Fall Legislative Priorities: Make Your Voice Heard

Congress still has work to do …

Last month, 70 members of the VFW National Legislative Committee convened in Washington to urge the 112th Congress to finish strong for veterans.

Joining the committee was VFW National Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton, Senior Vice Commander Bill Thien and Junior Vice Commander John Stroud. 

Their agenda included meetings and briefings with VA, the Defense POW/MIA Office, the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment at Quantico, Army Reserve Affairs, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves, and with the Student Veterans of America organization.

Key issues discussed are of great importance to veterans, service members and their families. The issue areas were:

Budget: Avoiding across-the-board defense cuts that will adversely affect our troops, and protecting VA medical care from cuts that would affect access to benefits and care.

Healthcare: Combating military and veteran suicides, ensuring the VA continues to improve access and services to women veterans, providing effective mental healthcare, commissioning a National Burn Pit Registry, and stopping the Pentagon from arbitrarily raising TRICARE fees and copayments on military families and retirees.

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VFW Washington Weekly – August 31, 2012

In this issue:

1. VFW Applauds White House Effort to Combat Suicide
2. VFW Active at Republican Convention
3. VA Increases Vets Retraining Assistance Program
4. Combating Veterans’ Homelessness
5. VFW Hears from Marine Corps Commandant
6. Army and NFL Discuss TBI
7. Five MIAs Return Home

1. VFW Applauds White House Effort to Combat Suicide: Today, the President signed an executive order designed to curb military and veteran suicide and improve the delivery of mental health resources to our nation’s heroes. The executive order, “Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Military Families,” which President Obama is scheduled to announce during a visit to Fort Bliss in Texas, includes nearly a dozen specific initiatives designed to improve mental health resources and intervention tools. National Commander John E. Hamilton, noted the VFW support for the president’s vision to prevent military suicides and improve mental health care delivery, but also expressed concerns about potential funding shortfalls to accomplish the president’s goals. Click here for the VFW’s Press release: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2012-Articles/VFW-Applauds-White-House-Efforts-to-Stop-Military-Suicide/

2. VFW Active at Republican Convention: VFW Representatives attending the Republican National Convention (RNC) listened to key note speakers and spoke with delegates on critical issues like veterans mental and behavioral health, accurate claims processing and helping service members secure educational, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. The VFW will also be represented at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte to ensure the voice of veterans, service members and their families remains a key priority during Campaign 2012. Leading both delegations will be VFW Legislative Director Ray Kelley. Stay informed throughout by reading blog postings at: www.vfwonthehill.org/

3. VA Increases Vets Retraining Assistance Program: This week, VA announced that have filled 36,000 of the 45,000 job training openings available under the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) passed as a part of the VOW to Heroes Act. An additional 55,000 openings will be available October 1, 2012. VRAP provides up to $1,473 a month in GI Bill benefits for those taking full-time courses to learn the skills necessary to land a job. VFW was instrumental in getting the provision passed as a part of the comprehensive jobs bill and encourages veterans eligible to apply online. Click here for more information: http://www.benefits.va.gov/VOW/

4. Combating Veterans’ Homelessness: Veterans’ homelessness is a national problem that is best solved at the local level. As such, the VA recently launched a new online ordering portal for communities and national partners to order free informational material and promotional items ranging from brochures and posters to wallet cards, drawstring bags and hygiene kits, among other items. Share the portal link with your VFW members and Posts and with others in your community to help spread the word. For more information or to place an order, go to http://www.va.gov/homeless/materials_center.asp.

5. VFW Hears from Marine Corps Commandant: This week, VFW attended a Press Club event where Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos spoke on a number of issues important to the Corps. Leading the list was the continuing success of combat operations in Afghanistan and the transfer of responsibilities over to Afghan national security forces. Following his remarks, Amos fielded questions from the audience on a variety of military quality-of-life and force readiness issues ranging from fiscal responsibility and budget constraints on the Marines Corps, to women serving in combat, suicide, and sexual assault. When asked about potential across-the-board cuts to the Defense budget, Amos said he believed the Marine Corps would be hit disproportionately hard, considering the size of the force and the value it delivers to the U.S. military. Amos also said that the greatest challenge for the Corps moving forward would be ensuring the force remains balanced through a period of fiscal austerity. To learn more about Amos’ remarks and to view C-SPAN’s full coverage of the event, click here: http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/08/vfw-hears-from-marine-commandant.html?m=1

6. Army and NFL Discuss TBI: Earlier this week, Army representatives hosted NFL leaders at West Point to discuss how they can affect positive change surrounding Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and concussions. The military, alongside the NFL have continued conversations regarding the Soldier-Athlete commitment to education and awareness of these serious injuries. To watch the discussion, click here: http://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/2578#.UD5iiqCoz1l.

7. Five MIAs Return Home: The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently announced the identification of remains belonging to one airmen and four soldiers who had been missing in action since World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Returned home are:
* Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Harry W. Eck, of Minot Ward, N.D. On Sept. 13, 1944, Eck and eight other crewmembers were aboard a B-17G Flying Fortress that crashed near Neustaedt-on-the-Werra, Germany. Only one of the nine crewmen is known to have successfully parachuted out of the aircraft before in crashed.
* Army Cpl. Kenneth R. Block, 22, of Ann Arbor, Mich. In late November 1950, Block and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, known as “Task Force Faith,” were advancing along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea when they came under attack. On Dec. 3, Block and many other Americans would be listed as missing in action as a result of the heavy fighting.
* Army Sgt. 1st Class William T. Brown, 24, of La Habra, Calif.; Sgt. 1st Class Donald M. Shue, 20, of Kannapolis, N.C.; and Sgt. 1st Class Gunther H. Wald, 25, of Palisades Park, N.J. On Nov. 3, 1969, the men and six Vietnamese soldiers were part of a Special Forces reconnaissance patrol that was ambushed while operating in Quang Tri Province near the Vietnam-Laos border.
Read more about their recovery and identification at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

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2012 Year in Review

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Vietnam Veteran Elected to Lead Nation’s Largest Organization of Combat Veterans

Reno, Nevada, July 25, 2012America’s largest organization of combat veterans has elected a Vietnam War veteran to head the 1.5 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

John E. Hamilton, a resident of St. Augustine, Fla., was elected VFW Commander-in-Chief on July 25, 2012, during the 113th VFW National Convention, held July 21 – July 25, in Reno, Nev.

In his acceptance speech, Hamilton, who served in the Marine Corps from 1968-1970, reminded the mostly Vietnam-era audience that VFW must remain vigilant in its efforts to care for war veterans, especially in these tough economic times as our country’s wars wind down.

“What we have accomplished over the past 113 years on Capitol Hill and in cities and towns everywhere is legendary, but our future existence is 100 percent dependent on what we do tomorrow … the reason our voice needs to be heard is because all wars end … Iraq last year and Afghanistan by 2014.  That means veterans’ issues could once again take a back seat to whatever new national priority becomes the flavor of the day,” stated Hamilton.

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Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney Addresses VFW Convention

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke at the 113 National VFW Convention on Tuesday. Video below begins around the 10:00 mark. A text copy of Romney’s remarks can be found here.

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President Announces New Job Initiatives for Vets

President Barack Obama addressed about 3,500 attendees at today’s Joint Opening Session in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. He discussed various issues of importance to veterans, including: new employment and transition assistance for returning vets, VA health care, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Afghanistan War and creation of a medals database.

Obama announced that earlier in the morning he had signed into law the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act (H.R. 4155), sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). The law will make it easier for veterans to find jobs using skills acquired in the military by streamlining the certification process. “Veterans need to be licensed and credentialed when they get home,” he said.  Obama also told attendees that he hopes that Congress will pass the Veterans Job Corps Act (H.R. 5683), which would offer unemployed veterans or their widows or widowers jobs in forestry, for example, on public lands.

In order to prepare veterans for civilian life, Obama introduced a major interagency overhaul of the military’s transition assistance program called Transition GPS. “We’re going to set up a reverse boot camp” to enhance “career readiness,” he said. It would extend sessions up to seven days, to include financial planning, an employment workshop and a planning session in which troops can explore career options and talk to experts. The redesigned program should be complete by the end of 2013.

Obama covered several matters regarding VA health care, including the idea of vouchers. “Some have argued for [vouchers], but I could not disagree more,” Obama said to applause. “You don’t need vouchers, you need the VA care you have earned.” He vowed to continue to make veterans health care a priority.

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