Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

48-star flag soars above Iwo Jima mural

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An outside wall of a two-story brick building in downtown Amherst, Ohio, was a blank canvas until local artist Mike Sekletar came into the picture. The Sons of The American Legion member wanted to use his skills and talents to pay tribute to all veterans, and decided to do so by creating a mural of an iconic photograph — “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.”

“I wanted to give back to veterans, and for me that’s through art and painting,” Sekletar said. “The (Iwo Jima) photo is so iconic. Everyone has seen it, and it signifies something different for everyone. For me, it signifies freedom.”

The mural began in August immediately after Sekletar received approval from the city and was given wall space from attorney Frank J. Janik III., owner of the downtown office building. Once the space was secured, Sekletar and friend Ryan Shannon stood on scaffolding and began painting the 20-foot by 35-foot re-creation of the Iwo Jima flag raising. The process took nearly three months and more than 250 hours.

The two artists first prepped the side of the building by painting it a light gray and then used an overhead projector during the evening hours to outline the five Marines and Navy corpsmen. Once the outlining was complete, the mural started coming to life as Sekletar and Shannon shaded in the figures with three dramatic colors — gray, black and white.

“It’s such an important photo that I wanted to get it absolutely perfect,” Sekletar said. “I didn’t use color because I wanted to stay true to the original photo, which is black and white. Plus, a black and white photo is just more striking, and the image itself doesn’t need to be color because it’s so strong.”

However, after taking a closer look at the building’s structure and the intricate details of the mural, Sekletar envisioned color through a symbol. “I thought a real flag at the top of the building would just set the mural off.” A 5-by-8-foot flag featuring 48 stars now flows from a 14-foot aluminum flag pole that extends from the building’s roof line.
“We have a 48-star flag in order to stay true to the photo; the details are just there,” Sekletar said. “Now, the only color in the mural is the flag because that’s what the photo is about — the American flag lives and carries on.”

Sekletar’s SAL Post 118 donated four flags, including the one currently attached to the pole; the others are backups. And since Sekletar personally financed the mural, additional support came from a few private donations and from passersby who put money in a plastic tip jar that was attached by rope to the scaffolding. The local Sherwin Williams store also donated the paint and brushes used.

“Everyone in the town, especially my post and my father (a Vietnam War veteran), have really been amazing and supportive of the project,” Sekletar said. “When Ryan and I were outside painting, people stopped by and thanked us for what we were doing. But I would say, ‘No thank you! This is for you and for everyone that has served.’  I even met a handful of World War II veterans that came into town to see us working on the mural. It’s just been a very gratifying and amazing experience.”

Meanwhile, a granite plaque is featured on the far right of the mural that reads, “We will never forget the courage, honor and sacrifice of the men and women who served our country for our freedom.” And in effort to maintain the one-of-a-kind mural, Sekletar hopes to raise funds by selling personalized paving stones that will be set in front of the mural.
“People ask me if I’ll paint another mural like this, and I say maybe on a smaller scale because I want this one to be the only one like it; I want it to be one-of-a-kind,” Sekletar said. “I really feel privileged and honored to be able to do something like this for our veterans.”

Click here to view more photos of the mural. 

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76 Freedom Car prepares for final race

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Driver Jerick Johnson and The American Legion/David Law Firm 76 Freedom Car team prepares for the final race of the 2011 season tonight at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

It has been by any standard a successful year for Team Johnson Motorsports and the 76 Car. In 23 starts, Johnson has amassed six wins, 12 top-five races and 14 top-10 finishes.

“We are very pleased with our progress this year,” Johnson said. “But there seemed to be very little middle of the road finishes. It was either the checker or the wrecker for us. We were either in the top 10 at the end of the race or in the pits with a DNF.

“All in all, we are excited.  Six checkered flags is a pretty darned good year for the 76 Freedom Car. A lot of race teams struggled all year without a win.”

Johnson is competing in the Beau Slocumb Memorial 100 - Pro Late Model portion of 28th Annual Rheem World Crown 300. It is a two-segment race consisting of 100 green flag laps.

“We think we have a competitive setup,” Johnson said. “If the race unfolds the way we want, we will end the night a top 10 car – not a car behind a wrecker.”

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Senator Murray's Landmark Veterans Employment Bill Passes Senate

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Murray: “Bill takes a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military.”

“Washington state veterans instrumental in passage.”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, by a vote of 95-0, the Senate passed landmark legislation authored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to put America’s veterans back to work. Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the basis of this comprehensive bill in May of this year after traveling throughout Washington state to talk to veterans, employers, and experts about the barriers veterans face in finding employment. The legislation is designed to help put veterans back to work by providing job skills training as they leave the military and by easing the training and certification process veterans face. The bill comes on the eve of Veterans Day, at a time when nearly one million American veterans are unemployed.

The bill passed today, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, combines provisions of Senator Murray’s original Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 with a tax credit for employers that hire veterans and job training assistance for veterans from earlier eras.

“This is a huge victory for our veterans who have returned home only to have to fight to find work to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Murray. “Our veterans have the drive, discipline, and self confidence to succeed in any workplace.  But for too long at the end of their career we’ve patted them on the back for their service and pushed them out into the job market alone. This bill takes a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military by helping them to translate the skills they learned in the military into careers and by giving employers even more incentive to hire veterans. Veterans across Washington state were instrumental in crafting this bill and deserve tremendous credit today.”

Details of Senator Murray’s bill:


The Problem – Veteran Unemployment

Approximately 160,000 active duty servicemembers and 110,000 National Guardsmen and reservists transition to civilian life each year.  For too long, we’ve patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.   

This has led to an unacceptably high unemployment rate among veterans, without regard to their period of service.  A recent Department of Labor report states that in 2010, the average unemployment rate among returning veterans was 11.5%.  That is one in ten of our nation’s heroes who can’t find a job to support their family, don’t have an income that provides stability, and don’t have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.  Currently, there are nearly 1 million unemployed veterans in the United States.     

The Solution – “The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011”  

“VOW to Hire Heroes Act” is bipartisan, bicameral, comprehensive legislation that would lower the rate of unemployment among our nation’s veterans.  This bill combines provisions of Chairman Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act (S. 951; Report #112-36), Chairman Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (H.R. 2433; Report #112-242), and veterans’ tax credits into a comprehensive package that will aggressively attack the unacceptably high rate of veteran’s unemployment by:            

• Improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP): The VOW to Hire Heroes Act will make TAP mandatory for most servicemembers transitioning to civilian status, upgrade career counseling options, and resume writing skills, as well as ensuring the program is tailored for the 21st Century job market.

• Facilitating Seamless Transition:  This bill would allow service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs at VA, Homeland Security, or the many other federal agencies in need of our veterans.

• Expanding Education & Training: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to 1-year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits to qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors, from trucking to technology.  It also provides disabled veterans up to 1-year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits.

• Translating Military Skills and Training:  This bill will also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector, and will work to make it easier to get the licenses and certification our veterans need.

• Veterans Tax Credits:  The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides tax incentives of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans, and up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans, if the veteran has been looking for work for six months or longer.


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VA launches Make the Connection

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Make the Connection, a new campaign launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is creating ways for veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other veterans – and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, face health issues, or navigate the complexities of daily life as a civilian. The campaign’s central focus is a website,, featuring numerous veterans who have shared their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. It offers a place where veterans and their families can view the candid, personal testimonials of other veterans who have dealt with and are working through a variety of common life experiences, day-to-day symptoms, and mental health conditions. The website also connects veterans and their family members with services and resources that may help them live more fulfilling lives. At, veterans and their family members can explore information on mental health issues and treatment – and easily access support – in comfort and privacy, anywhere and anytime. Visitors to the website can customize and filter their online experience, directly connecting with content that is the most relevant to their own lives and situations. VA’s Make the Connection campaign is raising awareness through public service announcements, advertising and partnerships with veterans service organizations and mental health service providers nationwide. For more information, visit, or VA’s mental health services website at

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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at