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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pennsylvania Congressional Leaders Look for Answers on Philadelphia VA Cancer Treatment

Yesterday, Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) convened a special field hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in an effort to determine what went wrong with the Philadelphia VA Hospital's prostate cancer treatment unit late in June.

Last week, the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer broke stories about botched prostate cancer treatments at the Philadelphia VA resulting from misplaced radioactive "seeds" designed to slowly treat the disease through a procedure known as brachytherapy. The media painted a grim picture of the Philadelphia VA's "rogue cancer unit," which appeared to lack proper oversight for its prostate cancer treatment.

The stories focused on a retired Air Force veteran, Rev. Ricardo Fillipin, whose prostate cancer treatment resulted in severe radiation burns that needed immediate attention outside of the VA health care system. Adding insult to injury, Fillipin received a letter from the VA four years later acknowledging a “possible” mistake.

Yesterday's hearing presented a much different story about the Philadelphia VA and the doctor embroiled in the controversy, University of Pennsylvania Dr. Gary Kao, who was contracted by the Philadelphia VA to perform brachytheraphy. Reps. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and John Adler (D-N.J.) joined Specter to preside over the hearing and ask pointed questions of each witness.

Of particular interest during the hearing were the assertions by the Philadelphia VA and Dr. Kao that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) actually had proper oversight of the facility, as did VA administrators. In fact, VA's acting undersecretary for health, Dr. Gerald Cross, noted that the Philadelphia VA's brachytherapy program had been reviewed by independent agencies on several occasions, and all indicators pointed to a program that exceeded national standards.

Dr. Kao also testified that misplaced seeds are common in brachytherapy and do not necessarily connote a "botched procedure" by the NRC. NRC representative Steve Reynolds refuted this statement, an assertion that the panelists seemed reluctant to accept based on further evidence provided by Dr. Kao. Representative Fattah went as far as to say that the issues raised by the Philadelphia VAMC's brachytherapy missteps may be indicative of a broader health problem within the private health care industry.

During a touching moment, Dr. Kao attempted to make amends with Fillipin for the suffering he endured as a result of botched treatments, telling Fillipin that he deserved better care and he deserved to know what happened.

VA has come under fire for several key oversight issues in the last few months as the result of numerous internal investigations. AMVETS leaders are keeping a close eye on all of these issues to ensure that VA delivers appropriate care to all affected veterans. Congress will once again address the VA brachytherapy issue in a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs after the Fourth of July recess. Check back with American Veteran Online as details of this story continue to unfold. To view a list of witnesses from yesterday’s hearing and to read their statements, Click Here.

(Photo: Dr. Gary Kao testifies before Sen. Arlen Specter, Rep. Chaka Fattah and Rep. John Adler at a special Congressional hearing on the Philadelphia VA's recent brachytherapy controversy. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will follow the developments out of Philadelphia as Congress and the VA address recent oversight issues at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center's prostate cancer treatment unit.

We will also publish additional photos from National Commander John C. Hapner's recent visit to Iraq.

Congress is in recess this week for Independence Day, and American Veteran Online will put together a special piece in honor of our nation's birthday.

As always, we're eager to hear from our readers around the country, and we're always looking for Keeping Posted content and submissions for our Women in Service series.

Friday, June 26, 2009

G.I. Bill Update: Pentagon finalizes transferability criteria.

This week, the Pentagon issued its final transferability criteria for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33) in a memorandum which can be reviewed Here.

AMVETS and the veterans community have been calling on the Department of Defense to finalize its transferability guidelines ever since the Pentagon issues its preliminary criteria in May.

The memorandum states that career service members who have been on active duty for at least six years as of August 1, 2009 may transfer their benefits to dependents if they commit to serving at least another four years.

Service members who have already served on active duty for 10 years, but who are prohibitied from committing to an additional four years will also be eligible to transfer benefits, so long as they continue to serve as long as possible past August 1, 2009. Special consideration has also been made for service members eligible to retire within the four year window starting August 1.

Starting June 29, 2009, eligible service members may make designations to transfer their benefits online by visiting DoD's secure Web site for G.I. Bill transfer.

As implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill draws closer, check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: VA assures House subcommittee that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will roll out on time

The House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity called a special hearing today for an update on the August 1 implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. AMVETS was on hand at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill as VA administrators assures Congress that the new benefits will roll out on time.

To view video of today's hearing, Click Here. To view a list witnesses or to read transcripts of their testimony, Click Here.

During the hearing, VBA's Director of Education Services Keith Wilson reiterated that VA has met their benchmarks along the way and anticipates timely payment of the new G.I. Bill benefits by August 1, warning that payment could only be delayed by "legislative changes this late in the game."

Over the last few weeks, certain inequities in the current version of Chapter 33 had caught the attention of several legislators. Fortunately, many have decided to hold off on addressing these concerns until after the new G.I. Bill takes effect.

VA officials also clarified that the department continues to compile its Yellow Ribbon agreements from private colleges and universities across the country. To date, more than 700 schools have signed more than 3,000 individual agreements. VA assured the committee that an accurate, up-to-date list should be available on the VA's Web site next week.

During the hearing, VA also delivered a presentation on the long term IT solution for implementing the G.I. Bill, an ongoing process that the veterans community and Congress continue to monitor closely.

As implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill draws closer, check back with American Veteran Online for updates.

(Photo: Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.), acting chairman for today's hearing before the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, and Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), ranking member, listen to testimony from the VA on this summer's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Army Should Reconsider Censoring Stars & Stripes

Yesterday, Stars & Stripes ran a story about the Army's refusal to embed reporter Heath Druzin with the 1st Cavalry Division in Mosul. Druzin had previously been embedded with another unit in Mosul.

Stripes, an independent newspaper partially funded by the military, accused the Army of censoring their reporter based on apparent dissatisfaction with past coverage.

As a writer, Stripes' accusation is serious to me and one that the Army must address. I was particularly disturbed at the tired talking point provided by an Army PAO attacking Druzin's journalistic integrity. Here's a sample from the Stripes' story:

"Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.

"'Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,' Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin’s embed request."

Aren't we past this kind of trite accusation? I've heard this "positive news" spin far too many times since 2003--I may even be guilty of reiterating the assertion from time to time while I served in Iraq--but the assessment of Druzin's work is completely off base.

For some perspective, I took a look at the March 8 story in question. Interestingly enough, I found two stories filed by Druzin on that day--one critically assessing the tenuous security situation in the Mosul, the other highlighting the positive work of the battalion.

To me, it looked as though Druzin made a concerted effort in his coverage to capture the whole story. In fact, he quoted a U.S. soldier in the security story on why the residents of Mosul clearly preferred for the Americans to leave.

While this first story certainly painted a grim picture of the last insurgent hotbed in Iraq, it appears to be factual journalism and it does not malign the Army in any way. Moreover, the second story carefully chronicled the efforts of the soldiers patrolling Mosul and the marked improvements in the war-torn city. Both stories clearly refute the Army's assertion that Druzin refused to cover the collaboration among Iraqi and American forces.

After reading through Druzin's body of work from his previous assignment in Mosul, it's easy to see why Stripes is eager to send him back. He clearly knows the lay of the land and has the ability to track down the most accurate and compelling details. Hopefully, the Army will reconsider its position as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from Iraq's major cities at the end of the month. Mosul is certainly a critical piece of this story, and it would be a disservice to the readers of Stars & Stripes for a green reporter to cover it.

Stripes is in a difficult position with the military. The publication has the duty to report independently to members of the U.S. military deployed overseas. However, Stripes has repeatedly faced scrutiny over their ethical responsibilities and their ties to the Pentagon. In light of this, reporting from within the pages of Stripes is usually regarded as reputable within the military community and beyond. It would be a shame to see a short-sighted decision on the part of the Army sully that reputation.


(The contents above strictly reflect the opinion of Ryan Gallucci as a contributor to American Veteran magazine. They do not reflect the official stance of the AMVETS organization. Photo: Army Spc. Rodney Davidson reads a copy of Stars & Stripes while deployed to Iraq in 2005. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon, released.)

Advanced Appropriations Moves Forward

Yesterday, the House took two major steps in ensuring that advanced appropriations for VA health care become a reality. The House approved a major rule change allowing for the VA funding exemption, while the House Appropriations Committee approved what would be the first advanced VA budget.

Congress has delivered the VA budget late for 19 of the last 22 years, and AMVETS and many of the nation's other leading veterans service organizations have been working to revise the VA funding model for decades. Veterans and veterans' advocates around the country applauded last night's critical step to ensure "sufficient, timely and predictable" funding for the VA.

Check back shortly with the official AMVETS Web site for more information on this important step toward making advanced VA appropriations a reality.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

VA Updates Priority 8 Enrollment

On June 15, the VA announced new eligibility criteria for Priority 8 veterans, which may allow more than 265,000 veterans to finally enroll in the VA health care system.

The new policy will expand coverage under the current means test for non-service-connected veterans whose income exceeds the current eligibility threshold by 10 percent.

Priority 8 veterans consist of veterans who do not have a service-connected rating with the VA. For years, only Priority 8 veterans experiencing financial hardship were eligible to receive care at VA facilities. The recent change in policy will now expand health care coverage to more than a quarter million veterans during a tough economic time.

To help veterans learn if they are eligible for the expanded coverage, VA has built an enrollment calculator available on the VA Web site. More information on the new benefit is available online or by calling 1-800-222-VETS (8387).

AMVETS has supported the expansion of care to Priority 8 veterans, allowing increased access to affordable health care options to those who have served, regardless of a service-connected condition.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will discuss the VA's recent changes in health care eligibility, which will allow more Priority 8 veterans to enroll in the system. We will also discuss the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33) and the Yellow Ribbon Program.

We will also continue to follow the work of AMVETS' Legislative Department on Capitol Hill, as key bills continue to move through both houses.

As always, we're eager to see Keeping Posted content, as well as submissions for our Women in Service series.

Friday, June 19, 2009

VA Suicide Lifeline Takes to the Streets

This afternoon, the VA announced that it will be publicizing the VA suicide prevention lifeline, 1-800-823-TALK (8255), on more than 21,000 buses in 124 communities across the country. The VA hopes to reach more veterans through the direct marketing campaign, which proved successful during last summer's trial run in Washington, D.C. To view the VA's press release about the program, Click Here.

The VA launched the hotline in July 2007 as a way to offer 24-hour assistance to veterans in need of critical counseling. AMVETS has proudly supported the VA effort since its inception, prominently displaying the hotline on all of its Web sites and in printed materials.

To date, the VA says that more than 3,000 veterans have been rescued as a result of the hotline, with more than 120,000 veterans and their loved ones seeking counsel through the service.

Suicide prevention is a serious issue to AMVETS, which is vocally calling for all VA medical centers to meet the compliance deadlines for the VA's Strategic Mental Health Plan and the Uniform Mental Health Services Handbook. The handbook will help to ensure that all VA centers offer a certain level of care to veterans coping with combat stress issues.

To visit the VA's suicide prevention Web site, Click Here.

(Image: Suicide prevention banner from the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. Image is in the public domain.)

Late last night, VA, veterans' advocates testify on claims backlog

After a long delay for debate on the House floor, the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs finally heard testimony last night from VA leaders and veterans' advocates, including DAV, VFW and the the American Legion, on the daunting VA claims backlog. To view a video from the hearing, Click Here.

During the hearing, Michael Walcoff, undersecretary of benefits for the Veterans Benefits Administration, noted that the VA has significantly increased its ability to adjudicate claims in FY2009, citing a 9.3 percent increase over last year's figures. However, the total number of claims that have entered the VA system has increased by more than 13 percent over the same period of time, exacerbating the backlog. While the overall number of claims has increased, Walcoff also noted that the total time to process a claim has decreased by more than two weeks.

However, the average time remains about 161 days, according to Walcoff, meaning that veterans must still wait more than five months for a claim to be processed. While Walcoff refuted that the VA's figures constituted a "backlog," the raw data speaks for itself. To read Walcoff's testimony, Click Here.

During the hearing, DAV Assistant Legislative Director Kerry Baker proposed a three-tiered approach to help mitigate the backlog, which includes legislative action, improved IT capabilities, and reorganization of the claims process.

Baker said that his organization's approach would not cost the taxpayers more to implement and could cut the lag time in processing by 30-90 days. To read Baker's testimony and DAV's outline of proposed changes, Click Here.

Both the Legion and VFW acknowledged that the VBA needed to take a fresh look at the claims process, rather than reinforcing past mistakes, calling for a similar IT solutions and proper training to help streamline the process.

AMVETS, which helps to process VA benefits claims, also supports key legislative changes that may help expedite the process, such as the COMBAT Act, intruduced by Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), chairman of the disability assistance subcommittee. The act, which recently passed committee, would create a presumption of combat exposure for certain veterans, eliminating burdensome evidentiary requirements for combat-related mental health issues.

As the claims backlog story develops, check back with American Veteran Online for details.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: House to discuss VA claims backlog

This afternoon, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs will listen to testimony from the VA, veterans, and veterans' advocates, as the daunting claims backlog approaches one million. Check back shortly for a multimedia link to the hearing.

Today's hearing will give an in-depth look at how the claims backlog grew to such a staggering number and steps VA and DoD hope to take to alleviate the situation. AMVETS, which provides free VA claims assistance for veterans at VA regional offices around the country, will be on hand to listen to the testimony.

Under the current system, veterans may wait up to six months or more for a claim to make its way through the VA system. While the claims backlog is visibly growing, the VA has taken steps to expedite the process in certain areas and Congress is also looking to intervene.

AMVETS has recently testified on behalf of key legislation on Capitol Hill that could help to streamline the process, such as adding a presumption of exposure for combat veterans, rather than forcing veterans to stockpile evidence of their experiences for certain claims.

AMVETS also proudly supports the Obama Administration's proposal for a unified service and health record for DoD and VA, which will once and for automatically enroll veterans in the VA system.

Since news of the backlog's unconscionable milestone broke, I have been vocal in discussing the issue. As today's hearing progresses, check back with American Veteran Online for updates.

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS joins Speaker Pelosi for veterans roundtable

Yesterday, AMVETS and representatives from the nation's leading veterans service organizations joined Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for a roundtable discussion of veterans' issues.

In the midst of a busy week in Washington, where the VA has been called to testify on issues ranging from the endoscopy fiasco to the benefits claims backlog, AMVETS plans to way in on a variety of issues and potential solutions for our nation's leaders to consider.

(Photo: AMVETS National Communications Director Jay Agg speaks with PVA Deputy Legislative Director Jonathan Cameron during the veterans' roundtable with Speaker Pelosi. Photo by Christina Roof.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: VA testifies on endoscopy fiasco

AMVETS leaders were on Capitol Hill this morning for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing on the colonoscopy and endoscopy fiasco at VA health care facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.

The VA reported that in surprise inspections of facilities around the country, fewer than half were in compliance with VA's new regulations. Lawmakers balked at the statistic and insisted that the VA must ensure that veterans are not exposed to blood-borne illnesses.

Several months ago, the VA announced that patients at three VA health care facilities in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Augusta, Ga., and Miami, Fla., may have been exposed to diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV through improperly sanitized endoscopy equipment. Since VA acknowledged the issue, all potentially-exposed patients have been notified and several have tested positive for these blood-borne illnesses.

During the hearing, the VA noted that while these veterans tested positive for these illnesses, there was no way to conclusively prove that they were contracted from contaminated medical equipment. According to Military Times, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has promised to take appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible for the botched procedures.

To listen to audio from the hearing, Click Here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran we will report on two key hearings on Capitol Hill involving the recent VA endoscopy incidents and the VA claims backlog.

We will also monitor the Yellow Ribbon program deadline, which is fast approaching for private universities interested in extending benefits to student-veterans taking advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

As always, we're looking for submissions from the field on recent events for Keeping Posted, as well as nominations for our Women in Service series.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Holocaust Museum Tragedy and DHS Warnings

Wednesday, on Fox News Studio-B, host Shepard Smith acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security was "warning us for a reason" on the dangers of right-wing extremists.

June 10 was a sad day in Washington as a lone gunman opened fire in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, killing a security guard and wounding another. Fortunately, innocent tourists were unharmed and safely evacuated from the site.

Yesterday, the museum was closed to mourn the death of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the innocent. AMVETS' thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of Johns.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stands as a vivid reminder of the price of hate. However, one could also view the museum as an enduring tribute to the brave Americans who helped to liberate Nazi concentration camps across Europe. This shooting is not only a slap in the face to the global Jewish community, but also to our nation's Greatest Generation--the WWII veterans who liberated an oppressed people from Nazi brutality.

In the aftermath, we have learned that the shooter was disgruntled over recently losing his social security benefits. The shooter also claims to have served in the military and is a well-documented white supremacist.

As the DHS report pointed out in April, "lone wolves" could pose a significant danger as a result of our nation's economic woes.

Yesterday's shooting was the second incident carried out in the last few weeks by self-identified right-wing extremists, along with the shooting of abortion doctor James Tiller.

When discussing the recent controversial DHS report, Shepard Smith put it best: "They were right."

At the time, I posted comments on this blog that the report should serve as a wake-up call that right-wing extremists seek to exploit the skills of veterans. AMVETS issued a call-to-action to ensure that veterans do not feel disenfranchised as a result of their combat experiences and that we all feel a sense of pride in our great nation.

As we saw with the recent DHS reports, sometimes the truth is not pretty. Out of this tragedy I hope our nation heeds this very realistic warning, rather than listening to politically-motivated pundits who seek to polarize us at such a critical time. Please let us know what you think about this tragedy and the lessons we can all learn.


(Photo: The 15th Street/Eisenhower Plaza entrance to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo by Max Reid, USHMM Photo Archives. Rights-free image may not be altered in any way, in accordance with USHMM guidelines.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Boccieri-Ryan Resolution to Extradite Claudia Hoerig Passes House

Yesterday afternoon, the House approved an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act calling for the extradition of suspected killer Claudia Hoerig. The resolution, introduced by Ohio Democratic Congressmen Tim Ryan and John Boccieri, expresses the sense of Congress that the U.S. Goverment should work as a priority to ensure that Claudia Hoerig is returned to Ohio to face justice.

Hoerig is currently hiding in Brazil, where she claims residence, after being accused of killing her husband, Air Force Maj. Karl Hoerig, in the couple's Ohio home. Brazil has refused her extradition to stand trial.

Boccieri, who served alongside Karl Hoerig in the Ohio Air National Guard, originally introduced a stand-alone resolution along with Ryan calling for Claudia Hoerig's extradition in April. The resolution was finally included as the manager's amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which was approved yesterday.

AMVETS Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III, a native of Ohio, has vocally called for Hoerig's extradition since the tragic shooting in 2007. Last spring, Brown made an empassioned speech on the issue before the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs. To see video of Cmdr. Brown's testimony, Click Here.

"In April of 2007 Maj. Karl D. Hoerig, a decorated pilot from the war in Iraq was brutally murdered. Accused in the murder is Maj. Hoerig's wife Claudia C. Hoerig. The case has stalled in light of Mrs. Hoerig returning to Brazil, her native country," Brown said during his testimony. "I request that each of you support the Department of State and the Department of Justice in extraditing Mrs. Hoerig so she can stand trial for the crime of which she is accused, and allow the family of an American hero to have some closure in this tragic event."

Brown has continued to push for Hoerig's extradition since returning to his home state, keeping the issue fresh in Congressman Ryan's ear.

Brown said that he hopes national media will pay attention to this issue, coupled with the ongoing dispute between David Goldman and the government of Brazil over parental custody of Sean Goldman, who was illegally abducted by his mother and taken to Rio de Janeiro for a "two-week vacation" in 2004.

AMVETS leaders will continue to support the work of Congress and the Department of State to return Claudia Hoerig stateside to face justice. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates as the Foreign Relations Authorization Act moves forward.

(Photo: Maj. Karl Hoerig flew over 200 combat missions, logging more than 400 combat flight hours as a member of the 910th Airlift Wing with the Ohio Air National Guard in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Air Force file photo of Maj. Karl Hoerig, released.)

Press Conference on Proposed Burn Pit Legislation

This morning, Congressman Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.) will be joined by veterans and veterans' advocates on Capitol Hill, including IAVA and DAV, for a press conference to discuss burn pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bishop recently introduced the Military War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act (H.R. 2491), which would commission a database and subsequent study by the Department of Defense to monitor troops' exposure and resultant health problems, along with new regulations on waste disposal in the combat zone, prohibiting the U.S. military and its contractors from activating new burn pits.

In the last year, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have brought the burn pit issue to light after many have discovered persistent health problems associated with exposure to chemicals given off by burn pits in their areas of operations.

Military Times reported this morning that the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center has published increasingly high mortality rates for respiratory and chest conditions among troops deployed from 2001-2008. The report also demonstrated nearly twice as many instances of tumors (benign and malignant) among the same group.

"It is important for the Pentagon to identify and track troops who may have been exposed to these dangerous toxins, and then ensure new pits don't pop up across the combat zone," said AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley who recently served in Iraq. "Since so many troops have separated from the military since 2001, it will be a daunting task to track down everyone who may have been exposed, or may be suffering from related health conditions. As this legislation moves forward, we hope both Secretary of Defense Gates and VA Secretary Shinseki will do everything in their power to ensure no post-9/11 veterans fall through the cracks."

Check back with American Veteran Online for more details on today's press conference and H.R. 2419, as it moves through committee.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BREAKING: House VA Committee Approves Bill for Advanced Appropriations

This afternoon, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs approved H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act, along with seven other key pieces of legislation, which will now move to the full House for votes.

AMVETS has called for Congress to approve an advanced appropriations schedule for VA health care for more than a decade.

Check back with American Veteran Online for further details on advanced appropriations.

Reflections on the 65th Anniversary of D-Day

This weekend, our nation and our allies in Europe paused to recognize thousands of brave Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The daring attack on Nazi strongholds in the north of occupied France remains the largest single-day amphibious assault ever recorded, with more than 160,000 American and allied troops storming the 50-mile stretch of beachhead.

More than 1,400 brave American troops lost their lives in the day's fighting, many during the initial assault, as Nazi machine gun positions peppered the allied landing craft.

Marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day on Saturday, President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki joined a contingent of WWII veterans to honor the fallen in a special ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, overlooking Omaha Beach. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 9,300 American and allied service members who made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and the ensuing operations to liberate France from Nazi occupation.

On D-Day, AMVETS posts and department around the country gathered to recognize the sacrifices of Americans who served on the Western Front in WWII--especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy.

Born out of WWII, AMVETS will continue to pay special tribute to the sacrifices of our nation's Greatest Generation. The men who fought at Normandy truly embody the best of what our nation's military has done to secure the freedoms we cherish today.

(Photos, Top: Soldiers from the Army's 1st Division storm Omaha Beach from a U.S. Coast Guard landing vessel on D-Day, June 6, 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent, released. Bottom: President Obama shakes hands with D-Day veteran Clyde Combs on Saturday's 65th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy American Cemetery in France. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, released.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Briton Climbs California's El Capitan to Benefit Wounded Troops

This week, British Army Maj. Phil Packer is in the midst of his latest task to raise money for wounded warriors. Packer is in California scaling the face of El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park.

Packer started the climb on Sunday and expects to finish the 1,800 foot climb either late today or early tomorrow morning.

Since Packer lost the use of his legs from a spinal chord injury he sustained from an RPG attack in Iraq, he has dedicated himself to completing daunting physical challenges to raise money for his fellow wounded troops. To date, Packer has already reached his initial goal of raising more than one million pounds for the Help for Heroes program and he hopes to raise much more.

Last month, American Veteran Online highlighted Packer's work when he completed the Flora London Marathon.

To visit Packer's official Web site, track his progress on El Capitan, or to become involved, Click Here.

(Photo: British Maj. Phil Packer climbing the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of

Monday, June 8, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will highlight the VA's need to properly implement the Uniformed Mental Health Care Services Handbook by September 2009. Recently, AMVETS testified on the new VA standards and the poor compliance numbers to this point. We will look in depth at the issue and why proper implementation is critical in meeting the needs of the veterans' community.

We will also keep you up to date on pending legislation and Wednesday's House VA Committee mark-up on several key veterans' bills.

We will also reflect on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, which took place on Saturday. AMVETS posts and departments from around the country gathered this weekend to honor those who fought in the key battle and many of America's heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy.

Also, check in for updates on this summer's AMVETS National Convention and the AMVETS Symposium for 21st Century Veterans.

As always, we are looking for reader submissions for Keeping Posted and Women in Service content so that we can highlight the work of our organization nationwide.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stop Loss Compensation Included in the Latest War Supplemental

This afternoon, CQ reported that Congress has agreed on a provision in the latest war spending bill (H.R. 2346) that will fund a proposed $500 per month stipend for troops held over their enlistment obligations through the "stop loss" program. Congress originally passed legislation authorizing the payments in October 2008.

The Pentagon first announced that it would implement the "Stop Loss Special Pay" program back in March, with troops eligible for retroactive payments dating back to October 1, 2008. The Pentagon also acknowledged that it would cycle out the controversial program by January 2010.

Today, the Army is the only service that continues to use stop loss, with the policy placing inordinate hardships on members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The final version of the war funding supplemental could still change as Congress debates how to properly handle detainees at Guantanamo Bay. However, reports indicate that this provision to fund Stop Loss Special Pay should remain intact. The House could vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

For more updates, check back regularly with American Veteran Online.

(Photo: Army Spc. Derek Hutton carries his duffle bags as he prepares to deploy to Iraq with the Indiana Army National Guard in 2007. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika, released.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

UPDATE: Tragic Shooting at Little Rock, Ark., Recruiting Station

Yesterday afternoon, a young soldier lost his life outside of an Arkansas military recruiting station while taking part in the Army's Hometown Recruiting Assistance program. A fellow soldier was shot and injured on the scene. Military Times published an Associated Press report on the incident.

Further details surfaced over the motive behind the shootings. The gunman told police after his arrest that the shooting was political. The gunman was a recent Muslim convert who was upset over the U.S. military's mission. He saw the two young men in uniform and decided to open fire. Police say it was an isolated incident by one malcontent who took his skewed personal beliefs too far.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the two young soldiers, William Long and Quinton Ezeagwula, who only recently chose to serve their country.

This unconscionable act against unarmed troops should never happen on American soil. These brave young men simply sought some time at home to demonstrate to their peers their pride in serving as soldiers in the U.S. Army. They were not trained recruiters; simply everyday soldiers who made a noble choice to protect our nation.

To the Long family, our sincerest condolences. Though William never saw combat overseas, he gave his life in service to this country, protecting all that we cherish.


This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will once again follow the work of AMVETS on Capitol Hill, as Congress comes back into session. Prior to the Memorial Day recess, AMVETS had testified on dozens of bills moving through both the House and Senate committees on veterans affairs. American Veteran Online will keep you up to date on these key pieces of legislation, as they move through mark-up and potentially toward votes.

American Veteran is also looking to continue our "Women In Service" series by highlighting female AMVETS across the country who have made significant contributions to the U.S. military and to the veterans community. To submit a member for consideration in our "Women In Service" series, please send a brief bio, a digital photo, and contact information for your candidate to

We will also finally post a "Keeping Posted" online story. American Veteran is constantly looking for "Keeping Posted" online and magazine submissions, which can be sent to the editorial staff of American Veteran magazine.

We also continue to appreciate your feedback. Please let us know what you think of the stories posted on this blog, and how we're doing.