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Distinguished Guests, including our Presidents and First Ladies, government officials, foreign dignitaries, and friends: Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I, and our families, thank you all for being here. I once heard it said of man that “The idea is to die young as late as possible.” (Laughter.) At age 85, a favorite pastime of George H. W. Bush was firing up his boat, the Fidelity, and opening up the three-300 horsepower engines to fly – joyfully fly – across the Atlantic, with Secret Service boats straining to keep up. At 90, George H. W. Bush parachuted out of an aircraft and landed on the grounds of St. Ann’s by the Sea in Kennebunkport, Maine – the church where his mom was married and where he’d worshipped often. Mother liked to say he chose the location just in case the chute didn’t open. (Laughter.)            In his 90’s, he took great delight when his closest pal, James A. Baker, smuggled a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into his hospital room. Apparently, it paired well with the steak Baker had delivered from Morton’s. (Laughter.) To his very last days, Dad’s life was instructive. As he aged, he taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor, and kindness – and, when the Good Lord finally called, how to meet Him with courage and with joy in the promise of what lies ahead. One reason Dad knew how to die young is that he almost did it – twice. When he was a teenager, a staph infection nearly took his life. A few years later he was alone in the Pacific on a life raft, praying that his rescuers would find him before the enemy did. God answered those prayers. It turned out He had other plans for George H.W. Bush. For Dad’s part, I think those brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life. And he vowed to live every day to the fullest. Dad was always busy – a man in constant motion – but never too busy to share his love of life with those around him. He taught us to love the outdoors. He loved watching dogs flush a covey.  He loved landing the elusive striper. And once confined to a wheelchair, he seemed happiest sitting in his favorite perch on the back porch at Walker’s Point contemplating the majesty of the Atlantic. The horizons he saw were bright and hopeful. He was a genuinely optimistic man. And that optimism guided his children and made each of us believe that anything was possible. He continually broadened his horizons with daring decisions. He was a patriot. After high school, he put college on hold and became a Navy fighter pilot as World War II broke out. Like many of his generation, he never talked about his service until his time as a public figure forced his hand. We learned of the attack on Chichi Jima, the mission completed, the shoot-down. We learned of the death of his crewmates, whom he thought about throughout his entire life. And we learned of his rescue.   And then, another audacious decision; he moved his young family from the comforts of the East Coast to Odessa, Texas.  He and mom adjusted to their arid surroundings quickly.  He was a tolerant man.  After all, he was kind and neighborly to the women with whom he, mom and I shared a bathroom in our small duplex – even after he learned their profession – ladies of the night. (Laughter.)            Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person – and usually found it. Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary; that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values, like faith and family. He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived.  He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul.  To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light. In victory, he shared credit.  When he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is part of living a full life, but taught us never to be defined by failure. He showed us how setbacks can strengthen.  None of his disappointments could compare with one of life’s greatest tragedies, the loss of a young child. Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and mom felt when our three-year-old sister died. We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again. He loved to laugh, especially at himself. He could tease and needle, but never out of malice.  He placed great value on a good joke. That’s why he chose Simpson to speak. (Laughter.)  On email, he had a circle of friends with whom he shared or received the latest jokes. His grading system for the quality of the joke was classic George Bush. The rare 7s and 8s were considered huge winners – most of them off-color. (Laughter.) George Bush knew how to be a true and loyal friend.  He honored and nurtured his many friendships with his generous and giving soul. There exist thousands of handwritten notes encouraging, or sympathizing, or thanking his friends and acquaintances.  He had an enormous capacity to give of himself. Many a person would tell you that dad became a mentor and a father figure in their life. He listened and he consoled. He was their friend. I think of Don Rhodes, Taylor Blanton, Jim Nantz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and perhaps the unlikeliest of all, the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton. My siblings and I refer to the guys in this group as “brothers from other mothers.” (Laughter.) He taught us that a day was not meant to be wasted. He played golf at a legendary pace. I always wondered why he insisted on speed golf.  He was a good golfer.  Well, here’s my conclusion:  he played fast so that he could move on to the next event, to enjoy the rest of the day, to expend his enormous energy, to live it all. He was born with just two settings: full throttle, then sleep. (Laughter) He taught us what it means to be a wonderful father, grandfather, and great grand-father. He was firm in his principles and supportive as we began to seek our own ways. He encouraged and comforted, but never steered. We tested his patience – I know I did (laughter) – but he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love. Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him.  The guy who answered the phone said, “I think he can hear you, but hasn’t say anything most of the day.  I said, “Dad, I love you, and you’ve been a wonderful father.” And the last words he would ever say on earth were, “I love you, too.” To us, he was close to perfect.  But, not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. (Laughter.) He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. (Laughter.) The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. (Laughter.) And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us. (Laughter.) Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally.  In his old age, dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, volume on high (laughter), all the while holding mom’s hand.  After mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was to hold mom’s hand, again. Of course, Dad taught me another special lesson. He showed me what it means to be a President who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country. When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great President of the United States – a diplomat of unmatched skill, a Commander in Chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor. In his Inaugural Address, the 41st President of the United States said this: “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?” Well, Dad – we’re going remember you for exactly that and so much more. And we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again. END
Mackenzie Wolf American Legion Deputy Director of Claims Services Greg Nembhard testified Nov. 29 before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Nembhard’s testimony focused on reports published by Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) on unwarranted medical examination for disability benefits, processing inaccuracies involving veterans’ intent to file submissions for benefits and trauma, denied post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims related to military sexual trauma (MST), and The American Legion’s System Worth Saving program. The VAOIG reports cite inaccuracies, inadequate training, lack of specialization and poor quality of VA examinations done by contracted medical examiners. “The American Legion wants to protect veterans from these, and other inadequacies, and urge the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) to take swift corrective action," Nembhard testified. “We believe that a variety of factors cause these shortfalls. Including a lack of funding, understaffed VA facilities, and contracting companies solely focused on their bottom line —at the veterans’ expense.” VA often denies victims of MST benefits based on a claim of PTSD — despite MST being a cause of PTSD — because they cannot produce evidence of the assault. MST victims often do not report the assault for varying reasons including “concerns about negative implications for performance reports, worries about punishment for collateral misconduct, and the perception of an unresponsive military chain of command.” A total of 169 MST-related claims that were denied were reviewed. The review concluded the VBA did not correctly process veterans’ denied MST-related claims in 82 of 169 cases. VAOIG estimated 1,300 of 2,700 MST-related claims denied were processed incorrectly during the review period. “Veterans should not experience additional harm in the process — especially when processing MST-related claims,” Nembhard said. “Finding ways to ensure these veterans receive the services they deserve is one of the highest priorities of The American Legion. "The growing diversity of veterans means that a system which primarily provided care to male enrollees must now evolve — and adapt — to meet the needs of all veterans and to provide them the best possible care.” The mission of The American Legion's System Worth Saving program is to “assess the quality and timeliness of veterans’ health care, the claims process at VA Regional Offices (VARO), and provide feedback from veterans about the care and services offered.” Reports from these site visits are then compiled into a publication that is distributed to the president, members of Congress and VA officials. “We believe in quality of care at VA facilities, we remain committed to a strong VA, and we believe that VA is a system worth saving,” Nembhard said. The American Legion “remains committed to a VA that is appropriately funded, staffed, trained and empowered to conduct internal quality reviews and oversight,” he concluded.   American Legion Deputy Director of Claims Services Greg Nembhard testified Nov. 29 before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Nembhard’s testimony focused on reports published by Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) on unwarranted medical examination for disability benefits, processing inaccuracies involving veterans’ intent to file submissions for benefits and trauma, denied post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims related to military sexual trauma (MST), and The American Legion’s System Worth Saving program. The VAOIG reports cite inaccuracies, inadequate training, lack of specialization and poor quality of VA examinations done by contracted medical examiners. “The American Legion wants to protect veterans from these, and other inadequacies, and urge the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) to take swift corrective action," Nembhard testified. “We believe that a variety of factors cause these shortfalls. Including a lack of funding, understaffed VA facilities, and contracting companies solely focused on their bottom line —at the veterans’ expense.” VA often denies victims of MST benefits based on a claim of PTSD — despite MST being a cause of PTSD — because they cannot produce evidence of the assault. MST victims often do not report the assault for varying reasons including “concerns about negative implications for performance reports, worries about punishment for collateral misconduct, and the perception of an unresponsive military chain of command.” A total of 169 MST-related claims that were denied were reviewed. The review concluded the VBA did not correctly process veterans’ denied MST-related claims in 82 of 169 cases. VAOIG estimated 1,300 of 2,700 MST-related claims denied were processed incorrectly during the review period. “Veterans should not experience additional harm in the process — especially when processing MST-related claims,” Nembhard said. “Finding ways to ensure these veterans receive the services they deserve is one of the highest priorities of The American Legion. "The growing diversity of veterans means that a system which primarily provided care to male enrollees must now evolve — and adapt — to meet the needs of all veterans and to provide them the best possible care.” The mission of The American Legion's System Worth Saving program is to “assess the quality and timeliness of veterans’ health care, the claims process at VA Regional Offices (VARO), and provide feedback from veterans about the care and services offered.” Reports from these site visits are then compiled into a publication that is distributed to the president, members of Congress and VA officials. “We believe in quality of care at VA facilities, we remain committed to a strong VA, and we believe that VA is a system worth saving,” Nembhard said. The American Legion “remains committed to a VA that is appropriately funded, staffed, trained and empowered to conduct internal quality reviews and oversight,” he concluded.  
Make sure your senators support its immediate passage and encourage their colleagues to do the same Urge Your Senators to Support the Blue Water Navy Bill Now Take Action! Background: Congress is very close to passing H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, which would end the injustice of denying Vietnam, Korean DMZ, and Thailand veterans who suffer from life-threatening health conditions the care and benefits they deserve. Unfortunately, this important bill is now in jeopardy. Make sure your senators support its immediate passage and encourage their colleagues to do the same. Take Action: Call your senators to demand support for immediate passage of H.R. 299. The Senate cannot continue to delay passage of this important bill while Blue Water Navy veterans sicken and die from diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange. Take action now!
The VFW reflects on the attack that tested America’s resolve KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tomorrow, on the 77th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. remembers the more than 3,500 men and women who were killed or wounded during the event that changed the course of America’s history. “In the wake of one of America’s darkest days, a reinvigorated and tenacious nation awoke determined to defend our freedom and way of life no matter the cost – teaching future generations that while we may be attacked in our homeland, our enemies will never be successful in defeating our freedoms or the American way of life,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence, who is in Hawaii to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the attack. “On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the VFW asks every American to take a moment to remember and to be inspired by the contributions, devotion and character of all who have served and sacrificed for our nation’s freedom,” he said. “And let us be equally resolved in our determination to serve our nation as selflessly as they did.”
Large genome study leads to better understanding of high blood pressure Photo by Jeff Bowen (12/04/2018) A large international genetic study that included several VA researchers has identified more than 500 new gene locations that affect blood pressure. The project is the largest genetic study of blood pressure to date, involving more than 1 million participants. It included data from VA’s Million Veteran Program. By comparing participants’ genetic data, researchers identified 535 new locations on the human genome that influence blood pressure. The researchers calculate that the new findings increase the knowledge of inheritable blood pressure traits by 27 percent. They call the findings “an important step forward” in understanding how genes affect blood pressure. (Nature Genetics, October 2018) Program improved headaches-tbi staff interactions with residents Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/monkeybusinessimages (12/04/2018) A training program improved interactions between staff and VA community living center residents, in a study by researchers at several VA facilities. The intervention centered on observations, huddles, and a focus on the positive. Researchers surveyed 62 residents and 308 staff members after the staff behavioral change program. Results showed increased communication and decreased negative staff intervention with residents after the training. Staff members credited the program with helping them to understand the importance of engagement and improving the quality of their interactions with residents. (Gerontologist, July 13, 2018) White matter damage could explain chronic headaches after TBI Photo: ©iStock/wenht (12/04/2018) Researchers with the VA San Diego Healthcare System have identified white matter abnormalities in the brains of patients with mild traumatic brain injury that may help explain their chronic headaches. The study used brain imaging data from 12 patients with TBI and chronic headache, compared with healthy controls. The TBI patients had abnormalities of the white matter in two brain tracts: the left superior longitudinal fasciculus, and the right anterior thalamic radiation. These tracts link different parts of the brain. This disruption of communication within the brain could be partly responsible for chronic headaches often experienced by patients with TBI, say the researchers. (Molecular Pain, Oct. 16, 2018) Mouse study: Aspirin may slow multiple sclerosis Photo by Jerry Daliege (11/29/2018) Low-dose aspirin could suppress multiple sclerosis symptoms and slow the disease, according to a mouse study by Jesse Brown VA Medical Center researchers. Mice with a condition similar to MS were given small doses of aspirin orally. Mice given aspirin show reduced symptoms for both relapsing-remitting and chronic forms of the disease. The aspirin also seems to have prevented destruction to the myelin sheath in the spinal cord caused by destructive T-cells. The researchers found that aspirin reversed the depletion of regulatory T-cells that occurs in MS, which may have helped stop other T-cells from attacking nerve fibers. While more study is needed, the results suggest that low-dose aspirin regimens could help patients with MS, say the researchers. (Science Signaling, Nov. 27, 2018) Rural, urban ICUs perform similarly in VA system Photo: ©iStock/PeopleImages (11/29/2018) Rural intensive care units (ICUs) in VA facilities perform similarly to their urban counterparts, found an Iowa City VA Health Care System study. Researchers looked at data on nearly 10,000 rural patients and almost 66,000 urban patients. They found that patients treated at rural ICUs had similar mortality rates, despite rural locations having lower-complexity facilities. Rural patients were less likely to have respiratory illnesses and more likely to have sepsis than urban patients, and they had higher illness severity scores. Rural patients also had fewer inter-hospital transfers and shorter ICU length of stay. The results indicate that being part of a national health care system may have benefits for rural facilities that should be explored outside the VA system, according to the researchers. (Journal of Critical Care, Oct. 19, 2018) Study explains gene mutation’s link to ALS Photo: ©iStock/imaginima (11/29/2018) Researchers at the VA Lexington Medical Center and University of Kentucky have shown how a gene mutation may contribute to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Mutation to a gene called fused in sarcoma (FUS) are known to contribute to some cases of inherited ALS. The researchers showed that this mutation can suppress protein translation and interfere with how RNA functions in the body. The mutated proteins generated by the FUS gene disrupt an RNA quality-control pathway, which damages neuronal maintenance and function. Because this mutation suppresses how proteins are translated within cells and disrupts how RNA regulates cell activity, it likely contributes to the motor cell death seen in ALS. According to the researchers, the results will add to the understanding of both how this specific mutation can lead to inherited ALS, and more generally how ALS develops. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 19, 2018) Patients more likely to use psychotropic medication in suicide attempts when they have a prescription Photo: ©iStock/DNY59 (11/21/2018) People at high risk for suicide who had a psychotropic medication prescription were more likely to use that type of drug in suicide attempts than those without a prescription, found a study including a Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center researcher. The study looked at health insurance data for nearly 23,000 people who had attempted suicide. Those who had prescription access to a psychotropic drug were 1.7 times more likely to use that drug to attempt suicide than those without a prescription. People with antipsychotic or mood stabilizer prescriptions had the highest odds of using their prescription drug in a suicide attempt. Antianxiety drugs were the most common class of drugs used, regardless of prescription status, accounting for 59 percent of overdose attempts. The results show that people at risk for suicide with psychotropic prescriptions should be targeted for safety interventions, say the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Nov. 6, 2018) High cholesterol linked to lower risk of death in chronic kidney disease patients Photo: ©iStock/lbodvar (11/21/2018) High cholesterol was linked to lower risk of death in chronic kidney disease patients, but higher risk of death in other patients, in a VA Long Beach Healthcare System study. Researchers looked at data on more than 2 million Veterans. They found that, in patients with chronic kidney disease, patients with cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL had lower risk of all-cause death. However, patients without chronic kidney disease had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular conditions when their cholesterol was above 200 mg/dL. More research is needed to explore the seemingly paradoxical relationship between chronic kidney disease and cholesterol, according to the researchers. (American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, Nov. 10, 2018) Reasons for trauma-focused therapy drop-out Photo: ©iStock/asiseeit (11/21/2018) Minneapolis VA Healthcare System researchers explored why some Veterans with PTSD drop out of prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy, the two main forms of psychotherapy that VA uses to treat the condition. About one-third of Veterans who begin prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy do not complete treatment. Researchers interviewed 60 patients who completed treatment and 68 who did not to look for differences. They found differences between the groups in the strength of the working relationship between patient and therapist, patients’ ability to cope with increased distress, and internal motivation. Treatment buy-in, logistical factors such as transportation, and beliefs about treatment did not appear to influence the drop-out rate. (Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Nov. 9, 2018) Diabetes prevention program equally effective online and in person Photo: ©iStock/Wand_Prapan (11/14/2018) Diabetes prevention programs delivered in person and online can be similarly effective for both older and younger Veterans, found a VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System study. Researchers looked at data from 378 Veterans enrolled in a weight management program either in-person or online. Over 70 percent of participants completed eight or more sessions within six months. A higher percentage of the online group completed at least eight sessions. Both online and in-person groups saw similar weight loss. Weight loss was the same for both younger participants and participants 65 or older. The results show that online programs may be an good way for diabetes prevention programs to reach older adults, say the researchers. (Diabetes Care, Oct. 30, 2018) Benzodiazepine use linked to greater hospitalization, suicide risk in those with PTSD Photo: ©iStock/happyphoton (11/14/2018) Patients with PTSD who were prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, had higher health care utilization and suicide risk than similar patients not given the drugs, in a study by VA Salt Lake City Health Care System researchers. They looked at data on more than 240,000 Veterans with PTSD. About 7 percent of those were prescribed benzodiazepines during the 14 years examined in the study. Patients prescribed benzodiazepines had more hospitalizations, as well as outpatient and mental health visits, than those not on the drug. Benzodiazepines users had a significantly greater risk of death from suicide, and were more likely to have suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. The study strengthens the evidence against use of the drugs in Veterans with PTSD, according to the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Oct. 23, 2018) Household paints likely to contain rash-causing allergen Photo: ©iStock/gece33 (11/14/2018) Household paints frequently contain isothiazolinones, despite claims on safety data sheets, according to a study featuring Minneapolis VA Medical Center researchers. Isothiazolinones are commonly used as preservatives in household products, but can cause allergic reactions. The researchers tested 47 common paints. All 47 contained at least one isothiazolinone. Concentration varied based on the type of isothiazolinone present. Isothiazolinones were present even in paint specifically advertised as being preservative-free. Safety data sheets, which are supposed to disclose potential allergens, were inaccurate and insufficient to warn against possible contact dermatitis, say the researchers. (Dermatitis, Oct. 20, 2018) Omega-3 fatty acids boost neurological health after stroke in mice Photo: ©iStock/BlackJack3D (11/07/2018) Omega-3 fatty acids were shown to improve neurological health after stroke, in a mouse study by VA Pittsburgh Health Care System researchers. The researchers gave mice food supplements of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including from fish oil, for 35 days after a stroke. Mice given omega-3 had better cognitive function and neurovascular healing than those not on the supplements. Omega-3 was not as effective at improving cognitive function in older animals as in younger animals, although older animals did improve some. The results suggest that omega-3 fatty acid could be a promising therapy after stroke, say the researchers. (Neurobiology of Disease, Sept. 12, 2018) Battlefield acupuncture effective in both groups and individually Photo by Robert Turtil (11/07/2018) Battlefield acupuncture was effective in treating back pain in both group and individual settings, in a West Haven VA Medical Center study. In battlefield acupuncture, needles are placed in specific sites in the ear to influence the nervous system. The researchers treated 284 Veterans with back pain in either a group or individual setting, for a total of close to 800 treatment sessions. Patients self-reported a decrease in pain after 82 percent of treatments. Patients reported no change after 10 percent of treatments, and reported increased pain after 8 percent of the sessions. Both group and individual treatment had similar rates of effectiveness. The results confirm that battlefield acupuncture could be a useful treatment to relieve pain, whether administered in a group or individually. (Medical Acupuncture, Oct. 1, 2018) Study reveals how lungs protect against damage from cigarette smoke ©iStock/bagi1998 (11/07/2018) A study by VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System researchers explored mechanisms that protect the lungs from oxidants and how smoking can damage these processes. The researchers looked at two parts of the lungs’ defense system: an enzyme called GPx3 and a hormone receptor called PPAR-gamma. They found that GPx3 expression was decreased in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study showed that PPAR-gamma responds to oxidative stress from cigarette smoke by increasing GPx3 production, which helps protect the lungs from damage. However, the researchers also found that cigarette smoke makes the relationship between GPx3 and PPAR-gamma less effective. They believe that the results could be useful in the development of more effective treatments for COPD. (Free Radical Biology and Medicine, October 2018)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program has made significant improvements in disability claim processing over the past year, with most service members who submitted claims through the program receiving decisions within 30 days of discharge. BDD allows service members to file a claim for disability between 90 and 180 days prior to discharge from active duty, which provides time for paperwork review and medical exams prior to leaving.  “This is an important program for our service members as they transition to Veteran status,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The faster we can connect our Veterans with the benefits they deserve, the smoother their transition.” In fiscal year (FY) 2018, the first full year of the revamped program, more than 36,000 service members submitted claims through BDD and about 53 percent of completed claims received a decision on their claim within 30 days. In the first month of FY 2019, 3,437 claims were completed with 57.7 percent completed within 30 days. Throughout FY 2018, the program made continuous improvements, which include: Expanding BDD claim review from two locations, to processing at any regional office  Enhanced software partnerships with the Department of Defense to improve record transfers Additional claim training and performance standards for military service coordinators. By participating in BDD, service members ensure that their disability medical exams become part of their service treatment record and that service connection for their conditions may be established as early as possible. Medical conditions can get worse over time and establishing eligibility at discharge may make it easier to increase disability ratings in the future. For more information on the BDD program, visit www.benefits.va.gov/predischarge/claims-pre-discharge-benefits-delivery-at-discharge.asp. ###
Dear American Legion Family and Friends, We have so much to be thankful for at this time of the year. Many of us will spend time with family members, friends and other loved ones celebrating Thanksgiving. We’ll enjoy hearty feasts, relish fond memories, and give thanks and prayers for all of our blessings. As veterans, we know all too well how important it is to be with loved ones on special holidays. I don’t have to remind you to keep our servicemembers – especially those on deployment – in our thoughts during this holiday time. Fortunately, there are American Legion posts that welcome servicemembers into their homes for a Thanksgiving meal and camaraderie. It’s a great way to introduce these troops to our American Legion Family. At the same time, American Legion posts are providing food, fun and fellowship throughout their communities. Take, for example: • American Legion Post 38 in Fountain, Colo., which has amassed 100 turkeys and all the trimmings. The food is part of an annual giveaway to help needy families in the neighborhood. Post 38 partners with Fountain police to identify needy families and distribute the food to them. • In Illinois, American Legion posts in Palatine (Post 690) and Morton Grove (Post 134) host sailors from Great Lakes Naval Station for a Thanksgiving meal and provide the opportunity for their guests to call or email home free of charge. • American Legion Post 31 in Salinas, Calif., will be serving around 600 meals at its 20th annual Thanksgiving celebration. The post also is hosting a drive to collect jackets, which will be distributed to those in need during the meal. • In Polk City, Iowa, American Legion Riders deliver Thanksgiving meals through their Holiday for Heroes program. More than 80 area veterans will get a complete Thanksgiving meal that they can prepare in their own homes for family and friends. These are just a few of the countless examples of how American Legion Family members are serving their communities during this time of the year. Share how your post, squadron, chapter and/or unit is demonstrating its commitment to community service on Legiontown. There are many reasons why I love The American Legion. Among the top reasons is the way we support our local communities, especially during holiday seasons. Thank you for what you do throughout the year, and especially during this special time. Happy Thanksgiving to you, your families and the communities you so proudly serve. Celebrating Our Legacy.   Brett Reistad, National Commander
Kirk Alkire is not a medical professional in any sense. But the emotional moments he has witnessed atop mountain peaks in Alaska prove to him that climbing in honor of fallen service members is therapeutic. One Gold Star father spoke of  his deceased son, a Marine, for the first time in more than 15 years as he hiked to the summit. “This poor guy has been carrying this around, bottled up, since 2002, and we had no idea,” said Alkire, who led a mission to name an Alaskan mountain peak after Gold Star families. “We just figured this is who he is, and this is how he talks about [his son].”   VFW Life member Kirk Alkire displays a Gold Star flag atop Gold Star Peak, about 30 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, alongside his dog, Hatcher Jack. Alkire belongs to VFW Post 9785 in Eagle River, Alaska. He lost five members of his battalion while serving in Iraq in 2007. Photo courtesy of Kirk Alkire. Alkire, a Life member of VFW Post 9785 in Eagle River, Alaska, said it wasn’t the people who caused this father to open up.   “We were just a vehicle that got him there,” Alkire said. “But the process, the climb and then reaching the summit and seeing all the wonderful stuff that’s there… It’s a powerful thing. And, like I said, I have no certifications in mental health or anything, but I can tell you that these mountains — this mountain in particular — absolutely heals.”A GOLD STAR CONNECTIONAlkire, who served in Iraq from 2006-07 with the 2nd Bn., 377th Parachute Field Arty Regt., 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div., as a fire and battery 1st sergeant, said the idea to name a mountain peak came to him about two years ago while reaching the summit of Mount POW/MIA, which sits north of his home in Eagle River. It was after the deaths of his fellow soldiers during his last deployment that Mount POW/MIA took on a “completely new meaning.” On Jan. 20, 2007, insurgents attacked Alkire’s unit in Karbala. “They killed one of my guys instantly, then took four others hostage, or prisoner,” Alkire said. “[The insurgents] took them out into the Iraqi countryside as we were giving chase, and they knew we were on to them. So they pulled over, took my guys out of the vehicle and executed them on the side of the road.” The men who were taken prisoner — Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, Spc. Johnathan B. Chism and Pfc. Shawn P. Falter — received the POW medal. Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, who was killed instantly, received the Silver Star. When Alkire returned to Alaska, he climbed Mount POW/MIA again. It was while standing atop the summit that day about a year and a half ago that he decided to do more for “his Gold Stars,” the five men who died in Iraq. “I’m very connected to my Gold Stars from this incident, as well as many other Gold Stars,” Alkire said. “I just thought that I needed to do more. I came up with the idea that naming an unnamed peak right next to [Mount POW/MIA] to honor them — all of them — would be appropriate.”THE NAMING PROCESSSelecting a neighboring peak to Mount POW/MIA — which is about 30 miles north of Anchorage — had a “much more special meaning” to Alkire. This was partially because relatives of missing or unidentified service members can become Gold Star families due to “advanced technology” that identifies remains. It is important for a mountain peak to honor Gold Star families, according to Alkire, because “no one has given more” to the nation than they have. “Whatever I had to go through to do this in signatures and talking to politicians is nothing,” Alkire said. “It’s just nothing compared to what they have gone through, the sacrifices they have made.” Alkire had to garner “public support,” which could come in the form of news articles, petitions and resolutions, as part of the naming process through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. He started gathering information in June 2017 and had his first hearing in December 2017. “By the time it was done, I had a couple thousand signatures from all over the country,” Alkire said. After receiving approval in Alaska, the naming request was forwarded to Washington, D.C. A unanimous vote in favor of the new moniker came on Feb. 8. “From there, it just started picking up so much more traction, which led to us starting a nonprofit that is geared toward helping veterans and survivors reach the summit,” Alkire said. “Not only just the summit because it’s not just about climbing Gold Star Peak, but just getting veterans and survivors out in nature to honor and remember our fallen in an attempt to bring healing to all.”A ‘LIBERATING’ EXPERIENCEAs of August, Alkire and a team of guides have taken more than 120 Gold Star families and veterans to the summit. The 23 hikes have covered 82,000 vertical feet. “Every single time we reach the summit,” Alkire said, “it’s a powerful moment for that person, that survivor.” Sy Bulaong-Ramirez, who currently is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, with the 725th Brigade Support Battalion, hiked to the Gold Star Peak in June to honor her husband, Sgt. Reyes Ramirez. He died June 17, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device went off near his Humvee.  He was 23 years old, and served with the 40th Engineer Battalion out of Baumholder, Germany. Reyes is buried in Texas, and Bulaong-Ramirez said she has “never really had a place to go” to remember him. Though Bulaong-Ramirez said she did not know what to expect on the two-and-a-half-hour hike, it was “inviting” to remember her husband. “It’s my first time hiking, my first time ever doing anything that has anything to do with Gold Star [events],” Bulaong-Ramirez said. “I had always been nervous, always had anxiety to go to any kind of event.” The whole experience was “liberating,” according to Bulaong-Ramirez. And when she reached the top of Gold Star Peak, she felt “a bit closer to heaven.”  “I really felt that there was healing that took place during my time of the hike,” Bulaong-Ramirez said.  “And the fact that at the end of the hike, I felt like I’m going to go back again, as if I’m going to go back and visit my spouse again.” The hike also served as an “icebreaker” for Bulaong-Ramirez and “breached” the denial she has felt since her husband’s death. “I’ve been pretty much a hermit ever since the event, and this one is the only [activity] that really motivated me to go do something,” Bulaong-Ramirez said. “That’s a really big deal for me.” The next leg of Alkire’s mission is to have a Gold Star monument built at the summit of Gold Star Peak and another at a location for “non-climbers.” For more information about Gold Star Peak, visit www.goldstarpeak.org. This article is featured in the November/December 2018 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Kari Williams, associate editor, VFW magazine. 
MCLEAN, Va., Nov. 7, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Military.com is showcasing Veterans Day Discounts again this year with one of the most comprehensive lists available of over 100 restaurants, retailers, travel and recreation organizations seeking to show their appreciation for service members, veterans, retirees and their families. Veterans and military personnel should keep in mind that most businesses require proof of military service, which can include a Veterans Administration Universal Access Card, Military I.D., DD-214 (discharge papers) and Veterans Service Organization Card (VSO's include groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and the American Legion). In some cases, businesses will accept a picture of the veteran in uniform. Dining and restaurant offers include leading national chains like Applebee's which is offering a free meal from a select menu, and California Pizza Kitchen which is offering a free entree. Other great offers from restaurants include Cracker Barrel, Denny's,  Chipotle, and Chevy's.  All restaurant offerings are listed on the Military.com Veterans Day Discounts center. Dining isn't the only way to take advantage of Veterans Day discounts. Many retailers and travel and recreationdestinations are also offering discounts. Home Depot, which offers a year-round 10 percent discount to active duty and retirees, is extending that discount to all veterans on Veterans Day. Target is offering a 10 percent discount to active duty military, veterans, and their spouse and/or dependent children November 4-12, and Goodyear is offering all active and retired military members free "Checks for Vets," plus up to 10 percent off tires from November 9-11. Carnival Cruise Line is offering up to $50 onboard credit per stateroom, a complimentary two-category upgrade, and 50 percent reduced deposits, and the Army Corps of Engineers will waive day use fees at its more than 2,800 USACE-operated recreation areas nationwide in observance of Veterans Day, November 11 and 12. The World of Coca-Cola always offers free admission to veterans and military, but is extending the offer and providing half price tickets to friends and family from November 2-12. Knott's Berry Farm is also offering free admission, as is the Harley-Davidson Museum. In addition to these special offers, some businesses and organizations are also offering programs to help give back to the military and veteran community. Those wishing to take advantage of these great offers should note that not all franchise locations participate in their national chain's Veterans Day programs –customers are encouraged to contact their nearest establishment to make sure they are willing to honor the discount at that location. Military.com also features a list of Veterans Day events. About Military.comMilitary.com is the nation's largest military and veteran online news and membership organization serving active duty personnel, reservists, guard members, retirees, veterans, family members, defense workers and those considering military careers. Military.com enables Americans with military affinity to access their benefits, advance their careers, enjoy military discounts, and stay connected for life. Military.com is a business unit of Monster Worldwide Inc. More information is available at www.military.com. Links:Military.com FacebookMilitary.com TwitterMilitary.com Press Center SOURCE Military.com Related Links http://www.military.com
(From Stars & Stripes) WASHINGTON – Military veterans running as first-time Democratic candidates helped fuel the large swell of voter turnout in Tuesday’s midterm elections that led to their party’s takeover of the House of Representatives. At least six candidates pulled upsets or won open seats, allowing Democrats to claim victory in the lower chamber of Congress. By Wednesday morning, The Associated Press said Democrats looked to control the House by 219 to 193 seats, with nearly two dozen races yet to be decided. “I think it’s pretty clear now that veterans are the reason that Democrats are going to take back the House,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of progressive political organization VoteVets. “It’s definitely a great night for veterans who are Democrats.” Many veterans ran in high-profile races such as Republican Reps. Martha McSally and Duncan Hunter, who are part of a traditional Republican block of candidates running in district and statewide races. But others were part of a new generation of Democratic politicians with military experience. With Honor saw 17 of nearly 40 Republican and Democratic candidates who they endorsed claim victories by Wednesday morning. Several races were still too close to call even hours after polls closed. “We need leaders on both sides who will put country first,” said Rye Barcott, Marine Corps veteran and co-founder of With Honor, a super PAC group. “The problems we are taking on – hyper-partisanship, dysfunction in Congress, and the decline of veterans in public office – are debilitating to our country.” All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats were up for grabs in Tuesday’s elections. The winning veterans include incumbents such as Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who have made their mark in short tenures in Congress. Others, such as Democrats Elaine Luria of Virginia and Max Rose of New York ousted incumbents in upsets Tuesday to win their first terms as House lawmakers. In an overnight reversal, The Associated Press and others cancelled their call that Republican Rep. Will Hurd would win Texas’ 23rd District, reporting Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran, was leading in the voting. In one of the midterm elections more controversial races, Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran and incumbent from California, won his district while facing 60 criminal charges. Despite Hunter being saddled with claims of misusing $250,000 in campaign funds, he defeated his Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar for a seat that he took in 2009 after his father retired from office. At least six other races featured two veterans facing off. In Florida, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, an Army veteran, and the state’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a Navy veteran, were headed for a potential recount despite Nelson’s camp having conceded earlier. In Massachusetts, Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran, won re-election to a third term against Republican Joseph Schneider, a former Green Beret. This year’s increase in veteran candidates follows dwindling representation of former servicemembers in Congress for several decades. Their percentage fell from peaks of 81 percent in the Senate in 1975 and 75.2 percent in the House in 1969 to recent lows of 20 percent or less by 2015, according to the most recent figures from Pew Research Center. More vets, more bipartisanship With some pundits pointing to the dwindling ranks of veterans as contributing to toxic partisanship on Capitol Hill, the hope is now that more former servicemembers in Congress could reverse that trend. Of the 200 House candidates tracked by With Honor, 102 were Republicans, 61 were Democrats with the remainder third party and write-in candidates, said With Honor spokeswoman Ellen Zeng. The group endorsed 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats. “We hope a critical mass of these With Honor candidates can help fix our broken politics,” Zeng said. Lawmakers will be taking on a long to-do list for defense matters when the new Congress convenes in January. The fate of an ongoing military buildup, war and deployment oversight and decisions on who can enlist in the service will be directed by lawmakers in Washington for the coming two years. In addition, President Donald Trump’s growing demands for the military — from expansions in overseas war operations to surprise efforts to install budget cuts to plans to deploy about 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border — could also come under additional congressional scrutiny. This, as Pentagon officials are slated in January to roll out two proposed fiscal year 2020 budgets: a $733 billion plan that would stay on track with a military expansion and a $700 billion plan that would undo much of its initiatives from the last two years. Lawmakers will also contend with budget caps that would otherwise keep defense spending to $576 billion for the 2020 fiscal year. The new Congress also might have to contend with several costly Trump plans to create a “Space Force” as a new military service and a military parade through the streets of Washington that was put on hold until 2019. There’s also ongoing debate over whether transgender personnel and certain immigrants should be eligible to serve in the military. By early Wednesday, while several media outlets had called House control for the Democrats, control of the Senate remained with Republicans. Military veterans see easy wins, upsets Several military veterans who won re-election bids were especially vocal on the role of the military in their previous, short tenures on Capitol Hill. And in several cases, their wins could be considered upsets. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., won the seat for his state’s newly drawn 17th District on Tuesday with only months in Congress after a close, upset win in a March special election. Lamb won that previous race for the state’s 18th Congressional District, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by less than 700 votes. With Tuesday’s win, Lamb ousted sitting Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, who represented the state’s 12th District since 2013. Gallagher, a Marine Corps veteran who won a second term in Wisconsin’s 8th District, made headlines during his first term for criticizing Trump, and particularly the roll out of the president’s travel ban last year. Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and Iraq War veteran, was elected to his third term in the House on Tuesday, defeating Green Party candidate Gary Swing. Gallego, an outspoken Trump critic, faced no Republican challenger for Arizona's District 7. Gallego has said publicly that he’s considering vying for a Senate seat, possibly during the 2020 special election for the remainder of John McCain’s term. McCain, an outspoken Republican senator from Arizona, died in August. In Delaware, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, a Navy veteran, fended off Republican Robert Arlett, a Naval Reserve veteran. In Illinois’ 12th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Mike Bost declared victory over Democrat Brendan Kelly, a Navy veteran. In Pennsylvania’s 10th District, Republican Rep. Scott Perry, an active member of the state’s National Guard, won over Democrat George Scott, an Army veteran. And in Colorado’s 6th District, Iraq War veteran and Democrat Jason Crow upset another veteran, Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican who was seeking a sixth term in the House. Crow is a former Army Ranger and first-time political candidate. During the campaign, he criticized Coffman’s “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. The 6th District is home to Aurora, where a 2012 mass shooting took place at a movie theater. In the Houston area, Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, won a first term in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Crenshaw unwittingly drew national attention this past weekend when he was the subject of a joke on “Saturday Night Live” for his war injury. Crenshaw, who saw five deployments, was hit by a bomb blast during a mission in Afghanistan that destroyed his right eye. Crenshaw now wears an eye patch that became an iconic symbol in his campaign. “I think we’re doing well, we’re excited,” Crenshaw told a Houston crowd late Tuesday ahead of the official results. Of the SNL joke, “I’m from the SEAL team, we don’t really get offended.” This, as Greg Pence, a Republican, Marine Corps veteran and older brother of Vice President Mike Pence, won a House seat in Indiana’s 6th District by a large margin. Some veterans lose, others await results In the race to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in Arizona, McSally, an Air Force veteran, remained in a tight race with her opponent, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, by early Wednesday. In New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, Navy veteran Eddie Edwards, a Republican, lost his race. Edwards, a former police chief, lost to state lawmaker Andy Sanborn. Democrats Amy McGrath of Kentucky and Randy “Ironstache” Bryce of Wisconsin, an Army veteran, drew national buzz in their congressional bids but fell in their races Tuesday to win first terms as House lawmakers. Though McGrath lost her fight, she impressed election watchers with how close the veteran Marine fighter pilot came to pulling an upset. “This race was never supposed to be competitive and McGrath ran on a background of being an independent,” Zeng said. “She only lost by (about) 3 points.” Female vets draw buzz, then upsets In New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, veteran Navy helicopter pilot Mikie Sherill, a Democrat, beat her opponent, Jay Webber, a Republican state assemblyman. The two were vying to fill the seat for retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who held the seat for 12 terms. Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, won a first term for Pennsylvania’s 6th District while Luria pulled an upset in Virginia’s 2nd District. And Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “M.J.” Hegar, a Democrat, lost in a tight race with incumbent Republican Rep. John Carter in Texas' 31st District, a deeply conservative swath Trump won in 2016. Luria, Sherill, Houlahan and other female military veterans running for office are part of a new, energizing movement, political watchers said. “These amazing women leaders are part of the changing face of the military who have attracted attention because of their willingness to shatter every ceiling first in the military and then in politics,” Dan Helmer, vice chair of progressive political organization VoteVets, said ahead of Tuesday’s election. “These strong women military leaders have captured the attention of the whole country and it’s not a surprise.” grisales.claudia@stripes.comTwitter: @cgrisales wentling.nikki@stripes.comTwitter: @nikkiwentling