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David Garrett, a disabled veteran who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned from war to find that he had no home and sadly, he is not the only one. Nearly 50,000 veterans sleep on the streets each night. The biggest reason as to why this is a growing problem is simple: they need lawyers. According to a new study from the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least five out of the top ten problems leading to homelessness among veterans cannot be solved without legal help. Legal assistance is critical to ensure that veterans find justice to get the benefits they have earned and a step to ensuring a roof over their heads. Many veterans also have physical and mental disabilities that would make them eligible for disability compensation. Yet, without an official diagnosis, the VA can deny an application for disability compensation, leaving veterans with no jobs and no benefits, resulting in homelessness for many. There are now many emerging partnerships between civil legal-aid and community health and housing organizations can permanently transform veterans’ lives but require investment to meet the need. Congress can also help by passing the veterans omnibus bill, section 608 of which would authorize the VA to provide funding to the organization that provides civil legal services to veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.Still, until bigger action is taken, many veterans face homelessness and instability. By Gigi Haddad Source:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/08/one-reason-so-many-veterans-are-homeless-they-cant-afford-lawyers/?utm_term=.c86a61bed41b
TOLEDO - A three-judge panel has rejected a local woman's appeal of her sentence as "frivolous" after she was convicted of helping to steal $220,000 from the Fremont VFW. Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals Judges Mark Pietrykowski, Thomas Osowik and Christine Mayle on Friday affirmed the Sandusky County Common Pleas Court's decision to sentence Jodi Martin, 43, to 12 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to felony theft from the VFW over a five-year period while working as a manager of the post's canteen. In May 2017, Sandusky County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Mulligan sought 60 days in jail for Martin as part of her plea, but Sandusky County Pleas Court Judge John Dewey said he was "troubled" and "offended" by Martin's actions and gave her the maximum sentence of 12 months for her plea to a fifth-degree felony. "I am not a member of the VFW, and I didn't serve in the military, but I am personally offended myself at this amount of money that comes up missing," Dewey said before sentencing Martin last May. Martin's appeals attorney, Brett Klimkowsky, filed a brief with the 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo to withdraw as Martin's appeals attorney, effectively dropping Martin's appeal. As part of her sentencing, Martin was ordered to pay $175,000 in restitution to the VFW. Andrea Valdez, 40, of Fremont, also was found guilty of participating in the theft from the VFW's gambling business from 2010 to 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The more than $220,000 that was stolen from the VFW had been designated for community Little League scholarships and scholarships for local graduating seniors. As part of her sentence, Valdez was ordered to pay $75,000 in restitution. Although the women were ordered to pay restitution, Craig Schwartz, the VFW post's quartermaster, said he does not expect to see much, if any, of the money again. "It's going to be tough to get that money back," Schwartz last May. "But justice was served." Because Martin accepted a plea deal, the three-judge panel said the "appellant understood the nature of her guilty plea and answered affirmatively when advised of each of her constitutional rights she would be forfeiting by not proceeding to trial," the decision said. The judges also stated that Martin knew the court was not bound by the 60-day jail sentence the prosecutor proposed and could face the maximum sentenced of 12 months, which Dewey gave Martin at her sentencing on May 22, 2017. "We agree with counsel and find no error in the plea before the trial court," the judges opined. "The motion of counsel for appellant requesting to withdraw as counsel is granted, and this appeal is found to be wholly frivolous."   Source: The News Messenger
In a dual effort, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs have worked together to create an easier solution to discharges from the military. The advancement is in the form of a new and upcoming online tool that helps upgrade the system in which discharges are required. The process is pretty simple and very much anticipated as the former system drew complaints and lack of clear-cut instruction to handle upgrades. Officials in charge of the upgrade made announcements about the process and stated that the process was relatively simple, something that veterans and participants of the program are grateful for. "By answering a few short questions, veterans will know which board they need to go to, what form to fill out, any special guidance applicable to their case, where to send their application, and some helpful tips for appealing their discharge. Any veterans who believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade are encouraged to use this tool and then apply for review." This is a great opportunity for those who feel like they were let go of their service in the military unfairly. Among anticipated participants in the program are those who were medically discharged for reasons that may include post-traumatic stress disorder or those who suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Among the other possible inclusions, those whose discharges fall under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, or those like them may be included in this initiative. This is an incredible amount of progress, as this is long awaited and serves the veterans who served justly. As Robert Wilkie states, "We are thrilled to have partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs in developing this wonderful and easily-accessible tool.” Wilkie goes on to say, "We support our veterans, whether they served recently or long ago, and we are excited to introduce a tool that will individualize the guidance for those who desire an upgrade or change in their military discharge." Wilkie is a Fayetteville native and undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. It is this type of progress that breathes new life in the Veterans Affairs as well as the Department of Defense. There is more much updates and inclusions to come in the future. It will be interesting to see how the advancements will change the scope of how the military is viewed.      
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he is committed to our veterans. He understands the predicament we, civilians, put our veterans through upon their arrival. When Isakson became chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at the start of 2015, he made a personal commitment to work with anyone willing to fix the problems at the VA. And that is the type of initiative that one needs to see to acknowledge that work is being done. There will always be this type of committed work outstanding, but as long as we have honest, hardworking people in appointed power, the advancements will chip away at the need. Isakson states that since holding that title, progress has been made. In 2017, “positive productive and bipartisan progress” has been made that has overshadowed years in the past. Last year, the Senate has added ten major pieces of veterans legislation, all of which have been signed into law. This type of work has helped reform the VA and strengthen veterans’ health care, benefits and support. This is monumental as it worth talking about. Isakson goes on to say that, “We have one of the most bipartisan and productive committees in the Senate. Every single member of our committee, (within the Veterans’ Affairs committee) Republican and Democrat alike, have put aside partisan differences and worked together on behalf of our nation’s veterans.” This is also really important to note because that means that lawmakers are working together despite their differences and this is an incredible show of progress and maturity. Some of the newer legislation has improved veterans’ lives. Here are a few examples: “Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act,” we’ve given VA’s leaders the tools to remove poor-performing or negligent employees. This is important because prior to the bill being made, there wasn’t any real sense of protection for either party. Another example is this: “The Enhancing Veteran Care Act” authorizes VA to contract with non-profits that accredit health care organizations to investigate VA medical centers and improve accountability. With the “Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act,” we’re working to break down bureaucratic barriers and help develop an improved, more responsive and quicker system for veterans. Lastly, the “VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act” allows the VA to take every necessary precaution to ensure patients are aware of the dangers of opioid addiction by sharing patient information with state prescription monitoring programs. All of these changes have exponentially helped our veterans and consequently their families. In closing, Isakson states that “At the start of 2017, senators on the VA Committee vowed to find common ground on behalf of veterans, and we have significant, positive results to show for it. We still have work to do, but we are heading in the right direction.”  
9/11 era veterans (those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq) and the battle of their healthcare has been a long saga and at times a thorn in the side, for those who desperately need help post serving. It should be simple to give those who served healthcare, but it has been a hardship to maneuver. There is, of course, no easy fix. The stresses of choosing to serve our country have been painfully evident for years, and it seems like we are just starting to become more active in advocating for our veterans. In 2014, the suicide rate among veterans was about twenty-two percent higher than among adults who had not served in the military, the VA reported in September. The VA has had persistent problems trying to care for the more than four million service members who have left duty since the start of the U.S.'s 16-year war in Afghanistan. With the number of the veterans so large and the numbers of people available to help significantly smaller, especially since the number of those who are equipped to help in the most needed ways, there is a challenge to emotionally and physically see every veteran. That is when veterans struggle if they are not seen. Due to the aforementioned circumstances, a committee has started to fight for veterans’ healthcare rights as they are entitled to them. While many veterans do indeed receive good mental health care through Veterans Affairs, it's inconsistent across the system, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine-nonprofit institutions that inform public policy. The detailed, 439-page assessment of the VA's mental health services was ordered by Congress in 2013 and completed by a committee of eighteen academics. The academics have worked together for those who are not in the perfect position to speak about those issues. And what they witnessed and heard is something that everyone should be aware of. What was reported that mundane issues like navigating parking for therapy were something that was a stressor for them, if they were dealing with mental illnesses, getting help did seem like an uphill battle as the need was high, yet the support they felt was limited. As stated in the committee’s findings, other factors such as lack of social support, distance, and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all. This is something we should be able to change and with this progress set in place, we should be on target to do so. Breaking down barriers to care will require reaching out to veterans and streamlining application processes, as well as investments in the VA workforce, facilities, and technology, according to the report. Emily Blair, manager of military and veterans policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nonprofit advocacy group, realizes that their goal of giving adequate healthcare to all veterans in three to five years is “an optimistic goal”, but is worth shooting for the stars for.
The Department of Veteran Affairs operates several different programs for those who are either survivors of the military or their families, such as spouse, parent, or child. One of the programs is called My Way Forward. On their official government website, it states that families of veterans or survivors are eligible for benefits regardless of whether their lost loved one was serving or already retired at the time of their death. Benefits available through the Veteran Affairs are varied and considerable, so take the time to become familiar with the programs. You can find more information at http://www.mywayforward.com/government/survivor_benefits/veterans_survivor_benefits/ One of the more notable benefits is funeral services and that is offered to the veteran if their death was from a service-related injury, passed away in a Veteran Affairs facility or were in receipt of compensation or pension. The Veteran affairs cover the burial at a national cemetery which doesn’t cost the family anything. Their headstone is also covered. According to White Oak Crematorium, these benefits can have a range of anywhere between $300 to $2,000 depending on the veteran’s service status at their time of death. You can find more information at http://www.medinacountyveteransserviceoffice.org/info/va-survivor-benefits There are several organizations that give support to the families of the deceased. It is important to realize that while the family and friends may grieve a certain way, survivors of the same incident, may grieve in an entirely different way. These are only a few different organizations that help, but there isn’t one right organization. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is based in Washington, D.C., offers peer support network and grief-counseling referral service, which is an incredible resource. Mothers of fallen soldiers can find support from those who’ve had similar experiences through the American Gold Star Mothers. The Society of Military Widows helps military widows which is very helpful to find a new normal, whatever that may look like for them. If your loved one passed away on active duty as a result of service-connected disabilities or was fully disabled for 10 years prior to their death, you may be eligible for a tax-free monetary benefit. This is due to the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This is something that families should look into. You may be eligible for financial benefits. The DEA program has been made available to children of veterans who have been injured or passed away during active duty, offering them education and training. Health and educational benefits are also available to family members. This is important to utilize if only needed for a short time. You can find more information at https://www.newsmax.com/fastfeatures/veterans-survivor-benefits/2018/02/01/id/840857/
The U.S. Department of Defense is creating and implementing an initiative to share more about military life to non military personnel.  Amber Smith, the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for outreach, shares her thoughts on the matter. “... America’s disconnect with its military that there are those who believe that when a person joins the military, that person cannot have a spouse or children or pets.” The initiative is aptly named “This Is Your Military.” The program is designed “to inform and educate the American public on who is serving in the military today,” Smith, at a news conference at the Pentagon earlier. The fact there is such a serious indication of lack knowledge hints at the lack of motivation to really get to know who our military is. “We are working very closely with the services and some of the programs that they have in place that reach all the way to the installation and community level programs that have been successful,” Smith goes on to say. “It has always been in the best interests of DoD (Department of Defense) to engage with the American public,” It is also the best interests of the American public to engage with those who are serving. Only valuable lessons can be learned. In 1995, 40 percent of young adults had a direct connection to a service member or a veteran in their families. Today, it is around 15 percent. The change is staggering as much as it is simply unsurprising. If we invest in the military, we also guide change to where it needs it most in this sector. The numbers are only going to go up if we don’t do something to change. That’s where this initiative comes in to play. There are things you can do to carry the initiation. Write letters, send money, invest in your children’s goals, teach your children about the military and all the different parts that make what our militia what it is. The initiative will add a different theme. The next upcoming theme is We Are Connected. You can find more information, on the initative’s website, which is knowyourmilitary.osd.mil. The hashtag, for use all over social media is #KnowYourMil.
A transitional housing facility it opening up in St. Tammany, Louisiana. There are more than 200,000 veterans in Louisiana; 20,000 are in St. Tammany Parish. Homelessness, unfortunately is on the rise in the area. Army Staff Sgt. John Levis Carroll served for two seperate tours until injuries brought him home. The ramifications of serving and the injuries became a bit much and he ended up homeless. This is not uncommon. As his father states, "My son is a drug addict, but he's also a veteran," said John's father, Mickey Carroll, a Junior Vice Commander of the local VFW. "I don't know where he is, but I hope he's in a place like this." ‘This’ is Camp N.O.R.A., which stands for "No One Rides Alone and it has become a treasured resource among those who need it. Camp N.O.R.A  is situated on seventeen acres in rural Covington aimed at helping homeless veterans get back on their feet, then back out into society on their own. The property used to be Danielle Inn, an orphanage, and then home for pregnant women. The facility can house 14 to 16 veterans, but the company has opted for a short “soft opening” with four veterans. Camp N.O.R.A. is operated by "The Ride of the Brotherhood" organization, which is a non-profit made up of veterans dedicated to helping other veterans through the same struggles they've defeated personally. The organization began as a mission to locate and bring back the remains of American soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. The program is customizable with veterans staying anywhere from two to six months and it something to behold. There’s an excitement in the air around the camp; it will be a life changing opportunity to change the lives of veterans whose lives were changed for the rest of their lives. Here are some sources for information for those interested. http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/northshore/transitional-facility-for-homeless-veterans-opens-in-st-tammany-1/512653286 http://www.rideofthebrotherhood.org/
In the state of New Jersey, there are joint efforts being made between law officials to share knowledge about the veterans tax exemption benefits that veterans will be eligible for and relieve confusion about the upcoming change. Assemblyman Ryan Peters and fellow 8th District lawmakers Dawn Marie Addiego and Joe Howarth are working with acting Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio on this project. From Burlington County Times’s website this information was made available: (A link will be provided at the end of this article) There are some very clear steps that need to be made for this process: First, veterans need to take is to fill out and return a veterans tax exemption submission form to the Division of Taxation, along with documentation from the military, such as a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty or DD-214. The submission form can be found on the department’s website. It and the certifying documents can be sent to the division by mail, fax or by a secure online upload feature on the website. The exemption is intended to assist New Jersey’s approximately 400,000 veterans. It was part of other tax reductions, including a small sales tax reduction, an enhanced retirement income exemption and an increased earned income tax credit. Those reductions were intended to help make the state more tax-friendly. It was noted that, to assist veterans, the 8th District office has created its own step-by-step directions, which the lawmakers intend to distribute via social media and email. Paul Reuter found about the upcoming changes a few summers’ ago, but it was earlier this year when he realized that there were some veterans that just didn’t know the information he did. “I was at the gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and was talking to some other (military) retirees there. Some of them knew about it; some of them didn’t,” Reuter said Monday. “I’ve tried to pass the word around, but a lot of veterans don’t know.” Howarth believes that their effort will benefit the over 30,000 veterans who reside in the nearby Burlington area, but that the Treasury Department could help ensure veterans statewide are aware of the benefit. This change can only bring good and it will be great to see what is next. You can find more information about what you learned in this article here: http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com/news/20180129/nj-lawmakers-trying-to-raise-awareness-about-new-veterans-tax-exemption
Veterans have a battle long after the literal battle they are fighting is over. And for some, it never ends. The battle is for recognition for their service in various wars. Take World War II, more than 260,000 Filipinos fought for the United States and most did not return home to their families. It is a tragedy and it’s not the only one these veterans suffered. The tragedy of not being recognized as veterans does take a toll on their families, those who served whom are living. Their sacrifices weren’t broadcasted like other veterans were. Some retribution is happening because this past Saturday, surviving veterans and their families if the veteran in their family was no longer living, , received  Congressional Gold Medals, to honor those who served. This particular civilian award is given to an individual or a group of individuals that have had a significant impact on U.S. culture. To say that Filipinos were misrepresented and disrespected is a vast understatement. This past Saturday, 25 veterans were honored for their service in World War II. “They served their country. They died for their country. So, this is about duty to country worth dying for,” said Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a Filipino and a retired U.S. Army Officer. And the honor and respect for others, especially in this sector, is important as anything else. If there’s no respect or honor, we have failed people that need it most. It’s important to combine historical significance, respect and honor when talking about veterans, especially those who fought so hard for our country and for the simple recognition. It is unacceptable for this issue to be an issue. History does have a part in the lack of recognition. Congress in 1946 passed a Rescission Act, which in turn, did two things to them. One, it took away their dignity and their honor, by declaring they were not in active duty, thereby they were not entitled to receive their benefits … and it also took away their U.S. nationality, even though they were part of the U.S. as a colony.” This is criminal, if not legally criminal. "Although [President Harry] Truman had to issue the Rescission Act after the war, people do not understand the impact of that on the community because a lot of people lost their citizenship and their benefits ... As (Filipino veterans') families migrated and their children grew older, they didn't have pension. They didn't have a legacy to leave for their children," Christy Poisot said, Region 7 Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project director shares her thoughts on the subject. "It’s important to recognize failure and then make changes to give people what they deserve. We have the opportunity to turn a page and honor, love and respect people for their acts of service, regardless of their nationality or who they are." You can find more information about this issue on the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project at https://www.filvetrep.org/