Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

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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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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Avoiding complacency key to summer fire safety

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FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Barbeques, fireworks and camping are all big parts of summer, but if people aren't careful, a weekend of fun can turn into a disaster with lasting consequences.

That's why officials are urging people to take fire safety seriously by taking the proper precautions when taking part in some of their favorite summertime activities, said Jeremy Evett, Fort Rucker fire chief.

When it comes to fire safety, whether it is for camping or cooking, people need to be cognizant of a multitude of factors, said Evett.

"There are several things that come into play in the summer – both on duty and off duty. A lot of people get active during summer time with vacations and traveling, and one thing people need to look at while vacationing are their camp fires," said the fire chief. "They need to take into consideration the dry conditions and windy conditions when building a fire, and they should make sure they are extinguishing them properly and protecting themselves properly so that they don't have embers that could potentially start a wild fire."

Additionally, when starting fires, people should not use items like gasoline or kerosene, which can cause flare ups and result in serious injuries.

"No one is immune to that," Evett said, as he recounted a story of one of his own personnel who relearned the lesson the hard way. "(He) was lighting some grass on his property to burn off, using a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel and was too close when it lit, and it flashed and burned his face and hands. He was taken to a burn unit and has fortunately made an incredible recovery, but he relearned a valuable lesson that day."

Another big summertime activity, especially with Independence Day coming up, is the lighting of fireworks, and although many see fireworks as a fun activity, Evett said people need to remember that they are essential miniature explosives.

"People need to make sure that they're following all of the manufacturer's safety requirements and recommendations," he said. "They shouldn't be standing too close, and parents need to keep an eye on their children and make sure they are operating them safety. Also, people should make sure to never hold them in their hands when launching them – just follow the directions."

Evett said that people need to make sure they aren't lighting fireworks in areas where there is a lot of dry grass or brush that could potentially catch fire, and have extinguishing materials on standby.

Summer is also well known as barbecue season, and if people aren't cautious, a fun family outing could turn potentially disastrous.

"When people are barbecuing, issues can arise when they are doing something as simple as firing up the grill," said Evett. "When using a propane grill, people need to be careful when lighting the grill because if the gas builds up then the flames can flash up unexpectedly.

'For those using charcoal grills, many like to use lighter fluid to get the flames going, but sometimes overuse of lighter fluid can cause flames to flash up, as well, so people need to be careful of that," he continued, adding that squirting lighter fluid on open flames should be avoided as the flame has the potential to travel up the stream and ignite the canister.

People should make sure they aren't grilling too close to a residence, and take the proper precautions when disposing of the charcoal after grilling.

Although many of these summertime activities can be relaxing, Evett said that people should never drop their guard when it comes to fire safety.

"One of the biggest culprits when it comes to fire hazards is complacency," said the fire chief. "They think 'I've done it a hundred times and never had an issue,' but you cannot get complacent – you have to keep an eye on things."

Additionally, with the dry weather that summer often brings, if people are smoking, they should make sure to dispose of cigarettes properly, he added. A lit cigarette tossed into dry brush or even a trash can has the potential to start a fire.

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

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Five tips for protecting your skin from the sun

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Summer is upon us and with so many sun-filled fun activities to look forward to, don’t let safety take a backseat. During times of extreme weather, your skin can be at risk of suffering the most damage. Skin protection, especially during the summer, is crucial to ensuring overall health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in just 15 minutes. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers in the U.S. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to UV light, either from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps. Be aware that indoor and outdoor tanning can be extremely harmful and should be done in a cautious and mindful manner.

You have many options for protecting your skin while outdoors in the sun. Follow these tips this summer to help protect yourself and your family:

  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher - Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF15 on all parts of exposed skin before you go outside. This is a good practice even on slightly cloudy or cool days. And remember, sunscreen wears off. You may need to reapply sunscreen if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours, and after you swim or sweat excessively.
  • Wear clothing to cover your skin - When possible, wear a T-shirt or beach cover-up, in addition to sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and skirts provide protection from UV rays.
  • Use shade - Reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. But don’t rely on the shade alone. You still need to remember to use protective measures, like sunscreen and protective clothing, when you’re outside.
  • Wear a hat to provide upper body shade - Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses - Protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses that wrap around work best because they block UV rays.

Anyone can develop skin cancer. However, a person’s skin pigment indicates how likely they are to sustain injury from UV rays. If you notice changes in your skin, such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in the appearance of a mole, talk to your doctor. TRICARE covers skin cancer exams for people who are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. This includes individuals with a family or personal history of skin cancer, increased occupational or recreational exposure to sunlight, or clinical evidence of precursor lesions.

Stay tuned for more summer safety tips from TRICARE. To learn more about sun safety, visit the CDC or American Cancer Society websites.

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Pittsburgh-area Legion post proudly displays patriotism

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In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, residents of Murrysville, Pa., kept asking city officials, “Where are our flags?”

City officials turned to Bob McKenna, who in 1991 started the regular patriotic displays of hundreds of American flags down Route 22 in the community 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“This community is great,” said McKenna, a member of American Legion Post 711 in Murrysville. “We had to get 16 people together and we ended up putting up the flags on that Friday — the Day of Prayer. That was a great day.”

On the morning of Flag Day this year, McKenna once again led a delegation of Legionnaires, a half-dozen Boy Scout Venture crews and other volunteers to set up the three-mile display of American pride. One group started at the western boundary of Murrysville, setting up the 3-foot by 5-foot flags along one side of the highway. A second group started three miles down the road, placing flags on that side.

In roughly 75 minutes, all 340 flags were in place alongside the heavily traveled road.

“This event means pride in America to me,” said Post 711 Commander Frank Persia, who drove one of the vehicles this year but has walked and placed the flags previously. “I feel pride when I do it. The more people who see the display, the more patriotic I think it is. It’s a great cause.”

McKenna started “Flags over Murrysville” as a member of Kiwanis, but four years ago he transitioned it to a project for his American Legion post. He needed volunteers so he reached out to all those who had offered their assistance over the years. His goal was to get 80 volunteers who could take turns to handle the eight to 10 annual flag displays.

Post 711 members jumped at the opportunity. “The Legionnaires were 100 percent behind it; they wanted to make sure that the project didn’t die,” Persia said. “As soon as Bob said that he needed support, they were all in.”

In addition to Legionnaires, community members and others rallied to maintain the popular display.

“It’s the American flag — these men and women all fought for it,” McKenna said. “It’s a perfect fit — a better fit than Kiwanis — for The American Legion. It’s been a good thing. It’s a patriotic thing to do.”

Local businesses, community members and others sponsor flags for $25. The proceeds, about $7,000 each year, fund programs and projects for the Legion post.

Since the project began, it has grown. In 2000, the Route 22 highway expanded and so did the number of spots for flags. McKenna and his team increased the number of flags from 260 to 340.

McKenna’s 28-year project has led to at least 75,000 flags being displayed in his community. The community shows its support each time the flags are positioned. Commuters honk their horns and wave in appreciation.

“After 9/11 when we put up the flags, it was the peak moment of my life,” McKenna said. “That day, it just hit everybody. And everybody — trucks, cars, tractor-trailers, everything — blared on their horns. I never heard anything like it. It was so loud, like a New York City street. It just fired everybody up.”

The tragedy of 9/11 inspired Pam Toto to volunteer to set up the flags, which she has done dozens of times over the past decade.

“I have always admired the efforts to put up the flags to honor our country on significant days,” said Toto, who has lived in Murrysville since 1995. “But my catalyst for volunteering was after the World Trade Center attacks. A childhood friend of mine, Larry Senko, unfortunately passed away in the World Trade Center. I saw this as a way to pay tribute to him, in context of a larger representation of our country and the sacrifices that people make for our freedoms.”

As she walked the route and placed scores of flags, it gave Toto time to reflect.

“Our lives are so busy we tend to forget things,” she said. “This gives me a pause button and an opportunity to think about a friend who I grew up with and — more importantly — to think about the implications of that day, and other days, and how those actions affect all of our lives.”

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