News

Government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Irbil began leaving Iraq following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “ordered departure” of nonemergency personnel Wednesday. Employees were told to “depart Iraq by commercial transportation as soon as possible” and avoid U.S. facilities in the country, a security message posted on the embassy website and distributed via email said. The departure order was prompted by what U.S. officials have described in recent days as intelligence indicating Iran or its proxy forces were planning attacks on U.S. forces or interests in the region, State Department officials said. “Given the increased threat stream we are seeing in Iraq, which we shared with the Iraqi government during [Pompeo’s] visit on May 7 and in subsequent engagements, the secretary has decided to place Mission Iraq on ordered departure,” an embassy spokesperson in Baghdad said by phone, reading prepared language about the matter. The official declined to discuss the number of employees affected by the order but said they had already begun to depart. The State Department mission in Iraq will have limited ability to provide routine and emergency services for Americans, officials have said, and normal visa services were temporarily halted at both the Baghdad and Irbil posts. The U.S. Consulate in Basra was evacuated last fall, following what Pompeo described in September as “repeated incidents of indirect fire” from Shiite militias with ties to Iran. Operations there remain suspended, the embassy spokesperson said. Earlier this week, the embassy had warned U.S. citizens in the country to “remain vigilant” and avoid places where Americans were known to gather. The State Department’s ordinary process following an ordered departure calls for a review of the situation every 30 days and a final determination after six months, the embassy spokesperson said. For more than a week, U.S. officials have said that there is an elevated threat level facing U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, primarily emanating from Iranian-controlled Shiite militias. U.S. officials have also reportedly observed Iranian-controlled vessels in the Persian Gulf transporting military hardware including missiles. U.S. Central Command increased its force posture level for the anti-Islamic State coalition in Iraq and Syria and is at a “high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to us forces in Iraq,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. German troops had suspended training of Iraqi forces in the country, Germany’s ARD TV channel reported Wednesday. German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said Germany was “orienting itself toward our partner countries” though there are “no concrete warnings of attacks against German targets,” The Associated Press reported. Dutch state broadcaster NOS said the Netherlands halted its 50-person military mission training troops in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region “until further orders,” quoting a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying he couldn’t elaborate on the threats. Last week, the U.S. sent a bomber group to the Middle East and expedited the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group’s transit toward the Persian Gulf in response to the intelligence reports. The U.S. is also sending a Patriot missile battery to the region and directing an amphibious warship carrying Marines, landing boats and helicopters to Central Command waters. Trump administration officials have also reportedly discussed updated plans that would involve sending 120,000 troops to the region in the event U.S. troops were attacked by Iran-backed forces or the country restarted its nuclear program. President Donald Trump dismissed the report as “fake news,” but said he “absolutely” would do that, possibly with more troops. Trump’s administration has steadily increased pressure over the past year since withdrawing from the Obama administration’s deal with Iran to halt its nuclear program, a move that reimposed harsh sanctions on the country, which the U.S. views as a sponsor of terrorism in the region. In the past few weeks, the U.S. has declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and stepped up economic pressure by ending waivers from sanctions for major importers of Iranian oil. Iran has responded by stating it would restart its nuclear program if a new agreement isn’t reached. It’s also called U.S. troops terrorists and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic energy choke point through which millions of barrels of oil pass each day. The United States plans to continue its pressure campaign until Iran’s leadership “is prepared to return to the ranks of responsible nations that do not threaten their neighbors or spread instability or terror,” Pompeo told reporters in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday, speaking about his discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Officials in Europe have expressed skepticism about the reported increased threats and have warned the escalations could accidentally spark a military conflict. Both the U.S. and Iran have said they do not want war. Iranian officials, meanwhile, have said publicly they believe the U.S. efforts will backfire. “Their plots have usually bounced back at them and ended up being harmful to themselves both politics and securitywise,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a meeting of his government’s senior officials on Tuesday night, state media reported. In the same speech, Khamenei also said it wouldn’t be difficult for the country to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels beyond what is allowed by the current nuclear deal, which only the U.S. has backed out of, AP reported. But, he said, “no one is seeking war.”
For the eighth straight year, American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., will be the epicenter of American Legion Riders activities during the Memorial Day Weekend’s Rolling Thunder, hosting hundreds of American Legion Family members during its "Run to the Thunder." But the post has never seen numbers like it until this year. In late 2018, Rolling Thunder Inc., the national organizer for the massive motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., to bring awareness to U.S. prisoners of wars and missing in action, announced it would no longer stage a national event in the nation’s capital. That’s led to a record amount of participants registering to take part in events based out of Post 177. Bob Sussan, chairman of The American Legion Riders National Advisory Committee and a member of Post 177, said 550 participants have registered already to leave from the post to take part in the May 26 "Ride to Freedom" through D.C., while other Post 177 activities have drawn 400 to 500-plus registrants each. Sussan said that typically, 10-20 percent of those who actually participate don’t register ahead of time, so the numbers for each activity likely will be higher. “And it’s still two weeks away,” Sussan said. “At this point we’re so far ahead of previous year registrations that it’s ridiculous.” A December 2018 letter signed by Rolling Thunder Inc. National Executive Director Artie Muller and National President Joe Bean stated that starting in 2020, state Rolling Thunder chapters will coordinate similar demonstrations at the local level over Memorial Day Weekend. Bean further reiterated that in his organization’s newsletter this month, stating, “This will be our last 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in D.C. … in 2020 we will take the ride across the country.” But Sussan said that doesn’t mean The American Legion Riders are done with Rolling Thunder in the D.C. area. “In the future, whether we ride on Sunday in some sort of what they call a ‘demonstration ride,’ or whether we ride on Monday and get into the Memorial Day Parade … the Legion Riders (will be involved),” he said. “The Legion, we have our resolution about POW/MIAs. Everybody wants to recognize those who have fought, especially those who have fought and never came home. That’s what it’s all about. You want to make sure the awareness is raised so that we keep pressure on the government for whatever conflict. “If somebody was left on the battlefield or taken prisoner, we’ve got to do everything we can as long as we’re alive to get them home. So we’re going to continue from D.C. … and still do it every year. We’re not giving up, regardless of what Rolling Thunder does. It’s not just about riding. It’s riding for a purpose and a cause.” American Legion Riders from all over the nation will be at Post 177 for events that will include a Friday night dinner and POW/MIA ceremony, followed by the escorted ride to the candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery Saturday afternoon and the Ride to the Thunder on Sunday morning. The post also will have vendors – including American Legion Emblem Sales – and host special guests throughout the weekend, including Gold Star families. There also will be breakfasts that Saturday and Sunday, as well as a BBQ dinner Saturday afternoon. While Post 177 is the host, it’s getting some help from its Beltway comrades. Sussan said Maryland Legion Riders will be serving the Friday night meal and leading the ride to the candlelight vigil at the Vietnam War Memorial. Despite the large jump in the number of registrants, Sussan said he’s confident in the logistical team in place in Post 177’s American Legion Family. “They’ve been doing it since 2012,” he said. “And the interesting thing is that all the people who started it are still involved. We have the experience of the past, and we continue to hone it each year to make it better. This year the challenges are the drastically increased numbers, but we have contingency plans in place. Regardless of what the number is, we’re going to be able to handle it. “And what I think is a great example for the Legion as a whole is that all of the newer (Post 177) members are very much engaged in this, and the older folks that have been doing it or started it continue to work with (the newer members) and give them the leadership positions and help them know what they’re doing and not repeat mistakes we’ve made in the past.” Post 177 is asking all Riders to register. There is no registration fee, but a $10 option is available to help defray costs. For updates or for more information, click here or follow ALR Run to the Thunder on Facebook. For local lodging information, click here.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) will host Memorial Day ceremonies from May 25 to May 27 to commemorate the nation’s fallen service members. “At VA, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice by providing them with a perpetual memorial in our national cemeteries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “And we also care for their survivors, whether during war or peacetime. It is a profound and personal commitment for every one of us at VA.” Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves, who leads NCA, will commemorate a series of events beginning at noon (MST) May 27 at Yellowstone National Cemetery in Montana. Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, was first enacted to honor troops who died in the Civil War. It was extended after World War I to honor all deceased Veterans. NCA maintains approximately 4.7 million gravesites at 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. This year, VA is partnering with Carry The Load as they honor fallen Veterans along an 11,500-mile relay, visiting 26 national cemeteries across the country during the month leading up to Memorial Day. Follow the relay on Twitter and Facebook at #CarryTheLoad and #NoVeteranEverDies. A complete list of Memorial Day events at national cemeteries can found at: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/ceremony/2019_Memorial_Day.asp. 
WASHINGTON — Lauding their transformative efforts, the White House recently selected a senior official from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its Gears of Government President’s Award and nine VA individuals and teams for Gears of Government Agency Awards.  The White House’s Executive Office of the President (EOP) and its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which created the award program, will recognize Barbara Morton, deputy chief of the Veterans Experience Office, during a ceremony from 2-4 p.m. May 22 in Washington, D.C.  EOP chose a total of six Gears of Government President’s Award winners from more than 250 individual and team GGA award winners. In all, nine VA individuals and teams were awarded Gears of Government Agency awards, championing mission-critical elements, including communications, customer service, business processes, health care, appeals and more. The awards include two categories: Agency and President. Those selected for Agency Awards are eligible for President’s Awards.  “Barbara’s dedication supports exceptional delivery of key outcomes for the American people, including mission results, customer service and accountable stewardship,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The Office of Management and Budget created the Gears of Government Awards program in summer 2018 to recognize individuals and teams across the federal workforce. We are all proud of Barbara and the other winners.”  Morton’s accomplishments include: standing up a real-time customer experience data platform with transactional surveys and predictive analytics; creating tangible tools to support and empower employees to deliver exceptional customer experiences; and developing user-friendly, integrated and industry-designed technology. Morton led efforts that fostered local engagement and strategic partnerships linking local communities, Veterans, families, caregivers, survivors and VA. She also championed the implementation of governmentwide customer experience metrics with OMB, which were instituted as performance requirements for all high-impact federal agencies in June.  VA officials applauded all the department’s GGA award winners, including: the Office of Community Care congressional response team; the Light Electronic Action Framework team; the FLOW3 Prosthetic Limb Care Management Program team; the National Work Queue leadership team; the Salt Lake City incident team; Lara Eilhardt with the Office of General Counsel’s Medical Legal Partnerships program; Joe Salvatore with the Office of Enterprise Integration’s Modernization Office; Cheryl Mason, David Spickler and Kimberly Osborne with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals; and Morton. To learn more about the Gears of Government Awards program, visit www.performance.gov/gearawards or @PerformanceGov on Twitter. 
Memories whisper to Al Dunaway as he walks slowly but purposefully through Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery. “It’s like going back to your old home place to see old friends,” says Dunaway, adjutant and service officer for John Ivens American Legion Post 42 in Grand Canyon, Ariz.  “I got a lot of old friends right here I’m coming to visit. I have memories of each one as I walk by – things I did with them, good times we had, bad times we had. You stop and think about all of it with each one of ’em.” Dunaway, a Navy veteran, is no ordinary visitor to the cemetery on the grounds of Grand Canyon National Park. He’s the primary caretaker, a role filled by Post 42 since the cemetery’s dedication in 1928. Of its roughly 400 graves, approximately 80 are the final resting places for veterans – some dating back as far as the Spanish-American War. From the park’s founding, Post 42 has conducted Memorial Day observances there. Throughout the year, post members maintain the U.S. flags and bronze American Legion grave markers. They also perform honor guard duties.  About 15 years ago, Dunaway received a call from John Horning, who said he’d pay for an honor guard for the funeral of his father, Charles.  “Your dad already paid for it,” Dunaway recalls saying. “When he jumped at Normandy, and when he jumped at Arnhem, and when he went to Bastogne with the 101st Airborne Division. My God, he paid in full. You don’t owe anything. We’re just fulfilling the contract with him.” The 2-acre cemetery was established in 1924, but some of its graves are even older. In addition to veterans, those interred include Grand Canyon pioneers, tribal members, former U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service employees, and others whose efforts contributed to the park.  The cemetery is now out of room, though it continues burials for people who have a spouse or immediate family member already interred there. Visitors enter through a gateway arch, dedicated by members of Post 42 on May 30, 1928. Birds and other wildlife make the cemetery their home, surrounded by large ponderosa pines that cast long shadows. Pine cones, leaves and brush partially cover the area’s dusty footpaths. “You’ll hear the sound of the wind in the trees, and ravens and other animals around will make noises,” Dunaway says. “Sometimes you get echoes coming back out of the canyon. We’ve done taps here for a funeral – actually, echo taps, because it was echoing back out of the canyon while a bugler was playing. It’s a peaceful, quiet place that makes you relaxed and comfortable when you come here.” Dunaway pauses at various graves, sharing stories about his mentors, fellow post members and other friends. He helped bury many of them. “They deserve a nice, quiet resting place,” he says. “They are my brothers and sisters. They served, just like I did. They’re gone. I’m still here. So it behooves me to watch over them and respect them, and to take pride in what I do here. It’s an honor.”   Henry Howard is deputy director of media and communications for The American Legion.
In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) community partnership efforts to combat Veteran homelessness, VA recently recognized Henry Zarrow International School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for winning the 2018 End Veteran Homelessness Challenge. Mark E. Morgan, director of the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, presented a certificate of appreciation to the school on April 26 for winning the friendly elementary school competition, which collected household and personal care items for Veterans transitioning from being homeless.  VA began the challenge in October 2018 in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principalsand the American Student Council Association, with plans to make it a yearly event. “It’s thrilling to see our nation’s youth volunteer their time for this great cause,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The generous donations collected by the students will help provide Veterans with basic household necessities as they settle into their new housing.”  The goals of the challenge are to encourage civic engagement among school-age children and help fill critical needs of Veterans transitioning from being homeless. Six elementary schools in six states participated in the 2018 challenge. In total, participating schools collected nearly $7,000 worth of personal care items and household goods to help Veterans transition to stable housing. Other schools that participated in the 2018 challenge include: Eastman Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, Florida; The Main Street Academy in College Park, Georgia; P.S. 54 in New York City; and Little Cypress Intermediate School in Orange, Texas. The collection drive ended in December. In winning the event, Henry Zarrow International School collected more than $2,000 worth of items. Together, the six schools collected 881 toothbrushes, 746 pairs of socks, 557 containers of soap and body wash, and 428 tubes of toothpaste. To date, more than 65 communities and three states — Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia — have effectively ended Veteran homelessness. Nationally, homelessness among Veterans has decreased nearly 50% since 2010. Since 2010, more than 700,000 Veterans and their family members have been permanently housed or prevented from becoming homeless nationwide because of interventions by VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless can contact their local VA medical center, where VA staff are ready to assist, or they can call  877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Visit www.va.gov/homeless to find out how to help prevent and end homelessness among Veterans and subscribe to the online newsletter to be notified when the 2019 challenge begins. 
Officials from the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) joined the mayor and representatives of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Continuum of Care (CoC) on April 25 to celebrate the effective end of Veteran homelessness in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington joins more than 65 other communities and three states — Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia — that have effectively ended Veteran homelessness, identifying every homeless Veteran by name and implementing systems to put them on the path to permanent housing. “The progress achieved by  Lexington is a direct reflection of the power of collaboration at the local, state and national levels,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As each new community effectively ends Veteran homelessness, it is further proving that the strategies we are using to help the most vulnerable Veterans become housed are working. Congratulations to Mayor Linda Gorton and everyone in Lexington who had a hand in ensuring the women and men who bravely served our country have a place to call home.” Achieving an end to homelessness is a  victory for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Continuum of Care  CoC — the local homeless services planning body —made possible because of joint efforts with many different organizations, including the Lexington Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention; area homeless service providers; Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; VA; HUD; emergency shelters; and a host of other private, public and nonprofit organizations. HUD and VA have worked aggressively to help homeless Veterans secure stable housing through the strategic use of HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers and alignment with Home Together, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Since 2010, the combined efforts of HUD and VA have helped cut Veteran homelessness nearly in half, including a 5% decline between January 2017 to January 2018. Since 2010, more than 700,000 Veterans and their family members have been permanently housed or prevented from becoming homeless nationwide because of interventions by HUD and VA. The achievement in Lexington does not mean that Veterans may  not become homeless in the future in the community. However, it does means that HUD, VA and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) have affirmed that Lexington has an infrastructure in place to quickly help Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness secure or remain in permanent housing.  Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless can contact their local VA medical center, where VA staff are ready to assist. They can also call 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Visit www.va.gov/homeless to find out how to help prevent and end homelessness among Veterans.  
Hundreds of veterans lined up outside Hollywood Post 43 on April 23 waiting for the doors to open, but this time it was not for a film screening or comedy show. The stars of this event were job seekers looking to network, improve their skills and apply directly for careers with nearly 50 potential employers ready to hire nationwide. The American Legion sent national leaders to participate in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) initiative, a nationwide effort to connect veterans, servicemembers and military spouses with meaningful employment opportunities. Rodney Rolland, director of Human Resources for The American Legion National Headquarters, led a workshop on resume building, networking and interviewing. After the class Rolland was available to review individual resumes and offer advice. “This is kind of my side job, I step outside my typical role as a HR director and come out and let veterans hear from real HR people what we particularly look for in resumes,” said Rolland. “The hiring process is not always just about the hiring manager. There is a process with most companies.” Rolland’s training addresses ways veterans can prepare their resumes to make them best qualified for jobs they are seeking. “Veterans typically get very basic instructions on how to present their resume, and how to do interviews,” Rolland explained. “What they don’t get are those small details that separate a good candidate from a great candidate. We all know being a great candidate is what actually gets you a position. So I serve as that piece to minimize the communication barrier that often exists between companies and veterans being able to sell themselves for opportunities. “ Working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vast network of state and local chambers and strategic partners from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, Hiring Our Heroes goal is to create a movement across America where veterans and military families return every day. Other resources like the Marine for Life Program (M4L) were also available. The Marine for Life Network is dedicated to providing connections to opportunities for transitioning Marines, veterans and spouses. One of M4L’s primary efforts is through providing visibility on social media platforms with a strong focus on LinkedIn. Mike Miller, director of Private and Public Engagement for the Department of Defense, described how they have put a lot of time and energy into revamping what they do over the past five years. “Part of that is partnering with Hiring our Heroes, part of that is supporting what employers are doing,” said Miller. “To ensure that we are putting people back into society that we’ve provided information to about what the outside world looks like and how to engage with you (employers), and to engage with you to help you better understand what talents and skills they are brining.” Tony Forbes, regional vets' employment coordinator for the U.S. Department of Labor, explained some of the programs available. He introduced the Registered Apprenticeship program that provides paid on-the-job learning and academic instruction that reflects specific industry needs. This program works with Department of Labor and their state partners with numerous training opportunities available to develop veterans into the skilled workers our economy needs to thrive. Registered Apprenticeships are not just for trades like plumbing and welding. DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship works with 150,000 employers and has created programs for over 1,000 occupations. They recently announced $100 million in grants to develop and implement innovative, high-quality registered apprenticeship programs www.dol.gov/apprenticeship/grants.htm Forbes also explained the hiring vets medallion program, which is the only federal-level veterans' employment award that recognizes a company or organization's commitment to veteran hiring, retention and professional development. “It’s a tool to let veterans know that you are a veteran friendly, veteran ready employer,” said Forbes. “We are encouraging transitioning servicemembers to look for employers who have the medallion program identifier.” Communication was a common theme throughout the hiring event. “Being a veteran myself makes my class a little more enticing because I don’t need to spend a lot of time developing that chemistry that’s typically necessary with veterans,” said Rolland. “I minimize the communication barrier that often exists between civilians giving the class and the veteran. Often veterans struggle with receiving the information. As a Marine Corps veteran, I can relate.” The American Legion works with the Chamber, high-profile employers and other groups in support of today’s veterans and transitioning servicemembers who often face obstacles to gainful employment in the civilian world. “Today’s military isn’t yesterday’s military,” said Miller. “This highly technical force that’s coming out has leadership, and experience, and technical capabilities that far exceed anything that we’ve ever seen. That’s the big picture, that’s why we do it, that’s why we’re grateful for what these employers are doing, we know that it takes a lot of energy, a lot of passion, and we thank them for that.” Rolland agreed and pointed out the bigger picture. “What we’re trying to do is not just get veterans jobs, but get them careers,” he said. “If that is happening, whether that comes directly from us or from others, then I think that’s great. I think the communication barrier is shrinking. I think a lot of times we overthink it, when at the end of the day it’s not that veterans are not qualified or fit, it’s helping them with the ability to get their information over to civilians and vice versa. If we can find a way to minimize that communication gap, then veterans find more opportunities.”
Iraq War veteran Elizabeth Salvador has been a VFW-accredited service officer for five years, connecting expatriate vets with VA services Elizabeth Salvador, a service officer at the VA Pittsburgh Regional Office, recently helped a veteran living in Africa end an 11-year-long appeals process. Salvador works on foreign claims from veterans who live outside of the United States. She said that in this particular case, the veteran initially was given a zero percent rating because he was unable to have an exam to determine the “current level of severity” for his conditions. “He’s in a really, really rural area,” said Salvador, a member of VFW Post 914 in West Mifflin, Pa. “He has to travel about two hours just to get to a phone.”   VFW-accredited service officer Elizabeth Salvador works with a veteran’s spouse on a claim. Salvador, a member of VFW Post 914 in West Mifflin, Pa., is the only staff member in her office who handles both foreign and local claims. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Salvador. The veteran, according to Salvador, received roughly $70,000 for “quite a few conditions” in mid-January.    She added that part of the length of the appeals process was because he lives overseas. Salvador has been a service officer in Pittsburgh for nearly five years. She took on the role after being laid off from a previous job. “I needed health care because my insurance wasn’t covered anymore,” Salvador said. “And I just wasn’t sure [of] the ins and outs.” She went to her local Post, of which she now is a member, and ultimately learned of the opening at the regional VA office. She said the most challenging aspect of her work is the foreign cases, along with time zone differences. “A lot of times there’s language barriers,” Salvador said. “Even sometimes the veterans themselves — we have a lot of veterans in Panama and a lot of them don’t speak English.” The most common case she works on is related to mental health. Salvador said when a veteran wants to file a PTSD claim, the VA requires that the original diagnosis come from a VA doctor. “When these veterans are overseas looking for service connection for mental health, that becomes really hard,” said Salvador, who served in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 with the 886th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron. Salvador said she guides veterans through the process, understanding that some do not know the requirements and become “discouraged” when their claim is denied. Countries such as Germany and Italy have service officers and VA employees, but in other locations, Salvador said, making “initial contact” is harder. Salvador’s office handles roughly 400 cases per month. She said the most rewarding part of her job is providing “basic information” of what veterans are entitled to, such as health care and education — regardless of whether or not they have service-connected injuries. For anyone considering becoming a VSO, Salvador said it is “a lot of work, but it’s good work.” “It’s not a very easy job, but if they’re looking to help veterans, this is definitely a place to be,” Salvador said.
As the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s signing of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 approaches on June 6, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making significant strides in implementing major improvements to community care for Veterans. “The Veteran is at the center of everything we do,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “Through the MISSION Act, Veterans will have more choices than ever in getting timely, high-quality care. Most important, Veterans will be able to decide what is important and best for them.” The MISSION Act will strengthen VA’s health care system by improving both aspects of care delivery and empowering Veterans to find the balance in the system that is right for them, A key aspect of the MISSION Act is the consolidation of VA’s community care programs, which will make community care work better for Veterans and their families, providers and VA employees. When this transition is complete, the following will occur: Veterans will have more options for community care. Eligibility criteria for community care will be expanded, including new access standards. Scheduling appointments will be easier, and care coordination between VA and community providers will be better. Eligible Veterans will have access to a network of walk-in and urgent care facilities for minor injuries and illnesses. “Transitioning to the new eligibility criteria for community care should be seamless for Veterans,” Wilkie said. “Veterans will continue to talk to their care team or scheduler as they have been doing to get the care they need.” VA also has been working closely with community providers to ensure Veterans have a positive experience when receiving community care. For example, VA has developed education and training materials to help community providers understand some of the unique challenges Veterans can face. Going forward, community care will be easier to use, and Veterans will remain at the center of their VA health care decisions. In addition to information VA has made available digitally, Veterans enrolled in VA health care can expect to receive a letter in the mail providing details on where to go for more information. For more information about community care under the MISSION Act, visit https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/58621/new-eligibility-criteria-a-major-improvement-over-existing-rules/.