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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VA, DoD Host Summit to Discuss Mental Health

Yesterday VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates opened the first-ever VA and Department of Defense summit on mental health at the Capitol Hilton in Washington. The summit brings together leaders across both departments, medical practitioners, and military and veterans' advocates, including AMVETS, to discuss mental health issues related to military service.

Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the invisible wounds of war have become a major concern for the veterans' community. A recent RAND report shows that up to twenty percent of all service members who deployed in support of the conflicts have exhibited some symptom associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

Pentagon and VA have come together in an effort to better serve those affected by service-related mental health issues at the summit, which runs through Thursday.

In his opening remarks, Shinseki tasked the summit with three goals: Build on current levels of mental health care; maintain advances by promoting psychological health, resilience and prevention; and establish a mental health care model that leverages national resources beyond the military.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin has made military and veterans' mental health his top priority since taking office in September, making this summit critical to the work of AMVETS and its partners.

AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof was on hand for the first day's activities, listening to a variety of speakers who brought a wealth of expertise in the mental health field to the summit.

American Veteran will be following the summit closely over the next three days. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

(Photos: Top: VA Secretary Shinseki addresses the VA/DoD mental health summit at the Capitol Hilton. Hyperlink to official DoD story by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen, released. Right: Defense Secretary Gates addresses the summit. Photo by Christina Roof.)

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will follow AMVETS National Headquarters staff at the first VA/DoD mental health summit, taking place this afternoon at the Capitol Hilton in Washington. The summit, hosted by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, will be the first of its kind bringing together experts from various government agencies, the health care sector, and veterans' advocates such as AMVETS to discuss treatment models for service members, veterans and their families.

This week, we will also publish the latest issue of American Veteran magazine. We apologize for any delays, but we know you will enjoy the fall issue. As always, we're constantly looking for stories from posts and departments around the country. Though we're restricted in how many we can publish in our quarterly print issues, American Veteran is eager to publish more local stories on American Veteran Online.

Next, AMVETS leaders have started planning for the 2010 21st Century Veterans Symposium, which will take place at the AMVETS National Convention in Louisville. This symposium will be the follow-up to AMVETS' 2006 symposium on the needs of young veterans, bringing in veterans from across the country to discuss issues, potential solutions and to update the 2006 symposium report. More details will become available over the next few months.

Finally, American Veteran Online will continue to follow the FY2010 budget process for VA, which remains stalled in Congress. The VA budget has now been delivered late 20 out of the last 23 years. With last week's historic signing of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, authorizing advance appropriations, the veterans' community has shifted focus to ensuring that this year's budget passes quickly. The FY2010 budget will be the first to include advance funding for the following year's VA health care.

Check back throughout the week with American Veteran Online for updates.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 22, 2009

AMVETS, Nation's Top VSOs at the White House for Historic Bill Signing

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin looked on this afternoon alongside leaders from the nation's other top veterans' organizations, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Congressional leaders as President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 into law. To read AMVETS' official statement on today's signing, Click Here. Below are two more photos and official White House video from this afternoon.

(Video: Full video of the White House signing ceremony. Courtesy of the White House.)

(President Obama signs the bill into law as Congressional leaders look on. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

(Cmdr. Miskulin presents VA Secretary Shinseki with an AMVETS National Commander's pen following the signing ceremony. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Cmdr. Miskulin also spoke with Stars & Stripes about the significance of advance appropriations legislation. To read the Stripes story, Click Here.

(Top photo: President Obama addresses guests and media assembled in the East Room at the White House for today's advance appropriations signing ceremony. AMVETS National Commander Miskulin, in the traditional gold cap, looks on along with other distinguished guests on the podium. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Bookmark and Share

AMVETS National Commander to Join President Obama for Advance Appropriations Signing

This afternoon AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin will be on hand at the White House, where President Obama plans to sign VA advance appropriations into law. Today's signing marks the culmination of 13 years of hard work by AMVETS through the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform.

Advance appropriations will finally allow Congress to provide sufficient, timely, and predictable funding for VA health care.

Check back with American Veteran Online throughout the afternoon for updates from the White House on this monumental occasion.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

AMVETS National Commander Visits With Leaders on Capitol Hill

For the last two days, AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin has been meeting with leaders in the Senate and House committees on Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, Miskulin met with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.), hand-delivering a copy of AMVETS' 2010 legislative agenda to each senator.

Today, following a quick meeting with Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Steve Buyer (R-Indiana), Miskulin delivered remarks during a special memorandum signing in the Cannon House Office Building between VA and U.S. Paralympics, codifying a new partnership to assist wounded veterans in achieving their athletic aspirations.

Miskulin thanked VA and U.S. Paralympics for the new partnership, stressing the need for such a program to call attention to the positive rehabilitative tools available to our wounded troops.

U.S. Paralympian wounded warriors were on hand alongside VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, VA Assistant Secretary for Pubic and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Paralympic officials, members of Congress, and veterans' organizations including AMVETS.

Though today's meetings were cut short to participate in the announcement, Miskulin plans to once again meet with Buyer and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) in the coming weeks to discuss AMVETS' legislative agenda in greater detail.

Tomorrow afternoon, Miskulin will be at the White House where President Obama plans to sign advance appropriations for VA health care into law. For AMVETS and the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, tomorrow's signing will mark the culmination of 13 years of work to overhaul the VA funding mechanism, assuing sufficient, timely and predictable funding for the VA.

Check back tomorrow afternoon with American Veteran Online for updates from the White House.

(Photo: AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin alongside Sen. Daniel Akaka during yesterday's visit to Capitol Hill, outlining AMVETS' legislative agenda for 2010. Photo courtesy of Sen. Akaka. Members of Congress, VA officials, and veterans' organization leaders, including Miskulin, stand for a photo with the signatories of the agreement, Norman Bellingham of U.S. Paralympics, Secretary Shinseki, and Paralympic veteran Scott Winkler. Photo by Emerson Sanders courtesy of VA.)

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VA Contacting Veterans About Their Benefits

Yesterday, VA announced that it will be making phone calls to student-veterans who have applied for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33) benefits throughout the week. The calls are designed to ensure that enrolled veterans understand the new benefits and that they are receiving their entitlements in a timely manner.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of our highest priorities,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “Instead of making people wait to hear from us, we’re reaching out to veterans, so they can get the money they need to stay in school.”

VA will also be making follow-up calls to veterans who took advantage of the emergency advance payments to ensure that all checks have been processed and funds have been delivered.

VA representatives will not ask for veterans' personal information over the phone.

AMVETS leaders will continue to follow VA's implementation of the historic education benefit. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 19, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow the progress of H.R. 1610, the bill authorizing advance appropriations for VA health care. Last week, the bill quickly passed the Senate and now waits for a signature from President Obama. Check back regularly for updates.

As the veterans' community waits for a signature on the landmark bill, Congress continues to hash out the VA's budget for FY2010, which was due before Oct. 1. This marks the 20th time in 23 years that Congress has failed to deliver the budget on time, further demonstrating the need for advance appropriations. AMVETS leaders will continue to push Congress to pass the budget quickly. Today, the VA is operating on continuing resolutions.

This week, American Veteran will also continue to follow implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the delays student-veterans have been experiencing around the country. Last week, Keith Wilson, VBA director of education services, testified before Congress that the department may not be caught up on claims until some time in December, raising concerns for AMVETS that veterans may face additional hardships as a result, whether it is through enrollment issues or additional strains on personal finances.

Last week, AMVETS received word that despite the success of VA's emergency check program, tensions continue to mount among student-veterans who are starting to lose faith in the system. AMVETS will continue to reach out to the student-veterans' community to restore confidence in the new G.I. Bill, which offers unprecedented educational opportunities for student-veterans.

AMVETS leaders remain confident that the delays experienced this semester only represent initial implementation hiccups that will be sorted our in the short term.

Finally this week, American Veteran Online will also post additional Keeping Posted content from around the country, highlighting the work of AMVETS posts nationwide. If you have something you would like us to highlight on the blog, please let us know. And as always, check back regularly for updates.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: House Listens to Testimony of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

This afternoon, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity will listen to testimony from VA's Director of Education Service Keith Wilson on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

To view video from the hearing, Click Here.

During his testimony, Wilson admitted that the VA may not have all claims sorted out by the end of the fall semester. Wilson also explained the issues with processing Chapter 33 claims and answered questions from the subcommittee on implementation issues and VA's potential remedies.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley, who watched the hearing, expressed concern over the situation, since VA's digital option for Chapter 33 claims processing will not be online for another year.

Kelley explained that due to the complexity of the benefit and the number of veterans expected to take advantage of the program, VA will likely face similar surges in claims each semester, prompting additional backlogs until the digital processing system can be implemented.

In the wake of a daunting backlog of initial benefits claims for Chapter 33, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki instituted an emergency payment program for veterans experiencing delays. AMVETS leaders have applauded the swift action of VA to implement the successful stop-gap.

To date, American Veteran Online has received dozens of comments from veterans who continue to experience delivery issues with the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Patrick Campbell, chief legislative counsel for IAVA who helped to draft the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, submitted testimony for the record on how his organization views the backlog and potential solutions.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Senate Passes Advance Appropriations

Late last night, the Senate unanimously passed advance appropriations for VA health care by a voice vote. The measure, which was included in the House bill H.R. 1016, will allow Congress to pass a budget for VA health care one year in advance. The bill is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama shortly. Military Times reported on the bill's passage this morning.

AMVETS leaders called the Senate's passage a major victory for the veterans' community and the culmination of years of hard work. AMVETS has been pushing Congress to overhaul the VA funding mechanism for more than a decade as a member of the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform.

Stars & Stripes quoted AMVETS on the potential benefits on advance appropriations for the average veteran.

Now, only one step remains to making timely, predictable and sufficient VA funding a reality. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

(Photo: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs H.R. 1610 to send to President Obama while House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner and VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards and leaders from the nation's top VSOs look on. Photo courtesy of Disabled American Veterans.)

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Agent Orange Announcement a Long Time Coming for Vietnam Veterans

This morning, VA announced it is extending service-connected presumptions for Agent Orange exposure to cover Parkinson's Disease, ischemic heart disease, B cell leukemias, and hairy cell leukemia. VA's announcement is available on the AMVETS National Web site.

AMVETS, which represents thousands of Vietnam veterans around the country, still views the Agent Orange debacle as a major blemish for the VA and DoD, but AMVETS leaders say they are proud to see a fellow Vietnam veteran, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, taking the issue seriously.

"It wasn't until 1991 that the government finally recognized the horrific effects of Agent Orange on our veterans," said AMVETS Executive Director Jim King, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam. "At this point, it was already far too late for some. But as more information has become public about the dangerous defoliant over the years, the veterans' community has made strides in care for those who were exposed. With today's announcement, Secretary Shinseki further demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that Vietnam veterans receive the care and compensation they deserve for the horrible conditions that resulted from Agent Orange exposure."

Today, 15 health conditions are presumed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure, meaning that Vietnam veterans suffering from these conditions are entitled to service-connected compensation and health care through VA without needing to provide additional evidence--an often daunting task for veterans so far removed from a conflict.

AMVETS leaders, recognizing similarities between Agent Orange and several potential maladies facing today's veterans, are keeping a close eye on issues such as burn pit-related respiratory issues, certain cancers, and traumatic brain injuries to ensure that today's veterans do not need to wait decades for proper care and acknowledgment.

Bookmark and Share

Fake Veteran Arrested, Charged With "Stolen Valor"

For months, AMVETS has been following the story of Richard Standlof, a 32-year-old Colorado man who claimed to be an Iraq veteran, a Purple Heart and Silver Star recipient, a Naval Academy graduate, and a 9/11 Pentagon survivor. However, it was all a farce.

On Sunday, Standlof was finally arrested in San Diego, Calif. and charged under the 2005 Stolen Valor Act. CNN has been covering the scandal behind Standlof and reported on his arrest. Standlof also admitted he was a fraud to CNN's Anderson Cooper in the spring.

In Colorado, Standlof was also known as a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq and a veterans' advocate for his group Colorado Veterans Alliance. Though Standlof claims he gained nothing from his work with the Alliance and that he only sought to help veterans, AMVETS doesn't buy it.

Standlof, who was living in a homeless shelter on 9/11, at the very least diverted philanthropy dollars from legitimate veterans' causes and helped to sully the credibility of established veterans charities.

Now, Standlof faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine under the Stolen Valor Act. AMVETS supported the passage of the act in 2005. Today, AMVETS leaders from around the country hope that the Colorado courts throw the book at Standlof.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, October 10, 2009

VA Reaches Out to Student-Veterans on Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

This weekend the Department of Veterans Affairs will be making customer service phone calls to veterans taking advantage of their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits.

VA officials are making the calls in an effort to imrpvoe services for veterans currently using the benefit and those who plan to take advantage of their benefits in the future.

AMVETS leaders encourage veterans to take a few moments to speak with VA to help their fellow veterans down the road, in the wake of initial implementation hiccups.

VA has assured veterans that they will not ask for personal information during these brief customer service calls.

For more information, visit

AMVETS leaders and American Veteran Online will continue to follow VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Check back regularly for updates.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: Senate hearing on veterans' chemical exposure

This morning, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is hosting a hearing on DoD and VA's response to veterans' chemical exposure while on active duty. To view live video of the hearing on the committee's Web site, Click Here.

AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof is on hand at the Russell Senate Office Building for this morning's hearing.

Check back later today with American Veteran Online for details.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS Participates in PTSD Roundtable

This afternoon, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hosted a roundtable discussion on VA's proposed changes to the PTSD claims process. AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof was on hand to participate in the discussion.

To view a list of participants in today's roundtable, Click Here.

To listen to audio of today's roundtable, Click Here.

In August, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced plans to drop the corroborating evidence requirement for veterans seeking service-connected status for PTSD. AMVETS supports dropping this redundant requirement.

To read VA's press release on the changes, Click Here.

VA and the House Subcommittee wanted to host the roundtable to discuss the proposed changes with leaders in the veterans community.

During the roundtable, Roof discussed why corroborating evidence only serves as a detriment to veterans seeking care and compensation for PTSD. Though critics assume that veterans will seek to exploit the VA Compensation and Pension system with fraudulent claims, Roof pointed out that VA already has processes in place to ensure that veterans seeking compensation have a valid diagnosis from VA for PTSD and proof of deployment to the combat zone.

Each participant left the table with the consensus that VA should make the changes as soon as possible, offering easier access to treatment for PTSD.

Let us know what you think of VA's proposed changes and its potential effect on our veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VA video on advance payments

This afternoon, VA released a video explaining the G.I. Bill emergency stipend program. In the video, VA Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth apologizes to veterans experiencing payment delays and explains how affected student-veterans can take advantage of the advance pay system.

This afternoon, AMVETS received messages from veterans who registered online to receive emergency stipend checks but have not received payment. AMVETS urges veterans to be patient with the process. Checks will be issued by the Treasury Department within three business days of veterans filling out the online forms. From this point, it may take an additional three days within the U.S. Postal Service.

Keep checking your mailboxes and don't hesitate to post to American Veteran Online, if you continue to experience delays.

Monday, October 5, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will take a look at last week's surprise announcement by the Pentagon that they will raise copays for retired military personnel covered under TRICARE by 20 percent.

Last week, the National Association for Uniformed Services sent a letter to the Department of Defense expressing their concern over the abrupt changes. The Military Coalition, of which AMVETS is a member, followed suit with its own letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Congress has blocked TRICARE fee increases for the last three years, prompting the veterans' community to ask how this change could have come about. Check back with American Veteran throughout the week for updates.

Next, we will continue to monitor VA's implementation of the Uniformed Mental Health Services Handbook, which was to be implemented no later than Sept. 30, prior to the start of FY2010. VA and Congress have yet to provide official word as to whether or not VA is compliant.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin called implementation of the handbook a "critical step" in ensuring veterans have the tools to combat the invisible wounds of war. American Veteran Online will keep you posted on VA's compliance with the handbook and the overall Mental Health Strategic Plan.

American Veteran will also continue to follow Post-9/11 G.I. Bill implementation and the continued work of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs, which plan to address dozens of pieces of veterans legislation in the coming weeks. Check back regularly for updates.

Finally, the publication date for American Veteran magazine has been pushed back for a couple of weeks due to an unforeseen issue with supplemental materials. We will keep you up to date as the latest issue goes to print. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who submitted content for this fall's Keeping Posted section. Be on the look-out for your post or department in the next issue.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: Emergency check payments going smoothly

This morning, VA's 57 regional offices across the country started distributing checks to student-veterans experiencing G.I. Bill payment delays. AMVETS National Service officers were on hand at regional offices monitoring the situation and AMVETS National Headquarters has received updates throughout the morning.

Most regional offices have reported that veterans arrived early to receive their checks. In Atlanta, AMVETS National Service Officer Bobby Rand reported that the office opened its doors at 7:30 and as of noon veterans did not have to wait in line. Atlanta-area veterans told Rand that the VA employees handling the check process were professional, efficient and courteous.

AMVETS State Service Officer Richard Kenton at the Oakland VA Regional Office reported that 30 to 40 veterans were on hand as soon as the doors opened and Northern California veterans also seemed very happy with the process.

Photos and positive reports have also come in from VA Regional Office in Phoenix, where AMVETS National Service Officers Paul Zanger and Dale Tiberg are on hand speaking with veterans.

By 5 p.m., VA had processed more than 8,500 checks at VA Regional Offices and accepted more than 7,500 online applications. VA reported its heaviest volume in Washington, Chicago, and Waco, Texas.

"Based on what we've seen today, we're cautiously optimistic that the operation will continue running smoothly," said Brandon Friedman, VA Director of New Media. "It's taking a lot of patience on everyone's part, but we're determined to get these checks out to the people who need them. We know how this backlog has upended people's lives, so we're doing what we can to make it right."

Friedman went on to say that some regional offices had seen long lines and minor delays, but lines were moving and veterans were leaving with their emergency payments in-hand.

This morning, VA also announced that VA Regional Offices will be open tomorrow at 8 a.m. to continue processing emergency check payments for veterans who could not make the trip on Friday.

As reports come in from around the country, American Veteran Online will keep posting on the response from the veterans' community. If you have an emergency payment story that you would like to share, please let us know on the blog.

(Photos: Top: Veterans line up at the VA Regional Office in Phoenix to receive their emergency G.I. Bill payments. Photo by AMVETS National Service Officer Dale Tiberg. Bottom: Veterans wait outside of the VA Regional Office in Winston-Salem, N.C. early this morning to collect emergency checks. Photo by AMVETS National Service Officer Bobby Rand.)

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VA to issue emergency checks today

This morning, the VA will start issuing emergency checks to veterans experiencing delays in G.I. Bill payments. Veterans who can make it to one of VA's 57 regional offices need only produce a photo ID and proof of enrollment to collect a hard check on site for up to $3,000 to cover the payment delays.

Veterans who cannot easily commute to a VA regional office may also register for emergency checks online. Checks will arrive withing three business days. To register for the emergency payment online, Click Here.

The advance payment checks are intended only for veterans who did not receive G.I. Bill payment yesterday, Oct. 1. For more information, visit

AMVETS will monitor the emergency check process throughout the day. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

VA's Mental Health Strategic Plan

Five years ago, the Bush Administration commissioned a mental health strategic plan for the VA in an effort to standardize and modernize the system designed to handle the invisible wounds of war.

As a way to implement the strategic plan, VA commissioned the VHA Uniform Mental Health Service Handbook in June 2008 (VHA 1160.01). The handbook outlined more than 200 critical benchmarks that must be met by all VA health care facilities to be in compliance. Yesterday was the deadline for 100-percent compliance.

Since VA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report on compliance last spring, AMVETS has been following up on the handbook's implementation.

"At the time, VA was optimistic about the numbers presented in the OIG report, which demonstrated near compliance in most areas," said AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof who had testified on the OIG report before Congress in the spring. "Unfortunately, AMVETS noticed that the OIG's data set was incomplete. Only 149 of 171 VA medical facilities even responded to OIG's inquiry."

The missing data, compounded with the troubling trends in veteran suicides, led AMVETS leaders to conclude that perhaps everything had not gone according to plan. Now that the deadline has passed, AMVETS has started to ask tougher questions.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin has made veterans' mental health issues a top priority for his year in office, and intends to hold VA accountable for the strategic plan's implementation.

"It's heart-wrenching to see young veterans losing the battle with themselves on the home front, after surviving the battle with our enemies," Miskulin said. "VA's implementation of this handbook is one critical step in ensuring our veterans have the resources to cope with these invisible wounds."

Since yesterday, AMVETS legislative and communications departments have been making calls to check on the status of VA's implementation. Check back shortly with American Veteran Online for updates.