Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 8-3-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Obama To Mark Rollout Of New GI Bill.  
2. Shinseki, Obama, Webb To Attend Ceremony For New GI Bill.  
3. Rollout Of New GI Bill Met With Great Expectations.  
4. Arroyo Meets With Shinseki, Lawmakers.  
5. VA’s Efforts To Improve Services For Female Veterans Noted.  
6. VA, Pentagon Respond To Rise In US Army Suicides.  
7. VA Helps Returning Washington National Guard Unit.  
8. Four Suicides In One National Guard Unit Spotlight Broader Problem.  
9. Veterans Groups Claim Oppose Healthcare Reform Legislation.
10.     Disabled Veterans Utilize Maryland Horse Farm. 


Today, VA and national leaders welcome the first class of New GI Bill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Veterans to schools across the country. VBA has received more than 150,000 applications under the new program and expects hundreds of thousands more. Secretary Shinseki joins the new program’s champions, Senator Jim Webb and former Senator John Warner, at the George Mason University (GMU) Campus in northern Virginia today in a ceremony marking implementation of the new program. They will share the stage with veterans enrolling in GMU programs under the New GI Bill. Secretary Shinseki said earlier that he expects the Post-9/11 GI Bill to have as big an impact as the original GI Bill. “What that bill did for the country was to change the course of our history,” he said. “When those veterans went back to their communities with their college degrees, they ended up being our leaders in religion, education, business, government. The Post-9/11 version has the opportunity to create in the 21st century the same kind of impact for development.” GMU is one of more than 1,200 colleges and universities that have joined the New GI Bill’s voluntary Yellow Ribbon program under which VA matches the difference between a school’s tuition cost and the highest tuition cost of public schools in a state if the Yellow Ribbon school’s costs are higher. The Veterans Benefits Administration had less than 13 months in which to develop the processes, systems and staff to implement this completely new program.

1.      Obama To Mark Rollout Of New GI Bill.   The AP (8/1, Hefling) reports, "The Post-9/11 GI Bill rolls out on Saturday, just in time for the fall semester for veterans of the recent wars. Reminiscent of the GI education benefits signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt two weeks after D-Day in 1944, the measure is aimed at transforming the lives of a new generation of veterans." President Obama "on Monday will attend a rally at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., in celebration. In the next decade, $78 billion is expected to be paid out under the new GI Bill, which is the most comprehensive education benefit offered since World War II. Many veterans who served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are eligible for full tuition and fees for four years at a state university, a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 annually for books. Among those covered are members of the Guard and Reserve who spent three months or more activated for war service, giving them vastly improved benefits."
      California Officials Work To Fix "Glitch."   The San Francisco Chronicle (8/1, Stannard) reports, "With hours remaining before the new, Post-9/11 GI Bill takes effect, officials from California and from the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to fix a technical glitch that threatens to prevent thousands of California veterans from receiving money for tuition. … A California quirk had thrown into question whether or not veterans attending private and graduate institutions would be able to receive the same benefits as veterans in other states. The problem stems from California’s history of labeling the money students pay to attend state universities ‘fees’ instead of ‘tuition.’ The new GI Bill reimburses qualified veterans for their full undergraduate tuition at public colleges and pays an amount equivalent to that tuition to veterans who choose to attend private schools or graduate programs. Because the University of California charged no ‘tuition’ – instead charging ‘fees’ – the VA had ruled that veterans attending private schools or graduate programs in California could receive no tuition reimbursement, even though most of the cost of those programs is called tuition."

2.      Shinseki, Obama, Webb To Attend Ceremony For New GI Bill.   In continuing coverage, the lead story in the Washington Post‘s (8/3) "What To Watch" column reports, "President Obama attends a rally" Monday "at George Mason University in Fairfax to celebrate — and promote — the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect on Aug. 1 and provides educational benefits to a fresh generation of veterans. Also appearing will be Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki." Lynn Sweet published a similar story in her Chicago Sun-Times (8/2, 293K) blog. The Washington Times‘ (8/2) "Metro Briefs" column and the online Christian Science Monitor (7/31, Khadaroo, 52K) published similar stories, though neither noted Monday’s ceremony at George Mason.
      McClatchy (8/3) reports the VA, which "has spent 13 months getting ready for the rather complex implementation" of the new benefits, "should know within a few months whether the new law attracts more veterans to college this autumn, but higher education authorities say the full impact may not be known for several years as more veterans find

out about its benefits."
      The Roanoke (VA) Times (8/2, Chittum)said that along "with the new GI Bill, the VA created a ‘Yellow Ribbon Program’ under which private schools can elect to cover up to half of the difference between what the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays and the total cost of their tuition." The VA will "then…match their contribution."

3.      Rollout Of New GI Bill Met With Great Expectations.   The Air Force Times (8/2, Maze) reports, "A new era in veterans education benefits begins Saturday with the official launch of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a program that promises almost everyone who serves three years or longer on active duty a college education at government expense. … Events to launch the program, with ceremonial first checks being handed out to veterans, are planned around the U.S. on Monday, with the biggest planned at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. President Barack Obama, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and the chief congressional sponsor of the new GI Bill, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., will attend a rally to honor the incoming class of veterans who will benefit from the program. The event also will be a chance for Webb to receive accolades for his feat as a freshman senator in leading the charge for the biggest increase in veterans’ education benefits since the original World War II GI Bill of Rights – and, with the transfer rights for career service members, also the biggest retention benefit since the dawn of the all-volunteer force 36 years ago.
      The Chicago Tribune (8/2, Grossman) reports, "Senior Chief Petty Officer Rhonda Burke, who joined the Navy because her mother couldn’t afford to send her to college, recently signed up her daughter Delaney for a BA on Uncle Sam — thanks to a landmark rewrite of the GI Bill. … Delaney and her mother were standing on the broad lawns of the Naval Station Great Lakes, where Rhonda Burke is stationed. Just behind them, a troop of Navy SEALs was marching, the cadets keeping cadence with a bit of youthful bravado: ‘Get in your tanks and follow me…GET IN YOUR TANKS AND FOLLOW ME. …’ That tableau spoke to the premise of GI Bills, past and present. ‘Servicemen and women put their lives on the line for the American dream, so it’s the least we can do for them,’ said Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs." Duckworth "noted that spirit of generosity is especially needed when vets are making the transition to civilian life in tough economic times."
      The Montgomery County, PA Times Herald (8/2, Schlegel) notes Secretary Shinseki "called the financial aid ‘an important part of fulfilling our promise to the men and women who have served our country so honorably.’"
           Texas Veterans Said To Benefit More Than Those In Other States.   The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (8/2, Vaughn) reports, "The benefits are better in Texas than elsewhere. Because of a quirk in the formula, even high-dollar private institutions such as Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor universities will be fully covered. … Mike Scott, director of financial aid for TCU, said he was shocked that the new program covers all higher-education institutions in Texas. TCU enrolled in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon program, agreeing to help cover costs above the government’s maximum. But, he said, it doesn’t appear to be necessary, as the VA ruled that the most expensive public university in Texas was a flight training program at a Central Texas college, not the University of Texas, as everyone assumed. (That did not happen in most other states, where the benefits don’t seem to be as rich.) ‘I don’t know of a school in Texas that the basic VA benefit would not cover,’ Scott said. ‘It’s an incredible benefit, not only for the veteran but also for their family members. I think you’ll see in the future that this made an incredible impact on the standard of living for veterans.’"
      Other federal and state legislation has sweetened the deal. Congress recently

passed a measure that says GI Bill benefits won’t count as a resource for veterans applying for federal financial aid. And the Texas Legislature made it easier for returning veterans to qualify for in-state tuition, said Connie Jacksits, director of veterans education at the Texas Veterans Commission. All this amounts to a big improvement on the old bill, known as the Montgomery GI Bill, which offered veterans a flat stipend of $1,321 a month to cover tuition, fees, housing and supplies, Jacksits said. ‘Many of the veterans are married and have families, so they weren’t always able to go [to school] full time or complete their areas of study,’ Jacksits said."
      San Diego State Offers Veterans Residence Among Fraternity Houses.   The San Diego Union-Tribune (8/2) reports, "Shane Hanner lugged his belongings into his new home yesterday, joining hundreds of students who are settling into the houses on San Diego State’s Fraternity Row before classes start Aug. 31. What sets him apart from most of his neighbors is that he’s been to war. Hanner served 5½ years in the military – Army and then Navy – before injuries forced him out. Now he’s a junior at SDSU, pursuing a degree in international security. Hanner will be the first resident and caretaker of Veterans House, believed to be the nation’s only fraternity-styled home for student veterans and service members. Veterans House consists of a chapter house with spacious common areas next to a courtyard and a group of apartments where members live. It will serve as a social hub for the 500-member Student Veteran Organization, which is open to current and former service members attending San Diego State, as well as to those in the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program."

4.      Arroyo Meets With Shinseki, Lawmakers.   In continuing coverage, the Philippine Star (8/2, Katigbak), after noting that Philippines President Gloria Arroyo was considering cut her US trip short following the death of former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, reported that during her time in the US, Arroyo "held meetings with Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka to thank them for their efforts in the payment of benefits to Filipino World War II veterans." Arroyo "also met Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Filipino veterans wrote to Mrs. Arroyo earlier to complain about ‘the slow approval process and unacceptable delays’ in payments to surviving veterans and to intercede on their behalf."
      Filipino Vets Concerned About Claims Backlog.   New Jersey’s The Record (7/31, Llorente) said the US government "has received an unexpectedly large number of claims by people seeking a lump sum payment that is meant for Filipino veterans who fought alongside" US "forces in World War II. That number, 32,000, is far in excess of the 18,000 veterans who" US "officials and Filipino veterans groups say are qualified for the benefit." Filipino veterans "in the United States say they are worried that the backlog – only about 6,700 have been approved since Congress passed legislation that included the benefit – will mean that many will not live to see their checks." Jo Schuda, "a spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs Department in Washington, says 5,020 claims have been approved and 1,670 denied. They are being processed in Manila. ‘The denials were mostly for lack of valid military service,’" Schuda "said, ‘or because the claims were from widows or children of deceased veterans.’" The Record added, "Filipino veterans groups" in the US "are calling and writing to Congress and the Obama administration, asking that claims by veterans" who are US "citizens be processed in this country, rather than in Manila, and that they be put on a sort of ‘fast track.’ They also want" the US government "to bolster the staff that is handling the claims."


5.      VA’s Efforts To Improve Services For Female Veterans Noted.   U.S. News and World Report’s Amanda Ruggeri (8/1) reports, "As debate heats up over healthcare reform, military veterans are fighting for another kind of improvement: the expansion of health services for female vets. Nearly 8 percent of the veteran population is female. But the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health system was designed for a male military, and it shows. A Government Accountability Office report released this month found that two of 19 facilities audited did not offer even basic gender-specific services like cervical cancer screenings, and none fully complied with the VA’s policy on privacy for female veterans. Overall, ‘none of the facilities had fully implemented VA policies pertaining to women veterans’ healthcare,’ the report said. Critics say those shortfalls have deterred women from using the system. And statistics bear that out. While 22 percent of male veterans use VA healthcare, 15 percent of women do. Because of the military’s changing demographics, the VA expects the number of female veterans enrolled in the system to double within four years. Advocates argue that improvements are needed — and fast."
      The Wichita Falls’ Times Record News (8/1) reports, "For at least one woman who served her country, treatment from the veterans health care system in Wichita Falls has been less than perfect. ‘The system here is broken in Wichita Falls, and it’s really sad because this is a (veterans) retirement community,’ said Natalie Hay, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Kuwait. Despite strides by the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve women’s health care in its facilities, advocates say the VA needs to do more. VA medical facilities around the country have fallen short in providing the full range of care for the rapidly growing number of female veterans. As of October 2008, the number of these veterans has climbed to at least 1.8 million, according to the VA. Wichita Falls, with only one VA clinic in the area, is no exception to the shortfalls in care."

6.      Filipino WWII Veterans Dies Before Receiving Compensation.   The Syracuse Post-Standard (8/1, Breidenbach) reports, "Jose ‘Joe’ Pagcaliwagan died before the United States could follow through on a 68-year-old promise to pay him for his service as a teenage soldier in the Philippines during World War II. Pagcaliwagan, 81, died July 23. The $787 billion economic stimulus package contains $198 million to pay members of guerilla forces who helped the United States fight the Japanese. … In February, the belated compensation made its way into the economic stimulus package. The bill included a $15,000 payment for each living Filipino veteran who became a U.S. citizen and $9,000 for those who did not become citizens. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it would award the money to a veteran’s spouse if the veteran died after applying. Emma Pagcaliwagan said she applied for the money in the spring, after her husband’s story was featured in The Post-Standard. She said the government office that handles the applications in the Philippines lost the application. So, she said, she sent in another one. She said no one has replied."

7.      VA Helps Returning Washington National Guard Unit.   The Tacoma News Tribune (8/2, Fontaine) reports, "In a speech to the 250 soldiers of the 81st Brigade Combat Team who returned home Saturday, Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated a theme that has been a constant of almost every address she has given to the Washington National Guard’s largest unit since it left for Iraq last year. ‘As you come home, we are here to help you,’ she said at a homecoming ceremony on North Fort Lewis. ‘And to your family and friends who are here to greet you, we are here to help you in any way possible.’ The help began at Fort McCoy, Wis., at a demobilization process that helps them ease back into civilian life. Washington is the first state to use the program for its soldiers. But some of the soldiers who have returned complain the six-day process at Fort McCoy takes too long and is at the wrong time, while state officials say it’s the best way to reach everyone who needs help. … The State Department of

Veterans Affairs, the Washington Military Department and the State Employment Security Department have sent employees to Wisconsin; representatives from federal agencies and veterans organizations also are there. John Lee, the director of the State Department of Veterans Affairs, calls the process a major improvement over the services offered to the 81st Brigade when it deployed in 2004-05. Soldiers then sat on bleachers at North Fort Lewis and listened to lengthy briefings about what benefits were available."

8.      Four Suicides In One National Guard Unit Spotlight Broader Problem.   The New York Times (8/2, Goode) reports, "For almost a year, the soldiers of the 1451st Transportation Company had been escorting trucks full of gasoline, building materials and other supplies along Iraq’s dark, dangerous highways. There had been injuries, but no one had died. Their luck evaporated less than two weeks before they were to return home, in the spring of 2007. A scout truck driving at the front of a convoy late at night hit a homemade bomb buried in the asphalt. Two soldiers, Sgt. Brandon Wallace and Sgt. Joshua Schmit, were killed. The deaths stunned the unit, part of the North Carolina National Guard. … The losses followed the men and women of the 1451st home as they dispersed to North Carolina and Tennessee, New York and Oklahoma, reuniting with their families and returning to their jobs." The Times goes on to report that "over the next year, four soldiers from the 1451st "would take their own lives. The four suicides, in a unit of roughly 175 soldiers, make the company an extreme example of what experts see as an alarming trend in the years since the invasion of Iraq. The number of suicides reported by the Army has risen to the highest level since record-keeping began three decades ago. Last year, there were 192 among active-duty soldiers and soldiers on inactive reserve status, twice as many as in 2003, when the war began. (Five more suspected suicides are still being investigated.) This year’s figure is likely to be even higher: from January to mid-July, 129 suicides were confirmed or suspected, more than the number of American soldiers who died in combat during the same period." The Times adds, "Those statistics, of course, do not offer a full picture. Suicide counts tend to be undercounts, and the trend is less marked in other branches of the military. Nor are there reliable figures for veterans who have left the service; the Department of Veterans Affairs can only systematically track suicides among its hospitalized patients, and it does not issue regular suicide reports."

9.      Veterans Groups Claim Oppose Healthcare Reform Legislation.   The Hill (8/1, Tiron) reports, "Six high-profile veterans groups are raising objections to the House healthcare reform bill, warning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that it could jeopardize the care of millions of veterans. Citing ‘grave concerns,’ the groups are urging Pelosi to modify the House bill. If changes are not made, the veterans groups say they will actively oppose the measure." The groups contend that "the legislation could limit the health care choices for veterans, increase the cost of health care for veterans, deny coverage to dependent family members of veterans, and threaten the quality of health care offered to veterans through the VA health care system." The groups are identified as the Disabled American Veterans, Blinded Veterans Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, American Veterans (AMVETS) and the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the USA.

10.    Vail Veteran’s Program Focuses On Outdoors Activities.   The Vail Trail (8/1, Glendenning) reports, "Less than six months ago Keith Maul had two arms and two legs — now he’s learning to get around with a prosthetic right arm and right leg after a grenade exploded on top of his vehicle near Baghdad. … Maul is one of 14 of veterans in town for the Vail Veteran’s Program. Different groups of injured soldiers come to Vail in both the winters and the summers to get active and realize their injuries can’t stop them from doing whatever they want to accomplish, said Cheryl Jensen, the program’s founder. This week, the veterans spent time at the Yarmony Creek Lodge, about 20 miles northwest of Wolcott. The veterans were fishing, horseback riding, rafting, camping and skeet shooting. When Jensen started the program more than six year ago, she thought she’d host it once and that would be it. She immediately became hooked and now hosts four groups every year."


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