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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Independent Budget: Critical Issues Available

The Independent Budget is drafted each year by four of the nation’s premier veterans service organizations: AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VFW. Created by veterans for veterans, the Independent Budget is a comprehensive budget and policy document intended to provide Congress with recommendations for the budget cycle and a long-range vision for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This fall, the co-authors of the Independent Budget released the critical issues for the 2014 fiscal year. Serving as a reference, the Critical Issues Report allows VA, veterans, the public, the administration, and Congress to examine the five important concerns facing the veterans' community today.

The five critical issues are:

·      Protection of the VA health-care and benefits systems in a time of fiscal restraint
·      Successfully completing reform of the benefits claims-processing system
·      Transition, employment, and education for today’s veterans
·      The continuing challenge for caring for war veterans
·      Maintaining VA’s critical infrastructure

These five issues will serve as the foundation for the larger Independent Budget, which will be available in early 2013.

To read more about the Independent Budget’s critical issues, visit:

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Veterans Take Precaution: Meningitis Outbreak

The outbreak of fungal meningitis has claimed the lives of 20 individuals and caused 250 Americans to become ill. This epidemic is associated with products originating from the New England Compounding Center (NECC). The NECC is a Massachusetts based company that produces compound pharmaceutical products. Unlike many drugs, compounding medications are exempt from FDA regulation. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that these medications are not new drugs and therefore do not need additional regulations.

While many compound medications are not harmful, veterans should be cautious. Various VA Medical Centers provide compound medications to patients, and recently VA has revealed that they purchased $20,000 in products from NECC and $900,000 from Ameridose, a related company, over the past three years. Veterans enrolled in services at VA medical centers and who have recently received meningitis vaccinations have an increased risk of exposure to the contaminated products. The U.S. Army Medical Command and Ameridose signed a contract in June 2012 to provide pharmaceutical products for a pediatric intensive care unit in Tripler Medical Center in Honolulu. The contract would provide the Hawaii facility with drugs on an as-needed basis. Currently, Ameridose has halted production of medication and NECC has recalled all of its products.

In response to the outbreak, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is conducting inquiries at NECC and has requested records and documents from the pharmacy. Members of Congress are petitioning for increased regulation of compound medications, including requiring doctors to inform patients of the differences between compound and FDA-approved products.

“To better ensure the safe production of these medications, we also urge you to require that these compound products be clearly labeled as such,” wrote Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sanford Bishop, Jr., D-Ga., in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Department of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. “Patients expect their medications and products used in the health care setting to be safe, effective, and overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.”

If you have received a meningitis vaccination recently, please check with your provider to ensure that NECC products were not used during your visit. For more information, please contact your primary care team at your local VA facility.  

(Photo: Senior Airman Anthony Velez, 332nd Medical Support Squadron pharmacy technician, pieces together a trauma kit. Photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.)

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fall Issue of American Veteran Now Online

The latest issue of American Veteran magazine is now available online. To read the Fall 2012 issue, Click Here.

In the latest issue, we sit down for an exclusive interview with Army veteran J.R. Martinez, winner of Season 13 of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Martinez discusses how he overcame his injuries during his first deployment to Iraq, the message he wants to send to the public, and how employers can help veterans find jobs.
We also discuss how veterans, especially younger service members, are finding it difficult to find employment. Mentioning stigmas and obstacles that many veterans face, American Veteran suggests many resources, including eight organizations who target veterans for employment or training opportunities. Go to for more information on the companies mentioned in the Fall 2012 edition.

This fall, Kevin Stone, an American Veteran magazine correspondent and AMVETS member, travelled to London with his service dog Mambo to cover the 2012 Paralympic Games. Capturing amazing moments in Paralympic history, Stone gives readers an inside look from the perspective of a veteran and military athlete.

American Veteran also highlighted an important issue within the military community, military sexual trauma, by presenting a harsh look at the statistics and first hand accounts of how sexual assault victims are treated within the military chain of command.

In “Keeping Posted,” you can also read about the great work of AMVETS in Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and California.

As always, we’re eager to hear your thoughts and see the great work going on at AMVETS posts and departments around the country, so keep your letters, stories and photos coming, so we can consider them for future issues of the magazine. 

(Photos: Top: J.R. Martinez addresses a crowd. Photo courtesy of J.R. Martinez. Middle: Veterans involved with Veterans Green Jobs participate in a conservation training program that will prepare them for employment within the green jobs sector. Photo courtesy of Veterans Green Jobs. Bottom: Kevin Stone and Mambo during a brief break at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Photo courtesy of Kevin Stone.) 

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Annual Ms. Veteran America Competition

The first annual Ms. Veteran America competition was held on Oct. 7, 2012 at the Pentagon Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, Va. Contestants were selected from three judging rounds held in Arlington, Va.; Austin, Texas; and Irvine, Calif. Out of hundreds of women who auditioned, 37 were selected to compete in the competition. The judges represented a variety of personalities, from American Veteran magazine contributor Vernice Armor and Under Secretary of Benefits for the Department of Veterans Affairs Brigadier General Allison Hickey to Miss Virginia USA 2011 Nikki Poteet. Adding to the star power, Sue Downes, the first female double amputee from Afghanistan, and Donnell Rawlings, an actor and Air Force veteran, hosted the event. Special guests included 2012 Paralympian medalist Angela Madsen and the 16th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent.

All 37 contestants graced the stage in evening dresses and the top 10 women were announced and preceded to perform in the talent competition. Judges selected the top 10 contestants based on the ability to answer military questions, beauty, and their stage presence. The top ten contestants included: Heidi Amato, Ann Curtis, Tyra Everett, Denyse Gordon, Mary Ann Hotaling, Gladys Hughes, Keia Mays, Kimberly Miller, Alyse Partridge, and Stephanie Way. From reciting monologues to singing, the top 10 women brought smiles and laughs to the judges and entire audience. Denyse Gordon, an Air Force Reserve veteran, was crowned Miss Veteran America 2012, after advancing from the talent round to the final question interview. As her talent, she performed a flapper style dance routine in an old Army uniform. Stephanie Way, a former member of the Army National Guard, received first runner-up. Gladys Hughes, a World War II Coast Guard veteran and crowd favorite, was second runner-up.

While the Ms. Veteran America competition focused on celebrating women who have served our country, the competition also functioned as a fundraiser for Final Salute Inc., an organization that provides housing and aid to homeless female veterans and their children. As female veteran homelessness continues to increase as the homeless male veteran population decreases, this problem needs to be addressed by opening shelters that cater specifically to the needs of military sexual trauma victims, women suffering with PTSD, and women with children. Final Salute, Inc., has opened transitory homes in Fairfax, Va., and is currently building a new home in Alexandria, Va., that will be opening on Veterans Day 2012. To raise money, the contestants petitioned for donations from friends, family, and social media followers, and gained a significant following after Hughes appeared on Fox News and explained the purpose and importance of the Ms. Veteran America competition. As of today, Oct. 10, 2012, they raised $30,892 to help female veterans stay off the street.

(Photos: Top: Denyse Gordon was crowned the first Ms. Veteran America. Middle: The judges score contestants on their talent competition. Bottom: Gordon prepares for her dance routine at the Ms. Veteran America pageant. Photos by Melissa Golden)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Update from the National Cemetery Administration

Yesterday, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Programs Glenn Powers and Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ronald Walters, members of the National Cemetery Administration, met with the AMVETS Legislation team and members of the VFW to discuss updates and progress being made on NCA projects. Currently, more than 80 percent of deceased veterans are buried at a national or state veterans’ cemetery within 75 miles of the veteran’s home. The NCA’s goal is to increase this number to 95 percent by 2015. To accomplish this, the NCA has continued to identify geographic areas with a large veteran population who do not have access to a national or state veterans’ cemetery. The NCA has selected sites and will be moving forward to create five national, five urban, and eight rural veterans’ cemeteries.

The eight rural veterans’ cemeteries are a component of VA’s new Rural Initiative plan. These new burial grounds will serve veterans in the areas of Fargo, N.D.; Rhinelander, Wis.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Laurel, Mont.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Cedar City, Utah; Calais, Maine; and Elko, Nev. This one initiative will allow 136,000 veterans and their dependents to access burial services that were previously unavailable. 

In addition to new cemeteries, the NCA has moved forward with numerous green initiatives to maximize their efforts to reserve resources. Memorial walls have been constructed at many sites to conserve land for ground interments. In Massachusetts, wind turbines have been installed to provide power to the burial site. These turbines cover 95 percent of the utility costs for the cemetery, thereby allowing the NCA to focus resources on other projects.

The NCA is currently working on a memorial affairs redesign. They intended to replace their current IT system and add new features that will aid cemetery visitors. They hope to include maps of cemeteries and grave site locators that will be available to smartphone users. These features will allow loved ones to easily navigate a veterans’ cemetery.

After the discovery of mismarked and unmarked graves in Arlington National Cemetery in 2011, the NCA has begun an audit to ensure that all headstones correspond with the correct grave. In phase one of this process, the NCA specifically targeted areas where headstones were removed for realignment to prevent sinking. Out of the 1.6 million burial plots reviewed during this phase, the NCA found 243 errors. Presently conducting phase two, the NCA is checking every discrepancy reported by cemetery directors. This phase will be completed in December 2012. 

To prevent graves from being mismarked, the NCA has instituted new policies, including preventing the headstone from leaving the grave during a realignment process. Instead of being placed on a palate with other headstones, the marker will be placed on top of the grave, ensuring it does not move from the cemetery. Also, new markers will be placed on top of a concrete foundation. This new foundation decreases the likelihood of markers sinking into the ground, thereby eliminating the need for realignment.

Today, the NCA employs more veterans than any other government agency, more than 75 percent of its workforce, and continues to expand training and employment opportunities for veterans. Starting on Oct. 22, 2012, a group of 30 homeless veterans will begin a yearlong internship and upon completion will be offered a position as a cemetery caretaker. The individuals will begin their training in St. Louis for a week, and then finish the instruction at a local cemetery. The NCA’s goal is to train all caretakers and standardize practices throughout the NCA.

The NCA is expanding outreach in the coming year to rural communities who may not have access to a national or state veterans’ cemetery. By utilizing an outreach van, the NCA will provide information on memorial benefits at veteran-focused conventions and community events. The NCA is also speaking with specific veteran communities who have special burial needs, such as Native American veterans. This will enable the NCA to address all burial needs and better serve veterans and their families.

(Photos: Top: National Cemetery Administration logo. Middle: Deputy Under Secretary for Field Programs Glenn Powers and Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ronald Walters talk with AMVETS Executive Director Stewart Hickey and AMVETS National Legislative Director Diane Zumatto)

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