Vets Visits on TV – December 2008

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VA Reaches 11,000 Survivors for Retroactive Benefit

WASHINGTON (Dec. 24, 2008) — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified nearly 11,000 surviving spouses of deceased veterans who will receive a lump-sum payment before the New Year to correct an error in their VA benefits.  Also documented were more than 73,000 who had been previously paid.  VA officials are still tracking down eligible survivors.

"I am pleased that our task force working to correct this problem has been able to identify this first group this week," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. "We understand the difference these funds can make for these surviving spouses, especially during the holiday season."

Payments will be released to these survivors on Dec. 29.  The total value of the payments is about $24 million.

At issue is a 1996 federal law that makes a surviving spouse eligible to receive the veteran's VA compensation or pension benefit for the month of the veteran's death.  VA failed to properly implement that law in all cases.

Most likely to have been affected by this problem are surviving spouses who never applied for VA survivors' benefits following the death of a veteran.  Eligible for the payment are surviving spouses of veterans who died after Dec. 31, 1996.  The Department doesn't have current addresses for many of them, which makes the process of contacting them difficult.

VA has established a special Survivor Call Center (1-800-749-8387) for spouses who believe they may be eligible for this retroactive benefit. The Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Central Standard Time.  Inquiries may also be submitted through the Internet at

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A Christmas Message from VFW National Commander

Anyone who has worn a uniform overseas knows this is the most difficult time of year to be separated from family and friends.

"It is easy to say 'let us remember our troops' during the Christmas season, but how many of us really understand the painful nobility of this sacrifice?" Bruce Kluger asked in USA Today last Christmas. "For those on active duty in the Middle East, the business of battle knows no holiday."

I could not have possibly said it better. But this writer did not stop there. "Equally heartbreaking—and incomprehensible—is the wrenching vacuum that war inflicts on families on the home front," he wrote.

Christmas celebrations in Afghanistan and Iraq are, by necessity, subdued. More quality food, special church services and private thoughts of loved ones usually constitute this most beloved of holidays in the war zone. Yet these gestures never seem to be enough.

On Dec. 25, 2007, McClatchy News Service was one of the few media outlets to report on the troops directly from the field. At Patrol Base Warrior Keep in southwest Baghdad, two of its reporters interviewed soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, to sample their sentiments.

"If I didn't feel like this is where I needed to be, I think it'd be horrible," Chaplain Eric Light told them. "Our holidays are so tied to our families, it's nearly impossible to re-create them here."

What we can do as veterans is to remind those around us of the emotional importance of this time of year to the troops thousands of miles from home. After all, they are "honoring our nation with their service while fighting wars whose consequences have nothing and everything to do with the humanity at the heart of the holiday," Kluger aptly pointed out.

While we are keeping them in our thoughts, let's not forget the other GIs on far-flung fronts that never make newspaper headlines. From Kosovo in the Balkans to South Korea in Northeast Asia, tens of thousands of Americans maintain lonely vigils. Still others prowl the seas, protecting our shores from afar. Their missions should never be taken for granted or forgotten.

The debt of gratitude we owe the tiny percentage—less than 1%—of Americans who bear the burden of our freedom can probably never be adequately paid. But the least we can do is to give them more than a passing thought. As we enjoy Christmas revelry, keep in mind that someone in uniform is making that possible. Chances are that it might even be a family member. If so, you need not be reminded of the sacrifices being made.

As the mother of one Afghanistan soldier said, "Each American should remember during this season that our soldiers are fighting the battle over there so we can be safe here at home."

In that spirit, let my wife, Jean, and me wish all veterans a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a great New Year.

Glen Gardner
VFW Commander-in-Chief

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Operation Uplink Gets One Million Minutes for Holiday Talk Time

Sport Clips Gift to make possible a Million+ Minutes for Military Calls Home (L to R) Bettye and Gordon Logan of Sport Clips; Dan West, Roy Grona, and James Nier of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. (PRNewsFoto/Sport Clips)

GEORGETOWN, Texas, Dec. 17 /PRNewswire/ — Service men and women will receive more than a million minutes of phone/internet talk time over the Holidays through Sport Clips' donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars' (VFW) Operation Uplink. Operation Uplink is a VFW program that keeps military personnel and hospitalized veterans in touch with their families and loved ones.

As the nation's leading men and boy's hair care provider, Sport Clips announced that its Team Members and Clients raised more than $118,000 through its 600+ locations across the country for the donation.

The gift was presented to
Roy J. Grona
, State Adjutant/Quartermaster of the Department of Texas VFW, at the Sport Clips store in Bee Cave, Texas, that outpaced all other stores across the country in raising funds for this effort.

Sport Clips founder and CEO
Gordon Logan
, himself a veteran and Lifetime VFW member, said, "It is powerful that members of our Team and the Clients we serve have shattered our goal of raising $100,000 for our troops to call home – especially in tight economic times. It shows their commitment to the men and women who are serving our country and their family and friends back home."

Logan added, "I know how important it is to hear the voices of loved ones when you are overseas for months at a time, having been there myself. It's our honor and privilege to make this a Holiday gift to those who are selflessly serving our country."

Read more

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Wreaths Across America Wrapup

Wreaths adorn gravesites at Arlington National Cemetary

The Worcester Wreath Company from Harrington, Maine, has donated about 90,000 wreaths for the program since its president, Morrill Worcester, started the annual tradition in 1992. Working with the National Cemetery Administration and a bevy of volunteers, the company has made balsam fir wreaths with bright red bows to adorn every headstone at Arlington.

The "Wreaths Across America" program expanded this year to over 350 locations around the country.

Click here to see videos of ceremonies from around the country.

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VA Urges Vets to Sign-up for Direct Deposits

WASHINGTON (December 15, 2008) — Every month, 730,000 veterans or survivors look for their compensation, pension checks or educational assistance payments in their mailboxes.  Nearly all receive them, but theft and mail delays cause problems for some veterans, which can be prevented by direct deposits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is urging those veterans and family members now receiving paper checks to join nearly 3.1 million others whose VA payments are safely deposited electronically.

"VA is teaming up with the Treasury Department in a new campaign to protect government beneficiaries against the theft of funds and of their identities," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. "Veterans earned — and rely on — the financial support we send them every month.  I urge them to help VA ensure they get those funds reliably and safely by signing up for direct deposit."

Peake cited several easy ways to sign up for direct deposit — calling VA toll-free at (800) 333-1795 or enrolling online at  Veterans, and family members who receive VA payments, also can sign up by contacting a VA regional benefits office or their financial institution.  Information about direct deposits will be included in VA's monthly compensation and pension envelopes throughout 2009.

The VA Secretary urged veterans to remember that direct deposits relieve worry about mail delivery being delayed by severe weather or natural disasters.  The deposits also eliminate trips to banks or credit unions to deposit checks, while providing immediate access to money at the same time each month.

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VFW Wants Veterans Corp. Shut Down

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2008–The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is calling on Congress to stop appropriating federal funding for the Veterans Business Development Corporation, which is better known as The Veterans Corporation, or TVC.

Congress created TVC in 1999 to provide military veterans with the resources and guidance necessary to start small businesses, but an investigation report released yesterday by the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship revealed that TVC failed to achieve its goals.

According to the bipartisan report by committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking member Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), TVC failed to establish and maintain veterans business resource centers, it didn't become self-sufficient as required, and the use of federal funding for executive compensation and questionable expenditures was deemed unacceptable.

The Senate committee recommended that TVC no longer receive any federal funding for fiscal 2009 and beyond. The VFW national commander agrees.

Click here to continue reading.

A copy of the report is available here.

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Obama Picks Shinseki to Lead Veterans Affairs

Via Associated Press and other sources

President-elect Barack Obama has nominated retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary.  Obama made the announcement Sunday in Chicago along with Shinseki.

See Shinseki's biography here.

In a statement on Shinseki's nomination, current VA Secretary James Peake said:

"I worked for General Shinseki when he was Army Chief of Staff and am proud to count him as a friend. He is a soldier who has dedicated his life to serving this nation. He knows service men and women, he knows large organizations, and he knows Washington." 

"The more than 270,000 VA employees serve veterans of all generations with great dedication, and, with record funding over the past eight years, they deliver outstanding care. General Shinseki will be a great leader for them and a strong advocate for our veterans."

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VFW Washington Weekly – December 5, 2008

In This Issue:
1. TSGLI Benefits Expand
2. Obama Announces National Security Team
3. 30th Anniversary of Army Integrating WACs
4. VA Opening 31 New Outpatient Clinics

1. TSGLI Benefits Expand: More servicemembers may now qualify for Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI), because of newly expanded benefits resulting from a recent review by the Department of Veterans Affairs. TSGLI, which VFW was a lead proponent of, provides tax-free payments between $25,000 and $100,000 per traumatic event, which can be used to help with unseen expenses or provide a financial start on life after recovery. The TSGLI program began Dec. 1, 2005, as a non-option selection attached to Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI). All servicemembers from that point forward who elected SGLI benefits pay $1 towards this coverage each month.

Servicemembers who incurred a qualifying traumatic injury from Oct. 7 2001, through Nov. 30, 2005, while on orders outside the United States in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, or serving in a Combat Zone Tax Exclusion area, are now also covered by TSGLI, regardless of whether they elected SGLI coverage or not. Servicemembers that have already submitted a claim in the past do not need to resubmit.
The VA and TSGLI offices for each service will conduct a reachback of previously denied claims to see if they qualify for payment under the new guidance. Notifications will be sent to servicemembers if an additional award is due. TSGLI is a congressionally mandated program that applies to members of all branches of service and all components — active, Guard or Reserve, who incur a traumatic, physical injury based on an external force of violence. For more information, go to:

Read more Washington Weekly

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Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 2008

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we mourn the more than 2,400 Americans whose lives were lost in the surprise attack on our homeland that changed the course of history. Their service and sacrifice and the service and sacrifice of all our World War II veterans will be forever honored on this day by the citizens of a free and grateful Nation.

On December 7, 1941, the enemy nearly destroyed our Pacific Fleet, and the United States was forced into a long and terrible war. A generation of Americans stepped forward to fight for our country. Their message to America's enemies was clear: If you attack this country and harm our people, there is no corner of the Earth remote enough to protect you from the reach of our Nation's Armed Forces.

Read the full proclamation here

At the same time, President Bush also signed a proclamation which establishes the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  Click here to read the proclamation.

Additional Video: Six crew members of the USS Arizona return to Pearl Harbor for 67th anniversary of the attack.

 Reminder to all VFW Posts: The United States flag will be at half-staff, Sunday, December 7, from sunrise to sunset, for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

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