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Veterans Benefits Information

Chairman Takano Statement Following Reports that VA Fast-Tracked Controversial Drug Spravato to Treat Veterans

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WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Today, Chairman Mark Takano released the following statement after reports from the Guardian and the Center for Public Integrity that the depressant Spravato has been fast-tracked through FDA approval processes and hurried through VA’s contracting process: “I am incredibly alarmed by reporting today that suggests Spravato, a controversial new drug, is being rushed through critical reviews and may be prescribed to veterans before fully vetting the potential risks and benefits. “Already, many concerns have been raised about the drug’s safety and efficacy, its suspicious fast-track approval through FDA review, and VA’s contracting process. Today’s reporting raises additional concerns that VA’s own process for objective review is being undercut by undue influences.  Questions remain about the ultimate impact on the health and safety of veterans, who should not be made into a “test case” while the clinical community continues to gather data about this treatment. “We demand that VA provide documents and information about its review and contracting process to adequately address critical questions—including whether VA officials were pressured by the White House or the Mar-a-Lago “three” to prescribe this drug to veterans. Spravato should not be added to VA’s formulary until we have more answers about what this means for our nation’s veterans.” ###

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DAMA Subcommittee Oversight and Legislative Hearing: Ensuring Access to Disability Benefits for Veteran Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

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  On Thursday, June 20, 2019, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will hold a legislative and oversight hearing entitled, "Ensuring Access to Disability Benefits for Veteran Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma" that will address H.R. 1092 and an August 2018 VA OIG Report entitled, "Denied PTSD Claims Related to Military Sexual Trauma." Watch the meeting here 

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Legion Family leadership speak to Massachusetts Boys and Girls State

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A fixture at virtually every American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program is Legion Night, when members of the American Legion Family speak directly to the delegates about the Legion.

The delegates at Massachusetts Boys State and Girls State this year had some extra special speakers on Sunday night in National Commander Brett Reistad and National President Kathy Dungan.

As he introduced Dungan, Past National Commander Jake Comer noted this was the first time the Auxiliary’s national president had been to Massachusetts Girls State for Legion Night.

Both programs meet the same week at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. This is the ninth year the programs have met in joint sessions at the college some 20 miles south of Boston.

While Dungan noted it could be a tiring week for the delegates, the program serves as “a great opportunity to meet other outstanding students.”

“There is a saying, ‘you get out of it what you put into it,’” Dungan said. “You have the power to make this week one of the best weeks of your life.”

Reistad said the delegates “represent the cream of the crop, the best young men and women that our nation has to offer.”

He referenced the famous photo of future president Bill Clinton shaking hands with President John Kennedy when Clinton was at Boys Nation, and noted Kennedy’s historic remarks, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

“Through American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State and other programs, we have been instilling this message into young people since our founding,” Reistad said. “You all have demonstrated the ability and willingness to continue this message simply by coming here, working so hard, and learning about our great country.

“If your schools and American Legion posts and Auxiliary units did not believe in you, you would not be here. Most of you are already active in your communities. If you’re serving your community, you are serving your country. And you are already part of the American Legion Family legacy. … The American Legion has been serving the youth of this country for the last 100 years, but it’s you, the young people who represent our future and the next great legacy of The American Legion.”

Reistad said the one message he hoped the delegates would take with them from their experience was the importance of service.

“You’ve shown an interest in serving our society and making it better simply through your participation in this program,” Reistad said.

Reistad and Dungan’s visit to Boys and Girls State coincided with their participation in Bunker Hill Day activities, which included marching in the Bunker Hill Day Parade earlier Sunday in Charlestown along with Comer, Department of Massachusetts Commander Jodie Pajak, and other Legion Family leadership. The parade recognized the 244th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill in addition to the centennial of The American Legion. On Monday, Reistad served as monument orator during Bunker Hill Day ceremonies.


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DAMA Subcommittee Oversight/Legislative Hearing: Ensuring Access to Disability Benefits for Veteran Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

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  On Thursday, June 20, 2019, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will hold an oversight hearing entitled, "Ensuring Access to Disability Benefits for Veterans Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma." Watch the meeting here 

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In South Carolina, Boys State puts on a show

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The way Jay Pitts sees it, the productions his staff puts together each year at Palmetto Boys State in South Carolina are just as important as the political elements the delegates learn during the week.

“Over the years we’ve been doing this, I’ve got guys that had no idea that journalism was something they wanted to go into, or that producing television is something they would go into,” said Pitts, the performing arts and production director at Palmetto Boys State. “You never know when that young person that’s experiencing all this, it may turn his mind into something he wants to do.

“Second, if we’re building a state, it’s not just a political state. It’s got to be an entertaining state, that’s why we have the law school, that’s why we have the criminal justice academy, that’s why we have the leadership school where we talk about sensitive subjects like hazing and bullying and discrimination. It’s all of that because that’s part of the real world and real life. And if you’re educating young men in the world … they’ve got to know all this stuff.”

Pitts and his crew of Boys State alumni guide a group of delegates each year through a nightly news broadcast, daily social media posts, and nightly assemblies whose production values rival those of the professional events Pitts has produced, such as the Miss South Carolina pageant — and which come together in almost half the time.

Pitts’ staff brings in additional lighting, sound and video equipment for their productions at Anderson University’s Henderson Auditorium. But those costs are offset by the digital download cards they sell to delegates and their parents.

“We’re shooting hours upon hours of footage and it’s all being edited in the moment and being put on a digital download card so at the end of the week, we’ll have a thousand digital download cards that we’ll sell,” Pitts said. “Those digital download cards have 6-8 hours of video, 2,500-3,000 photographs, and each citizen gets a download card, goes home and puts all of that into his system and his Boys State experience is with him for the rest of his life.

“We used to do DVDs, that was expensive. … it was costing us at least $5,000, $6,000 to do that. These guys introduced me to this digital download card. I have one guy designated to do nothing but take everything we’ve shot every day … so Saturday morning at graduation, the parents will be told, you need to buy this download card. We sell them for $20 a pop, and that money actually takes care of all the equipment that we have to rent — lighting, sound, video wall, video playback, so we’re self-sufficient. We don’t really cost the program any money, we kind of break even. But then Saturday morning when we’re tearing everything down, they’re actually downloading the rest of graduation and the end of Boys State so that when we go home Saturday afternoon, everything is out there. Trust me, they get home Saturday night and they’re downloading this stuff and reliving Boys State,” Pitts said.

The production staff’s work each year begins in earnest in October, when staff are selected and assignments are made for the following year.

“We map out a plan in January and February and we execute that plan in March, April, May and June. We’re very organized and to the point,” Pitts said.

The production needs lighting designers, lighting directors, sound designers, sound directors, stage managers, musical directors, choreographers, videographers, a graphic designer, producers for the social media-focused PBS Today and the news broadcast WPBS, and the digital download group.

“We have a host of multi-talented staff members who — Boys State changed their life when they were Boys Staters. And most of us would sweep the floor to be part of this program. So based on that and the talents that they have, it’s an automatic that they bring their ‘A’ game every year, year after year after year. So we really never have a problem recruiting production staff individuals to come and help us,” Pitts said.

The week culminates with Friday night’s combined talent show and awards presentation, called the Sinkies in honor of longtime program director Sinclair Lewis.

“It kind of blows your mind, because you don’t know these kids on Sunday, you don’t get to know them until Tuesday, you’re auditioning them until Wednesday, and then you pull all this together and they rehearse it in a day or two and we’re doing it on Friday night,” Pitts said.


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