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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

UPDATE: Stop Loss Pay Deadline Extended

Yesterday, Congress passed a deadline extension to special stop loss payments for service members held beyond their military obligation between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30 2009. Now all claims for special stop loss pay must be received by the individual service no later than Dec. 3, 2010.

The benefits offers $500 a month for every month of involuntary extension and the Pentagon believes the average benefit to eligible service members is close to $3,500.

The original deadline of Oct. 21 was approaching quickly and the Pentagon reported that only a small percentage of eligible veterans had applied for the benefit.

With such abysmal claim numbers, the White House stepped into action, publishing a video from President Barack Obama clarifying the benefit and encouraging eligible veterans to apply as soon as possible.

AMVETS had also put out a call-to-action on American Veteran online and through post and department leadership across the country.

With the deadline extension, the process to claim stop loss special pay has not changed. Veterans who believe they are eligible should visit the Pentagon's official stop loss special pay Web site by Clicking Here.

On the Web site, veterans can find detailed instructions and service-specific contact information to apply for the benefit. Eligible veterans must submit a signed DD Form 2944 and proof-of-service, such as a DD-214 or DD-215 to receive payment.

If you believe you are eligible for this benefit, apply today. If you know a veteran who may be eligible, spread the word.

American Veteran will continue to follow the Pentagon's processing of special stop loss pay. Check back regularly for updates.

(Countdown clock created using OnePlusYou.

Below is the White House video, encouraging eligible veterans to apply for special stop loss pay:

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS to Testify on VA Contractor Compliance

This afternoon AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof will testify before the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity to discuss federal contractor compliance and, particularly, the state of VA oversight on contracts for veteran-owned small businesses.

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

To view a list of this morning's witnesses and to read their prepared statements, Click Here.

Prior to joining AMVETS, Roof served as a small business consultant, bringing a wealth of knowledge on small business administration and contract compliance to her post at AMVETS.

Over the last two years, Roof has established herself as a subject matter expert on veteran-owned small businesses, or VOSBs, and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses, or SDVOSBs, and VA's contracting processes.

During her testimony, Roof plans to discuss persistent shortcomings in the validation process for VOSBs and SDVOSBs and shortcomings in auditing, which have created a system rife for fraud within VA contracting.

Roof will also call on VA and Congress to establish more stringent rules and penalties for small businesses claiming veteran-owned status to ensure that truly veteran-owned small businesses receive the preferences in contracting they deserve.

Roof will also call on Congress to establish a centralized federal database for VOSBs and SDVOSBs to allow different departments to share information on small businesses eligible to execute federal contracts set aside for veterans.

Given the recent economic crisis and abysmal veteran unemployment statistics, Roof says that small businesses owners' efforts to exploit the system through dubious means like "rent-a-vet" are tantamount to stealing jobs from eligible veterans, and she hopes that Congress and VA will take the necessary steps to ensure contractor compliance and contract delivery moving forward.

American Veteran will continue to follow this story closely as it develops. Check back regularly for updates.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS Discusses Tinnitus with House Caucus

Yesterday afternoon, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley will take part in the House Invisibile Wounds Caucus roundtable discussion on tinnitus, a common invisible wound of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan most commonly associated with ringing in the ears.

Many veterans who have served in the conflict suffer from the condition which results from continued exposure to loud noises and stress such as explosions and gun shots. Today, tinnitus is the most common service-connected condition for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the roundtable, hosted by Reps. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), experts pointed out the common misconception that tinnitus is an inner ear condition, but it is in fact a neurological condition that can be exacerbated by conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kelley, who personally has dealt with the condition, described his experiences with tinnitus and expressed frustration that though it is his lowest-rated service-connected condition, it is the only one for which he has no viable treatment option.

"There's no cure," Kelley said. "Tinnitus is my lowest rating, yet it is something that I have no relief from and no strategies to deal with."

Today, VA spends more on service-connected compensation for tinnitus than it invests in research on treating the condition. Kelley and the other veterans advocates who participated in the roundtable called on Congress and VA to increase the funding for cutting-edge research on the condition in an effort to develop a viable treatment option.

The caucus plans to continue to the discussion on tinnitus and American Veteran will continue to follow the issue as it develops. Check back regularly for updates.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran we will recap last week's VSO/MSO summit at VA central office in Washington, D.C., where leaders from the nation's top veterans' service and member service organizations gathered to discuss VA's current initiatives to better serve the veterans' community.

We will also follow AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley and National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof to Capitol Hill, where they will sit in on the House Invisible Wounds Caucus roundtable to discuss tinnitus in today's returning service members. Tinnitus is commonly exhibited by ringing in the ears experienced by service members exposed to excessive noise, gun shots and explosions in the combat zone.

American Veteran will also follow this week's hearing in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will deliver testimony on VA's plan to implement the latest Agent Orange presumptive service-connected conditions, which AMVETS has expressed its support for in the past. Should Congress approve VA's proposed guidelines, more than 150,000 Vietnam veterans could be eligible to receive VA care and compensation for the new presumptive conditions.

This week, AMVETS leaders will also check back in with the Department of Education which is expected to start making decisions on grant awards for student-veteran "centers of excellence" by next Tuesday, Sept. 28. AMVETS has championed the effort to commission such federal grants over the last three years and the department has solicited grant applications throughout the summer.

This week we will also bring you highlights of recent 9/11 and National POW/MIA Recognition Day observances from AMVETS posts and departments around the country. If you have a story you would like us to highlight here on the blog or in the pages of American Veteran magazine, please send them along. And, as always, please feel free to comment on our stories.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

AMVETS Reacts to VA and Prudential SGLI Story

Yesterday, Bloomberg News published a scathing indictment of VA's contract with the insurance company Prudential to deliver Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, or SGLI, benefits to surviving spouses who lost their loved ones in combat.

Bloomberg asserted that VA skirted its responsibilities to deliver a lump sum of cash to grieving spouses by automatically enrolling spouses in Prudential Alliance Accounts. However, VA documents show that VA was transparent on these accounts with SGLI recipients from day one.

AMVETS obtained a copy of the form letter VA uses to explain SGLI payments, which we have included below.

Spouses or loved ones who receive SGLI payments are immediately informed that they have full access to the lump sum payment, but that VA has established a secure account, offering an easier option for grieving loved ones, as outlined in section (A) of the letter. For many types of life insurance policies, this is today's industry standard.

A New York Times story from 2008 discussed the struggles some military widows can face when coping with the loss of a loved and the sudden, unexpected influx of their loved one's life insurance payment. The Times story discussed how many surviving spouses--particularly young widows--attempt to fill the void in their lives with material possessions, quickly winding up in debt.

AMVETS believes VA's contract with Prudential establishing the Alliance Accounts was a good faith, transparent effort to help surviving spouses during the grieving process. As part of VA's contract with Prudential, spouses also have access to free financial counseling, which only 10 spouses had taken advantage of when the Times published its story.

Information for those enrolled in SGLI is readily available on the VA Web site in a 2009 VA handbook explaining the lump sum payment option and Alliance Accounts.

AMVETS leaders have also spoken with military surviving spouses using the current SGLI system who have not encountered major problems in receiving their entitlement.

The Bloomberg story also cited the potential interest Prudential gained by keeping SGLI funds in its general account, while only passing along a .5 percent interest rate to its Alliance Account holders, which include SGLI recipients. Once again, AMVETS leaders disagree with Bloomberg's skewed figures, considering that many personal checking accounts do not offer any significant interest, compared to the Alliance Account option.

This afternoon, CNN reported that VA will continue its partnership with Prudential, but also step up efforts to inform members of the military and their spouses of how the program is implemented.

American Veteran will continue to monitor this issue, as the Pentagon and Congress have called for investigations into the Prudential contract. However, at first glance, AMVETS leaders believe that VA has done nothing disingenuous in this situation, but actually sought to look out for the best interest of surviving spouses coping with a tremendous loss.

(Image: First page of a draft letter for SGLI beneficiaries explaining the lump sum payment procedure and Alliance accounts.)

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Monday, September 13, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will recap the weekend's acknowledgments of 9/11 by AMVETS posts and departments around the country, including National Commander Jerry Hotop's remarks on 9/11 in Illinois.

We will also follow AMVETS National Legislative Department to Capitol Hill as the House Committees on Veterans Affairs reconvenes to hear testimony on personality disorder discharges, Post-9/11 G.I. Bill implementation, VA claims processor training, and pending veterans' legislation.

AMVETS leaders will also participate in this week's summit of veterans organizations and military organizations hosted by VA.

AMVETS National Legislative Department also continues to compile the 2010 symposium report from the recent AMVETS Symposium for 21st Century Veterans hosted at the national convention in Louisville, Ky.

This Friday, American Veteran will also follow Cmdr. Hotop back to his home state of Missouri where he will participate in the St. Louis Cardinals salute to America's POW/MIA in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Friday, Sept. 17.

AMVETS leaders in Washington will also be on hand Friday at the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' ceremony honoring America's POW/MIA.

As always, please let us know what you think by commenting on this blog, and if you have photos or stories that you would like us to share, please send us an e-mail.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Cmdr. Hotop Remembers 9/11

Tomorrow morning AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop will join the AMVETS Department of Illinois for their 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, where Hotop will deliver his remarks on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that thrust the United States into the Global War on Terror. Here is Hotop's prepared statement on 9/11:

"Nine years ago today, many of us in this great nation awoke to the horror of American Airlines flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Later, many of our worst fears were realized when three more planes were hijacked to be used as weapons against our peaceful nation. The attacks against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the failed attempt in rural Pennsylvania began a new era in American history. This era is marked by a new kind of patriotism our nation has never known. Instead of the fear and hopelessness the terrorists of 9/11 hoped to plant, courage and valor have grown.

"Instead of hatred and instability, America has grown more compassionate and stronger. We have rebuilt and regained our strength. But through this renewal and growth, we must not let the images of the crashed planes, falling buildings and burning countryside fade from our memories.

"So, today we remember the morning of September 11, 2001, and the atrocities that were carried out on our soil.

"We must constantly remind ourselves of the bravery and heroism that was demonstrated by the flight attendants, pilots, and passengers aboard those hijacked aircraft. We remember great courage of the firefighters and police who came from across the nation to assist those in their time of need.

"Today, we should say a special prayer for those families who have lost a loved one and have spent the last five years learning to live day to day with this tragedy. We remember their pain, and today we will grieve with them. We will not let the memory of so many Americans be forgotten.

"And despite all of the dreadful memories we remember on this day, we should also stand proudly as Americans. We are proud to have remained firm in our beliefs and in our patriotism even in the face of terrorism.

"It is important for us to remember that today we are a nation at war. We must make a concerted effort to remember and honor those who carry out our noble mission: the brave service men and women who are fighting for our freedom across the globe, like Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, who we learned yesterday will be the first living service member in the Global War on Terror to be honored with the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

"Much in the way Giunta and his fellow paratroopers thwarted a kidnapping attempt and suppressed a Taliban onslaught in the mountains of Afghanistan, we must all remain vigilant in our fight against those who would take away the freedoms for which so many veterans have fought. We must not back down, give up or run away. We must remain firm in our support of American troops at home and abroad and never forget their daily sacrifices. After all, it is these brave individuals who have preserved the freedoms that Osama Bin Laden and his thugs sought to destroy.

"We should say a special 'thank you' to these members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and reserves who continue to defend our nation.

"America is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.

"Please join me as we observe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001."

(Image: A New York City firefighter calls for additional rescue workers in the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 15, 2001. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Keres, released.)

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BREAKING: Living Afghanistan Vet to Receive Medal of Honor

This morning, the White House announced that Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan in 2007. Giunta will be the first living recipient of the nation's highest combat award for valor from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama spoke with Giunta yesterday, informing the soldier that he will receive the medal.

Giunta was selected to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on Oct. 25, 2007, while serving as a specialist with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion from the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan.

According to the White House, when Giunta's squad was ambushed, insurgents split his team into two groups. In the firefight, Giunta successfully pulled a comrade back to cover, while continuing to engage the enemy.

While attempting to reconnect with his squad, Giunta noticed insurgents carrying away a wounded soldier. Giunta killed one of the potential captors and wounded the other, freeing the soldier, to whom he then rendered aid. Giunta then reconnected with his squad, which continued to provide security, defeating the ambush.

Over the last two years, AMVETS has questioned Pentagon leaders on why no living recipients had been selected for the Medal of Honor through nearly a decade of combat in support of the Global War on Terror.

AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop said he was proud to see that the President will honor Giunta, adding to the ranks of living American heroes, keeping with traditions of the Medal of Honor dating back to the Civil War.

Giunta and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller are the latest soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor for their actions in Afghanistan. Miller, who will receive the medal posthumously, will be honored at the White House in a special ceremony on Oct. 6, where family members will accept the medal from the President.

This morning, Stars & Stripes published a letter from Miller's parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, expressing pride in their son for his actions, which helped to protect his team and a team of Afghan Army soldiers. To read more about Miller's award, Click Here.

(Image: Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions while serving in Afghanistan as a specialist in 2007.)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

REMINDER: Stop Loss Pay Available Until Oct. 21

Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay, or RSLSP, is still available to any service member who was involuntarily extended beyond his or her military contract between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009.

Eligible service members can receive $500 per month for each month or partial month of involuntary extension under the stop loss program. The benefit, which on average could be worth $3,500, is only available until Oct. 21, 2010, and we have added a countdown to the deadline on this blog. All submissions must be postmarked by Oct. 21, 2010 to be eligible.

In an effort to encourage all eligible veterans and service members to apply for the benefit, Department of Defense has commissioned a comprehensive Web site outlining all of the details of the benefit with a link to the application form and all pertinent, service-specific e-mail addresses and phone numbers. To visit the Web site, Click Here.

AMVETS leaders encourage anyone who is eligible for the benefit to apply as soon as possible, since Congress has not indicated that it will extend the application deadline.

(Countdown created with

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VA Implements IT Solution; Publishes 2010-2011 Rates

This afternoon, VA announced that its fully-automated G.I. Bill claims processing system is now online and fully operational. Since the new program was delivered in July, VA has meticulously transferred data from VA's analog processing system into the new program with minimal errors, according to VA's Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.

The new system allows for automated data sets to help calculate each veterans' specific reimbursement rates, as opposed to the old system, which required an individual claims processor to enter each unique figure for every enrolled veteran.

VA Director of Education Services Keith Wilson said that throughout the month of August, VA could process a Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, or Chapter 33, benefit claim within 10 days of receipt as a result of the streamlined system. Wilson went on to say that VA's new system can accommodate for changes in compensation figures like housing allowances on the fly, meaning veterans will receive accurate living stipend payments once the Department of Defense publishes its annual rate changes in January.

To date, VA has already paid Chapter 33 benefits to 130,000 veterans enrolled for the fall, compared to last year's mark of only 12,000 claims at the same point. Wilson also said that VA has seen an overall 14 percent increase in enrollment across all chapters of the G.I. Bill for the new academic year.

Yesterday, VA also published its Chapter 33 reimbursement rates for the 2010-2011 academic year. The rates can be found on the VA Web site Here.

American Veteran will continue to follow VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the new automated processing solution. We will also closely monitor the proposed Post-9/11 G.I. Bill legislation pending before Congress to make Chapter 33 more equitable. Check back regularly for updates.

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