Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Videos explain women’s military experiences

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a series of videos in which women veterans describe their experiences serving in the military, ranging from their significant contributions to national safety and security to the challenges they faced during their service and after returning to civilian life. The three- to five-minute videos are part of VA’s ongoing “Rethink Veterans” campaign to increase awareness of women veterans and their vital roles in our nation’s history. The videos can be viewed at or on YouTube at The four stories just released were recorded during the July 2011 Women Veterans Summit in Washington, D.C. Women from all eras, conflicts, and service branches were invited to share their experiences. VA plans to release several video vignettes over the next few months. The first four videos include an Army Reservist who served nine years stateside before deploying to Iraq post-9/11, a Vietnam War era nurse who returned from combat with a new sense of family, a Navy veteran who advocates for expanded roles for women in the military, and Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the first woman to deploy with a Strategic Air Command bomber unit. The videos are meant to increase awareness of women’s roles in the military among VA staff and the public. Women veterans make up 1 percent of veterans, 15 percent of active-duty servicemembers and nearly 18 percent of guard and reserve forces. As the number of active-duty women increases, so does the number of women veterans using their VA benefits. VA is working to enhance access and services for women veterans at all VA facilities and change VA culture to be more understanding and accommodating of women veterans. In addition to the videos, VA recently released a 60-second public service announcement about women in the military. The PSA is available for viewing on YouTube at and at Broadcast organizations interested in obtaining a broadcast-quality version of the PSA should contact VA’s Office of Public Affairs (202-461-7600). For more information about VA programs and services for women veterans, please visit: and

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IDVA to host ‘Helping Our Hometown Heroes’ veterans benefits fair December 8th in Pontiac

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SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) is hosting a free Helping Our Hometown Heroes benefits fair for veterans this Thursday, December 8th at the Pontiac Town Hall, 115 West Howard St. in Pontiac, Ill. The fair will bring federal, state and local agencies and organizations together in one location.

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Honoring Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day - United States and Illinois flags at half-staff from Sunrise until Sunset, Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

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The Department of Central Management Services has received notice from Governor Quinn's Office that all persons or entities covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act are to fly the flags at half-staff from Sunrise until Sunset, Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

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Sens. Murray, Burr Ask VA Inspector General to Launch Investigation into Mental Health Care Wait Times

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, asked the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General to begin a formal audit of mental health care wait times at the VA. The call for action comes after a series of Senate hearings raised questions around the time it takes for veterans to receive an initial appointment and whether VA facilities are accurately reporting mental health care accessibility.

“We write to request that your office conduct an audit of how accurately wait times for mental health services are recorded for both the initial visits and the follow-up appointments and determine if wait time data VA collects represent an accurate depiction of veterans’ ability to access those services,” the Senators wrote. “In addition, we ask that your office evaluate whether VA is accurately and completely reporting the data they collect.”

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has held two hearings this year on VA mental health accessibility. At the first hearing on July 14th the Committee heard the first-hand stories of two service members,  who even after attempting to take their own lives, had appointments postponed and difficulties cutting through the red tape in order to get care. Then, just last week, the Committee heard from a VA psychologist and mental health care coordinator who testified about delays in providing mental health care treatment, including care for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That hearing also raised questions on whether VA providers where using techniques to ensure initial mental health care appointments fall within the VA’s required 14 day window, without providing true access to care at those appointments.  A survey of VA mental health providers requested by Senator Murray showed dramatically different results from the waiting time data that VA reports.

Senator Murray also called VA’s Inspector General, George Opfer to reiterate the importance of this investigation and the high priority she places on attaining accurate and complete mental health care wait time data from the VA. At the Committee hearing last week, the VA witnesses said the Department would cooperate fully with the investigation requested by Senators Murray and Burr. 

The full text of the Senators’ letter follows:

December 6, 2011

The Honorable George J. Opfer
Inspector General
Department of Veterans Affairs
801 I Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Mr. Opfer,

We continue to hear from veterans about long wait times for VA mental health services.  For that reason, the Committee held a hearing last week to discuss wait times and access to mental health care. While we understand that VA is in the midst of implementing new actions which build on the continuing transformation of mental health services to improve veterans’ access to care, the Committee cannot properly evaluate the implementation unless provided with accurate information. 

We write to request that your office conduct an audit of how accurately wait times for mental health services are recorded for both the initial visits and the follow-up appointments and determine if wait time data VA collects represent an accurate depiction of the veterans’ ability to access those services.  In addition, we ask that your office evaluate whether VA is accurately and completely reporting the data they collect.  We have many questions about the overall implementation of mental health services at VA, but the most important is whether or not veterans can access the mental health care they need in a timely manner.  Our request would build upon your previous work regarding wait lists for mental health care.  At the Committee’s recent hearing we requested that the Department cooperate fully with this audit, and they have agreed to do so.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important request.  We appreciate your work to ensure our nation’s veterans are provided high quality care and timely services at VA and look forward to your report.


                                              Patty Murray                        Richard Burr
                                              Chairman                               Ranking Member



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Outreach critical to suicide prevention

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In a sometimes emotionally charged Congressional hearing on Dec. 2, participants agreed that better outreach by both the Department of Veterans Affairs and fellow veterans is needed to stop the alarming number of suicides among those who have served in the military. Eight panelists, including four from veterans service organizations, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. Among the experts addressing the session on “Understanding and Preventing Veteran Suicide” was Margaret C. Harrell of the Center for a New American Security. According to her organization, veterans took their own lives at a rate of one every 36 hours from 2005 to 2010. VA puts the figure even higher: one veteran suicide every 80 minutes, with one-third of the victims under VA care. VA was represented at the hearing by Dr. Jan Kemp, RN, Ph.D. She is the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) national suicide prevention coordinator. With obvious distress, she admitted that although VA mental health care is making strides in suicide prevention, “we are not meeting our own goals. The bottom line is that veterans are still dying. We have to do better. And, we will – I promise.” Kemp then lauded VSOs for their concern with and work toward suicide prevention, emphasizing the need for better outreach to at-risk veterans by VHA and – critically – through vet-to-vet dialogues. Subcommittee chair Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., a registered nurse herself, commended Kemp for “speaking from the heart. We get so tired of people just sticking to their scripts.” In the end, committee members agreed that VA is working diligently on the issue of suicide, but in Kemp’s words, “much is left to be done” in gathering useful data on the issue and, most importantly, providing the resources to assure preventive mental health care for those suffering the “invisible wounds” of war.

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