Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Governor Quinn Announces Statewide Veterans Job Fairs

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SPRINGFIELD – October 13, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn’s Office and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) will host job fairs across the state to help put Veterans back to work. The fairs are part of the Governor Quinn’s ongoing efforts to grow jobs and connect qualified job seekers with ready-to-hire employers.

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‘Can’t break faith’ with servicemembers

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Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Oct. 13, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that no decisions had yet been made by the Department of Defense (DoD) on future changes to America's military retirement system, but that he "can't break faith with those in the service ... we're going to stand by the promise that was made to them .... we are going to protect those who are in the service today."

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that he rejected characterization of the military retirement system as "gilt-edged," and that it should not be compared to retirement systems in the private sector.

Panetta and Dempsey made their remarks in response to a question by Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, who had recently met with military families and heard their concerns about proposals by the Defense Business Board to reduce military retirement benefits. Reyes asked if America had arrived at the point where reforming military retirement was necessary.

Later in the hearing, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota spoke about "the tyranny of personnel costs" and praised Panetta's pledge to "keep the faith with those who have served." He mentioned his recent visit to Ft. Lewis, Texas, where servicemembers and their families worried that their retirement benefits "were going to be yanked away."

Then Kline asked Panetta and Dempsey if they would state, for the record, that "you are adamantly opposed to changing the currently military retirement system." While Dempsey said he was "adamantly opposed" to any current proposals, he was also "open to look at changes" in the future.

Panetta replied to the same question: "Absolutely. We cannot break faith" with armed forces serving today and deploying overseas in America's defense.

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine also voiced her opposition to any plan that sought to reduce benefits for the country's military retirees.

In his opening remarks to the committee, Panetta said that "we are at a turning point ... with regard to the military as a whole" because of DoD's requirement to cut more than $450 billion from its budget over the next decade.

DoD is confronting such a monumental fiscal challenge, Panetta said, at the same time America continues to face global terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyberattacks. Therefore, he said any budget-cutting decisions must be based on key guidelines:

• America must maintain the finest and best military in the world.
• Congress must avoid creating a "hollow force" with excessive budget cuts.
• A balanced approach must be taken that examines all areas of the DoD budget for potential savings, including procurement, personnel and modernization efforts.

"All of that needs to be on the table if we're going to do a responsible job here," Panetta said. "We cannot break faith with our men and women in uniform."

One way DoD plans to reduce spending is to achieve the ability to audit its entire budget by 2014 - which it is currently unable to do. Panetta said a plan will be developed in the next 60 days, and that such audits would track spending, identify waste and improve the way the Pentagon does business.

"We owe it to the taxpayers to be transparent and accountable," Panetta said. He also warned the committee that any automatic, across-the-board cut to defense spending "is a blind, mindless formula" that is sure to weaken America's military.

"What I'm urging the supercommittee to do, is do the right thing," Panetta said, "and make the right decisions for the federal government's entire budget, not just the one-third that includes the DoD budget and other discretionary spending. If you're going to be responsible in dealing with the deficit, you've got to consider mandatory programs."

Gen. Dempsey then made some brief comments to the committee, noting that more than two million servicemembers had deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas locations during the past decade.

In that time, Dempsey said the military had developed its ability to adapt and to learn. Some lessons learned are that we are living in an "increasingly competitive security environment;" that "shared command responsibilities" with our allies "matter more than ever;" and that America wants to expand the "envelope of cooperation."

Dempsey said the country's armed forces are "truly outstanding but must be cohesive." Innovation will continue to be instrumental in the future of America's military, but "leadership remains at the core of our military profession." He told the committee that indiscriminate budget cuts will cause substantial harm to our forces. "These choices need to be deliberate and precise."

Meanwhile, on Oct. 13, The American Legion National Executive Committee passed a resolution encouraging Congress and the White House "to cease all efforts to reduce the defense budget from its current level."  



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Legion awards nine $20,000 scholarships

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The American Legion National Committee on Education recently selected nine students to receive $20,000 for the 2011 Samsung American Legion Scholarship. An additional 89 students were awarded $1,100 each.

The nine 2011 Samsung Scholars are:

• Alex Jolley - Cedar City, Utah
• Jessica Ziniel - Iowa City, Iowa
• Troy Cunio - Titusville, Fla.
• Andrew Lawrence - Ponca City, Okla.
• John McCallum - Farmerville, La.
• Marie Goerger - Wyndmere, N.D.
• Lauren Wheeler - Bridgeport, W. Va.
• Steven Spellmon - Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
• Summer Stout - Hurricane, Utah

The Samsung American Legion Scholarship is available to high school juniors who participate in and complete the Boys State or Girls State programs and are direct descendants (or legally adopted children) of wartime veterans eligible for American Legion membership. Students who qualify for and are interested in the Samsung Scholarship must submit a completed application to program staff upon their arrival to Boys State or Girls State.

Recipients of the scholarship must use the funds for undergraduate studies (e.g., room and board, tuition and books), and each applicant is selected according to his or her school and community activities, academic record and financial need.

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The commander’s capitol investment

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American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong had just spent several days in Washington, meeting with dozens of members of Congress and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, when he arrived in Indianapolis last weekend for the organization's 2011 Fall Meetings.

The previous week's experience gave him plenty of material to discuss with department commanders, adjutants, members of the National Executive Committee and past national commanders. Wong shared the Legion's legislative agenda and raised concern about the security of veterans health care and national security as Washington eyes spending cuts to cope with the federal deficit crisis. Wong told his fellow Legionnaires about meetings he had the previous week with four of the 12 "supercommittee" members who are tasked with finding ways to reduce the federal deficit.

"A lot of them asked ... ‘What are you willing to give up?'" Wong told the NEC. "One senator asked me to draw a line in the sand so that they can protect us to that line. My answer was basically, ‘Senator, we don't even know what the sandbox looks like.'

"I walked away with mixed feelings. My argument to the senators and congressmen ... is we have 1 percent of Americans willing to serve, protecting us. We have 99 percent that are not serving. We have about 9 percent of the U.S. population who are veterans. So I asked them, ‘When you consider cutting ... please let the other 92 or 99 percent go first.' That 1 percent already paid their dues, and they shouldn't pay several times over."

Wong told the NEC that his meeting with Shinseki went well, although the commander was troubled after Shinseki told him that 50 percent of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill for education expenses drop out during the first year. "He said that is totally unacceptable. When they drop out, all of the sudden they are unemployed."

Shinseki explained that many of the young men and women who leave the military for college have difficulty transitioning to a less-structured lifestyle, Wong told the group gathered in Indianapolis. VA has been dedicating more resources, including on-campus counselors, to help reverse the trend. "The young men and women, when they go back to school, they need someone ... to make sure they stay, at least through the first year," Wong said. "After the first year, the retention rate is a lot better."

Wong said Shinseki and he discussed ways Legion post around college campuses can offer support to student veterans as well.

Also during the Fall Meetings:

• Wong told the National Executive Committee that his primary fundraising efforts will focus on the Child Welfare Foundation. "That's a great program, and we need to make sure we support that," he said. "That's one of my projects. The other is (The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund). It's for the future. It's to take of those heroes that gave their lives to protect us. It's our turn to take care of their children."

• National Economic Commission Chairman Harold Barnett announced that the Legion will sponsor a national credentialing summit early next year. The summit will bring together key stakeholders to identify ways to improve credentialing opportunities for transitioning servicemembers and veterans.

• Ret. Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, senior vice president of USAA, presented Wong with a check for $1.24 million to help American Legion programs. USAA, the Legion's preferred provider of financial assistance, donates funds for the organization's programs when they join USAA and purchase insurance or banking products. USAA Bank also contributes to American Legion programs with every new American Legion USAA RewardsTM World MasterCard account opened and each time Legionnaires make eligible purchases with the card.

• More than $13,000 was raised for the National Emergency Fund and more than $6,400 for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund during the NEC meetings.

Visit in the coming weeks for additional coverage of the 2011 Fall Meetings.

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CWF awards $506,683 in grants

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In its 57th year, The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation recently announced its grant recipients, awarding $506,683 to 18 non-profit organizations. The grants, which were approved during the CWF's annual board of directors meeting in Indianapolis on Oct. 9, will support projects that benefit the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of children.

Alström Syndrome International of Mount Desert, Maine, provides support and information to families and professionals on Alström Syndrome. The organization was awarded $13,125 for their project, "The Alström Syndrome Handbook." This grant will produce a soft cover binder with 12 topic dividers and approximately 40 pages of content (e.g., photographs, figures, graphs, timelines and supporting materials).

American Humane Association of Englewood, Colo., protects children, pets and farm animals from abuse and neglect. The organization was awarded $35,250 for their project, "Family Group Decision Making Docutraining." This grant will fund production and distribution of 3,500 docutraining workbooks, 100 facilitator guides, DVDs and marketing materials.

Angel Flight Soars, Inc., of Atlanta provides patients with free air transportation for medical treatments that are not available locally. The organization was awarded $16,564 for their project, "Angel Flight Soars ‘Broadcast Outreach Campaign'." This grant will fund production and dissemination of information for pilot recruitment and outreach to the general community through medical and other facilities.

Autism Speaks, Inc., of New York is dedicated to raising awareness of autism and finding a cure. The organization was awarded $22,500 for their project, "100 Day Kit for Newly Diagnosed Families." The kit puts critical information on autism directly in the hands of the people who need it most-parents.

Be The Match Foundation of Minneapolis is dedicated to raising the funds needed for a patient to receive his or her necessary transplant. The organization was awarded $16,050 for their DVD project, "Super Sam vs. the Marrow Monsters: A Guide to Bone Marrow Transplant for Children." This grant will produce 3,000 copies of the DVD.

Birth Defect Research for Children of Orlando, Fla., provides parents and expectant parents with information about birth defects and support services. The organization was awarded $18,500 for their project, "Birth Defect Research for Children's Accessibility & Outreach Project." This grant will purchase software to allow website visitors to hear content online. The grant will also purchase three ads in the online magazine, Healthy Mom and Baby.

Children's Institute, Inc., of Rochester, N.Y., is focused on strengthening children's social and emotional health. The organization was awarded $9,500 for their DVD project, "Building Strong Military Families Through Play." This grant will disperse 1,000 of the DVDs nationwide to National Guard and reserve centers, and other centers serving military children and families.

Mercy Medical Airlift of Virginia Beach, Va., transports patients for distant medical treatment. The organization was awarded $43,400 for their project, "Child Health Program - Info Dissemination Upgrade." This grant will provide for five modernized and upgraded websites and a full social media presence providing information to the public and pediatric medical world regarding child patient long-distance medical transportation.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth of Minneapolis is the voice for the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. The organization was awarded $41,000 for their project, "Voices for Homeless Students." This grant will produce a redesigned website, a new "Advocate's Toolkit" and a public service announcement.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of Alexandria, Va., serves as the nation's resource on the issues of missing and sexually exploited children. The organization was awarded $25,500 for their project, "Child ID App." The grant will fund the development of an iPhone Child ID application.

Organization for Autism Research of Arlington, Va., applies research to the challenges of autism and offers communicational and educational tools. The organization was awarded $49,355 for their project, "Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary Teachers." This grant will produce a video-based learning module to give educators a better understanding of autism.

Second Wind Fund, Inc., of Lakewood, Colo., focuses on decreasing teen suicide by providing treatment to at-risk youth. The organization was awarded $23,724 for their project, "Teen Suicide IS Preventable." It's a campaign to educate school gatekeepers about suicide prevention and how Second Wind Fund can help reduce the teen suicide rate in their communities. This grant will allow Second Wind Fund to develop a short multi-media presentation to be used as a practical guide for school mental health staff, showing the success of Second Wind Fund's success in lowering teen suicide rates.

The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children of Albion, Mich., creates a healthy environment for traumatized children. The organization was awarded $20,000 for their web-based service project, "Trauma Informed and Resilience Focused Virtual Resource Center for Military Parents."

Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation of Austin, Texas, provides programs to support military families. The organization was awarded $40,000 for their project, "My Parent Is Deploying To Combat." This grant will provide brochures for children in schools that will explain to teachers, counselors and administrators what it means to have a parent deployed.

The American Legion Department of Kansas of Topeka was awarded $32,000 for their project, "Drug Free America - Ruler - Bookmark." This grant will produce a six-inch ruler/bookmark containing an anti-drug message on one side and the Pledge of Allegiance on the other.

ThinkFirst Foundation of Naperville, Ill., focuses on preventing injury through education, research and policy. The organization was awarded $25,715 for their project, "ThinkFirst Campaign to Prevent Childhood Injuries." This grant will fund 100 ThinkFirst for Kids Curricula sets for grade levels 1-8. Additionally, it will fund posters and brochures.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc., of Washington, D.C., is a tragedy assistance resource for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one. The organization was awarded $25,000 for their project, "TAPS Grieving Children's Care Kit - ‘Klinger: A Story of Hope'." This grant will fund a second printing of the care kit and purchase stuffed horses.

The American Legion Department of Arizona/ Detachment of Arizona of Phoenix was awarded $49,500 for the start-up cost of their project, "Deployment Josh Development Program."

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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.