Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

VA Introduces Make the Connection: Shared Experiences and Support for Veterans

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Make the Connection, a new campaign launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is creating ways for Veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other Veterans-and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, face health issues, or navigate the complexities of daily life as a civilian.

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VA Names Members of National Academic Affiliations Council

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A newly formed Veterans Affairs (VA) advisory committee will provide a forum for joint planning and coordination between VA and the nation's health professions schools and universities.

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A true success story

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To say the Veterans Restoration Quarters and Transitional Housing in Asheville, N.C., saved Ron Kennedy's life might sound a bit dramatic. Unless you ask Ron Kennedy himself.

The son of an abusive father, Kennedy began drinking when he was a teenager. He went into the U.S. Army and served from 1976-1982, got married when he left the military, and eventually got divorced eight years after the marriage started. He battled depression and continued to drink heavily as he traveled across the country, working part-time jobs in the process.

Kennedy was at rock bottom when he settled in North Carolina and eventually was living in the woods just off a state highway. "It was bad," Kennedy said. "I kept praying that I would wake up from this nightmare. I was having suicidal thoughts. I was, in every form, a broken man."

Through a recommendation from a veterans coordinator, Kennedy made his way to the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) homeless shelter, was put on a waiting list and eventually got a bed in the shelter. But he continued to drink on and off, violating the rules of the shelter. "They could have told me to hit the road," Kennedy said. "But they didn't, and I was able to get a few clean months under my belt."

Kennedy got a paying job working the front desk at the facility, but his old nemesis - alcohol - made one final attempt to take back control of the veteran's life. Feeling a need to celebrate, Kennedy bought a six pack of beer, walked to a section of woods, sat down and opened the beer. But it was different this time.

"There was nothing happy about this," he said. "I was really sad. I realized I needed to make a choice. I had three or so beers, and on the fourth one I just stopped and started praying to God. I asked him to show me what to do."

Kennedy went back to ABCCM's shelter and that's when his life turned away from alcoholism for good. The facility was in the process of transitioning into a new facility in a former Super 8 motel in Asheville, and the program's director, Michael Reich, asked Kennedy if he wanted to be on the advance team. Kennedy did so, and then took a job at the front desk once the new Veteran's Restoration Quarters and Transitional Housing was opened in December 2007 along Tunnel Road in Asheville. A few months later, Reich asked Kennedy about taking the position of front desk supervisor. Stunned, Kennedy accepted, and he now still holds that position - along with intake specialist - and oversees a staff of 16 men. And he does so in a building not very far from the woods where he once nearly drank himself to death.

"This place, the people here, they believed in me," said Kennedy, who still resides in the shelter in a Program Free Room, which means he pays rent and buys his own food. "And I could have moved out of here two, two and a half years ago. But it's not about the money. It's so important for me to have the camaraderie I get here. And it's important for me to show other people who come here that this isn't a final outcome."

Kennedy's success story is one of many that have been created through the Veterans Restoration Quarters, which isn't simply a homeless shelter. The facility does have 148 beds through the Department of Veterans Affairs per diem program. Veterans can stay there for up to two years and are provided a cubical with a bed, as well as meals, laundry services and case management. As they go through the program, they can advance to more private rooms within the facility.

The facility offers an employment training track that can include either attending school or being placed in a job-training program. The facility offers training in culinary arts, hospitality, truck driving and health care. And for disabled veterans who cannot work, there is the option to go to school and do volunteer work. And classes are available to the residents that include anger and stress management, chemical dependency, money management and GED/tutoring.

The facility also receives support from the Legion Department of North Carolina and serves as the home of Post 526. "This is a jewel in our crown when you talk about The American Legion in North Carolina," immediate Past Department Commander Bill Oxford said. "It's really a shining light for veterans."

"The circle wasn't complete until The American Legion became involved," said Scott Rogers, executive of ABCCM, a cooperative ministry of more than 250 churches that was formed to respond to emergency assistance needs in the community. "And Ron is proof that, ‘I did it. You can do it too.'"

Kennedy has served as post commander and said the post brings additional camaraderie between the quarters residents. "When you serve in the military, protecting your country, it's an honor," Kennedy said. "That is something that veterans share. The post gives us a chance to share in that bond. When we formed this post, we felt it was about time we started taking some more pride in ourselves.

"This place helps rehabilitate you in so many different ways: your mind, your spirit, your education and your finances. But most of all, it provides you a sort of community, and that's something everyone needs. You can go to school or go to work, but if you're not part of something, you still have those gaps in your life. This place fills in those gaps."

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3-D movie to unite veterans of all eras

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Kallisti Media, a film company on the cutting edge of both media and technology, has produced a short film that extols the similar experiences and sacrifices of soldiers of all eras. “War of Wars” is a special short subject made in honor of Veterans Day. This is the first 3-D documentary about, and including the participation of, veterans. The viewing online will be in 2-D. A “War of Wars” 3-D series of large-format films will debut in 2012 on select giant-screen theaters around the world. In the meantime, Kallisti has created a shorter version for the public to view on YouTube in advance of Veterans Day. The goal is to deliver a compelling experience for people to remember why we observe Veterans Day. The film uses the observations of modern-era veterans (Vietnam, Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan) and historians’ narration, set seamlessly against imagery of World War I, to highlight how the shared universal experience of soldiers never changes. The project also includes a charity component, aimed at benefiting veterans causes. An informational drop-down on the YouTube screen will list the names and websites of veterans groups and organizations that people can contribute to or volunteer with; and Kallisti has included the Legion on that list. To watch the short on YouTube, click here. For more information on Kallisti Media, click here.

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USAA Veterans Day event available

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USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services, conducts a yearly Veterans Day event before Nov. 11, which is recorded for later playback by anyone who wishes to watch. The 2011 event is now available for viewing.

This year’s theme is “Continuing Service,” honoring the ongoing commitment of America’s military veterans. Even when they hang up their uniforms, the men and women of America’s military continue to serve our country. The core values of sacrifice, dedication, honor and courage stay with them as they take on new challenges in civilian life. Their stories are unique, but they share a common ground: to give back to the country they love.

Highlights of the ceremony include:

  • A keynote speech by retired Navy Rear Adm. Ray Smith, a former Navy SEAL commander and 31-year SEAL team member, who now shares messages of leadership, character and service as a public speaker and officer in numerous organizations.
  • A musical performance by The New Direction Veterans Choir, a group of former homeless veterans who raise their voices in song to inspire others, and who last year became a national sensation after an appearance on the TV show “America’s Got Talent.”
  • Stories of three former military doctors who exemplify a life of ongoing service through their continued practice of civilian medicine. Using the skills they learned in combat medicine, these doctors have become leading experts in trauma and neurosurgery, two of whom brought those skills to bear in the treatment of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after her devastating shooting in January.
  • A look at the Department of Defense’s Military Working Dog Program, which provides dogs for use in patrols and drug and explosive detection. Based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, the program provides dogs for a variety of governmental agencies. Featured was one former military dog that now continues its service for the San Antonio Police Department along with its handler, C.J. James, an Air Force veteran and 18-year police officer.

Watch the USAA event here.

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