The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This Holiday Season at American Veteran

It's back to work at National Headquarters this morning after a brief Christmas break!

This week, AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin will travel to the Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, where AMVETS national spokesman Dana Bowman will jump in prior to the kickoff between the University of Houston and the U.S. Air Force Academy on Dec. 31.

Bowman, the inspirational double-amputee who was wounded in a skydiving accident with the Army's elite Golden Knights, came on board with AMVETS at the national convention last summer in New Orleans. Bowman's story will be featured in the winter issue of American Veteran in January.

Speaking of the winter issue, all content should be submitted no later than close-of-business Thursday, Dec. 31. If your post or department has photos you would like us to consider for Keeping Posted, please submit them now.

This week, American Veteran will also continue to follow the developments in the disappearance of Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive in Afghanistan since the summer. Over Christmas, the Taliban released a new video of Bergdahl, which AMVETS leaders have condemned.

We will also highlight AMVETS' work from around the country supporting today's military men and women who could not be home this Christmas season and supporting our veterans at VA facilities around the country.

Over the next couple of weeks, we ask that you bear with us, as the AMVETS communications department reconstitutes for the New Year. Blog postings may not be as consistent as you've seen over the last nine months, but be on the lookout for new features to kick up in mid-January.

We have a lot in the works and we're very excited about what the New Year brings, but we hope that you understand this may affect the blog in the short term.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

AMVETS Remembers Past National Commander Joseph Vandengoorbergh

On Friday, the AMVETS family lost one of its most prominent leaders and vocal veterans' advocates when Past National Commander Joseph Vandengoorbergh, 72, died at his home in Vermilion, Ohio.

Vandengoorbergh, or "Joe Van," served as AMVETS National Commander in 1997-1998, while Americans were deployed in support of NATO in the Balkans and while President Bill Clinton weighed additional military action in Iraq. To read Joe Van's Congressional testimony from 1998, Click Here.

Joe Van also served as Department of Ohio commander where he earned AMVETS Department Commander of the Year in 1986.

After leading the organization, Joe Van remained involved with both department and national business, continuing to serve his fellow veterans. At the 2008 AMVETS National Convention in Orlando, Joe Van was selected to serve on the board of trustees for the AMVETS National Service Foundation.

Joe Van served in the Army during Vietnam and served AMVETS for more than 37 years as a life member of AMVETS Post No. 22 in Vermilion, Ohio.

Memorial services will be held on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Riddle Funeral Home in Vermilion and interment in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to AMVETS Post No. 22, P.O. Box 199, Vermilion, Ohio 44089.

Joe is survived by his wife Rita, three sisters, two sons and numerous grandchildren. AMVETS' thoughts and prayers are with Joe's family.

To read Joe's obituary from the Morning Journal, Click Here.

(Photo: Official AMVETS photo of National Commander Joseph Vandengoorbergh during his term in Washington in 1997-1998.)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

New Concerns on Military Drug Abuse and Combat Stress

Last Wednesday, the Pentagon released a new report on the health and fitness of today's military, based on data collected from military health assessments.

"The 2008 survey indicates that the U.S. armed forces are generally strong, healthy, and ready to accomplish their mission," said Dr. Jack Smith, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical policy and program policy. "We are pleased with the continued increase of healthy behaviors and preventive health practices reported by our service members."

While the overall fitness of the military remains positive, the report demonstrated a significant spike in prescription drug abuse by military personnel and increases in post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses. In 2008, 12 percent of American military men and women reported misusing prescription drugs, up from five percent in 2005. Similarly, 11 percent of military personnel required follow-up for PTSD, up from seven percent in 2005.

The Pentagon attributed the spike in prescription drug abuse to more pointed questions on the subject. USA Today reporter Gregg Zoroya, however, reviewed the data and found a potential correlation between prescription drug abuse and combat stress issues such as PTSD.

To read Zoroya's story, Click Here.

The news from the Pentagon on prescription drug abuse and PTSD only reinforced AMVETS' concerns about combat stress. Earlier this week, AMVETS leaders called on the military to improve its PTSD screening and treatment processes in response to another increase in reported Army suicides.

A new Yale University study, commissioned by VA and the National Institutes of Health, demonstrated that the more than half of patients diagnosed with PTSD suffer from comorbid major depressive disorders such as alcoholism and substance abuse.

The Yale study also demonstrated that patients who suffer from such comorbid disorders exhibit different chemical changes in the brain from counterparts only suffering from PTSD.

In light of this week's developments, AMVETS leaders believe a clear correlation exists between increased prescription drug abuse in the military and PTSD, further demonstrating the need for improved screening and treatment within the ranks.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: House VA Subcommittee on Oversight to Host Hearing on VA Acquisitions

This morning, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will host a hearing on VA acquisitions and veterans' contracting. AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof will be on hand for this morning's hearing and submitted testimony for the record on behalf of AMVETS.

To view live video of this morning's hearing at 10 a.m. eastern, Click Here.

In the spring, AMVETS became a vocal advocate for improved oversight on VA contracting and auditing procedures within the federal government for veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).

Through extensive research into auditing processes and her background in small business administration, Roof was able to identify key deficiencies within veterans' contracting and has sparked the subcommittee to take action, commissioning additional hearings and looking for potential legislative solutions to persistent issues.

To read Roof's original testimony from March, Click Here.

American Veteran will follow the developments out of today's hearing and we will include commentary from Roof later today. In the meantime, to view a list of today's witnesses and to read their statements, Click Here.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In Case You Missed It... Congress Passes VA Budget in Omnibus

Over the weekend, Congress passed an omnibus federal budget for FY2010, which included $109.6 billion for VA.

While AMVETS leaders were happy to see that the VA will have the funding it needs for the year, AMVETS came far short of applauding Congress for delaying the budget's passage by more than 74 days.

Stars & Stripes reporter Leo Shane broke down the FY2010 VA budget in a recent posting on the Stripes Central blog. This year's VA budget is the first to include advance health care funding for FY2011--a provision AMVETS has advocated for for more than a decade. To read Shane's posting, Click Here.

AMVETS leaders were, however, excited about the conference version of the Department of Education budget, which passed as part of the omnibus package. This year's DOE budget included $6 million in funding for a pilot program commissioning federal grants for student-veterans' "centers of excellence" on college campuses nationwide--one of AMVETS' top legislative priorities since the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was passed into law in 2008.

To learn more about AMVETS' work on the student-vets' centers issue, Click Here.

(Photo: Stock image of the U.S. Capitol Building from spring 2009 by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Monday, December 14, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will wrap up our coverage on Capitol Hill, as Congress prepares to break for a holiday district work period.

AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof will be on hand for Wednesday's hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, discussing VA contracting. AMVETS submitted testimony for the record.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin and AMVETS National Executive Director Jim King will also be on hand at the White House throughout the week. More details to come.

The deadline for the winter issue of American Veteran is fast approaching. We plan to have the latest issue prepared prior to the Christmas break. If you would like us to include your letters or your photos in Keeping Posted, please submit content no later than Friday, Dec. 18.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Department of Education Budget to Include Funding for Student-Vets' Centers

This morning, AMVETS received confirmation from Congressional staffers that the FY2010 budget for the Department of Education will included funding for federal grants to colleges and universities to establish student-veterans' "centers of excellence."

Two summers ago, AMVETS worked with Congress to include a provision in the Higher Education Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008 that would commission the grants, however, actual funding for the grants remained a major question throughout this year's fiscal budget process.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley worked with leaders in the House to include $8 million in funding for student-vets' centers in their version of the bill, but the provision was absent in the original Senate bill.

Once the budget went to conference, both chambers compromised to include $6 million in funding for a pilot program for these student-vets' centers.

AMVETS anticipates that the conference budget should easily pass both the House and Senate, and that President Obama should sign it into law shortly.

Federal funding for student-veterans' "centers of excellence" has been a top priority for AMVETS since the passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. While AMVETS viewed the new G.I. Bill as an integral tool in ensuring student-veterans had an opportunity to go to college, AMVETS believed that student-veterans' centers would ensure that today's veterans would have all the tools necessary to succeed in the classroom.

AMVETS continues to work with Cleveland State University Professor John Schupp, founder of the Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran (SERV) program as a model for campuses to meet the needs of their student-veterans.

AMVETS and Schupp were the visionaries behind the original legislation in Congress to commission these grants in an effort to ensure college campuses were prepared for the influx of veterans seeking to use their education entitlements.

Once Department of Education clarifies the grant process, AMVETS will work with Schupp and other student-veterans' advocates around the country--such as John Powers at the University of Rhode Island--to ensure campuses have the tools necessary to receive federal grants and establish quality student-veterans' centers.

Stars & Stripes reports on student-vets' centers.

(Photos: Top: Ray Kelley speaks with John Schupp between meetings on Capitol Hill, advocating for student-veterans' "centers of excellence. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: Student-veterans enrolled in Schupp's SERV program pose for a photo with the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Eric D. Fingerhunt, who visited Cleveland State University to see the merits of SERV first-hand. Photo courtesy of SERV.)

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AMVETS Leaders Lay Wreath in Honor of Pearl Harbor Day

On Monday, AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin and AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary National President Patty Piening paid their respects to our nation's fallen heroes by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.

Each year, AMVETS top leadership lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in honor of those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

AMVETS, originally American Veterans of World War II, has always taken special care to honor the sacrifices of the WWII generation, including AMVETS' key role in commissioning the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, where 1,102 American sailors remain entombed since the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

At Arlington, Miskulin, Piening and AMVETS national officers also paid their respects at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial grove at Arlington. The grove stands as a tribute to both those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor and to the Pearl Harbor survivors who went on to fight in WWII. In front of the trees, the association placed a plaque which reads, "These trees are dedicated to the men and women serving their country on the island of Oahu and territory of Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941."

(Photos: Top: Cmdr. Miskulin and President Piening lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Pearl Harbor Day. Bottom: Cmdr. Miskulin, President Piening and AMVETS national officers pay their respects to those who served at Pearl Harbor. Photos by Jay Agg.)

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


On Saturday, Dec. 5, AMVETS National Executive Committee convened for its fall meeting at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md. AMVETS leaders from all 38 departments around the country were on hand to report the business of the organization and discuss the way forward in serving the veterans' community.

AMVETS Past National Commander Bill Boetcher and National Finance Director Velma Hart discussed the second annual AMVETS leadership conference, which will take place January 22-24, 2010 at Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Boetcher and Hart encouraged interested participants to register as soon as possible, since space will fill quickly. To read the conference agenda and to find registration information, Click Here.

The AMVETS National Conference Committee also announced rule changes to this summer's AMVETS National Convention in Louisville, Ky. This year, all AMVETS members who plan to attend activities of AMVETS subordinate organizations at the convention must also register to participate as AMVETS members at the convention.

National Sons of AMVETS Commander David Spencer also joined Cmdr. Miskulin and AMVETS National Executive Director Jim King, who officially signed the paperwork commissioning the new Sons of AMVETS Department of Tennessee.

AMVETS Riders National President Vincent "Dutch" Stivason announced that the AMVETS Riders enjoyed another successful year of growth in posts and departments around the country.

On the NEC floor, AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin presented a check for $10,000 to the winner of the first AMVETS National Sweepstakes, Henson Bedeau of Severn, Md.

With the help of AMVETS' partners at the University of Phoenix, AMVETS also presented Sharon Adger with one of this year's $4,000 scholarships to attend the university. University of Phoenix awarded 50 scholarships to veterans and their dependents through the AMVETS partnership in 2009.

AMVETS partner Choice Hotels also introduced a new rewards program exclusively for AMVETS members to earn additional travel discounts and credits while staying at any Choice Hotels location.

(Photos: Top: The floor at the AMVETS fall NEC meeting. Middle: AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin presents AMVETS sweepstakes winner Henson Bedeau with his check for $10,000. Bottom: University of Phoenix Military Liaison Manager Kristen Nolan and Cmdr. Miskulin present Sharon Adger with her $4,000 scholarship. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will report on yesterday's somber wreath-laying at Arlington National Ceremony in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.

We will also follow up on last weekend's meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md., where AMVETS leaders gathered to discuss the way forward for the organization. AMVETS leaders also unveiled, the new online resource to help concerned citizens report phony veterans.

American Veteran will also follow the work of AMVETS National Legislative Department throughout the week. AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof will participate in a series of meetings throughout the week pertaining to veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and veterans' federal employment. AMVETS has become a critical voice on veterans' employment since testifying on oversight issues for veteran-owned small businesses last spring.

We will also continue to follow VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. As of Monday morning, VA reported that 61,000 claims for the new benefits still await processing.

At American Veteran, we're always eager to hear what's happening at posts and departments around the country, so please feel free to share your stories with us. And, as always, let us know what you think.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

AMVETS Remembers "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy"

On of Dec. 7, 1941, the tranquil Hawaiian morning was shattered by a brutal attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, drawing a formerly isolationist United States into World War II.

The attack killed 2,402 American service members and damaged or destroyed more than a dozen Pacific Fleet ships, including the USS Arizona.

Out of WWII, AMVETS was born, and this afternoon, AMVETS leaders will be on hand at Arlington National Cemetery for a solemn wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns, in memory of the American service members who lost their lives on this day.

In a speech to Congress immediately following the attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt labeled Dec. 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy" and asked for a formal declaration of war in response to the premeditated Japanese aggression.

As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans who had opposed intervention against Nazi aggression in Europe and Japanese advances in the Pacific, were suddenly drawn into a fight for the preservation of our way of life.

Leading up to the final Nazi surrender in May of 1945 and the Japanese surrender the following August, more than 416,800 American service members would give their lives in defense of our nation.

In the decades that have followed WWII, AMVETS has continued to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who fought and perished at Pearl Harbor. AMVETS played an integral role in commissioning, funding, renovating, and maintaining the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, which rests atop the sunken hull of the battleship where 1,102 service members remain entombed.

The attack on the USS Arizona was responsible for nearly half all American casualties in the attack on Pearl Harbor, with 1,177 of the ship's 1,400-man crew dying in the attack.

It is with a heavy heart that we, as Americans, recall the horrors of Dec. 7, 1941, but we must continue to look forward as a nation, and remember the sacrifices of the brave men and women who gave everything to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today.

(Photo: The USS Arizona burns in Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. U.S. Navy photo, released.)

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Friday, December 4, 2009

AMVETS Launches

This afternoon, AMVETS will roll out, a first-of-its-kind national resource to help citizens to expose and prosecute phony veterans.

To view AMVETS' official announcement, Click Here.

AMVETS leaders made the announcement during this fall's meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md.

Legion of Valor Past National Commander and retired Marine Lt. Col. George Malone, a Vietnam Navy Cross recipient, was on hand for the announcement, along with VA officials and Republican staff from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

After AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin discussed why AMVETS commissioned the Web site, AMVETS National Communications Director Jay Agg answered questions from media and AMVETS members. Agg also walked guests through the features of the Beta site and discussed how it will evolve as a resource in the coming weeks.

Emmy-award winning investigative reporter Alan Cohn of ABC Action News joined AMVETS to cover the roll-out. Cohn's recent story about phony veteran Angel Ocasio was one of the latest in a slew of Stolen Valor cases that prompted AMVETS to take action.

Check out these stories about the launch of, and let us know what you think.

ABC Action News

Stars & Stripes

(Photo: AMVETS National Communications Director Jay Agg explains during Friday's press conference. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: House Veterans Affairs Committee Looks for G.I. Bill Answers

Yesterday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hosted a roundtable discussion among VA leaders, veterans' advocates, and educators to discuss persistent delays in Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33) delivery and potential solutions.

To date, 26,000 claims for Chapter 33 remain unpaid, as the fall semester draws to a close and bills for spring semester are due.

To read the Military Times story about yesterday's hearing, Click Here.

Though AMVETS did not testify, American Veteran was on hand for the discussion.

Student-veterans have commented on this blog repeatedly, desperately seeking assistance amid persistent delays.

At yesterday's round table, participants discussed the possibility of splitting the current claims process to expedite delivery of living stipends, while tuition and fees payments lag behind, or prioritizing processing for enrolled veterans. However, VA Director of Education Services Keith Wilson pointed out that this would not have an effect on the overall workload, still allowing veterans to fall through the cracks.

In August, AMVETS suggested emergency advance payments to aide veterans caught in the backlog, and VA implemented a similar $3,000 emergency check program in October. Unfortunately, this money is starting to run out for student-veterans still waiting for their first living stipend and tuition reimbursements.

AMVETS leaders will continue to monitor Chapter 33 implementation and make recommendations to VA and Congressional leaders in an effort to remedy the backlog. AMVETS service officers will also continue to make advocacy calls on behalf of veterans with questions about their pending claims.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates, and let us know what you think.

(Photos: Top: Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-S.D.), chairwoman of the subcommittee, asks questions to roundtable participants. House Veterans Affairs Ranking Member Rep. Steve Buyer (D-Ind.) and subcommittee ranking member Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) also played a key role in the afternoon's discussion. Bottom: VA Director of Education Services Keith Wilson answers questions about VA's efforts to remedy the Chapter 33 backlog. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

AMVETS Response to President Obama's Afghanistan Strategy

Tonight, President Obama outlined his plan to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan with an ambitious plan to start withdrawing combat troops within 18 months. Below is the President's address in its entirety from

AMVETS' interests have always been in preserving America's interests and holding those who attacked us on 9/11 accountable for their actions.

That being said, AMVETS leaders cannot speculate on whether or not the President's plan will succeed, we can only hope that his words are sincere, that our nation's top military advisors have prudently considered the options for success, and that, as a nation, we will consider the needs of these additional 30,000 troops now called to serve long after they have returned from duty.

The need for additional troops on the ground in Afghanistan only reinforces the need for timely VA and defense funding. Both the VA and Defense budgets are now more than two months late, and our leaders in Congress must act quickly to ensure that we meet the needs of those brave enough to fight our nation's wars.

As AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley says all the time, "if you're going to fund the war, you have to fund the war-fighters."

Throughout our nation's history, we've proven time and again that our military men and women are capable of overcoming insurmountable odds against brutal enemies. However, American memories tend to be short. After nearly every conflict, our veterans seem to be neglected almost as soon as the last muzzle falls silent.

This cannot happen to today's veterans, which is why AMVETS will continue to fight for improved care for those on today's battlefield long after they have returned. We have made great strides over the last couple of years with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, improved military mental health screening and treatment, and advance VA health care funding, but the work continues.

With tonight's announcement and the holiday season upon us, AMVETS thoughts and prayers remain with the hundreds of thousands of American troops serving in harm's way, those who will soon be called to serve, and their loved ones.

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President to Outline New Way Forward in Afghanistan

Tonight, President Barack Obama will outline his new plan for Afghanistan in a prime time address to America. The address, which will take place at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point starts at 8 p.m. eastern time and will be broadcast on most major television networks.

The Pentagon has indicated that after months of deliberations that the President has decided to send more than 34,000 additional U.S. troops to quell the continuing violence in Afghanistan. The first new unit will consist of Marines who are scheduled to be in-country before Christmas.

AMVETS leaders have supported American action in Afghanistan since 2001 and have urged military leaders to do everything in their power to assure American military success in the region.

However, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley cautioned that should the Pentagon continue to escalate America's presence overseas, Congress and the Administration must ensure they fund every aspect of the war, including the war-fighters.

"With more of our men and women going into harm's way, it's our responsibility to ensure they're properly cared for when they return home," Kelley said. "This means increased funding for VA and swift passage of the new VA and defense budgets, which are now two months late."

The President has heard sharp criticism over Afghanistan from both sides of the aisle, with liberals urging the President to cut off further escalation and conservatives urging the President to take decisive action to ensure the success of our men and women in uniform.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that the President hopes to assure his critics that the decision to send more American troops into harm's way eight years into the conflict is the prudent and responsible decision to preserve American interests in the volatile region.

The additional troops are intended to flush out members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers in an effort to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat those responsible for attacking the United States on 9/11.

(Photo: U.S. Marines from 3rd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment patrol outside Now Zad, Afghanistan in Nov. 2009. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel M. Moman, released.)

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Monday, November 30, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

Business is back on at AMVETS National Headquarters after the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday and kept our brave men and women fighting overseas in their thoughts and prayers.

This week at American Veteran, we will discuss Dana Bowman's first jump with the AMVETS parachute at last weekend's nationally-televised NCAA football game between New Mexico and No. 4-ranked Texas Christian University (TCU) in Texas.

American Veteran will also cover this weekend's fall meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md. AMVETS leaders will discuss progress since the national convention and critical issues for the organization such as Stolen Valor and the upcoming 21st Century Veterans Symposium this summer at the AMVETS National Convention in Louisville.

Congress is back to work, which means we will continue to follow AMVETS Legislative Department, advocating for our veterans on Capitol Hill in Washington. Critical issues continue to be veteran-owned small business contracting, VA family caregiver plans, and the VA budget for FY2010, which is now two months late.

If you have stories you would like to share with American Veteran, please let us know. And, as always, feel free to leave your comments.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

AMVETS Visits American Troops; Allies in Far East This Fall

Every year, AMVETS and the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary visit our allies in South Korea and Taiwan, visit troops stationed on the Korean peninsula, and visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

This year, AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin, AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary National President Patty Piening, and AMVETS National Service Foundation President Joe Piening set out on the week-long trip, corresponding to the Republic of China (Taiwan) Independence Day on Oct. 10.

Cmdr. Miskulin was given the opportunity to speak at the government of Taiwan's official Independence Day commemoration, alongside Republic of China President Ma Ying-Jeou.

AMVETS has a long-established working relationship with the Republic of China. For years, AMVETS has hosted Veterans Affairs leadership from Taiwan at AMVETS events stateside, and Taiwan has returned the favor.

On the Far East visit, Cmdr. Miskulin and the Pienings also had the opportunity to speak with American troops and military leadership from the Eighth U.S. Army stationed in South Korea. Over the last few years, American forces have consolidated operations away from the demilitarized zone with North Korea, moving into the new U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan. AMVETS leaders were treated to a tour of the post, which opened in 2006.

On the return from the Far East, the AMVETS leaders stopped in Hawaii to visit with American troops stationed at Schofield Barracks and to pay their respects to those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor. AMVETS played an integral role in fund-raising, construction, renovation and maintenance of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

(Photo: AMVETS leaders meet with leaders from the Republic of China (Taiwan) on this fall's Far East visit. Photo courtesy of the Republic of China.)

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AMVETS Riders Lead an American Warrior Home

On Sunday, Nov. 15, AMVETS Riders from Chapter No. 7 in Morristown, Tenn. joined the local Patriot Guard Riders and members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol to escort the body of Army Spc. Fred Greene back to his hometown of Mountain City, Tenn.

Greene, a 29-year-old Army combat engineer, was one of the 13 victims of the Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood, where Army Maj. Nadal Hasan opened fire on a crowded room of soldiers preparing to deploy.

Alan Sipe, president of AMVETS Riders Chapter No. 7, said the AMVETS Riders joined up for a 45-mile stretch of the journey, which passed through the mountains of eastern Tennessee on Sunday morning. Sipe said that entire congregations of small churches along the route lined the streets to pay their respects to Greene.

"The Tennessee Chapter No. 7 Riders were very moved at each and every moment of the ceremonies as they led one of their fallen brothers to his final resting place," said Sipe. "May he forever rest in peace."

Greene was laid to rest on Wednesday at his family church in Mountain City. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in attendance to pay his final respects. Sipe said that Greene was buried with full military honors and treated as a KIA.

According to the Associated Press, Greene enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was assigned to the 16th Signal Company, which was heading overseas. Greene is survived by his wife, Christie, and his two adopted daughters, Haley and Allison.

(Photo: AMVETS Riders served as members of the Honor Guard when Spc. Greene arrived at the Tri-Cities Airport on Nov. 15. Photo courtesy of Alan Sipe. Video: news coverage of Spc. Greene's ride home and his funeral on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Embedded using HTML code provided by

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Monday, November 23, 2009

This (Short) Week at American Veteran

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, AMVETS National Headquarters will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 26 and Friday, Nov. 27 so that our staff can spend the holidays with their loved ones. Congress is also on recess this week for the Thanksgiving District Work Period, which means many of our legislators will be in our hometowns, listening to their constituents.

Tomorrow on American Veteran Online, we will feature the story of AMVETS Riders Chapter No. 7 in Morristown, Tenn., which helped to escort Army Spc. Fred Greene, one of the fallen from the Fort Hood shooting, to his home town of Mountain City, Tenn.

American Veteran will also follow up on last week's Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, citing government contracting fraud among businesses claiming to be service-disabled veteran owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).

In May, AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof testified that a lack of oversight could lead to excessive fraud by small businesses seeking to take advantage of veterans' preferences in contracting and proposed changes to the system to ensure compliance. The new report confirmed AMVETS' greatest concerns over the gravity of the situation.

We will also post highlights from Cmdr. Miskulin's visit to the Far East, which we were unable to post last week.

We're always eager to hear from our readers and the AMVETS posts and departments around the country, so please feel free to comment below, send us story ideas and content, or click on the new "Like/Dislike" boxes at the bottom of each entry.

Finally, AMVETS leaders ask that this Thanksgiving, we all give thanks for the brave men and women, young and old, who have fought to preserve the ideals of our great nation--especially those who have been called to serve and cannot join us this holiday season.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: In My Opinion...

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a colleague of mine who works as a student-veterans' consultant for the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. He passed along a memo from the Buffalo VA Regional Office to campus education claims representatives across the Northeast asking them to square away their paperwork.

The memo discussed how claims-processors were not filing paperwork for the correct chapters of the G.I. Bill, which has contributed to incorrect payments and increased delays in benefits-delivery across the region.

At colleges around the region, payments have started to trickle in for tuition. However, living stipends remain MIA.

Matt Susko, an Army veteran of Iraq, said that his school, Cape Cod Community College, received his tuition, but he has not seen any kind of compensation from VA beyond his $3,000 emergency living stipend check.

On Monday, Bob Brewin from NextGov reported that DC-area student-veterans were still missing their G.I. Bill living stipends and that the VA Monday Morning Workload Report still showed only a slight reduction in claims awaiting adjudication.

Last month, VA retained the services of ACS Federal to assist with claims-processing--a move AMVETS hesitantly supported. However, as Brewin reported, the move hasn't changed much to this point in terms of the backlog.

I hate to keep harping on the G.I. Bill delays, but my own experiences leave me pessimistic about Chapter 33 implementation and the effects on today's student-veterans' community.

When I returned from Iraq, I sought to take advantage of my new Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP, Chapter 1607) benefits. After speaking with leaders in my unit and reading up on the new benefit, I went to apply with my VA representative at URI. She had never heard of Chapter 1607 or REAP and had me write in my query on the old Montgomery G.I. Bill paperwork.

Needless to say, nothing happened immediately. I had to re-file my paperwork and enroll under my old benefit, which was fine at the time. It took about six months to sort out Chapter 1607 and I was entitled to some significant back pay once it was sorted out.

At the time, REAP was a substantial increase in benefits, but in no way did it cover the complete cost of my education. I held down several part-time jobs and took out student loans to make up the difference.

Fast forward to 2009 with the complicated Chapter 33 benefits and more than 80,000 student-veterans immediately seeking to take advantage. Compound this with many students who were counting on Chapter 33 to cover all the expenses associated with a college education, including rent, utilities, and groceries, and campus employees who file these complex claims as a collateral responsibility and you're left with finger-pointing about who dropped the ball.

Though VA has the money to pay each of veteran filing for Chapter 33, time is critical. Though I had the luxury of waiting for my paperwork to be sorted out, many of the veterans enrolled in under the new benefit are literally down to their last dime. While schools may understand that the "check is in the mail," this story is a little more difficult to explain to the cashier at Stop & Shop or the clerk at the Sunoco station.

If there's anything veterans know how to do, it's hurry up and wait. But there's even a breaking point for us. Rumors have already started to circulate that veterans plan to drop out of school in the spring just to avoid what they see as an inevitable hassle.

AMVETS leaders are doing all they can to reassure veterans that the money is on its way and that these initial hiccups should not repeat themselves over the next two semesters, but patience is understandably wearing thin.

Personally, I hope that ACS and VA can sort out this backlog quickly and deliver benefits in time for winter break, but a great deal of this still rests on the claims-processors working efficiently on the college campuses.

At some point, the blame has to shift off of VA. From what I've seen, they have been responsive to the concerns of the veterans' community, but the same cannot be said for the schools.

AMVETS leaders have been screaming for colleges and universities to prepare for the influx of veterans this fall. This latest memo from Buffalo indicates to me that certain schools did not take these warnings seriously.

So, I guess we can only reiterate what Buffalo is telling the claims-processors on college campuses: Pay attention to the details. You're the most critical step in ensuring our veterans receive the benefits they have earned.


If you have a Post-9/11 G.I. Bill issue that you would care to share, please feel free to leave your comments below.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sen. Coburn Lifts Hold; Senate Passes Monumental Veterans' Caregiver Bill

For the last few weeks, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had a hold on the Senate version of a bill (S. 1963) that would establish monthly living stipends, travel reimbursement, and health care benefits for family caregivers of severely disabled veterans. Yesterday, Coburn lifted his hold and tonight the Senate passed the bipartisan bill 98-0.

Coburn put a hold on the bill after the Congressional Budget Office determined that it could cost up to $4 billion over the next four years to implement the new programs without an offset in other government spending.

AMVETS testified in support of the companion family caregiver bill in the House, calling it a critical step in caring for today's war-fighters.

Though AMVETS leaders were happy to see Coburn lift his hold, AMVETS still disagrees with the CBO assessment that the family caregiver plan represented a completely "new" cost of war.

"CBO looked at the family caregiver program as if no other program existed to care for our severely injured veterans," said AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "However, the family caregiver plan is an innovative and more efficient way to offer the kind of care already available through VA. Over time, the family caregiver plan should only open up more resources to veterans and their families."

In addition to the family caregiver plan, the bill includes increased funding for veterans' health care facilities, improved care for female veterans, and expanded programs for rural and remote veterans.

As as cost-controlling measure, the Senate version of the family caregiver plan limits the program to OIF/OEF-era veterans.

Versions of the landmark bill have now passed in both the House and the Senate. Now the bills will go to committee before Congress votes on a final version. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates, as we inch closer to a groundbreaking family caregiver plan for today's veterans.

(Photo: Stock image of the U.S. Capitol from spring 2009 by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fall Issue of American Veteran Magazine Available Now

The fall issue of American Veteran is now available and should be in your mailbox this week. To preview the issue online, Click Here.

For this issue, we sat down with Marine Corps veteran and world-renowned chef John Besh at his flagship restaurant August in New Orleans. Besh shared his inspiring story of military service and the way his vast Marine Corps network has helped him succeed in a cut-throat culinary world.

In this month's "Off the Shelf," we discuss Craig Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute, which chronicles Mullaney's lessons-learned throughout his unorthodox and inspiring military career.

We also welcome new AMVETS national spokesman and inspirational wounded paratrooper Dana Bowman and discuss the AMVETS Riders first national program to support the Camp Hope wounded warriors retreat in Missouri.

This issue also features updates on two critical issues to AMVETS and the veterans' community: sufficient, timely and predictable funding for the VA and the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. We discuss the historic signing of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 and how it will effect VA funding down the road, and we take a look at the VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and AMVETS' role in helping veterans receive timely compensation amid unforeseen payment delays.

In this fall's Keeping Posted, we highlight AMVETS' work from the departments of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana and Wisconsin.

We've already started compiling material for the winter issue, so please send your submissions to the National Communications Department as soon as possible, and, as always, please let us know what you think.

To send a letter to the editor, you can either send your comments to the attention of the Communications Director at AMVETS National Headquarters, 4647 Forbes Blvd., Lanham, Md. 20706, or simple comment on this blog with the name you wish to appear.

(Photos: Top: Chef John Besh discusses his military experiences at his award-winning August restaurant in New Orleans. Photo by Jay Agg. Middle: Dana Bowman shares his inspirational story with AMVETS at this summer's national convention. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: President Obama signs VA advance appropriations into law at the White House this fall. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

UPDATE: Senate Passes VA Budget

This afternoon, the Senate passed the FY2010 Military Construction and VA budget by a vote of 100-0. AMVETS leaders have been calling on Congress to work out the details in the VA budget for weeks, since the Oct. 1 due date lapsed.

"This marks the 20th time in the last 23 years that the VA budget has been delivered late, further reinforcing why the recent signing of advance appropriations for VA health care was so critical," said AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "Now, even when politics stalls the process, our veterans' care will not suffer at the same time."

Last month, President Obama signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 into law, authorizing Congress to finance VA health care one year in advance. The FY2010 VA budget will be the first to contain advance appropriations for the following fiscal year.

The Senate version of the VA/MilCon budget includes $133.9 billion to fund VA. With the addition of Senate amendments, the budget will now go to conference before Congress votes on a final version to send to the President. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates on this year's VA budget process.

(Photo: Stock image of the U.S. Capitol Building from Nov. 2009 by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Monday, November 16, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will highlight AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin's recent visit to the Far East. On the recent visit, alongside AMVETS Ladies' Auxiliary National President Patty Piening, Miskulin visited with American troops stationed in South Korea, allied leaders in South Korea and the Republic of China (Taiwan), and visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii.

We will also discuss the recent AMVETS Americanism Program visit to the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, where 92 high school students from across the country came together to learn about American history, American government, and to visit historic landmarks in the original nation's capitol, Philadelphia.

American Veteran will also continue to follow developments on Capitol Hill, including Wednesday's hearing in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs concerning veterans' employment. We will also keep you up to date on critical pending legislation, such as the VA budget for FY2010 and the Veterans' Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

In recent weeks, AMVETS leaders have taken up the cause of Stolen Valor, which has become much more prevalent in the current conflicts. More and more reports have come into AMVETS National Headquarters in the last few months documenting incidents where people pose as decorated combat veterans in an effort to curry special treatment. AMVETS takes these accusations very seriously, considering the negative affects Stolen Valor can have on the legitimate veterans' community, which has earned reverence in our society through tremendous sacrifices.

In 2005, AMVETS supported strengthening the Stolen Valor Act beyond the Medal of Honor, meaning those who wear other unauthorized military decorations or otherwise pose as veterans for personal gain can be charged with a federal crime. American Veteran is following each of these incidents very closely--some of which have garnered national media attention--and we will keep you posted in the coming days.

As always, we're eager to hear from you and if you have a story you would like us to highlight on the blog, just let us know.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Veterans Day 2009: AMVETS Family joins President; Vice President for Special Events Around Nation's Capitol

On Veterans Day 2009, AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin joined President Barack Obama, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and leaders from the nation's other leading VSOs for a special breakfast in the East Room at the White House , followed by a memorial ceremony and a somber wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery.

That afternoon, AMVETS legislative and communications staff joined Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden for a veterans' luncheon at the Vice President's residence. Biden delivered a heart-felt speech acknowledging the sacrifices of not only America's military men and women, but also the parents, spouses, children and other loved ones who have stood by their service members throughout American history.

Biden recalled meeting a WWII veteran in Europe while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landing. Biden said that when he thanked the man for his service, the man took his wife's hand and told then-Senator Biden that it was in fact his wife who made it all possible.

Biden went on to say that the only solemn obligation of our federal government is caring for the veterans who have fought in defense of our nation and that he was honored to be in a position to ensure that our nation upholds its obligation.

AMVETS leaders were on hand for other events around the nation's capitol for Veterans Day. American Veteran is in the process of collecting additional photos and details of the day's events. Check back on Monday for additional updates.

If your post or department would like to share its Veterans Day photos and stories, please let us know. American Veteran is eager to tell the story of AMVETS who commemorated the holiday nationwide.

(Photo: Vice President Joe Biden thanks veterans assembled at the Vice President's home for their service on Veterans Day. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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