Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

'These children need all the help we can give them'

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In July, American Legion Riders Chapter 442 President Joseph Sullivan was trying to conduct a monthly ALR meeting when he started getting messages on his phone. Sullivan had his phone on silent and tried to ignore them until getting a phone call from his son, a U.S. Marine stationed in California – a call his fellow Legion Riders in Horsehead, N.Y., knew he had to take.

His son was calling because one of his friends had sent him a picture from a motorcycle accident two blocks from Sullivan’s house in Horsehead that had taken the life of two local residents. Sullivan assured his son he was OK and then started checking the messages. All were the same, checking to see if Sullivan was OK.

Sullivan and the rest of the Riders eventually found out that the victims of the accident were Matthew and Harolyn Matteson. The pair had two children together, a 5- and a 7-year-old, while Matthew had an 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

Sullivan said Matthew and Harolyn had come to a few of 442’s smaller events and at the last one had brought their son, 5-year-old Lucas. Sullivan was handing out balsa wood airplanes to children and found Lucas staring at him.

“I had two left,” Sullivan said. “I looked at his father, and he said, ‘I told him he could have anything he wanted here, and he wanted one of those airplanes.’ So I gave him those last two airplanes.”

For nine years Chapter 442 has conducted a Benefit Dice Run to raise funds for various local charities but had never done so for a specific family. After reflecting, however, Sullivan said picking the Matteson children as recipients of this year’s August fundraiser was pretty easy, especially after seeing pictures of the children and parents.

“I looked at the daughter and the mother, and I looked at the son and the father, and it was like they were spitting images,” Sullivan said. “I just thought the boy’s never going to know his parents. And the daughter might have faint memories. I said, ‘I wonder if we ought to do this benefit for them?’”

Other people began messaging Sullivan asking the same question. During an emergency Riders meeting a few days later the decision was made to donate the funds raised to the Mattesons. Sullivan created a flyer and posted it on Facebook at 7:05 p.m. that night. By 7 a.m. the following morning it had been viewed and shared more than 16,000 times.

Members of Chapter 442 reached into their own pockets to help the children, as did Post 442’s American Legion Family, while area businesses, organizations and individuals stepped up to donate to the cause. And Sullivan said that probably “every other” motorcycle organization or club in the area also presented a check to the cause.

Despite rain, more than 138 motorcyclists took part in the dice run. Between that and raffling off more than 200 items, the event raised nearly $30,000 for the Matteson children. And a local quilters group that meets at the post made a quilt for each of the three children in a matter of days.

Pulling the benefit together for children they really didn’t know was an easy choice for Chapter 442’s Legion Riders. “It’s part of Americanism, and it’s part of Children & Youth,” Sullivan said. “It’s what we do. We take care of children in our community, and these children need all the help we can give them.”

But even prior to the benefit, Sullivan had helped one of the surviving children. He said he found out that the oldest daughter, Ashley, had never rode on the back of her father’s motorcycle, despite his asking her multiple times. On the day of the Matteson’s funeral, Sullivan approached Ashley with an offer.

“I have five daughters, and I have two daughters that have never ridden with me,” Sullivan said. “I know how much that would bother them … if something were to happen to me and they never rode with me.”

Sullivan offered to let Ashley ride on the back of his motorcycle with him from the funeral home to the church. “The day of the funeral she came up to me, gave me a great big hug, and she goes ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to ride,’” she said. “I’ve been riding my whole life, and I’ve never been more nervous. Her family came up to me, and I told them ‘the amount of trust of faith you put in me at this time to take (Ashley) on a motorcycle when they were killed on a motorcycle, it’s just unbelievable.'

“Her mother approached me with tears in her eyes and said ‘Joe, I’m a grief counselor, and that’s what I do for a living.' She said that with all of her training that she has ever had, she could never do for her daughter what I did that day. She said I made her daughter smile on the worst day of her life.”

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American Legion GI Bill exhibit headed back to Texas

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The George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas will welcome “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” from now through Dec. 1. The multimedia traveling exhibit features illustrated panels, touch-screen video kiosks and rare artifacts that depict the crisis, drama, solution, effects and ongoing success of the GI Bill.

The display documents the story of the “greatest legislation,” which The American Legion originally drafted and pushed to passage in 1943 and 1944. It features illustrated panels, video kiosks and artifacts that show the dramatic story of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the massive effects it had on U.S. society and the ongoing effort to continue improving it for new generations, through to the passage last August of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 – the “Forever GI Bill.”

The exhibit has been touring the country since its debut in June 2017 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. It has also been on exhibit at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas; the 10th Student Veterans of America National Convention in San Antonio; Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles; the Montana Military Museum in Helena, Mont.; the Iowa Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge, Iowa; and at the 100th National Convention in Minneapolis.

Originally drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery in the winter of 1943, the GI Bill transformed the U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century. Often characterized as America’s most significant social legislation of the last 100 years, it is credited for averting economic disaster after World War II, educating millions, making college and home ownership a reasonable expectation for average Americans, leading to the all-volunteer military and advancing civil rights.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center is located at 2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas. It's open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 12-5 p.m. Visit the website at

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Online job board aims to help veterans find work

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Adam Gonzales has firsthand experience with the challenges that come with transitioning back to civilian life.

An Army infantryman from 2000-04, Gonzales became a private military contractor after leaving the service. In 2012, he decided “enough was enough,” but it hit him that “the only network that I really have in this world is overseas in the wars.”

“When you’re at home and you come back from the wars, you’re trying to figure out what am I going to do now, what’s the next step, and your entire connection and network base is overseas, it kind of hits you pretty hard,” Gonzales said. “It turned into, for me, a pretty big low in my life.”

After a stint at a Chicago-based electrical company — “ I remember times before work sitting in my truck and I’m just in tears because I can’t figure out how I went from being a professional in the private military space with all this responsibility to going even lower than an apprentice” — Gonzales went to work for a small security company in Texas that specialized in hostage rescues. His success there earned him a promotion to director of operations, which gave him a chance to employ friends from his time as a private military contractor.

“It gave me a lot of personal satisfaction in that I knew how hard that transition is, so if I could make it easier for even just a few of my friends, I could go to sleep at night a happy man,” he said.

But there weren’t many positions to fill, and none of them were full-time. So Gonzales and his wife, Susan — herself a former Army intelligence officer and Afghanistan veteran with a background in search engine optimization, internet marketing and data analytics — came up with a plan.

“We put our heads together and we said, how do we help all the veterans out there transition home, at least maybe transition into jobs here in America or overseas in the private military sector that utilize their skills of combat veterans or combat arms or special forces?” Gonzales said.

The result is Silent Professionals, a company and online job board which helps veterans find employment opportunities in the defense and private security industry. Gonzales said the company has helped over 1,200 veterans find work since going live in October 2017.

Gonzales said Silent Professionals works closely with employers to gather as much information on the job as possible, which helps identify the right candidates for the right jobs.

Job seekers fill out a standard indoctrination form and submit their DD-214 and resume, and specific questionnaires are created for each job. If the candidate meets all the needs of the employer, then the employer receives a ranked and segmented report.

“We get feedback from the candidates, where the candidates will say, ‘Well, I’ve applied for this job in the past through a different company and I got rejected directly from the employer. Yet ,you guys were able to get me into this job,’” Gonzales said. “It shows how strong our process is, how strong our relationship is.”

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A place to honor those who've died since 9/11

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For 27 years, Jim Chapman has been a member of The American Legion. After years in the Department of Virginia, where he served as department commander from 2015-2016, he moved back to his former home of Pennsylvania and transferred his membership to Post 911 in Shanksville.

Chapman believes it’s fate that brought him back to Pennsylvania, to a post that in 1946 was chartered with a number that carries much more significance today than it did prior to Sept. 11, 2001. To a post that is located in the borough where hijacked United Flight 93 was brought down by a passenger revolt before it could hit its target: the U.S. Capitol. And to his current project: helping establish a memorial less than three miles from Flight 93 National Memorial to honor all those killed in the wars that resulted from the terrorist attacks.

Chapman and other Post 911 Legionnaires are part of a group working to create Patriot Park, which would provide a place for visitors to both honor and learn about military personnel killed during the Global War on Terror just west of the entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

“I think we have to have a place to honor the Global War on Terror guys who have lost their lives,” said Chapman, who lives within the park boundaries of the Flight 93 National Memorial. “That’s why I got involved. I’m one of these guys that thinks you’re meant to be somewhere for a certain reason. We moved up (to Pennsylvania) out of the clear blue. I got to thinking that everybody is meant to do something. Maybe this is what I’m meant to do: help get this off the ground.”

Chapman heard about the project through his brother Carl, who is a close friend of Randy Musser, the man behind the idea for Patriot Park. The owner and president of Musser Engineering in nearby Central City, Musser owns the 15 acres upon which the memorial would be built.

Musser’s father was a Korean War veteran, while his son-in-law did two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

“I grew up right at the end of that Vietnam era but never served,” Musser said. “I had a draft number when I graduated from high school … but never got drafted. Through the end of the ‘60s when I was in high school and as I got out of college, I always felt terrible about Vietnam veterans … and how the vets got treated. That always bothered me.”

After purchasing the land within the Flight 93 memorial boundaries, Musser started pondering ways to develop the area. “I got to thinking about what we can do with the property … and how can we use this to honor folks who have served in the Global War on Terror,” he said. “And the fact that it’s in the Flight 93 memorial where we have a memorial for the 40 people that died on Flight 93 – who are often referred to as the first combatants in the Global War on Terror – that seems to tie into the military actions that our country has undertaken since that date. It seemed like a fitting place to maybe honor our Global War on Terror veterans and those who have died for our country since 9/11.”

Musser began reaching out to local veterans and said he “got a sense they’d love to see something like that happen.” Musser has set up a non-profit foundation, Patriot Park Foundation, and now is part of a group pursuing funding options for the memorial. The goal is to raise $25,000 by November and $100,000 by April to do “all the legwork.”

Members of Post 911 already have contributed money to the cause, while Bob Munhall, Post 911’s membership chairman and immediate Past District 24 commander 1, spread the word through American Legion posts throughout the district. “This is one of the Four Pillars of The American Legion: Americanism,” Munhall said. “Americanism encompasses patriotism.”

Through its website, Patriot Park has the mission of honoring “our Global War on Terror Armed Forces and their families for their sacrifice to preserve and protect our freedom; to share with Patriot Park visitors, through stories and displays, the actions our military personnel so courageously carry out; and to raise awareness of their continued need for our support.”

The park will feature Gold Star pavers inscribed with names, hometowns and dates of those who have died during the Global War on Terror. Displays and storyboards surrounding the memorial and in the site’s education center will honor those killed and their families. A battle cross and statue of a kneeling soldier also will be a part of the memorial. Musser said he’s already received the blessing of those in charge of the Flight 93 memorial.

“It’s hard for me to believe that someone could walk over those names and not be humbled by what they see and really not get a sense of the loss that this country, those individuals and their families have experienced,” Musser said. “And I think there’s the opportunity for organizations to add memorials, tributes, whatever to this park.”

Musser said Patriot Park also will be designed to not be a static memorial. The storyboards around the memorial will “tell the story of people who have served. The stories of their families,” he said. “And the other purpose of Patriot Park is … raise awareness of the needs of both the families of those who have lost loved ones, and then also the needs of those who have served and come back with injuries, whether they be physical or mental.”

The park is a cause in which Chapman strongly believes. “I’m dedicated to it,” he said. “I believe in what (Musser) started. I think it will be memorable place for people to come and honor those guys and gals that lost their lives.”

For more information on Patriot Park, click here.

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Noise impact on hearing loss

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DAYTON, Ohio — Protecting service members from noise-induced hearing loss is an ongoing focus of the Department of Defense as hearing loss is the number one disability among veterans. Noise exposure in the military can occur 24 hours a day, such as during flight operations, even in off-duty areas. For example, noise measurements in berthing areas of aircraft carriers have been found to exceed current hearing protection standards during flight operations, bringing into question what constitutes acceptable noise levels during off-duty periods following occupational noise exposures. More research is needed to understand what level of noise is sufficient during daily “effective quiet” periods that would allow for auditory recovery and prevent permanent hearing loss.

Researchers from Naval Medical Research Unit - Dayton’s Environmental Health Effects Laboratory are evaluating the impact of military-relevant 24 hour noise exposures on hearing loss.

A project funded by the Navy In-House Laboratory Independent Research Program is studying the effects of elevated steady noise levels during a recovery period (simulating the off-duty shipboard environment) after an eight hour high noise exposure at the occupational limit of 85 decibels time-weighted average. These noise exposures would not be expected to cause damage on their own, but in combination could impede auditory recovery and lead to permanent hearing loss after four weeks of exposure.

A separate study funded by the Defense Health Agency is focusing on the effects of steady and impulse noise exposures during the daily recovery period following occupationally relevant exposures to combined noise and inhaled chemical exposures.

There are many factors that can complicate risk assessment when it comes to noise exposure. Noise exposure itself is often complex and may consist of brief high-level noise impulses, in addition to steady elevated noise levels. Additionally, breathing in certain chemicals, such as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in jet fuel, may worsen noise-induced hearing loss. It is unknown how these complex noise and chemical exposures will impact permanent changes in hearing, especially taking into account elevated noise levels during the auditory recovery period.

NAMRU-Dayton is currently developing a system that can study steady and impulse noise exposure for 24 hours a day with or without chemical exposure for a portion of that time. A noise generation system had been developed for prior studies at the lab, but the system was limited to use with short-term exposure chambers and could only generate steady noise. EHEL toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Keebaugh, is working with Air Force Capt. Lester Morales, a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology, to design and construct a noise exposure system capable of generating high-decibel impulse noise for use in these studies.

The research team at EHEL is committed to protecting service members from noise-induced hearing loss by using our unique facilities to support the effort. 

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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.