Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Get feedback on your job interview

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You know the feeling: That moment in the interview when you realize the opportunity has passed you by. Or perhaps you think you're interviewing well, but you aren't getting any results. You need to figure out what you are doing wrong and fix it ASAP. But where do you start?

Third-party headhunters and recruitment agencies often provide invaluable feedback when they interview you or send you on interviews. But how do you determine how to improve your interviewing performance if you're going it alone?

Start with the Foundation

To figure out where you're going astray, ask yourself:

  • Are you interviewing for the right jobs? Just because you've been chosen for an interview doesn't mean you are a viable candidate.

  • If you are indeed interviewing for the right kinds of jobs, how prepared have you been?

While these two points may seem obvious, they explain a large portion of poor performance in interviews.

Also, remember that you are being judged on different facets of your performance, such as:

  • Your interviewing manners and attire.

  • Your level of preparedness.

  • The quality of your answers and how well they match the job requirements.

  • Your delivery of answers, confidence and poise under pressure.

  • Your overall package.

How to Get Feedback

Other than going directly to the hiring company, there are three ways to get feedback on how well you interview:

  • Self-Evaluation: Think about the questions you have been asked and your responses. Look at the list above, and be brutally honest with yourself. Take your self-evaluation a step further by videotaping yourself responding to a series of key questions. Review your performance. What do you see?

  • Peer Evaluation: Seek out the eyes and ears of a trusted friend or significant other who will be honest with you. Role-play the interview by giving your helper a specific job posting and a list of questions. Instruct them to ask the questions randomly and to even make up some of their own. You can also ask your helper to watch your self-made video. Once you are done, really listen to their comments. Don't be defensive. Take notes. You may hear different sorts of feedback. For example, perhaps you weren't specific enough or didn't sound very interested. Work on these points.

  • Professional Evaluation: Some career coaches and other career services firms offer interview training and mock interview practice. While it isn't free, if the provider has real-world recruitment or hiring experience, your financial investment can really pay off.

Ask the Hiring Company

Of course, the ultimate feedback is from the interviewers who have rejected your candidacy. Is it possible to obtain this? Absolutely, says Kirsten Lingard, recruitment manager for HUB International. Other sources are more lukewarm on the issue.

So how do you get feedback from this valuable source? Here's how to increase your odds:

  • Consider Your Timing: The best time to ask is when the interviewer tells you the company isn't interested. If you are lucky enough to get a phone call, use this opportunity to ask for feedback. If you receive an email, follow up within 24 hours. Lingard says she is more likely to give a candidate feedback if he has interviewed more than twice.

  • Ask the Right Questions: Don't put the interviewer on the spot by questioning why you weren't offered the job. Accept you weren't successful, and ask a constructive question. "A better route is to ask how you could improve, what your weak areas were or if the interviewer have any specific interviewing advice for you," Lingard says.

  • Strike the Right Tone: Lingard says she is much more likely to give the candidate constructive feedback if the question is asked with the right intent. There should be no hint of you wanting to argue a point about your candidacy or that you feel angry or injured.

If you are lucky enough to get a critique, it will likely be focused around your interviewing skills or the quality of your answers. But don't shoot yourself in the foot. "I am less likely to give feedback to candidates who are unapologetically late or who take a call on their cell phone during the interview," says Lingard.

Although some companies said they were more hesitant about offering feedback, one common piece of advice emerged: It doesn't hurt to ask. In the end, they agree, it comes down to how much the interviewer wants to help you. This is more likely when you have showed evidence of being prepared and truly interested in the job and you have followed proper interviewing etiquette.

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Legion witnesses signing of VA accountability bill into law

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American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, along with other National Headquarters staff, witnessed President Donald Trump sign S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, into law on June 23 during a special ceremony at the White House.

“The overwhelming majority of VA workers are truly dedicated to serving veterans in a professional manner. However, we know that this isn’t always the case,” Schmidt said. “All of us who served in the military understand accountability and that’s what this new law is intended to deliver. The American Legion believes that you cannot fire your way to excellence, but the VA Secretary must have the ability to remove poor performers who are harming an otherwise excellent veterans health care system. We appreciate the Trump administration’s support in not just bringing accountability to the system but in protecting whistleblowers who shed light on areas that need to be fixed.”

The bipartisan legislation, which the House passed on June 13 following a 368-55 vote, will enhance accountability at the VA and provide the department with the tools it needs to improve the care veterans receive. It is designed to:

  • Increase VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department;

  • Shorten the removal process and ensure an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision; and also

  • Make it easier for VA to remove poor performing senior executives and replace them with qualified candidates.

In addition, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline, according to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s (SVAC) website. 

“This is one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history,” Trump said. “VA accountability is essential to making sure that our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears. This law will finally give the VA secretary … the authority to remove federal employees who fail and endanger our veterans — and to do so quickly and effectively.”

As SVAC noted, S. 1094 also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable as it:

Requires VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;

Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan; 

Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and

Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

“At the same time, this bill protects whistleblowers who do the right thing. We want to reward, cherish and promote the many dedicated employees at the VA,” Trump said. “This legislation also gives the VA secretary the authority to appoint new medical directors at VA hospitals – something which was almost impossible to do in the past.”

Trump said this is only the beginning and his administration will not rest until the job is 100 percent complete. This new legislation is about striving to better support and serve incredible veterans every single day, he said.

“We won’t be able to accomplish any of the reforms that we need to have in the VA if we don’t get the right people in place,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin. “Veterans deserve a VA that they can trust and take pride in. VA is a national resource that must be protected in order to serve veterans and their families for generations to come.”

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Trump Signs Bill Meant to Restore Trust in V.A.

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The legislation aims to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove poor-performing employees and to promote whistle-blowing.

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D.C. area veterans can help VA with genetic research

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The Million Veteran Program – a national research program funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research & Development – has a goal of obtaining one million DNA samples from veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. And veterans in the Washington, D.C., area can be a part of the research.

MVP will be enrolling veterans on June 30 at The American Legion National Headquarters in D.C. at 1608 K. St. NW from 10 a.m. to noon. Enrollment includes providing informed consent and a blood specimen, as well as filling out questionnaires at home.

The goal of 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. To do this, MVP is building one of the world's largest medical databases by safely collecting blood samples and health information from one million veteran volunteers.

Data collected from MVP will be stored anonymously for research on diseases like diabetes and cancer, and military-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Please RSVP with Joe Plenzler at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by June 28.

For more information about MVP, click here.

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The healing power of the outdoors

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For 51 years, veterans in Minnesota have headed to Ely, Minn., in May for a week of relaxation and fishing. But the annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Retreat is not just about fishing and taking in the amazing scenery on Fall Lake and inside Superior National Forest.

It’s also about healing. That’s what Legionnaire Denny Houg, who has volunteered at the event for a decade, has seen take place.

“We meet all kinds of veterans with different needs,” said Houg, a member of Post 254 in Sauk Rapids. “Some are blind. Some are physically handicapped, possible amputees. Wheelchair-bound. PTSD.

“We had a young person with severe PTSD who caught his first two walleyes. The guy, he couldn’t hardly carry on a conversation prior (to catching the fish). But you just saw the medicine. It’s therapy.”

The retreat, which takes place at Veterans on the Lake Resort, started as a Department of Veterans Affairs program, but VA decided to end the program three years ago. That’s when The American Legion Department of Minnesota teamed up with Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America and other veterans service organizations to keep the program going.

Department of Minnesota Adjutant Randy Tesdahl said that while the department didn’t officially become involved with the retreat until around 2005, Legionnaires and posts have been supporting it for decades.

In May of this year, more than 30 Legion family members volunteered at the camp, helping with meals and doing anything else needed. Department of Minnesota Commander Denise Milton was one of the Legionnaires who showed up to support this year’s retreat.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Milton said. “Up here, almost everyone loves fishing and hunting. I think it brings a sense of normalcy, to be honest: being able to do what others do.”

Veterans don’t pay anything to participate. Funding for the event comes via donations and grants. Minnesota Veterans 4 Veterans, a nonprofit set up to provide grants to organizations that assist veterans with their transition into the civilian world, has been a longtime supporter of the fishing retreat. The organization provided a three-year, $90,000 grant to cover housing and food expenses for the week; the event is in the second year of the grant.

Tesdahl said the program provides much more than an outdoors experience for its participants. “We cannot claim to be an alternative form of mental health care. But in reality, we are,” he said. “You see that when these guys get together on a boat deck. They start talking about the commonality. They have shared experiences even though they’re generations apart. There is a healing effect to it.”

Dave Berscheit, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1986-1992, suffered a spinal stroke in 2006 that impaired his mobility from the neck down. While he enjoyed catching fish at this year’s retreat, there was something he found even more fulfilling.

“To be up here with a group of guys … it doesn’t matter if you catch fish,” Berscheit said. “It’s not necessarily about that. There’s no real barrier. It’s just easier to talk to them.”

Berscheit and the other veterans who took part in this year’s retreat applied for a spot in the event. Those applications are vetted by former longtime VA employee Dennis Erie, who was hired by the Minnesota Legion and other VSOs to coordinate the program.

Erie said he received around 50 applications for this year’s 35 spots. Preference is given to disabled and World War II veterans, as well as those applicants who have never taken part in the event.

Like Tesdahl, Erie sees a healing effect from the week. “It’s all positive,” he said. “There are a lot of smiles coming back. It’s an opportunity to get out in Northern Minnesota and be around some other vets.”

The veterans are provided professional fishing guides who donate their time – and equipment – the entire week. When word of mouth spread about the event, Tesdahl said guides lined up to volunteer.

That professional guides are there is because of the efforts of Minnesota National Guard Col. Scott St. Sauver, the outgoing commanding officer at Camp Ripley – one of the largest National Guard training bases in the nation. A co-angler on professional walleye circuit, St. Sauver also has seen what he calls the “tremendous” healing power of the outdoors and has worked with the Legion on other outdoor events for veterans.

Using his contacts in professional fishing, he was able to line up guides for the retreat. But St. Sauver admits he didn’t have to pitch the event too hard to get buy-in from the pros. It’s their way to give back,” he said. “It’s patriotism. These guides will get $500, $600 a day right now, but they’re up here for free.”

That’s why professional fisherman Mark Courts, the 2015 Lucas Oil Walleye Angler of the Year with 12 top-10 finishes in the Fishing League Worldwide, was at Ely this year. “For me, it’s my way of giving back,” he said. “I wasn’t able to serve when I was younger due to health issues, and I always had ties to it. For me, this is fun.”

Courts also saw a transformation in the veterans he took out on his boat this year. “Outdoors is an amazing place,” he said. “It’s got healing powers that nobody can really explain. The minute you get somebody outdoors – no matter their situation, their mindset or any of that – it just goes away. All they’re thinking about is what they’re doing and how they’re enjoying the outdoors.”

For Tesdahl, an avid fisherman who used his own boat to take veterans out to fish during the retreat, the event also is a valuable promotional tool for the Legion. “It’s all about branding,” he said. “It’s all about marketing. It’s all about … changing the image. We’re doing cool stuff.”

And it’s stuff that’s making an impact. Houg fondly remembers what could have been a tragic story from the retreat that instead showed the power of camaraderie. He said that a few years ago a gentleman died of a heart attack while at the retreat. But on the day he died, the man had fished, watched the Minnesota Twins win a baseball game on TV and then won at cards that night in his cabin.

“We went to the funeral,” Houg said. “His sisters said, ‘We were always afraid that he would die by himself in his apartment.’ I said, ‘He sure didn’t do that.’ They were so thankful. He’d had a good last day and died with friends all around him.”

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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.