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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: Senate listens to testimony on VA health contracting

This morning, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs will host a hearing on VA health care contracting. AMVETS, which submitted testimony for the record, will be on hand for the hearing.

For more information about this morning's hearing, Click Here.

Check back later today with American Veteran Online for more details.

Monday, September 28, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, the latest print issue will head downrange. Be on the look-out for the latest issue in the coming weeks.

American Veteran will also continue to follow AMVETS National Legislative Department, as Congress is back into full swing. On Wednesday, AMVETS will be on hand for a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to address a series of veterans' issues ranging from PTSD to VA contracting. AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof has submitted testimony for the record.

American Veteran will also highlight the AMVETS Riders' first national program, supporting the Camp Hope Riders in an effort to raise funds to finance a retreat for wounded warriors.

We will also monitor implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, with VA set to make its next round of payments on Thursday, Oct. 1. We will also follow implementation of VA's emergency living stipends for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which will first be available on Friday, Oct. 2 for veterans experiencing payment delays. AMVETS first suggested advance payments in late August, when reports of late G.I. Bill payments first surfaced.

As always, we're eager to hear what's happening in the field. We're also eager to hear your comments on our stories.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

AMVETS' Letter to VA on Advance Living Stipends

Yesterday, when VA announced its emergency living stipends for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill veterans, AMVETS quickly applauded the decision.

In August, AMVETS sent a letter to VA asking the department to consider a similar program. A copy of the letter can be viewed below:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Post-9/11G.I. Bill Update: VA offers $3,000 in emergency living stipends

Tonight, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that VA will offer veterans experiencing payment delays under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill $3,000 in advance payment to account for missing living stipends. Eligible veterans must bring a photo ID and proof of enrollment to any of the VA's 57 regional offices starting Friday, Oct. 2 to request payments.

Upon hearing the news, AMVETS leaders applauded the swift action of the VA. AMVETS made a similar proposal in late August when reports of potential delays started to surface.

To read details about the emergency living stipends on the official VA Web site, Click Here.

Check tomorrow for more details and reaction from AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin.

Post-9/11G.I. Bill Update: VA seeks to clarify delays; veterans still waiting for payments

Yesterday, VA Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth and Deputy Director of Education Services Lynn Nelson hosted a conference call to discuss Post-9/11 G.I. Bill payment delays and progress VA has made through the month of September.

During the call, Duckworth was apologetic for the communications gaps that have occurred over the last two months, ensuring those on the call that VA has made a concerted effort to properly disseminate information to affected schools and veterans.

However, when Duckworth and Nelson clarified the most recent figures on enrolled veterans and the number of pending payments, veterans participating in the call balked.

To date, VA claims that only 27,735 enrollment certifications have been received with 24,186 veterans receiving some kind of payment--a staggeringly low number compared to the 277,000 total claims for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill eligibility.

On the call, Duckworth acknowledged that veterans expecting checks on Oct. 1 may experience further delays, depending on when their school submitted their enrollment certification. Duckworth said many schools have waited until the add/drop date to submit certifications, meaning that veterans may have to wait an average of 35 days before receiving their first payment.

Duckworth also stressed the importance for schools to submit enrollment certifications as soon as possible, since no payments can be sent to the veteran until enrollment has been verified. Duckworth clarified that even if a veteran does not have a certificate of eligibility that the school can still verify enrollment with VA.

AMVETS leaders think the veterans' community will have a better understanding of the scope of the problem once the next set of checks are set to go out on Oct. 1. In the meantime, in an effort to improve communication between VA and potentially affected veterans, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley has drafted a letter to VA's director of education services, Keith Wilson, asking VA to send direct correspondence to each veteran in an effort to stave off landlords and other creditors who may be expecting payments in the interim. To view the letter, click on the image below:

"We want to work with VA to ensure that veterans aren't held financially accountable for this delay, and a formal letter could help reassure private creditors that their money is on its way," Kelley said. "VA sent similar letters to colleges and universities, which seems to have worked for now. The last thing we want to see is a veteran who has done everything right evicted on account of these delays."

In the interim, American Veteran magazine editor Isaac Pacheco is experiencing his own G.I. Bill delays. Pacheco, who participated in VA's Post-9/11 G.I. Bill pilot program last spring while attending George Mason University, first submitted his G.I. Bill paperwork at the earliest possible date.

This fall, Pacheco is attending Georgetown University as a full-time graduate student. Georgetown submitted his enrollment certification on Aug. 12, and the university had credited Pacheco's account to reflect the pending payment. To date, no payment has arrived for either Pacheco or the school.

Pacheco called VA this morning to check in on his claim. While VA acknowledged that the proper paperwork had been submitted, payment "may not" be processed for another 6-8 weeks. This includes Pacheco's missing living and book stipends and tuition payments to the university.

As the story continues to unfold, AMVETS will be tracking the G.I. Bill delays. As always, American Veteran Online is eager to hear what you have to say on the issue.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS testifies on NCA; pending legislation

AMVETS National Legislative Department was out in full force on Capitol Hill today, testifying before the Veterans Affairs subcommittees on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs and Economic Opportunity.

In this morning's hearing, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley discussed AMVETS' recommendations to the National Cemetery Administration on honoring the fallen.

To view video from this morning's hearing, Click Here.

In the afternoon, AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof discussed more than a dozen pieces of pending legislation, including bills that would make the VA contracting process more equitable to veteran-owned and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses, updating the new G.I. Bill, and affording military spouses the same residency rights as their loved ones.

To view video from this afternoon's hearing, Click Here.

(Photo: Deputy Legislative Director Roof discusses pending legislation before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Congress Reassures Veterans on Health Care Reform

Yesterday, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs received a letter from the Energy & Commerce, Ways & Means, and Education & Labor committees assuring veterans that language in the proposed health care reform bill (H.R. 3200) would be changed to ensure that VA coverage is considered "adequate" and that veterans would still have access to the proposed exchange for their loved ones. The two-page letter can be viewed at the bottom of this posting.

After President Obama's recent speech on health care reform, AMVETS sent a letter to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs calling for these specific issues to be addressed. At the time, AMVETS leaders thought the President missed the mark on veterans' concerns over health care reform during the speech. Now, AMVETS leaders are happy to see that Congress is addressing these specific concerns.

Earlier this summer, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sent a letter saying that veterans would not be affected by the reforms outlined in H.R. 3200. However, AMVETS remained skeptical of the unintended consequences of the legislation as-written, which left the definitions of "adequate coverage" open to the interpretation of several cabinet offices. AMVETS was also concerned that if veterans only received enough care from VA to be considered "adequate," that they would not have access to the exchange for additional coverage and coverage for dependents.

Yesterday's letter, signed by Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Education & Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), and Waxman, put these concerns to rest by assuring the veterans community that the language would change.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley said he was happy to read the letter and that AMVETS looks forward to working with Congress in the coming months to ensure that veterans and their dependents receive proper access to care in any proposed health care reform without penalty or other unforseen consequences.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Maryland VA to offer "Drive-thru" flu clinics

This fall, the Maryland VA Health Care System has developed an innovative way to ensure that veterans receive their flu shots by commissioning Drive-thru flu clinics at four of the state's VA medical centers.

Clinics will take place at the Perry Point and Baltimore VA medical centers and the Glenn Burnie and Loch Raven outpatient clinics. The flu shots are free to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. Veterans who wish to participate are asked to wear short-sleeved shirts to the Drive-thru clinics and to bring their VA identification card.

The clinics will take place in the parking lots at each of the facilities and in the main parking garage at the Baltimore VAMC. Here's a list of times and locations for each clinic:

  • Saturday, Oct. 3, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Perry Point VA Medical Center, Perry Point, Md.
  • Saturday, Oct. 3, 9 a.m. to noon, Glenn Burnie Outpatient Clinic, 808 Landmark Drive, Glenn Burnie, Md.
  • Saturday, Oct. 10, 9 a.m. to noon, Loch Raven Outpatient Clinic, 3901 The Alameda, Baltimore, Md.
  • Saturday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Baltimore VA Medical Center, 10 N. Green St., Baltimore, Md.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. AMVETS and American Veteran Online have received dozens of notes from veterans affected by the G.I. Bill delays around the country. AMVETS leaders will continue to discuss ways to remedy the situation with VA officials this week.

Last week, AMVETS National Service Director Denny Boller sent an "All Hands" message to AMVETS National Service Officers stationed around the country looking for veterans facing financial hardship as a result of the new G.I. Bill delays, sparking AMVETS to take action.

VA recently sent a letter to institutions of higher learning urging campus administrators to work with their student-veterans while payments continue to be processed. However, this letter does not serve as viable stop-gap measure for veterans with other expenses such as rent, groceries, mortages, and utilities.

AMVETS National Programs Department is investigating ways to ensure that veterans can make ends meet in the interim. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Also this week, American Veteran will be following several key hearings and round table discussions in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Tomorrow, the committee will discuss the pharmaceutical needs of veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. On Wednesday, they will discuss the VA's bonus award process, which recently came under fire in an OIG report.

Thursday will be the busiest day for the committee and AMVETS when more than a dozen pieces of veterans' legislation will be up for discussion in committee.

To view a listing of the hearings on the committee's Web site, Click Here. Be sure to check back with American Veteran Online before each hearing for more updates.

Finally, the fall issue of American Veteran magazine will go to the printer this week. We appreciate all who submitted content for the upcoming issue's "Keeping Posted" section.

Friday, September 18, 2009

VA warns of prescription telemarketing scam

Yesterday, VA issued a formal warning about a telemarketing scam targeting veterans who receive prescriptions through the VA. The recent scam was brought to VA's attention by the veterans' service community.

To read VA's release, Click Here.

The scam asks veterans for credit card information over the phone, purporting that VA's prescription policies have changed and that VA is updating information.

VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Gerald Cross said that the policies have not changed and that VA does not solicit personal information over the phone. Cross also called the plot an "inexcusable scam" that dishonors the service of America's veterans and the mission of the VA.

If you have received these calls or if you have questions about VA's prescription policies, VA advises you to call the local VA Medical Center or the national hot line at 1-877-222-8387.

Federal "Troops to Teachers" program receives donation from XAMOnline

Last week XAMOnline, a leading national publisher of teacher certification study guides, announced that they will partner with the Troops to Teachers program, a joint program through the departments of Defense and Education that assists prior-service military men and women who wish to pursue careers in education.

Through the partnership with Troops to Teachers, XAMOnline will offer PRAXIS-based diagnostic testing specifically for the Troops to Teachers program. Troops enrolled in the program will also receive a full-length study guide from XAMOnline along with offers for additional discounts, should they choose to purchase supplemental materials.

Troops to Teachers offices in 36 states across the country will also receive complementary supplemental materials to assist veterans at each location.

Troops to Teachers, which was launched in 1994, has already helped place more than 11,000 veterans in the teaching industry. However, since the start of the Global War on Terrorism, more than 42,000 troops have enrolled in the program, seeking to teach once they complete their military obligation.

In a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been hit particularly hard by the current economic crisis with unemployment rates approaching 12 percent. Recognizing the value of veterans in the civilian work force, XAMOnline is the latest company lending its resources to assist veterans in education and job placement.

To learn more about XAMOnline, Click Here.

To learn more about Troops to Teachers, Click Here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: Military Coalition calls for G.I. Bill equity

On Monday, the Military Coalition, a consortium of the nation's top military and veterans' service organizations, sent a letter to Congress calling for expanded transferability benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which took effect Aug. 1.

The letter, which was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs, outlines the coalition's concern that transferability does not apply to uniformed officers in the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These officers who fall under the department of Health and Human Services and Commerce, respectively, have access to Chapter 33 benefits, but they cannot transfer these benefits to dependents in the same manner that Department of Defense uniformed service members can.

The coalition points out that transferability was added as a retention incentive for DoD, encouraging service members to stay in the military by offering tremendous educational opportunities to dependents. The coalition believes that HHS and Commerce could use transferability as another incentive to ensure retention among USPHS and NOAA Corps, which are experiencing critical manpower shortages.

On Sept. 9, the coalition also sent a letter to Congress, asking for key changes in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to ensure equity in the new benefit. To view the Sept. 9 letter, Click Here.

The coalition recognized that certain individuals and certain types of education were excluded from coverage under Chapter 33. The coalition also recognized a need to address private and graduate school shortfalls, such as the California debacle, which we have discussed on this blog.

The coalition recommended that Congress consider authorizing National Guard members activated under Title 32 orders to take advantage of the benefit, similar to active duty Title 10 counterparts. The coalition also asked for living stipends for full-time distance learners, setting a national reimbursement standard for private schools and graduate programs, and adopt rules similar to the Montgomery G.I. Bill in regard to vocational and other non-degree training programs.

The Military Coalition is comprised of more than 30 of the nation's top military and veterans' service organizations, including AMVETS, representing more than 5.5. million current and former service members, their families, and survivors.

(Image: First page of the Military Coalition letter to Congress on G.I. Bill transferability. A full version of the letter should be available on the coalition's Web site shortly.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

After technical difficulties yesterday, American Veteran Online once again has the ability to post. We apologize for the inconvenience.

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the reported delays in benefits payments. Over the last couple of weeks, AMVETS has received numerous complaints from veterans and their loved ones over missed payments and the resulting financial hardships. AMVETS leaders continue to pressure VA for answers on Chapter 33 and when benefits will be delivered. In the meantime, we are still eager to hear about the issues student-veterans face across the country.

American Veteran will also be following the AMVETS Riders, who will take part in the 61-day national ride, raising money to support "Camp Hope," a retreat in North Carolina for wounded and disabled veterans to enjoy outdoor sports. The retreat was founded in honor of Marine Pfc. Christopher White, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. The ride kicked off yesterday and AMVETS Riders from around the country are slated to participate in all 53 legs of the ride over the next two months. Check in regularly for updates on the ride.

The print edition of American Veteran magazine also closes this week, which means this is the last chance to submit content for Keeping Posted. We are always eager to hear what is happening in the field, and if we cannot fit it in the print edition, we are always open to posting stories on this blog.

If there is anything else you would like to share with us on American Veteran Online, we're always eager to hear from you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Will Never Forget: My personal 9/11 story

I was an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island on Sept. 11, 2001. I was dating a girl, Kerry, at the time and she happened to stay over my dorm room in Fayerweather the night before. My roommate, Danny, had to be up early for an 8 a.m. class.

Shortly before nine, our phones started to ring. We thought nothing of it, let them go to voicemail, and rolled back over. But they both kept going off. Kerry and I were getting annoyed. After all, we had been up late the night before and neither of us had class until the afternoon.

Finally, I answered. It was Danny. He told us to turn on the TV. His mother in Hoboken, N.J. had just called frantic, saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

I was worried, but I quickly thought back to the 1994 attacks and how benign they seemed at the time. Regardless, I turned on the TV and saw the smoke billowing from the north tower. I was stirred, but not shocked--I still had no concept of what was actually happening. The shock came when the second plane slammed into the south tower as we watched live. Speculation over whether or not this was an accident could immediately be thrown out the window.

I turned to Kerry and said, "well, the shit hit the fan."

I had joined the Army Reserve just after graduating from high school in 1999, and we often used that phrase to describe the most unlikely of doomsday scenarios under which we could all be instantly called to go to war. I was now watching this unlikely scenario unfold right in front of me.

As the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 rolled on, the gravity of the situation became apparent. News came in that a third plane had struck the Pentagon and another was hijacked somewhere over western Pennsylvania. This was the real deal. How many planes were hijacked? America was clearly under attack, but on what scale? Were we even safe in Middle-of-Nowhere, R.I.?

Kerry and I were glued to the TV as innocent people jumped from the towers to avoid the horrors of burning alive. We heard reports from the ground that police and firefighters were running into the building and other first responders were thinking of ways to possibly evacuate those stranded above the points of impact.

This was all for naught. As reporters struggled for words to describe the situation that was unfolding, the south tower gave way, plummeting to the street below.

Smoke and dust quickly swallowed up downtown Manhattan and nobody could say for sure what just happened. Then came confirmation that the south tower had collapsed. What now? How many people were inside? How many people got out alive? Could the north tower possibly be saved?

The grim answer to that last question came a mere 29 minutes later when the top floors succumbed to the burning jet fuel, leading to another chain reaction as the north tower's internal support structure buckled, collapsing to the ground with thousands more innocent civilians and first responders trapped inside.

Danny finally returned from class and the three of us did our best to sort through what we had just seen. Danny, Kerry, and our other friends from the New York metro area scrambled to try and contact loved ones potentially caught in the mess. Cell phone lines were clogged and many of my friends were left wondering what exactly had happened to their families. Later in the day, we learned that Danny's mother had watched the towers fall from her office window across the Hudson River.

In an effort to calm down, Kerry and I retired to her sorority house and talked for the rest of the morning about what we had witnessed. Class was an afterthought. She finally managed to get a hold of her mother in northern New Jersey and her father on Long Island. Though they were never really in danger, it was comforting to know they were safe. That night, as expected, I received the dreaded call from my Reserve unit. They had put together a security roster and were calling us in for overnight rotations.

Upon hearing the news, I called my friend Rish, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard at the time. He had received a similar call. We talked outside of my dorm for about an hour amid the eerie calm of empty skies. I would get off easy at the time. I only had to pull about a week of overnight guard shifts at my Reserve center before they formally activated some of my fellow soldiers for 90 days of duty. Rish was not so lucky. He was put on orders from the National Guard to pull similar shifts at his unit, eventually forcing him to withdraw for the semester.

After 9/11, the fall semester was by far my worst at URI. With the war ramping up in Afghanistan, my friends working around the clock, and Reserve training kicking up about 10 notches, it was hard to focus on anything else. Eventually, I turned it around in the spring, but now Iraq was closing in our radar.

Fall 2002 I made the dean's list, but in late December my Reserve unit was put on alert. We were going to Iraq. I quickly withdrew from URI, made arrangements to move out of my house, and basically packed up my life for a year to go serve my country.

The moment the two planes hit the towers has now come to define the subsequent eight years of my life and great deal of my personal character--a week of balancing overnight armed guard duty at my Reserve unit while juggling fall classes, my year-long deployment to Iraq, my subsequent motivation to graduate upon returning home, my work at the Naval War College, my move to Washington, D.C., and my work today for AMVETS and American Veteran magazine.

As the war in Afghanistan continues to heat up, I implore all Americans to remember the mission at hand: Holding those responsible for the 9/11 attacks accountable for their actions. Osama Bin Laden remains at large, Al-Qaeda continues to carry out attacks on our allies around the world, and the Taliban continues to inflict harm on Americans looking to bring stability to Afghanistan.

Today, I hope we each pause to not only remember the victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pa., but also the 2.5 million brave men and women who answered the call to serve our nation in the wake of 9/11--especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

To me, Afghanistan is a war worth winning--something that we must never forget, even in the wake of discouraging polls about the "value" of our involvement.

I will never forget and I will continue to support all the brave men and women serving in harm's way. This is my personal story of 9/11 and how it has affected me. We're eager to hear your personal stories on this blog.


(Photo: The World Trade Center towers burning on Sept. 11, 2001 with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. National Parks Service photo, released.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AMVETS' letter to Congress on health care reform

Last night, President Obama addressed Congress on his proposals for health care reform. In the wake of the speech, AMVETS leaders remain skeptical of the current bill, H.R. 3200, and its potential impact on the veterans' community.

To read AMVETS' press release about last night's speech, Click Here.

This morning, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley sent a letter to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) asking Congress to amend the bill to reflect the best interests of the veterans' community, ensuring that all veterans who rely on the VA will be considered to have adequate health coverage and that veterans and their dependents still have access to the exchange option to sufficiently satisfy their health care needs without penalty.

A copy of the letter is included here:

Live from Capitol Hill: House VA Committee to host hearing on VA/SPAWAR partnership of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

This afternoon, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs will host a hearing to discuss the partnership between VA and Navy SPAWAR tasked with developing an electronic filing system for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. AMVETS will be on hand in Cannon 334 at 1:30 p.m. for the hearing.

To view the live video feed of today's hearing, Click Here.

In recent weeks, AMVETS has been tracking the implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, tracking payments and the backlog of claims. Though today's hearing is supposed to simply address the next phase of implementation, AMVETS wants to see Congress address the outstanding issues facing veterans already enrolled for the new Chapter 33 benefits.

Since the VA started accepting enrollment verifications on July 6, it has come to AMVETS' attention that most veterans will not receive timely payment of their living stipends and that VBA has also missed its deadlines for reimbursing schools for tuition.

While many schools have been understanding of the situation, landlords and utility companies will not be so understanding of the financial hardships.

American Veteran has already received numerous comments from veterans who have been forced to take out student loans in order to make ends meet.

After numerous calls and meetings with VA leaders to discuss the G.I. Bill and the payment processes, AMVETS has only been left with more questions about workload and benefits-delivered. AMVETS leaders will continue to ask these questions, until they receive satisfactory answers and solutions.

Check back with American Veteran Online this afternoon to learn more about today's hearing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Indiana AMVETS Post No. 99 hosts Honor Flight

This morning, AMVETS leaders were on hand at the National WWII Memorial alongside former Sen. Bob Dole and staff from Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar's office to greet WWII veterans taking part in the third Honor Flight hosted by Indiana AMVETS Post No. 99.

To read about today's Honor Flight, Click Here.

Here are some additional photos from today's visit to the National WWII Memorial and other historic landmarks around the nation's capitol.

(Photo: Edward Willett, a member of the original Tukeegee Airmen, speaks with AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin and a staffer from Sen. Lugar's office. Photo by Jay Agg.)

(Photo: Cmdr. Miskulin shakes hands with an Air Force Staff Sergeant visiting the National WWII Memorial, alongside WWII veteran John D. Shipman and his son John A. Shipman. Photo by Jay Agg.)

(Top photo: Cmdr. Miskulin shakes hands with a WWII veteran arriving at the National WWII Memorial as part of Post 99's Honor Flight. Photo by Jay Agg.)

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow Post-9/11 G.I. Bill implementation and potential issues for student-veterans around the country. We will also be on hand as Congress reconvenes, with committees set to address critical veterans' issues like advance appropriations for VA health care.

This morning, AMVETS National Executive Director Jim King met with Patrick Dunne, VA's benefits chief and a retired Navy rear admiral, to discuss the new G.I. Bill. AMVETS continues to look for answers on how many veterans have been paid and how VA plans to handle the backlog of claims, while veterans potentially face financial hardships.

This afternoon, King will also meet with House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and leaders from the nation's other top veterans' organizations to discuss advance appropriations.

American Veteran is also on hand on the National Mall in Washington this morning, where Indiana AMVETS Post No. 99 is hosting an Honor Flight for Indiana WWII veterans. Post 99 raised $200,000 to finance the third annual Honor Flight, which brings local WWII veterans to the nation's capitol to see the National WWII Memorial and other historic sites around the city.

The deadline for the print edition of American Veteran magazine is quickly approaching, which means we need all Keeping Posted content as soon as possible. If you have any compelling story ideas for the print edition or American Veteran Online, please let us know.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Post-9/11G.I. Bill Update: More payment issues

This morning, AMVETS took part in another discussion with the Veterans Benefits Administration to discuss issues with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and widespread reports of missing payments and possible disenrollment of veterans.

AMVETS leaders who participated in the conversation said they were confused by the lack of information available from VBA on schools that had received payments and a hard number on outstanding Chapter 33 benefits claims.

Last week, AMVETS raised questions about the VBA's weekly report, which showed more than 236,000 education claims that still required action by the VA. At the time, VA explained that the alarming number did not represent the actual number of veterans that would experience delays in payment.

However, since Sept. 1, AMVETS and other leading veterans' organizations have heard reports from colleges and universities around the country of missing payments for both veterans and schools, with some schools threatening to disenroll veterans or charge late fees for outstanding bills.

The editor of American Veteran magazine, Isaac Pacheco, filed his claim for Chapter 33 benefits on May 1 for graduate classes this fall. However, as of this morning's call, Pacheco's book stipend remains MIA.

AMVETS wants to hear from veterans who are experiencing problems with their Chapter 33 G.I. Bill benefits particularly if:

- You did not receive your first month's living stipend for class time in August.

- Your school has not received your tuition payment for fall classes.

- You did not receive your book stipend for the academic year as of Aug. 3.

- You did not receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from VA and applied for benefits before Aug. 1, 2009.

-Your school is threatening disenrollment or late fees for missed payments.

If you meet any of these criteria above, please comment here on this blog, or contact AMVETS National Headquarters.

AMVETS will continue to look for a solution to these issues in an effort to stave off financial hardship and potential disenrollment, and American Veteran Online will continue to monitor this situation in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

AMVETS marks 70th anniversary of WWII

Yesterday, world leaders gathered in Poland to mark the first belligerent action of WWII, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired on the Polish military installation, Westerplatte, in Gdansk Harbor in 1939. To view CNN's report on the gathering, Click Here.

As an organization born out of WWII, AMVETS also took the time to commemorate the somber day when new National Commander Duane J. Miskulin delivered remarks in the USS Arizona room at AMVETS National Headquarters.

"This is a day that demands our reflection," said Miskulin. "The first move of Nazi aggression against Poland would come to define an entire generation of Americans--Americans who succeeded in defeating a brutal, tyrannical enemy; Americans who put the preservation of freedom and the welfare of our nation ahead of personal concerns."

WWII is very personal for Miskulin, who had two uncles, Jerome Miskulin and Lloyd Cater, who served in the conflict. Jerome served as a Marine during the historic battle of Iwo Jima, earning the Purple Heart. Cater served in the Army, but also worked as a cook aboard a ship during the Pacific campaign.

Originally established as American Veterans of WWII, AMVETS has long been a vocal advocate for WWII veterans and preserving the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

AMVETS played an integral role in commissioning the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. AMVETS also helped to finance its renovation in the 1980s. Original artifacts from the USS Arizona and the original memorial are permanently on display at the AMVETS National Headquarters, where Miskulin delivered his remarks.

In the 64 years that have passed since the unconditional surrender of Japan and the 65 years that have passed since the first meeting of AMVETS, the organization has grown to accept all veterans and current members of the military who have served honorably. However, the organization has remained dedicated to preserving the memory of the "Greatest Generation" through coordinating Honor Flights to the National WWII Memorial, visiting with allies to honor American veterans laid to rest on the former battlefields of Europe, and countless other local projects at AMVETS posts and departments nationwide.

(Photo: AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin looks over the painting of the USS Arizona Memorial and other historical pieces in the USS Arizona room at AMVETS National Headquarters. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

VA launches suicide-prevention chat room

Today, the VA launched its new chat room to assist veterans who may be thinking of committing suicide. reported on the new chat room this morning.

Veterans and their loved ones may now seek council 24 hours a day, seven days awake digitally through the live chat room. Veterans can remain anonymous while speaking in the chat room. Should counselors feel that the veteran is at a significant risk, the online counselor will encourage the veteran to call the hotline.

Accoring to, VA launched a pilot of the online chat room in July and has already produced positive results.

Since VA launched the veterans' National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-823-TALK) in 2007, AMVETS has helped to raise awareness of the free service by posting the hotline information on the AMVETS National Web site, American Veteran Online, and in numerous print materials.

Past National Commanders John C. Hapner and John P. "JP" Brown III both vocally touted the merits of the hotline, something new AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin says he will continue. In his year as national commander, Miskulin says his top priority will be addressing the mental health issues many veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been facing--something with which the suicide-prevention hotline plays an integral role.

Since its launch in 2007, VA said that the suicide-prevention hotline has received more than 150,000 calls from veterans and concerned loved ones, helping refer at-risk veterans to proper counseling and possibly preventing thousands of suicides.

If you are a veteran thinking about taking your own life, or if you think a loved one is at risk, call 1-800-823-TALK (8255) and press "1" for veterans.

(Image: Screengrab of the veterans' page for the National Suicide-Prevention Lifeline. The link to the new chat room is located at the bottom right.)