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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VBA presents figures on living stipends; AMVETS satisfied with tomorrow's projected delivery

This afternoon, AMVETS leaders took part in a conference call with Keith Wilson, Veterans Benefits Administration Director of Education Service and the primary representative responsible for implementing the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, to discuss AMVETS' concerns with purported delays in Chapter 33 living stipend payments.

Last week, AMVETS was concerned over a significant reported backlog in claims for the new Chapter 33 benefits, which VA documents confirmed could have been as high as 236,000. In response to this grim news, AMVETS devised a plan that could have helped veterans avoid financial hardship as a result, which was presented to VA and VBA officials on Friday.

After today's discussion, AMVETS concerns have been addressed and AMVETS leaders say they are satisfied with tomorrow's projected delivery of the first living stipend payments.

According to Wilson, the reported 236,000 claims outlined in the weekly VBA report represented the total number of claims that needed some kind of action--such as a letter to be mailed or a simple query for additional information on G.I. Bill benefits. Wilson reported that the actual number of claims that must still be processed for Chapter 33 was closer to 67,400, and that 168,600 claims should be paid out Sept. 1.

At first glance, the 67,400 figure is still a daunting shortfall. However, Wilson assured AMVETS that two-thirds to three-quarters of those claims were only filed within the last month, meaning that the last-minute influx made it impossible for VBA to process and deliver these particular claims on time.

AMVETS remains concerned that 20,000 veterans who did file their claims in a timely manner will still not receive their first living stipend payments by Sept. 1. However, Wilson assured AMVETS that the claims were being processed and that all accounts should be current by Oct. 1.

In recent testimony before Congress, VBA voiced concerns over a sudden influx of claims prior to the start of the fall semester, which appears to be the situation VBA faces today. From the beginning, VBA advised veterans and schools to file all claims as early as possible to ensure proper payment, noting that the complicated new benefit took a significant amount of time to process--roughly 30 days. A failure to submit a claim on time cannot be held against the VBA.

However, AMVETS will continue to monitor the situation closely and AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley has asked Wilson for a follow-up call in two weeks to discuss progress on implementation and to ensure that everything has gone according to plan.

Though AMVETS leaders left the call optomistic about tomorrow's delivery, AMVETS will continue to monitor the situation closely, speaking with veterans and leaders within the academic community to ensure benefits are delivered on time as promised.

If you have an issue with Chapter 33 benefits delivery, please let us know about it by commenting on American Veteran Online or through an E-mail to AMVETS national communications department.

(Image: VA's official Post-9/11 G.I. Bill logo.)

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow the VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Tomorrow, the first living stipend checks are scheduled to be deposited in veterans' accounts. AMVETS has expressed concerns that this will not happen and, on Friday, developed a contingency plan which AMVETS leaders plan to discuss with VA.

The latest data from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) indicates that 234,260 education work items remain pending within the administration. To view the data in VBA's weekly report from Aug. 24, Click Here. Pending education claims can be found in column P.

AMVETS is concerned that many veterans will face financial hardships as a result of payment delays--a situation that must be avoided at all costs. Congress imposed an ambitious timeline on VBA, so rather than blaming the VA, AMVETS would rather propose solutions to the issue.

This week, American Veteran will also continue to follow the "Your Life, Your Choices" debacle, since accusations continue to fly unabated, in spite of the responses from AMVETS and the American Legion acknowledging that the document is not an attempt to steer veterans toward ending their lives.

Tomorrow is Sept. 1, which means that we are coming close to the submission deadline for the fall issue of American Veteran magazine. Please send on your photos and submissions as soon as possible for consideration for Keeping Posted and potential feature content.

Thank you to everyone who read the write-up last week on "Your Life, Your Choices" and the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. We hope you will continue to comment on our postings, and, as always, we're eager to hear what's happening in the field so that we may highlight it on this blog.

Friday, August 28, 2009

AMVETS member John Abshire to serve on La. Gov.'s Veterans' Commission

Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed Louisiana AMVETS member John Abshire to the state’s Veterans' Affairs Commission.

The Veterans' Affairs Commission serves to advise the State Department of Veterans’ Affairs, State Secretary of Veterans Affairs Lane Carson, and the governor on matters relating to the welfare of veterans. Abshire was selected by AMVETS leaders in Louisiana to represent the organization on the governor’s commission.

Abshire is an Army veteran and a native of Prairieville, La., who served in the Army Reserve in 1992-2000 and active duty Army in 2002-2005. However, an injury sustained during Special Forces training precluded him from serving overseas.

In 2007, Abshire helped charter AMVETS Post No. 2007 in Lafayette, recognizing a need to reach out to today’s veterans. Abshire served as the post’s commander until relocating to Baton Rouge. Today, Post No. 2007 is the largest in the state, bolstering a diverse membership including more than a dozen members of the local National Guard unit.

In addition to his work with AMVETS, Abshire is an academic affairs manager for University of Phoenix, a strong educational partner with AMVETS. Over the last couple of years, Abshire’s unique position has allowed him to speak with members of the Louisiana National Guard during pre- and post-deployment battle assemblies on both the benefits of veterans’ organizations like AMVETS and taking advantage of their G.I. Bill education benefits.

Today, Abshire lives in Baton Rouge, La., where he is working to re-establish Louisiana’s first AMVETS Post, Post No. 2, leaving Lafayette Post No. 2007 in the competent hands of AMVET Alfred Lager.

Gov. Jindal’s Veterans’ Affairs Commission is comprised of nine appointed positions, each subject to state senate confirmation. Each member must be an honorably discharged veteran nominated by a nationally chartered veterans’ organization with a Louisiana affiliate.

Many state governors have similar commissions across the country to advise state leaders on critical local veterans’ issues. AMVETS is eager to highlight each of our representatives nationwide on the national Web site and American Veteran Online.

(Photo: John Abshire's official photo from the University of Phoenix. Photo courtesy of John Abshire.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: Thousands of veterans could receive late living stipends

Over the last few weeks, AMVETS has heard grumblings in Washington that the VA may be unable to deliver September's living stipend on time to thousands of veterans seeking Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33) benefits.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley has asked for specifics on potential issues from the VA several times, only to have his inquiries fall on deaf ears.

However, according to the most recent data, more than 200,000 claims for Chapter 33 remain unprocessed. VA, which hired hundreds of new claims processors to handle the influx, only has a few short days remaining to file the additional claims and issue checks.

Earlier this month, Keith Wilson, VA's primary representative handling Chapter 33, placed the blame on many of the colleges and universities, saying that they failed to file veterans' paperwork in a timely manner, leading to a flood of claims to be processed in August.

College representatives refute this claim, saying that the VA's self-imposed start date of July 7 to accept paperwork was far to late to adequately process all of the new benefits claims.

Regardless of where the disconnect occured, the delay in payment could leave many of the 200,000 veterans without their first month's living stipend.

When the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was signed into law, the nation made a promise to veterans that they would not incur any outlandish costs pursuing higher education. The living stipend--based on the military's basic allowance for housing for an E-5 with dependents--was designed to cover the costs of rent, food and other expenses so that veterans could focus on their studies.

Now, will veterans need to hastily apply for loans to cover these costs in the interim? What happens when veterans cannot make the rent for the month of September?

American Veteran will continue to follow this story closely. Check back regularly, as we approach Sept. 1 for updates. In the meantime, let us know what you think.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Edward Kennedy, Army veteran and AMVET, dies at 77

After a year-long battle with brain cancer, the second most senior U.S. Senator, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), died last night at his home in Cape Cod.

Kennedy, who long served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and left his mark on such noteworthy military and veterans' legislation as defense appropriations for up-armored humvees, anti-IED technology, and the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, was one of the most recognizable political figures in the United States and an astute leader capable of reaching across party lines.

In 1951, Kennedy enlisted in the U.S. Army and served on the honor guard at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Paris. He left the military honorably in 1953 as a private first class. Kennedy's name appears on the official membership rolls of AMVETS.

In 1991, Kennedy played an integral role in passing the bill that paved the way for women to serve as combat aviators. This first rule change ultimately set the stage for women to achieve greater equality in today's armed forces.

Kennedy is most remembered for his work championing social causes stateside, such as disabled Americans' rights, anti-discrimination, and education.

In the summer of 2008, Kennedy worked to pass the Higher Education Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008, providing significant improvements to the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Included in the 2008 act, which was signed into law by President Bush, was a provision AMVETS introduced commissioning federal grants for student-veterans' "centers of excellence" on college campuses nationwide.

AMVETS envisioned these grants as a way for colleges and universities to prepare for the next generation of leaders returning from the front lines to take advantage of their G.I. Bill benefits. AMVETS recently learned that the provision for these centers has been included in the House version of the 2010 budget for the Department of Education.

Kennedy's courageous return to the Senate last summer while battling brain cancer made the passage of the higher ed bill possible.

Kennedy is the only one of four brothers to die of natural causes. His oldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died as a bomber pilot during Operation Aphrodite in WWII, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated during his presidential campaign in Los Angeles in 1968.

Kennedy is survived by his wife Victoria Kennedy, sons Edward Jr. and Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), daughter Kara Kennedy Allen, and two stepchildren, Caroline Raclin and Curran Raclin.

To read Kennedy's New York Times obituary, Click Here.

(Photo: Sen. Edward Kennedy sits in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet at Naval Air Station Miramar in California on a visit with the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1985. U.S. Navy photo, released.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

VA's "Your Life, Your Choices" a non-issue for veterans

Over the weekend, cable news pundits bashed the continued use of VA's end-of-life care planning manual, "Your Life, Your Choices," mislabeling the handbook as "Obama's Death Book for Veterans." AMVETS would like to set the record straight on this handbook, which has been in use with the VA for more than a decade.

"Your Life, Your Choices" is a document designed to help veterans draft a living will to determine how they will be cared for, should they be unable to make decisions for themselves. The document is very similar to documents offered by major health care providers across the U.S., including the sections dealing with end-of-life care. The book was originally issued in 1997. In 2007, the Bush Administration commissioned a panel to review the book. The panel overwhelmingly praised the manual's benefits and decided to continue circulation. The VA has decided to review "Your Life, Your Choices" as a matter of routine, but the handbook remains in publication today and VA officials continue to list it as a viable free resource. To read the latest version of "Your Life, Your Choices," Click Here.

Last week, an op-ed was published in the Wall Street Journal by Jim Towey, founder of the non-profit "Aging With Dignity." Towey's group disagreed with the continued circulation of "Your Life, Your Choices," purporting that President Obama has recommissioned the handbook. This assertion is false. "Your Life, Your Choices" was continually circulated under the Bush Administration. Plus, Towey's motives in publishing his misleading op-ed may not be entirely benevolent. "Aging With Dignity" has its own guidebook to end-of-life care called "Five Wishes," which is available for sale on Towey's Web site. This mess is the latest act of political grandstanding, which has derailed critical work on veterans' issues.

In the op-ed and on Fox News, critics took many passages from "Your Life, Your Choices" out of context, leading viewers to believe that the book advocated assisted suicide and "pulling the plug" on aging veterans. Both of these assertions are, again, false. The book outlines all aspects of end-of-life care, including religious obligations. It advises veterans to discuss end-of-life care with their religious leaders and to suggests ways to have difficult conversations with loved ones.

There is one line in the book that addresses assisted suicide by pointing out that such procedures are illegal and irrelevant to the contents of the book, since living wills are for people who can no longer speak for themselves.

Towey's argument that Obama reissued the book is a flat-out lie and the continued propagation of this message is yellow journalism. This kind of red herring distracts all of us from the important work that needs to be done. Veterans' organizations such as AMVETS are sworn to protect the best interests of our veterans, and arguing over this is a waste of our time.

New veterans are returning from the front lines in the Global War on Terrorism. With these new conflicts come new challenges that VSOs must address, such as PTSD, TBI, women veterans' health, claims-processing issues, employment and re-employment rights, education benefits, transition assistance--the list goes on. In the current Congress, more than 400 individual pieces of legislation have been introduced that could have an effect on the veterans' community and the Obama Administration has proposed significant changes to modernize the VA. This is where our energies must be focused--not on a manufactured issue designed to stir public dissent and sell books.

Monday, August 24, 2009

AMVETS National Service Officer Elliot Miller discusses the VA claims backlog

On Friday, AMVETS National Service Officer Elliot Miller spoke with CNN about the VA claims backlog and his work helping veterans file claims and appeals out of the VA Regional Office in Philadelphia.

Every week, Miller takes at least one day to visit with troops at the wounded warrior transition unit at Fort Dix, N.J. This is where CNN caught up with Miller to discuss VA claims.

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to discuss implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which rolled out Aug. 1. The first housing and books allowances are scheduled to be distributed Sept. 1, but word around Washington indicates that veterans may experiences delays.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley is monitoring the situation closely, asking important questions about the new G.I. Bill to VA leaders.

If you experience a delay in receiving your new G.I. Bill benefits, let us know in the comments section of this blog.

This week, we will also look into the VA's new policy on PTSD claims. The announcement came this morning and AMVETS is sorting through the new regulation to see how it will effect the already-daunting VA claims backlog.

As always, American Veteran is eager to hear what is happening at posts and departments around the country. Please feel free to send us your photos and story ideas. And, as always, please let us know what you think of our stories.

Friday, August 21, 2009

VA's bad bonuses and unauthorized education benefits

This morning, Associated Press published a story about a new VA Office of the Inspector General report, citing serious ethics violations and more than $24 million in wasteful bonuses--many delivered to VA information technology employees prior to the completion of certain projects.

To view the OIG report, Click Here.

The report focused on a former VA assistant secretary for information and technology, Robert Howard, his executive assistant, Jennifer Duncan, and other managers within VA's Office of Information & Technology (OI&T), who distributed $24,011,484 in inappropriate bonuses to employees in 2007 and 2008. Duncan, herself, received combined bonuses over the two-year period worth more than $60,000. The report accuses Howard and Duncan of mismanaging VA's performance bonus policies, considering OI&T's budget deficit, and recommends further training for OI&T directors to ensure compliance with the law.

According to the report, the OI&T also distributed $124,908.88 in unauthorized education benefits for family members, friends, and other VA employees. OIG has recommended that VA recover all of the funds inappropriately distributed to finance advanced academic programs.

While AMVETS certainly understands that this happened under a VA administration long removed and that current VA leadership is looking to recover the education funds, these ethics violations are inexcusable.

This morning, CNN reported that the VA claims backlog can be estimated at about 400,000 claims awaiting adjudication. So while VA employees enjoyed lavish bonuses for work they had not completed, hundreds of thousands of veterans struggled to make ends meet as they awaited judgment on their pending claims.

In a couple of weeks, the first Post-9/11 G.I. Bill payments are due, and we're hearing grumblings in Washington that the VA won't make the deadline. Seems like bad timing for this report, since the VA had no problem distributing unauthorized tuition payments for its own in 2007.

Two years ago, the Administration sought to reduce funding for VA's Office of the Inspector General. At the time, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley testified that the VA needed OIG to be fully funded in order to properly police the second-largest department in the federal government. Congress ultimately decided to increase its funding for OIG.

"To think you can cut a cost through OIG is ridiculous. So many lives and so much money is at stake with the VA," Kelley said. "Tuesday's report is just another example of why OIG's work is critical to VA's mission of serving vets."

AMVETS is happy that OIG caught these abuses of authority and hopes that the current Administration will do everything in its power to remedy the situation.

American Veteran will follow this story closely. In the meantime, please let us know what you think.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Become a "Fan" of AMVETS on Facebook

Several months ago, with the help of Michael Joseph Little, who was serving in Iraq, AMVETS commissioned its official Facebook group. As Facebook evolves, AMVETS has decided to add another feature to its presence on social media.

AMVETS National Headquarters officially launched its Facebook page today. To view the official page and to become a "Fan" of AMVETS National Headquarters, Click Here.

The new page will allow AMVETS National Headquarters to publish updates in real time that will be posted instantly to fans' status update pages. It will also allow for easier feedback from fans who wish to post and discuss veterans' issues.

In the coming days, AMVETS will be updating the Facebook page with photos from the 2009 AMVETS Silver Helmet awards, the AMVETS 65th National Convention, and American Veteran magazine.

AMVETS National Headquarters Facebook page also allows fans to copy code to their own Web sites and blogs to track AMVETS' status updates, photos, and fans. An example of the Facebook Fan Box feature is included below.

(Image: Screengrab of the new AMVETS National Headquarters Facebook page.)

New AMVETS command group elected

At National Convention last week, AMVETS delegates elected the new leadership group for 2009-2010. American Veteran will highlight incoming National Commander Duane Miskulin, First Vice-Commander Jerry Hotop, and Second Vice-Commander Gary Fry.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin:

Cmdr. Miskulin, a native of Stevens Point, Wisc., has completed his ascent to the post of National Commander, a journey that began with AMVETS nearly two decades ago. Miskulin has held numerous positions at all levels of the organization, starting at his post. Last year, Miskulin served as AMVETS National First Vice-Commander. In a recent interview, Miskulin said his top priority for his term as National Commander will be addressed the mental health needs of veterans, past and present--particularly incidents of traumatic brain injury, which are becoming more and more prevalent on today's battlefield.

AMVETS National First Vice-Commander Jerry Hotop:

Hotop, a native of Perryville, Mo., has been an active member of AMVETS since 1978, serving in leadership positions at the post, department, and national levels. Hotop served three years in the Army before joining the Navy Reserve as a Seabee to serve another six. Hotop owned and operated his own business for 40 years. Since his recent retirement, Hotop has focused on his work with AMVETS. Last year, Hotop served as National Second-Vice Commander.

AMVETS National Second-Vice Commander Gary Fry:

Fry, an Army veteran who served in Germany and later as a sergeant in Vietnam in the late 1960s, was recently elected to his first national command position. Fry has been active with his home Department of Pennsylvania for many years, and most recently served as the state's alternate National Executive Committee representative. Fry has also served as vice chairman of the National Long Range Planning Committee. He is also a member of the national programs and Americanism committees. Fry currently resides in Sugar Grove, Pa., where he has been happily married for 39 years.

At convention, Fertie Brand, Dan Snyder, and Eugene Meyer were each re-elected to their positions as National Finance Officer, National Judge Advocate, and National Provost Marshal, respectively. Past National Commander S. John Sisler and Jimmy T. Smith were also elected to the AMVETS National Service Foundation Board of Trustees.

(Photos: Official AMVETS photos of Duane Miskulin, Jerry Hotop and Gary Fry.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speicher laid to rest; Pfc. Bergdahl remains in our prayers

Last week, Navy Capt. Michael Speicher was laid to rest in Jacksonville, Fla. The F-18 pilot had been missing since he was shot down over Iraq during the early stages of Operation Desert Storm.

The thoughts and prayers of AMVETS leadership remain with the family of Speicher, as they finally have closure on the whereabouts of their loved one.

Through the hard work of Department of Defense forensics teams and troops serving on the ground in Iraq, Speicher has finally returned home.

During the recent AMVETS National Convention in New Orleans, AMVETS members from across the country voted on a resolution continuing to call on the Departments of State and Defens to continue to do everything in their power to ensure that all POW/MIA service members have the same opportunity to return home.

While AMVETS remains dedicated to continuing to search for fallen comrades from previous conflicts around the world, AMVETS also renews the call to find Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, the young soldier being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Though Bergdahl's name has dropped out of the headlines, we must continue to demand that our leaders remain focused on finding him and returning him to his unit and his family.

Pfc. Bergdahl and his family will remain in our thoughts and prayers.


(Photo: Top: Members of a Navy Honor Guard carry the remains of Speicher to All Saints Chapel in Jacksonville, Fla. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Leah Stiles, released. Bottom: Official U.S. Army photo of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, courtesy of Ft. Richardon Public Affairs.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, it's back to work after a productive week at the national convention in New Orleans. While in New Orleans, AMVETS elected new national officers for 2009-2010 and passed 28 resolutions to help guide the organization in the coming year.

AMVETS leaders were honored to host VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Louisiana VA Secretary Lane Carson, retired Army paratrooper Dana Bowman, Army Community Covenant Director retired Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, and the Taiwan's Veterans' Affairs leaders.

AMVETS also thanks the 26 exhibitors who participated in the AMVETS Expo--particularly banquet sponsor Anheuser-Busch and keynote speakers from Paws with a Cause and Air Compassion for Veterans.

American Veteran also wants to thank former Marines Chef John Besh and Blake LeMaire from Besh Restaurant Group for sitting down with us to discuss their military service and how it has molded key business decisions, contributing to their companies' successes. The hospitality of Besh and LeMaire was certainly appreciated, and we're excited to share their story with our readers. Be on the look-out for Chef Besh's story in the fall issue of American Veteran magazine.

This week on American Veteran Online, we will look into the health care reform issue, which AMVETS took a vocal stance on three weeks ago. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has listened to AMVETS, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning. American Veteran will be following these developments closely as the Obama Administration continues to pursue comprehensive health care reform.

American Veteran will also provide an in-depth look at the new leadership of AMVETS, elected at the national convention.

As always, we're eager to hear what you have to say about the topics we discuss, and please tell us about the stellar programs happening in AMVETS departments across the country.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Live from Convention: Dana Bowman to jump for AMVETS

This morning, retired Army paratrooper and double-amputee Dana Bowman spoke on the convention floor. The AMVETS delegation greeted Bowman with a standing ovation.

Bowman, a life member of AMVETS who lost both of his legs in a skydiving accident as a member of the elite Army Golden Knights, discussed his work as a motivational speaker and wounded warriors' advocate.

Before Bowman's speech, AMVETS voted to approve more than $9,000 to purchase a new parachute for Bowman, featuring the AMVETS logo. Bowman plans to use the new parachute to jump into special events across the country and raise awareness of AMVETS and its programs.

Bowman has delivered more than 400 speeches in the last few years, and appeared in countless television shows and magazines. Most recently, Fox News featured Bowman's Aug. 7 jump at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Bowman said he is excited about working with AMVETS, an organization to which his family has always been loyal in Ohio.

Bowman will be outside of the Grand Ballroom throughout the day to speak with AMVETS members.

(Photo: Dana Bowman discusses his personal experiences on the floor of the AMVETS National Convention. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Live from Convention: Service Foundation donates climbing wall to Georgia VA Medical Center

This morning, AMVETS National Service Foundation donated $150,000 to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., to finance the purchase of a therapeutic rock climbing wall for veterans rehabilitating at the facility.

"On behalf of Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and our director, Rebecca Wiley, I want to say that we're extremely grateful for this donation from AMVETS, which will help our veterans return to a normal life," said David Patillo, assistant medical center director at Charlie Norwood. "We can't do enough to support our wounded troops who have done so much for this country."

The service foundation made the donation as part of the AMVETS Healing Heroes program, which directly supports wounded veterans and their loved ones. When AMVETS Healing Heroes rolled out in spring 2008, AMVETS National Service Foundation sought to keep families of wounded troops together through the long rehabilitation process.

Today, the program has expanded to seek additional rehabilitation opportunities to support wounded veterans through innovative therapeutic options like the Charlie Norwood VAMC climbing wall.

Every cent donated to AMVETS Healing Heroes goes to help wounded warriors, since the program has no overhead costs. To date, AMVETS National Service Foundation has distributed more than $300,000 in aide since its inception.

AMVETS National Programs Director Beryl Love said he is looking forward to continuing to support healing heroes, as the AMVETS National Service Foundation's fund continues to grow.

(Photo: Leaders from AMVETS and the AMVETS National Service Foundation presented officials from the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center with a check for $150,000 to finance a therepeutic climbing wall at the facility. Pictured, left to right: Joe Peining, executive director of the AMVETS National Service Foundation, Beryl Love, AMVETS national programs director, Kimberly Hoge, chief of voluntary services at Charlie Norwood VAMC, John C. Hapner, AMVETS national commander, and David Pattillo, assistant medical center director at Charlie Norwood VAMC. Photo by Jay Agg.)

Live from Convention: AMVETS votes on 2010 agenda; Maj. Gen. Whelden discusses Army Community Covenant

Yesterday, AMVETS quickly passed its 2010 resolutions on the floor of the National Convention. Buzz around the Sheraton New Orleans was that this year's voting was one of the quickest in recent memory.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley, who read each of the 30 resolutions, attributed the swift passage of the agenda to the work of AMVETS' individual committees.

"The committees concern and desire to achieve solidarity before leaving the committee room aided in the swift action taken on the floor," Kelley said. "We have an exciting year ahead, but this is just the beginning of the work."

Issues AMVETS will address in the coming year include female veterans’ care, advance VA funding, increased survivor benefits, opposition to increased TRICARE fees and co-pays, improving veterans’ employment rights, flag protection, POW/MIA recovery, military experience transferability to civilian job skills, veterans’ preferences in employment, and increased travel reimbursement for VA care.

AMVETS also heard from retired Army Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, director of the Army Community Covenant program, on the convention floor yesterday morning.

Army Community Covenant is a program commissioned by Army Secretary Peter Geren that encourages communities around the country to publicly demonstrate their support to all men and women in uniform, regardless of service branch.

After delivering his remarks, Whelden spoke to hundreds of AMVETS members in the lobby of the Grand Ballroom, explaining how AMVETS can get involved.

(Photos: Top: AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley reads the 2010 resolutions, while committee recommendations were displayed for delegates. Bottom: Retired Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden encourages AMVETS to support Army Community Covenant in their communities. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

Must-sees in the Big Easy: Luke and the Besh restaurants

A few short blocks from the Sheraton New Orleans, you can find a friendly, up-scale corner restaurant and bar with a menu full of gems based on traditional French and German cuisine--with an unmistakable touch of Southern Louisiana.

The Luke Restaurant, located at 333 St. Charles Ave., in the Hilton hotel, is a traditional brasserie from Chef John Besh and Blake LeMaire. Besh, a Marine Corps veteran of the Gulf War, is well known in the New Orleans community and around the country. LeMaire, whom Besh calls the "businessman" behind their ventures, is a Marine Corps friend of Besh's, who recently served in Afghanistan.

You may recognize Besh's face from Next Iron Chef on the Food Network or Top Chef Masters on Bravo. Besh's restaurants have earned James Beard Foundation awards and are consistently named among the best in Louisiana.

According to LeMaire, what Besh and Chef Steven McHugh bring to the table at Luke is a wealth of culinary experience and a love for German and French cuisine. This passion is reflected in the menu through such staples as the croque monsieur, flamenkueche, shrimp "en cocette," or even the Luke Burger.

Luke also features a full raw bar and three locally-crafted beers brewed exclusively for the restaurant.

The environment is relaxed and the staff is courteous and attentive.

Within walking distance of the Sheraton New Orleans, Besh also has two additional restaurants. For an unforgettable formal dining experience, visit August at 301 Tschoupitoulas Street. If you're interested in a steak, visit Besh Steak House inside the Harrah's Casino. All of the Besh restaurants are veteran-owned businesses.

Chef John Besh and Blake LeMaire sat down with American Veteran magazine this week in New Orleans. Be on the look-out for the fall issue of American Veteran, where we will highlight Besh, LeMaire, their military service, and the way the Marine Corps has helped mold their mastery of the restaurant industry.

(Photo: The bar at Luke Restaurant. To the left, you can see the Marine Corps sabres hanging over the bar, as well as the unmistakable eagle, globe and anchor on the wall. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Live from Convention: 2009 AMVETS Expo opens

Yesterday, the 2009 AMVETS Expo opened at the Sheraton New Orleans for the AMVETS National Convention. More than 25 exhibitors from the VA, Department of Defense, veterans' non-profits, and veteran-supportive colleges and businesses were on hand to speak with AMVETS and local veterans.

Expo visitors who have at least 20 exhibitors' initials on their AMVETS Expo sheet can enter to win a $50 or $100 gift certificate to the National Quartermaster courtesy of the AMVETS Department of Ohio, five gift packages courtesy of Paws for the Cause, or a Budweiser chess set and a Bud Light Tiffany lamp courtesy of Anheuser-Busch. Entries must be returned to the registration table by 2 p.m. on Friday to be eligible for Saturday's drawing.

The AMVETS Expo is open on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Salon D of the Sheraton's Grand Ballroom.

Here is a list of this year's exhibitors:

Addus Health Care; Air Compassion for Veteras, Mercy Medical Airlift; AMVETS Membership Department; AMVETS Programs Department; Columbia College; Crowne Plaza Riverfront and Hilton Garden St. Paul, Minn.; DeVry University; Empire State College; Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge; John Tracy Clinic; Hilton Atlanta Hotel; Hyant Regency Dearborn, Mich.; Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command; Kaplan University; MCS Direct; MyHealtheVet; Office of the Chief of Army Reserve; Paws with a Cause; SheerBliss Ice Cream; St. Judes Children's Research Hospital; University of Phoenix; VA National Cemetery Administration; VA Office of Veterans Health Communication; VA Research and Development Communication; VAVS; VHA Web Communications; and Wireless Affinity Enterprises.

(Photos: Top: AMVETS visiting New Orleans for the 2009 National Convention visit with exhibitors at the 2009 AMVETS Expo. Middle: Jody Shifflett from Air Compassion for Veterans explains his organization's program to provide critical transportation to veterans and their loved ones during times of emergency. Shifflett addressed the AMVETS delegation on the convention floor earlier in the day. Bottom: Sarah, a member of the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, discusses the benefits of service dogs such as Gus with visitors to the expo. Sarah credits Gus with changing her life and motivating her to advocate for veterans' service dogs. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Live from Convention: AMVETS Publication Awards

This morning, AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner handed out the 2009 AMVETS National Awards to posts and departments from around the country. Throughout the day, we will be updating the blog with new photos from Membership and Americanism awards.

Here are this year's winners for AMVETS' Publications:

Newspaper Category:

(Photo: Illinois AMVETS earned Newspaper of the Year. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Multi-page Newsletter Category:

(Photo: Johnathan M. Wainright Post No. 1111 in Walla Walla, Wash. published the multi-page newsletter of the year. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Single-page Newsletter Category:

(Photo: John Harvey Memorial Post No. 40 in Roanoke, Va. earned published the single-page newsletter of the year. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Live from Convetion: Secretary Shinseki addresses AMVETS delegation

This afternoon, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addressed the national delegation of AMVETS on the convention floor.

Shinseki took a moment to discuss the compelling history of AMVETS and the vision of the founders, who first met even before WWII had ended.

Shinseki applauded the foresight of the organization, which has evolved considerably over the first 65 years to meet the needs of all veterans.

Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary Lane Carson also spoke to the delegation. Carson, a Vietnam veteran and a member of AMVETS, thanked the organization for its hard work over the years; work that is very personal in nature. Carson credits AMVETS with looking out for his best interest when he returned from overseas.

Both secretaries Shinseki and Carson also took the time to address the VA Medical Center issue in New Orleans. The city has been without a flagship facility for four years. A new center was approved, but disputes have delayed the program.

Shinseki assured AMVETS and New Orleans veterans that, "we will build this hospital."

Shinseki also took the time to discuss the Obama Administration's agenda to improve the VA--an agenda AMVETS supports. Shinseki discussed the Administration's drastic increase in VA funding as well as the push to authorize advance appropriations for VA health care.

To read more about Shinski's speech, check back with tomorrow morning. For all your convention updates, check back regularly with American Veteran Online.

(Photos: Top: Shinseki discusses the history of AMVETS on the floor of the national convention. Bottom: Carson discusses his personal experiences with AMVETS on the floor of the national convention. Photos by Jay Agg.)

Live from Convention: Opening ceremonies underway

With a thunderous crack of the giant ceremonial gavel, AMVETS National Convention was officially called to order at the Sheraton New Orleans this afternoon. Hundreds of veterans and their loved ones from across the country were on hand for the ceremony.

AMVETS National Color Guard from Hagerstown AMVETS Post No. 10 in Maryland presented the colors, as the Marine Corps Band played the National Anthem.

The call-to-order and introduction of national officers and distinguished guests from Taiwan's Department of Veterans Affairs was followed by a somber POW/MIA ceremony.

Later today, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki will address the delegation along with Louisiana Secretary of Veterans Affairs Lane Carson.

Check back shortly at American Veteran Online for updates on today's events.

(Photos: Top: AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner receives an award from Taiwan Veterans Affairs Secretary General Tai-Chen Cha. Bottom: Hagerstown AMVETS conducted the POW/MIA ceremony. Photos by Jay Agg.)

Must-sees in the Big Easy: Pat O'Brien's

Bourbon Street may be a bit daunting to a first-timer in the French Quarter. However, there's one nook just off of Bourbon that every visitor to the Big Easy should experience: Pat O'Brien's.

Pat O'Brien's originally opened at the end of prohibition, when proprietor Pat O'Brien converted his small speakeasy on St. Peter Street into a legitimate bar. After a few short years, Pat O'Brien's outgrew its humble beginnings and moved up the block to its current location at 718 St. Peter Street.

Just off of Bourbon Street, Pat O'Brien's features a dueling piano bar, a patio lounge, and a main bar. The atmosphere hasn't changed much since its humble beginnings, with classic French Quarter archetecture dating back to the 1700s.

Each night, the piano bar offers live music and the players take requests. The patio bar, lined with palm trees and a mezmerizing fire foundation, is an oasis in the middle of a bustling French Quarter.

But it's not the atmosphere or the music that made Pat O'Brien's legendery. The bar, which now dominates the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Peter, is best known for its specialty drinks, like the world-famous Hurricane.

The original Hurricane was born out of necessity in the 1940s, when rum was plentiful, but other liquor was more difficult to come by. According to Pat O'Brien's, bar owners had to purchase 50 cases of rum at a time in order to purchase other kinds of liquor. Pat O'Brien's unique concoction created the drink visitors love today.

The Hurricane is not for the faint of heart, and contains roughly four ounces of rum per drink. At a modest price of $6 in the main bar, it's a small price to pay compared to other local watering holes, and it certainly won't let you down.

For a couple of dollars more, you can purchase a Hurricane in the signature glass, shaped like a hurricane lamp, that gave the drink its name.

Check back throughout the week for more "must-sees" in New Orleans. Tomorrow we'll highlight the Acme Oyster House on Iberville Street.

(Photos: Top: Pat O'Brien's sign over the main entrance on St. Peter Street. Bottom: Pat O'Brien's world famour Hurricane. Photo by Luis Jimenez.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Must-sees in the Big Easy: Cafe Du Monde

AMVETS has come to the Big Easy. While the days will be filled with forging the way forward for one of the nation's largest and most inclusive veterans' service organizations, that doesn't mean the hundreds of veterans who have gathered here in New Orleans can't take advantage of all the city has to offer.

Throughout the week, American Veteran Online will highlight some of the hot spots around New Orleans.

The first institution we'll highlight is Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe Du Monde, located on Decatur Street, is a must-see for any visitor to the French Quarter. Opened in 1863, it is a classic French Cafe, serving beignets doused in powdered sugar and coffee with a hint of Chicory.

From the Sheraton New Orleans, it's about a five block walk down Decatur Street to the original Cafe Du Monde. The original location is open 24/7, only closed on Christmas Day. Six other locations are scattered around the New Orleans metro area, and hours vary.

Be sure to endulge in classic French confection while you enjoy the historic French Quarter.

Check back with American Veteran Online tomorrow afternoon when we highlight the legendary Pat O'Brien's Hurricane.

(Photo: Beignets at the original Cafe Du Monde in the New Orleans French Quarter. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

This Week at American Veteran

This week, AMVETS is in New Orleans, La. for the 65th annual AMVETS National Convention. American Veteran Online will be reporting from the convention with everything you need to know about AMVETS. To view the official AMVETS release about convention, Click Here.

We will be updating regularly with photos and status on AMVETS' resolutions and officer elections for the coming year. We will also highlight New Orleans hot spots to check out around the city.

As convention rolls on, American Veteran will also keep you up to date on the latest news in the veterans' community. Check back regularly for updates.

Friday, August 7, 2009

White House fixes California's G.I. Bill glitch

On Wednesday, the White House announced a resolution that will resolve the tuition reimbursement issue with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in California.

Since California charges "fees" in lieu of traditional "tuition" for students at public colleges and universities in the state, student-veterans who sought to take advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill at California private schools were ineligible for any tuition reimbursement from the VA.

However, the solution to this semantics battle, which Army Times reported on Wednesday, will allow student-veterans in California to take advantage of their fee reimbursement entitlements to pay for tuition at California private schools.

Leading up to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill's implementation on Aug. 1, veterans and academics alike were concerned about the inequities for California students and Congress was working on legislation to possibly change the G.I. Bill to benefit California student-veterans.

AMVETS applauded the President's decision, and the organization will continue to monitor the implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to ensure that all veterans of the current conflicts receive the benefits they have earned.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for more updates as the new G.I. Bill rolls out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

President Obama Announces Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Rollout

Today President Obama announced the national kickoff of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill with Vice President Biden, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) and former Virginia Sen. John Warner at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. American Veteran was on hand to chronicle this historic event.

Student-veterans at George Mason University rose to their feet and applauded as the President entered to deliver his remarks at the school’s Harris Theater. The President thanked the assembled service members and members of Congress for their work in helping forward the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The new G.I. Bill will pay for veterans’ tuition up to the cost of the highest in-state school where they live. The bill will also provide living stipends in order to encourage student veterans to actively pursue post-secondary education.

“More than two and a half years ago, we began with a simple concept that those who have been serving since 9/11 should have the same opportunity for a first class educational future as those who served in World War II,” said Sen. Jim Webb in a prepared statement. “This bill provides a modern and fair educational benefit to address the needs of those who answered the call of duty to our country, those who moved toward the sound of the guns, often at great sacrifice."

The first tuition payments for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill were distributed to colleges and universities around the country this morning. To date, the VA reports that more than 100,000 student-veterans have enrolled for the new Chapter 33 benefits for the fall semester.

AMVETS leaders are watching implementation closely and plan to work with other veterans' organizations, the VA, and Congress to ensure that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is an equitable benefit that fulfills the intentions of Sen. Webb and the other authors of the bill.

To learn more about this landmark benefit, visit the VA's official G.I. Bill Web site at

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for the latest information on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and, as always, let us know what you think.

(Photo: President Obama delivers his remarks at George Mason University, officially launching the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco. To view more of Pacheco's photos from this morning's announcement, Click Here.)

This Week at American Veteran

This morning, Isaac Pacheco, editor of American Veteran magazine, is on hand at the official kick-off of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill at George Mason University in Virginia. President Barack Obama, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) , and VA Secretary Erik Shinseki will be on hand to celebrate this morning's roll-out of the new landmark education benefit. Check back with American Veteran Online later today for updates and photos from this morning's event.

Next week, AMVETS will travel to New Orleans for the 65th annual AMVETS National Convention. American Veteran will be on hand reporting on the convention with up-to-the-minute information, such as Secretary Shinseki's address to the delegation on Tuesday afternoon and the keynote speech from Dana Bowman, the retired Army Golden Knights paratrooper and AMVETS member who lost both of his legs in a skydiving accident in 1994.

All this week at American Veteran Online, we will highlight the city of New Orleans for AMVETS members joining us for the convention. We will show you some of the best dining spots in the city and some of the best nightlife that the Big Easy has to offer.

Check back all this week for updates, and, as always, we're eager to hear what you have to say.

(Photo: President Obama delivers his remarks at George Mason University, officially launching the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco. To view more of Pacheco's photos from this morning's announcement, Click Here.)