Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Retiree Plans For Military Face Scrutiny

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Intense push in Congress to reduce national debt increases vulnerability of health and pension benefits for military retirees, which cost government about $100 billion a year; charts; photo

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Intrepid crew honored

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They died together in a massive explosion that tore their ship to pieces. The blast must have killed the entire crew in an instant. They died only yards away from a foreign, hostile shore of during an extremely dangerous mission.

When their bodies washed ashore the next day, the enemy gawked at the disfigured remains for three days, and let stray dogs chew on the corpses. Then they were finally buried.

Master Commandant Richard Somers and his crew of 12 died as heroes on Sept. 4, 1804, when their explosives-packed ship, the Intrepid, blew up prematurely off Tripoli, Libya. The crew, all volunteers, were on a mission to destroy enemy ships in the harbor. But something went terribly wrong in the final moments of that commando raid. Somers and his men died in battle, but they were never brought home for proper burial.

Somers and his 12 shipmates were honored Sept. 17 during a ceremony in Somers Point, N.J. "Richard Somers Day" is held there annually to remember the sacrifice of these heroes, and to send a message to the federal government: It is time to bring the Intrepid crew back home.

"With recent changes in the Libyan government, the chances of repatriation approval for the remains of Richard Somers and his crew appear to be to our benefit," said Sally Hastings, president of the Somers Point Historical Society. "Libya's new leaders may be willing to repay us for the help they received during their revolution. The graves of Americans who fought against their country long ago are probably not significant to them. I think we are in a better position than ever before."

Jack Glasser, the city's mayor, also thinks the winds of political change in Libya will benefit efforts to retrieve the Navy heroes from Tripoli. "Now that the leadership has changed in Libya, our government must support the effort to bring the crew home," he said. "Now is the time to do it, because we may never again have an opportunity like this."

Richard Somers Day ceremonies included remarks by Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey. He spoke to the crowd of the need for Congress to pass H.R. 1497 - an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2012 - that directs the Secretary of Defense to take necessary actions to bring Somers and his crew back home for burial. LoBiondo introduced the bill, co-authored by Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, last April, and it was passed by the House of Representatives on May 26 in its version of the NDAA.

Hastings said this past Richard Somers Day included representatives from Somers, N.Y., named for the naval hero in 1808. Hastings presented them with a key to the city of Somers Point.

"We continue to honor our local hero for being one of the first officers in the U.S. Navy, and the dedication he had in serving our country - even forfeiting his life while attempting to free his comrades," Hastings said. "Richard Somers, more than 200 years later, has not been forgotten."

Glasser hopes that both houses of Congress will get behind the effort to bring Somers and his men home. "That would mean a great deal to the families, our city and to veterans everywhere," Glasser said.

At its spring meetings last May, The American Legion passed a resolution urging the president and Congress "to support legislation and policies that will use all reasonable resources to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all missing American service members, regardless of location or era of loss."

Tim Tetz, the Legion's Legislative director, wrote a May 24 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, asking for his support of H.R. 1497, authored by Reps. Mike Rogers of Michigan and LoBiondo.

"There, within a forgotten cemetery, lie the remains of an American naval hero, Master Commandant Richard Somers, whose legacy inspires those still serving in the Navy," Tetz wrote. "There lie remains that family members have pled to have returned to the United States. It is therefore the opportunity and - more importantly - duty of Congress to direct that we recover the remains of those Americans within Tripoli.... The time has come to bring our heroes home."




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Legion calls for Arlington to change hands

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The American Legion is submitting written testimony to today's joint hearing of the House and Senate Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations that will focus on reforms being conducted at Arlington National Cemetery.

Officials from Arlington National Cemetery will present an update on progress at the cemetery to subcommittees of the Armed Services Committees. In its written testimony, the Legion applauds Kathryn Condon, executive director of the cemetery, for her efforts to provide transparency over the past year. But, the testimony says, the only sensible long-term solution is to transfer operational control of the cemetery to the National Cemetery Administration.

"NCA is already managing 131 cemeteries and doing it well," states the testimony. "As any business would point out, management costs can be better amortized when spread over a large operation in this nature, and the costs to absorb Arlington and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemeteries would result in net cost saving for the government as a whole. Furthermore, NCA's proven track record is underlined by the top customer satisfaction rating as rated by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

"The American Legion is mindful of the proud tradition of the Army in maintaining this facility and recognizes the importance to the Army, those presently serving and veterans, of restoring honor to the facility. Nobody questions the performance of the Army in the ceremonial tasks and duties they have always performed, and performed with distinction. The American Legion believes the responsibilities of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as "The Old Guard," which include conducting military ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, manning the 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and being the provider of military funeral escorts at Arlington, should never change, as a result of any reorganization associated with Arlington National Cemetery."

For the complete written testimony, click here.

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VA releases Brown Water ship list

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has finally posted an expanded list of U.S. Navy ships exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The so-called Brown Water ship list comes a year after U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chided the agency for failing to obtain key military records showing that sailors on the ships were presumed exposed to the toxic herbicide. The updated list - which is not complete - was supposed to be available Aug. 1. The agency has not offered an explanation for the delay.

Akaka's staff found hundreds of cases in which VA regional offices across the country did not request deck logs from the National Archives before rejecting Agent Orange claims from Vietnam Navy veterans. The senator, then chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, asked VA to review the cases of sailors whose claims appear to have been inappropriately rejected. VA expanded the list of oceangoing Navy vessels presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange from 150 to 170 ships, in part because of information Akaka's staff provided.

As of April, VA had re-examined about 6,700 of the 16,820 cases Akaka called to the agency's attention, said Tom Pamperin, deputy under secretary for Disability Assistance. Many will receive disability compensation and medical care for illnesses connected to Agent Orange exposure. VA has not said when it will complete its review of all 16,820 cases.

Read "Brown Water Bungle," on the situation of Brown Water veterans, in the August 2011 issue of The American Legion Magazine, or here.

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Attendance encouraged at oil meetings

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The national commander of The American Legion is encouraging Americans to attend a number of public meetings next week concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposed Canadian-American oil project that has the support of the nation's largest veterans organization.

"This project alone has the potential to create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs and stimulate related business activity that could lead to at least 250,000 permanent jobs," said National Commander Fang A. Wong. "Returning veterans are disproportionately unemployed and would undoubtedly benefit from these jobs. Moreover, the United States must reduce its reliance on energy imports that can be disrupted by foreign conflicts, terrorism or piracy."

The public meetings for the Keystone XL pipeline begins Sept. 26 in Port Arthur, Texas, and Topeka, Kan., and will culminate in Washington, D.C., on October 7. A complete listing of meeting times and places is listed below.

The $7 billion privately funded pipeline would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada, the Dakotas, Montana and Oklahoma to Gulf Coast refineries. It has undergone years of environmental review but still must pass the final step in the permit's review process. The U.S. Department of State has jurisdiction over the project, which won support from delegates to The American Legion's 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis through a resolution ( that was passed there last month.

Locations and times for Public Meetings on Keystone XL Pipeline:

Sept. 26, 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m: Bob Bowers Civic Center, 3401 Cultural Center Drive, Port Arthur, Texas, 77642, .

Sept. 26, Noon-3:30 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.: Kansas Expo Center, 1 Expo Center Drive, Topeka, Kan., 66612.

Sept. 27, 4:30 p.m -10 p.m.: Dawson Community College Topeka Center Auditorium 300 Community Drive Glendive, Mont., 59330.

Sept. 27, Noon- 3:30 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.: Pershing Center 226 Centennial Mall South Lincoln, Neb., 68508.

Sept. 28, Noon - 3:30 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.: University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium 2313 Red River Street Austin, Texas, 78705. 

Sept. 29, Noon - 3:30 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.: Best Western Ramkota 920 West Sioux Avenue, Pierre, S.D., 57501.

Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.: West Holt High School (in the Sand Hills region) 100 N. Main Street Atkinson, Neb., 68713.

Sept. 30, 4:30 p.m.- 10 p.m.: Reed Center Exhibition Hall 5800 Will Rogers Road Midwest City, Okla., 73110.

Oct. 7, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Atrium Hall 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C.

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