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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion testifies on pending House bills

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While The American Legion supports several pieces of legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, it opposes one bill that seeks to put a 50-mile limit on residency requirements for judges serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).

Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, submitted written testimony and appeared as a witness before the House Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs on March 29. She told the subcommittee that earlier requirements for geographic proximity were understandable, since “modern advancements in electronic communication did not exist at present levels.” But nowadays, each CAVC case is coded in electronic format and “there is no reason judges should be hampered in the performance of their duties based solely on geographic location.”

In her written testimony, Jones suggested that CVAC judges living outside the Washington Metro area could offer more diverse perspectives, “reflecting better understanding of regional offices across the country.” The American Legion remains dedicated to putting the best possible candidates on the CAVC bench, wherever they live, and therefore cannot support H.R. 4213. “In the modern, technological electronic world, geography simply does not represent the challenge it once did, and quality of applicant is far more important,” Jones wrote.

The American Legion also opposes – at least in its current form – another pending bill (H.R. 4142) that would automatically provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans directly linked to any COLA for Social Security recipients. The Legion, by resolution, opposes such a link because of concerns that it would not take into account the needs of individual veterans. “Such a correlation would also leave veterans more vulnerable to political maneuvering and budgetary legerdemain directed at overall cost-cutting,” Jones noted. “Veterans have earned, through their sacrifice, unique consideration.”

The Legion supports the Veterans Compensation Cost of Living Act of 2012 (H.R. 4114), which provides a COLA increase at the end of this calendar year for veterans receiving disability compensation. But provisions of H.R. 4142 need to be revised. “The American Legion supports the idea of creating a permanent COLA consideration for veterans every year, but it has to be something that considers the unique needs of veterans,” Jones said. “We can’t just lump them in with Social Security for non-veterans and believe that we’ve solved the problem.”

Another piece of legislation supported by the Legion is H.R. 2051, the Veterans Missing in America Act of 2011, which directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify unclaimed remains nationwide and lend its support to work being done by the Missing in America Project (MIAP). MIAP, which operates on private donations, has been identifying unclaimed remains and cremated remains since 2007. Those identified as veterans are escorted with full military honors and interred in a manner that befits their service to America. To date, MIAP representatives have visited more than 2,200 funeral homes and identified the remains of nearly 2,000 veterans. The American Legion strongly supports MIAP, and many Legionnaires are among its ranks of volunteers.

Jones thanked the subcommittee for including a chair at all of its hearings as a symbolic reminder of America’s POWs and MIAs. “We cannot forget those Americans who are still missing and left behind, yet the work of the Missing in America Project is important, because we also cannot forget those American veterans who are still missing at home within our own country.”

Two other pending bills the Legion supports are the Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act (H.R. 2498) that would encourage two minutes of silent reflection nationwide every Veterans Day, and the Caring for the Fallen Act (H.R. 4168). This measure would transfer responsibility for the care and maintenance of Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines to the American Battle Monuments Commission.


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Warrior and Family Resiliency Depends on People, Say Top Military Advisors

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Rousing calls to action kicked off the Warrior Resiliency Conference IV in Washington, D.C. March 29. This year's conference, sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), is entitled "Restoring Readiness: Individual , Unit, Community and Family." Attended by members of both military medical and non-medical communities, the conversation revolved around building total force fitness.

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The right set of skills, values for the job

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When Tony Segalla left the Air Force and wanted to pursue a career in the financial industry, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. He and fellow veteran Mark Powell – both Chicago-area financial advisors for Edward Jones – manned a booth for four hours on March 28 to make sure fellow veterans aren’t getting the same treatment.

The pair participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the Chicago Hilton. The fair – a celebration, of sorts, of the Chamber’s one-year anniversary of the program – featured 135 local and national companies. More than 900 veterans and spouses preregistered to attend the fair; dozens more showed up during the course of the fair.

“When I applied (at one financial company), they told me, ‘You’re not a salesman,’” said Segalla, who spent 10 years on active duty and another 10 in the Air Force Reserves before retiring in 2008. “But Edward Jones looked at me and said, ‘With your military background, we know the ethics you have. We know the standards you have.’ That’s why I’m here. You can teach someone to be a salesman. But when you hire a veteran, you know you are getting a certain set of values, ethics and standards, which can help you become an entrepreneur.

“Mark and I don’t get paid to be here. We’re not recruiters. But it’s a way to help out some of these guys.”

Launched in March 2011, Hiring Our Heroes conducted nearly 120 career fairs over the past year, putting on events in 45 states and helping put more than 8,500 veterans and spouses in jobs. The Chamber has partnered with NBC News to spread the word about the program. NBC’s The Today Show did a segment on the program March 28, broadcasting from the USS Intrepid in New York and doing reports from Chicago and Fort Hood.

“When we announced our partnership with The Today Show and NBC, and we brought on the Legion, the VFW, the (Illinois) Comptroller’s Office, it seemed like a perfect storm of partnerships to make it as successful as it is today,” said Marady Leary, director of events for Hiring Our Heroes. “(The relationship with NBC) is very critical because there’s only so much marketing we can do through the local partnerships. To get to the masses, we need an outlet like NBC.”

But organizations like The American Legion are critical to Hiring Our Heroes’ success, Leary said. “We’re really trying to partner with the Legion posts across the nation to help them host hiring fairs in their hometowns. There are a lot of businesses that are looking to go into rural communities that we might not have saturated yet. Over the next year, 200 of the 400 (Hiring Our Heroes) events are going to be Legion events.”

The Legion was one of the partners in the Chicago event. Department of Illinois Legionnaires manned two booths at the career, handing out literature on Legion programs and answering questions on Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

“Job fairs are wonderful events for returning veterans coming home to no jobs,” said Department of Illinois Vice Commander Wayne Wagner. “We’re here to help in any way that we can ... and get the employers and unemployed veterans together, and provide those employers with very well-qualified and very well-trained employees through the job fair.

“We’re here to inform the veterans of their benefits available and that there’s a wide variety. If they’re disabled, we have service officers to help them with their claims. We’re also explaining any programs The American Legion has for their dependents if they need help in any way.”

Working the job fair meant a busy day for Department of Illinois VA&R Director Wayne Macejak, who spoke with several veterans who had no idea they were eligible for VA benefits or that their benefits could increase as their condition worsened. “That’s the reason I’m doing this,” Macejak said.

It was an impressive lineup of employers manning booths at the Hilton – Walmart, Chase, Farmers Insurance, Allstate, NBC and Northrop-Grumman, among others. Many of the employers at the fair spoke of the value of hiring veterans and the skills they bring to the civilian workplace.

“This isn’t us doing something for the veteran,” said Eric Chibnik, senior vice president of GE Capital, Americas in Chicago. “This pool of talent, they have the characteristics and the traits and the skills that we need in all of our divisions – whether it’s our industrial side or our capital side. These folks, they’re disciplined, they’ve faced unbelievably difficult conditions, they’ve learned to work great in a team environment, and all those basic skills and character traits are vital to finding great employees. It’s really an ideal talent pool for us. This is a big win for us.”

Jen Mahone, Inclusion Practices Specialists for CDW, saaid what draws her company to career fairs such as Hiring our Heroes also is the talent pool of applicants. “One of the things that attracts CDW to the military hiring is that they have many transferable skill sets that directly relate to the technology industry and the careers that we offer,” she said.

Job-seeking advice also was available. Navistar and local volunteers worked together to provide résumé -writing tips and interview coaching. “We also have what we call veterans mentors,” said Jan Barbour, who volunteers in Veterans Community Relations for Naperville, Ill. “These are hand-picked veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, who are here to talk to veterans. These are people who have been successful in their private lives who can talk to the veterans, nod and say, ‘I understand what you’re saying. I’ve been there.’

“Translating their military expertise and the jargon – making that transition is really hard. It’s hard to translate sniper into something a business will appreciate. We’re just trying to not only hire veterans, but hire a veteran who’s going to be a good fit for your job, and that the veteran knows what they want and what they’re looking for.”

For U.S. Army veteran Martin McGrenera, the fair was an excellent opportunity to test the employment waters with a wide variety of employers. The 31-year-old McGrenera, who served in the Army from 2000 to 2008, currently is majoring in computer science at Northeastern Illinois University while working part time. “It was very encouraging,” he said. “There can’t be enough job fairs. There’s so many people every day getting out of the military facing the same thing we’re all facing.”

The March 28 event also received support from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn, the Office of the State Comptroller, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, Student Veterans of America and other entities.

For Today Show coverage of the Hiring Our Heroes program, click here.


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A Moderate Conservative Dilemma

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Nathan Fletcher, a San Diego mayoral candidate, left the Republican Party to become an independent. He represents a nationally important test case.

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Presidential Proclamation – Vietnam Veterans Day

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VIETNAM VETERANS DAY

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

On January 12, 1962, United States Army pilots lifted more than 1,000 South Vietnamese service members over jungle and underbrush to capture a National Liberation Front stronghold near Saigon.  Operation Chopper marked America's first combat mission against the Viet Cong, and the beginning of one of our longest and most challenging wars.  Through more than a decade of conflict that tested the fabric of our Nation, the service of our men and women in uniform stood true.  Fifty years after that fateful mission, we honor the more than 3 million Americans who served, we pay tribute to those we have laid to rest, and we reaffirm our dedication to showing a generation of veterans the respect and support of a grateful Nation.

The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors, and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission.  It is a story of Americans from every corner of our Nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved.  It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm's way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.  From Ia Drang to Hue, they won every major battle of the war and upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.

Eleven years of combat left their imprint on a generation.  Thousands returned home bearing shrapnel and scars; still more were burdened by the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress, of Agent Orange, of memories that would never fade.  More than 58,000 laid down their lives in service to our Nation.  Now and forever, their names are etched into two faces of black granite, a lasting memorial to those who bore conflict's greatest cost.

Our veterans answered our country's call and served with honor, and on March 29, 1973, the last of our troops left Vietnam.  Yet, in one of the war's most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected -- to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example.  We must never let this happen again.  Today, we reaffirm one of our most fundamental obligations:  to show all who have worn the uniform of the United States the respect and dignity they deserve, and to honor their sacrifice by serving them as well as they served us.  Half a century after those helicopters swept off the ground and into the annals of history, we pay tribute to the fallen, the missing, the wounded, the millions who served, and the millions more who awaited their return.  Our Nation stands stronger for their service, and on Vietnam Veterans Day, we honor their proud legacy with our deepest gratitude.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day.  I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Vietnam War.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

BARACK OBAMA


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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.