Find out What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans
- Shinseki Asks Committee To Back Centralized Acquisition.
- VA Sets “Aggressive Schedule” For Automated Agent Orange Claims Processing.
- Vets Send “Very Angry” Letter To Shinseki After Finding West LA Grounds Locked.
- Utah VA Hosting Information And Benefits Fair.
- Lawmakers Agree VA Budget Should Be Increased, But Differ On Amount.
- Congress Told VFW Is Concerned About Health Care Debate, Backlog.
- Funding An Issue For Planned Veterans Cemetery In California.
- WASPs Gather At US Capitol To Receive Congressional Gold Medal.
- Relocated Salem Vet Center Praised.
- President, First Lady To Host Preview Screening Of “The Pacific.”
Have You Heard
The Leadership VA Alumni Association (LVAAA) has selected the VA Health Administration Center’s (HAC) Customer Service Center (CSC) in Denver recipient of its annual Team Spirit Award. Nearly 200 Customer Service Center employees provide direct service to veterans and their dependents by phone, correspondence and online. Late in 2008, HAC reorganized its Customer Service Center with the goal of having “the right people in the right place at the right time.” The result was improved service and efficiency; average response time to customer inquiries improved along with quality of service provided the center’s customers — Civilian Health and Medical Program of Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) beneficiaries and providers. CSC achieved all organizational performance standards with minimal increase in manpower, amidst increasing organizational demands and health care program growth. Leadership set the course but as the Team Spirit Award nomination noted, “It was ultimately the cooperation, focus and can-do spirit of CSC’s employee team” that achieved results. Today, CSC employees maintain or exceed established standards of answering 90 percent of phone calls within 45 seconds (with an average wait time of 10 seconds); completing 100 percent of correspondence within 15 days; and maintaining a lost call rate of 1.5 percent. Customer satisfaction of both beneficiaries and providers is at an all-time high. HAC Director Mary Beth Saldin said, “The VA Health Administration Center’s Customer Service Center team truly embodies all that this award seeks to recognize – uncommon dedication to VA’s mission, demonstrated achievement and outstanding team effort led by caring and dedicated leaders.”
1. Shinseki Asks Committee To Back Centralized Acquisition. In continuing coverage, NextGov (3/11, Brewin) reports, “Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told a House panel on Wednesday that he could cut $2 billion from the department’s $15 billion annual procurement budget through management reforms, including the development of a centralized acquisition infrastructure.” Shinseki “asked the Veterans Affairs Committee to back the creation of a new position — assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and construction — to manage relationships with the department’s 15,000 suppliers. He also sought authority to establish eight new deputy assistant secretary slots, five of which would be in the Office of Information and Technology,” and while the committee’s “chairman, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., did not immediately endorse Shinseki’s requests,” but US Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), a committee member, did.
The Imperial Valley (CA) News (3/11) also covers this story, saying Shinseki “testified that adding positions ‘is not about creating a new layer of bureaucracy — it is about streamlining and aligning our organization in ways that will better align our priorities with the most responsible use of funds entrusted to the Department.'”
2. VA Sets “Aggressive Schedule” For Automated Agent Orange Claims Processing. In continuing coverage, Federal Computer Week (3/11, Lipowicz, 90K) reports, “The Veterans Affairs Department has set an aggressive schedule to hire an information technology contractor that can quickly automate portions of the claims processing system for thousands of new Agent Orange-related claims to be filed in the coming months.” Federal Computer Week notes, “Announcing the proposed ‘fast-track’ process, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the goal is to speed processing of an anticipated 200,000 new presumptive benefits claims,” then adds that VA “anticipates…new claims form will be shorter and more streamlined than the current forms.”
3. Vets Send “Very Angry” Letter To Shinseki After Finding West LA Grounds Locked. The San Fernando Valley (CA) Sun (3/11, Chavez) reports, “Sunday saw another skirmish in the ongoing battle between protesting veterans and the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration when veterans arriving to celebrate ‘Veterans Appreciation Day’…discovered that they had been locked out of the VA grounds” that “had been opened earlier in the day for a church service.” After noting that police eventually “opened a black top parking lot and Veteran Appreciation Day was held there,” the Sun adds, “In a very angry letter sent” to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on Monday, the “vets wrote, ‘Your Department has worked overtime to try and destroy this event and they did a good job of it.'”
4. Utah VA Hosting Information And Benefits Fair. The St. George (UT) Spectrum (3/11, 22K) reports, “In an effort to inform and honor military veterans, the State of Utah Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting its 4th Annual Veterans Information and Benefits Fair in St. George Friday.” The event is “free for all military veterans.”
5. Lawmakers Agree VA Budget Should Be Increased, But Differ On Amount. In continuing coverage, the Navy Times (3/11, Maze, 54K) reports, “Despite plans to give the Veterans Affairs Department a 7 percent budget increase at a time when most federal spending is frozen, key congressional committees are pushing for even bigger veterans budgets” but they cannot “agree on how much more to give.” Differing recommendations from Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees “are being sent to the House and Senate budget committees, which are responsible for drawing up a 2011 federal budget guideline, known as a concurrent budget resolution, that sets spending levels for various federal agencies and revenue targets to be used in preparing tax-related legislation.” It is “unclear whether the budget committees will go along with the idea of giving an even bigger increase to VA, while other federal agencies would get no increase under the Obama administration plan after adjusting for inflation.”
6. Congress Told VFW Is Concerned About Health Care Debate, Backlog. The Bossier (LA) Press-Tribune (3/11, 12K) reports, “In his opening statement Tuesday before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., the national commander” of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), “testified about his organization’s concern with the national health care debate, and whether or not it will impact the health care programs currently provided to veterans and military retirees by the VA and the military’s Tricare system. ‘Many promises have been made — by the president and by this Congress — that VA and Tricare will be protected, but a free press and an even freer Internet continue to fuel speculation that both health systems will be lost and/or absorbed into a larger national plan,’ said Tradewell,” who added, “America’s veterans and military retirees look to you — our champions in Congress — to protect both programs.” In his testimony, Tradewell, who “leads the nation’s largest and oldest major combat veterans’ organization,” also “addressed the number one VFW legislative issue: Fix the backlog of more than 1.1 million individual claims and appeals for compensation, pension and education benefits currently plaguing the Veterans Benefits Administration.”
7. Funding An Issue For Planned Veterans Cemetery In California. The Salinas Californian (3/11, Strain, 14K) reports, “Military veterans and local politicians plan to gather Thursday morning near the site of the old Officer’s Club at Fort Ord to mark the location of Monterey County’s future veterans cemetery.” But according to Janet Parks, “president of the Central Coast State Veterans Cemetery Foundation,” funding has held up much of the cemetery’s development. The Californian adds, “The federal government has promised just over $400,000, a fraction of the project’s cost, she said.”
8. WASPs Gather At US Capitol To Receive Congressional Gold Medal. NBC Nightly News (3/10, story 10, 1:10, Williams, 8.37M) broadcast, “More than half a century after the end of World War II, an extraordinary group of Americans got some long overdue recognition” Wednesday at the US Capitol, where they “gathered…to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.” The Women Air Force Service Pilots, “better known back in the day as WASPs,” flew “noncombat missions during the war.” Similar stories were aired by ABC World News (3/10, story 10, 1:30, Sawyer, 8.2M) and the CBS Evening News (3/10, story 8, 0:25, Couric, 6.1M), which broadcast that of “more than 1,000” WASPs “who flew, only 300 are still living, and most of them were at the Capitol for their ceremony.”
The AP (3/11, Hefling), which notes that about “200 women who served as…WASPs” were “on hand to receive” the Congressional Gold Medal, says the women “were only afforded veteran status in 1977 after a long fight.” McClatchy (3/11, Recio) also covered this story, reporting that Wednesday’s medal “ceremony had to be moved from the Capitol Rotunda to the much larger Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall, because so many WASPs and their families attended.”
In its coverage of this story, CNN (3/11, Bohn, Hornick) points out on its website that the WASPs “attended a wreath-laying ceremony Tuesday at the Air Force Memorial just outside Washington to remember their colleagues killed in the line of duty.”
The American Forces Press Service (3/11, Buzanowski) reports, “As part” of Tuesday’s “ceremony, Army Col. Laura Richardson read a poem titled ‘Celestial Flight,'” which was “written in honor of Marie Michell Robinson, a 19-year-old WASP who died during a training flight” in 1944. In attendance for the reading was Robinson’s “niece and namesake, Cheryl Marie Michell Van Riper,” who said she was “very proud to…honor” her aunt.
According to a separate American Forces Press Service (3/11, Bowers) story, 38 “women were honored with roses during” Tuesday’s “memorial ceremony for having made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during their service,” and the 20th Fighter Wing “from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., performed a flyover in the missing man formation.”
9. Relocated Salem Vet Center Praised. The Salem (OR) Statesman Journal (3/11, Guerrero-Huston, 44K) reports, “After 20 years in the AmeriTitle building in downtown Salem,” the Salem Vet Center “relocated to the Hollywood Station facility on Portland Road NE. The move happened in November. ‘I like it here better,’ said” Vietnam vet Sam Calloway, who added that he gets “more help” at the center “than anywhere else in Oregon.”
10. President, First Lady To Host Preview Screening Of “The Pacific.” The “Political Hotsheet” blog on the CBS News (3/11, Montopoli) website reports the White House has “announced that on Thursday afternoon, President Obama will host a preview screening of…’The Pacific,'” a Home Box Office (HBO) miniseries about World War II.
The Washington Post (3/11, Wilson, 684K) “44” blog says, “In what has to be one of the real perks of the job, President Obama and Michelle Obama will have Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and a few others over to the White House on Thursday evening for an advance screening” of “HBO’s lavish World War II miniseries,” which “begins Sunday night for the rest of us.”
Actors From Miniseries In Michigan For Separate Screening. According to the AP (3/10), on Wednesday, two actors from “The Pacific” were supposed to be in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for a screening of the “10-part HBO miniseries,” which “follows three US Marines fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II.”
HBO Sponsoring Special Honor Flights. The Des Plaines (IL) Journal (3/10) noted that on Wednesday morning, “35 World War II veterans, many from the Northwest suburbs,” were scheduled on Wednesday morning to head to Washington, DC, where they would “join 215 other World War II veterans…for three-days of camaraderie and visits to patriotic memorials—including the famed World War II Memorial—as well as attend the premier showing of the HBO television special ‘The Pacific’. The event is part of a national initiative to honor members of the military, especially those who fought in the Pacific Theater during” Word War II. The Journal added, “HBO, in partnership with American Airlines and Marriott Hotels & Resorts, is sponsoring a special slate of Honor Flights timed to the Mar. 14 premier of The Pacific