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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rep. Hinojosa urges Congress to fund student-vets' centers

This week, Texas Congressman Ruben Hinojosa urged his fellow members of the House to support funding in FY2010 for a provision in last summer's Higher Education Opportunity & Affordibility Act commissioning veterans' "centers of excellence" on college campuses nationwide.

Hinojosa, chaimen of the House subcommittee on higher education, circulated a Dear Colleague letter throughout the House delegation urging the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to approve $10 million in the upcoming budget for a pilot program on 40 of the nation's leading college campuses. We have included a draft of the letter here.

AMVETS played an integral role in drafting the original proposal for the Higher Ed bill, and AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley has been working extensively with Hinojosa to ensure the the program receives the necessary funding.

With the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill scheduled to roll out in August, AMVETS has spent much of the last year convincing national leaders that colleges must be prepared for a sudden influx of veterans, and that schools need to offer vets all the necessary tools to succeed.

To accomplish this, AMVETS continues to work with John Schupp and the SERV program from Cleveland State University, which many in Congress and Student Veterans of America have acknowledged as a model student-veterans' program.

AMVETS feels student-veterans remain an underserved segment of the population on many college campuses due to their unique circumstances and life experiences. If you have a story or comment on this issue, please share it with us below.

As Hinojosa and AMVETS continue to push Congress on funding for student-vets' centers, check back with American Veteran Online for details.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Women in Service: Army Sgt. Monica Lin Brown

For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight Army Sgt. Monica Lin Brown, who earned the Silver Star while serving in Afghanistan in 2007.

Brown, an Army medic from Lake Jackson, Texas, was in a convoy with the 4/82nd Airborne Division in the Paktia province of Afghanistan, when one of their Humvees was hit with a roadside bomb. Brown and her team were now stuck in the kill zone.

With small arms fire and mortar rounds raining down, Brown grabbed her medic bag and sprinted for the disabled vehicle. Five of Brown's fellow soldiers were strewn across the road near the Humvee, which was now engulfed in flames.

Rounds started to cook off inside the truck, forcing Brown to move the soldiers, if she had any intention of treating them. One-by-one, Brown pulled the troops to safety about 500 meters away from their burning Humvee, all the while using her own body to shield them from errant rounds and shrapnel from the falling mortars.

Thanks to her decisive action, Brown saved the lives of all five soldiers, who were quickly medivaced from the location. For her courageous and selfless acts under fire, Brown was awarded the Silver Star by Vice President Dick Cheney in March 2008.

(Photos, Top: Then-Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown receives the Silver Star from Vice President Dick Cheney during an awards ceremony in 2008. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Scott Davis, released. Bottom: Brown draws blood from a boy while nearing the end of her deployment to Afghanistan in 2008. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Micah E. Clare, released.)

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue our Women in Service series beyond National Women's History Month. This important story must continue to be told, as a new generation of female war fighters distinguish themselves on the battlefield.

We also hope to launch a new feature in the coming weeks called "Keeping Posted Online." This will be very similar to the quarterly section, featuring highlights from AMVETS posts and departments across the country. We are often restricted to only a handful of stories each time the magazine goes to print, and we know this doesn't even scratch the surface on the contributions our organization makes nationwide. We are eager for you to send us content as your events happen.

Next, AMVETS Legislative Department is working close with Texas Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to fund student-veterans "centers of excellence" on college campuses nationwide.

Finally, AMVETS continues to work on this summer's Post-9/11 veterans symposium as part of the 65th annual AMVETS National Convention in New Orleans. Check back with the AMVETS National Web site and American Veteran Online throughout the week for developments.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama outlines plan for Afghanistan; more troops to aide training

A new day is dawning on the war in Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama presented his new strategy to achieve victory in the central conflict to the Global War on Terrorism.

"To the terrorists, our message is the same. We will defeat you." said Obama this morning, as he outlined the Administration's plan during a press conference alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Obama reiterated that the U.S. military must focus on the top threat to American security: Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though the Taliban was swiftly removed from power in 2001, 2008 was the deadliest year for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda's operations remain fully operational across the region. To view an excerpt from the speech, check out CNN's video from the press conference, which we have included here:

The President outlined that the current U.S. policy is not to control the government of Afghanistan, but, rather to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" Al Qaeda, which operates with impunity in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He went on to say that U.S. intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda is planning additional attacks on the United States, and Al Qaeda forces are chiefly responsible for most of the world's deadliest terrorist attacks over the last eight years.

Obama officially announced an additional increase of more than 4,000 American troops for the region, asked Congress to approve increased aide to allies in Pakistan, and tasked the Pentagon to focus its resources on the conflict. Obama also appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure that each nation's government is included in the process to dismantle Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Obama also called on the international community to provide grassroots support to the people of Afghanistan to ensure that the Taliban and their promises or prosperity do not take root within the traditionally tribal culture.

Obama's tough stance on Afghanistan is a welcome announcement to veterans' community, which has clamored for a viable victory strategy on Afghanistan. Though the conflict in Iraq has turned a corner, the United States must not lose focus on a brutal, reconsolidated enemy that continues to threaten our way of life.

In the coming months, check back regularly with American Veteran for continued coverage of our mission in Afghanistan.

To view the Obama Administration's white paper on the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Click Here.

(Media: Photo: Army Sgt. Robert Newman watches the sun rise while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini, released. Video: Embedded video courtesy of, used with permission.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CNN reports VA to reimburse Army vet for ciritcal surgery

This afternoon, CNN broke the story of retired Army Sgt. Erik Roberts of Ohio, whose leg was badly wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

Roberts sought an emergency procedure outside of the VA system to clear an infection in his surgically-repaired leg after doctors in a non-VA emergency room warned him that his leg may need to be amputated, if they did not act quickly.

Though the VA had not approved of the procedure, Roberts decided he couldn't take any chances, and had a private doctor operate. A few days before, Roberts had sought treatment at the VA, but he was told not to worry.

Robert's third-party insurance absorbed most of his $90,000 hospital bill for the operation, but he was left with a $3,000 tab for the subsequent antibiotic regimen.

At first, the VA refused to cover the cost, until CNN broke the story and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown implored them to pay.

The Roberts incident raises several critical questions about the VA health care process and financial recourse for wounded warriors who need emergency treatment.

According to section 1725 of Title 38, U.S. Code--the body of laws outlining veterans' benefits--the VA can reimburse veterans for out-of-system emergency procedures if a reasonable person would seek such treatment. However, upon receipt of treatment, the veteran is supposed to return to VA system care as soon as possible.

Though the time line seems incomplete, it seems reasonable that Roberts would act as quickly as possible to save his leg--especially if the VA seemed reluctant to take action.

However, once the procedure was complete, should Roberts have followed up with the VA? Why did the VA deny his request for out-of-system care in the first place?

To me, Roberts met all of the criteria to be reimbursed for outside treatment, and I'm happy to see that the VA complied. But how can we streamline the system to ensure that veterans like Roberts receive timely treatment in the future?

Thankfully, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is working on amending the current law to ensure fewer veterans fall through the cracks when they seek care outside of the VA health system.


Women in Service: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

Walker was initially inspired by her father to pursue a career in medicine and graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. When the Civil War broke out, Walker traveled to Washington and petitioned to serve as a surgeon in the Union Army.

Though her request was initially denied, Walker enlisted as a civilian and served as a nurse in the Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chickamauga. As a result of her tireless service to the Union Army, Walker was promoted to assistant surgeon for the Army of the Cumberland in 1863, officially making her the first female surgeon to serve in the U.S. Army.

As the war progressed, Walker was assigned to the Ohio 52nd Infantry, and frequently served on the front lines, retrieving and treating Union casualties. Her work often took her onto the battlefield and forced her to routinely cross enemy lines.

In 1864, Walker was taken captive by Confederate troops, who accused her of being a spy. After holding her for four months, the Confederate Army exchanged Walker and other Union doctors for captured Confederate surgeons.

After all Walker had endured in her first three years with the Union Army, she was not dissuaded from service. Upon her release, she rejoined the Union Army and served as a battlefield surgeon in the Battle of Atlanta.

When the war finally ended, Union Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Henry Thomas recommended Walker for the Medal of Honor after witnessing her bravery and unrelenting spirit in the heat of battle. The award was approved by President Andrew Johnson in 1865.

In 1917, Congress passed a law revising the standards for the Medal of Honor, which stripped 900 recipients of their awards, including Walker. Walker, however, was undeterred. Following the war, she became a vocal advocate for women's rights, and proudly wore her medal until her death in 1919.

President Jimmy Carter posthumously reinstated the groundbreaking award in 1977, preserving Walker's rightful place in history as the first and only female recipient of the Medal of Honor.

(Photo: Portrait of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor. Photo maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine.)

Blog Success

Good morning, everyone. Since we launched the blog for American Veteran, we've had more than 1,300 hits from 747 visitors across 43 states and more than 20 countries. Let's keep spreading the word and see if we can get more than 1,000 visitors in the first month alone! Tell your friends, and leave your comments. Let us know how we're doing!


(If you are interested in adding a link to American Veteran Online to your blog or Web site, please feel free to copy the image and URL included above.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

National Medal of Honor Day: Sacrifices remembered and policies questioned

In 2007, Congress declared March 25 as National Medal of Honor Day. Today is a day of recognition for our nation's greatest heroes, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of years past. In honor of this occasion, President Barack Obama paid a special visit to Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects to our nation's fallen heroes and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Today is a day to celebrate the heroes who walk among us and honor those who died preserving our way of life. However, it also calls into question what appears to be a worrisome trend among Medal of Honor recipients from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only five brave Americans from this new generation of veterans have joined the ranks of our Medal of Honor recipients, and all awards have been posthumous.

In this week's print editions of Military Times, author Brendan McGarry addressed this very subject, which American Veteran touched on last Friday. McGarry pointed out the apparent disparity among valorous award citations between the Global War on Terrorism and conflicts past. Even though the U.S. has been at war for the better part of a decade, and scores of valorous acts have been acknowledged, why have there been so few Medals of Honor?

McGarry looked at valorous award citations across the board and noted a key policy memo from the Pentagon predating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, urging temperance in the awards process.

Could this memo reflect a slight shift in policy implying that the standards for combat valor have changed? Something doesn't quite add up.

This issue was originally brought to AMVETS' attention during the Presidential Inauguration Breakfast with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and again during a recent visit with California Congressman, and Marine Corps veteran, Duncan D. Hunter.

During the breakfast, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society expressed concerns that not a single surviving service member had received the Medal of Honor since Vietnam and asked what AMVETS and the veterans' community could do to ensure that the awards process remained equitable.

These concerns were reiterated during our interview with Congressman Hunter, who went as far as to question whether or not the criteria had changed. Look for full details on Hunter's feelings in the upcoming print edition of American Veteran.

The Medal of Honor issue is one that remains important to AMVETS. The organization continues to look into the issue, and American Veteran Online will continue to follow developments.

(Photo: President George W. Bush presents the Medal of Honor to the parents of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham at the White House in 2007. Dunham earned the award posthumously for jumping on a grenade to save his troops during an insurgent attack in Iraq. DoD photo by Cherie A. Thurlby, released.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Women in Service: Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester

For the second installment of our Women in Service feature, American Veteran Online has chosen to highlight Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to earn the Silver Star since WWII.

In 2005, Hester served in Iraq as a military police sergeant with the 627th Military Police Company of the Kentucky National Guard.

Hester and her squad leader, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, were each awarded the Silver Star, one of the nation's highest combat awards for valor, for their actions during an ambush in March 2005.

Hester's squad was providing security for a 30-vehicle convoy near the town of Salman Pak, when they came under attack by more than 50 insurgent fighters, leaving Hester and her team outnumbered five to one. The insurgents were intent on wiping out the entire convoy and taking drivers hostage.

When the insurgents attacked, they completely disabled the convoy's lead vehicle, rendering the main supply route impassable. The convoy and Hester's security team were now pinned inside the kill zone.

Thinking quickly, Hester moved her vehicle into a flanking position and ordered her MK19 gunner to lay down suppressive fire on irrigation ditches along the road where the insurgents had sought cover. From here, Hester dismounted her Humvee and joined up with Nein to clear the ditches. During the ensuing close-quarters combat, Hester and Nein successfully neutralized the enemy with small arms fire and grenades.

When the smoke cleared following the 25-minute firefight, 27 insurgents had been killed, six were wounded, and another was taken into custody. The insurgents had failed.

Hester was awarded the Silver Star for "conspicuous gallantry in action." Though she was the first woman to earn the award since WWII, she was the first female in the history of the U.S. military to be cited for valor in close-quarters combat.

(Photos: Top: Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester stands at parade rest after receiving her Silver Star during an award ceremony at Camp Victory, Iraq in 2005. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp, released. Bottom: Hester looks over information at the Global War on Terrorism exhibit at the Army Women's Museum in Fort Lee, Va. The exhibit depicts the actions for which Hester earned her Silver Star during the 2005 ambush. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. John Soucy, released.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue our online series highlighting historic women's service in the U.S. military. Our next installment will feature Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to earn the Silver Star since WWII.

We will also continue to cover the VA budget process for FY2010, as the Obama Administration looks for new ways to provide adequate funding for our veterans.

The AMVETS Legislative Department continues to push for student-veterans' "centers of excellence" with our leaders in Congress. We will keep you up to date on progress throughout the week.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for more news and info from around the veterans' community.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Six Years in Iraq

On this day in 2003, U.S. troops "crossed the berm" on the border of Kuwait and surged onward toward Baghdad. Two short weeks later, the regime of Saddam Hussein would fall. However, the battle was only beginning for our nation's war fighters.

As a result of toppling Hussein's governemnt, a power vacuum ensued in the Middle East, drawing some of our nation's most bitter enemies into the fight in an attempt to fill it. Through years of struggles on and off the battlefield, our military men and women have fought through insurmountable odds to finally set a fledgling Iraqi democracy on a path to stability.

Today, we acknowledge the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a day that has come to define the lives of millions of brave American men and women, and perhaps changed the perception of an entire generation.

Prior to 9/11, young Americans were often labeled as egocentric, focused solely on personal success at all costs. Still, millions of young men and women of this generation have selflessly raised their right hands, swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

To date, 4,259 brave Americans have lost their lives in the conflict, with thousands more suffering life-altering injuries. To these men and women, our nation owes an immeasurable dept of gratitude for their sacrifices. Each of us should take a moment today to pause and reflect on the service of our fallen heroes and our wounded warriors.

In the context of the Iraq War, I wanted to take a moment to address an issue that has raised eyebrows around the military and within veterans' community. Our military men and women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for the better part of a decade, with many troops serving multiple tours in multiple combat theaters.

Many of us who have worn the uniform during the Global War on Terrorism have witnessed tremendous acts of valor and heroism for which we revere our fellow service members. However, in nearly eight years of conflict, the U.S. military has only awarded five troops with the nation's highest combat award for valor, the Medal of Honor. All awards have been posthumous.

How can this be? To put it into perspective, in eight years of war in Vietnam, 246 American service members were awarded the Medal of Honor, with more than 50 percent of these brave men living to receive their award.

With advances in medical technologies over the last three decades, it seems absurd to me that equally valorous actions would not have occurred on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the brave American making it home alive. To suffice, something doesn't seem right here, and we intend to look into it.

But I digress. Today, we must acknowledge the service of our brave men and women who have served in Iraq. If you know an Iraq veteran, shake their hand, thank them, let them know you appreciate their service. I guarantee, it never gets old.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Women in Service: Margaret "Capt. Molly" Corbin

Over the next two weeks, American Veteran Online will highlight some of our nation's most distinguished military women in honor of national Women's History Month.

For the first installment of this feature, we only see it fitting to start with our nation's first female combat veteran, Margaret Corbin, who fought in the American Revolution.

Known to her contemporaries as "Capt. Molly," Corbin accompanied her husband, John, into battle with the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. Corbin, along with many other soldiers' wives, served in the background as a camp follower, taking care of day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the wounded.

However, on Nov. 16, 1776, the Pennsylvania Artillery came under attack at Fort Washington, N.Y. John was killed in the assault, leaving his battle station unmanned. Quickly, Corbin manned the cannon, firing on the advancing British and Hessian forces, until she had taken slugs to the chest, arm, and jaw.

The British would win the day at Fort Washington, taking Corbin as a prisoner of war. Upon her release from British custody as a wounded soldier, Corbin made her way to Philadelphia, where Congress decided to grant her rights and privileges as a disabled veteran. Congress also kept her on the rolls as a member of the Continental Army for the remainder of the war, citing her courage under fire as the discerning factor in their decision.

Corbin never fully recovered from her wounds and continued to receive a military pension until her death in 1800.

Today, Corbin is the only veteran of the Revolutionary War interned at West Point Cemetery--an honor bestowed upon her in 1926 by the Daughters of the American Revolution in recognition of her groundbreaking service.

(Image: A portrait of Margaret Corbin by Herbert Knotel. The original is maintained by the West Point Museum.)

New Blog Features and AMVETS on Facebook

Every day, AMVETS looks for new and innovative ways to spread its message throughout the veterans' community. As you can see, we've added a couple of new features to the blog. On the right, you can now subscribe to our news feed, alerting you each time American Veteran Online is updated. We also added a video bar, with links to AMVETS' YouTube videos embedded into the blog.

This week, AMVETS also launched an official Facebook group, thanks to the help of Mike Little, a Navy veteran and life member of AMVETS who is currently serving in Iraq.

Immediately following the spring NEC, where AMVETS leaders called for a more aggressive use of online social media, AMVETS communications staff reached out to Little to help build a comprehensive information-sharing resource for AMVETS on the social networking site, based off of the group Little created in 2007.

To join the AMVETS Facebook group, all you need to do is log on to Facebook and search "AMVETS." The official group will be the first to pop up. If you do not have an account, it only takes a few minutes to create one.

We hope to hear from you on the blog and see you on Facebook soon.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pentagon to End Stop Loss

This afternoon, the Associated Press reported that defense officials will curb implementation of the controversial Stop Loss policy this summer. AP also reported that troops held past their ETS dates will be entitled to an additional $500 per month for the duration of their extended service. The new benefit, called Stop Loss Special Pay, will be retroactive for members of the military held beyond their ETS after Oct. 1, 2008.

Stop Loss is the oft-criticized military policy to hold mission-critical troops beyond their contract or retirement dates. Stop-loss is often referred to as a "backdoor draft" which is responsible for forcing thousands of troops to continue serving in the military long beyond their prescribed time in service. (It was also the subject of the controversial 2008 MTV Film "Stop Loss.")

According to a Department of Defense press release, the Army Reserve and National Guard will deploy their first Stop Loss-free units in August 2009. The active component will follow in January 2010.

Personally, I couldn't be happier to see DoD give Stop Loss the axe. During my time in the Army Reserve, I saw the ways in which the policy affected the morale of troops, both in the field and in garrison. Once Stop Loss in enacted, the sense of hopelessness can permeate well beyond the affected soldier. Their battle buddies feel the same loss of purpose and motivation when faced with a suddenly open-ended military obligation.

When my unit returned from Iraq in 2004, our MOS, civil affairs, was held under Stop Loss. Though the policy did not directly affect me, since I was still under contract, the loss of morale was palpable. Some of my closest friends--friends with ambitions of college, ambitions of a normal family life, ambitions of a civilian life--were suddenly deciding to reenlist!

Naturally, I asked why. After all, they were quite adamant about leaving the military after a rough year in Iraq. They simply told me that they had no other option. The Army was going to hold onto them anyway, so they might as well cash in on the bonus.

In no way do I intend to disparage the service of career military men and women. Nothing is more noble than to dedicate your life to serving your country. But I must ask what might have been for the men and women who epitomized the mantra "Army life is not my style," yet decided to re-up.

The military has repeatedly touted the necessity of the program over the years, saying that it was essential to the mission to retain the best and brightest. I'm happy to see that DoD has changed its tone, despite of continued operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy reiterated my thoughts in his statement on Stop Loss today:

"Stop Loss disrupts the plans of those who have serve their intended obligation. As such, it is employed only when necessary to ensure minimal staffing in deploying units, when needed to ensure safe and effective unit performance. It is more easily rationalized in the early stages of conflict when events are most dynamic; but tempo changes in this war have frustrated our efforts to end it altogether."

If you have stories of your experiences with DoD's Stop Loss policy, let us here about it!


(Photo: In 2007, then-Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno delivered the oath of enlistment to soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Security Station East in Iraq. Photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Cashour, released.)

White House Backs Down on Third-Party Billing

During a meeting with leaders from the nation's top veterans' service organizations, including AMVETS, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the White House had scrapped the idea of billing veterans' third-party insurance companies for service-connected health care.

Earlier in the afternoon, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once again hosted veterans' leaders to discuss the Administration's controversial proposal.

"The meeting didn't last all of 15 minutes," said AMVETS Executive Director Jim King. "We walked in unified against the policy, we said our piece, and it was clear that [Emanuel] understood."

AMVETS was happy to hear that the White House reconsidered its proposal, and King said that he's prepared to move forward with the Administration on veterans' issues.

Immediately following Monday's meeting with President Obama, AMVETS started work on a proposal that would allow the VA to collect necessary third-party funding without placing a new burden on service-connected veterans. AMVETS stands ready to present this option to the White House in the coming weeks.

(Photo: On a Saturday in January, President Barack Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with the National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget to discuss the FY2010 federal budget. White House photo by Pete Souza, released.)

PS - King also mentioned that during the meeting someone chimed in with: "When John Stewart and Rush Limbaugh agree on something, it's probably a good indication of how the country feels." To view Rush Limbaugh's comments, Click Here. John Stewart's feelings on the issue can be viewed here:

Update on Third-Party Billing

The follow-up meeting with the White House has been moved up to early this afternoon.

AMVETS will present its plan to offset the Administration's request of $500 million from VA service-connected billing in an effort to stave off the proposed toxic policy change.

American Veteran Online will be following this story closely. Check back this afternoon for updates on the day's proceedings.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AMVETS Speaks with President Obama on Third-Party Billing

On Monday afternoon, AMVETS Executive Director Jim King had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama and leaders from the nation's leading veterans' service organizations to discuss the controversial third-party billing proposal for service-connected veterans.

AMVETS was encouraged by the President's commitment to not implement the new policy outright, should it have negative effects on veterans. However, Obama and the White House staff would not entirely rule out a policy change, and asked for help from veterans' leadership to come up with alternative proposals to fund the VA internally.

On the surface, the proposal seems to be a reasonable way from the VA to bring in extra income, since the White House has assured the veterans' community that the VA would not directly bill veterans for any service-connected medical services. However, when the cost is passed along to a third-party insurance company, AMVETS is concerned that the proposal could have serious unintended consequences for veterans, making many uninsurable in the private sector.

King said that veterans would quickly reach their third-party caps for health care within a few short visits to treat service-connected conditions. Veterans could also face drastic increases in premiums, or lose third-party coverage altogether, since they will become a greater liability for private insurance companies. The proposal could also have detrimental effects on veteran employers and business owners, driving up the costs of health care for veteran-friendly businesses.

King suggested to the White House that the VA step up its current third-party billing for non-service-connected conditions to help recoup some vital income. On Thursday, AMVETS legislative team will have the opportunity to present White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel with alternatives to the third-party billing proposal.

AMVETS remains vehemently opposed to the controversial policy, and AMVETS' leaders will continue to work with the White House and the VA to ensure that it does not become a reality. During recent testimony on Capitol Hill, AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley and the Independent Budget partners voiced their fervent opposition to the proposal. Their concerns resonated with both Congressional committees on veterans' affairs, as both committee chairmen, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Bob Filner, indicated that they would not approve a VA budget proposal that included third-party billing for service-connected veterans.

American Veteran magazine will be following this story closely. Check back regularly with the blog for updates.


(Photo: President Barack Obama visits with troops at the Pentagon in January for the first time as Commander-in-Chief. DoD photo by MC1 Chad J. McNeeley, released.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Magazine Update: Veterans For Education

In the fall issue of American Veteran magazine, we explored the challenges facing veterans returning to college. In the story, we profiled the student-veterans' group, Veterans For Education (V4E), at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Since last meeting with the students at Rutgers, V4E has continued to work tirelessly to improve the perception of veterans on their own campuses and at schools across New Jersey.

William Brown, a former Navy SEAL who helped to establish the group alongside Army veteran John Cosby, continues to work with newly-appointed New Jersey Congressman John Adler on the Congressman's veterans' advisory board. Leading up to the election, Brown and his V4E colleagues hosted a congressional debate between Adler and challenger Chris Meyers. V4E's work keeping tabs on both Adler and Meyers leading up to Nov. 4, inspired Adler to seek counsel from V4E on veterans' issues once in office.

Brown has also developed an ambitious idea to run across Iraq from Kirkuk to Basra as a sign of good will and to raise funds for Iraqi charities. Brown's idea has been highlighted by a variety of major media outlets, including the New York Daily News and the Boston Globe. AMVETS has offered support to Brown in his efforts to make this run a reality within the coming year.

The current president of V4E, Bryan Adams, a former Army sniper who was wounded in Iraq, has gained significant notoriety in his own right over the last six months through his work with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). In the fall, IAVA enlisted Adams' help as its new national spokesman. Adams is featured along with IAVA's director of government affairs, Todd Bowers, in the new Ad Council public service announcement, "Alone." The PSA, which can be viewed below, recently won the 2009 New York ADDY award. Adams is currently also in the running for student body president at Rutgers Camden.

Through the leadership of Brown, Adams, and Cosby; and with the support of the Student Veterans of American (SVA), the veterans at Rutgers have become vocal authorities on student-veterans' issues across New Jersey. V4E has been working for months with the New Jersey Legislature to pass legislation authorizing state colleges and universities to accept college credits from military transcripts, as part of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program. The group is also pushing through legislation that would authorize the state's office of veterans' affairs to assign veterans' assistance officers to college campuses across New Jersey; a story that has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer and syndicated on

Unfortunately, V4E continues to face challenges within their own student body. Recently, an Army Major visited Rutgers Camden School of Law to inform students about opportunities with the Army JAG Corps. The officer was greeted with offensive signs put in place by a Rutgers student disparaging the honorable service of our men and women in uniform as a method of protesting the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Not only were the signs misdirected toward service members, but they also contained racially-charged remarks, out of the context from the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debate. One military student enrolled in the law school, Vivek Sahani, took offense to the signs and sought to take action with campus officials.

Thanks to Sahani's efforts, the campus is reviewing the actions of the student responsible for placing the signs. Similar protests have taken place on college campuses nationwide, leaving many veterans feeling unwelcome in academia; victims of a debate on controversial policies over which they have no control. Check back with American Veteran to follow this story's developments. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on the issue, or if you have had similar experiences on college campuses near you.

(Photo: Veterans For Education members last fall at Rutgers Camden, photo by Ryan Gallucci. Video: IAVA's "Alone" public service announcement featuring Bryan Adams, used with permission from IAVA.)

Highlights from the 55th annual Silver Helmet

On Saturday night, AMVETS hosted its 55th annual Silver Helmet Awards banquet at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md.

AMVETS from across the country packed the house to pay tribute to this year's recipients, Danny Devine, Tammy Duckworth, Cathy Hargrave, and "E.J." Knapick. Devine, Duckworth, and Knapick are all members of AMVETS.

(AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner poses for a photo with Tammy Duckworth and her husband, Army Maj. Bryan Bowlsbey.)

(AMVETS National Deputy Provost Marshal Arthur "A.J." Johns prepares each Silver Helmet Award for presentation.)

(Tammy Duckworth accepts her award as Civil Servant of the Year. During her acceptance speech, Duckworth brought many in the room to the brink of tears, recounting her experiences and the struggles she has overcome as a wounded warrior.)

(Danny Devine accepts his Silver Helmet Rehabilitation Award. Devine spoke about his motivation to continue serving his fellow veterans--a mission he embarked upon in the mid-1990s as a staff member at AMVETS National Headquarters. Devine also spoke about the personal sacrifices that have come along with a life dedicated to serving the needs of veterans.)

(AMVETS Past National Commander Chuck Taylor presented Cathy Hargrave with her Silver Helmet Americanism award for her tireless work at Poy Sippi Elementary School in Wisconsin. Taylor caught Hargrave by surprise when he hosted a special reception at Poy Sippi, announcing the award. Taylor gathered Hargrave's students, family, and Poy Sippi leaders to recognize Hargrave for her accomplishments. Taylor somehow managed to keep it from her in the unincorporated Wisconsin village of fewer than 1,000 residents.)

(WWII Navy veteran "E.J." Knapick accepts his award as AMVET of the Year, the highest honor AMVETS can bestow upon its members. Knapick is a charter member of New York AMVETS Post 21 and he has been a vocal contributor within the veterans' community and at every level of AMVETS for nearly 60 years.)

(Devine meets with Duckworth and her husband prior to the evening's banquet.)

I wanted to share some of the evening's moments with you, and I apologize for the length of this post. Once we start an AMVETS Flickr account, this will be considerably easier.


(All photos by Ryan Gallucci)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

From the Floor of the NEC

This morning, the spring meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee opened at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md.

On the floor, the NEC approved AMVETS' follow-up on the 2006 National Symposium on the Needs of Young Veterans.

The follow-up symposium, hatched out of the National Headquarters, will take place during the 65th AMVETS National Convention in New Orleans this August.

AMVETS hopes to bring at least one post-9/11 veteran from each department to New Orleans to participate in a roundtable discussion of the pertinent issues identified in the original symposium from 2006. AMVETS will also investigate new issues that may have arisen over the last three years and issue a new report on their findings to guide the organization's work pertaining to the newest gerenation of American veterans.

On Monday morning, AMVETS will begin to plan for the follow-up symposium. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for more details on this summer's symposium as they develop.

AMVETS also signed a new agreement with the University of Phoenix to continue providing educational opportunities for members of the military, veterans, and their family members. Since University of Phoenix first partnered with AMVETS, the university has given hundreds of veterans the opportunity to earn a college degree. From the lectern at the NEC, AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner called on every department to spread the word about the new scholarship opportunities.

Also on the floor, Norm Barker from the Department of Wisconsin announced the new Women Veterans' Memorial, which AMVETS and Wisconsin's leading veterans' organizations will build at Irma Hill.

The AMVETS Department of California also officially presented the AMVETS Law Clinic at Chapman University School of Law in California. The new clinic, which handles a variety of pro bono cases for members of the military and veterans in California will be featured in the upcoming issue of American Veteran magazine.

Official NEC business has drawn to a close in Linthicum, but check back with American Veteran Online for coverage of tonight's 55th Annual Silver Helmet Awards banquet.

(Photos, Top: Cmdr. Hapner addresses the AMVETS National Executive Committee. Center: University of Phoenix and AMVETS sign a new agreement to continue offering scholarship opportunities to our veterans. Photos by Ryan Gallucci)

Friday, March 13, 2009

AMVETS Honor Rep. Chet Edwards with Silver Helmet

AMVETS presented Texas Congressman Chet Edwards with its Congressional Silver Helmet Award during a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building last night in Washington.

"They can have their Oscar, I'll take this," said Edwards, as he accepted the award, commonly referred to as the "Veterans' Oscar."

Edwards, who chairs the Congressional subcomittee responsible for funding the VA, seized the opportunity to thank AMVETS for its hard work pushing Congress to properly care for our veterans.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was on hand to congratulate Edwards, whose district includes Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas. Shinseki commanded the First Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood from 1994-1995.

The secretary also took the opportunity to personally address AMVETS' leaders for the first time since his appointment by President Barack Obama.

"Let me just say thank you very much for what you do for all our veterans and for the VA," said Shinseki. "For us, this partnership is an important one. I look forward to strengthening it and getting to know you personally as I get out and move amongst the communities where you live and work."

Representatives from DAV, VFW, and Congressional offices also joined AMVETS to honor Edwards.

As the busy week draws to a close for AMVETS, be sure to check back with American Veteran Online for further coverage of the weekend's executive committee meeting and the 55th annual Silver Helmet Awards banquet.

(Photos, Top: Rep. Edwards discusses why the work of VSOs such as AMVETS is vitally important to his mission in Congress. Bottom: AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner speaks with Edwards and VA Secretary Shinseki prior to the reception on Capitol Hill. Photos by Jay Agg)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill

This morning's special joint hearing of the Senate and House committees on Veterans' Affairs is underway on Capitol Hill.

Chairman Akaka and Chairman Filner addressed a range of issues including the VA claims backlog, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans' mental health, and advanced VA appropriations during their opening statements. The chairmen and both committee ranking memders, Sen. Burr and Rep. Buyer, thanked each VSO slated to testify for their hard work in service to our veterans.

Buyer discussed a new bipartisan bill he plans to introduce with Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota that would provide equity in DIC compensation for surviving military widows. The landmark bill would finally provide equity for military widows, who currently receive 12 percent less in compensation compared to civilian federal employees.

The groups that testified alongside AMVETS during the morning hearing included the Air Force Sergeants Association, Fleet Reserve Association, Non-commissiond Officers Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Retired Enlisted Association, Military Officers Association of America, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

Hapner's testimony opened with vehement opposition to the VA's purported third-party billing for service-connected veterans. Hapner then applauded the committees for their work to provide advanced appropriations for the VA before leading into the AMVETS 2009 legislative agenda.

Check back with American Veterans Online this afternoon for photos and further highlights from the day's hearing.

(Photo: Cmdr. Hapner testifying before Congress. Photo by Isaac Pacheco)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comments Help

It has come to my attention that some of our readers are apprehensive about posting comments to American Veteran Online due to certain registration/log-in prompts. If you would like to post a comment without registering for a Google account, simply select "Anonymous" as your posting profile and you will not be asked for any additional information. If you choose to post anonymously, but you would still like for our staff to know who you are or where you're posting from, just leave your name, your home town, or your AMVETS post number at the bottom of your message. We're eager to hear from you, and we hope to be able to use some of your comments for the "Letters" section of American Veteran magazine.


(U.S. Air Force photo of instructors during troubleshooting exercises by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, released)

View the Video from Yesterday's VA Budget Hearing

To view the testimony of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley and the Independent Budget partners before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, click here.

During the hearing, committee chairman Robert Filner (D-Calif.) applauded the work of the IB partners, as the committee discusses the FY2010 VA budget. Members of the House committee, including ranking member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), asked each of the IB partners pointed questions about their budget proposals and ways in which Congress could improve services for veterans.

On Thursday, AMVETS National Commander John Chad Hapner will testify before a special joint session of both the House and Senate committees on veterans' affairs to outline AMVETS' legislative agenda for 2009. Check in with American Veteran Online for up-to-the-minute coverage of the day's hearing.

(Photo: Thumbnail image of yesterday's hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to discuss the FY2010 VA budget.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has been in front of Congress most of the day, answering questions about the President's propsed VA budget for FY2010.

Both the House and Senate committees on veterans affairs have grilled the secretary on purported third-party billing for service-connected conditions, often calling the idea "unconscionable."

In the afternoon's hearing before the House committee, Shinseki asserted that the new VA budget would not include policy changes related to third party billing, but that the controversial proposal remained "a consideration" for the department.

During the morning's panel before the Senate, AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley and the IB partners concurred with the statements of PVA Legislative Director Carl Blake, who called the proposal, "wholly unacceptable."

In addition to questions on third-party billing, both committees asked Shinseki about the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Shinseki took the opportunity to outline the details behind the VA's plans for implementation, asserting that each phase should roll out on time, and confirming that the VA commenced new hire training yesterday.

Check back later today for further highlights of the day's events.


Monday, March 9, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week promises to be a busy one for our staff. Not only will AMVETS be hosting the 55th annual Silver Helmet awards, but AMVETS' leaders will also testify on Capitol Hill throughout the week, presenting VA budget recommendations for FY2010 and outlining the organization's legislative agenda for 2009. Be sure to check in with the blog regularly for highlights.

Also, our editorial staff is starting to lay out the next issue of American Veteran. So this is the last chance for you to submit letters, comments, and photos for Keeping Posted. We can't do it without your feedback and support from the field.

American Veteran Online has been operational for a week now, and we're still eager to hear back from you, our readers. So let us know how we're doing and post your comments.


(Photo: Isaac Pacheco, editor of American Veteran magazine, reads an oversized letter from home while deployed to Iraq with the Marine Corps in 2005)

Changing the Rules: Let us know what you think

Last week, the veterans' community received word of a proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for health care related to service-connected conditions. AMVETS vehemently opposes this idea. We understand that the costs of health care keep skyrocketing, but that does not preclude the VA from fulfilling its obligations to our veterans.

Service-connected conditions are quite different from the kinds of health care conditions many Americans cope with. Service-connected conditions are injuries and maladies that the VA has acknowledged have a direct link to our time in the military; a time when we each forfeit certain rights and priviledges to defend our fellow countrymen and our way of life. In return for agreeing to go wherever we are asked to go, and do whatever we are asked to do, our government has made a promise to take care of us, should something happen in the line of duty. Now the government wants to pass this burden onto our private insurance companies.

I understand if the VA wants to treat normal patient triage as any private hospital would by billing third-party insurers for routine visits, but it is the VA's obligation to ensure that service-connected conditions are treated at no cost to the veteran.

Proponents of third-party billing may believe that this will simply help the VA save some much-needed cash in a turbulent economic time, since many veterans already enjoy adequate third-party coverage. However, this could create dire unintended consequences when insurance companies start to drop veterans from their plans. Under the current scenario, private insurance companies can look the other way when a veteran needs monthly counseling for PTSD or repairs to a prosthesis. But once the bills start rolling in for Blue Cross or United, somebody is going to have to reassess the situation. Veterans will become a greater liability.

The new Administration has proposed a much-needed increase in funding for the VA in FY2010. Unfortunately, third-party billing for service-connected conditions may be a part of their equation. This would be a tremendous disservice to our veterans, and I hope that the White House and Congress will not seriously consider this move. AMVETS is waiting anxiously to see the President's full budget proposal in early April. In the meantime, let us know what you think about the third-party billing proposal by posting your comments below.



Friday, March 6, 2009

Blogging from the Silver Helmet & NEC

It's once again time for the spring meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee, and next week is going to be a busy one for AMVETS. It all starts on Tuesday with Legislative Director Ray Kelley's testimony before the House and Senate on the VA budget process for FY2010. On Thursday, National Commander John Chad Hapner will testify before a special joint session of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees, outlining AMVETS' legislative agenda for the year. Later on Thursday, AMVETS will honor Texas Congressman Chet Edwards with a special Silver Helmet reception on Capitol Hill. Spring NEC preliminary business starts on Friday, with the full committee session on Saturday, followed by the 55th annual Silver Helmet Amwards banquet Saturday night. American Veteran magazine will be on hand to cover all of the events, with updates from Capitol Hill, the banquet, and the floor of then NEC.

In addition to the special award for Rep. Edwards, AMVETS will honor four more remarkable individuals during the black tie banquet for their contributions to the veterans' community: Danny Devine, Tammy Duckworth, Cathy Hargrave, and "E J" Knapick. To learn more about each recipient, visit the official Silver Helmet Awards page. This year's Silver Helmet Awards banquet and spring NEC will take place at the BWI Hilton in Linthicum, Md.

American Veteran magazine is going to hit the ground running on Tuesday, with comprehensive coverage of all the week's activities. Be sure to check in regularly at, and be on the look out of the spring issue of American Veteran magazine, with more photos and highlights from this exciting week.


(Photos, Top: Guests gather last spring for the 54 Annual Silver Helmet Awards at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. Photo courtesy of AMVETS. Center: Past National Commander JP Brown III testifies before the special joint veterans affairs committee in spring 2008. Photo by Isaac Pacheco.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Preview: American Veteran on Capitol Hill

Recently, Jay and I had the opportunity to sit down with freshman California Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the spring issue of American Veteran, we speak with some of our nation's newest veteran leadership as they seek to address issues ranging from the surge of forces in Afghanistan, to veterans' transition issues and the economic crisis. Be on the lookout for the latest issue of American Veteran magazine later this month.


(Photo by Jay Agg)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ecstasy to Treat PTSD???

This morning, reported on a South Carolina psychiatrist exploring the affects of the party drug MDMA, or ecstasy, on PTSD sufferers. After reading the story, I, personally, think there may be some merit to this study. Patients were under the watchful eye of qualified physicians, and the drug seemed to help them properly connect with their emotions. As a veteran of the war in Iraq, and having dealt with this issue first-hand, I realize that confronting suppressed memories and properly connecting with emotions are often the most difficult hurdles in treating combat stress. Why shouldn't the VA give MDMA a look, since its primary function is to enhance emotional response?

Today, most doctors prescribe a barrage of antidepressents and anxiety meds for PTSD sufferers. To me, this seems like the easy way out. I've never been a fan of antidepressents or their side-effects. I find it hard to believe that these drugs would be the only answer. The former Army Ranger quoted in the story said, "I don't want to be part of the Prozac nation. I know some of those people and they don't feel up or down or anything at all."

PTSD has long been an issue for the military, dating back to cases of "shell shock" in WWII. Vietnam Veterans were hung out to dry when they sought to address their mental health issues. It didn't really come to the forefront until this conflict. Unfortunately, the VA still seems to be struggling to adequately treat the condition, as evidenced by recent studies showing a dramatic rise in soldier suicides.

MDMA, like any other pharmaceutical, can have dire consequences if used inappropriately. However, there could be a proper clinical use for the drug after all. I've seen first-hand the kind of effects PTSD can have on troops when they come home. If there's a viable treatment out there, I think the VA should investigate. (Though I guess I can understand their skepticism, in light of last year's Chantix dabacle.)


PS-If you're suffering from combat stress, DO NOT TAKE ECSTASY ON YOUR OWN. The South Carolina study was conducted in a controlled environment and properly sanctioned by the FDA. Ecstasy is still ILLEGAL, and, like any drug, if self-medicate with it, you could DIE. If you're having issues, call the VA. Their 24-hour number is at the bottom of this blog.

(Official DEA photo)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

OMB Proposes $55.9 Billion for VA

Last week, AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley and I sat in on a conference call with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to discuss the President's proposed budget for the VA in FY2010. The President has requested $55.9 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of more than $1 billion over our Independent Budget proposal. (The actual line-by-line figures proposed by AMVETS, DAV, PVA and VFW can be viewed here.)

For our team, it's encouraging to see that the new Administration is dedicated to providing the necessary funds to care for our veterans, but we are interested to see how these numbers break down within the budget--information that was unavailable during the call.

From what we've seen, the Obama Administration has set aside increased funding for health care, and plans to reopen eligibility for Priority Eight vets. The President's budget also allows for concurrent receipt of benefits, something we've been looking for for a long time.

Formally, we'll present our Independent Budget recommendations to Congress on Tuesday, March 10, along with our partners at DAV, PVA and VFW. As the budget process evolves, check in with us to see how the President's budget measures up with the IB.


Welcome to American Veteran Online

At 3:30 p.m., on Tuesday, March 3, American Veteran magazine finally started its own blog. Though the magazine, itself, has been available online for a couple years now, this new blog will be a full service supplemental to our print edition, offering exclusive content, breaking stories, as well as follow-up on past features. We're excited about the comments section on this new blog, where we can hear back directly from you, our readers, in real time. So we look forward to seeing your comments, and please let us know how we're doing. This blog promises to be an exciting addition to the AMVETS communications mission, and we look forward to serving you down the road.


(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Clifton D. Sams, released)