Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Mortgage relief for military, veterans

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In January, after reports that some military families had been illegally forced from their homes or required to pay higher-than-lawful interest rates, The American Legion called upon all U.S. financial institutions that handle servicemember mortgages to make sure they are complying with the law. Congressional hearings and investigations of lenders suspected of wrongdoing followed.

On Tuesday, the issue was highlighted again when President Obama announced a number of efforts designed to ease financial burdens on homeowners facing difficulty during the nation’s current housing crisis. Several of the measures, which do not require congressional approval for enactment, were aimed specifically at active-duty servicemembers and military veterans.

"(We) are taking a series of steps to help homeowners who have served our country," President Obama said. "It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders. Over the last few years, that happened — a lot.

"So, as part of the landmark settlement we reached with some of the nation’s largest banks a few weeks ago, here’s what we’re going to do. If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed (upon), you will be substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family. If you are a member of the armed forces with a high interest rate who was wrongfully denied the chance to lower it while you were on active service — which banks are required to do by law — the banks will refund you the money you would have saved along with a significant penalty.

"The settlement will (also) make sure that you aren’t forced into foreclosure just because you have a permanent change in station (and) can’t sell your home because you owe more than it’s worth. Some of the money will also go into a fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms to our veterans, and there will be more foreclosure protections for every man and woman who is currently serving their country in harm’s way."

The White House detailed the measures, saying that major mortgage lenders are being directed to review all foreclosures imposed on servicemembers and veterans since 2006 to determine whether or not they were done in accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). If their homes were wrongly taken from them, servicemembers and veterans would be paid their lost equity and be entitled to an additional $116,785 in compensation.

Mortgage lenders are now required to conduct a review of servicemember clients whose loans date back to 2008 to determine if they were charged an interest rate in excess of the maximum 6 percent allowed by law. If so, the servicemember will be entitled to a payment equal to four times the amount wrongfully charged.

Additionally, protection against foreclosure is now being extended to servicemembers receiving combat pay. The SCRA currently prohibits foreclosures toward active-duty servicemembers without a court order but only if the home loan was made when they were not on active duty. Under the new rules, mortgage protection is extended to servicemembers, regardless of when their loans were secured, who within nine months of the foreclosure received Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger or so-called combat pay.

Financial compensation is also being given to some servicemembers who were forced to sell their homes at a loss due to a permanent change of duty station.

The White House says any servicemember or veteran who believes rights were violated by Ally Bank, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase & Co., or Wells Fargo is invited to contact the Department of Justice directly at (800) 896-7743.

Servicemembers and dependents who believe they have been victims of Servicemembers Civil Relief Act violations are directed to contact their nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Office. A directory of these offices can be found at

More information concerning laws protecting servicemembers is at




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Legion receives VA briefing

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The American Legion’s National Commission on Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation heard presentations by several speakers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at its Feb. 27 meeting during the Washington Conference.

Speakers at the briefing included Steve Muro, under secretary for memorial affairs in the National Cemetery Administration (NCA); Allison Hickey, under secretary for benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA); and Joe Paiva, executive director of VA's Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records (VLER) program.

Muro briefed Legionnaires on NCA’s mission, which is to provide dignified resting places for veterans, as well as eligible dependents and spouses, at more than 130 national cemeteries. "We have only one chance to get it right," Muro said.

A new product available to families from NCA is a special bronze medallion that can be placed on headstones in private cemeteries to designate veteran status of the deceased. Under the fiscal 2013 budget request, NCA has the authority to provide such medallions for any veteran buried with a non-government headstone.

Presidential memorial certificates are also given to family members of any deceased veteran who had an honorable discharge from active duty.

Muro noted that the only benefit many veterans get is the U.S. flag at their funeral service.

"So we need your help to get out there and find those veterans that haven’t come to us, to have them come to you so they can learn about their benefits — so their families can learn about the benefits," Muro said.

Hickey, a retired Air Force veteran, talked about VA’s backlog of disability compensation claims, "the big elephant in the middle of our room. It’s important for us to find solutions, and I think we have some good ones coming forward — not, by the way, on our own, but with lots of great help from you."

Since 2008, VBA’s budget has increased by 36 percent and it now serves 11.7 million veterans. For the second year in a row, VBA has completed more than a million disability claims. "We didn’t do that by ourselves, we did that with your help and your service officers that are out there every single day, helping us put together those (claims) packages," Hickey said. "That’s 16 percent more claims per year than in 2008.

"In addition, we’re getting more Vet Success on Campus folks out there, putting them in places where our student veterans are, so they can help them with transition adjustment, adaptation, even just help working the system for things like claims and medical appointments."

VA took another big step in eliminating homelessness among the veterans population. "There’s 73,000 veterans and their families or survivors that are under roof today, that may not have been except for us intervening, and us working and us re-doing loans and working with them to mitigate any impact they had in their lives," Hickey said. "And we do that every single day."

Hickey said VA wants more help in getting the word out that it can help any veteran with home financing problems, even if their loans aren’t through VA. Veterans struggling to stay in their homes can call upon the VA for help at any time.

The executive director of VA’s Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records (VLER) initiative, Joe Paiva, briefed Legionnaires on the program’s progress and outlook for the near future. He described VLER as the "logistics and artillery" that helps VBA’s "infantry" get the job done.

Paiva said VLER, which was created to provide servicemembers with DoD/VA-compatible medical records, "is an effort that is largely misunderstood, It’s misrepresented in the press all the time. There are a lot of people who do not understand what it’s about."

While the sharing of GI health records with a variety of federal agencies is an important goal, Paiva said "VLER is about the proactive delivery of a full continuum of services and benefits that veterans have earned — not just by VA, but by VA and its partners."

Currently, the documentation of some disability claims presents a difficult challenge to VA and VSOs alike, Paiva said, especially if a combat mission was classified or happened a long time ago. Medical records and orders have to be located, and sometimes they never existed to begin with, or have been destroyed.

With VLER in place, an electronic medical record would be created whenever a service-connected injury was being treated. All such records would remain linked to the servicemember for VA and DoD to access freely.

When it came time for an individual to leave active duty or retire, DoD would automatically notify VA, and the servicemember would be notified by VA to fill out a one-time form needed to transfer his or her medical records. All this would be done before a servicemember ever left active duty, Paiva said.

"Then the whole process would be proactive, it would be the VA reaching out. And there are technologies that exist today that allow us to do that," Paiva said. "What we want to do is have the same type of relationship with military members, from the day they join the service until the final benefit is administered. And modern technology lets us do that.

"There’s no such thing as a spontaneous veteran. I can tell you how many veterans we’re going to have four years from now, today. All I have to do is go and look at all the people in the military — 80 percent of them are going to be veterans." So VA needs to engage with veterans early in their careers and throughout their lives "because we don’t fight wars the way we used to," Paiva added "We don’t conscript people for two years and then it’s over, right?

"We have people that voluntarily join the military, and they have a relationship with the military that lasts the rest of their lives. So the idea is to use technology to honor that relationship and cultivate that relationship from day one. That’s what VLER’s about."












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Senate passes Cardin's resolution

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On Feb. 29, Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland announced on the Senate floor that he will introduce a resolution that will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and celebrate the heroism displayed by Americans during what is often referred to as the "Second War of Independence." Two days later on March 2, the resolution passed with a unanimous consent by the United States Senate.

S. Res 388 commemorates "the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 'Star-Spangled Banner,' and recognizes the historical significance, heroic human endeavor, and sacrafice of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Revenue Marine Service, and State militias during the War of 1812."

"This Resolution recognizes that the War of 1812 was a critical event in our nation's early history and it helped secure our nation's independence from Great Britain," Sen. Cardin said. "It also honors Francis Scott Key who during the defense of Fort McHenry wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' which later became our national anthem."

Cardin also stated that the resolution recognizes the important role Maryland played to ensure victory, and that he hopes the resolution will "encourage all Americans to remember and celebrate the war that ultimately guaranteed our freedom."

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PNC Galbraith passes away

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American Legion Past National Commander William E. Galbraith passed away March 4 in Chandler, Ariz. He was 86 years old.

Galbraith, a native of Beemer, Neb., was an active member of American Legion Post 159 in Beemer where he served as state commander from 1963-1964 and national vice commander from 1965-1966. He was then elected during the closing session of the 49th annual national convention in Boston as the Legion’s national commander for the 1967-1968 year. To date, Galbraith is the only national commander to hail from Nebraska.

Galbraith, a World War II Navy Armed Guard radarman, enlisted in the Navy following his 18th birthday in 1945 but was discharged in May 1946 due to a foot injury. When he returned home to his family’s farm, his father — an officer during World War I — had already signed him up for membership at Beemer Post 159.

A more in-depth story on PNC Galbraith, which will contain memories from friends and Legionnaires, will appear on in the following days.

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Individuals, teams qualify for second round

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Results are in for the individuals and teams who qualified for the second round of the 2012 American Legion Junior Air Rifle National Championship. The top 30 individuals and top 10 teams in each category, along with all state and region champions, will be receiving target forms this week for the second round.

The second round is the national championship tournament for shooting sports teams because they do not attend the Legion’s Junior 3-Position National Championship in Colorado, Aug. 7-12. However, the top 15 individuals who qualify during the second round in both the precision and sporter category will move forward to the national championship tournament in Colorado.

The target forms for the second round must be postmarked by April 1.

View individual results and teams results.

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.