(Photo by Steven B. Brooks)   By Steven B. Brooks NOV 12, 2019   The Legionnaires from American Legion Post 18 in Weehawken, N.J., have managed to more than double the post’s membership in two years, thanks in part to focusing on community involvement. That involvement, along with following the Legion’s long-time mantra of “veterans helping veterans”, was at the forefront of the post’s Veterans Day mission. Yes, post members attended three Veterans Day ceremonies in the area – including one it co-conducted with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1923 – that morning. But in the afternoon, Post 18 members made visits to fellow post members who haven’t been involved in recent post activities. One such member was World War II veteran Ernie Troisi, a 91-year-old widower in nearby Union City. Post 18 Commander Chris Page, First Vice Commander Troy Robert Mack and member Craig Vogel – all post-9/11 veterans – walked more than a mile to visit Troisi in the home the veteran has lived in since birth. The goal was to perform a “buddy check” on their fellow members, as well as pass out membership cards. “They love being identified as Legionnaires,” said Page, who was active duty in the Army from 1992-1999 and currently is a sergeant first class in the Army Reserves. “And that’s what (non-commissioned officers) do in the service. You’re supposed to check up on your troops. We’re charged … with the health and welfare of our troops. What we like to do is check up on our members and make sure they’re OK. We also check in on their families as well. It goes back to helping out with the community.” The Legion contingent was joined by members of Pin-Ups on Tour, whose members recreate the magic of the Hollywood Canteen that operated during the 1940s as a club offering dancing and entertainment for servicemembers who were normally on their way to an overseas deployment. Troisi, whose wife passed away in the past year, shared photos he had of he and his wife, their family and Troisi’s younger years, when he was a gymnast and a track athlete. Page asked Troisi if there was anything he needed; Post 18 will help collect Troisi’s wife’s clothes that the veteran wants to donate to someone, as well as seeing that his disabled doorbell is working. “I really appreciate it,” Troisi said of the visit. “Thank you so much for coming by.” Mack, who served in the Army from 2004-2009 and now is the director of Human Services for Weehawken, said conducting the buddy checks is “literally just the right thing to do. Lord knows we would love to do this more often and more frequently. But certainly today is a day you call on your buddy and make sure that your buddy’s doing OK.”
The Department of Defense is expanding commissary, military exchange, and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) retail privileges on U.S. military installations as specified in the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, access will expand to include all veterans with service-connected disabilities, veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, veterans who are former prisoners of war, and individuals approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. While this expansion will extend eligibility to over 4.1 million new patrons, the Department expects little to no impact on current patrons in most locations. There may be some impact in areas with a high cost of living, but the Department is preparing to accommodate all new patrons. "These new privileges recognize the service and sacrifice of these veterans and those that care for them," A.T. Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy, said. "If you or someone you know might be eligible for these privileges, share the message," Johnston said. "Please help us ensure these veterans and caregivers receive the privileges they've been granted." New patrons eligible solely under this authority should be aware that the law requires the Defense Department charge them a small user fee to offset the increased expense incurred by the Department of the Treasury for processing commercial credit or debit cards used for purchases at commissary stores. The Department of Defense is finalizing the details for these new privileges with the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the Treasury. Information will be announced soon regarding installation access and the authentication process for these privileges. To learn more about the commissary, military exchange and MWR expansion, visit
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) was named a finalist Oct. 30, for the 9th Annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hiring Our Heroes awards and is a contender for the Military Spouse Employment and Mentoring Award. The Hiring Our Heroes initiative launched in March 2011 is a nationwide effort to connect Veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses with meaningful employment opportunities. In July, the Board and Hiring Our Heroes partnered to promote best practices for the hiring and retaining of military spouses throughout the federal government. “Military spouse employment in the federal government is important not just because of the unique qualities military spouses possess,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It supports the whole health of the military family.” The Board joined the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership in October 2018 and plans to identify additional best practices for hiring military spouses through a Board military spouse working group. The award winners will be announced Nov. 13.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans (Center)  commemorated 25 years of providing dedicated advocacy for America’s women Veterans Nov. 7, at VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Established by Congress in November 1994, the Center monitors VA’s administration of benefits and services to women Veterans to ensure they receive equal access to VA programs. “The Center serves an important role in how VA addresses the evolving needs of women Veterans — from identifying ways that VA can enhance its benefits and services — to creating initiatives that demonstrate the stellar contributions of women Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The Center has also shown great commitment honoring the legacy of the women who serve.”  The commemorative opening remarks came from the secretary, there was acknowledgement of the Center’s accomplishments and recognition of special guests including: Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Irene Trowell-Harris, the center’s longest serving former director; Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5, Phyllis Wilson, current president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation; author and women Veterans rights advocate, Erin Miller; and Elizabeth Estabrooks, Oregon Women Veterans coordinator and pioneer of the “I Am Not Invisible”campaign.  Center accomplishments: Operationalizing and managing VA’s Women Veterans Program (WVP), comprised of representatives from VA’s administrations and staff offices, to enhance the delivery of VA benefits and services. Establishing public and non-profit partnerships, to improve understanding of VA’s benefits, services and processes. Creating national initiatives to promote cultural transformation in VA and the public, and to encourage women Veterans to self-identify as Veterans.  Providing support to VA’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, which was created to advise the VA’s secretary on the needs of women Veterans. Visit the Center for Women Veterans’ initiatives and the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans for more information.
‘Our VFW members, and their families, continue to answer the call in this very important effort to bring closure to those who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War’      WASHINGTON – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States provided six artifacts and personal effects to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency today as part of its promise to help advance the noble POW/MIA missions.“Our VFW members, and their families, continue to answer the call in this very important effort to bring closure to those who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War,” said B.J. Lawrence, executive director, VFW Washington Office.During July’s 120th VFW National Convention in Orlando, Fla., Lawrence, the former VFW national commander, asked Vietnam veterans to search through their closets and footlockers for documents that might help Vietnam to determine the fate of an estimated 300,000 missing Vietnamese, and personal effects that might help bring comfort to their families.U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. (ret.) Kelly McKeague, DPAA director, was overwhelmed by the show of support from our veterans, their families, and the American people. “This is a two-pronged effect,” said McKeague. “Not only is there potential to find answers that families have sought for many years but it also advances our relationship with Vietnam. We have found over the last 20 years Vietnam has increasingly been interested in the recovery of their war dead. Every time we give them an actionable item, it just raises the level of their appreciation, and more importantly, their regard for our cooperation with them.”VFW senior leaders have traveled back to Vietnam every year since 1991 to help U.S. government efforts to account for missing and unaccounted-for servicemen and civilians. According to DPAA, missing and unaccounted-for servicemen and civilians total 1,353 Americans (825 in Vietnam, 287 in Laos, 46 in Cambodia, and 195 in the South China Sea). “It is vital that we return any known artifacts, documents, and personal items back to the Vietnamese government, who have continued to foster a good relationship with the United States as we diligently search for our missing servicemen,” said Lawrence. “This display of diplomacy will only help in our efforts to reach our true goal and promise to our families affected by the Vietnam War – and that’s to achieve the fullest possible accounting of those Americans missing from the Vietnam War.”Vietnam veterans and their families interested in providing items to DPAA, can mail their memorabilia to:VFW Washington OfficeAttention: Public Affairs200 Maryland Avenue, NEWashington, D.C. 20002Items collected by the VFW Washington Office will be turned over to DPAA.
The Air Force's new Remote Combat Effects Campaign Medal is intended to recognize drone pilots and other airmen who make contributions to combat from a remote location.  SAHARA FALES/U.S. AIR FORCE   By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES A new Air Force campaign medal will recognize drone operators and other airmen who directly supported a combat operation from a remote location. The Remote Combat Effects Campaign medal is part of an effort to better recognize the combat contributions of airmen who are not deployed, the Air Force said in a statement announcing the award’s criteria Monday. Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson established the decoration earlier this year. Airmen serving in the following career fields are eligible for the award: remotely piloted aircraft; cyber; space or intelligence; surveillance and reconnaissance. Airmen from other career fields may be considered for the medal on a case-by-case basis, service officials said. To be eligible, an airman’s contributions must have occurred on or after Sept. 11, 2001, while assigned or attached to a unit directly in support of a Pentagon combat operation, the criteria states. An airman must have “personally provided” hands-on employment of a weapon system that has a direct and immediate effect on combat operations, the Air Force said. The airman also cannot have been physically exposed to hostile actions or at risk of exposure to hostile action, though that could qualify them for other awards. Qualifying combat operations involve several in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia: Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Nomad Shadow, Freedom’s Sentinel, Inherent Resolve, Odyssey Lightning and Pacific Eagle – Philippines. The Pentagon for years has grappled with how to recognize the contributions of service members who influence a military operation thousands of miles away from the front lines. Drone pilots have played a central role in U.S. efforts targeting extremists, often putting in long hours. The Air Force has struggled to retain drone pilots, with some developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, studies have shown. A Pentagon effort in 2013 to recognize “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other off-site troops performing noteworthy deeds far away from the battlefield was scrapped due to criticism. Veterans groups objected because the medal would have outranked some awards for troops serving in harm’s way, such as the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with Valor. The new medal is worn lower — above the Air and Space Campaign Medal and below the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. In 2016, the Pentagon approved a new distinguishing device that can be affixed to previously awarded medals, including one for engaging an enemy through remote actions. svan.jennifer@stripes.comTwitter: @stripesktown
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Battle Creek VA Medical Center in Battle Creek, Michigan and VA and the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) hosted 120 Veterans from across the nation for the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.  The weeklong festival culminated with an art and writing exhibition, and stage show performance to encourage artistic expression and help Veterans dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues.  “The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival recognizes the top artistic achievements of Veterans and demonstrates to communities the therapeutic benefits of the arts in the lives of our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “For many of these Veterans, creative expression has served as an avenue toward recovery and this week’s event continues that rehabilitation journey.”  The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, presented by VA and the ALA, features select winners from year-long, national fine arts talent competitions in which more than 3,500 Veterans entered at VA medical facilities nationwide. Veterans representing 130 VA medical centers have competed in local competitions in art, music, dance, drama and writing categories and earned first place recognition for their talent. Veterans will participate in workshops, rehearsals and artistic interaction sessions prior to the grand finale performance.  Veterans’ artwork was displayed at an art and writing exhibition gallery-style meet and greet at the Miller Auditorium located at 2200 Auditorium Drive, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Performing artists were showcased during a grand finale.   ###
(VAntage Point - Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) Finding a job is a daunting and sometimes difficult task after separating from the military. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) is a nationwide initiative to help Veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities. Hiring Our Heroes provides a variety of tools such as a resume builder, a corporate fellowship program and a career planning tool, along with several hiring events across the U.S each year. Career Summits Career Summits are meant to help Veterans improve their chances of obtaining a job by providing training programs and job fairs around the country. Resume Engine The Hiring Our Heroes Resume Engine is a resume building tool used to help civilian employers understand skills learned in the military. Veterans can better explain their skills to potential employers by using this system. Vet Roadmap Hiring Our Heroes provides a guide to help Veterans understand the resources available in their search for a job. Much like the military, the transition process requires a strategic plan, an assessment of resources, and a lot of work. The VET Roadmap breaks the military-to-civilian transition process into three simple actions, helps a Veteran navigate the transition process which is continuous, and identifies best-in-class resources. Veteran Fellowship Program The Veteran Fellowship Program is a six week long paid internship with businesses in Maryland, and Washington D.C. Veterans have the opportunity to work and learn valuable skills from these businesses. Additionally, the fellowship program helps Veterans with their resume and interview skills. Veterans are eligible to apply if they have left the military within the last forty-eight months, live in Maryland or Washington D.C., and meet the specified degree and work experience requirements. Here is the link to apply. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) launched the Long-Term Impact of Military-related Brain Injury Consortium (LIMBIC) Oct. 1, for which the two organizations pledged to fund up to $50 million, to research mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or concussions.  The five-year effort will receive $25 million in funding from DOD and up to $25 million from VA, depending on availability of funds.  “VA and DOD share an urgent, ongoing commitment to better understand the long-term impact of TBI,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Through this overarching effort, we are harnessing the best work of our nation’s scientists and will lay the groundwork for meaningful progress in diagnosis and treatment.”  LIMBIC is composed of researchers and resources from more than 20 organizations, spanning VA, DOD, the National Institutes of Health, universities and nonprofit organizations. VA and DOD’s funding will support a consortium led by a team at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. The lead investigator, Dr. David X. Cifu, is a senior TBI specialist for VA and a professor at VCU.  The consortium extends the work of a previous collaborative effort known as the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, or CENC, also led by Dr. Cifu. The existing CENC cohort, consisting of more than 2 million Veterans and service members, started in 2012 and has become the world’s largest and best-characterized research cohort dedicated to the study of military TBI. It will expand the cohort; integrate with other government, academic and nonprofit research; and spur new public-private partnerships.  Researchers associated with CENC, and now with LIMBIC, have already documented links between combat concussions and dementia, Parkinson's disease, chronic pain, opioid usage and suicide risk. They have also developed specialized diagnostic tests using questionnaires, physical exams, brain imaging, fluid biomarkers and electrophysiology to probe how the brain recovers from injury.  ###
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented a new process Oct. 1 for responding to Privacy Actrequests from claimants received by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for access to their claims files. VA has amended its process for those requesting their own information while respecting the privacy rights of third-parties by redacting third-party personally identifiable information (PII) from the claims files. “VA is committed to providing Veterans prompt access to their claim records increasing transparency and improving customer service,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s imperative that we protect files containing sensitive and personal information. VBA is required by the Privacy Act to allow Veterans -- or their representatives -- the opportunity to review or make copies of claims files.  Under this new process, VA does not anticipate delays in forwarding copies of claims files to Veterans or their designated representatives. ###