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Veterans Benefits Information

Legacy Scholarship provides relief, funds for aspiring nurse

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Rosa Valdes wants to emulate her father, Albert, who has taught her the value of service, selflessness and caring for family.

That’s why she is attending a 16-month accelerated nursing program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Manchester, N.H. The California resident is staying with family in New Hampshire to save money. Still, she needed scholarships to defray the cost of her education.

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship paved the way for Valdes to continue her education after she received an undergraduate degree in public health at the University of California at Berkeley.

“When I found out that I received the Legacy Scholarship, I was completely mind blown,” she said. “It was something I had to re-check multiple times and I talked to my dad about it. When it finally sunk in, I was thrilled. My dad’s response was pure excitement. He was so happy because when I got into school finances was one of the first concerns.”

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship is awarded annually to children of post-9/11 veterans who were either killed on active duty or who have combined a VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater. Scholarship applications for the 2020 year are available now and due April 15. Visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.

After finishing the nursing program in December 2020, Valdes wants to continue her education at graduate school and eventually become a midwife.

“This scholarship has made a huge difference in the stress levels that I know I would have had if I had to pay completely out of pocket, especially knowing that I have two to three more years of school after this when I apply to grad school. I have a lot of plans and being in debt is not one of them.”

Without the scholarship, Valdes faced the prospect of attending nursing school and working full-time simultaneously. “I feel very blessed and lucky that I received the scholarship.”

Valdes’ ties with The American Legion run deep. During high school, her Junior ROTC program worked with a local post on various events and she also went to California American Legion Auxiliary Girls State in 2010. “The Legion supported my JROTC program quite a bit,” she said. “When I was looking at ways to fund my education, scholarships seemed quite limited. But The American Legion popped up. They do a lot to support military families.”

She says her dad is a natural leader who continues to help her.

“Because of him, I was able to go to school to begin with,” she says, noting that she used GI Bill benefits that he passed on. “He has always taken care of his family and he has always provided, starting when I was an undergraduate. Even now as an adult child he helps me where he can.”

Albert Valdes, a member of American Legion Post 31 in Salinas, Calif., served in the Air Force for 22 years.

“My dad has always been someone who always takes care of his family. I don’t tell him this but I think a lot of my best traits come from him. Outside of his service with the military, I have always seen him helping others and the way he interacts with people. He is a fun, warm, outgoing person who likes to take care of people. That is why I think that I want to take care of people in some capacity and for me that is going to be through nursing.”

The scholarship rekindles memories of high school for Valdes.

“I remember working with The American Legion and I remember them being so giving. I am so thankful to The American Legion and all those who have helped to create these scholarships because it is making such a difference for me. And I hope to one day make a difference to people in my community. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity that The American Legion has given me.”


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Indiana Legion post hosting veterans outreach effort

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Department of Indiana Legionnaires are conducting a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort Jan. 16-18 in and around Daviess, Gibson, Greene, Johnson, Knox, Martin, Monroe, Morgan, Owen and Sullivan counties. Legionnaires will be on hand to discuss veterans benefits, the Legion’s legislative efforts, membership opportunities and service to the community.

The effort will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. all three days at Barshaw-Roth American Legion Post 106, 109 S Commercial St., Worthington.

A veterans service officer will be available all three days to discuss claims and other Department of Veterans Affairs benefits-related questions.


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Brain-injured warfighters face elevated long-term mental health risks, study finds

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Service members who suffered moderate to severe traumatic brain injury in combat have significantly higher incidence of mental health disorders in following years as compared to warfighters who sustained other traumatic injuries, a study found.

The study, published in the current issue of the journal Military Medicine, examined almost 5,000 cases of traumatic injury experienced by Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from February 2002 to February 2011.

Among the study’s findings is a clear relationship between moderate and severe brain injury and a greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, a link that contradicts a theory posited by some previous researchers.

Traumatic brain injury has been the scourge of U.S. combatants during the extended war on terrorism, particularly the decade after the September 2001 World Trade Center attack. Improvised explosive devices were the weapon of choice by enemy guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Improvements in body armor and medical treatment saved the lives of many blast victims who would have died in earlier conflicts. By 2010, 7,832 warfighters had survived severe traumatic brain injury, the study said.

The new research compared two groups — one that sustained moderate to severe brain injury, the other experiencing general, critical injury — and looked for associations with anxiety and mood disorders, adjustment reactions, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, cognitive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The study found that most of these patients, 70.6%, were diagnosed with at least one of those five mental health conditions during multiyear follow-up periods.

That is “considerably higher” than the 42% found in a much smaller 2012 study, “even though our mental health diagnoses were defined more narrowly,” the study said.

However, patients who suffered traumatic brain injury were at “consistently greater” risk for diagnosis of those five conditions than the group of patients suffering general trauma, the study found.

“If you have severe TBI, you are at risk of having something undesirable,” said David Chin, the study’s co-author and a professor at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Previous studies found links between mild and moderate traumatic brain injury and adverse mental health outcomes in combat veterans, but such research was usually limited to examining only a one-year post-injury period and primarily focused on PTSD and loss of mental function from physical injury.

The new study includes patients from all four service branches and examines mental health outcomes over longer periods of time, a median length of just over four years.

Chin said the study likely underestimates mental health outcomes for a few reasons.

Health records were available for care provided within a Defense Department health care facility or tied to the DOD’s Tricare system. Encounters with health care providers outside that were not available for the analysis, he said.

The culture of underreporting mental health issues among service members likely skews the data, he said.

Finally, an examination using longer follow-up periods would probably reveal more mental health diagnoses, he said.

“I think this illustrates that we just don’t have enough information to really get at how big the problem of mental health care actually is for these patients,” he said.

The study’s findings contradict a hypothesis by earlier investigators theorizing that patients with moderate and severe traumatic brain injury could not develop PTSD because impaired consciousness confers a sort-of “amnesiac effect” that precludes “encoding” the memories necessary for PTSD development, Chin said.


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Weary Veterans Exemplify a Nation Reluctant for War With Iran

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While as mixed in their views as other Americans, the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now a larger proportion of critics of interventions in the regions they once fought in.

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Legion connects with student veterans in Los Angeles

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“Learn Today, Lead Tomorrow” was the motto for this year’s Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference, where more than 2,500 student veterans descended on Los Angeles Jan. 3-5.

Many attendees were members of The American Legion, including representatives from the Legion’s National Headquarters: National Judge Advocate Kevin Bartlett; John Kamin, assistant director in the Veterans Employment & Education Division; and Tammy Barlet, health policy coordinator for the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division in Washington, D.C.

Members of The American Legion Media and Communications Division also staffed a large booth and displayed an exhibit telling the story of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill, the first version of the education benefits package most of the student veterans at the conference are now using. Since drafting the original GI Bill, The American Legion has fought for improvements and continues to do so, most recently through passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the “Forever GI Bill,” named in honor of the American Legion past national commander considered the architect of the original legislation.

Bartlett addressed attendees during their main session Jan. 5, which also included remarks from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and 2016 Miss USA winner Deshauna Barber. Barber was the first former soldier to earn the title of Miss USA and during her reign spoke often about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the challenges faced by numerous relocations. Barber is currently a captain in the Army Reserve and works as a cadet instructor at Howard University.

“When I joined the American Legion, I did so because my grandfather was a World War I guy,” Bartlett told hundreds of students during one of the general sessions. “He helped form the Legion in Michigan where I’m from. Now one of the things that we like to talk about is the GI Bill, and how in 1944 we went after that piece of legislation and helped get it passed so that all of you can go to school, get loans, do all these wonderful things.”

But for Bartlett, now is the time to focus on the future – the “why” and “what for” – of each student, he explained, relating it back to the mission and purpose from time in service. He also noted that The American Legion’s White Paper on Suicide identified four root causes of suicidal ideation: PTSD, traumatic brain injury, loss of a sense of purpose and loss of a sense of belonging. While noting that the first two are beyond the control of The American Legion, being an active member and participant in the veterans community can help with the latter two.

“You really need to think about what your mission and purpose is,” Bartlett said. “And that is one thing that the veterans service organizations – The American Legion, the VFW and other organizations – bring to the table. Now, you’re all students, I was a student once, a couple of times. When I graduated, I went to work, and many of you are working while you’re in school. Does that work give you the same mission and purpose that the military gave you? If you are lucky, you can say yes. But I would argue that most people can’t say yes, and for that I’m sorry. My job – I have a mission and purpose – and that’s to help veterans and their families.

“Veterans service organizations offer a mission and purpose: something to do, something to give back. The Legion offers an opportunity to find what your mission is. You want to help people and can’t do it at work? Find your local post, and become a member. Find your purpose.”

Other general assemblies featured speakers like Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal; actress Jamie Gray Hyder, who has appeared in “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Last Ship”; British-American author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek; and Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.

The conference also included 96 breakout sessions, dealing with all facets of student life, including adjusting to a post-military career, advocating for veterans and running SVA chapters. One such breakout session was titled “Veteran Service Organizations: A Legacy of Service” which included Kamin as a speaker. Barlet also participated in a session titled “Health Care Professional to Advocate: Using Health Care Degrees in Non-Traditional Roles.”


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