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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

AMVETS Silver Helmet Recipient to Lead Senate VA Committee

This afternoon, the Senate voted Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as the new chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Murray earned the AMVETS Congressional Silver Helmet Award in 2008 for her lifelong work to support veterans in her home state and around the country.

Murray first started giving back to the veterans' community by volunteering at the Seattle VA Medical Center during the Vietnam War and she is the daughter of a Purple Heart recipient who was one of the first soldiers to land on Okinawa during World War II.

In her acceptance speech for the Silver Helmet in 2008, Murray said her experiences working with wounded veterans at VA helped guide her decision-making in Washington to best serve the needs of American veterans.

AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop said he looks forward to working with Murray and her staff, and that she brings decades of insight and experience to her post.

Some of Murray's most notable accomplishments include advocating for improved health care for Gulf War veterans and ensuring all veterans are entitled to receive military funeral honors.

Murray was the first woman selected to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she will also be the first woman to serve as the committee's chair.

Military Times spoke with Murray about her selection to lead the committee. To read her thoughts on her new responsibilities, Click Here.

(Image: Sen. Patty Murray, center, poses for a photo with AMVETS Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III and his wife, Jan Brown, at the 2008 Congressional Silver Helmet Awards reception on Capitol Hill. Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Patty Murray.)

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Agent Orange Presumptions Extended For Korean DMZ Vets

This morning VA announced new rules for presumptive conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure for veterans deployed along the demilitarized zone in South Korea.

The new regulation extends the window of service for presumptive claims from April 1, 1968 to Aug. 31, 1971. Previously, veterans were only presumed to have been exposed up until April 1969.

AMVETS National Service Director Denny Boller, who served along the demilitarized zone in the early 1970s, applauded the decision, which he said was a long time coming. Boller went on to say that veterans who have been fighting VA for decades will now be allowed to receive the care they deserve as a result of exposure to the toxic defoliant.

The new regulations are available in the latest version of the Federal Register, Volume 76, Number 16, which can be viewed by Clicking Here.

VA offers presumptive coverage for Agent Orange exposure for more than a dozen health conditions, which are outlined on the VA's official Web site.

AMVETS encourages all veterans suffering from a presumptive condition who meet the service requirements to file their claims as soon as possible, and remind veterans that AMVETS National Service Officers stand ready to assist in the claims process free of charge. A list of all AMVETS National Service Officers can be found on the AMVETS National Web site.

AMVETS has consistently advocated for long-overdue Agent Orange benefits and Boller said this is a much-needed victory for many who served more than 40 years ago.

(Image: A South Korean soldier stands sentry on the Bridge of No Return alongside a rusty sign marking the military demarcation on the Korean Demilitarized Zone. U.S. Army photo by Edward N. Johnson, released.)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

UPDATE: Cmdr. Hotop Reacts to White House Announcement on Military Families

This morning, AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop joined the nation's top veterans advocates alongside President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for a report on the Presidential Directive on Military Families.

First Lady Obama and Dr. Biden, who have each made military families a top priority during the administration, presented "Strengthening Our Military Families," an overview of the Administration's top four priorities for ensuring military families have all the tools to succeed across the federal government.

The 15 cabinet secretaries and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency each signed a statement of support to the Administration's goals which include enhancing the overall well-being and psychological health of the military family, ensuing excellence in military children's education and development, developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses, and increasing child care availability and quality within the U.S. armed forces.

Cmdr. Hotop said he was honored to be a part of the morning's significant announcement and called it a critical step in ensuring that the federal government meets the needs of military families, but also called for results now that the vision is laid out.

"We've seen tremendous investment in assisting veterans and military families through the current administration, so AMVETS was happy to see this morning's promising report," Hotop said. "However, I'm from Missouri, so show me results. This is why AMVETS stands ready to work with our partners within each federal agency to ensure the promises to our military families are kept."

To read the official White House statement on this morning's announcement, Click Here.

(Image: The statement of support to military families, as signed by each cabinet secretary. Image is contained in "Strengthening Our Military Families," a White House publication.)

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White House to host Cmdr. Hotop, Top Veterans' Advocates to Discuss Military Families

This morning, AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop will head to the White House, alongside President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden, for an update on the Presidential Directive on Military Families.

AMVETS and the nation's other leading veterans' advocates are eager to hear details on the study commissioned in May through the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and additional federal agencies on how to best engage and support military families.

The study, which was announced last May, set out to identify key military family concerns, review private and public programs designed to support military families to identify positive outcomes, develop options to integrate military family concerns into strategic and budgetary priorities, examine federal policies and programs to offer opportunities to military families, identify ways to leverage skills of military family members, and strengthening feedback mechanisms for military families to voice their needs and concerns.

American Veteran will follow this morning's announcement closely, with reaction from Cmdr. Hotop and more details this afternoon on the blog.

To read the official White House announcement of the review, Click Here.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AMVETS Expresses Condolences to Rep. Giffords and Staff

This morning, AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop sent a letter of condolences to Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, expressing his condolences on behalf of AMVETS and wishing the congresswoman the best in her recovery in the wake of the shooting that took place at a constituent event hosted by Giffords last weekend.
Hotop expressed his sentiments to the family of Gabe Zimmerman, a constituent staffer for Giffords who was killed in the attack and also commended the professional staff and interns who helped to save lives during the event.

Hotop called the shooting a "dark day" for America's political discourse and echoed national calls for respect and cooperation in solving the complex issues facing our nation today.

Giffords, who is an Air Force wife and serves on the House Armed Services Committee, remains in critical condition at Arizona University Medical Center, but CNN reports she is now breathing on her own and doctors remain hopeful for recovery.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

No COLA Increase for 2011

Veterans receiving service-connected compensation for 2011 may have noticed that their checks remained the same after the New Year. For the second straight year, veterans' cost-of-living allowances, or COLA, will not increase. To read VA's official announcement, Click Here.

By law, COLA increased are tied to increased in Social Security, which can only increase when the consumer price index increases. In 2009, the consumer price index dropped so lawmakers decided to keep Social Security rates at the same level.

Earlier this year a malicious hoax surfaced purporting that COLA rates would nearly double, which AMVETS quickly rebuked.

American Veteran received multiple inquiries into the actual rates for 2011, which were not publicized until late last week, confirming fears that the rate would once again remain the same.

AMVETS leaders consistently advocate for increases in benefits for service-connected disabled veterans tied to the consumer price index. However, down the road AMVETS leaders may push for consistent increases, particularly during difficult economic times.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year at American Veteran: G.I. Bill Fixes Signed; VA to Vet Small Businesses

The New Year is upon us at American Veteran magazine and this afternoon marks the start of the 112th Congress--with many shifts in leadership among the veterans affairs and armed services committees. Aside from the party shift in the House, the Senate is also slated to make significant changes to its committee assignments. American Veteran will follow today's developments and we will publish comprehensive lists of relevant committee assignments as they become available.

Over the next few weeks, AMVETS Acting Legislative Director Christina Roof will work diligently to deliver AMVETS Legislative Priorities for 2011 to each relevant committee member.

Yesterday marked another significant step in delivering quality educational and vocational training benefits to today's veterans with President Barack Obama's signing of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2010, which passed Congress during the lame duck session.

The bill includes many of the improvements which AMVETS has called for over the last two years in an effort to make the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill more equitable for today's war fighters.

Among the critical improvements are offering benefits to Active Guard & Reserve, or AGR, soldiers and members of the military activated on Title 32 orders for homeland defense missions. The new law also allows veterans enrolled in non-degree or vocational training programs an opportunity to utilize their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to defray costs, and also offers distance learners a portion of the living stipend benefit.

The changes could make Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits available to an additional 400,000 veterans and current service members.

Unfortunately, the total law did not satisfy all of AMVETS' expectations, as Congressional leaders scrapped break payments of living stipends for more than 350,000 veterans currently enrolled under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. AMVETS recognized that offering break payments remained a budget-neutral proposal and asked Congressional leaders to keep the benefit intact. However, in the hours prior to the vote, the controversial proposal was kept in the bill.

Starting next fall, students enrolled under Chapter 33 will no longer be entitled to living stipend payments during winter and summer break months.

American Veteran will continue to follow implementation of the new G.I. Bill fixes.

On Monday, VA also announced its new plan to vet veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses seeking government contracts. To read VA's announcement of the new policy, Click Here.

AMVETS Acting Legislative Director Christina Roof, who previously served as a small business consultant, has consistently called on VA to audit its contractors to ensure compliance. Roof called the new policy a "step in the right direction," but expressed concerns that the new verification process could create a backlog of contractors looking for work.

Under the new policy, VA will require the 13,000 companies currently listed in the Vendor Information Pages, or VIP, database to verify their status within 90 days. After this time, VA will consider additional applications for the VIP database from other potential VOSBs and SDVOSBs.

AMVETS outlined contractor compliance as a top priority in the 2011 Legislative Agenda. American Veteran will continue to follow this story closely. Check back regularly for updates.

(Image: Cover of AMVETS Legislative Priorities for 2011. Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol.)

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