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

Monday, February 28, 2011

AMVETS Remembers WWI Veteran Frank Buckles

Over the weekend, Frank Buckles, the last surviving "doughboy" of World War I, died at his farm in Charles Town, W.Va., at 110 years old.

Buckles' remarkable journey started at age 16 when he attempted repeatedly to join each of the armed services. Upon seeing the fresh-faced young man, claiming to be 18, Buckles said recruiters often told him to "go home before [his] mother noticed [he] was gone."

Buckles finally made a successful case to an Army recruiter, enlisting on Aug. 14, 1917--nearly a year and a half shy of his requisite 18th birthday. During the war, Buckles served as an ambulance driver in Europe, where his service would take him across France and England. Following the Armistice that effectively ended the war, Buckles guarded and transported German POWs on their return to Germany. A corporal by age 18, Buckles was honorably discharged in 1920.

During World War II, Buckles worked as a civilian in the Philippines, where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Manila. He was interned for more than three years in Japanese prison camps, where he led his fellow prisoners--including American service members--in morning calisthenics.

Upon his release and his subsequent return stateside, Buckles married and raised a family on the same West Virginia farm he called home until the day he died. Buckles was the last of more than 4.7 million Americans who served in the conflict.

AMVETS leaders were honored to join Buckles for a special reception in his honor at the U.S. Capitol in 2008, where Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III presented Buckles with a plaque acknowledging his uniformed service in WWI and his leadership as a captured American prisoner in World War II, along with an American flag to fly over his ranch in West Virginia.

AMVETS Riders from the Department of Tennessee also made a special journey to Buckles' farm in 2008 to spend some time trading war stories with Buckles.

AMVETS Riders National Commander Victor “Dutch” Stivason presented Buckles with a letter of appreciation, and then-Tennessee Road Captain Bruce McElhaney presented Buckles with a framed certificate honoring his service. The Riders also presented Buckles with a his own embroidered AMVETS Riders vest and a custom WWI patch on behalf of AMVETS Riders across the country.

In 2007, Buckles received the L├ęgion d'honneur from French President Jacques Chirac. Buckles has also been honored by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. A portrait of Buckles is on display at the Pentagon as part of a tribute to WWI veterans.

Earlier this month, American Veteran highlighted Buckles' 110th birthday.

"Frank Buckles lived a long, fulfilling life; selflessly sacrificing for the land he loved, seeing through some of our nation's most trying times and still grasping hold of the American dream," said AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop. "Today we have lost a tremendous link to our nation's history, so let us honor the memory of Frank Buckles and let us never forget the tremendous sacrifices of his generation, which helped to build the foundations of our strong and prosperous nation."

Buckles will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with more details about memorial services available this week.

According to the Associated Press, family have asked that memorial donations be made in Buckles' honor to the World War One Legacy Project, managed by the non-profit Survivor Quest, which seeks to inform school children about WWI and the sacrifices of American service members in the conflict.

(Images: Top: Frank Buckles discusses his experiences in both world wars with AMVETS Riders at his Charles Town, W.Va. home. Photo courtesy Tennessee AMVETS Riders. Middle Right: Official Army portrait of Buckles while assigned to the U.S. Regular Army 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment at age 16. Photo maintained by the Library of Congress. Middle Left: AMVETS Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III presents Buckles with a plaque and an American flag during the 2008 Capitol Hill reception. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: AMVETS Riders join Buckles for a photo at his ranch in 2008. Photo courtesy Tennessee AMVETS Riders.)

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

AMVETS Joins VHA in Arizona for Conference on Service Dogs

AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof and AMVETS partners Paws With A Cause are in Phoenix this week to participate in the Veterans Health Administration’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aid Services Guide Dog and Service Dog Clinicians Training Conference.

The weeklong seminar brings together industry experts within the VA system, veteran service organizations, representatives from the assistance dog industry, and veterans who utilize service dogs to learn about the many benefits of service dogs in the lives of veterans living with disabilities.

VHA's Office of Prosthetic and Sensory Aid Services, or PSAS, put together the conference to inform clinicians about guide dogs and service dogs for veterans, establishing the expertise VA needs to draft clinical practice recommendations for PSAS guide and service dog benefits.

“The overall goal of rehabilitation is to increase or maintain veterans at the highest level of functioning possible. The provision of individualized care leads us to explore and apply, as appropriate, all options to maintain independence as long as possible,” said Stanlie Daniels, deputy chief for the VHA Office of Patient Care services. “Our collaboration with guide and service dog organizations is a key component to assuring we are aware of all options to assist our nation’s veterans.”

For the last two years, AMVETS has aggressively advocated for equal access to care and benefits for veterans utilizing service dogs, working closely with PSAS officials on how to best implement proper policy changes.

Alongside 22-year partner Paws With A Cause, AMVETS views this conference as a critical step in ensuring clinicians understand the benefits of assistance dogs in an effort to ensure proper and equitable access for all veterans utilizing the unique prosthetics.

(Image: AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof and Deputy Chief of VHA Office of Patient Care Services Stanlie Daniels at the PSAS Guide Dog and Service Dog Conference in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of VHA. Story with contributions from Deb Davis.)

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keeping Posted Online: Wisconsin Auxiliary Collects Movies for Troops

This holiday season, AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary from Post 50 in Phillips, Wis., collected nearly 100 DVDs to send to troops serving overseas as part of AMVETS Task Force DVD.

AMVETS Department of Wisconsin then collected the donations from Post 50 and other posts around the state during the state executive committee meeting in Waupaca in order to deliver the DVDs to troops serving in the combat zone in time for Christmas.

AMVETS Task Force DVD is the national ongoing DVD and digital media donation program that provides entertainment to American troops serving overseas free of charge.

AMVETS Task Force DVD is managed by the AMVETS Department of Ohio, which boxes and ships movies to requesting units across the globe. Troops who wish to request DVDs can contact AMVETS National Programs Department directly at the following email address, thilton@amvets.org, with their complete military mailing address, including name and APO.

To date, millions of hours of entertainment have been sent overseas.

AMVETS National Headquarters accepts all cash donations to defer shipping costs and DVD donations can be made directly to AMVETS Task Force DVD at the following address:

AMVETS Task Force DVD
1395 E. Dublin Granville Road #222
Columbus, OH 43229

To learn more about AMVETS Task Force DVD, Click Here.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

AMVETS, Independent Budget Partners Discuss VA Budget

Yesterday, AMVETS and the partners on the Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs--Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars--testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, discussing the VA budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 and VA health care for 2013.

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and his assistant secretaries appeared on the first panel to explain the president's VA budget proposal to the first full committee hearing before the new Republican majority Congress.

To view a full list of participants and their prepared remarks, Click Here.

To view the Web cast of the hearing, Click Here.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the new committee chairman, acknowledged VA's concerted efforts to improve its services, but asked Shinseki if he and his staff could consider other ways to streamline operations while continuing to deliver the requisite care and benefits for American veterans.

In light of the current fiscal crisis, VA was one of only a handful of federal agencies slated to receive an increase in funding in the Obama Administration's budget proposals. Republicans agreed that given the scope of VA's mission, an increase was justified, but reminded Shinseki that his department was not exempt from public outcries to minimize government waste, imploring the secretary and his staff to identify duplicative processes and streamline overhead costs.

Similar questions were posed to representatives of the Independent Budget, who offered to sit down with the chairman and any interested members of the committee to discuss programs where VA may be able to streamline operations.

A major topic of discussion for the hearing was the looming disability claims backlog and VA's ongoing efforts to mitigate wait times for veterans seeking service-connected compensation and care. VA and the Independent Budget partners both applauded VA's ongoing pilot programs aimed at streamlining the process, but several committee members expressed skepticism that VA could meet the ever-growing demand.

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., proposed an alternative for mitigating the backlog where VA could offer to "buy out" veterans with a lump sum payment when they file disability claims, a proposal which AMVETS has consistently fought against.

While no plans to implement such a system have been formally proposed, AMVETS leaders insisted that they would voice their concerns and help to educate Congressional staff on the potential negative impact on veterans, should such an idea gain momentum.

Military Times discussed the proposed "fire sale" in a story yesterday afternoon.

During the hearing, Shinseki also publicly apologized for the delay in implementing veterans' caregiver benefits, which were signed into law last spring. Shinseki said that VA was forced to develop a new IT infrastructure to pay the new benefit, since payments would go directly to the civilian caregiver, who is technically not enrolled in the VA system.

Stars & Stripes discussed caregiver in-depth in their coverage of the hearing.

During the hearing, Filner also thanked the Independent Budget partners for their tireless efforts to pass advance appropriations for VA health care, since the VA budget for fiscal year 2011 remains in limbo, consistently operating on continuing resolutions. Filner said that thanks to advance appropriations, which were included for the first time in the 2010 budget, VA health care has been able to operate unabated, while Congress continues to debate the final budget for 2011.

"In the first year of [advance appropriations] we already see it was absolutely necessary," Filner said.

On Wednesday, March 2, VA and the Independent Budget partners will present their budget proposals to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. American Veteran will once again be on hand for the event. Check back on March 1 for more details on the hearing, and check back regularly for updates on the fiscal year 2012 budget process.

(Images: Top: AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof testifies on the 2012 VA budget proposal before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, flanked by Independent Budget partners Carl Blake of PVA, Ray Kelley of VFW, and Joe Violante of DAV. Bottom: VA Secretary Eric Shinseki presents the president's VA budget proposal alongside his assistant secretaries. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Live from Capitol Hill: House to Hear VA Budget Proposals

Tomorrow morning the House Committee on Veterans Affairs will host its first full committee hearing of the new Congress to discuss the fiscal year 2012 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will outline the department's budget proposal and AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof will join the Independent Budget partners--Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars--to outline the 25th Independent Budget, or IB, proposal.

The hearing will commence at 9:30 a.m. in the committee chambers, 334 Cannon House Office Building.

To view a full list of witnesses and to read their prepared statements, Click Here.

To view live video of the hearing, Click Here.

The Obama Administration issued its budget recommendations for VA on Monday, calling for increased overall investment in the department, which AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop called a "good jumping-off point."

In light of the current fiscal climate, VA was one of the few federal agencies tabbed for an increase in funding for 2012, but the IB partners said they believe further investment is needed for VA to properly accomplish its mission--particularly in medical and prosthetics research and major construction projects.

For a quarter century, the IB has served as a road map for the nation's leaders on how to best fund VA, which is why the leaders from the IB organizations said they look forward to the opportunity to outline their recommendations to a new Congress tasked with making difficult fiscal decisions.

In her testimony, Roof will focus on the IB budget recommendations for VA's National Cemetery Administration and veteran entrepreneurship.

“We encourage Congress to review our recommendations and we invite an open dialogue on how to best serve our nation’s heroes,” said Hotop when the IB rolled out yesterday.

American Veteran will be on hand for tomorrow's hearing. Check back with the blog in the afternoon for highlights.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Budget 2012: White House Outlines VA Proposal Today

This morning, the White House released its budget proposal, which include recommendations to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs in fiscal year 2012 and VA health care in 2013.

AMVETS, a member of the Independent Budget, or IB, alongside Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, will join VA officials this afternoon to discuss specifics behind the proposal.

The IB partners will react to the president's budget proposal this afternoon in advance of the release of the IB recommendations to Congress this week. Check back later today with AMVETS.org for details.

To view the 2012 IB recommendations, Click Here.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Keeping Posted Online: California AMVET Earns County Veteran of the Year

Bud Simmons, a life member of Michael Ottolini AMVETS Post 40 in Santa Rosa, Calif., was recently named Sonoma County Veteran of the Year for 2010.

Each year, the county extends the honor to a local veteran who has demonstrated service above and beyond the call of duty toward fellow veterans and the community at large.

Simmons, an Air Force veteran who served in Korea, is a founding member of Post 40 and currently serves as post adjutant. He is also commander of AMVETS Department of California Northern Area.

In addition to his continuous work with AMVETS, Simmons serves on the Sonoma County Military Honor Guard and remains an active member in several veterans service organizations, having served in leadership roles in each of them.

(Photo and story courtesy of Dave Richey, AMVETS Post 40.)

To submit content for consideration in Keeping Posted for the print edition of American Veteran magazine or the blog, please send high-resolution digital photos and a brief description to rgallucci@amvets.org.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Live from Capitol Hill: House to Hear Testimony on SCRA Violations

This morning, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is hosting a hearing on recent allegations that J.P. Mortgage Chase, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, when it charged military families inflated interest rates and even foreclosed on 14 families. To view video of the hearing, Click Here.

AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof is on hand for the hearing where military families wrongfully charged by Chase are scheduled to deliver testimony along side J.P. Morgan Chase Executive Vice President for Consumer Practices Stephanie Mudick.

To view a complete list of witnesses and to read their prepared remarks, Click Here.

Under SCRA, deployed service members may not be charged more than six percent interest on mortgages for the duration of their service. When families petitioned Chase for the requisite adjustments, the bank was unable to accommodate the requests, continuing to overcharge families, resulting in 14 evictions.

Chase acknowledged the error in January, saying they had erroneously collected more than $2 million, which the bank planned to immediately return to affected families. The bank also said they would work to return the 14 foreclosed families to their homes.

When news of the wrongful charges and foreclosures broke, AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop called the bank's actions "absolutely appalling," and called on Congress to act quickly to ensure this violation was not indicative of a broader problem within America's financial industry.

“That J.P. Morgan Chase could let this happen indicates to AMVETS that this could be a systemic automation problem across the industry or even a standard business practice,” said Hotop. “Our nation’s leaders must step in to ensure that our military families are not exploited further.”

To read AMVETS' full reaction, Click Here.

Stars & Stripes reported on the cold reception Chase received from members of the committee. Committee members said they knew of other examples of SCRA violations with major financial institutions and promised further hearings down the road to ensure veterans received the protections to which they are entitled under the law.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

AMVETS Calls on Shinseki for Department-wide Service Dog Policy

Yesterday, AMVETS Executive Director Jim King sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking the secretary to close a critical health care loophole for veterans utilizing service dogs.

Last year, through extensive work advocating for veterans who use service dogs as prosthetic devices for physical injuries, AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof discovered that VA medical centers around the country are not only exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, but that each medical center was allowed to dictate its own policies toward service dogs.

In two instances, AMVETS members who needed the assistance of their service dogs to make it to their VA appointments were denied care based on the antiquated VA policy that only provides concessions for seeing-eye or guide dogs in VA facilities.

VA already acknowledges that service dogs certified through a doctor's authority to assist with physical disabilities are to be considered prosthetic devices, allowing veterans to receive compensation for regular maintenance.

Last year, AMVETS successfully worked with VA to start properly processing claims for these prosthetic benefits when Roof discovered the access loophole.

AMVETS has attempted to work through proper VA channels to remedy this oft-overlooked policy to ensure that veterans who need their service dogs would not be turned away for care, but Roof said that proper channels have not yielded results, which is why King decided to bring the issue to the attention of Shinseki.

AMVETS is also rallying support for the issue within veterans' advocacy circles, with many partners on The Military Coalition volunteering to send similar letters in the coming days.

AMVETS leaders encourage concerned veterans around the country to use King's letter as a model and send letters of their own to VA and to representatives in Congress.

"A strong, unified voice from the veterans community is the only way to effect positive change," said Roof. "This is the best way for our nation's leaders to see how serious these issues are."

American Veteran will continue to follow the issue closely, and Roof said she will continue to push for equal access for all veterans utilizing VA-sanctioned prosthetic devices like service dogs.

(Image: Official letter from AMVETS National Executive Director Jim King asking VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to close a loophole for veterans' service dogs.)

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy 110th Birthday, Frank Buckles

Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, celebrated his 110th birthday today at his home in Charles Town, W.V.

AMVETS leaders were honored to join Buckles for a special reception in his honor in 2008, where Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III presented Buckles with a plaque acknowledging his uniformed service in WWI and his leadership as a captured American prisoner in World War II, along with an American flag to fly over his ranch in West Virginia.

Buckles enlisted in the Army in 1917 at 16 years-old. Eager to see action at the onset of WWI, he volunteered as an ambulance driver. His service would take him across France and England. Following the Armistice that effectively ended the war, Buckles guarded and transported German POWs on their return to Germany.

A corporal by age 18, Buckles was honorably discharged in 1920. While working as a civilian in the Philippines, Buckles became embroiled in WWII when he was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Manila. He was interned for more than three years in Japanese prison camps, where he led his fellow prisoners in morning calisthenics.

Upon his release, Buckles married and raised a family on the same West Virginia farm where he lives to this day.

AMVETS Riders from the Department of Tennessee made a special journey to Buckles' farm in 2008 to honor America's last "Doughboy."

AMVETS Riders National Commander Victor “Dutch” Stivason presented Buckles with a letter of appreciation, and then-Tennessee Road Captain Bruce McElhaney presented Buckles with a framed certificate honoring his service. The Riders also presented Buckles with a his own embroidered AMVETS Riders vest and a custom WWI patch on behalf of AMVETS Riders nationwide.

In addition to honors at the U.S. Capitol, Buckles has also been honored by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. A portrait of Buckles is on display at the Pentagon as part of a tribute to WWI veterans.

(Images: Top: AMVETS Past National Commander John P. "JP" Brown III presents Frank Buckles with a plaque and an American flag, honoring his service at a Capitol Hill ceremony in 2008. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: AMVETS Riders join Buckles for a photo at his ranch in Charles Town, W.V., in 2008. Photo courtesy Tennessee AMVETS Riders.)

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