Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Buoyed by Financial Support, Military Veterans Are a Growing Part of the Paralympics

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Veterans accounted for 24.3 percent of the American Paralympic team this year, and they benefit from funding sources not available to civilians.

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Legion testifies on president’s proposed 2019 budget for VA

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On The American Legion’s 99th birthday, March 15, American Legion National Legislative Division Director Matthew Shuman testified before the House Health Subcommittee regarding the president’s 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget request for the Veterans Health Administration.

“The American Legion appreciates the president following through with the promises he made on the campaign trail – to take care of those who have served the United States in uniform,” Shuman said. “At a time when most federal agencies are experiencing a decrease in their respective budgets, the VA will hopefully, with assistance from this critical committee, receive a much-needed increase.”

Shuman said the 2019 budget, which is a $12.1 billion increase above last year’s request, is reflective of veterans’ voices and should encourage Congress to invest in the largest integrated medical system not only in the United States, but in the world.

In reviewing the VA’s proposed budget, Shuman addressed several critical areas which include community care, creating a lifetime Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, eradicating veteran homelessness and the Legion's opposition to rounding down the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

Community care

According to Shuman’s written statement, the veteran community learned from the 2014 Phoenix VA wait time scandal that there is a need for care in the community. He said the number of veterans who desired to receive care in the community skyrocketed after the Choice Act was passed and signed into law.

In addition, Shuman said a large percentage of veterans, many of whom are members of The American Legion, preferred to receive medical services closer to their homes. The need to finally streamline multiple programs into one effective system is vital, especially as current funding may run dry in May.

“Streamlining the many programs into one is cost-effective, efficient and most importantly, it’s common sense,” Shuman said. “Following through with the promises he made, President Trump’s budget requests funding to ensure veterans receive the best care possible – be it at the VA or in their community.

In order for this to happen, Shuman said Congress must take action to join and modify the programs for the benefit of all veterans utilizing the VA’s Community Care program.

Creating a lifetime EHR

Like streamlining community care, Shuman said restricting the VA’s EHR system to be the same as that of the Department of Defense (DoD) is common sense. Having one seamless system will aid servicemembers as they transition from the military and become veterans.

“The president’s proposed budget not only calls for funding to be allocated, but also requests that those funds be placed in a separate account for VA to obtain the same EHR system that the DoD is employing,” he said.

Because of its efforts, advocacy and resolution, Shuman said the Legion supports the president’s budget request and appreciates the investment he is making in the VA and its community care programs, with the intent to streamline and unify.

“The president’s budget echoes VA Secretary David Shulkin’s desire to expand mental health care access for those with other-than-honorable discharges, which falls in line with the executive order President Trump signed,” Shuman said. “With the support of this committee, it can finally happen.”

Veteran homelessness

Shuman said the need to eradicate veteran homelessness, which has been a substantial priority for The American Legion for many years, is crucial as there are roughly 40,000 homeless veterans living on the streets of America today.

“That is not acceptable by The American Legion, and I imagine, by this committee,” he said.

According to Shuman, the president’s proposed budget calls to sustain funding levels for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, a program he said will assist multiple nonprofit organizations like The American Legion in their efforts to end homelessness within the veteran community.

By Resolution No. 340, the Legion calls upon Congress to make the SSVF program permanent and increase funding to end the plague of veteran homelessness. Shuman said SSVF is the only national, veteran-specific program to help at-risk veterans avoid becoming homeless, and provide rapid re-housing for those who lose their housing.

“The American Legion appreciates the president’s desire to maintain the level of funding, but highly encourages this committee to make the SSVF program permanent, along with increase the funding for this critical program,” Shuman said. “This would send a clear message that this committee and Congress wants to end this horrific plague within the veteran community.”

Opposing COLA round-downs

By Resolution No. 164, the Legion has long opposed the rounding down of COLA. Asking veterans to reduce their benefits to pay for the benefits of other veterans is unethical and a textbook example of "robbing Peter to pay Paul," according to Shuman.

“We understand that $12 is not a lot of money to some but to others, it is,” he said. “We understand that some veterans have proudly declared they would happily give it up to help other veterans – and that only speaks to the character of those that this committee, and The American Legion, aims to help.”

Shuman said The American Legion urges Congress to oppose any form of reducing benefits for veterans. The Legion appreciates the president’s 2019 proposed VA budget increase and looks forward to engaging with Congress, as well as VA officials, to ensure those funds are used appropriately for the benefit of all veterans.

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Post will continue to make 'positive impact' in its community

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Chartered in 1920, Rayson-Miller Post 899 in the Village of Pittsford, N.Y., has long played an active role in its community. Others recognize that fact and have made it possible for the post to improve its current facility and ensure its doors are open to all member of the community wanting to be a part of The American Legion.

A State and Municipal Facilities Program (SAM) grant awarded to the Village of Pittsford will be used to renovate the Village Hall, where Post 899 resides – specifically, to ensure the post is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance guidelines.

New York State Assemblyman Joseph Errigo, a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve veteran, was able to secure the grant after meeting with Post 899 Commander Al Herdklotz more than a year ago.

“The announcement of the State and Municipal Facilities Program grant is a tremendous step toward providing fair and equal access for the handicapped into Village Hall and it is the least we can do for the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country,” said Errigo in a press release. “Village Hall has been out of date and out of compliance for too long, and it has left many disabled and handicapped members of our community from accessing this space completely. I would like to thank Commander (Alvin) Herdklotz, The American Legion, as well as all of our local leaders who worked with us to make this grant a reality, and I am confident this funding will allow them to continue to make a positive impact on our community.”

Herdklotz said he started the process of looking for funding to renovate the post three years ago when, after looking at the building’s entry way, said, “This is not adequate. Someone is going to get hurt, either in egress or entry.”

After meeting with Village of Pittsford Mayor Bob Corby to look at possible grants for Village Hall, Herdklotz connected with Errigo at the post’s annual steak roast. “I mentioned that we really need an entry way here,” Herdklotz said. “I didn’t want people to be hurt or be deterred from attending events or meetings, or even using the post. He jumped right on board. I didn’t even have to ask him.”

When Herdklotz got the call from Errigo that the grant – originally sought for $60,000 but coming in $40,000 higher – was on its way, Herdklotz was both ecstatic and appreciative. “I really applaud Joe Errigo,” he said. “I knew I had to get it done one way or the other, but he was a big aid in it. I respect him as a Marine and also for his help.”

The grant will allow for the redesign and construction of Village Hall’s second entrance, as well as for updating the current restrooms to meet ADA standards. Corby said the grant and pending renovation will “continue the collaborative efforts to make our entire community a better place to live and raise a family.”

The 112-member Legion post has long maintained a positive presence in Pittsford, sponsoring both the Post 899 Bolts American Legion Baseball team and Boy Scout Troop 129. The post also sends a local youth to Boys State each year and provides support to other veterans programs and the Canandaigua VA Medical Center.

Post 899’s honor guard is a regular presence at community events, and the post hosts a regular Tuesday breakfast to allow both Legion members and non-members to talk with veterans. “That’s changed a lot of outlooks (toward veterans),” Herdklotz said. “And (people) continue to come back. The camaraderie is great.”

And this past Christmas season the post found out a single mother wasn’t going to be able to afford providing a holiday for her two children. The post teamed up with a local church to provide the family with presents, a Christmas dinner and food to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Herdklotz said the post’s reputation is one of the reasons the grant for the renovations became possible. “The community does value us,” he said. “We do what we can do – whatever possible – for our community. We want to be visible in the community and the community know that we exist, where we are and what we do.”

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April 9 deadline for 2018 Legacy Scholarship applications

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The American Legion Legacy Scholarship application for 2018 is online for new and returning applicants to fill out. Applications must be completed and submitted by April 9.

The Legacy Scholarship is available for children whose parents lost their lives while honorably serving on active duty on or after 9/11, as well as for children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined 50 percent or higher VA disability rating.

The renewable scholarship will award up to $20,000 for the expense of graduate or post-graduate tuition, books, room and board, meal plans, transportation and other supplies needed to achieve a higher education. In 2017, the scholarship awarded 55 grants totaling $671,892.

Apply online here.

The Legacy Scholarship is a needs-based one. The grant amount each scholarship recipient will receive will be based on his or her financial need after all federal and state aid is exhausted. Recipients will have a year to use the grant and may reapply to the scholarship up to six times. The number of scholarships awarded and the amount of financial aid granted to each awardee (this includes returning applicants) will be determined on donations to the scholarship fund and one's financial needs.

Scholarship recipients are selected by The American Legion’s Committee on Youth Education during the organization’s annual Spring Meetings in May.

The American Legion Legion Riders are a major fundraiser for the Legacy Fund, raising over $8.9 million since 2006. For more information about the Legacy Scholarship or to donate, visit

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Medals piling up for Paralympic veterans

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The U.S. sled hockey team will have a shot at a third straight Paralympic Games title after defeating Italy 10-1 in the semifinals Thursday in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Italy’s goal was the first allowed by the U.S. in these games. The Americans cruised through the three round-robin games, defeating Japan, the Czech Republic and South Korea a combined 28-0. The U.S. will face Canada in the gold medal game; the Canadians have shut out every opponent thus far in South Korea, including a 7-0 win over South Korea in the other semifinal Thursday.

The U.S sled hockey team includes six veterans: Ralph DeQuebec (Marines; Denver.); Travis Dodson (Marines; Deming, N.M.); Jen Lee (Army; San Francisco); Luke McDermott (Marines; Westerlo, N.Y.); Josh Misiewicz (Marines; La Grange, Ill.); and Rico Roman (Army; Portland, Ore.). They’re part of a number of veterans representing the U.S. at the Paralympic Games.

It’s been a successful games for those veterans.

Dan Cnossen (Navy; Topeka, Kan.) has four podium finishes in as many events so far, including a gold medal in the men’s sitting biathlon. He won silver in the men’s sitting 12k and men’s sitting middle-distance biathlon and added a bronze in the men’s sitting sprint.

Joining Cnossen on the podium after the middle-distance and sprint events was Army veteran Andy Soule (Kerrville, Texas), who won bronze in the middle distance and gold in the sprint.

Soule, who won bronze in the 2.4k pursuit biathlon in the 2010 games in Vancouver said winning his first gold medal was “incredible.”

“I couldn’t do it without incredible teammates pushing me all the time, and without incredible coaching and technical staff. I think it speaks to a great team effort that has really paid off for us,” Soule said in a press release.

Soule also was eighth in the men’s sitting biathlon and 11th in the men’s sitting 12k. Both Cnossen and Soule will have chances at more medals in events coming up Friday and Saturday.

Here’s how the other U.S. Paralympic athletes have fared so far in Pyeongchang:

Alpine skiing

Kevin Burton (Navy; Erie, Colo.) and guide Brandon Powell-Ashby (Marines; Boulder, Colo.): 6th, visually impaired super combined; 7th, visually impaired downhill; 9th, visually impaired super-G.

Josh Elliott (Marines; Yakima, Wash.): 6th, men’s sitting super combined.

Cross country skiing

Sean Halstead (Air Force; Rathdrum, Idaho): 14th, men’s sitting middle-distance biathlon; 22nd, men’s sitting 12k.

Bryan Price (Army; Leeton, Mo.): 16th, men’s sitting middle-distance biathlon; 20th, men’s sitting biathlon.

Jeremy Wagner (Army; Nanakuli, Hawaii): 19th, men’s sitting biathlon.


Jimmy Sides (Marines; Silverthorne, Colo.): 15th, men’s UL.

Michael Spivey (Marines; Abilene, Texas): 18th, men’s UL.


The U.S. wheelchair curling team, which includes Army veteran Kirk Black (San Antonio, Texas) and former Army basketball player Steve Emt (Hebron, Conn.) failed to advance to the medal round after posting a 2-9 record in the round-robin.

The games continue through Sunday. Click here for updated daily schedules.

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