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WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The babies and toddlers of soldiers returning from deployment face the heightened risk of abuse in the six months after the parent's return home, a risk that increases among soldiers who deploy more frequently, according to a study scheduled for release Friday. The study will be published in the American Journal of Public Health. The abuse of soldiers' children exposes another, hidden cost from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that killed more than 5,300 U.S. troops and wounded more than 50,000. Research by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia looked at families of more than 112,000 soldiers whose children were 2 years old or younger for the period of 2001 to 2007, the peak of the Iraq War. Researchers examined Pentagon-substantiated instances of abuse by a soldier or another caregiver and from the diagnoses of medical personnel within the military's health care system. "This study is the first to reveal an increased risk when soldiers with young children return home from deployment," David Rubin, co-director of the hospital's PolicyLab and the report's senior author, said in a statement. "This really demonstrates that elevated stress when a soldier returns home can have real and potentially devastating consequences for some military families." Rubin said the study will help the Army and other services learn "when the signal [of stress] is the highest and the timing for intervention to help the returning soldiers." The Army said it will use the information to help serve soldiers and their families better. "While incidents of child abuse and neglect among military families are well below that of the general population, this study is another indicator of the stress deployments place on soldiers, family members and caregivers," said Karl Schneider, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. "Since the end of the data collection period in 2007, the Army has enacted myriad programs to meet these kinds of challenges head on, and we will continue working to ensure services and support are available to soldiers, families and their children." The study focused on the first two years of a child's life because of the elevated risk for life-threatening child abuse among infants exceeds risk in all other age groups. In all, there were 4,367 victims from the families of 3,635 soldiers. The rate of substantiated abuse and neglect doubled during the second deployment compared with the first, the study found. For soldiers deployed twice, the highest rate of abuse and neglect occurred during the second deployment and was usually a caregiver other than the soldier. "The finding that in most cases, the perpetrators were not the soldiers thmselves reveals to us that the stress that plays out in military families during or after deployment impacts the entire family and is not simply a consequence of the soldier's experience and stress following deployment," said Christine Taylor, the study's lead author, a project manager the PolicyLab. Researchers had an ongoing interest in the topic, Rubin said, which coincided with the Army's interest in determining how to better serve its returning soldiers and families. A key finding was that mandatory reporting of child abuse by the Army to the Pentagon's Family Advocacy Program appears to have been largely ignored; 80 percent of the instances were not reported to the program. The program offers parenting instruction, child care and classes to ease a soldier's transition home. Those services may not be offered widely enough to meet the need, the study found.
Story from Washington Post; full link of the complete story at the bottom “We have proposed disciplinary action against 300 individuals for manipulating scheduling.” —Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, speech at National Press Club, Nov. 6, 2015 During his speech at the National Press Club, McDonald bemoaned the lack of fact-checking of numbers that are used in relation to veterans issues: “I just wish that there would be more fact-checking on some of the numbers that are used, because there are a lot of myths out there,” he said. We at The Fact Checker agree. In fact, we have fact-checked many claims to debunk myths and set the record straight on veterans issues. We even awarded McDonald himself Four Pinocchios for his claim in February 2015 that 60 people were fired for manipulating veterans’ wait-time data. (The actual number, at the time, was eight. VA later reported that the correct figure was actually three, as of early August 2015.) In a speech about the state of VA, McDonald said the agency has made progress but has “a lot more to do.” He noted a series of improvements he made, such as replacing members of his leadership team, the increasing number of people being fired across the agency for a variety of performance problems, and adding new standards into performance review plans. Then he said 300 people now have had disciplinary actions proposed for manipulating scheduling. That doesn’t jibe with the facts we uncovered in an Aug. 6, 2015, fact-check when we looked into the number of proposed and completed disciplinary actions against VA employees over wait-time data manipulation — which was 15, as reported by the VA. So we fact-checked McDonald’s figures on wait-time manipulation disciplinary actions — again. And we found that McDonald got his figures wrong — again. The Facts McDonald, of course, is referring to the wait-time manipulation scandal that led to his appointment in 2014 to lead the largest non-military Cabinet agency. His predecessor, Eric Shinseki, resigned amid whistleblower allegations that employees at the Phoenix VA were manipulating patient wait-time data, leading to delays in access to health care and contributing to patient deaths. The VA Office of Inspector General later confirmed the allegations and found a systemic, years-long problem. VA provides weekly updates to the House and Senate veterans affairs committees about proposed and completed employee disciplinary actions taken since June 3, 2014, “on any basis related to patient scheduling, record manipulation, appointment delays, and/or patient deaths.” The parameters of the report are offenses categorized by the VA Office of Accountability Review as “Data Manipulation,” “Delay in Care,” “Failure of Oversight,” “Falsifying of Scheduling Data” or “Falsifying Records.” Full story click here  
  SAN DIEGO (Stripes.com & AP) — Jan Scruggs knew as a young Army infantryman returning from Vietnam that his fellow veterans and his entire country needed a place to go to heal. More than three decades later, the man who led efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, said it's now time such a wall be built for post-9/11 combat veterans, even though service members are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. "A lot of these veterans were hurt physically. There are high rates of PTSD, just like among Vietnam veterans, and if we wait until the war on terror is over, they will never see it happen," he said. Building a wall on the National Mall will require action from Congress to overturn the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, which stipulates that work cannot begin until 10 years after a war has ended. Scruggs said the law was enacted to prevent too many memorials from being built too quickly and to allow time for history to judge a conflict's significance. Scruggs said the law is out of touch with today's conflicts, which do not have clear-cut endings. He pointed to the recent death of Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the U.S. soldier fatally wounded in a hostage rescue mission in Iraq last month. "It's not about the conflict," he said. "It's about the service of the veterans and people willing to give their lives for their country." Retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, a Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam, agreed. "Whatever memorial they build, it has to be cognizant of the fact that this isn't an end game. The war on terror is going to be an issue in the next several presidential elections, I'm afraid," he said. "They need to build a temple, maybe a pyramid, something that will last thousands of years, or maybe just put a stake in the national mall for future building rights." Still, work on a memorial must get started since it will take years to get done, said Worthington, whose son is an active-duty SEAL.   The Korean War Memorial was built in 1995 and the World War II Memorial in 2004. A World War I Memorial is slated to be built near the White House in 2018, marking a century after that war ended. A Gulf War Memorial is also in the works. Scruggs headed up a team of veterans in the late 1970s to build the memorial despite strong opposition at the time. His team raised $8.4 million and pushed through legislation. Since the Vietnam war memorial wall was dedicated in 1982, wives, children, veterans, peace activists, politicians and presidents have gone there to mourn, reflect and share their pain. Afghanistan veteran Andrew Brennan, a former Army captain, said he was awed by its impact, and has organized the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, Inc., with other young veterans to take up the calling of building a wall for 9/11 warriors. "I look at the Vietnam veterans and they really jelled around their memorial after it went up," the West Point graduate said. "It was a very conflicted conflict in the hearts and minds of Americans, and the same can be said about the global war on terror, but the memorial gave everyone a focal point. I want that for my era of veterans, to kind of have our own place to heal."
  Fresh out of the military and searching for their next career move, new veterans are particularly susceptible to job hunt scams. Con artists are taking advantage of this by posting fake help wanted ads that appeal to (and hope to fool) veterans. How the Scam Works: You just got out of the military and are looking for your next career move. The job market is tight, but you spot a help-wanted ad for a security guard. The post says the company is specifically looking for veterans. You send your resume and soon receive a call from the 'hiring manager.' He says you are a great fit and offers you the position. There`s just one catch: You need to pay $150 for training before you can start work. Your new boss tells you to either wire money or use a pre-paid debit card. You need the job, so you follow his instructions. But when you show up to your first day of training, no one is there. Your new job is bogus, and you are out the $150. The security guard help wanted ad is the latest job scam preying on veterans, but it is far from the only one. A couple years ago, scammers targeted veterans with fake job ads claiming to be from the United Nations. Always use caution when applying for jobs, and follow our tips below to spot scam job ads. Here`s how to spot a job scam before you waste your time and money: Read the ad carefully: Job postings with grammatical errors, misspellings and lots of exclamation marks are likely scams. Ads promoting jobs with generic titles, such as admin assistant or customer service rep, and containing the phrases 'Teleworking OK,' 'Immediate Start' and 'No Experience Needed' are popular in scam ads. Do some online detective work: If a job looks suspicious, search for it in Google. If the result comes up in many other cities with the exact same job post, it is likely a scam. Also, check out the business` website to make sure the opening is posted there. If you are still skeptical, call the business to check on the position. You're offered the job on the spot. You may be qualified candidate, but how does the hiring manager know? Hiring a candidate on the spot - especially after only a phone interview or email exchange - is a big sign that there isn`t a real job. You are asked for money or personal information: Be very cautious of any job that asks you to share personal information or hand over money. Scammers will often use the guise of running a credit check, setting up direct deposit or paying for training. From http://whnt.com/2015/11/10/this-veterans-day-watch-out-for-scam-job-ads/  
  Applebee’s: Vets and active-duty military can have their pick from a special menu with options like three-cheese chicken penne, 7-oz. sirloin, and double crunch shrimp, free of charge (beverage and gratuity are not included). Bob Evans: Hotcakes, brioche French toast, and the country biscuit breakfast are among the options available to veterans and active-duty military in a special free menu. Bonefish Grill: Customers with military ID get a free order of Bang Bang Shrimp on Veterans Day. California Pizza Kitchen: A special Veterans Day menu that includes pizza, salad, and pasta is free for vets and active-duty personnel. California Tortilla: Show a military ID and get one free taco. Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse: Veterans and active-duty military get a free choice of entrees and a non-alcoholic beverage, plus a coupon good for a $10 credit on a future visit. Cheeseburger in Paradise: An All American Burger with fries is free of charge to those with military ID. Cracker Barrel: Grab a free dessert—the Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake—if you’re a veteran. CraftWorks: Active-duty military and veterans are welcomed to a free craft beer—or, if that’s illegal locally, an appetizer on the house—at this brewery and restaurant group with nearly 200 locations around the country. Denny’s: From 5 a.m. to noon, all veterans and active-duty personnel get a Build Your Own Grand Slam meal, with possibilities including pancakes, eggs, bacon, fruit, and hash browns. Friendly’s: Participating locations are giving veterans and active military a free Big-Two-Do combo meal for breakfast, or free All American Burger with fries and a drink for lunch or dinner. Golden Corral: From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., anyone who has ever served in the U.S. military is welcomed to a special sit-down dinner, free of charge. Hooters: All veterans and active-duty military personnel get an entrée on the house. Hurricane Grill & Wings: All veterans and active military get a free meal from a special menu, as well as a non-alcoholic beverage. Read next: 8 Tips for Soldiers Looking to Conquer the Civilian Job Markets IHOP: From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., all veterans and active-duty military members are welcomed to one order apiece of Red, White & Blue Pancakes, which come with glazed strawberries (red), blueberry compote (blue), and whipped cream (white.) IKEA: From November 8 to 11, show military ID in an IKEA cafeteria for a free entrée (value up to $9.99). Krystal: Free breakfast, in the form of a chicken or sausage biscuit, is on the table for vets and active military from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., and after 11 a.m. all customers get pups or corn pups for 50¢ apiece, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Armed Services YMCA organization. Little Caesars: Vets and active military can help themselves to a free, $5 Hot-N-Ready lunch combo, including four pizza slices and a 20-ounce beverage, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at participating locations. LongHorn Steakhouse: Show military ID and get a free Texas Tonion appetizer and non-alcoholic beverage. McCormick & Schmicks: This seafood and steak chain is honoring veterans and active military not on Veterans Day but on Sunday, November 8, with a choice of free entrees including tender beef medallions, salmon rigatoni, or blackened chicken fettuccine. O’Charley’s: On Monday, November 9, veterans and active military can make a selection for free off the $9.99 menu, which includes chicken fried steak and bayou shrimp pasta. As for Veterans Day itself, customers with a military ID who purchase an entree get a free slice of pie for dessert. On the Border: A free “Create Your Own Combo” featuring a selection of tacos, salads, enchiladas, and more (max value: $10.79) is available to all veterans and active military. Olive Garden: Customers with military ID get a free entrée such as chicken parmigiana, lasagna, or cheese ravioli, with unlimited soup or salad and breadsticks, and family members joining a veteran or active military member at the table get 10% off on Veterans Day. Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt: All vets and active-duty personnel get a free 11-ounce frozen yogurt. Outback Steakhouse: Customers with military ID get a free Blooming Onion appetizer and free beverages on November 11, and all military and their families get 15% off the bill anytime from November 12 to December 31. Peet’s Coffee: Complimentary drip coffee or tea is available to all vets and active-duty military on Wednesday. Ponderosa Steakhouse: Both Ponderosa and its sister chain Bonanza Steakhouse offer free meals for veterans and active military from 4 p.m. until closing. Read next: 4 Key Steps in the March Toward a Comfortable Retirement Red Lobster: From November 9 to 12, veterans and active military receive a complimentary appetizer or dessert. Red Robin: Help yourself to a Red’s Tavern Double burger and bottomless steak fries if you’re a veteran or active-duty personnel. Sheetz: In addition to a free six-inch turkey sub and regular-size fountain drink at Sheetz convenience stores, all veterans and current service members are welcomed to a free car wash at participating locations. Shoney’s: The All-American Burger is free all day long for veterans and active-duty military. Sizzler: Veterans and active military get free lunch—entrée and a beverage—at participating locations until 4 p.m. Twin Peaks: Take your pick of a free Philly cheesesteak or crispy chicken tender basket with military ID. Wayback Burgers: Get a free Wayback Classic Cheeseburger (or a Crispy Chicken Sriracha Sandwich at a couple of locations) if you’re a veteran or active-duty personnel. White Castle: Get a free breakfast slider and a small coffee or other drink if you’re a veteran or active-duty military. Wienerschnitzel: Each vet or active military member is welcomed to a free chili dog and a small Pepsi beverage. World of Beer: Show an ID card with proof of service and you’re welcomed to pick a free draught beer in this craft beer haven, with locations in 21 states.
  World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words: Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples. An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible." President Eisenhower signing HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. From left: Alvin J. King, Wayne Richards, Arthur J. Connell, John T. Nation, Edward Rees, Richard L. Trombla, Howard W. Watts  On that same day, President Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans' Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee. In 1958, the White House advised VA's General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee's chairman. The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people. Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
As reported on stripes.com The Department of Veterans Affairs is overpaying hundreds of millions of dollars to schools and veterans under the post-9/11 GI Bill when students drop a class or leave school, letting $416 million go uncollected in fiscal 2014 alone, a newly released report says. The program works like this: When a veteran enrolls, the government sends money for tuition and fees to the school and begins sending housing and living stipends to the veteran. If a student drops or fails to complete a class, VA is supposed to scale back the benefits accordingly. The student becomes responsible for any overpayments. These debts often come as a surprise to students because the VA, which administers the massive education program for servicemembers and veterans who served after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has not been clear about the rules, the Government Accountability Office found. "Because VA is not effectively communicating its program policies to veterans, some veterans may be incurring debts that they could have otherwise avoided," auditors wrote. One in four students getting GI Bill benefits — about 225,000 veterans — incurred a debt to the government that averaged about $570, the GAO said. And more than 7,000 veterans each owed more than $5,000 to the government after they withdrew from school or continued to get housing benefits when they should not have. In most cases, veterans are responsible for repaying the debts resulting from government overpayments, with schools responsible in a small number of cases. VA officials have recovered more than half of the overpayments from fiscal 2014, but $110 million from previous years is uncollected, most of it from veterans. "Unless VA expands its monitoring of overpayment debts and collections, it will not be able to ensure that it is taking appropriate steps to safeguard taxpayer funds," said the report, requested by Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., the top Democrat on the Senate's government oversight panel. The wasted money is one piece of what the government calls accidental "improper payments," 90 percent of which are overpayments by federal agencies that include Social Security checks and Medicare reimbursements to doctors. In a related report early this month, the GAO found that the improper payments expanded in fiscal 2014 after declining for several years, reaching $124.8 billion or just more than 3 cents of every dollar spent by the government. The money has totaled $1 trillion since fiscal 2003. Three-quarters of the improper payments come from three programs — Medicare, Medicaid and the earned-income tax credit — all of which are meant to help the elderly and the poor. Close to 10 percent of Medicare's $603 billion in outlays were improperly paid, and the error rate for the $65 billion earned-income credit was 27 percent. Also in 2014, the VA provided $10.8 billion in GI Bill education benefits to almost 800,000 veterans and others. Auditors found that the debts are magnified by a paper-based system for notifying students that they owe money and by porous oversight of the program. Beneficiaries' addresses in the agency's files often are out of date, so some students do not even receive notifications that they owe money and miss deadlines for disputing the debts. VA does not require veterans to verify their enrollment each month, causing a "significant time lapse" between when veterans drop courses and when the government learns about the enrollment change and can reassess payments. VA has taken steps to address processing errors through technology improvements, quality assurance reviews and training, the report noted. But it recommended that VA find better ways to communicate its policies to individual veterans, notify them more promptly when an overpayment occurs and improve its system for verifying enrollment. VA officials said they will pursue those changes, including expanding their monitoring of overpayments and collections, providing more information to veterans up front and developing a system for verifying veterans' monthly enrollment. The agency noted in a response to auditors that school officials have spotty attendance at training that VA offers in administering the GI Bill; VA said it cannot force schools to participate in the training.
Programs Designed to Help Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans Develop New Skills and Credentials WASHINGTON –  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today launched two new no-cost training programs, Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and VA Learning Hubs, to help transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans from all eras learn skills, earn credentials, and advance in civilian careers following separation from service.  ALPs and Learning Hubs are part of VA’s Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI), promoting education and employment opportunities for Veterans through integrated networks of support in 50 cities. VA launched the VECI program in response to President Obama’s August 2014 challenge to help Veterans and families integrate with their communities and find meaningful jobs that can lead to economic success. Under VA Secretary Robert McDonald’sMyVA transformation, VECI is now in place in cities across the United States. “My message to transitioning Servicemembers is simple: Plan early and stay engaged, because transition is the mission,” said McDonald. “These two new resources provide no-cost opportunities for our transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans to learn new skills and earn credentials, which can increase their competitiveness during their transition.” ALPs offer transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans the opportunity to build on their world-class training and technical skills gained through their military service, and earn certifications in high-demand fields. VA is piloting ALPs this summer with seven courses focusing on building skills and certifications needed to advance in high-demand careers in information technology (IT), as part of the President’s TechHire initiative. Each ALP course is offered at no cost and includes free referral and support services..  The first ALP cohort includes seven courses covering a range of IT-related topics, including: ·                Coding/Programming Boot Camps; ·                80+ IT Certifications in Hardware, Software, Networking, Web Services, and more; ·                Network Support Engineer Job Training and Certification; ·                Cybersecurity Training and Certification; ·                IT Help Desk Job Training; and ·                IT Boot Camps for Desktop Support and Windows Expertise. Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans from any era are invited to apply to their choice of courses. Applications will be accepted starting August 17, 2015 – seats in the pilot cohort are limited; applicants are encouraged to apply early. ALPs do not involve use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill..  Students are able to participate in these programs while also pursuing other programs of study using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Visit the ALP website to learn more about each program and apply. VA is also launching Learning Hubs in 27 cities across the country this year in partnership with the American Red Cross, The Mission Continues and Coursera, an online education platform. Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans can take advantage of both online and in-person study. Each week, online course modules will be completed outside the classroom while class sessions, led by Learning Hub facilitators, provide opportunities to discuss course materials with peers, hear from subject matter experts, and network. Upon completion of the program, Servicemembers and Veterans may elect to receive one free verified certificate issued by Coursera.   For more information about the VECI or to learn more about VA ALPs and Learning Hubs, contact VeteranEmployment.vbaco@va.gov.
First, an ancient tape surfaced, then a letter that had been locked away for 40 years. Finally the full picture of Marine Sgt. Kenneth Altazan's bravery on a harrowing day in Vietnam began to emerge. But it would be six years before the retired farmer got the call from a major at the Pentagon. “He said, ‘I assume you’ve gotten our letter by now,’” Altazan recalled in a phone interview with Stars and Stripes. “I said, ‘No sir, I haven’t got your letter.’ And he said, ‘Let me be the first one to congratulate you — your Silver Star has been upgraded to the Navy Cross.’” Altazan, of Baton Rouge, La., was being recognized for pulling injured Marines off a battlefield in Quang Nam province under intense fire and bringing them to the CH-46 helicopter where he served as crew chief. The Navy Cross is the highest honor bestowed on Marines and seamen by the Navy, second only to the Medal of Honor. He received the award Tuesday. On May 9, 1969, Altazan was serving with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 “Purple Foxes” when they were dispatched to what they knew would be a hazardous mission: 10 wounded Marines spread over several rice paddies were under heavy fire and needed to be evacuated. “With complete disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Altazan boldly leaped from his helicopter, ran to the side of the wounded man, lifted him to his shoulders, and fearlessly moved back across the fire-swept terrain toward his CH-46, all the while assisting another evacuee across the perilous open area,” according to Altazan’s original citation. But the narrative in the original citation, remarkable as it was, understated Altazan’s actions. Altazan had actually left the helicopter multiple times despite the danger. At one point the wounded man he was carrying was shot, sending Altazan sprawling and severely injuring his knee. He not only got up and took the man to the chopper but continued to pick up the injured despite being in excruciating pain.  “I learned in boot camp to react — you don’t think, you react,” he said. The full story came out after a chance meeting at a reunion of his Vietnam comrades brought one of Altazan’s friends in contact with the surveillance plane pilot who was monitoring the battle from 1,500 feet above. After being accused in an earlier friendly fire incident, the pilot had started recording the audio of all of his missions. He still had the tape of the battle and provided it to Altazan. Then, the Navy corpsman aboard Altazan’s helicopter remembered a letter he had written his wife right after the battle detailing the entire mission, complete with maps. She had saved all of his war correspondence, and the corpsman got in touch with another old squad mate of Altazan’s. Once the Pentagon had all of the new evidence, it took six years before they approved the upgrade. Altazan was in the Marine Corps for four years before returning to Louisiana. He said he struggled with his experiences after returning from Vietnam, bouncing from job to job before finding his calling as a crawfish farmer. Now 69, Altazan has since retired. At a ceremony Tuesday in Baton Rouge, he was awarded the Navy Cross in front of his wife, children, grandchildren and more than 100 well-wishers, including some of his old squad mates. “It was truly a humbling experience,” he said. druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes
Many Vietnam veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and are eligible for benefits for illnesses believed to stem from the herbicide. But other Vietnam veterans aren't eligible. Below is a great article about how this happens. The men and women who served in the Vietnam War are used to being treated differently than other veterans, but even within their ranks, some are treated better than others. While many Vietnam veterans automatically are granted benefits for cancer, diabetes and other sicknesses because they are presumed to stem from exposure to Agent Orange, others don't get that consideration. Keith Trexler of Whitehall Township is one of them. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer about five years ago. If he had been among the ground troops or those patrolling inland waterways, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would have considered his cancer to be "service-connected" due to the likelihood he came in contact with Agent Orange, an herbicide sprayed to kill vegetation the enemy used for cover.  Because Trexler served in the Navy on the waters offshore, the VA doesn't presume he was exposed. He's what the VA considers to be a "blue water" veteran. To qualify for benefits for his cancer and other ailments, he must prove to the VA he came in contact with Agent Orange, something that's not easy to do. Read Full Story here