Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

DoD secretary testifies about the reality facing America’s military

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U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary James Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee on June 12 about the reality facing America’s military and the need for Congress as a whole to support and pass the department’s 2018 budget request on time.

“For four years, our military has been subject to or threatened by automatic, across-the-board cuts as a result of sequester – a mechanism meant to be so injurious to the military it would never go into effect,” Mattis said in his written statement. “In addition, during nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate Continuing Resolutions to fund the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges.”

Mattis said Congress has sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration in the past. In addition, Congress has blocked new programs; prevented service growth; stalled industry initiative; and placed troops at greater risk.

“The fundamental responsibility of our government is to defend the American people, providing for our security,” he said. “We cannot defend America and help others if our nation is not both strong and solvent. So we, in the Department of Defense, owe it to the American public to ensure we spend each dollar wisely.”

Despite tremendous efforts, Mattis believes Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership. “I retired from military service three months after sequestration took effect. Four years later, I returned into the department and I have been shocked by what I’ve seen with our readiness to fight,” he said. “For all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration. We have only sustained our ability to meet America’s commitments abroad because our troops have stoically shouldered a much greater burden.”

For Mattis, it took years to get into this situation and will now require years of stable budgets and increased funding to get out of it. He said this is necessary “because of four external forces acting on the department at the same time,” which include:

• 16 years of war,

• worsening global security situation,

• adversaries contesting the U.S., and

• rapid pace of technological change.

“Each of these four forces require stable budgets and increased funding to provide for the protection of our citizens and for the survival of our freedoms,” said Mattis. “To strengthen the military, President Trump requested a $639.1 billion topline for the FY 2018 defense budget. Of this topline, $574.5 billion supports Department of Defense base budget requirements – warfighting readiness and critical program requirements including intelligence community requirements. The balance, $64.6 billion, supports Overseas Contingency Operations requirements.”

Mattis goes on to say that “DoD’s 2018 base budget, with its $52 billion increase above the National Defense Budget Control Act cap, is the next step to building a larger, more capable and more lethal joint force.” The 2018 budget request reflects five priorities which include:

• Restoring and improving warfighter readiness;

• Increasing capacity and lethality;

• Reforming how DoD does business;

• Keeping the faith with servicemembers and their families; and

• Supporting Overseas Contingency Operations.

Mattis said he needs bipartisan support for DoD’s budget request, as “judicious spending of America’s public money is critical to ensuring security while maintaining solvency.”

He urged the committee members and Congress to achieve three key goals:

• Fully fund DoD’s request which requires an increase to the budget caps;

• Pass a fiscal year 2018 budget in a timely manner to avoid another harmful Continuing Resolution; and

• Eliminate the threat of future sequestration cuts to provide a stable budgetary planning horizon.

“I know we will have to make hard choices as we develop our new defense strategy and shape the FY 2019-2023 defense program,” said Mattis. “With the help of Congress, I am confident we can build a force that is necessarily more lethal without placing an undue burden on the American economy.

Read his full testimony here.

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Legion testifies on pending veteran legislation

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American Legion National Veterans Employment and Education Division Assistant Director John Kamin testified before the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on June 15 to give the Legion’s positions on several pieces of pending legislation.

GI Bill Fairness Act (S.844). According to Kamin, this bill would amend Title 38 to consider time spent by members of reserve components receiving military medical care as active duty for the purposes of eligibility for the GI Bill.

“To understand the need for this bill, I’d refer you to the story of Captain Bryan Lowman of the North Carolina National Guard,” said Kamin. “On the third month of his deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, he became severely ill with typhoid fever. (He then) lapsed into a coma and underwent multiple emergency surgeries (in Afghanistan, Germany and at Walter Reed) over the course of a year. After his long recovery, Captain Lowman aimed to pursue a college degree. However, since his activation status was changed to 12301(h) orders, his eligibility was cut down to the time he served before he got sick.”

Kamin said the Legion supports S.844 as it will correct this oversight and rewards retroactive benefits to all servicemembers affected. “Captain Lowman began to earn his GI Bill fighting for our country, but when he was fighting for his life, our country pulled the benefit,” he said. “I wish I could report to you that this was an isolated issue, but over 20,000 servicemembers have been issued these medical orders since 2007. This is a simple issue that you can fix and The American Legion stands ready to assist you in doing so.”

Educational Development for Troops and Veterans Act of 2017 (S.473). The Post-9/11 GI Bill is as close to a perfect benefit that has yet existed for active duty personnel. For reservists, on the other hand, eligibility is only gained if you are called to active duty service, Kamin said.

“This is a roll of the dice,” said Kamin. “And the odds just got worse for these servicemembers with the implementation of 12304b orders.”

Kamin said S.473 not only corrects this oversight by granting 12304b orders GI Bill eligibility, but also corrects even more technical issues affecting reservists, such as:

• Prorating the monthly housing allowance for student reservists; and

• Affording loan deferments to servicemembers pre-deployment.

“We respectfully request, however, that the bill be amended to apply to those who served before the date of enactment,” Kamin said. “The American Legion does not believe that servicemembers who have already been activated under 12304b orders are any less deserving of GI Bill benefits. Again, The American Legion stands ready to assist you in correcting this.”

Discussion draft on changes to the GI Bill.

Section 10: Restoration of entitlement to Post-9/11 educational assistance. When a school closes, non-veteran students have federal protections to support them. Federal loans can be discharged and Pell Grants can have their eligibility periods reset, according to Kamin.

“The American Legion strongly believes that a veteran's GI Bill benefits should be afforded the same protection,” he said. “This section provides that and we are encouraged with the bipartisanship that we’ve seen to address this issue. But Congress should not forget about the student veterans affected by the Corinthian College closures of 2015. We believe these student veterans deserve equal protection and calls for the eligibility date to be amended to the fiscal year of 2015.”

Section 17: Modifications relating to reimbursement of expenses of State Approving Agencies (SAAs). In addition, Kamin said the Legion believes that more effective oversight is needed to proactively abate school closures. While student veteran protection addresses the symptoms, the root cause is financially-unstable schools that were not properly identified until it was too late.

“While compliance oversight is never simple, the VA has partners that are uniquely suited to address this — they are the State Approving Agencies,” said Kamin. “Positioned at every state, they are the first line of defense for identifying bad actors. However, their funding has not increased since 2005, even as the educational ecosystem has compounded in size and complexity.”

Kamin said The American Legion believes the $3 million increase is not adequate to cover the SAAs’ overall scope and encourages Congress to allocate $5 million annually for the agencies. “Our positions are guided by nearly 100 years of experience and resolutions that originate at the grassroots level,” he said. “These issues cannot be put off any longer.”

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Department Spotlight: Louisiana runs Special Olympics softball event

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Since its founding nearly 100 years ago, The American Legion has advocated on behalf of the nations’ children by promising “A Square Deal for Every Child.” Because of this promise, The American Legion Family has supported the Special Olympics through financial contributions and volunteer efforts for nearly 40 years.

The Special Olympics' mission is to empower children and adults with intellectual disabilities to believe in themselves and to become physically fit, and The American Legion Department of Louisiana has been supporting their efforts by conducting the Softball Throw event for more than 30 years.

This past May, nearly 70 Department of Louisiana Legion Family members volunteered their support for the SpecialyOlympics Softball Throw, which was held at Southeastern University in Hammond, La.

"The entire softball event was in the hands of The American Legion Family – staging, the actual event and the awards presentation," said Special Olympics Coordinator Herbie Petit, a past Department of Louisiana commander who currently serves as theNational Committee on Children and Youth chairman. "We had Legion members, Auxiliary members, Sons of The Ameriacan Legion, as well as a Boy Scout Troop 185 from New Orleans and others who just wanted to work with us."

Besides helping the Special Olympics softball athletes with their game, the Legion Family volunteers give them water, treats and Mardi Gras beads after they throw the ball.

"It touches your heart when a kid hugs you, or how excited they get at throwing the ball. And I can't praise the volunteers enough; their donations are truly a blessing for the volunteers and the athletes as well," Petit said.

"Louisiana Special Olympics really appreciates us, as the Softball Throw is one of the largest events at the games."



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Ansbach post takes part in Vietnam anniversary event

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On May 25, the Army garrison at Ansbach, Germany – including David Chavez Post 1982 – held a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, an opportunity to recognize area veterans of that war.

I am very proud of our community and our post. We had tremendous support from the garrison, Ansbach High School, 9JROTC battalion, Service Credit Union, the commissary, the PX, Bank of America, several on-post colleges, Ansbach Spouses' and Civilians' Club, and the list goes on.

We had donations from American Legion members and others in the community. The Legion helped plan, execute and clean up afterward. Legion members helped plan and execute the entertainment and prepared the food. They welcomed and registered the Vietnam veterans and purchased the pins for them.

Here are some links to articles about our event:

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The case for Dust Off honors

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America has been divided in support for our nation’s various wars but generally supportive of the warriors – with one exception. No veteran has been so reviled and neglected as the Vietnam War veteran. I once had a prominent politician turn his back on me in the middle of a conversation because I was a Vietnam War veteran in uniform, and a camera was directed at us. That sort of neglect by Congress continues to this day.

Some time ago, I visited the battlefields of Vietnam, many of which were littered with statues of dead and surrendering American soldiers, testimonials to what the Vietnamese refer to as our “defeat.” Certainly it is true that to the victor go the spoils, but it is also true that the American soldier was never defeated on any significant battlefield in Vietnam, an unprecedented military achievement. Our defeat was at the hands of fascists left in our courtrooms, classrooms, cloakrooms and news rooms: cowardly media-phobic politicians, an irresponsible and dishonest press, and other cowards and spoiled brats and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.

Living with the scars of war is difficult. For some, it’s unbearable, but all veterans suffer. The Vietnam veteran suffered physically as much, perhaps more, than any veteran of the past century. But no veteran has suffered such mental agony. The thing that makes Vietnam so intolerable is what the elite have done to dishonor the source of those scars, to intensify the pain of the Vietnam veteran and destroy an unselfish and honorable legacy. The media narrative of the Vietnam warrior has slandered one of the most noble warriors in our nation’s history.

Look at the facts. The average infantryman in the Pacific Theater of World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. His counterpart in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year. Amputation or crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300 percent higher in Vietnam than in World War II and 70 percent higher than in the Korean War. Multiple amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4 percent compared to 5.7 percent in World War II. The percentage of those who died is similar to other wars, but 75,000 Vietnam vets were left severely disabled.

Above our magnificent grunts, the aviation accomplishments in Vietnam are unprecedented. In World War II, aircraft losses were 16 percent, in Vietnam 43 percent. I read that in World War II, some pilots completed tours after 25 missions at an average of four hours per mission or a total of 100 hours. In Vietnam, 100 hours was an average month for many, and 25 missions was an average week.

We see horrifying suicide rates among today’s warriors, yet the Vietnam veteran, who saw as much or more combat than any other, after the living through the media calumny of his service and sacrifice, had a lower suicide rate than his civilian counter part.

The Vietnam veterans not only distinguished themselves in combat, they came home and became model citizens. They were the best-educated forces our nation ever sent into combat; 79 percent had a high school education or better. The Vietnam veteran’s unemployment rate, personal income, drug use and incarceration rate are more positive than the same non-veteran cohort. And, as a tribute to their patriotism, despite their shoddy treatment, over 90 percent say they are glad they served.

Not even the fascists left could guarantee total defeat. The American soldier still found victory – in humanitarianism. Vietnam may be the only war we ever fought, or perhaps that was ever fought, in which the American soldier added humanitarianism to heroism, unmatched in the annals of warfare. And that humanitarianism took place during the heat of battle. The GI fixed as he fought. He cured and educated and built, in the middle of the war, schools, orphanages, hospitals and roads. He vaccinated thousands and cured previously disastrous diseases. He truly cared for, and about, the people. What other Army has ever done that? Humanitarianism was America’s great victory in Vietnam.

Spearheading the humanitarian efforts were the air-ambulance crews, called Dust Off, the most dangerous of all aviation operations. About one third of all Dust Off crew members became casualties, and the loss of air ambulances was 3.3 times that of all other types of helicopter missions. The Dust Off crew members, who made up a small percentage of the helicopter crewmen in Vietnam, suffered a disproportionately high percentage of deaths. They flew some 500,000 missions and rescued more than 900,000 men, women, children, enemy as well as friendly. They set survival records unmatched in military history; although one in 10 Vietnam War GIs were wounded, less than 1 percent of those who survived the first 24 hours died, thanks to Dust Off. As an example of a typical Dust Off accomplishment, one unit of 40 men, with an average of only three of six assigned helicopters flyable (116 percent were damaged by enemy action every month), in 10 months evacuated more than 21,000 patients, while sustaining 26 Purple Hearts.

Gen. Creighton Abrams, supreme commander of all forces in Vietnam, singled out the Dust Off crews as the prototype of the Vietnam warrior: “A special word about the Dust Offs … Courage above and beyond the call of duty was sort of routine to them. It was a daily thing, part of the way they lived. That's the great part, and it meant so much to every last man who served there. Whether he ever got hurt or not, he knew Dust Off was there. It was a great thing for our people.”

Gen. William Westmoreland, Abrams’ predecessor, also singled out the Dust Off crews for special praise. No units better highlighted courage and humanitarianism in the Vietnam War than the pilots, medics and grunts of Dust Off who represented every segment of our country. And no units were more revered.

As I considered the cement bodies of fallen GIs displayed in Vietnam, it occurred to me that Vietnam may have been the only war which we fought that there are no national monuments to the those warriors. We have a Wall for the dead but nothing to honor the nobility of that veteran. Many Vietnam veterans have tried to counter the media narrative, the movies and books, which depicted the Vietnam veteran as a deranged baby killer. I wrote a book on the humanitarian heroism of that war, and many others also sought to tell the truth — to little avail. The dishonest media narrative survives to this day.

In May of 2015, I noticed an article in a military magazine that listed the individuals, units and groups who had been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. I was amazed to find that no unit or group from Vietnam had been awarded this honor. Most were from World War II, but Korea was included. Several aviation units were honored, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Women Airforce Service Pilots and the American Fighter Aces from all wars. (I recalled a golf outing when Mike Novosell, a fellow Dust Off pilot and Medal of Honor recipient, and I were playing with a very famous fighter pilot ace, much celebrated for having flown 100 combat missions. Between us, Mike and I had over 5,000 combat missions, which is not unusual for a couple of Dust Off crewmen.

When I compared the considerable accomplishments of the honored aviation crew persons with those of the Dust Off crews, it was clear to me that Dust Off personnel of the Vietnam War deserve the Congressional Gold Medal. We were in the midst of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and what could be more fitting? Once the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to Dust Off, the door would be open for many other deserving units in Vietnam.

With the support of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and every major American veterans organization, S.2268 was introduced in the Senate in 2015, as was H.5299, to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Dust Off Crews of Vietnam. After a year and a half, needing 281 co-sponsors in the House and 66 in the Senate, the 114th Congress got six co-sponsors in the House and nine in the Senate. Yet they still had the time, and got the votes for a Congressional Gold Medal for the Filipino veterans of World War II. The 114th Congress, not unlike the congressman who turned his back on me when I was in uniform, turned their backs on Vietnam War veterans again.

The decline of veterans in Congress has dropped from nearly three fourths after Vietnam to less than 20 percent today, a decline, I believe, that has negatively affected America. We have a force structure that, perhaps more so than any time in our history, is over-stressing the troops. We have witnessed in horror the treatment of veterans, mostly from Vietnam, in VA hospitals. The last Congress had time to honor Filipinos (surely worthy), mostly foreign, over Dust Off, all American, with a Congressional Gold Medal. Something is not right. One can only hope that when the Congressional Gold Medal for Dust Off crews is reintroduced in this Congress, they will see fit to honor some of the most remarkable warriors our nation has ever produced. And I hope all Vietnam veterans will stand up, fight one more battle, and hold them accountable.


U.S. Army Maj. Gen. (ret.) Patrick Brady, a member of The American Legion 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee, received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a Dust Off pilot on Jan. 6, 1968, near Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, when in a single day he went through three helicopters, flying through heavy enemy fire to evacuate 51 seriously wounded soldiers who otherwise likely would have died on the battlefield.




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