Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Predicting PTSD before it happens

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The National Center for PTSD has six operational priorities. One of the most critical of those is trying to predict potential sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder before they actually do.

The center’s executive director, Paula Schnurr, told members of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission that the Department of Veterans Affairs center is trying to establish biomarkers for PTSD “to predict who develops PTSD, to diagnose PTSD, to predict treatment outcome and measure treatment response,” Schnurr said. “(PTSD-caused suicide) is a crisis in this country. It’s the highest clinical priority of (VA Secretary David Shulkin).”

Schnurr said the center is trying to develop effective PTSD treatments. “We’re trying to develop strategies to enhance the effectiveness of existing treatments and to enhance treatment engagement,” she said. “Treatments only work if you engage.

“We actually have a lot of effective psychotherapies. We have two FDA-approved medications, and they only work so well. So novel medications are something that we care about.”

The center has created several apps and other materials to assist those suffering from PTSD and their family members. The center’s PTSD Coach app has been downloaded 275,000 times in 98 different countries.

“If you try to think about what we are, we’re an information business,” Schnurr said. "We generate information. We collate, synthesize, disseminate and promote the implementation of the best information on PTSD. It’s critically important that all veterans, their family members (and) the nation as a whole have the best information to inform whatever decisions they make.”

Addressing the commission, Past National Commander Bill Detweiler – chairman of the Legion’s Traumatic Brain Injury/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Ad Hoc Committee – said the Legion will continue to push for alternative treatments for PTSD.

“We are looking to see what we can do as an organization to urge the VA, to urge the military and … to get congressional funding to find the funds necessary to do the studies (on alternative treatments), even though the studies may be hard,” Detweiler said. “Let’s take a look at things that are available that maybe are not used but could be used – not to hurt somebody, but to maybe give them a better quality of life. On our end, that’s what we’re all about.”

The commission also received an update on the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a VA effort to collect genetic information from 1 million veterans in order to build a database of genetic, military exposure, lifestyle and health information.

The purpose of the MVP is to learn more about how a person's genetics affects their health so that doctors can better understand diseases and design future treatments specific to an individual's molecular body composition.

MVP Program Director Sumitra Muralidhar said 590,000 genetic samples have been collected. Included in the database are 50,000 women veterans and 108,000 African-American veterans. “Our goal is to partner with veterans to create one of the largest and most comprehensive databases … and open that up for research,” Muralidhar said. “We are now currently the largest. There are many such databases around the world, but no one in the world has as comprehensive as an electronic health record as VA does.”

Jennifer Deen, who works on recruitment, engagement and public relations for MVP, said opportunities exist for Legionnaires to stage events to raise awareness about the program. “In your areas we can connect you to our local site teams,” she said. “If there’s a facility around you, they can come out and give talks at your posts. We can arrange events. There’s a lot we can do with you guys.”

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American Legion founder remembered in Reno

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Lt. Col. Thomas W. Miller did not have a gavel when he assumed chairmanship of the Paris Caucus on March 17, 1919. So the former congressman from Delaware pulled from his pocket an 1873 silver dollar that he always carried and rapped it on the table. The final day of the first gathering of what would become The American Legion was under his command.

Ninety-eight years later, at the Masonic Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Reno, Nev., Miller’s grave was trimmed, cleaned and presented a U.S. flag, an American Legion flag, a United States World War I Centennial Commission coin and an American Legion 100th Anniversary coin.

“I think this is something that needs to be a regular tradition,” American Legion Department of Nevada Commander Yvette Weigold said at a Saturday graveside ceremony to remember Miller. “We need to pay him that honor.”

“This should be a place of pilgrimage for The American Legion and the Department of Nevada,” agreed Jack Monahan of Connecticut, a member of the United States World War I Centennial Commission. “This is one of the most historically significant American Legion sites in the state.”

Monahan, American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David K. Rehbein of Iowa and Denise Rohan of Wisconsin, leading candidate to serve as the next national commander of The American Legion, were among many dignitaries of the organization who participated in the commemoration.

“I met Thomas Miller and knew who he was,” said G. Michael Schlee, chairman of The American Legion’s National Security Commission. “I remember that he was a presence, every time he entered a room.”

Lt. Col. Miller was no ordinary doughboy.

A Yale graduate who took his military training at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., camp for college-educated men during the Preparedness Movement at the same time he was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1915, Miller was the son of a Delaware governor and had served as secretary of state there. Defeated in 1916 by 153 votes in his bid for a second term in Congress, Miller enlisted in the Army after the United States declared war in April 1917. Miller started out as a private in an infantry company but was swiftly made a corporal thanks to his earlier training. Initially passed up for combat service due to his eyesight, Miller persisted and was later commissioned as a signal corps captain. He made his way to France with the 79th Division in 1918 and fought in the Meuse-Argonne battle where he a received a Purple Heart and was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

In March 1919, Miller was among the American Expeditionary Forces personnel still occupying Europe after the armistice that ended the Great War four months earlier. He heard about a gathering of troops in Paris who were talking about a new veterans organization and decided to check it out.

There, he met up with others who had trained in the Readiness Movement camp at Plattsburgh and with another World War I officer he knew through Washington politics: future U.S. Sen. Bennett Champ Clark, son of the former Speaker of the House. Clark, a Democrat, had selected Miller, a Republican, as chairman pro-tempore of the Paris Caucus. On the final day of the gathering, when such matters as the name of the organization and its constitution were discussed, Miller presided after Clark was called away for a meeting.

Miller went on to serve as the first national Legislative Committee co-chairman of The American Legion and was Delaware’s first National Executive Committee member. He and Luke Lea of Tennessee, Miller’s Legislative Committee co-chairman, worked together to obtain the organization’s federal charter on Sept. 16, 1919.

American Legion Past National Commander and Past National Adjutant Robert W. Spanogle remembers Miller and his passion for legislative issues. “At the end of every NEC meeting, he would always get up and talk about the importance of The American Legion Legislative Council,” Spanogle said. “That was always his focus.”

Miller had many roles in the beleaguered Warren Harding administration, including service on a committee to form the Veterans Administration, a seat on the American Battle Monuments Commission and as Alien Property Custodian. In that capacity, Miller was convicted and served 18 months in prison over the sale of German enemy property but was later pardoned by President Herbert Hoover and paid restitution.

Shortly afterward, he moved to Reno, Nev., where he oversaw Civilian Conservation Corps work camps and started the Nevada State Parks system and was a staff field representative of the U.S. Veterans Employment Service.

He served as commander of The American Legion’s Department of Nevada and was the department’s NEC representative for decades. At the 1968 American Legion National Convention in New Orleans, Miller was elected to the position of past national commander. He died in 1973.

“I learned a lot about him from the old timers who knew him,” said Bob Terhune, immediate past department commander for Nevada, who attended Saturday’s ceremony. “He was a character. He liked to have fun, but he became very serious when it came to veterans issues.”

“I will definitely keep him in prayer this Sunday,” said Department of Nevada Chaplain Dan DePozo, who spoke at Miller’s grave during the visit. “In reverse, I will ask for him to pray for us.”

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Legionnaires tour Navy's premier air strike training facility

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More than 70 Legionnaires from across the country joined The American Legion’s National Security Commission on a field trip Aug. 18 to explore the Navy’s premier one-stop air warfare training facility – Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon.

The trip, held in conjunction with the Legion’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., included an oral presentation and group tour led by NAS public affairs officer Zip Upham. Upham began the tour inside the air observation deck, wherein the group saw a bird’s eye view of the NAS Fallon's runway, aircraft fleet and geographic landscape encompassing multiple air spaces for training operations.

“The Navy has been out here since 1942,” Upham said. “The reason the Navy is in the middle of the Nevada desert is for two primary reasons. The first of which is we tend to have excellent weather over 300 days a year – that involves the air here at the air station and also the air mass out over the ranges. The ranges that we have out to the east are some of the most critical real estate to the Navy. The other reason the Naval base is here in northern Nevada is because we have relatively few neighbors.”

According to the commander, Navy Installations Command website, NAS Fallon traces its origins to 1942 when the Civil Aviation Administration and the Army Air Corps began construction of four airfields in the Nevada desert. As the war in the Pacific developed, the Navy recognized a need to train its pilots in a realistic environment using all the tactics and weapons currently being developed.

NAS Fallon was later commissioned on Jan. 1, 1972, when the Navy upgraded the base to a major aviation command. New hangars, ramps, housing and other facilities were added to give the installation new and greater capabilities.

Over the next 30 years, the air station grew to become one of the premier training sites for Navy/Marine Corps pilots and ground crews. Aviators around the world now recognize NAS Fallon as the pinnacle of air warfare training thanks to its:

· Four bombing ranges;

· Massive 14,000-foot runway which remains the longest in the Navy;

· Electronic warfare range;

· Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center;

· Fleet Readiness Center;

· Fallon Range Training Complex;

· Explosive Ordinance Disposal; and

· Strike Fighter Wing.

“We have airspace going out 125 miles and we cover 13,000-square miles of sky,” said Upham, a former Naval intelligence officer. “We can generally go out and fly, fight and practice in that airspace and disturb relatively few people on the ground – something we can’t replicate anywhere else.”

During the 1980s, NAS Fallon experienced dramatic growth as a state-of-the-art air traffic control facility. The Naval Strike Warfare Center was established in 1984 as the primary authority for integrated strike warfare tactical development and training. It quickly became the graduate level training evolution that air wings go through during their inter-deployment training cycle, according to CNIC.

Moreover, the air station received the Tactical Aircrew Combat Training System in 1985 to aid in its aircrews training. This system provides visual graphic displays of missions for squadrons, carrier air wings and students from the Naval Strike Warfare Center.

“When we do training like that, it is not initial training; we are not teaching people to fly their aircraft,” Upham said. “Here, we’re trying to make them experts at using them in combat.”

Upham said NAS Fallon’s mission has not changed since 1942. With unequaled air warfare training and integrated facilities supporting present and emerging National Defense requirements, the air station is integral to keeping America’s Naval forces ready now and into the future.

“I thought (Upham) did a real fine job in explaining stuff to us. The whole tour today was beautiful,” said 42-year Legion member Mike Landkamar, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy. “It’s interesting to see how some things have changed for the better. It’s a lot more high-tech than what we had back then.”

Landkamar recalled a visit to NAS Fallon in April of 1974, when he was a member of Fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) and had an opportunity to work on a new combat aircraft called the F-14 Tomcat. He was delighted to see a model display of the fighter jet during the Legion’s visit.

“I just want to go back and treasure my Navy days,” said Landkamar. “To me, serving one’s country means doing what you have to do. I was happy to do so in aviation with the Navy.”

Military service runs deep in Landkamar’s family. His dad was a World War II veteran, and grandfather was a World War I veteran. Having had the honor of also serving for The American Legion as a past national vice commander and state commander for the Department of Nebraska, Landkamar said it’s an obligation to join his Legion family in learning about NAS Fallon’s history.

“This determines the layout and what the Legion is going to do next year. It’s all very, very important,” he said.

The tour concluded with an outside presentation of non-flying aircraft models from Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Joe Vincent, followed by lunch at the Silver State Officer’s Club. Upham received an award plaque and goody bag for his role as the tour guide.

To learn more about Naval Air Station Fallon, click here.



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Researchers discover sunken USS Indianapolis

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The wreckage of USS Indianapolis has been discovered on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean by a team of civilian researchers.

The Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945, and sunk in 12 minutes. Of the nearly 1,200 crew members on board, 300 went down with the ship. The remainder faced cold, oily and shark-infested waters. Only 317 were rescued after four-plus days in the ocean.

The wreck was discovered 5,500 meters below the surface by the expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned by philanthropist Paul Allen.

"To be able to honor the and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling," Allen said, according to a release by the U.S. Navy. "As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming."

The 13-person expedition team on the Petrel is surveying the site and will conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks.

Their work is compliant with U.S. law, respecting the sunken ship as a war grave and not disturbing the site. USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy.

Plans are underway to honor the 22 surviving members of the ship, as well as the families of all those who served on the highly decorated cruiser.

Days before the attack, the ship had secretly delivered the components for the first atomic bomb.

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The Real American Heritage

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Within a generation’s time, nearly all of the 16 million veterans who served in World War II will be gone.

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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.