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Veterans Benefits Information

'Bells of Peace' to ring Nov. 11

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The World War One Centennial Commission – along with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, the Society of the Honor Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the National Cathedral, The American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars – has announced a nationwide bell-tolling on Nov. 11 as a solemn reminder of the sacrifice and service of veterans of the Great War, and all veterans.

“Bells of Peace: A World War One Remembrance” encourages citizens and organizations across the nation to toll bells in their communities 21 times at 11 a.m. local time on Nov. 11.

Bells will be tolled in places of worship, schools, town halls, public carillons, and cemeteries. In Washington, D.C., bells will toll in the National Cathedral at an interfaith service to mark the centennial of the armistice that brought an end to hostilities in what Americans fervently hoped had been “the war to end all wars.”

The nationwide program is designed to honor American men and women who served 100 years ago during World War I, especially the 116,516 who died. The war ended by an armistice agreement between the warring countries at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.

Program director Betsy Anderson calls Bells of Peace a “grassroots effort, but within communities ... What we’re hoping is for people to see this and say, ‘Oh, we have a bell, we could toll it. What else can we do to recognize those veterans who served in World War I?”

The World War One Centennial Commission has a page on its website – ww1cc.org/bells – where people can find information and tools to conduct the bell tolling, and to meaningfully commemorate the service of their local World War I veterans.

The Bells of Peace web page includes links to poetry, music, sacred service options and more. “There are a variety of ways people can do this,” Anderson says. “The bottom line is we want everybody to have a chance to participate in the commemoration.”

World War I took place between July 1914 and November 1918, and is among the deadliest conflicts in world history. The United States officially entered the war on April 6, 1917. Some 4.7 million Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, of whom 2 million were deployed overseas to fight.

Individuals and organizations can sign up online to participate in the bell tolling, and follow up after Nov. 11 with photos and video of their service or ceremony. Posts will be added to the commission’s permanent archive.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to put our veterans’ service in some historical context, and to remind people that it’s important to recognize and commemorate the service and sacrifice of all veterans,” Anderson says.

Congress established the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission in 2013 to provide education programs, public outreach and commemorative events regarding U.S. involvement in the war. The commission is authorized to create a new national memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor the men and women who served. Information on the new National World War I Memorial can be found here.


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USAA Tips: The truth about credit scores

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Mikel Van Cleve

Buying a car, starting a business, buying a house: Sometimes it seems that life’s biggest steps depend on one number, your credit score.

What do credit scores mean? Why do they matter? What can you do about yours? There are lots of myths to debunk and questions to answer, and over the past 14 years I have pretty much heard them all.

Question: Why is the score the lender told me different from the score I see when I check my credit?

A friend of mine recently applied for a vehicle loan. She checked her credit score first and was surprised to see a score 100 points higher than the score her lender referenced. While the difference isn’t always this extreme, it can come as a shock and cause a bit of confusion — or even anger — when it results in a loan decline or higher interest rate.

Here’s why: You don’t have a credit score; you have credit scores.

Accessing one universally agreed-upon credit score sure would make life easier, but that’s just not the case — not even close. FICO®, the most common household name for credit scores, is a data analytics company that has developed models for generating credit scores based on information in your credit reports (more than one of those as well). You have an Experian FICO® score based on information in your Experian credit report, an Equifax FICO® score based on that information, and a Transunion FICO® score based on that report.

If only it stopped there. FICO® has numerous models. For example, there are FICO® Score 8 and FICO® Auto Score 8, and a version of each based on information from each credit report. Then there are the versions before FICO® Score 8. And then there are ones specific to credit cards and mortgages, not to mention multiple versions of the new FICO® Score 9 model based on information from each of the three credit reporting agencies. And just think, we haven’t even touched on the other credit scores beyond FICO®, such as the VantageScore®, which also has multiple versions.

Keep this in mind: The score you see isn’t right, and the one the lender uses isn’t wrong.

As you can guess, the likelihood you’ll view the same score as your lender is low. Lenders may choose product-specific scoring models (such as FICO® Auto Score for an auto loan) because of the different risk involved in lending money for different products. They may also pull your credit information from a different credit reporting bureau from the one you checked, and the model could be version 8 or 9 or something else. No one credit score is more accurate than another, nor is it intended to mislead you as the consumer.

Having said that, your lender will use the score he or she accesses. It’s helpful for you to check your credit score, but consider it only for educational purposes, not as the end-all, be-all. And take heart: Your credit score is not the only factor used in the underwriting decision. Lenders may also look at factors such as your debt-to-income ratio and account history.

Remember: The story your credit report tells is more important than the score itself.

The score is simply a numerical reflection of what is in your report. If you are declined for a loan (or receive an interest rate less favorable than expected) because of your credit, focus on the information within your report. Depending on the credit scoring model used, some things are weighted more heavily than others, which leads to the differences. Behaviors to focus on include always making payments on time, keeping credit card balances low, and only establishing new credit when necessary. When you review your credit report, look for:

  • Incorrect information, which is more common than you might think and should be disputed immediately.

  • Late payments and collections, which can really hurt your score.

  • Utilization, the amount you owe versus the amount of available credit. The higher your utilization, the lower your score.

Past mistakes don’t have to haunt you forever. If you focus on what you can control and improve going forward, your score will follow over time.

At least once per year, review all three of your credit reports: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com to obtain these reports for free. Keep in mind, this is for a free credit report, not one of your credit scores.


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MHS GENESIS focal point for Defense Health Agency Director visit at Naval Hospital Bremerton

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Defense Health Agency Director Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono visited Naval Hospital Bremerton June 29 during a MHS GENESIS fact-finding trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Bono met with command leadership and users of the new electronic health record for candid conversations regarding implementation, best practices, lessons learned, issues and improvements.

“Tell me what I need to fix when I get back home and what we can do to make it better," Bono directly asked NHB Referral Management staff, who were the initial stop of her visit to the command, discussing such topics as referral processing, contractual concerns and credentialing procedures.

Bono also visited NHB’s Northwest Beginnings Family Birth Center and Main Pharmacy.

NHB’s Pharmacy Department has been perhaps the most notably influenced area by MHS GENESIS due to its associated impact on patients. The new system initially caused longer wait-times than anticipated for beneficiaries waiting on medications, and staff were compelled to deal with a host of software concerns as part of a steep learning curve without sacrificing patient safety.

“A lot of work has been done, and we are still doing more. Progress has been made in a number of areas and there is optimism with the MHS GENESIS workflow benefiting our patients,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dean Kang, NHB Pharmacy Department head.

The pharmacy has made a number of improvements to their workspace, staffing, and workflow that have returned wait times to normal. 

"I admire what you have done. It really is incredible. It stands out how involved everyone is to make this happen, and that starts at the top," said Bono, addressing the pharmacy staff.

The focus of the visit was to receive frank feedback on MHS GENESIS, which NHB deployed on Sept. 23, 2017, for Service members, veterans and their families as one of the four sites in the Pacific Northwest along with U.S. Air Force 92nd Medical Group at Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor and Madigan Army Medical Center.

“We are excited to be at the “tip of the spear’ with the implementation of the new electronic health record. There have been challenges, but we have made significant progress and improvements that will benefit the rest of the Military Health System. MHS GENESIS is now functional on our carriers and submarines in the Pacific Northwest, allowing ship’s medical staff to communicate directly with hospital providers on operationally relevant issues related to their Sailors and Marines.  The new system is much more capable than our legacy systems and we are excited to ultimately have the DoD and VA on the same EHR platform in the future,” said Navy Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, NHB commanding officer.


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Summer Safety: Preventing Firework Burns

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As the Fourth of July nears, many communities across the country are gearing up to enjoy firework shows. If your patriotic celebration includes self-starter fireworks or hand-held sparklers, take precautions to avoid injury.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, last year there were 13,000 fireworks-related injuries and 8 deaths. About two-thirds of those injuries happened between June 16 and July 16, and 14 percent of those injuries involved sparklers. Children under the age of 14 suffer nearly half of all sparkler-related injuries.

In the event of an injury, TRICARE has options for you, depending on the type and level of injury. You can seek urgent care or emergency care. Urgent care clinics offer quick walk-in services without an appointment. Check to see your plan’s guidelines for seeking urgent care. If the injury is serious or life-threatening, go to the emergency room immediately or call 911. If you’re enrolled in a TRICARE Prime plan, be sure to contact your primary care manager within 24 hours or on the next business day after you receive emergency care.

Fireworks are best enjoyed when left to the experts. However, here are a few reminders to help keep you and your family safe this Independence Day:

  • Ensure fireworks are legal to buy and use in your community. And be mindful of local fire danger conditions.
  • Talk to your children prior to the festivities about firework safety and be aware of the dangers of sparklers.
  • Keep water on hand, and douse used fireworks with water before throwing away. This can help prevent burns or a trash fire.
  • Be mindful of your clothing around fireworks. Don’t wear any garments that are flowy or drape to the ground.
  • Keep pets indoors. Animals can become frightened and knock into children holding sparklers, or accidently knock over a firework device.
  • Back away to a safe distance once you light a firework fuse.
  • Light fireworks one at a time in a clear and opened area, away from houses, power lines, or trees or bushes.
  • Don’t try to relight duds. Always douse the dud with water before throwing it away.

Do your best to prevent burn related injuries and know your TRICARE treatment options if an injury occurs. Have fun and stay safe this Fourth of July!


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Patriotism passed along as veterans share their stories

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As program director of Oklahoma Boys State, Clay Ballenger sees his position as a critical one in sharing The American Legion’s story.

“Most of these young people who come have no idea what The American Legion does, who our members are, the purpose and our history. So, to me, the youth programs of The American Legion are the premier programs for our organization," Ballenger said. "They do more to generate attention and awareness of what we do than anything else, because we have an opportunity for thousands of young men across the country, and women with Girls State, to talk about The American Legion and the programs that we have and the outreach that we have, and the good that we do in the community."

Ballenger’s own experience as an Oklahoma Boys State delegate in 1990 inspired his military and police service, and he credits it to the Legionnaires who he met through the program.

“Once I got to Boys State and learned about The American Legion, I saw these Legion members who of course had done their service in the military and continued to serve,” he said. “And they cared enough to be here at Boys State for somebody like me that they didn’t even know and spend their time away to try and help me be a better person, to me, that just really opened my eyes about the type of people that are American Legion members and I first of all wanted to serve, and they inspired me to go on and serve my country in the military, but then also I couldn’t wait to become eligible to join The American Legion.”

Ballenger and his staff make it a point to emphasize the Legion’s story during Oklahoma Boys State, with Legion family members encouraged to wear their Legion cap and talk about the organization.

“We have Legion Night, of course like I said we wear our caps, we explain about the Legion family, we invite speakers from the Sons of the American Legion and the Auxiliary to come and visit with us. To me, there’s no better way to highlight what we do as the world’s largest veterans organization than at the Boys State program. And to me, as director of Oklahoma American Legion Boys State, it is definitely at the front of everything we do. And we are very proud of that fact. And I know when these several hundred boys leave here every year, they know what the Legion is, they’re going to tell others about it, and hopefully like me someday they’ll go on to serve and join themselves and carry on the tradition,” Ballenger said.

Oklahoma Boys State assistant director Corey Brooks said it’s “critical” to have younger veterans involved in the program.

“Because you’ve got a lot of young men out there interested in the military, and who don’t really associate in their own families or their own lives with someone in the military. And so if they can see someone who’s kind of a younger mentor, someone who’s like an older brother or maybe a father figure, serving in uniform, that kind of gives them the avenue to assess them and see how it’s like, ask the questions, what’s it like to serve, and some of them even take that plunge and are that interested that they want to know the process of getting in, whether it’s a service academy or an ROTC program, or even enlisting, and having those people that are currently in the system can really help them bridge that gap and show them it’s cool, it’s something neat to do, it’s a great way to serve your country and continue that tradition that’s got us where we are today in America,” Brooks said.

Past Buckeye Boys State program director Jerry White noted that the Ohio program’s history of naming its “cities” after former presidents of the board of trustees, many of whom are on staff during the week, helps create a deeper connection between the Legionnaires and the delegates.

“So the boys, rather than reading something about so-and-so was this, that and the other thing, they’ve got him sitting right in front of them,” White said. “That’s helped this program immeasurably.”

Jonathan Leatherman Clason, a senior counselor at Oklahoma Boys State, emphasized the importance of Legion members sharing their stories.

“I think it’s important in The American Legion that we share our stories, we record our stories, we document our stories, we open up to our communities, to our family members, about our stories and what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re not prideful people. We serve humbly and we serve honorably. And I think it’s important that we share that, that we open up as American Legion members to people who don’t understand the military.

“That’s what we do at Boys State; we try to educate patriotism, government, pride in what we do. As we share those stories, that’s how we pass on patriotism, that’s how we pass on what we care about, what’s important to us. That’s how we spread the word of our great nation and our great country. So it may be difficult to open up about past stories, experiences you’ve had, things that have touched you deeply. But I guarantee you that if people know, you will spread patriotism and you will spread pride for your country and your flag.”

Another avenue for Legion family members to share their stories is Legiontown.org. The sharing of stories provides inspiration to posts, squadrons and units located throughout the country on how to promote the Legion in their communities.


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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.