The Veterans Day National Committee recognizes select Veterans Day observances throughout the country that represent fitting tributes to America’s heroes serve as models for other communities to follow in planning their own observances.
Read this article and more from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced legislation to reform the appeals process for veterans benefits. Because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the current process, most veterans wait years for a decision on their appeals. The Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 would replace the current appeals process – which today stands at over 450,000 appeals awaiting a decision – with one that is simple, fair, and transparent.
Read story and press release from the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. here.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) welcomed approximately 435 esteemed guests at its 2016 Mission: ABLE Awards, including Governor Terry McAuliffe, Washington dignitaries, distinguished service members, veterans, friends and supporters of Paralyzed Veterans to honor its 2016 Mission: ABLE Award recipients.
Read this story in it’s full at Yahoo.
Thousands of Vietnam-era veterans barred from receiving benefits because of less-than-honorable discharges may be eligible for upgrades under a new set of guidelines released by the Defense Department on Wednesday.
The new rules offer the first guidance to military discharge review boards on how to address post-traumatic stress disorder. Many experts and veterans’ advocates assert that the disorder may have contributed to misconduct by veterans who were later kicked out of the military and stripped of benefits.
The guidelines call on the independent boards that review petitions from veterans seeking upgrades to give “liberal consideration” to any symptoms of PTSD now or at the time of the veterans’ discharge, and “special consideration” to findings of PTSD by the Veterans Affairs Department. In a statement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the guidelines were intended to create “fair and consistent results in these difficult cases.”
“This is our responsibility and the right thing to do for veterans,” said Mr. Hagel, a former Army infantry sergeant who was wounded in Vietnam. “This new guidance reflects our commitment to those who served our country during times of war many decades ago.”
The announcement comes in the wake of a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by a group of Vietnam veterans and the advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America, alleging that the military systematically denied applications for upgrades involving PTSD.
The lawsuit estimated that 250,000 Vietnam-era veterans had received other-than-honorable discharges, and that up to 80,000 of them may have had PTSD.
“This is a long-overdue recognition for a wound of war that was denied for decades,” said Jennifer McTiernan, a Yale Law School student who helped file the suit as part of the school’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
The suit will still go forward, Ms. McTiernan said, because it is unclear how the new policy will be carried out. “We’re optimistic, but we’ve seen as far from ‘liberal’ as you can imagine,” she said.
Under the new rules, veterans applying for an upgrade will have to show that they had symptoms of PTSD at the time of their misconduct, that the PTSD was related to military service, and that it contributed to their less-than-honorable discharge. Veterans with so-called “bad paper” are ineligible for education, disability and housing benefits, and are sometimes barred from Veterans Affairs health care.
In the past, veterans say, review boards have been hesitant to upgrade discharges based on claims of PTSD.
Conley F. Monk Jr., one of the veterans named in the lawsuit, served in Vietnam in 1969 and came under enemy fire almost daily, he said. He was given an other-than-honorable discharge in 1971 for fighting and drug use that he said was caused by PTSD.
The same year, the Veterans Affairs Department denied him benefits, citing his discharge.
Though the department has long recognized PTSD’s contributions to substance abuse and other misconduct in veterans, Mr. Monk said the Naval Discharge Review Board that ruled on his case last month did not.
“I had two psychiatrists, one from Yale, one from the V.A., both saying what happened was PTSD,” Mr. Monk said. “The board just said the doctors didn’t know what they were talking about.”
The new guidelines urge boards to listen to doctors, but to “exercise caution” in cases of serious misconduct, especially any crimes involving premeditation.
It is unclear whether the guidelines will lead to an increase in upgrades. But if they do, it could mean a windfall for veterans long denied benefits. A spokeswoman for the department said those veterans would be eligible for benefits dating back to their first denied claim.
For Mr. Monk, that would be 1971.
“I just pray they give us a chance,” he said. “We deserved to be treated fairly, and it never happened.”
Correction: September 4, 2014
An earlier version of a headline on this article misstated which department is administering the new rules regarding benefits for Vietnam-era veterans. It is the Department of Defense, not the Veterans Affairs Department.
SOURCE: New York Times
By DAVE PHILIPPS
Communities across Alabama are gearing up to recognize one month from today those who have served in the nation’s armed forces, although the partial government shutdown has caused some concern.
Parades, wreath-layings and other patriotic ceremonies are planned throughout the state on Nov. 11, including in Birmingham, home of America’s oldest Veterans Day parade.
Mark Ryan, president of National Veterans Day in Birmingham, which organizes the parade and other events, says this year’s celebration is coming together well except for some uncertainty about military participation.
“You never know for certain how many military units are going to be involved, especially this year with the government shutdown,” Ryan said. “But there is generally a great deal of military involvement in the parade. Not to mention the high school bands and the civic organizations and corporate people who put some type of float in the parade.”
Lt. Col. Shannon Hancock, public affairs officer for the Alabama National Guard, said unless the shutdown is resolved, Guard units won’t be able to march this year. Hancock said they must be on paid status to officially participate and to wear their uniforms in the parade.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be resolved,” Ryan said. “They’ve got a month to get this resolved and then I will be a happy guy.”
Even if the shutdown is not resolved, Ryan said the parade would be a success.
“We’re still going to have a good parade,” Ryan said. “They may not be able to be there officially as representatives of their respective military branches. But I’ve talked to many of them and they will be there.”
There are about 420,000 veterans in Alabama, almost 10 percent of the state’s population, said Bob Horton, public information officer for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Department of Tourism, said Veterans Day is important in Alabama partly because of the large number of military bases in the state, from Redstone Arsenal to Fort Rucker.
“Veterans Day in Alabama has been a special day for several decades,” Sentell said. “Alabama has one of the largest numbers of retired military and one of the largest National Guards of any state our size.”
The end of World War I led to what is now Veterans Day.
An armistice to end the war took effect on Nov. 11, 1918, although the Treaty of Versailles to officially end the conflict was not signed until seven months later. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 Armistice Day.
In 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday, mainly to recognize those who had served in World War I.
After World War II, Raymond Weeks of Birmingham was a key leader in advocating to change the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
“He felt like we needed a day to recognize and celebrate all veterans of all conflicts,” Ryan said.
Weeks led the first National Veterans Day Parade in Birmingham in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
As part of the annual celebration, National Veterans Day in Birmingham presents the National Veterans Award. This year’s award will go to the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots in the U.S. military. One of the Airmen, retired Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III, will accept the award on behalf of the unit.
Here are some of the Veterans Day events scheduled around the state.
The annual Veterans Day observance will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and will honor the women who served and led the way for the expansion of roles of women in the military.
Diane Carlson Evans was a nursing student in Minnesota in the late 1960s when she noticed her male friends and classmates getting called up one by one to go to Vietnam.
Very much aware of the war, she visited a recruiter and asked how she could join the effort.
“I decided I needed to be there, too,” she says.
The Army needed nurses, so, after graduating college and undergoing basic training, she served as a nurse in evacuation hospitals in Vung Tau and Pleiku, Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
Carlson Evans says she and other nurses put their youth and inexperience aside to treat serious injuries and unfamiliar diseases while serving in combat zones.
“We were young taking care of the young,” she says.
The memory and legacy of the women who served in Vietnam and paved the way for future generations will be honored at the annual Veterans Day observance Monday with a ceremony at 1 p.m. at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Also, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, located near the iconic Vietnam Wall.
Carlson Evans, who is the founder and president of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, says she initiated the effort for a women’s memorial when she found out that a statue of three men would be added to the Vietnam Memorial in the early ’80s.
“Every story is about the men. People don’t even know women were in Vietnam,” she recalls thinking at the time. The women’s memorial “heightens awareness that women went off to war, and this is what they did. And their contributions are worthy of recognition by the nation.”
Sculpted by Glenna Goodacre, the bronze statue depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier.
During her time in Vietnam, Carlson Evans says about 90% of women serving were nurses, while the rest made up the Woman’s Army Corps in areas such as administration, finance and bookkeeping. In the 1960s, women made up about 1% of the total military force. Today, they make up 15%-20%, she says.
Following Vietnam, Carlson Evans says some women would go on to serve in leadership roles, becoming “fully integrated” in the military.
Lori Perkio, assistant director of education at the American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis, says that while women in the past were seen as individuals needing protection, the roles have expanded significantly. Perkio served in the Army from 1980 to 1984 in the military police.
In January, then-Defense secretary Leon Panetta decided to open previously off-limit posts in armor, infantry and special operations to women. Later in June, the Pentagon issued its timeline for allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles by 2016.
“It’s become a reality,” Perkio says. “Slowly, women have been put into roles that were considered gender-specific for men. … Women are wanting to participate side-by-side by their male counterparts in combat to serve our country.”
In reality, women in combat roles are nothing new, she says. It happened in the Gulf War, including women serving as helicopter pilots.
“Women were actually gunners,” Perkio says. “Women performed many different tasks that put them in potential direct line of fire.”
Kristine Hesse, the women veterans outreach coordinator at the National Veterans Foundation, agrees that women are already in combat and completely integrated in the military.
“We’re pushing forward and at a faster pace in the service,” says Hesse, who served 24 years in the Air Force and retired about two years ago. “The recognition is coming because we are doing these jobs now.”
When people argue that women should not serve in combat zones because men will be too busy taking care of them, Carlson Evans says she finds it laughable.
“In Vietnam, I had 45 men in beds, and, as a woman, I was protecting them,” she says.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the past seven years, says she continues “to be amazed by the contribution women in our military have made to our national security.”
“The past 20 years have seen a dramatic increase in the overall number of women in the military, as well as women in unprecedented leadership roles,” she said in an e-mail. “We’ve seen women step into new jobs and missions, and most dramatically, the services are moving to open front-line combat positions that had previously been closed to women.”
At the invitation of Carlson Evans, retired general Colin Powell will be delivering the salute to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
“As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I spoke at the groundbreaking of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in 1993, so it will be especially poignant for me to speak this Veterans Day as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Memorial,” Powell, who fought in Vietnam and later served as secretary of State, said in an email. “I most especially want to acknowledge the 11,000 women who served in Vietnam, mostly as nurses.”
Powell said the bronze statue “celebrates the hope, strength and passion that the Vietnam women brought to the struggle for life in Vietnam.”
“They paved the way for the large-scale increase in the number of women in the Armed Forces serving in almost every occupational specialty.”
For its founder, the memorial stands as a visual reminder of all the women who “exceeded expectations” and ultimately opened doors for those who followed.
“We proved our strength, our courage, our bravery,” Carlson Evans says. “We stand on the shoulders of every generation that (stood) before us.”
SOURCE: Olga Hajishengallis, USA TODAY
A group of 92 Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight Veterans refused to let a government shutdown stop them from entering the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., this morning.
Though the memorial was technically closed due to the government shutdown that went into effect early this morning, they managed to enter the memorial and tour the site.
Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said in interviews that the gates were opened for the veterans to access the memorial.
The vets were taking part in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight that was originally established in 2011 to help fly the state’s WWII veterans to Washington D.C., free of charge, and provide tours so that they may see the memorials dedicated to honor their service.
Unfortunately, other veterans are not going to be as lucky as today’s group. The WWII Memorial will be re-closed this afternoon and remain closed until funding is restored. National Mall and Memorial Parks Communications Officer Carol Johnson told ABC News the memorial will be shut down and cleared by Park Police.
Honor Flights scheduled for the month of October have been notified that the memorial will be closed until the federal government re-opens. A group of 100 veterans is still expected to arrive from Chicago tomorrow.
The Mississippi veterans arrived at Reagan National Airport around 10 a.m. They were scheduled to witness a bag-pipe procession and wreath-laying ceremony at the WWII memorial before departing to tour the Lincoln, the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials, the Iwo Jima Monument and Arlington National Cemetery.
In a letter to the president, released Sept. 30, Congressman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., requested that the monument remain open to the public:
“It would be truly devastating to our veterans that travel great lengths to share this experience with family and friends and see a piece of their own history,” he wrote. “I request that you immediately instruct the Department of Interior and National Service to ensure that veterans are not denied access to monuments on the National Mall in the case of a government shutdown. It is the very least we can do for our Greatest Generation who sacrificed so much on behalf of our country.”
Notably, GOP congressmen and women were not the only members out supporting the World War II veterans today. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin was also at the memorial this morning lending his support to the group of veterans.
By ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES, JARED KOTLER AND NICOLE ROSSOLL via World News
Veterans and people with disabilities who often struggle to find work could have an easier time landing a job under new federal regulations.
The rules, announced Tuesday by the Labor Department, will require most government contractors to set a goal of having people with disabilities make up at least 7 percent of their employees. The benchmark for veterans would be 8 percent, a rate that could change from year to year, depending on the overall number of former military members in the workforce.
The new requirements could have a major impact on hiring because federal contractors and subcontractors account for about 16 million workers, more than 20 percent of the nation’s workforce. But some business groups have threatened legal action, complaining that the rules conflict with federal laws that discourage employers from asking about a job applicant’s disability status.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called the new policy a “win-win” that will benefit workers “who belong in the economic mainstream and deserve a chance to work and opportunity to succeed.” He said it also would benefit employers by increasing their access to a diverse pool of new workers.
“To create opportunity, we need to strengthen our civil rights laws and make sure they have the intended effect,” Perez said.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 14.7 percent, nearly twice the rate of 7.4 percent for the general population. The jobless rate for all veterans is 7.3 percent, but for veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars it’s 9.9 percent, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rules are expected to affect about 171,000 companies doing business with the federal government, said Patricia A. Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Generally, the rules affect those contractors with at least 50 employees and $50,000 in government contracts.
Shiu estimated that as many as 585,000 people with disabilities and more than 200,000 veterans could get new jobs if all the companies meet the hiring goals within the first year.
Labor officials said the new benchmarks are only goals and not specific hiring quotas. But companies that can’t provide documents showing they tried to meet the goal could risk having their federal contracts revoked.
If a company can’t immediately meet the new goals, it is required to examine recruitment or outreach practices to decide how to improve. No fine, penalty or sanction would be imposed solely for failing to meet the goal, Shiu said.
The new metrics are similar to those contractors have long used for women and minorities. They will take effect in six months to give contractors time to process them. Under the rules, companies must keep detailed records of recruitment and hiring efforts taken to meet the new goals.
Daniel Yager, president of the HR Policy Association, which represents more than 350 large U.S. corporations, suggested that his group might challenge the disability rules in court.
“Simply mandating a numerical ‘goal’ for all jobs in all contractors’ workplaces, and then requiring employers to invade the privacy of applicants and employees with questions about their physical and mental condition, destroys everything companies have done to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce in a sensitive, discreet manner,” Yager said.
Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, praised the Obama administration for approving the new rules. She predicted that employers would not have a hard time meeting the new benchmarks for workers with disabilities .
“There are many organizations in the disability field who stand prepared to help companies meet these goals,” Glazer said.
SOURCE: Associated Press
The Obama administration will provide veterans benefits to many married same-sex couples, another step by the federal government toward treating gay couples in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
The move, announced Wednesday in a letter to Congress by Attorney General Eric Holder, tackles one of the thorny legal issues resulting from the high court’s decision in June to strike down parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
However, Wednesday’s move extends veterans benefits only to married gay couples living in states that recognize such unions, officials said. Couples in other states won’t be eligible yet.
Gay marriage is recognized by 13 states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. has roughly 114,000 legally married same-sex couples, with about two-thirds of those couples living in states where their marriages are recognized, according to Gary Gates, a scholar with the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The limitation in extending veterans benefits points to a larger legal challenge for the administration, which also has yet to decide whether Social Security benefits should be extended to all same-sex spouses.
Some benefit rules, including those at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration, are written into laws passed by Congress. That means altering them—and expanding benefits to gay couples nationwide—would likely require new action by Congress or follow-on court rulings.
The law on Social Security says benefits should be granted to those who are married under the laws of the state where they reside, and part of the law on veterans uses similar language. June’s Supreme Court decision didn’t challenge states’ rights to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
After the Supreme Court ruling, the Obama administration began analyzing hundreds of laws and regulations to ensure married gay couples receive equal treatment when it comes to federal taxes, benefits and immigration rights. Homeland-security officials said after the court ruling that they would treat all married couples equally in immigration matters.
In Wednesday’s letter, Mr. Holder notified senior lawmakers the administration would no longer enforce a particular section of law on veterans benefits that had excluded same-sex couples. That will allow gay couples in which at least one spouse is a veteran to qualify for benefits that heterosexual veterans and their spouses receive, so long as the couples live in states that recognize gay marriage. The rule change will be implemented as soon as practical, officials said.
“In these unique circumstances, continued enforcement…is no longer appropriate,” Mr. Holder wrote in the letter, which also noted a decision last week by a federal judge in California saying married gay couples couldn’t be excluded from veterans benefits.
“I think the administration, with this decision, is doing right by our veterans as well as faithfully executing the Supreme Court decision,” said the Human Rights Campaign’s Michael Cole-Schwartz. “You shouldn’t have two different kinds of marriage. As we go through and iron out these kinks, I expect there may be further litigation and it’s possible for Congress to right these inequities.”
Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, which is against gay marriage, said his group opposes “how the Obama administration has responded to the Supreme Court decision,” adding that “you still have a conflict between state law and federal law.”
The decision marks the latest instance of the federal government’s rewriting of its rules on married gay couples. Last week, the Internal Revenue Service said same-sex couples would be treated as married for federal tax purposes, including income, gift and estate taxes. The IRS move covers couples who marry in one state and move to another that doesn’t recognize their union.
Write to Devlin Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
BOISE – The U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs was in Boise Wednesday for a big announcement for veterans looking to file for a disability claim. It surrounds processing claims faster.
The big announcement changes the way veterans will file a disability claim. Since the claims began, everything was done on paper. Now, claims will be digital, cutting the time it takes to get a decision in half.
It’s called Veterans Benefits Management System. It essentially takes the claims process from paper to digital.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said veterans in Idaho and across the country wait too long to receive the benefits they’ve earned.
“This has never been acceptable and that’s why we’re executing a robust plan that we’ve put in place over the last several years,” said Shinseki.
That plan is twofold, process the backlog of unprocessed claims and develop a new system to process claims faster.
In April, Shinseki said there were claims filed over two years ago, and that was unacceptable.
Josh Callihan is a veteran who was injured in the line of duty. He’s been through the claims process.
“When you leave the Department of Defense you’re really not sure how it’s going to work, they just tell you go to where ever you’re from and get in touch with the VA and file a claim, and that’s really about the most information they give you,” said Callihan.
Nationwide, it currently takes an average of 290 days to process a claim. Callihan’s claim took a year for the first decision, and another year for the appeal.
That long process coupled with the government now recognizing long overdue benefits created a backlog.
“It was the right thing to do, but it also added to the inventory of claims to be processed and the backlog deepened,” said Shinseki.
Processing staff began working overtime in April and has since processed just about every claim older than two years. Couple that hard work with a new paperless program called Veterans Benefits Management System, and veterans should see their claims answered in four months.
“I think what veterans can expect now is a little bit more of a 21st century process,” said Callihan.
In terms of processing claims faster, this new system appears to be working.
In February there were 80,000 claims processed. In May, the number of claims processed jumped to over 108,000.
That increase comes as staff is becoming more familiar with this new system.
And really the bottom line is veterans will know faster if their disability claims are accepted or rejected.
The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to have all claims older than 125 days old processed by 2015. That’s around the same time the transition from paper to digital will be complete.