally, it gives veterans what their neighbors have had for so many years: the option of getting urgent care close by, without having to drive to a VA, without having to go into an emergency room for a cold or the flu, and that means we are finally on the cusp of providing veterans 21st century medicine.”

But Wilkie said while the MISSION Act gives veterans permanent choice, “it is our goal, again, to make it a tough choice,” Wilkie said. “And we know that America’s veterans prefer VA because they want to go where people speak the language and understand the culture.”

Expanding outside care options doesn’t mean the VA is shifting closer to privatization. “Let me address that as I’ve addressed it under oath,” Wilkie said. “I was privileged to present the largest budget in the history of this department to the United States Congress: $220 billion. I’m the only member of the president’s cabinet who was ordered not to present any budget cuts to the Office of Management and Budget. And I can tell you that I have the same standing orders for next year’s budget. A $220 billion budget calling for a workforce of 390,000 employees is a very strange way to privatize the department.”

Wilkie said VA is about to launch the first testing of its new electronic health record in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

“No longer will warriors have to carry around hundreds of pages of paper records that are disintegrating in their hands,” he said. “That means doctors will never have to guess again what you went through. It will finally be interoperable. That means if you go to an urgent care facility, if you go to your private doctor, those doctors will have the ability to tell VA what they have done for you and what you need for your future care.”

Wilkie said his department is focusing on hiring and training over 2,000 employees to process Blue Water Navy veteran claims that will begin being awarded Jan. 1, 2020 – “benefits that 75,000 sailors and Marines deserve and deserved a long time ago.”

Wilkie took time to thank The American Legion for helping change the climate toward the nation’s veterans.

“Today, we are a pro-veteran country. We see it everywhere,” he said. “We see people standing for veterans at the ballgames, at the airports. And in a political climate, as charged and divisive as this one is, veterans are the only things (political parties) seem to agree on.

“There is a reason for that. It’s (The American Legion). This Legion knows something about where we came from and the importance of reminding us all of the shared sacrifice that these members have.”


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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov