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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Army Clarifies Purple Heart Criteria for Concussions

Recently the Department of the Army clarified its criteria for awarding the Purple Heart to soldiers suffering from blast-related concussion wounds like traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

In a letter to AMVETS from the Army Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, the Department of the Army clarified its policy toward concussion injuries that did not result in loss-of-consciousness, which was often considered a defacto criterion for rating the Purple Heart.

In the letter, Mustion encourages soldiers who may have been previously denied the Purple Heart for the injury to resubmit their paperwork through the first general officer within their chain of command for review.

The policy is retroactive for concussion injuries sustained on the battlefield through contact with the enemy dating back to Sept. 11, 2001.

Mustion was clear to note that the memorandum was not a change in policy, but rather a clarification. The Marine Corps recently amended its policy to conform with other service standards, dropping the caveat for loss-of-consciousness and leaving discretion for awarding the Purple Heart to battlefield doctors who could diagnose the injuries properly.

AMVETS supported the Marine Corps adopting its new standard for the Purple Heart that was in line with the standard of the other uniformed services.

"As a veterans’ advocacy group, AMVETS’ primary concern is delivery of proper care for combat injuries," said AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop in response to the change in Marine Corps policy. "A Purple Heart automatically entitles combat-wounded veterans to receive requisite care from VA. In the case of TBI, the old Marine Corps policy may have actually created an unnecessary roadblock to care for veterans exposed to blast injuries. Like broken bones or internal bleeding, you can’t always necessarily see the physical damage caused by roadside bombs. This is particularly true with TBI, which is why AMVETS believes the Marine Corps is making the right decision by deferring to its doctors to make that call."

In reaction to the Army's clarification of its policy, AMVETS leaders encourage any soldier who suffered a blast injury in combat who was previously denied the Purple Heart to resubmit their paperwork in a timely manner.

"We applaud the Army's outreach on this critical issue," said Hotop. "No veteran who needs care for a blast-related injury should be allowed to slip through the cracks, and we're encouraged to see Army leadership taking the necessary steps to ensure their soldiers receive the care that they need."

Proper identification and treatment for polytraumatic blast injuries like TBI is one of AMVETS top legislative priorities for 2011, as outlined in the 2011 Legislative Priorities book. American Veteran will continue to follow this issue closely. Check back regularly for updates.

(Image: Letter from the Army Adjutant General to AMVETS clarifying the Army's policy for awarding the Purple Heart for concussion injuries.)

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

AMVETS Moves Forward on VETS Dogs Act

Last week VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich sent a letter to AMVETS outlining VA's plans to enact a new directive that would allow veterans utilizing service dogs as prosthetic devices access to VHA facilities.

The target date for all VHA directors to implement new policies is June 30, 2011.

Under the directive--which expires in March 2016--VA facilities must create new policies allowing veterans who utilize VA-sanctioned service dogs for physical disabilities the same access afforded to seeing-eye and guide dogs.

In the past veterans like AMVETS members Kevin Stone and Sue Downes have been denied access to VA facilities while accompanied by their service dogs Mambo and Leila. Meanwhile, both Stone and Downes receive VA compensation for the proper upkeep of their service dogs, which assist with mobility and independence for both veterans, who sustained serious injuries in the line of duty.

In response to the letter, AMVETS Acting Legislative Director Christina Roof sent a reply to Gingrich, applauding VA's efforts, but clarifying that AMVETS must continue to pursue a permanent legislative solution to the access issue through the Veterans Equal Treatment of Service Dogs Act, or VETS Dogs Act, which was introduced in the House by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, during the recent LZ:DC, and subsequently introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"AMVETS sincerely appreciates your personal attention to the issue of access to VA facilities for disabled veterans utilizing service dogs as prosthetic devices," said Roof in her letter to Gingrich. "However, AMVETS still maintains that the new VA directive is only a temporary solution to ensuring disabled veterans access VA facilities."

In the letter, Roof clarified that the legislative solution was not an attack on VA or on Gingrich, who gave personal attention to the veterans' service dog issue last summer during AMVETS National Convention, but rather a prudent course of action to ensure that VA policy toward service dogs does not change in the future.

The House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs intend to address the VETS Dogs Act in the coming months, and Roof said she invites VA's insight on the potential regulation change, when that time comes.

American Veteran will continue to follow the VETS Dogs Act closely. Check back regularly for updates.

To learn more about the VETS Dogs Act, Click Here.

To see video of the press conference announcing the VETS Dogs Act, Click Here.

(Images: Top: Letter from VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich to AMVETS addressing health care access for veterans utilizing service dogs. Bottom: AMVETS' response to the Gingrich letter.)

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts on Bin Laden's Death, Photos, and a 5/2 World

Yesterday AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop and I sat down to formulate AMVETS' reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in the Pakistani suburb of Abbottabad.

Needless to say, there was such overwhelming emotion behind our discussion. I served a year in Iraq in support of the Global War on Terror, and Cmdr. Hotop is a veteran and a Blue Star Father whose son, Dean Hotop, also served in Iraq.

Thankfully, we were able to keep our thoughts fairly concise, as you can read here, but to me, this doesn't even scratch the surface on what this means for our nation.

Over the last day we've seen hundreds of analysts and pundits discuss how this most certainly is not the end of Al Qaeda or transnational terrorism as the network's weapon of choice. However, I feel this is a major symbolic victory for our nation that strikes at the heart of Al Qaeda's ideology.

September 11, 2001 has in many ways come to define my life and the lives of those closest to me--whether it was pulling emergency guard duty in the days after 9/11, deploying to Iraq for a year, working here in Washington, or losing friends and watching lives change forever. Though I never questioned whether or not our military was succeeding in the War on Terror, I had lingering doubts about whether we could translate our incremental success on the battlefield to success in the public eye, which seemed to be growing increasingly weary of the open-ended commitment. By hunting down Osama Bin Laden and putting a bullet through his skull, we've conveyed that ever-important message of success.

It was always a sore spot for me that we failed to catch Bin Laden. To me, he was going to be the one who got away, only emboldening our enemies. All the "key lieutenants" or "masterminds" that we've caught or killed over the years never seemed to resonate with the American public, and ongoing operations and successes in Afghanistan seemed to be continually buried in the headlines.

I was honestly concerned that we would soon learn that Bin Laden died back in 2007 of natural causes, surrounded by loved ones and criminal cronies. To know now that he died at the end of an American rifle, facing those he victimized, makes me feel as though justice has been served.

With that said, I feel it's time to release the photos. I'm confident that Bin Laden's corpse is already feeding the fishes at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, but one can already see conspiracy theories floating around the internet about whether it was really Bin Laden, or whether this was some kind of publicity stunt. I know this is garbage, but much like we saw with the death of Saddam Hussein, his sons, Mussaub Al-Zarkawi, and others, our enemies need to see proof to believe it's true.

To me, this proof cuts off the head of our enemy and strikes deeply at the morale of those who have sworn allegiance to Bin Laden. Over the last few months we've seen Al Qaeda significantly weakened ideologically by the nonviolent secular revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the ongoing secular uprisings across the Arab world. The death of Bin Laden proves once-and-for-all that the end game for Al Qaeda is not the empty promise of a path to overthrowing nebulous tyranny, but rather brutal, violent, and meaningless death.

I am extremely proud to be an American today. I feel as though my sacrifices and the sacrifices of those closest to me who served in the military have been validated. Our decade of hard work has yielded the results our nation needed.

When Americans started to gather at the White House and Ground Zero, it was easy to see that the crowds were largely young and mostly college students. What surprised me, though, was how many had American flags readily available; and I was particularly moved when the crowd belted out the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic staples. These young Americans are much more patriotic than I ever gave them credit for and I think it's a testament to our nation's pride and unity--despite what we may have seen and read in the news in recent months.

Though I know this does not bring an abrupt end to our operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere, I believe that this is the most significant victory for the United States since the demise of Adolf Hitler. This was justice. This brings closure to the families who lost their loved ones on 9/11 and the families who lost loved ones subsequently on the battlefield.

As President Barack Obama said in his address to the nation, this demonstrates that we, as Americans, can accomplish anything. To me, that means we can vanquish our enemies in preservation of the ideals that we cherish. Though we must still be vigilant, I'm personally looking forward to a post-Bin Laden world--a 5/2 World--where our nation no longer lives in fear and uncertainty, but once again prospers off of the ingenuity, pride and unwavering dedication of our citizens.

(Image: U.S. Marine Corps veterans Mike Demo, center, and Bill Cortese, right, drove 30 minutes to New York's Ground Zero, May 2, 2011, to mark the news of Osama bin Laden's death. Two of Cortese's cousins were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall Clinton. Video: Official White House video of President Obama's address to the nation on the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.)

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Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS to Testify Before House Subcommittees

Today AMVETS Acting Legislative Director Christina Roof will testify before both the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

Live Web casts from both hearings can be viewed at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. by Clicking Here.

The first hearing before the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee came to order this morning in the Veterans Affairs committee chambers in Cannon 340, and will focus on seven pieces of legislation potentially affecting veterans. To view a full list of participants and to read their prepared remarks, Click Here.

Roof's remarks this morning will focus on four of the bills, which AMVETS supports; the Providing Military Honors for our Nation's Heroes Act, or H.R. 811, which would offer travel reimbursement to organizations that provide military honors for veteran funerals; the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, or H.r. 1407, which will set rates for COLA adjustments for veterans in 2011; H.R. 1627, an act to support uniform definitions for monuments at Arlington National Cemetery, and H.R. 1441, an act which would prohibit the long-overlooked practice of reserving space at Arlington National Cemetery.

In the afternoon, Roof will once again appear in Cannon 340 to testify before the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee, addressing four additional pieces of legislation related to veterans' educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. To view a full list or participants and to read their prepared remarks, Click Here.

Roof's remarks will focus on two pieces of legislation before the subcommittee which AMVETS supports, H.R. 1657, an act which would revise the penalties for small businesses misrepresenting themselves as "veteran-owned" to secure set-aside government contracts; and
H.R. 1383, an act which would temporarily preserve higher tuition reimbursement rates under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill for student veterans attending private institutions of higher learning.

During her remarks, Roof will also address an overlooked inequity in last year's G.I. Bill improvements act, which stripped nearly 400,000 enrolled veterans of living allowance payments during academic break periods.

American Veteran will follow both hearings closely. Check back for highlights.

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