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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020, extending the presumption of herbicide exposure that include toxins such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Prior to the measure, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure. Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975, as well as Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971. These Veterans can apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans do not need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides. The specific conditions can be found by searching Agent Orange on www.va.gov. “For six months VA worked diligently to gather and digitize records from the Naval History and Heritage Command in order to support faster claims decisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These efforts will positively impact the claims process for Veterans filing for these benefits.” Qualifying recipients, in addition to affected Veterans still living, are certain survivors of deceased BWN and Korean DMZ Veterans. Survivors can file claims for benefits based on the Veteran’s service if the Veteran died from at least one of the 14 presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifidaif their parent is or was a Veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program. The law creates more access for Veterans to obtain no-down payment home loans, regardless of loan amount, and the home loan funding fee is reduced for eligible Reservists and National Guard borrowers who use their home loan benefits for the first time. Certain Purple Heart recipients do not pay a funding fee at all. VA’s website describes these and other benefits.  Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office. BWN Veterans who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, Veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.   For more information about the Blue Water Navy Act and the changes that will take effect visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp.
“I want ‘top-notch’ care for my daughter”    Posted onWednesday, December 11, 2019 10:00 am Posted in Health by VAntage Point Contributor  Women Veterans make up 8% of Oregon’s Veteran psopulation. However, that growing population requires answers to the unique challenges facing women Veterans. The Women Veterans Program at the Roseburg VA Health Care System is designed to identify those challenges. It also works with women Veterans to find those answers, according to Jessica Burnett, social worker and interim Women Veterans Program manager. Burnett is pictured above with her daughter Emily. For Burnett, the mission is personal “I am a true Oregonian. After visiting many places, I knew Oregon is where my heart is,” said Burnett. “I spent nearly 15 years providing rural social services in Coos and Curry Counties. I decided it was time to move to a warmer climate and relocated to Roseburg, where my daughter attended college. “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Hey Mom. I’ve decided to take a different path in life and I signed up for the Navy.’ I didn’t see that coming. She said, ‘This is something I felt called to do and this is what I’m going to do.’ My role at that point was to be a support person. I felt if my daughter is feeling called to do this, I’m going to see what I can do to support Veterans, and I came to VA.” “How can we serve them best?” Burnett hopes to expand services available for all Veterans – primary care, mental health, housing assistance. She also wants to localize it specifically for women Veterans. She fosters a program that is open, accessible, welcoming and Veteran-centric. “From my perspective, we should be taking a patient-centered approach. Hearing their feedback, what is it that they need? Let them tell us what they need so we can best support them. It is their journey, their life. We don’t know unless we ask the question, ‘How can we can serve them best?’” For Burnett, the best way to serve women Veterans is to expand on the understanding of women Veteran needs and the availability of health care specific to women: yearly exams, such as pap smears and mammograms. “When she comes home, I want her to have top-notch health care.” And support for those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma. Women Veterans, the fastest growing minority population “Women Veterans served alongside men. They are a minority within the VA, but they’re the fastest growing minority population,” said Burnett. Her daughter serves aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. “Women tell me all the time they get addressed as ‘Mister’ instead of ‘Miss.’ It’s just assumed that they are a spouse or if it’s just a last name, that they are male. “I feel we really need to put a lot of effort and work into women’s health care in VA because it is an area that, previously and historically, hasn’t been part of VA. “My daughter is active duty right now, but when she comes home, I want her to have a health care system that is top-notch. “I want it to be better than what she can find in the community.” Tim Parish is a public affairs officer for the Roseburg VA Health Care System.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joseph Kotora, division surgeon with 2nd Marine Division, monitors a live fresh whole blood transfusion drill at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California Oct. 26. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Leon Branchaud) By 2nd Lt. Sydney Murkins, Engagements/Media Officer, 2nd Marine Division "Corpsmen are tasked with the grim reality of either restoring a person to life or taking them to their final resting place." Those were the words of Lt. Cmdr. Russell Wier, deputy division surgeon for the 1st Marine Division, as he explained the genesis of Valkyrie, a fresh whole blood transfusion initiative he is presently spearheading, designed to get more troops off the battlefield alive. Marines are often charged with going on dangerous missions where some lose their lives, but they're not alone – Navy corpsmen go on these missions with them, playing a guardian angel role. "The number one killer on the battlefield is massive hemorrhage," Cmdr. Joseph Kotora, division surgeon for the 2nd Marine Division, said. "Right now we use a junctional tourniquet and it does a good job as long as we don't move the patient, but patient movement is a battlefield necessity." Wier, who twice deployed to Iraq as a casualty evacuation pilot, would agree with that sentiment. He recalled a tragic incident in 2007 when a CH-46E was shot down while transporting urgently needed blood to a remote surgical facility. It resulted in the loss of five Marines and two Navy corpsmen aboard the aircrew. The event underscored the importance of having blood available far forward in the battle space. As a physician 10 years later, Wier became aware of the possibility of conducting walking blood bank operations at the small-unit level. Realizing the life-saving potential there, he committed to bringing fresh whole blood transfusion to the Marine Corps. And the Valkyrie program was born. Wier began developing the Valkyrie program in 2017. "The ultimate goal is to make it a program of record in the Marine Corps, which will change the way Marines and corpsmen operate in future wars," he said. "Right now, we're implementing it across the 1st Marine Division, Cmdr. Kotora and his team are beginning to implement this across the 2nd Marine Division, and we're working with a team within the 3rd Marine Division to start establishing trainers on Okinawa, too." Fresh whole blood transfusion is not a new concept; it dates back to World War I and World War II, Kotora said. "We got away from this sort of treatment during Vietnam because we outstripped the blood bank supply and had to start breaking up blood components," he said. "But what is old is new again, and as we learn more about trauma and what the body needs to combat trauma, we recognize that fresh whole blood is the preferred fluid for resuscitation." Other branches of the military have already begun bringing fresh whole blood transfusion back to life. The Army's 7th Ranger Regiment successfully began fielding their own program in 2015, which also is designed to reduce the number of hemorrhage-related deaths by replacing junctional tourniquets with the transfusion of fresh whole blood to soldiers on the battlefield. "Special Forces have been doing this for years," Kotora said, "so we thought, 'why not us?'" It was a valid question: Why not the Marines? Thanks in no small part to Wier's and Kotora's belief and persistence, the 2nd Marine Division has been given the opportunity to notionally test fresh whole blood transfusion during Marine Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise I-20. It was a division-scale, unscripted, force-on-force exercise, within which a select group of corpsmen were immersed in an intensive four-day program and learned how to perform fresh whole blood transfusion in a tactical field environment. Notional casualties are certain in this exercise, and this kind of training gives the corpsmen the opportunity to test their newfound skills in a lifelike scenario. Various aspects of trauma need to be treated during a massive hemorrhage, and that's why fresh whole blood is the preferred resuscitation fluid. It has clotting factors, acid binding, oxygen transportation capabilities and it is warm, which addresses the hypothermia aspect of trauma. It replaces what the body is leaking out in a way that separated components or saline cannot. "Not only is fresh whole blood transfusion the most effective form of resuscitation, it is also the cheapest," Kotora said. "Whereas one unit of stored whole blood is about $180 on the civilian market, we are able to safely collect that same amount of blood from a fellow Marine at a fraction of the cost. And because it is drawn fresh from the donor, on-site, it is more effective than stored blood." There is no additional cost to train the corpsmen because their salary is already paid. The only additional cost is the price of the transfusion kits, which are about $120 per kit. It requires two or three of the kits, plus some additional equipment, to outfit corpsmen. That translates to about $400 per corpsman on the battlefield. "I think one would be hard-pressed to find medical interventions for that price that are going to be as fruitful in saving somebody's life," Kotora said. The transfusion process would start about four months prior to deployment. A blood drive is conducted, which allows physicians to identify individuals with a specific type of blood: disease free, low-titer (a low antibody count), Type-O blood. If the potential donor meets certain criteria, they will be placed on the unit's blood roster and ultimately receive a card that identifies them as a qualified donor. Kotora said under the program each corpsman would know which Marines in their platoon are on the donor roster, which squads they are in, and where these individuals could be located at any given time. For the more dangerous missions, where casualties are all but certain, blood can be drawn in the field and refrigerated in field-expedient coolers for 48-72 hours. "We wouldn't take blood to the field just to have corpsmen wait for weeks or months before they use it, and that's why we need the option to draw blood on site, right before a mission, for transport on the backs of corpsmen. That's the ultimate goal we're working toward," Kotora said. "The major risk involved with this procedure is bodily rejection of the transfusion, which is almost always due to clerical error, meaning the wrong blood type is administered to the patient. So we mitigate this by only drawing Type-O blood – the universal blood type – and then we ensure that it is tested, re-tested and then tested again." Kotora believes the program will not want for blood donors. "I never see an issue with having enough blood," he said. "The esprit de corps of being a Marine, and the unit comradery that Marines feel, is more than enough to make them want to contribute. Once they understand what this program is, how it helps the individual Marine, and that they could be the recipient of blood one day, it really gives them a vested interest in the program." Marines and sailors are more likely to be bold and daring on the battlefield when they know there is a greater chance of survival if something goes wrong. The Valkyrie program gives them the confidence they need to be aggressive and complete the mission. "We don't know exactly how many people this will save because every injury is different, but we do know that we will save a lot more people with it than without it," Kotora said. The name of the proposed Marine Corps program – Valkyrie – is drawn from Norse mythology. "Valkyries were these angels of war that soared over ancient battlefields and gathered the fallen. They manifested the capability of restoring the warrior to life or shouldered the responsibility of transporting them to Valhalla," Wier said as he explained the genesis of the program. "I liked the imagery of it ... that presence on the battlefield alongside the warrior. I think this program enhances our corpsmen's capacity to restore life."
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) and Office of Information and Technology (OIT) are working towards nationwide availability of virtual hearings for Veterans next year, allowing access using their mobile phone or laptop via the VA Video Connect app. The virtual hearings are based on the Veterans Health Administration's tele-health platform and lets Veterans participate in their appeals hearings from the comfort of their homes. “VA strives to provide integrated solutions that leverages 21st century technology to significantly increase the number of hearings completed annually,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Giving Veterans the ability to participate in secure, confidential virtual hearings is another aspect of VA’s modernization to provide Veterans with the ultimate customer experience.” The testing of virtual hearings began July 2019. The collaboration with OIT, Veteran Service Organizations and other Veteran representatives has been positive. To date, the Board has held 155 successful virtual hearings. Veterans who otherwise would have had to cancel their hearings were able to participate in virtual hearings and receive decisions. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) makes final decisions for VA regarding appeals for Veterans’ benefits and services. The Board’s mission is to conduct hearings and issue timely decisions for Veterans and other appellants in compliance with the law. 
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII) for advancing the health and well-being of Veterans, as part of the commemoration of National Veterans and Military Families Month in November. The new NAII is incorporating input from Veterans and its partners across federal agencies, industry, nonprofits and academia, to prioritize and realize artificial intelligence (AI) research and development that is meaningful to Veterans and the public.   “VA has a unique opportunity to be a leader in artificial intelligence,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s artificial intelligence institute will usher in new capabilities and opportunities that will improve health outcomes for our nation’s heroes.” VA is an ideal environment for advancing AI technology to benefit Veterans. It  is the most extensive integrated health care system in the country and is home to the Million Veteran Program – the world’s biggest genomic knowledge base linked to health care information. VA also serves as the nation’s largest training system for physicians and nurses. VA uses AI to reduce Veterans’ wait times, identify those at high risk for suicide, to help doctors interpret the results of cancer lab tests and to choose effective therapies. AI uses computers to simulate human thinking, especially in applications involving large amounts of data. It is also being leveraged in the commercial technology sector and is seeing early uses in health care. NAII is a joint initiative between VA’s Office of Research and Development and Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships. It will design, execute and collaborate on large-scale initiatives and national strategy, and build on the American AI Initiative and the National AI R&D Strategic Plan. Learn more about NAII and the director, Dr. Gil Alterovitz.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is encouraging community members, individuals, businesses and organizations to help support hospitalized Veterans nationwide by turning good intentions into action on this International Volunteer Day Dec. 5. Each year, thousands of Veterans spend the holidays at VA inpatient facilities away from family and friends. “The holidays can be an especially lonely and challenging time for hospitalized Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Volunteering is a meaningful way to provide kindness and get into the overall spirit of giving by showing these Veterans that they are not forgotten.” International Volunteer Day, designated by the United Nations in 1985, aims to encourage people around the world to volunteer in their communities. Through VA’s Voluntary Service program, upwards of 61,000 volunteers have donated more than 8 million hours to Veterans nationwide this year. To learn more about VA’s many volunteer opportunities, visit VA’s Voluntary Service website.
December brings a slew of decorations, but a wreath adorning the tombstone of a veteran tops the list for hordes of volunteers annually. While the month’s decorations speak the holiday language, National Wreaths Across America Day dictates an all too familiar message for veterans everywhere — Remember, Honor, Teach.   Angel Ramirez, a member of VFW Post 3225 in Clovis, Calif., places a wreath on a veteran’s grave last December at Red Bank Cemetery just east of Clovis where 225 veterans are buried. The Post works with Wreaths Across America to ensure veterans’ graves are decorated. For Bill Rogers, a Life member of VFW Post 3225 in Clovis, Calif., the pilgrimage alongside others in the community across Academy and Red Bank cemeteries distributing wreaths captures the essence of paying tribute to fallen veterans.    “It’s all about remembering our veterans that won’t be with us during the Christmas time,” said Rogers, who served as an Air Force police officer in Vietnam in 1971-72. “We’ve been doing it for about five years now, honoring them twice a year.” Rogers and 40 other Post 3225 members join a community of volunteers that include boys and girls scouts at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District twice a year, decorating 350 graves with wreaths in December and U.S. flags on Veterans Day.  “We start in Clovis and end at Red Bank, which is about five miles east of town,” Rogers said. “Red Bank is also on the side of a mountain, so putting up flags there makes for a neat sight as we honor our veterans.” Post 3225 joins legions of VFW Posts worldwide yearly in honoring veterans through the Wreaths Across America initiative, whose humble beginnings in 1992 snowballed into a network of volunteers that continues to grow today. According to the Wreaths Across America website, the organization peaked in 2014 by draping 1,000 locations that included Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries with more than 700,000 ardent, red wreaths to commemorate veterans. But it’s WAA’s commitment to teaching the younger generations that brings remembrance and honor for veterans full-circle.  In the case of Post 3225, the passing of member Dennis Van Zandt last year exemplifies the bond a generation makes in continuing tradition. “Honoring one of our own means a lot to us,” Rogers said. “He passed away last year, and he used to help as a cook during our Veterans Memorial pancake breakfast fundraisers, so now his daughter has stepped into that role to help us out. She will join us in honoring her father and other veterans this year as well.” VFW members can join their Post’s tribute to fallen veterans at this year’s National Wreaths Across America Day slated for Dec. 14. For more information, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today for setting the goal of getting important Veterans suicide prevention legislation passed before the end of the year. Wilkie appeared before HVAC today to testify in support of H.R. 3495, the Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act. The bipartisan bill, which currently has 228 cosponsors, would allow VA to offer direct grants to Veterans service organizations, caregivers and nonprofits at the state and local level, letting these groups use grants to tailor aid to the Veterans in their communities for the purposes of suicide prevention. While HVAC leaders are still finalizing the precise legislative vehicle and language through which to accomplish the goals of H.R. 3495, HVAC Chairman Mark Takano during the hearing expressed support for getting final legislation passed in 2019. “I do want to get this legislation passed before the end of the year,” Takano said. After the hearing, Secretary Wilkie released the following statement: “To reach the roughly 60 percent of veterans who die by suicide each day without any recent connection to VA care, the government needs to reach far beyond its walls and work with as many partners as it can. I am fighting for legislation that would give VA the ability to do just that, and I am encouraged Chairman Takano shares my goal of getting the legislation passed before the end of the year.”
An idea spawned at a VFW national convention allowed a Maryland Auxiliary to help blind students learn the history of the U.S. flag   For a classroom of young students in Maryland, school begins like every other day — by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Thanks to members of Auxiliary 8509 in Baltimore, these students got to feel these words recently — by reading them in Braille. A child explores a Braille version of the U.S. flag, such as those used by students at the Maryland School for the Blind in Nottingham near Baltimore. An instructor at the school said students “really enjoyed the tactile flags, and teachers wove it into their curriculum lessons.” They study at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) in Nottingham, Md., where Cynthia Palmer Davis, life member and president of the Department of Maryland Auxiliary, recently gifted a supply of “tactile,” or perceptible by touch, U.S. flags to school administrators and faculty. “The students really enjoyed the tactile flags, and teachers wove it into their curriculum lessons,” said Carol Seckington, principal of the Functional Academic and Autism Blind programs at the MSB. “They were excited and curious when the flags were distributed. The explanation about the colors of the flag and what the stars and stripes represented was interesting and helped students understand the representation of having the hands-on tactile representation.”  Davis said distributing the flags gave her a sense of pride. “I was excited to learn they have students starting as early as pre-kindergarten, and that these young people would have a tool to help them learn the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “Guilt is what I felt when a staff member told me that no one had ever approached their students to participate in our scholarships, but that feeling quickly gave way to joy. Because this opens new possibilities not only for the students, but the VFW and Auxiliary as well.” The tactile flags also led to sharing information about the VFW Auxiliary and VFW scholarship programs, such as the Auxiliary’s Young American Creative Patriotic Art Contest and VFW’s Patriot’s Pen and the Voice of Democracy contests. By giving the flags, Auxiliary membership introduced them to the scholarship programs. “I was determined to make sure that the VFW and VFW Auxiliary extend educational opportunities to all youth populations,” Davis said, “and special-needs youth are included in that outreach. Now my heart is led to share all available resources with them.” Davis discovered the tactile flags at VFW’s 119th National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., last year. The Kansas Braille Transcription Institute (KBTI) in Wichita produces the flags. Randolph Christopher Cabral created the American Braille flag in honor of his late father, World War II veteran Jesus Sanchez “Chuy” Cabral. The elder Cabral lost his sight to glaucoma later in life. Randolph, who had taken an interest in Braille and services for the blind, founded the institute in Wichita the same year his father passed away. In his father’s memory and with the intention of aiding those who are blind or low-vision, Randolph hatched his idea of the Braille American flag. Today, this resource is made for portability and ease of distribution. Randolph and KBTI are hopeful for and interested in making it possible for all of America’s blind and deaf/blind children to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. In the upper Midwest, Lucetta Jasinski, a member of Auxiliary 2895 in Cudahy, Wis., distributed tactile flags to Vision Forward (formerly Badger Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) in Milwaukee. Vision Forward provides a continuum of services from birth to adulthood to individuals with visual impairments. It focuses on helping them achieve important developmental, educational, personal and professional goals. Jasinski said giving the tactile flag to them was “near and dear” to her heart because she has family members who have lost their sight. To obtain tactile U.S. flags from KBTI, visit kbti.org or call 316.265.9692. Proceeds generated by these flags benefit blind and low-vision veterans and other blind/low-vision Americans.  This article is featured in the 2019 November/December issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Amanda Cook. Amanda is the editor-in-chief of the VFW Auxiliary Magazine.
(Photo by MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES) NOV 20, 2019 November 20   By Rose L. Thayer/Stars and Stripes   A Washington monument to honor Medal of Honor recipients was proposed Tuesday in legislation introduced by two Texas congressmen. The National Medal of Honor Monument Act, filed by Reps. Marc Veasey, a Democrat, and Ron Wright, a Republican, tasks the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation with the creation of a monument in Washington to honor the more than 3,500 recipients of the nation’s highest award for military service. The bill also recognizes Arlington, Texas, as the new home of the National Medal of Honor Museum, also under the management of the foundation. Last month, the north Texas city, located 20 miles west of downtown Dallas, was named as the home of the future museum by the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation. “We look forward to working with the bipartisan contingent of elected officials to make sure we are doing all that we can to honor the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients and get this great piece of legislation passed," said Joe Daniels, CEO and president of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation. The foundation has identified potential sites for a monument and is working with a bipartisan group of members in Congress to build the monument in an ideal location as quickly as possible, according to a spokesperson for the foundation. Information related to the rendering and cost of the monument is not yet available, but will use private and public donations. The measure has gained 18 cosponsors, 12 of which are from Texas. After introduction, it was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, according to the lower chamber’s website. The full text of the bill is not yet available. “I am honored to introduce this legislation that will honor these brave men and women for risking their lives to protect our democracy,” Veasey said in a statement. “I am also proud to join my fellow North Texan, Congressman Wright, to ensure that the city of Arlington, Texas, will be the forever home of this new Medal of Honor Museum.” Wright expressed similar sentiments in a statement. These service members’ contributions “deserve to be memorialized with a monument,” he said. "These men and women went above and beyond the call of duty on the battlefield in order to preserve our values and way of life," Wright said. The Arlington museum is scheduled to open to the public in 2024 and will be located near two professional sports stadiums also located in the city. It will feature permanent, interactive experiences and rotating exhibitions and an education center. Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.