Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

President, first lady hear vets concerns

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Amanda Leigh, assistant director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, participated in an Oct. 19 discussion on veterans unemployment with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Three other local veterans were involved in the meeting that took place at a restaurant near Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va.

The president and first lady wanted to speak with veterans who have recently transitioned out of the military or are currently seeking employment. Leigh, who had served in an Army Reserve civil affairs unit and deployed to Iraq twice, left the military in July 2010.

Leigh, who sat next to the president, said Obama "wanted to hear about how we transitioned out of the service, what it was like for us, and how we found employment. He wanted to know what was working in the process and what wasn't."

Leigh told the president that she and her husband (who served in the Marine Corps and with an Army civil affairs unit) left the military and used their GI Bill education benefits to earn college degrees. When they began applying for jobs and going to career fairs, both of them noticed that many positions being offered, such as truck driving, private security and construction, did not require academic degrees.

"So we had a difficult time finding employment that matched not only our military skills, but our education, which we really wanted to utilize," Leigh told the president. "We looked at the job market and what our skills were, and we realized that the D.C. area might be a good place for us to find employment." Leigh and her husband moved to Washington and, within a couple of months, both had found jobs.

The group also discussed the need for the private sector to hire more veterans and reduce the transitional stress on military families by providing spouses with jobs at their new duty stations whenever feasible - points made earlier by Mrs. Obama in remarks she made to an audience at Andrews Air Force Base.

"We talked about the need for more coordination of private sector efforts to provide veterans and military spouses with jobs," Leigh said. "And the need to educate the private sector about military skills and training that veterans bring with them to the job market. The private sector doesn't realize everything that veterans can bring as an employee."

Leigh said the commander-in-chief and first lady are "considering a new effort that would educate the private sector, so it has a better understanding of veterans' work experiences when they apply for a job."

The Transition Assistance Program was also discussed and how it could be extended and improved. The group also discussed the difficulty of writing resumes without using military jargon and acronyms that are familiar to veterans but foreign to many civilian human resource staffers. "We talked about how we coordinated with other servicemembers who had found jobs and tried to make our resumes similar to theirs - because theirs apparently worked," Leigh said.

Peter Gaytan, executive director of The American Legion in Washington, said that Leigh's informal lunchtime meeting with the Obamas was "another important opportunity for us to communicate directly with the president and first lady, to share with them our firsthand experiences with the difficulties of veterans in the job market, and to let them know we want the private sector to put more effort into hiring our nation's veterans."

Gaytan said The American Legion works every day, somewhere in America, to get jobs for veterans. "We have been involved in this issue for a long time with Congress, federal agencies and the private sector. We certainly appreciated the change to voice our concerns directly to the president and first lady."

Leigh said it was important for a Legionnaire "to be able to sit down and actually converse with the president in person. It was impressive to see the concern that he has, and the concern Mrs. Obama has, for veterans. You could tell they were very dedicated about addressing this issue, and that they want to find solutions to finding employment for veterans."

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VA agrees to Houston cemetery settlement

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to a settlement of a lawsuit alleging religious censorship at Houston National Cemetery. Local veterans and volunteer groups had accused VA and cemetery officials of banning them from using religious speech - including the words Jesus and God - during services at the cemetery.

Under the settlement, VA has agreed to not ban, regulate or interfere with prayers, recitation or words of religious expression unless asked to do so by family members of the deceased. Veterans families will be allowed to hold services with any religious or secular content they desire.

Also under the settlement, local members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4 and a local organization named the National Memorial Ladies will resign their positions as official VA volunteers and instead will be free to make their services known to local funeral homes that make arrangements for the families and do so in their private capacity. Families can then decide what, if any, services they would like these groups to provide at their committal services.

As part of the settlement, VA has agreed to pay plaintiffs an amount for attorney fees and costs.

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D.C. job fair set for Oct. 25

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In its ongoing campaign to get more unemployed veterans hired, The American Legion is co-hosting a job fair Oct. 25 in Washington with the Department of Labor and several other organizations.

Increasingly, public, media and political attention is being paid to the plight of unemployed military veterans. For instance, during a three-day Mid-Atlantic bus tour promoting his American Jobs Act this week, President Barack Obama touted proposals in the bill that, he says, will put more veterans back to work. Speaking in Virginia Oct. 19, the president told of a proposed "Returning Heroes" tax credit for businesses that hire veterans who have been out of work for six months or more, and a "Wounded Warriors" tax credit for those who hire veterans with service-related disabilities who also have been jobless for at least six months.

The Oct. 25 event is being co-sponsored by The American Legion and the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, Office of Personnel Management, U. S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Department of Labor, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, THEARC, Wounded Warriors and the Washington DC VA Medical Center. It will take place at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington branch, Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Promoters say job fair attendees will be able to meet with and submit their resumes directly to local and federal government agencies along with private-sector companies. Job seekers can also submit their resumes for employer review in advance by going online or emailing them. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

For its part, The American Legion's Economic Division has been staging an increasing number of career fairs, small business development workshops and employment symposia. The Legion and its local posts have now joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in sponsoring job fairs for veterans.

The first such event was staged during the Legion's annual national convention in Minneapolis this year. The series continues with two veterans hiring fairs in New Jersey on Oct. 22 and Nov. 4. 

The Oct. 22 event will feature New Jersey congressman Jon Runyan as a speaker, with the Legion's Economic Deputy Director Mark Walker and American Legion Past National Commander John P. "Jake" Comer in attendance. Video of the fair will be streamed live on the NBC television network's website.

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Chairman Murray Passes Veterans Cost-of-Living Increase to Allow Veterans to Share in Critical Benefit Boost for the First Time in Two Years

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced that a bill that she sponsored to provide a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for America’s veterans has passed the U.S. Senate.  The COLA for veterans will match the 3.6 percent annual increase provided to Social Security recipients, which on Wednesday was announced will happen this year for the first time since 2009. The Veterans COLA would affect several important benefits, including veterans’ disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.  It is projected that over 3.9 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2012. 

“A  cost-of-living increase for our veterans is long overdue and well deserved,” said Senator Murray. “Particularly in this difficult economy, our veterans deserve a boost in their benefits to help make ends meet. This is an important step for our veterans, especially on the heels of news that a COLA will be provided for the first time since 2009.”

The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time.  The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. 


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2012 Legacy Run plans in place

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Indianapolis has served as the starting point for all six Legacy Runs. But with Indianapolis slated to host the 2012 American Legion National Convention, obviously a different approach needed to be taken. And now, plans are being made to finalize the 2012 Run.

The American Legion Riders Ad-Hoc Committee has devised a plan that will incorporate a three-day ride with a three-day expo in Indianapolis, and then culminate with the Riders leading off the annual national convention parade.

The American Legion Legacy Run Home begins Aug. 21 with the National Commander's Ride, which will start in upstate New York in the home department of National Commander Fang Wong. The riders will escort Wong along the 850-mile Run that will traverse Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. A highlight of the planned Run is a special visit to Garden City, Mich., to pay tribute to the founding chapter of The American Legion Riders at Garden City American Legion Post 396. From there the Ride will travel across Michigan and Indiana before approaching Indianapolis from the west, arriving at Speedway Post 500 on the afternoon of Aug. 23.

The American Legion Riders Expo will run from Aug. 23-25 and will feature a planned series of American Legion Rider social events, such as range and classroom training, Rider program development courses, skills training and Motorcycle Safety Foundation exhibitions. Stout Army Air Field and the Joint Forces Headquarters of the Indiana National Guard will provide two hangers, parking, range areas and classrooms to host the events. Dinners, concerts and other activities will be held at area American Legion posts, and the expo will end with a candlelight night ride in downtown Indianapolis and a special ceremony for Legacy Scholarship recipients and their families at the Indiana War Memorial.

The expo has been designed to be family-friendly. Busses will provide transportation for Legion family members to Stout Field for the expo, and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is setting up a bonding course that riders of all ages can experience, as well as providing virtual motorcycles to ride. National Guardsmen and active-duty servicemembers will ride the provided courses and participate in the night ride and Legacy ceremony.

The three goals of the expo are to develop skills through a lifelong learning model, to share ideas and to facilitate meetings to share best practices. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police drill team will be doing rider demonstrations, and the setting up of poker runs benefitting Roudebush VA Medical Center and Riley Hospital for Children is in the works.

The American Legion National Convention Parade will take place on Aug. 26 and lead off with American Legion Riders. All American Legion Riders are invited, and there is no registration fee.

Registration for the 2012 event will open in early January on Expo registration is free to all Commander's Ride participants. Riders who choose not to participate in the Ride but wish to attend the American Legion Rider Expo may register separately.

Dates for all 2012 American Legion Legacy Run Home activities are:

• Aug. 20 - Assembly for The American Legion Legacy Run Home near Buffalo/Niagara Falls, N.Y.
• Aug. 21-23 - The National Commander's Ride.
• Aug. 23-25 - The American Legion Riders Expo, Indianapolis
• Aug. 26 - The 94th Annual National Convention Parade

The 2011 Legacy Run raised $668,738.39 for the Legacy Fund. To date, six Legacy Runs have netted more than $2.6 million for the fund, which provides college scholarships for the children of U.S. servicemembers killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

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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.