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Veterans Benefits Information

Introduced legislation will protect student veterans during COVID-19 crisis

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Many schools and universities have taken proactive measures to mitigate the spread of the spread of COVID-19, leaving veterans with questions surrounding their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits. Bipartisan legislation introduced by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs would minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students.

“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot forget about our student veterans,” said committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif. “This bill package will make key fixes so veterans can continue their studies without interruption, loss of income, or unexpected bills.”

The American Legion lauded the bipartisan efforts of the committee to protect student veterans during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have been honored to work with Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Phil Roe as we continue to learn about second and third-order effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student veterans,” said American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford. “The American Legion applauds the leadership of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in these challenging times and urges prompt passage of the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act.”

The bipartisan legislation would protect work-study allowances, vocational rehabilitation and GI Bill housing allowance payments in the event of sudden school closures for student veterans. Critically, the bill ensures that students whose schools close but cannot transition to an online curriculum are able to maintain their eligibility next semester.

“We worked hard to assure student veterans that the support they count on from the GI Bill to cover tuition and housing costs won’t be taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ranking Member Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “I am proud to introduce this bill with Chairman Takano today to give them further confidence that the benefits they earned will be waiting for them on the other side of this crisis.”

The Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 builds on S. 3503, which authorized VA temporary authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. This allows for continued payment of benefits even if the program has changed from resident training to online training. The president signed S. 3503 into law on March 21.

For the latest VA updates on coronavirus, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/n-coronavirus/.

Stay informed on message from American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford and other news stories regarding the coronavirus at www.legion.org/coronavirus.


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VA COVID-19 news: hiring retired staff, GI Bill benefits continue

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Each day brings an increase to the number of coronavirus cases and deaths nationwide. And VA medical staff and patients are among these numbers.

COVID-19 positive cases at VA hospitals stand at 484 with seven patient deaths. And 75 VA employees have tested positive for the virus.

The Department of Veteran Affairs is doing everything it can to put safety measures in place to handle the ever-increasing demand that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on VA facilities. VA has released information regarding access to VA facilities and what to do if you are exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. They also are in need of more medical staff and are offering re-employment for retired VA health-care staff.

VA is looking for health-care providers with interest and expertise in:

- Telehealth/virtual care

- Travel nurse corps

- Direct patient care/support (at a VA medical center and/or outpatient clinic)

For former VA clinicians interested in re-employment, apply online. VA officials are promising expedited hiring practices and dual compensation waivers for potential recruits, so that they don’t have to give up federal retirement benefits in order to start assisting at department medical centers.

Additional VA updates related to COVID-19

GI Bill benefits. Online learning has become the new norm for student veterans as campuses have shut down to the coronavirus outbreak. Student veterans will continue to receive their GI Bill benefits under bill S.3503, which President Trump signed into law March 21. According to VA, this law enables VA to continue providing the same level of education benefits to students having to take courses online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It also continues to provide GI Bill student veterans with the same monthly housing allowance until Dec. 21, or until in-person classes are resumed.

While students receiving GI Bill benefits are not required to take any action. GI Bill benefits will continue automatically without student veterans taking any action. However, if a student veteran has questions, they may contact the Education Call Center at (888) 442-4551.

Funeral services. Effective as of March 23, VA announced that “committal services and the rendering of military funeral honors will discontinue until further notice” for the safety of veterans, their families and VA staff in response to the coronavirus. Immediate family members of no more than 10 of the deceased may witness the interment if requested.

Families of deceased veterans who still wish to continue with interment may schedule a committal service for a later date by calling the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117 or schedule a burial arrangement online here.

Stay informed on message from American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford and other news stories regarding the coronavirus at www.legion.org/coronavirus.


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Disabled veteran finds 'brotherhood' during COVID-19 outbreak

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit Las Vegas, Army veteran Ricky Poe knew life was going to get even more difficult. Poe uses a power wheelchair and public transportation to get around, but he also is highly susceptible to getting both the flu and pneumonia.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Poe’s primary care physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs urged Poe to self-quarantine to avoid catching COVID-19. But that left Poe without the ability to get to the grocery store, something the veteran recently needed.

So Poe reached out to fellow Legionnaire Victor “Doc” Moss, the adjutant at Paradise Post 149. Within minutes, Moss had another Legionnaire ready to not just pick up groceries, but provide Poe a care package of well more than what Poe was requesting.

It was a blessing for Poe and an extension of a relationship that started in 2019 and has led to Poe becoming a Paid-Up-For-Life member of Post 149.

The help he got from Post 149 “says a lot,” Poe said. “I don’t have friends here. I lost my wife unexpectedly in January of 2019. I’m all alone here.”

Moss said Post 149’s relationship with Poe began in 2019 when Poe was the recipient of furniture through the post’s “Help for Heroes” program with Walker Furniture. The program provides wounded U.S. military personnel and veterans in Clark County with specialized and home furniture. After receiving the furniture, Poe joined Post 149 and soon became a PUFL member.

Moss said Post 149 staged a fundraising drive around two years ago to provide household items, food and money for struggling veterans in the community. Among the items collected during the drive was what Moss said at the time was around three years’ worth of toilet paper. When the coronavirus hit Las Vegas, leading to a toilet paper shortage, the post began donating the coveted item to the Greater Las Vegas Fisher House and other veterans programs.

The post also sent out an email to its membership, letting it know the toilet paper was available. It was shortly after that when Poe reached out to Moss requesting assistance, saying he was trapped in his house in need of frozen and canned vegetables.

Moss contacted fellow Post 149 member Greg Whalen, himself a previous “Help for Heroes” recipient, to see if Whalen could put together a care package from Share Village, a Post 149-supported facility that provides affordable veteran housing and has a community food pantry.

Whalen told Moss “no problem” and was able to bring to Poe a larger care package. Poe was overwhelmed when Whalen showed up at his residence with the food.

“All I asked for was to be put in contact for the help from a Brother Member and I would pay my Brother back for whatever he brought me from the store,” Poe emailed to The American Legion. “It took all of 15 minutes via email for (Moss) to get back to me with a response of a Brother Legionnaire who was going to take time out of his day to bring me more than I asked for. Even more to my surprise it was at no cost to me which was a larger help to me as I live like most of us that are disabled veterans on a very tight fixed income.”

Moss said the ability to help Poe is a result of a larger effort by Post 149 to be involved with its community, including Walker Furniture and Share Village. It also led to both Poe and Whalen joining the post. And being able to help Poe “reinforces for us the reason we exist, the reason we created this post, which is community service,” Moss said. “We take a lot of pride of being in the community, donating a lot of money to people and helping them out.”

For Poe, who was a member of The American Legion in Mississippi but eventually let his membership lapse for 10 years, finding Post 149 in Las Vegas has been like finding a new family. Another fellow Legionnaire, Scott Wells, just this week went grocery shopping for Poe.

“I have never been a member of such a united Brother Hood like this in my life, not the Boy Scouts, not even the Army was such a caring Brotherhood like this would take their time from there day to help each other to help another brother in need like this,” Poe said in his email to the Legion. “I am so glad and thankful that I am a member of such a great organization of people. There is no other BROTHERHOOD like The American Legion and why I became a life member as soon as I could and recommend (every) member to do so.”


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Disabled veteran finds 'brotherhood' during COVID-19 outbreak

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit Las Vegas, Army veteran Ricky Poe knew life was going to get even more difficult. Poe uses a power wheelchair and public transportation to get around, but he also is highly susceptible to getting both the flu and pneumonia.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Poe’s primary care physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs urged Poe to self-quarantine to avoid catching COVID-19. But that left Poe without the ability to get to the grocery store, something the veteran recently needed.

So Poe reached out to fellow Legionnaire Victor “Doc” Moss, the adjutant at Paradise Post 149. Within minutes, Moss had another Legionnaire ready to not just pick up groceries, but provide Poe a care package of well more than what Poe was requesting.

It was a blessing for Poe and an extension of a relationship that started in 2019 and has led to Poe becoming a Paid-Up-For-Life member of Post 149.

The help he got from Post 149 “says a lot,” Poe said. “I don’t have friends here. I lost my wife unexpectedly in January of 2019. I’m all alone here.”

Moss said Post 149’s relationship with Poe began in 2019 when Poe was the recipient of furniture through the post’s “Help for Heroes” program with Walker Furniture. The program provides wounded U.S. military personnel and veterans in Clark County with specialized and home furniture. After receiving the furniture, Poe joined Post 149 and soon became a PUFL member.

Moss said Post 149 staged a fundraising drive around two years ago to provide household items, food and money for struggling veterans in the community. Among the items collected during the drive was what Moss said at the time was around three years’ worth of toilet paper. When the coronavirus hit Las Vegas, leading to a toilet paper shortage, the post began donating the coveted item to the Greater Las Vegas Fisher House and other veterans programs.

The post also sent out an email to its membership, letting it know the toilet paper was available. It was shortly after that when Poe reached out to Moss requesting assistance, saying he was trapped in his house in need of frozen and canned vegetables.

Moss contacted fellow Post 149 member Greg Whalen, himself a previous “Help for Heroes” recipient, to see if Whalen could put together a care package from Share Village, a Post 149-supported facility that provides affordable veteran housing and has a community food pantry.

Whalen told Moss “no problem” and was able to bring to Poe a larger care package. Poe was overwhelmed when Whalen showed up at his residence with the food.

“All I asked for was to be put in contact for the help from a Brother Member and I would pay my Brother back for whatever he brought me from the store,” Poe emailed to The American Legion. “It took all of 15 minutes via email for (Moss) to get back to me with a response of a Brother Legionnaire who was going to take time out of his day to bring me more than I asked for. Even more to my surprise it was at no cost to me which was a larger help to me as I live like most of us that are disabled veterans on a very tight fixed income.”

Moss said the ability to help Poe is a result of a larger effort by Post 149 to be involved with its community, including Walker Furniture and Share Village. It also led to both Poe and Whalen joining the post. And being able to help Poe “reinforces for us the reason we exist, the reason we created this post, which is community service,” Moss said. “We take a lot of pride of being in the community, donating a lot of money to people and helping them out.”

For Poe, who was a member of The American Legion in Mississippi but eventually let his membership lapse for 10 years, finding Post 149 in Las Vegas has been like finding a new family. Another fellow Legionnaire, Scott Wells, just this week went grocery shopping for Poe.

“I have never been a member of such a united Brother Hood like this in my life, not the Boy Scouts, not even the Army was such a caring Brotherhood like this would take their time from there day to help each other to help another brother in need like this,” Poe said in his email to the Legion. “I am so glad and thankful that I am a member of such a great organization of people. There is no other BROTHERHOOD like The American Legion and why I became a life member as soon as I could and recommend (every) member to do so.”


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Congressionally mandated commission: Women should be eligible for the draft

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A congressionally mandated commission recommended Wednesday that women should be eligible for the draft and required to sign up at 18.

Congress created the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in 2017 to develop recommendations about the need for a military draft and how to foster an interest in all types of national service among young Americans. In their final report, which was shared with the Pentagon, White House and Congress this week, commissioners recommend extending selective service registration to women.

“Women are as likely as men to be qualified for military service,” said Debra Wada, vice chair of the commission and the former assistant secretary of the Army. “Ensuring they are part of the registration pool will only make sure we’re more prepared. It signals that all Americans may be expected to serve in a national emergency.”

Conscription into the military hasn’t been used in more than 45 years, but adult men are still required by law to sign up for selective service at 18. The commission proposed that Congress introduce legislation to amend the Military Selective Service Act to eliminate male-only registration. The policy change would expand draft eligibility to all Americans ages 18 to 26.

Over a period of nearly three years, commissioners held public meetings and hearings, spoke to people in 42 cities, consulted more than 530 organizations and collected 4,300 public comments. The topic of extending the draft to women “evoked a range of passionate and heartfelt views,” the commissioners wrote.

In the end, they decided the male-only military draft excludes women from a fundamental civic obligation, reinforces gender stereotypes about women’s roles and omits a skilled population from being called into military service during emergencies.

The commission found that 29% of men and slightly more women, at 29.3%, are qualified to meet the initial physical and educational standards to serve in the U.S. military, Wada said.

“Ultimately it comes down to making sure that at a time of critical need, we have access to highly qualified individuals,” she said.

More than 224,000 women serve in the U.S. military. Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the opening of all combat roles to women five years ago, and at least 30 women have successfully completed Army Ranger School, according to the report.

The policy change is long overdue, commissioners said.

The report, titled “Inspired to Serve,” listed dozens of recommendations to increase Americans’ participation in military, national and public service. It aims to make a “service year” a rite of passage for young Americans and boost standards for civic education from kindergarten through high school.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Wednesday the report came at a “pivotal moment,” as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our national service infrastructure, from the military, to public and community service, has been called into action to fight the COVID-19 virus,” Reed said. “This is not a report that should sit on the shelf, this is a call to action. These recommendations can serve as a guidepost for what the future of national service looks like.”

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., a combat veteran, said he would work with other lawmakers to turn language in the report into legislation.

“Whether it be in the National Defense Authorization Act or stand alone, we are going to make this happen,” he said.

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.


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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.