Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Women's Veterans Task Force Roundtable Discussion: Challenges in Advocacy for Women Veterans

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On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Women’s Task Force will hold a roundtable discussion entitled, " Challenges in Advocacy for Women Veterans.” 

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Veterans invited to conference call with president

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The White House is inviting veterans to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the one-year anniversary of the passage of the MISSION Act. Space is limited for the call, which will take place at 11:45 a.m.Eastern time Tuesday, June 25.

Since there will only be 10,000 available spots, interested American Legion members should register immediately at this link: Registered participants will receive the dial-in information at that time.

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Chairman Takano: “We Must Break Down Barriers for Veterans from Minority and Underserved Communities”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered opening remarks before the full committee legislative hearing to address pending legislation on educational and housing benefits, medicinal cannabis, and a requirement to provide critical VA resources in Spanish. Below is a link to the video of the Chairman’s opening statement and his remarks as prepared: [[{"fid":"58","view_mode":"full","fields":{"format":"full","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"link_text":null,"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"full","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 348px; width: 500px;","class":"media-element file-full","data-delta":"1"}}]]   Good afternoon. I call this hearing to order. I would like to start by thanking the Veteran Service Organizations for being here—without your advocacy the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would not be on the President’s desk awaiting his signature. We rely on you to provide feedback and expert testimony on legislation affecting veterans. Today, we ask you for the same. The legislation on the agenda for this hearing covers a range of veterans’ issues from healthcare to educational and housing benefits to transition assistance. Today we hope to generate discussion on each of the agenda items, so we can make informed decisions on whether the legislation is ready to be considered in markup. Four agenda items are related to medicinal cannabis.    Cannabis must be objectively researched. Period. Medicinal cannabis may have the potential to manage chronic pain better than opioids and treat PTSD. However, other research shows that cannabis may significantly affect brain development into early adulthood. Young servicemembers enlisting at age 17 or 18 and separating from the military at age 22 may be particularly vulnerable to its negative side effects. I want to make sure any research legislation this Committee votes on is not written to achieve one outcome or used to “fast-track” treatments for veterans. Clinicians need to understand the efficacy of this drug and any negative side effects. In those states that allow medicinal cannabis, VA doctors should be able to provide recommendations to veterans for medicinal cannabis programs. I also placed H.R. 3083, the AIR Acceleration Act on the agenda today because I have serious concerns about VA’s implementation of the AIR Act. We have received no information from VA on the market assessments to give this Committee confidence that the Commission, when it is scheduled to meet, will have the data it needs to make informed decisions. It’s important that we have a public discussion of these concerns and hear from stakeholders because I do not believe it makes sense to speed up this process right now. VA’s lack of transparency should be concerning to us all.  I would also like to highlight two bills introduced by Representative Cisneros that I support. H.R. 2942, that  authorizes an existing Air Force women’s health TAP pilot program and H.R. 2943 would codify an existing regulation that all VA fact sheets be available to veterans in Spanish. During a recent visit to the VA Medical Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Committee staff saw firsthand why VA should be mandated by law to provide materials in Spanish. I was shocked to learn that key letters, fact sheets, and employee training modules developed to educate veterans and staff on the MISSION Act, were only produced and mailed to veterans in English. In Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the predominant language, this meant veterans and hospital employees were not notified about the upcoming changes with the MISSION Act and employees were not prepared to implement the law on June 6th. Hospital staff in San Juan—to their credit—translated and reproduced the materials in Spanish on their own because the translation provided by a contracted vendor was poor and inadequate. The Veterans Crisis Line – a lifeline for veterans thinking about suicide –operates only in English. The Puerto Rico VA Medical Center established its own local crisis line in Spanish, but when my staff called the number, on several occasions no one answered. Think about that for a moment: help is only available at the VA if you understand English. According to 2015 census data: “On average 73 percent of Hispanics speak a language other than English at home and 31 percent of Hispanics state that they are not fluent in English.” “VA statistics predict an increase in the Hispanic veteran population from 7.4 percent in 2017 to 11.2 percent by 2037.” Failing to provide veterans with clear explanations of their benefits in Spanish mean Latinx veterans will lose out on GI Bill benefits, VA home loans, or healthcare programs like the MISSION Act. Veterans won’t receive their burial benefits if their surviving family members do not understand English. A Spanish-speaking veteran’s call to the Veterans Crisis Line would, in effect, remain unanswered. VA should already be providing Spanish language materials, but it is falling short in too many cases. When I became Chairman of this Committee, I committed to you that we would work to break down barriers for veterans from minority and underserved communities. Mr. Cisneros’s bill is one small step towards this effort. It’s not enough that this is VA regulation. We must make this the law and exercise this Committee’s oversight authority to make sure VA is following it.  Let me say that again, though slightly differently. Esta propuesta legislativa, presentada por el Congresista Cisneros, representa un avance para abordar este importante tema y aumentar el número de materiales disponibles en español para nuestros veteranos. No es suficiente que el Departamento de Veteranos ya tenga una regla en vigor. Nosotros, como miembros de esta cámara legislativa, tenemos que crear una ley con este requisito y también asegurar que el comité ejerza su mandato de supervisión sobre este departamento. ###  

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Legion wins Bladensburg memorial Supreme Court case

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The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial isn’t going anywhere.

In a landmark victory for The American Legion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on June 20 that the 40-foot memorial can remain on public land in Prince George’s County, Md., where it has stood since 1925.

“This was not just about a single cross,” American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said. “This was about the right of a community to honor its fallen heroes. And that’s why the World War I veterans of Bladensburg sacrificed their lives, to protect the freedom of others.”

In 1925, The American Legion and Gold Star Mothers erected the memorial as a tribute to 49 Prince George’s County veterans who died during World War I. The cross shape was selected by the Gold Star Mothers to represent their sons’ resting place in Europe.

For decades, the memorial stood peacefully until the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed suit, claiming the memorial violated the First Amendment. The Bladensburg memorial was funded privately and the property where it stands was in private hands when it was erected. However, now it sits on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a governmental agency.

“The American Legion does not consider these crosses which honor so many veterans to be religious memorials,” Reistad explained. “But even if it were, freedom of religion is also a cherished right protected by our First Amendment. Americans can feel more confident today that veterans memorials, cemetery headstones and patriotic monuments throughout our country are safer as a result of this ruling.”

The American Legion was represented at the Supreme Court by the legal teams at First Liberty Institute and Jones Day. Aligning with them was the state of Maryland, which owns and maintains the memorial.

“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, the president, CEO and chief counsel to First Liberty. “The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over. Our founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Michal Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney, said, “We are grateful for this historic victory for the First Amendment. This decision simply affirms the historical understanding of the First Amendment that allows government to acknowledge the value and importance of religion.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion.

“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” he wrote. “For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh also were in the majority. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The ruling was cheered by Amber Longoria, a post-9/11 Navy veteran who is a member of American Legion Post 5208 in Denver. “We have bigger fish to fry than where a monument is located,” she said. “This shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with.”

The Supreme Court victory means that Legionnaires from that area can continue to hold Memorial Day and Veterans ceremonies at the site. In November, Phillip Holdcraft, past commander of Post 131 in Colmar Manor, Md., will be there, along with a strong contingent of Legionnaires from the Department of Maryland.

“There will be a sense of relief,” he said earlier this year of what a victory would mean. “It will be a sense of relief for veterans here in Maryland and all over the United States.”

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Bladensburg ruling 'victory for freedom'

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Citing America’s constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and expression, the leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization hailed today’s 7-2 Supreme Court ruling protecting a popular veterans memorial “an overall victory for freedom.”

“This was not just about a single cross,” American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said of his organization’s 7-2 victory in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. “This was about the right of a community to honor its fallen heroes. And that’s why the World War I veterans of Bladensburg sacrificed their lives, to protect the freedom of others. The American Legion does not consider these crosses, which honor so many veterans, to be religious memorials. But even if it were, freedom of religion is also a cherished right protected by our First Amendment. Americans can feel more confident today that veterans memorials, cemetery headstones and patriotic monuments throughout our country are safer as a result of this ruling.”

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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.