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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) added  a text messaging feature to the Women Veterans Call Center on April 23, providing another convenient way for women to seek information about VA benefits, health care and available resources.  Women Veterans can now text 855-829-6636 to receive answers and guidance about VA services.  “We want to make it as easy as possible for women Veterans to get answers about eligibility requirements, benefits, services and more,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By offering new methods of communication, such as texting, we can reach more women Veterans and support their health care needs more quickly.”  The Women Veterans Call Center is staffed by trained, compassionate female VA employees, who can provide and link callers to available resources, such as health care, benefits and cemetery information via phone, chat and now text. The new texting feature aligns this service with other VA call centers that provide information and assistance to Veterans who are in crisis, at risk for suicide and becoming homeless.  VA works to meet the unique requirements of women, while offering privacy, dignity and sensitivity to gender-specific needs. Since April 2013, the call center has received nearly 83,000 inbound calls and has initiated almost 1.3 million outbound calls. As the number of women Veterans continues to grow, VA is expanding its outreach to ensure they receive enrollment and benefit information through means that are user-friendly and responsive.  Women are among the fastest-growing Veteran demographics, accounting for more than 30% of the increase in Veterans who served between 2014 and 2018. The number of women using VA health care services has tripled since 2000, growing from about 160,000 to over 500,000 today. This continued growth underscores VA’s commitment to enhancing communication and outreach to the growing population of women Veterans.  For more information about the Women Veterans Call Center, visit Women Veterans Health. 
WASHINGTON — As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding Veterans that it offers all Veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country. “Providing same-day 24/7 access to mental health crisis intervention and support for Veterans, service members and their families is our top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s important that all Veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.” VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is the national leader in making high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention resources available to Veterans through a full spectrum of outpatient, inpatient and telemental health services. Additionally, VA has developed the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which reflects the department’s vision for a coordinated effort to prevent suicide among all service members and Veterans. This strategy maintains VA’s focus on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also adopting a broad public health approach to suicide prevention. VA has supported numerous Veterans and has the capacity to assist more. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 1.7 million Veterans received Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services. These patients received more than 84,000 psychiatric hospital stays, about 41,700 residential stays and more than 21 million outpatient encounters. Nationally, in the first quarter of FY 2019, 90% of new patients completed an appointment in a mental health clinic within 30 days of scheduling an appointment, and 96.8% of established patients completed a mental health appointment within 30 days of the day they requested. For FY 2018, 48% of initial, in-person Primary Care — Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. During the first quarter of FY 2019, 51% of initial, in-person PC-MHI encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. Veterans in crisis – or those concerned about one – should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.
(Stars and Stripes) WASHINGTON — A group of lawmakers introduced legislation that would add nine more diseases to a list of conditions presumed to be caused by the chemical herbicide Agent Orange, giving veterans who suffer from them a fast-track to Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation and health care. The Keeping Our Promises Act, introduced last week, adds prostate cancer, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, stroke, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, AL amyoloidosis, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson-like syndromes to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. Researchers with the National Academy of Medicine released findings in November that there was “suggestive” evidence that eight of the diseases could be caused by Agent Orange. For hypertension, researchers found that “sufficient” evidence exists. “American heroes affected by Agent Orange deserve the peace of mind knowing that the federal government recognizes the existing link between their exposure and illness,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., one of eight lawmakers who banded together to introduce the legislation. VA experts have begun a “formal, deliberative review” of the National Academy of Medicine’s latest report, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Tuesday. The review is expected to be complete in the summer, at which time the agency will make recommendations about presumptive conditions, he said. During a Senate hearing March 26, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, guessed the review would be complete within 90 days. “We’re working our way through that right now,” Stone said of the national academy report. Recommendations would be sent to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who would choose when – and whether – to act on them. The VA previously recommended that some of the conditions be added. After the last National Academy of Medicine report in 2016, the VA took 20 months before it sent recommendations to the White House that bladder cancer, hypertension, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s-like tremors be added to the list. The recommendation hasn’t made it past the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Last year, VA officials told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that the Office of Management and Budget is waiting for results of ongoing mortality and morbidity studies, which could provide more evidence of a connection between the diseases and Agent Orange. On Tuesday, Cashour said some of those results will be published as early as mid-2019. But some lawmakers don’t want to wait on the executive process. Fitzpatrick, along with Reps. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., Scott Tipton, R-Colo., Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., are trying to use a legislative route. Boyle estimated it would help tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans. “This bipartisan legislation makes good on that promise by ensuring all servicemembers exposed to these herbicides and chemicals as a part of their military service get the health care they need,” Boyle said in a statement. “Not one more servicemember should be forced to suffer in this way without the best care our federal government has to offer.” The bill is likely to face an uphill battle in Congress, where veterans and advocates have fought for years to prove toxic exposures and secure VA benefits. Attempts failed in Congress last year to approve benefits for “blue water” Navy veterans – sailors who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam and argue they were exposed to Agent Orange. The veterans could be close to getting VA benefits, but the victory was won in court, not Congress. The VA opposed the legislative effort to approve benefits for blue water Navy veterans, citing high costs and insufficient scientific evidence. The agency has not yet issued an opinion on the Keeping Our Promises Act. Wentling.nikki@stripes.comTwitter: @nikkiwentling
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that its National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is partnering with Carry The Load, a nonprofit organization that provides active ways to connect Americans to the sacrifices made daily by the U.S. military, Veterans, first responders and their families. NCA will participate in Carry The Load’s Memorial May awareness campaign, which covers 40 states, leading up to Memorial Day 2019. Participants will march or ride bicycles in an 11,500-mile national relay along three routes — East Coast, West Coast and Midwest — handing off an American flag every few miles. Each participant walks or rides to “carry the load” for a deceased military service member or Veteran, remembering them and honoring their sacrifice. Twenty-six VA national cemeteries in 17 states will serve as relay points for Carry The Load memorial marches. “The VA is delighted to partner with Carry The Load in this important initiative of honoring those who sacrificed for our freedom to ensure no Veteran ever dies,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s a mindset that every one of VA’s employees emulates. And nowhere is the sacrifice made by our Veterans more evident than in our national cemeteries.” In conjunction with the Carry The Load national relay, each VA national cemetery along the three routes will host a brief ceremony unveiling a commemorative plaque dedicated to America’s fallen Veterans and their  families. To view the list of the 26 participating VA national cemeteries and the dates and times they will host the Carry The Load relay and “Tribute to the Fallen and Their Families” plaque dedication ceremonies, download the calendar. VA operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. 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 at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
The 28th anniversary of the conflict’s cease fire is April 11 KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Nearly 30 years later, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. continues to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s Gulf War veterans. Tomorrow marks the 28th anniversary of the cease fire, and we recognize and thank the men and women who fought and selflessly sacrificed to liberate a nation from tyranny.   Often forgotten, our speedy victory in Kuwait was not achieved without sacrifice. Nearly 700,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen served in the Gulf War, and we paid a steep price for victory resulting in 374 dead, 467 wounded, and two servicemen whose remains have yet to come home.   The VFW remains dedicated to honoring all Gulf War veterans – men and women who accomplished their objectives without fail and helped to shape a truly historic event in American history. Today, and every day, we thank them for their service.
(American Legion-Legiontown) I joined the military at age 29, I was married with a son who was about to turn 10 the day, I left for BMT, back in June 1992. No one in my family including my then husband thought I would finish, only a few close friends, and a couple of relatives. My MOS was Services, I wanted to learn everything about running a restaurant because my grandmother had a little jazz club that served food and all of the big names used to stop by there when I was growing up. When I got to Lackland, I discovered that I was the oldest person there. I was even older than my T.I., who was a man; and we were his first female flight. I was latrine queen, and that was an experience for me, and I had worked in hotels, and the international airport as a janitor, but was fired twice for telling women that they were nasty. lol, By, week,4, I had sprung my ankle, but I wasn't going to tell anyone, because; I had to prove that I could do this. But the last week, my ankle had started to get worst, by the day before graduation, my ankle had swollen so much that; I was sent to sick call, and they had to actually cut the back of my tennis shoe up to slide my foot out. I wasn't allowed to march for graduation, for I was wrapped up and on crutches, I was yelled at for not using them properly earlier that morning of graduation by another T.I.; who informed me that I and those crutches were both properties of the United States Air Force for the rest of my entire life; if I should die, I am still property of Uncle Sam. But, my T.I. took me to a place where I could see everything and be in air condition because it was extremely hot that morning. Then, as my squadron the 3701st was marching back to our dorms, I was waiting and got into position and hobbled back in formation with them. I would cherish those days. I have worked various outside careers, and even within the military, I was able to work with all of the branches and at the Pentagon. I had broken my neck, and my first day back to work was on Sept.11, 2001. If I had it to do over again, I would have joined right after high school. I later joined the American Legion in the worst part of my life, they saved me in so many ways. I was facing losing my home, I had lost a man whom I loved, that also worked for the government and died on the job. My son was behaving badly, and I was told to go and speak with someone down there at the Legion. I did, and he helped me. A week later after I got over my petty party, I came down there, to thank everyone for their help. I mean, They helped me find a place to live, moved me clear across town; and took my son off of my hands for a couple of hours. Giving me time to think. I ended up becoming a Service Officer, then membership chairperson, then 1st vice, next becoming the first black female Commander in the state of Oklahoma for an American Legion Post, I then became 2nd Vice, was selected to go to Legion College in 2010. I got to meet the officials from the Republic of China Veteran's Affairs Administration. In 2014, I was selected as one of the Top 25 Finalist for Ms. Veteran America in Washington D.C., and once again, my Legion family helped me with purchasing the evening gowns and the other things that I needed. Although I didn't get any farther in the competition; My Legion family was there to cheer me on. I entered not thinking I would get very far in it, but; it was a worthy cause to bring awareness to homeless women veterans. I didn't realize, there was that many women veterans that were homeless and many of them had children and I remembered how I got involved in the Legion, was because I was once facing losing my home.I am always hugging a veteran and thanking him or her for their service where ever I go. A niece of mine had asked me why I always wear my Legion hat, almost everywhere I go. I told her because I never know who I might get to meet, there is always a veteran somewhere around, where you may be, who has never heard of the American Legion and what we do. And I want them to know there is always a place where they can go and feel at home among friends, who will turn into a family away from your family.So, I am proud to be in a family of those brave men and women, who are nieces and nephews of Uncle Sam, a member of the American Legion, may it last another 100 years, if the good Lord doesn't come first.Lisa A. "Legz" Milner, Past Cmdr. Tulsa Post 1, Oklahoma. Submitted by:Lisa Milner
American Legion Education and Credentialing Policy Associate John Kamin testified April 9 before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Kamin’s testimony focused discussion drafts for the Justice for Servicemembers Act, the Transition Improvement Act and the GI Bill. The discussion drafts for the Justice for Servicemembers Act aims to amend Title 38 to clarify the scope of procedural rights of members of the uniformed services with respect to their employment and reemployment rights, and for other purposes. Presently, The American Legion believes the act fails to adequately address and support military personnel returning to civilian employment. “The Justice for Servicemembers Act is a bill that strengthens the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) by deeming forced-arbitration motions unenforceable for the purpose of wrongful termination complaints,” Kamin testified. The case of Marine Corps Col. Michael T. Garrett — who was terminated from his job due to a pending active duty mobilization — was highlighted by Kamin. “In accordance with section 4323 on enforcement rights with respect to a private employer, Colonel Garrett filed a USERRA violation in District Court,” Kamin said. “His employer filed a motion to compel forced arbitration. After much dispute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that USERRA is not a clear expression of congressional intent concerning the arbitration of servicemembers’ employment disputes. Thus, the Garrett precedent was established on USERRA violations, and hence we ask for your support on the Justice for Servicemembers Act.” The next issue addressed during testimony was the Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Mulder Transition Improvement Act. The act is the most notable improvement to the Transition Assistance Program and the overall transition process for servicemembers, including an increased focus on career opportunities and entrepreneurship. “Notable,” said Kamin, “is its authorization of a five-year pilot program that would provide matching grant funds to community providers that offer wraparound transition services to veterans and transitioning servicemembers." The restructuring of the act requires servicemembers to select a specific career-oriented track for their post-service plans, as well as require them to undergo one-on-one counseling a year before separation to evaluate which transition pathway best suits them. Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” brings significant changes to veteran education benefits over the coming years. Named after American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery, the Forever GI Bill is one of the major successes of the 115th Congress. “The VA faithfully attempted to meet Forever GI Bill deadlines,” said Kamin. “Congress and VSOs attempted to provide sound oversight and support to ensure this outcome. But we failed, and thousands of veterans paid the price in delayed GI Bill payments this past fall semester.” However, Kamin continued, “we are encouraged by improved outreach and communication on GI Bill implementation. “It is incumbent upon all of us to take ownership in this success and support Dr. Lawrence in this endeavor, because we have lost the right to disbelief in the event of another GI Bill backlog. Oversight and support must be in real-time and practical, no matter the challenge. That means being transparent about complications and forthright on changes, open to school inputs and adaptive to recommendations. That starts with trust.”
WASHINGTON — Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie today announced an increase to the department’s goals for contracting with Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSB).  For fiscal year (FY) 2019, VA seeks to award at least 15% of its total contract dollars to SDVOSBs and at least 17% to VOSBs, representing a 5% increase in both goals, a significant change not noted since 2010.  This increase reflects the department’s heightened emphasis on contracting with such firms after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kingdomware Technologies v. United States (2016), Wilkie said.  “Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court underscored our mandate to do business with service-disabled and other Veteran entrepreneurs,” Wilkie said. “We have increased the dollars awarded each year, but now it’s time to update the goals to reflect this new commitment. We need to lock in the gains we have made and continue to build for the future.”  In FY 2017, the last year for which official data is available, VA awarded $5.1 billion in contracts to SDVOSBs and $5.4 billion to VOSBs. These figures represent 19.5% and 20.6%, respectively, of VA’s total procurement of $26.1 billion.  The law directs VA to consider SDVOSBs first and VOSBs second, before considering other small business program preferences. Other federal agencies are covered by an SDVOSB program administered by the Small Business Administration, with a goal of only 3% for SDVOSBs. At these agencies, the government-wide SDVOSB program has equal priority with other small business socioeconomic programs.  In FY 2017, VA awarded more than one-fourth of the dollars given to SDVOSBs by the federal government, more than all other federal civilian agencies combined. Previously, the SDVOSB and VOSB goals were 10% and 12% established by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in FY 2010.  FY 2018 data on federal contracting is still under review by the Small Business Administration and is considered unofficial until final figures are officially released. 
A VFW Service Officer in Idaho relies on compassion and tenacity to win for his clients For Bob Smith, a monetary victory he earns for a veteran filing a VA claim is not as important as what the approved claim does for the claimant and his or her family. For example, one of his most meaningful victories was for a surviving spouse. Smith, a VFW-accredited service officer in Jerome, Idaho, said the spouse was seeking assistance with medications. “Her husband had passed away about 15 years earlier, and I had asked her if her husband was ever a POW, to which she had responded, ‘Yes,’” Smith said.   Bob Smith has been an accredited VFW veterans service officer in Idaho for two years. Previously, he worked as a county service officer for five years and at the Post level for eight years. Photo by Drew Nash/Magicvalley.com. Her husband served during World War II and the Korean War. While in Korea, her husband was shot in the leg and captured one week later, according to Smith. In looking at the husband’s death certificate, Smith saw that he died of complications from a heart condition. That being the case, he helped the surviving spouse file a dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) claim, which can be submitted when a veteran dies from a service-connected illness or complication. She heard back from VA in 26 days.   “It was the fastest claim I have ever received back,” Smith said. But it wasn’t until six weeks after receiving her award letter that the spouse reconnected with Smith. She told him she was “scared” of opening the envelope. They opened it together, according to Smith, for the surviving spouse to discover that she had received $14,426 — one year’s worth of DIC retro pay compensation. “They paid her one year, even though he’d been dead for 15 years,” Smith said. Going forward, she would receive roughly $1,586 per month, and, Smith said, she would be able to drop her supplemental insurance and enroll in Champ VA. “That isn’t the highest monetary award, but it’s the one that made the most impact on a dependent,” said Smith, who remains friends with the spouse to this day. Smith, who served as a Marine scout sniper during the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the Surveillance Target Acquisition Plt., 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, Task Force Grizzly, has been a state service officer for two years. Previously, he spent five years as the Jerome County, Idaho, service officer and eight years at the Post level with VFW Post 2136 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Smith said he became a service officer after losing his employment “due to service-connected injuries” and wanted to continue expanding services to veterans in his community. Each time he made the jump to a new service officer position, he said it was simply to reach more veterans. The most rewarding part of his job is that everything service officers do has a “positive impact” on a claimant, whether that be a veteran, dependent or surviving spouse. However, the most challenging, according to Smith, is battling veteran homelessness — most notably the lack of “adequate housing” and transportation. The most common cases Smith sees — roughly 80 percent — focus on pensions. That is due to the demographics in Jerome, Idaho, which he said is a “retirement community.” Between himself and one administrative assistant, his office handles roughly 1,200 cases annually. To anyone just beginning as a service officer, Smith said “going the extra mile” is important. “There’s always one more thing that we can do to assist veterans and their dependents,” Smith said.  Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of feature articles on VFW’s accredited veterans service officers. In 2019, VFW is commemorating 100 years of existence of its National Veterans Service and National Legislative Service offices in Washington, D.C. This article is featured in the March 2019 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Kari Williams, associate editor of VFW magazine.
It’s never wise to assume that any data is breach-proof and keeping up with trends is essential April 03, 2019   Cybersecurity is based on constant escalation of the technological stakes. Every new advancement in defensive technology seems to be met and surpassed by criminals and their latest developments. Then the cycle goes around again. This proverbial arms race has kept the question of personal data security relevant for years, even as the systems used to store, transfer and process data have reached new levels of sophistication. It’s never wise to assume that any data is breach-proof and keeping up with trends is essential. Enterprise IT departments and individual internet users alike should strive to understand every possible repercussion for using latest tech. It pays to know what kinds of systems are going to be in place around valuable personal information and the parallel advances being made by hackers. The state of the industry is always in flux, because new cyberattack methods demand immediate and effective countermeasures. Pondering AI’s PotentialArtificial intelligence is an area of technology that has gone through some changes in perception over the past few years. While AI has existed as a science fiction concept for decades, recent years have seen it applied in advanced machine learning operations and data analytics. These innovations can digest huge amounts of information in short periods of time, allowing decision-makers to make informed and optimized choices based on data-supported variables. The path forward for AI-based security tools is based on with these algorithms proving their worth against “novel” attempts to break into systems, according to Wired. Standard cyber defenses create shields against known attack types, then close those loopholes. Employing AI to help predict new threats by analyzing past data hacks, and to detect unobserved intrusion attempts could help protect a great deal of data. The development of these artificial solutions has given rise to a new view of defenses. Instead of focusing on developing strong walls to protect information, AI-based approaches are more like creating a new version of the body’s immune system in addition to those walls. The latest algorithms could get an inside view of networks and figure out instantly when something goes wrong. Using AI TodayWatching companies develop their defensive technologies shows how far cybersecurity has come in the past few years. But why wait for the next-generation of innovations, when you can start using an AI enabled solutions to start protecting your personal information today. While some companies are slow to use AI, Identity Guard is working to embrace augmented intelligence programs like IBM Watson to help consumers become proactive about protecting their identities. Information can leak from personal accounts or corporate databases, and the amount and sophistication of cyberattacks remain elevated. The push-and-pull battle between internet users and the criminals who want to steal their data is ongoing, and the financial stakes are high. Get protected today with Identity Guard® to help keep an eye on issues that may inflict harm.