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Veterans Benefits Information

Boys Nation Day 6: Alumni night

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On Day 6 of Boys Nation, the senators traveled to The American Legion Washington, D.C., office where the president and vice president were sworn into office.

Boys Nation president Jonathan Hess was sworn into office by American Legion Past National Commander H.F. "Sparky" Gierke III, a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces. Hess provided a few remarks after taking the oath of office.

"I would like to thank The American Legion members for putting their lives at stake for the good of our country – an organization that not only works for the betterment of veterans, but for the betterment of the entire nation," Hess said. "The American Legion makes the Boys State and Boys Nation programs possible for America’s youth, teaching not only about government but also about leadership. Not only about politics but about citizenship. And not only about respect but about service."

After Hess’ inauguration, Boys Nation vice president Joseph Aumuller was sworn into office by American Legion Past National Commander Alan Lance, a retired judge of the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals. Aumuller too provided inauguration remarks.

"Thank you very much gentleman for your votes; I am very excited to work with you all," Aumuller said. "I think we still have a lot of great things to accomplish at Boys Nation, and I would like to thank The American Legion for putting this (program) on."

The young men also heard D.C. staff speak of their respective division’s role in handling issues concerning America’s veterans and active-duty servicemembers. A few divisions introduced were Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, Economic, Legislative and National Security.

"Every division in this organization (The American Legion) in Washington, D.C., is part of our lobbying arm," said Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion’s Washington office. "We provide the federal voice within Washington on issues that are relevant to members of this organization, and we as staff are lucky enough to carry that voice to Capitol Hill, the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs), DoD (Department of Defense), all the way to the White House. But that voice is only provided by the strength of our membership."

Many senators left the Legion’s Washington office with a better understanding of the organization’s mission, lobbying efforts and advocacy for veterans.

"I knew that there were the individual Legion posts, but I didn’t know that there was a consolidated legislative aspect to the Legion," said Alex Sargent from Ovideo, Fla. "It was cool to see that The American Legion isn’t just a social organization, but it actually lobbies on behalf of veterans all across the United States."

The senators left the Legion office to tour the Supreme Court. While there, they had the honor of listening to Gen. William Suter, Clerk of the U. S Supreme Court, provide an overview of the Court Chamber. While sharing how a judge is appointed, who attends the court sessions and what cases the Supreme Court accepts, Suter kept the young men laughing with his good humor.

Following the Supreme Court, a few senators had a special opportunity to converse with a World War II veteran. At 96 years old, Ed Reed was in town from Maine, visiting the World War II Memorial for the first time with his granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Reed enlisted in the Air Force at age 29, flew B-17s and became a part of what is known as the "Mighty Eight."

"I was in the Eighth Air Force flying out of England," Reed said. "I flew 59 missions. One time, we got hit over Denmark, and I had to fly on one engine all the way back to England."

His granddaughter, Brianna Thomas, emphasized that he had an angel on his side to survive all those missions. And in regards to his service, she said it "makes me feel very proud."

To end the night, four Boys Nation alumni spoke to the senators about their experience with the program, how it impacted their lives and where they are now. The four men included 1995 Kansas alum Joel Leftwich, republican deputy staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee; 1997 Georgia alum Michael Lang, a federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice, criminal division; 1997 North Dakota alum Dan Webber, vice president for the digital public affairs team at Edelman; and 2005 New Jersey alum Mike Bzozowski, a graduate student studying law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Dan Webber noticed how a multitude of experiences with Boys Nation never change. "Giving a speech on this senate stage is still intimidating," he said. "Days start at 5 a.m. and end at midnight; ice cream at every meal; the efforts that The American Legion puts into this program every single year; (Legion Past National Commander) Bob Turners contagious spirit and attitude; and the excitement and awe of being with so many amazing young men."

A few of the alumnus also shared that they were voted down when running for senate office, which instilled confidence in the young men when they encountered the same trial over the past few days.

"One of the common things that I enjoyed was the fact that all of these individuals went on to be successful and confident within their own occupation, because at Boys Nation they were fairly unspectacular – some of them only got their own votes when running for an office position," said Tianshan Fullop from Bend, Ore. "I thought that was interesting because I kind of follow that same track, so it gives me a gleam of hope. Overall, I enjoyed hearing how Boys Nation is woven into the fabric of their lives."

Additionally, Donald Wiegner from Middletown, Del., said, "These young men that they met in one week went to their weddings and even drove 60 miles to provide support when needed. It’s amazing how this group of (98) guys will be friends that you can always count on, and you only know them for a week."

Today the young men visit their respective state senator or representative.







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Panetta: Bureaucracy needs to stop

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When asked by Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., how the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) planned to streamline the transition process for troops leaving active duty, DoD Secretary Leon Panetta said, “The bottom line is, frankly, we’ve just got to kick ass, and try to make it happen. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Panetta made his reply while sitting next to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at an historic joint session of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HCVA) and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). The July 25 hearing was the first time that VA and DoD secretaries had both appeared as witnesses.
Buerkle noted it has been five years since the Dole-Shalala Commission issued an urgent call to streamline the transition process for veterans returning to civilian life. “We (still) have two very distinct entities," she said. "We’ve had multiple hearings trying to get assurance from DoD and from the VA as to how you’re going to get this together, so we can make sure our veterans get the services, without being overwhelmed by an extremely  complex system."
Shinseki’s response to the same question focused on the Federal Recovery Coordination Program, created in 2007. “We have a task force with the specific direction to study and  bring harmony to these programs," Shinseki said. "Where are we duplicating one another? Where are we not doing things that we should be doing?”
Buerkle’s exchange with the two secretaries typified a major theme of the hearing: How can VA and DoD make their transition programs for veterans more timely, more effective and less bureaucratic?
In his opening remarks, Rep. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.,the  HASC chair, said Congress is “painfully aware that, at this very moment, 26,000 servicemembers are in the midst of the disability evaluation process, and are forced to wait over 400 days, on average, before they can return home to their communities.”
More than a decade ago, McKeon said, Congress mandated that DoD and VA create a joint, integrated electronic health record to facilitate servicemembers’ transition from one health-care system to another. “Unfortunately, after continuing delays, we are now told that it isn’t expected to be completed until 2017," he said.
With the jobless rate for veterans aged 18-24 standing at about 23 percent, McKeon wanted to hear the secretaries’ views on the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for military personnel leaving active duty. “Do you both agree on TAP’s objectives?" McKeon asked. "For example, is TAP designed to prepare servicemembers for entry into the job market? Or is the purpose to actually get a servicemember a job? How do you measure whether TAP is achieving its objectives?”
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the HCVA chair, said VA and DoD have created two separate programs for transitioning veterans, and the Government Accountability Office testified that, “Proliferation of these programs has resulted not only in inefficiencies, but also confusion for those being served. Consequently, the intended purpose, which is to better manage and facilitate care and service, may actually have had the opposite effect.”
Despite repeated calls for VA and DoD to share their health-record information electronically,  “it seems the goal post continues to move, over and over again, on when this is finally going to take place," Miller said.
Panetta’s testimony centered on five priority areas that DoD and VA are working together on: re-tooling TAP, refining the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), delivering an integrated electronic health-record system, collaborating on mental and behavioral health treatments, and preventing military suicides.

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Shinseki Admits Cuts to VA to Occur Under Sequestration

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, at a joint hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, confirmed that under sequestration, VA would face cuts, possibly affecting the administration of veterans’ benefits and services, stating, “VA is exempt from sequestration except for administrative costs… I don’t have a definition of administrative costs right now.”

“President Obama publicly said Monday at the VFW Convention that VA is exempt from sequestration, yet the Secretary conceded today that VA would face cuts early next year if a sequester takes place,” stated Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Since last August, I have been asking this question and until today, I have received nothing but double speak. I am now demanding that VA and the President define ‘administrative costs.’ Does this mean closing veterans’ hospitals, fewer claims processors to help veterans with their disability compensation, longer wait times for veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war or those having to bury a loved one, not to mention the possible impact on homeless veterans’ programs and research to care for our wounded warriors? Congress, and more important, our veterans, deserve an honest, straight-forward answer.”

In the first joint hearing of the two Committees in recent history, Members also addressed serious concerns that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs were not working fast enough toward a seamless transition for servicemembers leaving the military. Secretary Shinseki noted that “over the next five years, there is the potential for one million serving men and women to either leave military service or demobilize from active duty,” raising numerous questions on the already convoluted transition process for veterans.

Wait times for the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, which assists wounded warriors transition from DoD to VA, are already at record highs, the disability claims backlog has tripled in the past four years, and a majority of veterans seeking mental health evaluations wait an average of two months for an appointment.

“Despite repeated assurances from VA and DoD to provide a ‘warm handoff,’ it is clear that is not happening. Unfortunately, what we heard today, we have heard before. And what is clear is that there are still no tangible results demonstrating that the silos between the departments have been broken down,” Miller said. “American know-how put a man on the moon in less than a decade, but 50 years later we can’t produce single electronic medical database for our military and veterans in the same span of time? There is clearly something wrong with this system, and the time has come to see real change and real results.”

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Effective Tuesday, IDVA’s Veterans’ Service Office in Blue Island is moving to DHS facility in Harvey

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CHICAGO – Effective Tuesday, July 31st, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) Veterans’ Service Office in Blue Island will move to a new location in the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) office, which is located at 16845 South Halsted Street in Harvey, Ill.The new location will continue to be staffed by Veterans Service Officer (VSO) Charles Lawrence. The new telephone and fax numbers are (708) 225-8030 and (708) 225-8032, respectively. Office hours will be maintained daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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