News

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began a national four-year study on the impact of COVID-19 on Veterans to help address critical questions about the disease. Known as EPIC3 (Epidemiology, Immunology and Clinical Characteristics of COVID-19), researchers will study data and biospecimens, such as throat swabs and blood, to learn how the virus that causes COVID-19 has affected Veterans. “By analyzing data on COVID-19 risk factors, progression, outcomes and immunity, this VA research promises to significantly advance the fight against the disease,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The study will complement a similar effort by the Department of Defense (DOD).” The effort is led by VA’s Cooperative Studies Program (CSP) and coordinated by VA’s Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center. CSP epidemiology centers in Durham, North Carolina; West Haven, Connecticut and Boston are also contributing to the four-year study. The study involves Veterans infected with COVID-19 and those who have recovered or who may be at risk but have not been infected by the virus. They are volunteers who are inpatients, outpatients and residents in VA’s Community Living Centers. Each cohort consists of hundreds of Veterans. A similar study is being conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD) involving active-duty service members. At the end of their respective studies, VA and DOD researchers plan to compare findings from the two study groups. To learn more about VA research, visit research.va.gov.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today the Gary Sinise Foundation has committed to providing up to 20,000 meals to VA health care and frontline workers.        VA’s Voluntary Service is working with the Gary Sinise Foundation Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service to identify the more than 80 VA medical facilities across the nation that will receive the meals over the coming weeks. “Donations like this mean a lot to our VA staff as they are on the front lines of caring for our nation’s Veterans every day,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We are very appreciative of this donation during the COVID-19 pandemic.” “The donated meals will come from restaurants near these facilities, stimulating local economies and helping communities,” said Chief Operating Officer of the Gary Sinise Foundation Elizabeth Fields. “Up to 250 meals will be donated to each facility depending on size and need.” Since April 1, the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service has been helping to meet the urgent needs of Veterans, first responders, military, health care workers and all of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic through serving meals, providing personal protective equipment and donating decontamination equipment across the country.
(VAntage Point) The Operation Deep Dive suicide prevention study examines the factors and potential causes involved in suicide and non-natural deaths among Veterans. The project specifically studies the community environment impact, an area that has been absent from past research. America’s Warrior Partnership leads the study with researchers from the University of Alabama and support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. Operation Deep Dive conducts studies in 14 communities nationwide. By the study’s completion in 2021, researchers aim to have a methodology that any community can implement to identify the unique risk factors of suicide within their area. Currently, the researchers investigate the lives of Veterans lost to suicide or non-natural causes within the last 12 months. They are doing this by interviewing those who knew the Veteran best: their friends, family and co-workers. These “deep dive” interviews examine the last 6-12 months of the Veteran’s life. Researchers determine how each Veteran was engaged within their community and identify the gaps in services that needed to be filled in order to better support Veterans in the future. Join the Fight Operation Deep Dive needs your help. If you know a Veteran who has died by suicide or non-natural causes in the last 12 months, please consider joining the fight as an interview participant. Losing a loved one to suicide can be a traumatic experience, but by participating in one of these interviews, your insight will contribute greatly to the formation of a proactive approach to preserving the life of service members and Veterans in the future. Researchers seek interviewees 18 years or older and located within one of the communities listed below. The Veteran that an interviewee knew must’ve also lived in that same community prior to their death. The list: Atlanta, Ga. Upstate, S.C. Panhandle, Fla. Orange County, Calif. Southern Ala. Syracuse, N.Y. Houston, Texas Twin Cities, Minn. Charlotte, N.C. Las Vegas, Nev. Phoenix, Ariz. Tristate Ohio Coastal South Carolina Indianapolis, Ind. Non-natural causes of death include overdose, asphyxiation, accidental gunshot, drowning, suicide by law enforcement, and high-speed single drive accidents. If you would like additional information about being a participant, please visit the Operation Deep Dive web page.
We will get through this as we continue to work together and support those in need   We are experiencing unprecedented times in our present day. This widespread pandemic has caused much pain and suffering. Thousands are sick and too many have died.  States have issued stay-at-home orders. We are told to practice social distancing. There is a shortage of products at the stores that are open. Many businesses are closed, some permanently.   People have lost their jobs or their jobs are currently in jeopardy. Individuals are unable to see family and friends.  VFW Post and District Meetings have had to be cancelled or are being conducted electronically. Department Conventions have had to be canceled as well as our National Convention in Reno, Nevada. Who would have ever believed that we would experience all of this? Through it all, it has been difficult to remain positive. But we must try against all odds to do just that – be positive. And spread that positivity wherever you see it needed. How do we remain positive, you ask? Keep your mind active and do not dwell on today’s circumstances. Read the Bible, a poem or anything else you find uplifting. Pray. Meditate. Watch movies or read a book. Play board games or work on a jigsaw puzzle. And above all else, stay physically active. It is important to get regular exercise. Reach out to your fellow VFW members to check on them to see how they are doing. Call, text or email your member,s or use the old-fashioned way: Mail a card. Be sure to ask whether or not they have someone to look in on them and get things they may need. Pray with them. Share positive words. If you find you are still struggling during this difficult time, reach out to your chaplain, priest, pastor or rabbi for support and encouragement. We will get through this as we continue to work together and support those in need.
Pivot. Adapt. Teamwork. Resilient.  These are words that The Independence Fund is familiar with while working in the Veteran Service Organization world. But these are also words that have defined how our organization has dramatically shifted its operations to ensure we are meeting the immediate needs of our Nation’s most catastrophically wounded Veterans, their Caregivers, and their families during this new normal.  Independence@Home Pivot. Following the emergent needs we were seeing from our homebound Veterans that were especially hard-hit with isolation, we shifted our entire organization’s structure with our newest program, Independence@Home. We are assisting the hardest hit Veteran families with emergent costs like rent, utilities, childcare, transportation services, home WiFi, household cleaning and grocery and medical product delivery. Because of the demand we’ve seen for this program, we are expanding the program to beyond our participant database. We are now assisting additional Veterans with special circumstances with $100 gift cards to alleviate their financial struggles while expanding online resources.  Adapt. Since our adaptive athletes can no longer participate in group sports, we are partnering our adaptive athlete Veterans with retired athletes for 1-on-1 virtual workouts and consultations. We continue to look at new ways to restructure our existing programs.  Teamwork. The Independence Fund has expanded its mission of connectivity during isolation. Our in-person Operation RESILIENCY retreats reunite company-sized units that suffered high combat casualties and are susceptible to high Veteran Suicide rates. Because we cannot meet in–person, we are now hosting ongoing Zoom reunions with alumni. During virtual events with entire companies, we are providing updates on our organization, hearing from higher level leadership and licensed clinical social workers, and connecting our caseworker for individual issues. We are then providing smaller groups from those entire companies the resources to run their own, individualized reunions.   We polled our Caregivers to see what resources they needed right now to provide relief and respite. In additional to virtual “happy hour” chats, we have hosted an intro to photography course and are conducting online tutorials twice a week. Subjects will include makeup tips, how to sew face masks, and an introduction to belly dancing. We will also be providing job training seminars, including resume writing and how to navigate LinkedIn.  Independence Fund #RAH campaign asks Veterans and their families to share their coping tactics. With the success of our Caregiver and OpRES webinars, we are expanding these virtual chats to our Family program, offering up assistance with tutoring and hosting family game nights.  Resilient@Home Resiliency. What The Independence Fund is most proud of is how we have shown how resilient our organization and its catastrophically wounded Veterans are. We launched RESILIENT@Home, a campaign where people can share their coping tactics on how they are staying resilient at home with the hash tag #RAH while highlighting the difficulties catastrophically wounded Veterans and their Caregivers are experiencing. We’ve loved seeing people coming up with creative ways to stay sane, from turning their homes into a 9-hole putt-putt course to reorganizing their garages.  Together, we can all remain RESILIENT@Home as we navigate, adapt and pivot to these changing times.  Blog submitted as guest post by The Independence Fund. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.
American Legion National Commander James “Bill” Oxford called on the White House to extend federal orders to thousands of members of the National Guard whose current deployments in coronavirus relief efforts fall one day short of the 90-day period required to obtain many benefits including home loans, education and retirement. “Highly unfair and disturbing,” is how Oxford described the plan to award those deployed credit for 89 days of federal service. “I served many years in the North Carolina National Guard. I know the caliber of these outstanding men and women who leave their homes and literally risk their lives so communities across America can be safe during national emergencies. “The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for many people. We would be far worse off if we did not have the National Guard setting up field hospitals, cleaning nursing homes and delivering emergency supplies. An 89-day deployment strongly suggests a decision based on accounting rather than what’s needed to truly respond to this emergency. The American Legion is calling for the president to fix this.”
WASHINGTON – To ensure homeowners and renters have current and accurate housing assistance information during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today, along with several other agencies, launched a new unified mortgage and housing assistance website.  Veterans and service members with a VA home loan, other homeowners with a federally backed mortgage and tenants living in properties with a federally backed mortgage have relief options if they have been financially impacted by COVID-19.  “VA is committed to ensuring Veterans and service members have the financial tools available to make decisions that work for their unique situations,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This collaboration provides an invaluable resource, enabling all homeowners and renters to access up-to-date information regarding their housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  The joint website with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development consolidates: mortgage relief options, protections for renters, resources for additional help and information on how to avoid COVID-19 related scams. It also provides tools for homeowners to determine if their mortgage is federally backed and for renters to find out if their rental unit is financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, VA continues providing home loan services to Veterans and service members who have earned those benefits, working with lenders, servicers and appraisers on temporary measures to assist in processing and servicing VA home loans.  These measures include offering alternatives for appraisers to determine property value in lieu of interior inspections and providing lenders with additional information to close loans remotely. Such alternative procedures help ensure VA borrowers can close on a home even during this pandemic and prevent foreclosures when possible.  VA borrowers experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can review VA guidance for borrowers and either request forbearance through the mortgage loan servicer collecting their monthly payments or call 877-827-3702 to speak with a VA Home Loan Representative. 
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) announced today it will commemorate Memorial Day this year with solemn wreath laying ceremonies.  Another offering is a new online memorial feature allowing the public to pay tribute to Veterans interred in VA national cemeteries across the country.  “This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor Veterans and service members with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.”  Each VA national cemetery will conduct a brief wreath laying ceremony, accompanied by a moment of silence and the playing of Taps. In keeping with CDC guidelines to limit large gatherings, the ceremonies will not be open to the public.  Secretary Wilkie will preside over the wreath laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on Memorial Day. Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers will do the same at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia, while Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves will lay a wreath at Riverside National Cemetery in California Friday, May 22, and at Calverton National Cemetery in New York on Memorial Day. Live streaming, recorded video and photographs from these and other ceremonies will be shared on NCA’s Facebook and Twitter pages.  Other public events typically associated with Memorial Day at national cemeteries, including group placement of flags at gravesites, will not take place. However, all VA national cemeteries will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk for public visitation.  Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to health and safety guidelines and maintain physical distancing while visiting. Visitors are also urged to consider visiting Friday, Saturday or Sunday to avoid possible crowds on Memorial Day. Families may continue the tradition of placing flowers and small American flags at their Veteran’s gravesite.  VA will also be launching a new way for the public to pay tributes to Veterans at the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM). The site, originally launched in 2019, contains a memorial page for each Veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. Starting Thursday, May 14, VLM will permit online visitors to leave a comment of tribute on a Veteran’s page, introducing a new way to observe Memorial Day. The tribute allows visitors to voice memories and appreciation for a Veteran’s service. All comments will be reviewed for appropriateness prior to being posted.  As it has in years past, VA is again partnering with Carry The Load this Memorial Day to honor select “Veterans of the Day” with remembrances on social media from May 11-25. 
VA’s National Cemetery Administration is partnering again with the nonprofit Carry The Load for a Memorial May campaign. Carry the Load provides active ways for Americans to honor and remember the sacrifices made by our nation’s fallen heroes. This year marks the ninth annual Memorial May campaign. It is the second year for VA cemeteries joining to help promote Carry The Load’s signature event. The National Relay is a 15,000-mile trek across the country culminating with a Memorial Day ceremony in Dallas, Texas. First Virtual National Relay This year, the National Relay, with 30 stops in national cemeteries, is a virtual relay. Participants can register for the virtual relay at carrytheload.org/register. By registering, participants can form virtual teams and build community partnerships. National cemeteries and Carry The Load will recognize fallen Veterans by featuring a “Veteran of the Day” on social media. Memorial Drive, Facebook Live and National Moment of Remembrance Memorial Day typically has a traditional ceremony. This year, Carry The Load will host the 2020 Dallas Memorial Drive from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Central Time May 25. Participants must register their vehicles in advance to join the honor drive near Reverchon Park in Dallas, Texas. From 12 pm to 3 p.m. central, Carry The Load has a Facebook Live sharing event, “Lessons from the Front.”  Patriots are encouraged to pause at 3 p.m. local time for a one-minute “National Moment of Remembrance.” This moment is to honor those who died in service to the nation. Although this year’s events will look different, the mission to honor fallen heroes remains the same. For more details on the 2020 Carry The Load National Relay, visit their website. Read more on last year’s National Relay here. “In this time of uncertainty, our mission and our purpose has not changed,” said Stephen Holley, president and CEO of Carry The Load and Navy SEAL Veteran. “Since 2011, Carry The Load has provided an outlet for financial and emotional support to our nation’s heroes. With our current situation, the entire world has become painfully aware of the courage and sacrifice of those on the front lines.” VA National Cemeteries across the nation are partnering with Carry The Load for a virtual relay this Memorial Day to honor the fallen. No Veteran Ever Dies “The National Cemetery Administration greatly values our close partnership with Carry The Load, and Memorial Day provides an important opportunity to work together to pay tribute to the fallen and their families,” Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves said. “Our organizations’ missions are closely aligned, as we make sure that ‘No Veteran Ever Dies.’ This year’s online Memorial Day event will allow people to participate without traveling long distances. So, we actually have an opportunity to reach more people in more places than we would otherwise.” VA operates 142 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service. Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices, online at https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/, or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the launch of the COVID Coach app, a new mobile app designed to help both Veterans and civilians cope with feelings of stress and anxiety they may be experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The app includes practical tools, information and resources that can all be used from the safety of one’s home to track well-being, mood swings and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.  A personal goal setting tracker can help users work toward achieving small victories. The mindfulness and sleep tools can be helpful for improving mental health and well-being. The indoor activities tool and staying healthy recommendations have been specifically tailored to the current COVID-19 situation.  “VA wants to make sure Veterans have access to every resource available,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The COVID Coach app provides tools and information to stay mentally and physically healthy.”   Direct links to resources are available within the app for those who may need additional professional support. The COVID Coach can be used independently or while engaged in mental health treatment but is not intended to replace needed professional care.   COVID Coach was developed by VA’s National Center for PTSD’s Mobile Mental Health Team, in conjunction with the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Download the app on iOS and Android devices or from VA’s Mobile App Store. Contact MobileMentalHealth@va.gov regarding questions about COVID Coach.  The National Center for PTSD has information and resources for managing stress during COVID-19 outbreak.