Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 10-01-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. VA To Offer Online Alternative For Emergency GI Bill Payments. 
2. Concern Expressed About Office In Charge Of VA/DOD Lifetime Electronic Record Project. 
3. VFW Commander Concerned About Veterans Employment Data. 
4. DOD Urged To Resist Pressure To Award More Medals Of Honor. 
5. Akaka: VA Will Treat Tsunami Survivors. 
6. Vietnam Vets Hope For Obama’s Involvement With Citation. 
7. VA Collaborating With Maine Organizations On Apartment Building For Homeless Vets. 
8. Fisher House Providing Comfort In Florida. 
9. VA Advertising For Staff At Clinic In South Dakota. 
10. St. Cloud VAMC Will Not Offer Flu Vaccine To Vets’Spouses.


Buy Never Fly Solo on Amazon.com1.      VA To Offer Online Alternative For Emergency GI Bill Payments.  The Washington Post (10/1, Brown, 684K) reports, "Thousands of student veterans who have not yet received tuition, housing and book payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill may apply online for emergency aid beginning Friday, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday." The VA "announced last week that students struggling to pay their bills could receive a maximum $3,000 advance on earned educational benefits, but said that veterans could claim the aid only by going in person to one of 57 regional offices. Officials decided to offer the online option because many veterans would have had to travel a considerable distance to get to an office — including one student at Northern Michigan University whose round trip to the nearest office in Ann Arbor would have taken 15 hours, said Student Veterans of America Executive Director Derek Blumke." The Post adds, "Veterans without their own transportation who wish to visit a regional office may request free van service by calling their nearest VA medical center."
      The Air Force Times (10/1, Maze), which publishes a similar story, notes that in a statement, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "said VA worked hard to make the process easy. ‘VA is adapting to meet the financial needs of our veteran-students,’" said Shinseki, who earned praise from Bob Brewin in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (9/30), which also noted Wednesday’s developments. According to Brewin, Shinseki "has demonstrated the kind of top-level leadership rarely seen in Washington."
      Iraq Vet Praises VA Efforts To Assist Those Waiting For Payments.  Florida Today (9/30, Moody, 73K), meanwhile, pointed out that Shinseki recently "authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied but not yet received their educational benefits payment. This comes after" the VA "failed to meet claims in a timely manner, causing thousands of veterans nationwide to struggle to pay their mounting bills. ‘That’s awesome,’ said" Iraq veteran Ethan Decker, "who is struggling with unpaid rent, books and tuition at Brevard Community College. ‘That’s going to help out a lot of people.’" Florida Today added, "The VA will also try to send representatives to schools with large veteran-student bodies and work with veterans’ service organizations. ‘That’s a good idea,’ Decker said," adding, "It’s a good fallback plan. They should have done that a long time ago."
      Forbes (9/29, Randall, 914K) reported, "Acknowledging that an administrative snafu has caused financial distress for thousands of veterans," the VA "announced over the weekend that this Friday it will begin providing up to $3,000 in immediate educational assistance to those waiting to receive" new GI Bill benefits for the fall semester. The American Forces Press Service (10/1) also takes note of the payments.

      The Charleston (WV) Gazette (10/1, Knezevich, 44K) reports, "Local veterans affairs officials are gearing up to issue emergency checks starting Friday for veterans who haven’t gotten their education benefits due to a national backlog of claims. Across the country, up to 25,000 veterans are waiting on payments" as the US VA "tries to process a flood of claims for the Post-9/11 GI Bill." Some West Virginia veterans "have had to drop out of school because of the late payments, state officials say." Similarly, The Lantern (9/30, Devery), the student newspaper for The Ohio State University, says, "A national backlog in processing education benefits under" a the new GI Bill "has caused stress and confusion for many Ohio State veteran students." The Minnesota Public Radio (10/1, Post) website also notes the backlog of new GI Bill claims, as does the website for Michigan Radio (10/1, Miller).
      VA Secretary, Udall Urged To Help Wrongfully Convicted Vet.  Michael D. Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under George W. Bush, wrote about veteran Tim Masters on the Huffington Post (9/28). Brown said he harbors "anger…toward" the VA, US Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) "and his staff, and others who are failing" to help Masters, who has been "busy trying to rebuild his life after almost ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit." Masters’ 10-year time limit to apply for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill "expired while he was in prison," and Brown argued that the VA secretary "should issue a waiver" for Masters. Udall, meanwhile, should be "publicly asking the VA" to do so, wrote Brown. 

2.      Concern Expressed About Office In Charge Of VA/DOD Lifetime Electronic Record Project.  NextGov (10/1, Brewin) reports, "Top leadership at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have assigned broad responsibilities for development of a lifetime electronic health and benefit record for military personnel and veterans to a relatively new interagency program office that lacks a director, according to an internal document obtained by Nextgov." In April, President Obama, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates "announced plans to develop a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, and the charter for the interagency program office details how that goal will be met," Katie Roberts, "a VA spokeswoman, said the charter documents how VA and Defense will continue to work collaboratively to meet the two departments’ data-sharing objectives," but the "charter’s…language is weak, warned" an industry source, who "said it gives Defense too much sway in development of the lifetime record." NextGov adds, "The grand plans for the Interagency Program Office could fail unless its new director answers directly to top management at both VA and Defense, according to a government official who declined to be identified."

3.      VFW Commander Concerned About Veterans Employment Data.  In the last story from the syndicated "Sgt. Shaft" column, appearing in the Washington Times (10/1, Fales, 77K), "Sgt. Shaft" says he joins Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., the "new national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US," in "expressing concern over the August unemployment" data "released…by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data reflects 185,000 current war veterans as unemployed, an all-time high." According to "Sgt. Shaft," Tradewell "said the VFW strongly believes that any entity that accepts Federal stimulus money, regardless of amount, should be required to adhere to Federal veterans laws, in particular the Jobs for Veterans Act and the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act."
      Meanwhile, in a New York Times (9/30, 1.09M) "Home Fires" blog post, Iraq veteran Sandi Austin said she recently learned that unless the company she works for "wins a new contract," she "will be out of work mid-November, one of the unemployed masses." Austin expressed optimism about her situation, however, saying she chooses "to feel empowered to focus on…finding a new direction" in which to take herself and her family. 

4,      DOD Urged To Resist Pressure To Award More Medals Of Honor.  In a Washington Post (10/1, 684K) op-ed, Ed Hooper, a journalist "who has…assembled educational programs on the Medal of Honor," says some "are pushing for this decoration," bestowed six times since 9/11, "to be awarded more generously because they believe the number of recipients is too low." Hooper argues, however, that the medal’s "strict standards…are meant to keep it credible. It is wrong to pressure the Defense Department to lower its standards of individual courage, nobility and self-sacrifice on a battlefield." The DOD "should make its own decisions on this award so Americans will know that when it lauds someone as a ‘hero,’ we should all take notice." 

5.      Akaka: VA Will Treat Tsunami Survivors.  In a story on the tsunami that "slammed into the Pacific island nations of American Samoa and Samoa on Tuesday," USA Today (10/1, Welch, Leinwand, 2.11M) reports US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), "said he had been assured by retired general Eric Shinseki, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, that the VA hospital on American Samoa will treat anyone in need, regardless of military service."  

6.      Vietnam Vets Hope For Obama’s Involvement With Citation.  The New York Times (10/1, A17, Dao, 1.09M) reports, "For many members of…Alpha Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry," annual "reunions for veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia have become a form of therapy: a chance to reconnect, salve wounds and share bonds forged in an unpopular war. But this year’s reunion was special for another reason." During the event, held in September in California, Alpha Troop "unveiled a Presidential Unit Citation, the
highest military honor for a unit, it received this year from the Army for ‘extraordinary heroism’ in rescuing more than 70 soldiers from a larger North Vietnamese force on March 26, 1970. In the coming weeks, the veterans hope, President Obama himself will formally bestow the citation at a White House ceremony." The Times also provides a link to several video interviews with members of Alpha Troop, who "talk about their experiences during and after the Vietnam war." 

7.      VA Collaborating With Maine Organizations On Apartment Building For Homeless Vets.  On its website, WMTW-TV Portland, ME (9/30) reported, "A renovated historic building in Augusta opened it doors" Wednesday "with a new mission, to help veterans who are homeless." Randy Wing, one of the veterans who "will live in the four unit apartment" building, "said this new housing means some stability in his life." The project, "a joint collaboration between Community Housing of Maine, which owns and manages the property and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is providing support services to those living" there, "took a nearly 200-year-old brick building and turned it into one of the most energy efficient buildings in the state. This is the first supportive housing in Maine to use a geothermal heating system."
      The Waterville (ME) Morning Sentinel (10/1, Malloy) says the apartment building "is a joint project among the non-profit Community Housing of Maine," the VA, "and Kennebec Behavioral Health and Motivational Services. Community Housing of Maine director Cullen Ryan said funding for the project came from MaineHousing and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development." 8.      Fisher House Providing Comfort In Florida.  The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (10/1, Allen, 212K) profiles a Fisher House in Florida that "provides a free, quiet retreat within walking distance" of the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Fisher House provides comfort in difficult times and allow family members to sleep, eat, relax, find support and simply smile again. ‘I see it everyday,’ said Theresa Ringel, Fisher House manager." To "date, there are 45 Fisher Houses nationwide and another five expected to be built by 2010, Ringel said. The homes are built by the Fisher House Foundation, which was established in 1990 by the late New York philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, strong backers of the military." The Fisher House Foundation "donates the homes to the various branches of military service or the VA, which operates and maintains them." 

9.      VA Advertising For Staff At Clinic In South Dakota.  South Dakota’s The Announcer (9/30, Wepking) reported, "The Department of Veterans Affairs…in Sioux Falls this week started to advertise in the Wagner Post and Announcer for positions at the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Wagner." The VA recently "announced that the 3,000 square foot clinic’s modular building would arrive in Wagner the end of December." The Announcer added that the VA
is "negotiating for temporary space for its Home Based Primary Care Nurse to work out of until the clinic is open." 

10.    St. Cloud VAMC Will Not Offer Flu Vaccine To Vets’ Spouses.  The St. Cloud (MN) Times (10/1, Petrie) reports, "Seasonal flu shots will no longer be available to the spouses of veterans on Tuesday and Wednesday" at the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The "VA previously announced that shots for spouses and significant others would be available for a fee," but "there is no organization available to provide those shots" to non-veterans. The "change does not affect the flu shot clinics at the Alexandria, Brainerd and Montevideo VA clinics," where the "Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency will provide shots for spouses and significant others."


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