Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

VA Participates in Settlement with Mortgage Banks

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The Department of Veterans Affairs announced its participation in the largest state-federal legal settlement in history that deals with problems within the mortgage industry.

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Legionnaires head to Washington

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The American Legion’s 52nd annual Washington Conference kicks off Feb. 27 with various commission meetings, continues on with guest speakers and roundtable discussions, and wraps up on the 29th with the National Commander’s Public Relations Luncheon.

The Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation (VA&R) Commission will hear from several guest speakers, including Richard Stark, director of primary care operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); Robert Petzel, VA’s under secretary for health; Matt Stiner, director of development and outreach for the organization Justice for Vets; and Janet Kemp, national suicide prevention coordinator for VA.

VA&R will also host a women veterans panel on Feb. 27; part of its focus will be on rural health care. Guest speakers include Mary Beth Skupien, director of VA’s efforts in rural health care; Hilda Heady, chair of the Rural Health Research and Policy Group; Steve Muro, VA under secretary for memorial affairs; Allison Hickey, VA under secretary for benefits; and Joe Paiva, executive director of VA’s Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records.

The Economic Commission is featuring a employment roundtable at its Feb. 27 meeting. The discussion will center upon the federal government’s Veterans Hiring Initiative, transition issues for servicemembers and veterans, licensing and certification, job training, veterans’ preference policies, and private-sector opportunities for veterans and their families.

Roundtable participants include Seth Harris, deputy secretary at the Department of Labor; Susan Kelly, special advisor for the Transition Assistance Program; Dennis May of VA’s veterans employment coordination service; Sara Roberts, military relations manager for; Kevin Schmiegel, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David Wallace, military relations manager at Lockheed Martin Corp.; and Kelly Woodall, veterans employment program, Office of Personnel Management.

That same day, the National Security/Foreign Relations Commissions will hear from Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher, USMC, who currently serves as a senior military observer for the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in Jerusalem; Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Bob Calvert, founder and host of the Talking with Heroes program.Commander’s Call on Feb. 28 will begin with opening remarks by National Commander Fang A. Wong, presentation of the Legislative Council Member of the Year Award, and remarks by the president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Kris Nelson.

W. Scott Gould, deputy director of VA, will be the first guest speaker at Commander’s Call, followed by Rep. Bob Filner of California; Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania; Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemembers Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (who will also sign a memorandum of understanding with the Legion to hire more veterans); and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.

On Feb. 29, the National Commander’s Public Relations Luncheon will honor retired Marine Corps Capt. Dale Dye with its annual award, recognizing Dye’s professional contributions as an actor and military advisor for feature films.

Several American Legion programs will precede the official start of the Washington Conference. On Feb. 22 and 23, the Legion is co-hosting a National Credentialing Summit with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 1615 H St. NW. The two-day event will bring together many stakeholders and experts to examine issues and problems related to the licensing and credentialing of veterans in the private sector, and to recommend best practices for translating military work experience into meaningful resumes for the civilian job market.

The American Legion, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and RecruitMilitary are co-hosting a career and benefits fair on Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Online registration is available here.

The Legion’s Economic Division is hosting a Homeless Veterans’ Roundtable on Feb. 24, a Veterans Education Symposium on Feb. 26, and a Small Business Development Workshop on Feb. 28-29. All three events will be held at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

The Homeless Veterans Roundtable will discuss VA’s five-year plan to eliminate veterans’ homelessness and the department’s new preventive initiatives. Representatives from the departments of Labor and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) will talk about programs and services for homeless veterans. Community-based service providers will also participate in the roundtable.

The Veterans Education Symposium will explore the needs of returning veterans as they make a transition to the academic environment. The roles of colleges, universities and veterans service organizations in providing support and services to student veterans will be examined.

The Small Business Development Workshop is intended to help entrepreneurs with military backgrounds. Experienced mentors will be available to share their knowledge and experience with veterans who want to start their own small business, or are already operating one. The practical aspects of setting up veteran-owned small businesses will be discussed, as well as the development of effective business plans and best practices for securing government contracts.

Except for the National Credentialing Summit, all events will convene at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. For more details about the Washington Conference, visit







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New PR toolkit now available

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The Public Relations Handbook, developed and distributed by the Public Relations Commission staff at National Headquarters, served for years as a guide for Legion posts to use in their publicity efforts. Now, it has been replaced with its next-generation counterpart: The American Legion Public Relations Toolkit – an interactive, convenient and up-to-date resource with all the latest communications tools.

Public Relations Commission Chairman Robert Morrill describes it as “a toolkit of ideas, media products, event planning, samples, training, and tips about conducting an effective communications program.” The toolkit starts with an overview of the current public-relations landscape, and information on the National American Legion Press Association ( (NALPA). A wealth of background, information and guidance is available on such topics as establishing a post’s Web presence; preparing news stories, pitching them to the media and talking to the media about them, advertising for a post or its events everywhere from print to online to outdoor billboards, and even the ins and outs of copy editing and graphic design. As Morrill notes, samples and examples of all the pieces of a coherent communications programs are readily accessible.

The term “toolkit” is appropriate, as it was designed to be multimedia and multiplatform. The print publication is accompanied by a DVD that contains both an interactive PDF version of the toolkit, and resource files mentioned in the text’s annexes. The entire toolkit is also available for download on, and it is the online version – especially the annexes, with their customizable samples and other resources – that will be most often updated, to keep up with the latest in both PR functionalities and Legion programs and priorities. There is even an annex dedicated to USAA media products. Use of the toolkit on mobile phones is currently being investigated, although tablet devices such as iPads should be able to access the online version now.

Both forms of the toolkit – print and online – are available free of charge. One immediate use for the toolkit may be to lobby local communities to make March 3 “Star-Spangled Banner” Day; the Legion supports a national day of observance honoring the birthday of the U.S. national anthem. Tools supporting this aim are available in Annex O.

To order print versions, contact the Public Relations Division at (317) 630-1253, or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The online toolkit is available at

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Threatening Skies

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Three decades ago, nine countries possessed ballistic missiles. Today, 32 do. As a 2010 Pentagon report warned, “The ballistic-missile threat is increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively, and is likely to continue to do so over the next decade.” In short, missile defense is no longer something for politicians to debate; it’s a strategic imperative. Consider that several of the countries in the growing ballistic-missile club are unfriendly or unstable. Iran, North Korea and Syria fall into the former category, Pakistan and Egypt into the latter. Of course, North Korea and Iran are the most worrisome. North Korea stunned the world with long-range missile tests in the 1990s and nuclear tests in the 2000s. In fact, since January 2009, North Korea has detonated a nuclear weapon; test-fired long-range missiles; declared that it’s no longer bound by the 1953 armistice; torpedoed and sunk a South Korean ship in international waters; and shelled a South Korean island. And now Pyongyang is deploying a road-mobile ICBM, which will allow the Kim dynasty to hide its missile arsenal. Reading from the same script, Iran has carried out “covert ballistic-missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload,” according to the British government. Iran recently took delivery of 19 intermediate-range missiles from North Korea. The missiles give Iran the ability to strike as far away as Berlin. Worse, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that Iran could have a missile capable of hitting the United States by 2015. But Iran’s missile reach is not limited to land-based assets. In 2004, high-level Pentagon officials confirmed that Iran secretly test-fired a ballistic missile from a cargo ship. Hiding a Scud-type missile and launcher below deck, the ship set out to sea and then transformed into a floating launchpad, peeling back the deck and firing the missile, before configuring itself back into a nondescript cargo ship. Yet if proliferation gives us reason to worry, the global web of missile defenses offers reason for hope. The operative word here is “global.” An international missile defense (IMD) coalition, for lack of a better term, has emerged to answer the looming missile threat. With an eye on North Korea, Japan deploys missile-defense warships, hosts powerful IMD radars and is co-developing the new interceptor missile for Aegis warships. Likewise, Australia is a charter member of the IMD coalition, signing a 25-year pact on missile-defense cooperation in 2004. Prodded by Washington, NATO leaders now call missile defense “a core element of our collective defense.” Although the Obama administration has pursued a different path than the Bush administration on missile defense, the destination in Europe is largely the same. Instead of ground-based interceptors in Poland and support radars in the Czech Republic – as envisioned by the Bush administration – the Obama administration is tasking Aegis warships to the Mediterranean Sea and deploying land-based variants of the Aegis system (dubbed “Aegis Ashore”) in eastern Europe. Plans are in place for Aegis Ashore sites in Romania by 2015, and in Poland by 2018. Spain has agreed to host a rotation of U.S. Aegis ships. These assets will be networked with U.S.-manned radars in Turkey, which will share information with IMD elements in the Middle East. The UAE, for instance, just became the first foreign government to purchase the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-defense system. Saudi Arabia is considering purchasing several Aegis destroyers equipped with antimissile systems. And the United States and Israel, longtime partners on missile defense, have held a series of large-scale missile-defense exercises in recent years. (The two nations are also collaborating to share the Arrow antimissile system with South Korea.) Here at home, the United States deploys 30 ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Fort Greely, Alaska, along with 24 warships equipped with Aegis missile defenses. The United States plans to have 32 Aegis-equipped ships at sea by the end of 2013. Protecting U.S. and allied territory from missile-armed madmen is not cost-free, of course, but neither is it breaking the bank. The United States invested a total of $141 billion on missile defense from fiscal 1985 through fiscal 2011. In comparison to the Pentagon’s budget ($662 billion in 2012), the size of big-ticket social programs (Medicare’s 2011 tab was $568 billion) or the overall federal budget ($3.7 trillion in 2012), the amount invested in missile defense is miniscule. Spread over 26 years, missile-defense development has cost a paltry $5.4 billion per year. Relative to other cost centers in the federal budget, that’s a rounding error. Although the missile-defense program has failed tests from time to time, this system of systems has scored successes on 52 of 66 hit-to-kill intercepts since 2001 – 79 percent of the time. Still, the critics latch on to the system’s misses and costs as reasons to downgrade missile defense. While it would be irresponsible to deploy a Potemkin missile defense, it would be equally irresponsible to delay deployment until the system can guarantee 100-percent success – a standard so high that “failure” is inevitable. A 79-percent chance, or even a 30-percent chance, of deflecting an inbound missile is better than a zero-percent chance – something guaranteed by not deploying missile defenses. Moreover, if the IMD system is ever called upon to protect Boston or Berlin, Seoul or San Francisco, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, it will have been worth every penny.

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Legion birthday speech available

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March 15 is the designated birthday of The American Legion. On that date in 1919, the first American Legion caucus, held by members of the American Expeditionary Force, convened in Paris. Much as the birthday of the United States is celebrated on July 4 – for the date in 1776 when patriots declared the independence of the British colonies and the spirit of America was born – March 15 is the date when The American Legion came to life.


Each year, posts across the country hold events to commemorate this anniversary. In advance of the 93rd birthday on March 15, a guidelined speech has been drafted by the Legion’s Public Relations staff and is now available to download free of charge here (, or on the Publications page ( on, in the Public Relations section.


The staff drafts and releases speeches for patriotic national holidays, as well as for the Legion’s birthday, as a way for Legionnaires to connect with their communities, or just observe the day with post ceremonies, and emphasize what The American Legion represents. They are not meant to be recited verbatim; members are greatly encouraged to amend them to taste and audience.


All posts are encouraged to upload recaps and photos of their Legion birthday celebrations and other community activities to the blog Legiontown USA ( Legiontown is a place for Legionnaires to tell the stories of all the good they do, every day, and to see how other Legionnaires across the country are doing the same.

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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.