Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Vietnam veteran looking for family of lost World War II dog tags

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A Vietnam veteran living in the Czech Republic is trying to track down the family of a World War II veteran whose dog tags and bracelet were recently found underground.

The dog tags (No: 32328426) of Joseph R. Ely were discovered last month near the village of Tremosna, in the southern Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, Manuel Frank Van Eyck said. “I am investigating a missing U.S. Army personnel from World War II,” said Van Eyck, who noted the person who discovered the dog tags wishes to remain anonymous. “There are some who died in or around POW camps and their remains were not located to this day.”

Ely was born Aug. 26, 1918, in California and his last known residence was in Suffolk, N.Y. On April 30, 1942, Ely enlisted at Fort Jay Governors Island, N.Y. His civilian occupation was listed as a houseman.

Van Eyck would like to return the dog tags and bracelet to Ely’s family. Inscribed on the back of the bracelet are the words, “Love Shirley.”

Anyone with information on Ely or his family may contact Van Eyck at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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The GI Bill Then and Now: Panel discussion kicks off centennial exhibit

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The author of the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, former U.S. Sen. James Webb, found himself in the same company as two granddaughters of American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery, architect of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, Tuesday evening at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. In a moderated panel discussion titled “The GI Bill: Then and Now,” many more connections would be made between the two historic measures that became law over six decades apart.

Approximately 200 attendees made their way through the initial outbursts of Tropical Storm Cindy to participate in the event which opened a special six-month American Legion centennial presence at the museum. On display are the original cover and signature pages of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, on loan from the National Archives, and the typed speech, with handwritten editing marks, given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, after he signed the act into law.

The exhibit also features illustrated panels and touchscreen videos that tell the story of the GI Bill, from the situation in 1943 when tens of thousands of disabled GIs were returning to their home communities in need of support to the post-9/11 rendition that provides education benefits and other opportunities for 21st century veterans. The exhibit also documents the massive effects of the GI Bill on the U.S. economy, national security and establishment of an all-volunteer military.

American Legion Past National Commander Bill Detweiler, one of the founding leaders of the museum, moderated the discussion. Panelists were former Sen. Webb; American Legion Assistant Director of Employment and Education John Kamin; Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity Curtis Coy and Student Veterans of America President and CEO Jared Lyon.

Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam War Marine Corps officer and former Secretary of the U.S. Navy, told the crowd why he made a reboot of the GI Bill his top priority after he was elected to the Senate in 2007. “With respect to the GI Bill and legacy of it, the first thing to remember is that, although it was continuous concept, it has not been a continuous piece of legislation,” he said, explaining how the package had lost some of its value both to veterans and to the U.S. economy in the decades leading up to the bill he introduced on his first day in office and then adjusted with assistance from The American Legion and other veterans groups.

“I looked at this, both as a veteran and as the father a young Marine in Iraq, and I started saying, if you’re going to call these people the next greatest generation, you should give them the same opportunity for a future that the greatest generation had,” Webb said. “Pay their tuition. Buy their books and give them a monthly stipend.”

His intention was to restore some of the fundamental features that helped the original GI Bill transform the U.S. economy, culture and military. By making the benefits package more generous, and bring it into step with 21st century higher education, Webb mirrored what Colmery and The American Legion pursued for the World War II generation.

And while the overall number of post-9/11 veterans today does not compare with the 16 million who served during World War II, the education program’s popularity is soaring, Coy explained. “Eight or nine years ago, we had 37,000 people going to school on the GI Bill,” he said. “Fast forward, and just last year alone, we had 790,000 people use the GI Bill.”

Coy, who oversees VA education and home loan programs under the Veterans Benefits Administration, explained that online tools, improved benefits for the children of post-9/11 generation and a commitment to education and promotion about the GI Bill have been vital to its growth. “There’s been a whole evolution,” Coy said.

Lyon said nearly half of America’s young veterans are using their GI Bill benefits for college, and they are outperforming other students in the classroom, as well. “Our generation, like our brothers and sisters before us, is incredibly resilient and performing extremely well,” he said, noting that the U.S. Army is hitting its highest recruitment quotas in 15 years largely because of the GI Bill. “A very high percentage – over 80 percent – cite the opportunity for an education, post military service, as one of their primary motivators.

“What we have found further is that two-thirds of that population are just like myself, first-generation college students – the first members of our families to achieve that part of the American dream – an education. Prior to World War II, about 7 percent of Americans who were college age had a bachelor’s degree or higher education. Essentially, if your father didn’t go to college, or you weren’t a white male, there was a very slim chance you would have an opportunity at higher education. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 fundamentally changed that. It democratized higher education and quite literally built the American middle class, educating 7.8 million veterans. Today, what we are seeing is rather remarkable because the trends hold true.”

Lyon said post-9/11 veterans using their GI Bill benefits are achieving 3.34 grade point averages compared to the overall student population average GPA of 2.94. “Quite literally, we are among the most successful students in higher education. The top three majors that we are pursuing are business, STEM and health-related – arguably the most marketable degrees in the U.S. today and vital to the success of the future of our economy.”

Lyon added that a high percentage of student veterans are also assuming leadership roles and are actively engaged in service efforts on the nation’s campuses.

In that way, according to Kamin of The American Legion, the post-9/11 veterans match what the World War II veterans proved after the original GI Bill was enacted and fears arose that veterans would create “…hobo campuses. What they discovered instead was that veterans were the best students they had.”

And with both bills, Kamin explained, more important than graduation rates and economic impacts is the simple recognition that the GI Bill shows veterans that the nation appreciates their service. “Servicemembers were coming home to a country that was saying, ‘We believe in you.’ That, to me, was the greatest impact of the GI Bill.”

Mina Steen and Breese Tomick, granddaughters of Colmery, said the original architect of the measure couldn’t have agreed more. “The honor goes to keeping the story alive of the potential of veterans,” Steen said during the audience remarks portion of the event. “I can tell you he would be very happy about that today.”

American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones told the crowd that education benefits are always in need of review and adjustment. She explained that the Legion is actively working with the SVA and other groups, as well as VA and Congress, to improve benefits for reservists called to active duty and to protect veterans whose for-profit schools close during their GI Bill-funded educations.

“The GI Bill is not something The American Legion did,” Jones said. “It is something The American Legion does.”

The exhibit is built to travel to other venues around the country to help The American Legion tell its centennial story. “As an achievement to highlight heading into our centennial celebration, it’s important to consider that the GI Bill connects the dots from our founding World War I generation to the post-9/11 veterans who use the benefit today,” Jones said. “The GI Bill must (always) poise veterans for success after service in the U.S. armed forces.”

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Delaware Legion family provides rest, fun for wounded warriors

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It’s a simple reality of hospital care, be it civilian or military: on weekends, there are fewer staff on duty and fewer things for patients to do.

A group of American Legion family members from the Department of Delaware wanted to change that for wounded servicemembers.

While the Warrior Weekend Program isn’t an official American Legion program, it’s staffed with Legion family members volunteering their time as guides and drivers for the weekend getaways aimed at providing rest, relaxation and fun for the wounded heroes and their loved ones.

Scott Underkoffler, commander of the Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Delaware and vice president of the Warrior Weekend Program, said the program developed after a 2006 visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“We saw fewer staff (on duty on the weekend),” Underkoffler said. “We said, we’ve got to get them out of here, get them something to do.”

The first weekend getaway took place in early 2007; since then, they’ve averaged seven weekend trips a year. Among the destinations: a bed and breakfast in Rehoboth Beach, Del.; a weekend at Hershey Park, Pa.; and a four-day weekend in Kingston, N.Y., which includes a train ride to New York’s Union Station followed by another train ride to Kingston, as well as escorts by NYPD in New York City and Legion Riders on the way in to Kingston.

Underkoffler said “the whole town” turned out to celebrate the wounded heroes on the Kingston trip. Last weekend’s group of servicemembers saw similar appreciation during their time in Philadelphia, including a couple buying dessert for the group during one of their dinners out and several passers-by thanking them for their service.

The Philadelphia weekend included a private tour of NFL Films across the river in Mt. Laurel, N.J.

“They’ve been so good to us,” said Joe Green, an ambassador for the Warrior Weekend Program.

The weekend also included a tour of the battleship New Jersey and visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Not every one of the five wounded servicemembers took part in each of the tours, and that’s OK, Underkoffler noted. The point of the weekend is to give the soldiers an opportunity to get away for the weekend.

It’s one that Sgt. Maj. Sharon Williams of Virginia appreciated.

“It’s a great way to get out and socialize,” she said. “You’re not just sitting in your room feeling down. And there’s a lot of historical stuff here.”

Underkoffler acknowledged that the warriors “become family.” He’s quickly become “Uncle Scott” to Jada and Jayla Bertrand, the five-year-old twins of Anthony and Elena Bertrand, who were making another trip as part of the program.

There are four more Warrior Weekend trips scheduled for 2017: July 21-23, Hershey, Pa.; Sept. 15-17, Chincoteague, Va.; Oct. 6-9, Kingston, N.Y.; and Nov. 3-5, Rehoboth Beach, Del. Wounded servicemembers at Fort Belvoir in Virginia sign up for the trips and are selected by an independent contractor, Underkoffler said.

Garth Miller, one of the Delaware SAL’s sergeants-at-arms and another Warrior Weekend Program ambassador, said they’re not looking to expand the program to more areas, but they’re always looking for ways to fund the program, which is a 501(c)(3) corporation operated entirely by volunteers. Underkoffler said the average cost of each trip is about $4,500.

The cause has been helped the last few years by raffles for Super Bowl tickets. The next fundraiser is a “golfer’s dream raffle” with the drawing to be held March 1, 2018. First prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 Masters; second prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 U.S Open; and third prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 PGA Championship. Each prize includes a hospitality package and two nights lodging.

Green acknowledged that selling raffle tickets isn’t an easy method for fundraising. “Going to the same base year after year can lead to apathy no matter how noble the cause,” he said.

That’s why they’re looking for Legion posts elsewhere, or even individual members, to consider buying tickets to the golfer’s dream raffle. Each ticket costs $20 and only 5,600 will be sold.

For more information about the Warrior Weekend Program, visit

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Five steps to position yourself for a career change

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The careers most touted as likely transitions for veterans may be a perfect fit for you. If you worked in military police and want to transition into law enforcement, that is wonderful -- the pay is supposedly quite nice. If you were a network administrator and want to work in network administration for Facebook or Google, that is great too! Your transition may be a direct one, and you should already be searching for opportunities on the Veterans job finder and using the skills translator to help word your resume so that it stands out in the civilian workforce.

However, what if you were military police but want that network administration job at Google? Or thinking even more outside the box, what if you want to be a video game designer? How about a financial consultant for Goldman Sachs? Do you want to work in the government, say at the State Department as a Japan specialist?

If your career aspirations point you toward a career that seems completely outside of your current capabilities, you don't need to freak out. You served in the military (or are still active) and have the discipline it takes to set your mind to something and have a fairly good chance of achieving it. Yes, nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes the saying that it is a marathon and not a sprint may be very appropriate. But once again, you joined the military and put your life on the line for your country, so why not put a little elbow grease into working to achieve your next goal?

Here's How to Do It:

Be who you want to be, and do it now. In case that is confusing, it simply means that you should start building your skills and your resume, so that when you create the opportunity or said opportunity comes knocking, you are ready. You can prepare in five simple steps, as follows:

  1. Know your industry. If you want to be a game designer, that means playing games. It means finding groups such as those on or at events such as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, so that you’re discussing the industry with others just as passionate about it as you are. If you want to be the Japan specialist, stay up to date by reading articles in The Economist, or once again, groups. The same holds true about any industry. You have to find out how to keep up to date on everything that is related, so that when you are at a networking event or job interview, you have one more way you can show your passion.

  2. Develop your skills. You not only need to know what is going on in your industry, but you need to know how to do the job. Use the GI Bill to enroll in a full-time degree program, or if you are active or working as a civilian already, look into evening and weekend programs. Find a local game writing, Japanese language, or financial analysis class, as appropriate.

  3. Network. You should always be networking, but it is going to be that much easier when you know your industry and have developed your skills or honed your craft. Get out there and shake hands, smile, and be friendly even if you are dead-tired from working all day and then working on steps one and two in all your free time. You may have a family or other commitments, and you should not make sacrifices there, but you must network. You happen to live at an amazing time when networking can be done one-hundred percent online. Chances are you will be more successful if you are networking at live events and online, but do what works for you and your situation, as long as you are doing the work. The good news is that you already have one big network of people out there willing to help -- your fellow veterans. Do not ignore the veteran community, because they may be the most willing to help you get ahead.

  4. Build the resume. Make sure to include your classes and groups that you are part of on your resume, as well as your military and other relevant experience. Create on your own, whether that means finding independent games to get involved with, a blog on the world financial system, or anything you can use in an interview to show that you not only are passionate about the job, but have taken the initiative and have experience (even if it is limited). Find a part time internship that you can handle on evenings and weekends. Volunteer for a related organization. You should be doing anything that you can to make your resume tell the story of why you belong in this new career.

  5. Make sure everything represents who you want to be. The final step, and an ongoing one throughout, is to make sure your online presence represents this new you. If you have resumes out there on different job sites, make sure to update them. If you don’t have a website, create one -- maybe your new blog will attract the attention of a hiring manager? You do not need a blog. You can stick to a website highlighting who you are, what you are working on, and what you are passionate about. This is true for your twitter account (the short bio you can include there), Facebook, and every other social media or professional online networking site you may be represented on.

Remember, you can be doing all of this to some degree while working full time. If you do not have to work, bravo. Share the secret (or money) so your fellow veterans can devote their time to pursuing their dream careers as well. But while the rest of you wait, keep your eye on the prize and do everything you can to make it a reality. And start NOW.

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Boys Nation gives delegates '97 friends across the United States'

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Editor’s note: This is the third of a series of profiles of the Boys Nation 2016 officers. Boys Nation 2017 takes place July 21-29 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.

Choteau Kammel almost didn’t become the vice president of American Legion Boys Nation 2016.

“I was actually one hand-raise away from dropping out of the vice presidential race,” Kammel recalled. Kammel, of Omaha, Neb., credited North Carolina’s Michael McCray for convincing him to stay in the race.

Kammel ended up getting the Nationalist party nomination for vice president — ironic because his Federalist opponent would be North Carolina’s other Boys Nation representative, Rudy Ogburn.

At the end of the vice presidential debate, Ogburn announced he was withdrawing from the race, all but ensuring Kammel’s victory. It wasn’t one he took lightly, however.

“He gets up there and announces his intent to drop out, I’m sitting there thinking, did I hear him correctly? I’d like to think I was probably doing well in this debate, but I didn’t know. So when he said that, I remember being very surprised, but I wasn’t sure what was happening so I made sure to give my final answer,” Kammel said.

“I have a lot of respect for Rudy, because we’re all 17-year-old males who are stereotypically competitive and don’t like to admit even perceived faults in front of others. I talked to him later that night, I really don’t know what happened but let me give you a hug because it took a lot of guts.”

Kammel acknowledged it took some guts of his own to break out of his comfort zone and run for office.

“I decided I wanted more than just my plane ticket stub and a bunch of friends’ names from my national experience, I might as well throw my hat in the ring,” he said.

Kammel said his high school, Omaha Central, has a long history of sending delegates to Boys Nation, so he knew going into Cornhusker Boys State that he would face high expectations.

Previous Central students told Kammel “make sure you’re focused on the program,” he recalled. “Socializing is important but make sure you’re getting the most you can get out of the educational experience, and a big part of that is talking to the (American) Legion guys.”

Of course, with his experience at Boys State and Boys Nation, it’s been Kammel’s turn to share his experience with those coming after him.

Kammel advised to those selected to Cornhusker Boys State from his school to “embrace the fact that you do have a lot of freedom (at Boys State), but you also have a lot of responsibility, specifically coming from this school.”

As for those going to Boys Nation 2017, or considering trying to go in the future?

“How many guys can say that they have 97 friends across the United States?” Kammel said. “If you have stereotypes about anyone from any state, go to Boys Nation and see those stereotypes fall away.”

Kammel will attend Mississippi State University to study business economics.

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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.