November 16 Veterans News

November 16 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateReserve, National Guard retirees close to ‘honorary’ veteran status (Colorado Springs Gazette)
On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate passed a bill with language to grant “honorary” veteran status to as many as 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees – those not deemed veterans now because they lack a qualifying period of active service under federal orders. The House is expected to adopt similar language soon, either by passing a standalone bill from Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., or by mirroring Senate action, that is, adding language to give these retirees veteran status as part of a larger catchall bill of veteran initiatives. Both the Senate-approved language and the House bill would make clear that bestowing veterans’ status on this category of retiree would not expand their benefits beyond what federal law now allows. How states view them for state-provided benefits already varies state to state. The Senate approach, as set down in Section 701 of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, seeks to avoid benefit creep from the status change by directing no change to Title 38 of the U.S. Code, the statute that defines all federal veterans’ benefit and individual eligibility. So if the House accepts the Senate language, National Guard and Reserve retirees who seek proof that they are veterans won’t find the words in Title 38 itself but instead in its legal “notes” that help explain vet benefit laws. That, at least, is how the general counsel for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explained to staff this more cautious approach to granting veteran status to National Guard and Reserve retirees who lack active duty time. The House bill, however, would amend Title 38 but with a few added lines of “clarifying” language that the honored retiree “shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason of this section.” Impacted retirees are those who left service without a DD-214 or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. Though they had 20 or more “good” years of drill points earned on weekends and through annual training, they were never called to active duty. The cautious approach taken in modifying veteran status reflects a deep worry held by some lawmakers that Reserve and Guard retirees, once given veterans status and as Congress turns over, will press to win more benefits and, in time, the same benefits as other veterans. Organizations advocating for these retirees have vowed not to lobby for such changes. The intent, they insist, is only to properly honor the contribution career Guard and Reserve personnel make toward defending the nation. Many of these retirees report being surprised to learn they aren’t legally veterans. “I bet there weren’t 10 people in America who (knew) these guys weren’t veterans,” Walz said in an interview.

Iraq vet: What a real war with ISIS would mean (
Commentary by Elliot Ackerman: “The news alert for the Paris attacks came across my phone as I was about to officiate the marriage of my friend Sean, a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq whom I’d fought alongside in Afghanistan. We had just finished the last rehearsals and Sean’s small wedding party began to gather. The groomsmen, a rank of veterans in rented tuxedos, arrayed themselves on the crest of a bluff overlooking the evergreen studded ridge lines surrounding Carmel Valley, Calif. Nobody wore a uniform. We were civilians now, and ready to be. After the exchange of vows and recessional we gathered at a few outside cocktail tables. I could see people checking the headlines between toasts, but nobody spoke openly about the attacks. We didn’t want the war to cast a shadow over the day. This wedding was a celebration of love but also a celebration of Sean’s moving on. Away from wars. No such moving on has occurred for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). In a little over a month it has claimed credit for three major attacks: the Ankara bombing that killed 102 in Turkey, the Metrojet flight that killed 224 Russians, and now the Paris attack that has killed 129 in France. If the Islamic State were treated as an actual state, these attacks would be considered acts of war. But the Obama administration and other governments refuse to classify ISIL, or ISIS, or Daesh as anything other than a terrorist organization, the logic being that statehood status conveys a legitimacy not deserved. The attacks in Paris offer the West an opportunity to strike at the Islamic State’s greatest vulnerability: the very statehood it aspires to. … On Saturday morning, when speaking to the Italian Bishop’s Conference, Pope Francis referred to the Paris attacks as being part of a “piecemeal Third World War.” By elevating the conflicts in Iraq and Syria into a world war, the Islamic State invites a coalition to form against it. Nations such as Turkey, France, Russia, and of course the U.S. possess unmatched capabilities to launch conventional military campaigns which could swiftly retake cities such as ar-Raqqah, Ramadi, and Mosul. To date, our strategy to counter the Islamic State has consisted of airstrikes combined with the use of surrogate forces, and the targeting of organizational leadership. It’s not working.”

Technicality keeps thousands of Post-9/11 vets from VA benefits (
Nearly 30,000 post-9/11 combat veterans — some of whom have been waiting for years — are still without Department of Veterans Affairs health benefits due to a technicality more than three months after a whistleblower brought the issue to light. VA officials apologized but say they do not have the authority to automatically enroll the veterans, even though they filled out the proper paperwork and are guaranteed at least five years of enhanced care by law. At issue is an optional means test, which the veterans in question did not fill out. The free care they are guaranteed by a 2008 law does not require them to fill out the means test, but without that information, their applications are automatically placed into “pending” status. When VA program specialist Scott Davis first reported the issue in August, 35,000 combat veterans were on the pending list, half of whom had waited five years or more to be enrolled. The VA did not start reaching out to the veterans until Davis publically reported the problem, and now says there are about 29,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in pending status. Benita Miller, director of the VA’s Health Eligibility Center, said the VA had enrolled 9,000 servicemembers since August. (Roughly 3,000 new veterans applied in that time.) Miller said her office is continuing to reach out to veterans by telephone and by mail. The department has apologized for the problem but also said the system is working as designed and that the vets need to specifically opt out of the means test to move forward, to show that they accept the potential of co-pays. VA Secretary Bob McDonald has repeated the assertion that he does not have the authority to change a veterans enrollment status. Davis, who handles the enrollment applications, refutes the VA claim that the department cannot automatically enroll the veterans and says they have in fact done just that in the past. “Those combat veterans are clearly applying for health care; we have always just enrolled the people without asking questions,” he said. McDonald “has a moral, legal and ethical responsibility to enroll these veterans.”

Politifact: Sanders claims 500,000 vets have PTSD, brain injuries (The Des Moines Register)
During a discussion of American foreign policy and military involvement in the Middle East, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders turned the discussion to the care provided to American veterans with a startling statistic: 500,000 returned service members have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. “When you talk about the long-term consequences of war, let’s talk about the men and women who came home from war,” Sanders said. “The 500,000 who came home with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. And I would hope that in the midst of all of this discussion, this country makes certain that we do not turn our backs on the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us.” Sanders has been making this claim for more than a year, including on Twitter in 2014, in a 2014 CNN interview and at a Minnesota campaign event last summer. But is it true? Have 500,000 American veterans really returned home from recent conflicts with PTSD and brain injuries? We found varying estimates, but 500,000 is within that range. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 11 percent and 20 percent of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) have PTSD in a given year. As of late 2014, about 2.7 million troops had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s a wide range: 11 percent of 2.7 million is 297,000; 20 percent is 540,000. Those figures account only for PTSD, not traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which Sanders also referenced.Additionally, a U.S. Senate resolution identifies “more than 390,000” cases of PTSD among veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn in Afghanistan, citing the secretary of Veterans Affairs as its source.

Study: There’s a simple activity that can help vets readjust to civilian life (Deseret News)
When veterans are worried or stressed about acclimating to everyday life, they may just need a pen and paper to feel better, according to a new study, published last month in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. The research suggested that writing about their return home helps veterans manage anger and psychological distress, echoing earlier work on the mental health benefits of personal writing. Nearly 1,300 veterans, all of whom had reported difficulty reintegrating into civilian life, participated in the study. Researchers divided them into three groups: the first received no treatment; the second was assigned four factual writing prompts; and the third was assigned four expressive writing prompts. “Overall, the researchers found a fair amount of evidence that expressive writing helped veterans — albeit with effect sizes that weren’t huge,” Science of Us reported. “The more noteworthy differences were between the writers and the nonwriters.” These researchers join a variety of other scholars who have studied the benefits of writing about events in the past, current frustrations and future goals, the article noted. “Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory,” The New York Times reported in January. According to those who’ve explored the benefits of writing, the practice helps people sort out the causes of their stress. “Writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, to the Times.

New pension rules for veterans will be complicated (Florida Today)
Commentary by Stephen J. Lacey, JD, LLM-Tax: “As difficult as the VA Pension eligibility rules are to navigate under current law, in early 2016 the VA will be instituting new rules that are projected to be more complicated and more restrictive. Pension benefits are already subject to income and asset requirements. However, there is no “bright line rule” for net worth. Individual situations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If the proposed rules take effect, there will be a strict net worth standard imposed on every claimant (regardless of circumstances.) Essentially, the asset requirement for a 92 year-old single applicant would be the same as that of a 72 year-old married applicant, despite the fact that expenses for these two individuals likely vary greatly. Additionally, transfers of assets made in the three years prior to application (the “lookback period”) will result in a period of ineligibility. Under current law, such transfers can be made without penalty. The VA indicates that one reason for the changes is that individuals are able to “cheat” the system by giving away “millions” to qualify. Actual data does not appear to support this theory, and the new more restrictive rules will cause even greater hardships on needy families. Veterans (and their spouses and dependents) must act quickly to achieve eligibility under the current regulations, before pension benefits become even more difficult to obtain. Do not wait until you are in a desperate situation before availing yourself of a benefit you have so clearly earned and deserve.”

Syracuse sets high standard for military, veteran support (
When the Syracuse Orange invited the Fort Drum, New York-based 10th Mountain Division to participate in pre-game festivities for Saturday’s high-visibility gridiron contest against the top-ranked team in the country, it was but a tiny window into the heart of an elite school, which has long stood by men and women in uniform. Noted for its innovative and aggressive approach to what university officials dubbed the “G.I. Bulge” at the end of World War II, Syracuse has strikingly reaffirmed its commitment to troops, veterans and their Families under current Chancellor and President Kent Syverud, who took the helm last year. In an unprecedented move, Syverud named veterans and military support one of his “top three priorities” and backed up his commitment by putting Dr. Mike Haynie in charge at the rank of vice-chancellor. Haynie, an Air Force veteran, oversees and nourishes a robust collaboration that includes both Army and Air Force ROTC units; the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities; and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which Syracuse claims as “the nation’s first, interdisciplinary academic institute focused purposefully on informing and impacting the policy, economic, wellness and social concerns [of] veterans and their Families.” Syracuse also hosts a unique military visual journalism program, which enrolls 34 active-duty enlisted personnel annually; and the Defense Comptrollers Program, which administers the Army Comptrollers Course among other military-oriented initiatives within the prestigious Whitman School of Management. One grateful beneficiary of the supportive pro-military/pro-veterans environment is Lt. Col. Jason Warner, professor of military science at the school. The Army officer is wrapping up his first fall as a department chair at Syracuse. “They take very, very good care of us,” said the Norwich University grad and often-deployed military intelligence officer. “Our ROTC scholarships, for example, include full room and board, and both the cadets and veterans enjoy early registration.”

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Give veterans their chance (
In this week’s address, President Obama honored our nation’s veterans, who have served and sacrificed in defense of our country. This past week, Americans came together on Veterans Day to pay tribute to those men and women in uniform who have risked their lives to protect our freedom. In recent years we’ve worked to reduce the veterans’ unemployment rate to 3.9 percent and slash the disability claims backlog at the VA by nearly 90 percent from its peak. But there is still more that can be done. Since day one of his Administration, the President has remained committed to serving the brave men and women who have served us. And in his address, he reminded us that we all have a role to play in ensuring that veterans have the opportunities and support they deserve. Click the headline link to view Obama’s address.

McCain announces Arizona Veterans Commission (
U.S. Sen. John McCain announced Friday the launch of a veterans coalition aimed to tackle the issues faced by those who serve, namely fixing issues with the VA hospital system. McCain, R-Ariz., who served in the U.S. Navy, made the announcement during a tour and news conference at Nichols Precision, a veteran-owned manufacturing company in Tempe that supplies weapons for the military.  “I’m proud of the coalition; it’s growing every day,” McCain said. “It renews my commitment to our veterans that we fix the VA system, as well as meet the other needs of our veterans.” McCain co-chairs the coalition with former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, Arizona Right to Life Political Action Committee chair Heather Johnson, attorney Rick Erickson, and small-business owner Martin Sepulveda, each of whom had decorated military careers. “The veterans coalition is composed of some of the really outstanding veterans that we have here in Arizona,” McCain said Friday. “We have everything from Iraq and Afghan veterans to our Vietnam veterans.”

On Veterans Day, LGBT troops honor two of their own (Air Force Times)
Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was reading Air Force Times when he came across an article about gay people serving in the military. It was March 1974, and Matlovich was serving as a race relations official helping to run sensitivity and integration training for the armed forces. Reading the article, though, he started wondering why those lessons on race he was teaching other airmen weren’t being applied to gays as well. He was instructing that people of all colors could serve together in the military, so why couldn’t gays and straights serve together too? Matlovich decided to come out. He was under no disillusion about what that meant. Matlovich had served three volunteer combat tours in Vietnam. He had been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. But announcing he was gay would likely mean a dishonorable discharge. So Matlovich called up Frank Kameny, a World War II veteran who was a tireless advocate for gay rights and had been interviewed in the article. After leaving active duty, Kameny – an astronomer – had served in a civilian job with the Army Map Service. But he was fired when his bosses discovered he was gay. Now Kameny was looking for a test case – a highly decorated service member who would be willing to publicly out himself and legally challenge the military’s ban on gay troops. After an introductory conversation between the two men, Matlovich called back a few days later. “He said ‘Well, maybe I’m the person you’re looking for,’” said Michael Bedwell, a gay rights advocate and long-time friend of both men. “He began driving to Washington to meet with Frank. From roughly June of 1974 they began planning over the months. The final decision was he would out himself in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Air Force, but delivered to his commanding officers so it could go up the chain the right way.” As expected Matlovich was bounced out of the armed forces – but he was given an honorable discharge. The following year, he appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine – in uniform – with the headline “I am a homosexual.” Bedwell said it changed the conversation on gay people serving in the military, and would help lead to a 1981 Defense Department directive that said gay troops couldn’t be dishonorably discharged simply for being gay.

LA county considers asking contractors to hire more veterans (KPCC-Pasadena)
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is considering asking all vendors bidding on major county construction contracts to hire more military veterans. The measure was first proposed by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich in 2014, and the county’s been studying it ever since. A vote is scheduled for November 24. The rule–a goal more than a mandate–would apply to all “major” construction contracts — meaning those valued at $2.5 million and above. It would ask contractors to ensure at least 5 percent of work hours under such contracts be performed by people who’ve served in uniform. “Veterans are a prime community in which to hire because they already have the skills that many of the contractors are looking for,” said Ruth Wong, the director of L.A. County’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. She said the county studied the idea for two years before coming to the conclusion it makes economic sense–the county has been looking for ways to reduce the unemployment rate amongst veterans, and lucrative construction contracts are a good start. In recent years the unemployment rate among LA county veterans was around 10 percent– a point higher than that of the general population. But now Wong says it’s down around 6 to 7 percent, which is equivalent to the LA County average.

Game show contestant may have botched guesses to help fellow vet (KSL-Salt Lake City)
It seems as if one veteran was looking out for two others on “Wheel of Fortune” Tuesday when she potentially botched her guesses on purpose so they could earn some extra money. Nura Fountano was winning when she began guessing obscure letters like “x” and “z” on the puzzle the contestants were solving, according to Tribune Media Wire. When her fellow contestant guessed the correct answer, “following footprints,” she broke out into a big smile and began clapping enthusiastically. “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak seemed to call Fountano out on her move when he mentioned she called unusual letters in the round. However, Fountano gracefully evaded the question by saying, “That’s what I saw.” It sounds like we may never know why she guessed the unpopular letters, but the results were positive. According to CNN, Fountano ended up winning almost $14,000. The other contestants also walked away with several thousand dollars, so it looks like it was a win-win for everybody.