Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Tips for retaining a veteran workforce

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When growing a workforce of exceptional and committed talent, sourcing and attracting workers are only half the battle: Retaining and growing them is often a bigger challenge than hiring.

Companies who hire military veterans often find that engaging, growing and retaining them in the company proves difficult for reasons including:

  • Previous work experience often does not translate to the new job

  • There are communication differences, learned in the military culture, which hinder dialog with civilian managers

  • The onboarding process should be modified to be unique to veterans

  • Lack of understanding of disabilities and the mental health impact of war (e.g. PTSD and TBI) and how they can impact private sector careers

Engaging with veteran employees doesn’t stop with the hiring process. To retain and grow this workforce, employers should:

  • Recognize and share corporate values. Veterans are very values-driven. The values of the Armed Forces are often the reason men and women join the military, sacrifice so much of their personal and professional lives to serve, and commit to the mission of the job. When they transition, these veterans often seek employers who promote – and live – a set of clear and actionable values. Companies seeking to retain veteran talent are advised to discuss, display, and promote their values as a company and a team.

  • Customize onboarding and career development paths. Slight moderation to new hire packets, onboarding training, and career path development yields great results with military veterans. They are accustomed to change, stress, focus, and diligence. What they are not versed in is corporate politics, managing the needs of internal customers (in the corporate setting), working in teams of competing goals, etc. To onboard a veteran using a career-sensitive map means articulating the “rules of the road” at your company, to ensure they are successful.

  • Promote peer mentorships. Veterans are used to having a support network. During their time in the military, they are buddied up with someone who ensures they are given access to the training and tools they need to succeed. In the private sector, they still need (and value) a mentor. Whether that mentor is another veteran or a civilian isn’t as important as having someone who is passionate about military transition, career success, and compassion. This mentor will be an invaluable guide, support, and information source to the veteran employee.

  • Show appreciation for the veteran’s service. Whether it’s a simple “thank you” or a lavish event to recognize them, your military veteran employees appreciate sincere and appropriate gratitude. The key words are sincere and appropriate. You’d never want to make your veteran employees feel singled out against their will.

  • Understand the needs of military families. Retaining veteran employees means recognizing the value of the military family. As I’ve written about often, the family is a huge support system for the active duty service member, and when they transition to a civilian career, their family is there to help them reintegrate. Companies who include the spouse in key job negotiations, invites the family to gatherings, and supports the spouse and family in essential conversations shows the veteran employee that they recognize how important these individuals are in their transition to a healthy and vibrant civilian career.

The Department of Labor has prepared a helpful toolkit for employers seeking to hire and retain veteran talent. While hiring is important, retention is where true growth – for the company and the individual – occurs.

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Director of Veterans Hospital Accused of Manipulating Ratings Is Replaced

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Doctors at the veterans hospital in Roseburg, Ore., said administrators had turned away patients in an effort to improve performance scores.

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Back in business

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For decades, American Legion Burton Potter Post 185 in Greenport, N.Y., had served as a gathering place for the community. Home to a public skating rink, the post provided a healthy activity for generations of residents of the Long Island North Fork community.

Because of its size, the post’s home also served as a meeting place for other civic organizations, hosted weddings, parties and wrestling events, featured a full movie screen and even doubled as a concert hall that featured such entertainers as Charlie Daniels and Wilson Pickett.

But more than seven years ago, after falling into disrepair – and later getting hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – the building shut down. But thanks to the dedication of a Legionnaire, and the support of both his fellow members and the community, Post 185 is back in business.

Approximately 300 people attended the building’s reopening at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The sound of skates whirring across the George D. Costello Memorial Skating Rink was the sound of perseverance and mission accomplished to those involved with the project.

“It was a big relief to get to that point,” said Post 185 Hall Manager Mindy Ryan. “It’s a new beginning. It was very emotional – not just for me, but for all the people who have put so much into this place.”

The renovation effort started with Post 185 member George Costello, a Vietnam War Marine veteran. Post 185 Commander Craig Richter said Costello approached he and other post members in 2011 about renovating and reopening the building.

“George saw the need for us to renovate this building and had the compassion to do it,” Richter said. “George was a good force and a good leader in helping us get this project underway. It’s a shame he didn’t get to see its completion.”

Costello and Richter grew up near each other in Greenport. Richter said Post 185’s building had long been an important part of the community.

“This was a gathering place for people of all ages,” Richter said. “The fire department used this building on a regular basis for dinner/dances. The youth skated here at least two nights a week and on the weekends also. We used to have CYO basketball inside. This building was used on a regular basis. It was probably, at that time, the largest indoor venue on the North Fork. It is quite important to the village of Greenport.

“The Legion has always been a gathering place, especially for the youth. And the youth are very important to The American Legion. That’s why it needed to come back."

After years of what Post 185 Treasurer Rob Staron called “deferred maintenance,” the building was in need of major renovations. Costello saw that need and got the ball rolling, but then passed away unexpectedly in 2012.

There was no chance his fellow Legionnaires were going to let the project die with him. “It was because of this reason it had to be done,” Staron said. “George started it, but it had to be finished.”

Thanks to private donations, fundraisers and contributions from local businesses, more than $850,000 was raised to complete the renovation. “It was a complete community-based project,” Staron said. “Although (Post 185 takes) great pride in it, the community should take great pride in it also.”

Ryan, who became the building’s manager in October, moved to Greenport in 1983 and watched her daughter skate at Post 185. She sees a lot of potential for the building.

“I’m just so excited about it,” she said. “(It’s) a community center. The local people that live here year-round need a place. The kids need something to do. The roller skating will be great for them. People are talking to me about having a graduation party here. Weddings, concerts … the possibilities are endless as to what can be done here.”

Staron said that seeing the building reopen to the public on New Year’s Eve “was wonderful, a great feeling, knowing that the community had its recreational spot back. (George Costello) would have been looking down on us, and if we could hear him he’d have said, ‘Great job. Why did it take so long?’ Because George was a go-getter. He would have had it done quicker. He was more of a pusher than any of us.”

Ryan never met Costello but is good friends with his brother, John. It was through that connection that Ryan was contacted about the building manager position.

“I was told George was a very hard worker, very driven,” Ryan said. “That carries on to me. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I feel him. He’s watching. It’s inspiring to kind of be working under someone like him, even though he’s passed away.”

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Legion embraces VA’s efforts to implement appeals reform

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The American Legion submitted a written testimony to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Jan. 30 for an oversight hearing examining the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implementation of appeals reform through House Resolution (H.R.) 2288, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.

“We all agree that the success of this reform is critical because the current appeals process is failing veterans miserably,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., committee chairman. “Right now, VA has a backlog of more than 470,000 appeals (as of last October) and many veterans will end up waiting at least six years just for a decision on their appeal. Veterans and their families deserve better.”

According to VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman’s testimony, he said the department launched a pilot appeals system, called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), as part of its 18-month plan to test resolve the legacy appeals inventory. This plan, which is a collaborative effort by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), was submitted within the 90 days that Congress allotted following the enactment of H.R. 2288.

Bowman said the VA expects to fully implement RAMP by 2019. In the meantime, the department will promulgate regulations, establish procedures, hire and train personnel, implement IT system changes, conduct outreach and gather data for trend analyses and metrics reporting.

“VA’s current plan to reduce the existing backlog is to use the existing authority that we gave it to test a new appeals system,” Roe said. “Under RAMP, veterans that have (pending) appeals are being given the option to withdraw their existing appeal and transfer it to the new system. I have several concerns about RAMP including why the (BVA), which has more than 470,000 pending appeals, is not included in the program.”

The American Legion asserts that RAMP does not give veterans all of the options that will be available in the new framework. This is because a veteran won’t be able to choose the expedited lane to BVA until full implementation of the system in February 2019.

Without the benefits of the enhanced decision notice and all options being available, The American Legion believes that the choices made in RAMP will produce information of limited value about what veterans will do in the new framework.

The American Legion urges caution in relying on the data compiled under RAMP as a predictor of future behavior after the legislation is fully implemented.

“Another concern is the lack of veteran participation in RAMP,” Roe said. “VA has indicated that the data gathered from RAMP will help inform decisions on the implementation of the reforms. However, according to VA, only three percent of eligible veterans have chosen to participate in the program. Unless more veterans participate in RAMP, it’s hard to see how VA will collect enough data to develop an effective plan to successfully implement appeals reform.”

Bowman said the VA has a clearly defined strategy for managing the new process and legacy appeals workload, and is committed to transparency in its reporting.

“The new system is easier to understand. Veterans will be able to tailor reviews to their needs and it will provide both faster decisions and greater transparency,” Bowman said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. Our implementation strategy is synchronizing efforts across the department.”

While some criticism has been directed to RAMP, the Legion believes that VBA’s efforts are completely appropriate given the complexities inherent in the transition from the legacy appeals system to the appeals modernization framework.

“With RAMP data and (feedback from veterans, Congress and veteran service organizations), we can refine the processes and correct the problems before full implementation,” Bowman said. “We’re intent on shaping a veterans-centric system that’s responsive to their needs and preferences.”

In an effort to assess whether the VA’s appeals plan addresses the required elements identified in H.R. 2288, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said GAO produced a report that compares the appeals plan and supplemental materials against relevant sound planning practices and other criteria.

“Their report makes it clear that key elements are either incomplete or missing,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., ranking member of the committee. “This raises significant concerns, yet GAO describes VA’s plan as ‘a positive step forward.’”

While VA’s plan does address most of the Modernization Act’s required elements for the new and legacy disability appeals processes, Dodaro stated in his written testimony that the plan partially addresses or does not address five of 22 elements. He said it does not contain sufficient details about metrics for tracking the implementation progress, or the metrics and goals for identifying potential issues related to implementation.

However, Dodaro said VA officials disagree with GAO’s assessment and exclaimed that the agency is developing more detailed project plans and schedules.

“VA is tracking progress with timelines and goals, milestones and deadlines that will improve based upon GAO’s recommendations,” Bowman said. “Once implemented, veterans can expect, on average, a processing time of 125 days for higher-level reviews and supplemental claims, and 12 months for appeals to the (BVA) when they choose direct review of the issue without a hearing or submitting additional evidence.”

Dodaro also noted that the VA’s appeals plan does not address the following elements as required in Section 3 of H.R. 2288:

- An estimate of personnel required for either VBA or the BVA for the period when the agency would no longer be processing legacy appeals – Section 3(b)(2);

- Projected productivity information for VBA processing of appeals under the new process – Section 3(b)(12);

- Milestones for reducing legacy appeals, the expected number of appeals, remands and hearing requests at VBA or the expected number of hearing requests at the BVA each year – Section 3(b)(17); and

- A delineation of the total resources required by the VBA and BVA to implement the new system while addressing pending legacy appeals – Section 3(b)(1).

Without complete information on all of the required elements, Dodaro said Congress does not have what it needs to fully conduct oversight of the VA’s appeals plan, or the agency efforts to implement and administer RAMP while addressing legacy appeals.

“Transparency is fundamental to rebuilding veterans’ trust. It’s not only the trust of veterans that we’re trying to develop and maintain, but also the trust of Congress, VSOs, stakeholders and the American public,” Bowman said. “We will improve during this transition period.”

The GAO report outlined several other key areas where the VA’s appeals plan can be improved. According to Dodaro, he concludes that the plan reflects sound planning practices but could improve on others; indicates steps to assess process changes but should also include goals and measures to provide a full picture of success; needs a reliable implementation schedule to manage the project; and addresses some but not all key risks related to the new appeals process.

“There will be needs, there will be adjustments and there will be changes as we go forward, based upon what we learn during the RAMP process,” Bowman said.

At the end of his testimony, Bowman also discussed the VA’s progress with developing information technology updates required to accomplish appeals reform; timelines for hiring and training employees on the new appeals system; workforce planning and human capital planning; legacy appeals strategy; appeals resources; and stakeholder engagement.

Walz said the committee is dedicated to finding ways to make appeals reform work for veterans.

“If we get it right, the current out-of-date system we know is not serving veterans will be transformed into one veterans can trust to be fair, timely and perhaps, most of all, respectful of their service,” Walz said. “I am intent on insuring that VA continues to seek and incorporate (other) suggestions as regulations, practices and procedures are finalized.”

As a primary VSO stakeholder, The American Legion fully supports the VA’s efforts to resolve the legacy appeals inventory through RAMP and also looks forward to learning of VBA’s plans to ensure that the higher-level reviews are done in an appropriate manner. The Legion encourages the VBA and BVA to consider engaging in joint training to foster a common understanding regarding how appeals decisions should be addressed under the new appeals framework.

The American Legion supports H.R. 2288 and fully intends to support its VA partners in this transformative effort.

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USAA Tips: How to save $1,000 in 6 months

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Content provided courtesy of USAA.

$1,000. A grand. One large.

No matter how you say it, it sounds good. Think about the sense of well-being that would come from knowing you had 10 crisp $100 bills tucked away in your wallet. Everyone should have that feeling.

Consider these six steps to help you get started:

  • Open a savings account. My oldest daughter once saved $800. On her way to deposit it in the bank, she took a detour by the mall and left her purse sitting on a clothes rack. That envelope with her $800? Gone in a flash. The lesson? Your hard-earned money is safer in a bank account than in your hands.

  • Automate. Does money burn a hole in your pocket? If it's not there, you can't easily spend it. Nearly all banks allow automatic transfers that can shift some of each paycheck from your checking to your savings account. Five percent is a good starting point, but more is obviously better. Just $84 a paycheck will get you to your $1,000 goal in six months if you are paid twice a month.

  • Cut back. You should be able to find areas where you can reduce spending. It may be on restaurants, coffee, sporting events or gaming. There's no need to go cold turkey — a few small changes can add up quickly.

  • Cut out. On the other hand, some spending needs to go. Eliminate casino trips, a tobacco habit or other types of spending so you can free up some cash.

  • Don't give up. Stashing money in a change jar may not be the ideal way of saving $1,000, but if that's all you can manage right now, then it's an improvement. It may take time, but the key is to stay on track and avoid spending what you've worked hard to save.

  • Work both ends of your budget. Budgeting is all about a plan to manage both expenses and income. Cutting back may get you to your goal, but increasing income through a part-time job or home-based business could do wonders in your quest to stash some cash.

Once you reach your goal, celebrate — in a responsible way. But don't stop with $1,000. Setting aside a grand is just a small step on the road to financial security.

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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.