VA will begin implementing the VSignals survey for the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) program, administered by VA Loan Guaranty Service (LGY). The SAH program administers housing adaptation grants to seriously disabled service members and Veterans with certain, very severe service-connected disabilities. SAH grants assist eligible service members and Veterans with building, remodeling or purchasing an adapted home that is suited to the individual Veteran’s specific, unique physical needs. These adaptations, funded by SAH grants, help these American heroes live more independent lives. VSignals will help the SAH program identify important moments during SAH grant eligibility and funds disbursement administration where VA staff can learn important lessons through feedback from service member and Veteran customers. These lessons will help identify and create essential changes to the grant process which will improve customer experiences. The VSignals SAH survey will also arrange and make permanent a systematic method of responding to and resolving any customer service issues that a Veteran recipient of an SAH grant may encounter. VSignals key facts The VSignals survey allows VA to collect, analyze and track customer experience feedback from service members, Veterans and other stakeholders, and use it to identify opportunities to enhance the SAH customer experience. The SAH VSignals survey implementation reinforces VA’s commitment to provide proactive, personalized, benefit-centric resources to seriously disabled service members and Veterans. “Enhancing the customer service experience for Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant recipients means being attentive to the experiences of our most seriously disabled Veterans,” said John Bell III, executive director of VA’s Loan Guaranty Service. “The feedback we receive from these selfless American heroes will be incorporated into strategies and planning to improve the grant process, make it more efficient for the Veteran, and inform SAH staff on how best to engage at important moments in the grant process itself.” VA’s Veteran Experience Office (VEO) developed VSignals to collect, analyze and track customer experience feedback from Veterans and other stakeholders on important programs administered by VA. VSignals helps identify opportunities to enhance VA’s customer experience and improve overall VA performance. VA is deploying a collection of three VSignals surveys on the SAH program. These SAH VSignals surveys will measure Veterans’ customer experience at three critical milestones (known as “Moments that Matter”) in their SAH grant usage journey: Survey 1: Initial Interview Survey 2: Grant Approval Survey 3: Final Grant Fund Disbursement Each of these SAH VSignals surveys contains a set of Likert (1 to 5 scale) questions; each question is aligned to one of the seven Office of Management and Budget (OMB) A-11 customer experience domains. Survey data is collected on a weekly basis and reported on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Once participants complete the above milestones during the SAH grant life cycle they will receive an invitation to complete the survey via email. The message contains a weblink, enabling the Veteran to complete the survey using an online interface. Participation is optional, and Veterans may decline to participate and opt out of future invitations. To prevent survey fatigue, VSignals maintains a quarantine protocol across all VA VSignals surveys to limit the number of times a Veteran may be contacted. VSignals surveys and feedback will benefit future SAH grant recipients by helping VA adjust its grant use processes to streamline the experience for Veteran grant recipients, and VA is eager to receive and incorporate invaluable feedback from Veterans adapting their homes to enhance their abilities to live more independent lives after sacrificing enormously for our country. More information on the SAH program can be found online at VA’s website: https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/disability-housing-grants/. Service members and Veterans with additional questions about the SAH program are encouraged to contact their Regional Loan Center (RLC) at 1-877-827-3702.
WASHINGTON — On the 69th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) pays tribute to those who served, fought and died on the Korean peninsula. On July 27, 1953, U.S., North Korean and Chinese military commanders, signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, bringing the Korean War to a close. A total of 36,576 Americans lost their lives and more than 92,000 were wounded in action during the course of the bloody three-year war on the Korean peninsula. The cease fire came after two years of negotiations, the longest negotiated armistice in history, but did not end the hostilities completely. The majority of the almost 750 deaths of American service members since July 27, 1953, was the result of post-war North Korean hostile actions. The conflict between North and South Korea is often referred to as “The Forgotten War,” as it was overshadowed in historical size and scope by World War II and the Vietnam War. However, for the service men and women that lived through it, for the Gold Star families that lost their loved ones there, and for those that keep the candle lit for the more than 7,500 POW/MIAs still unaccounted for, the Korean War is still fresh in their minds. To the millions of U.S. military personnel who served in the Korean War theater of operations, and the millions that have served there since, the members of the VFW and its Auxiliary join a grateful nation in remembering your service and honoring your sacrifice in defense of generations of people living on freedom’s frontier.
Vietnam-era veterans will benefit as Congress nears the finish line on a huge legislation package to expand health coverage for those exposed to toxins during their military service. The Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act — which is mainly aimed at expanding care to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits — is also expanding care to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. The provisions are a win for veterans advocacy groups, who say that the bill expands a narrow understanding of exposure to the herbicide, which has been linked to a variety of illnesses. “Agent Orange did not pick and choose … it affected everybody everywhere it was used,” said Patrick Murray, director of national legislative service at Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We think this is just correcting something that should have been done years ago, and we’re very grateful,” he added. The House most recently passed the PACT Act on July 13 by a vote of 342-88, about a month after the Senate passed the bill by a bipartisan 84-14 vote. The upper chamber must pass the measure again, as the House version of the bill includes technical changes from the measure passed last month. The bill then heads to President Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. Among its provisions, the bill would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) presumptions of service-connected illness related to Agent Orange exposure for those who were exposed in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll. Veterans who were deployed in Vietnam were first granted presumed coverage for Agent Orange-related illnesses in 1991 under the Agent Orange Act. Agent Orange was the most-used herbicide during the Vietnam War, where it was deployed to clear out forests and vegetation that could be used by enemy forces. The U.S. also used the herbicide along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which connected northern and southwest Vietnam via military transport routes through Laos and Cambodia. The herbicide was also used in Thailand to clear jungle around military bases. Murray said that over time, the herbicide became a “quick fix” anytime vegetation needed to be cleared in areas not in Vietnam, leading it to be used in places where it wasn’t necessary, like Guam and American Samoa. “Places in Vietnam, where maybe you did need that expedited measure done, that’s one thing,” Murray said. “But in American Samoa, there was no enemy that we needed to identify immediately. It was just, ‘This will get a job done.’” After use of Agent Orange was banned in the early 1970s, remaining batches were taken to Johnston Atoll — a U.S. controlled island 700 miles southeast of Hawaii — where they were later destroyed, according to the Aspen Institute. The VA presumes that about two dozen types of illness are caused by exposure to Agent Orange, meaning that exposed veterans who have been diagnosed with those conditions don’t have to prove their ailments are related to military service. The agency’s benefits tied to Agent Orange largely apply to those who served in Vietnam, about 12 miles offshore from the waters of Vietnam, or those who were on regular perimeter duty of either a U.S. military installation or Thai air force base. Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarization Zone, were assigned in units that had C-123 aircraft or were involved in testing or storage of Agent Orange also qualify to receive benefits. Veterans seeking benefits have typically needed to prove that they served, prove something happened to them in service and then prove that what happened is related to military service. “Most veterans now are really missing two parts,” said Cory Titus, director of veteran benefits and guard/reserve affairs for the Military Officers Association of America, “The only thing they can prove is that ‘I was in service.’ They’re sick, but they can’t connect it back to their time in uniform.” The Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that about 50,000 veterans and survivors of deceased veterans would receive compensation due to the PACT Act expanding presumptive exposures outside of Vietnam. The agency also estimated that 51,000 veterans would receive compensation under another provision that would presume hypertension was caused by exposure to Agent Orange. That number would increase to about 464,000 by 2031. Asked about how many veterans stand to benefit from the Agent Orange provisions of the bill, the VA told The Hill that it would make those estimates once the PACT Act has been passed. “It will take several weeks to develop these projections after the final PACT Act language is received,” the agency said. As the legislation nears the finish line, advocacy groups say more will need to be done to address the impact of toxic exposures for veterans.
With the ‘Greatest Generation’ passing away, we must never forget one of their defining moments December 07, 2021 WASHINGTON — On this day 80 years ago, the sleeping giant was violently awakened. America in 1941 was working on itself. Following the end of the Great Depression in 1939, Americans were just beginning their economic recovery and had returned to their isolationist stance on foreign affairs. Even though they were upset with the carnage ravishing Europe and Asia, they did not have the appetite for another world war. The enormous loss of life from the one-two punch of the Great War and the 1918 pandemic was still fresh in the collective memory of the country. But as the old adage goes, you don’t always have to go looking for a fight, sometimes the fight comes looking for you. On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, just before 8 a.m., Japanese forces launched a devastating surprise attack on U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. It was a thoroughly planned and executed assault on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, sinking or severely damaging 19 ships and destroying or damaging more than 300 aircraft. While sailors, soldiers and Marines stationed there fought valiantly, there was no way to counter the tremendous onslaught. In all, more than 3,500 American men and women were killed or wounded. The 2,403 killed would be the largest single day loss of American life in an attack on the Unites States for the next 60 years. By the time President Roosevelt had delivered his famous “Infamy” speech less than 24 hours after the first bombs fell on the island of Oahu, the Japanese had already formally declared war on the United States and the British Empire and attacked Malaysia, Hong Kong, Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines and Midway. There were also reports of American ships being attacked along shipping routes between Hawaii and the California coast. Three days later, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. No longer could the U.S. keep a safe distance from the second world war raging on the other sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. The war kicked in our nation’s front door and it was time for Americans to wake up and fight for freedom. It is estimated 234 WWII veterans die each day and in 10 years, they will nearly all be gone. The death of retired U.S. Senator and WWII veteran Bob Dole this past weekend is a stark reminder that we don’t have much time left with them. That’s why we must take the time to hear their stories, preserve their legacy and honor their sacrifices. On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) encourages everyone to take a moment to remember the 2,403 victims tragically lost in the attack, and remember the defining moment when brave young American men and women rose up to defend our nation, help liberate the world from tyranny and become “The Greatest Generation.”
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs has expanded the Shallow Subsidy initiative and will grant $200 million to 238 nonprofit organizations across the country and territories to provide housing rental assistance to extremely and very low-income Veteran households eligible under VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The initiative funded by The American Rescue Plan, is now available in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam and promotes long-term housing stability by providing rental assistance payments directly to landlords on behalf of eligible Veteran households for up to two years. “VA’s Shallow Subsidy initiative is a vital tool in addressing the widening gap between incomes and rising housing costs,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The recent expansion enables VA to provide relief to many more Veterans burdened by high housing rental costs while they attempt to increase their incomes by pursuing training or better employment opportunities.” The SSVF Shallow Subsidy initiative covers 35% of eligible Veterans’ rent for two years without the risk of the subsidy decreasing if the Veteran’s income increases during the two-year period. The purpose is to incentivize Veterans to increase their income through employment or other means. The initiative also works closely with the Labor Department’s Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program to help Veterans secure employment. There are 7.2 million more affordable housing units needed for low-income families according to data published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, highlighting the need for this VA initiative, particularly in communities with high rental costs and low housing rental vacancy rates. The Shallow Subsidy initiative aligns with the White House’s priority to promote housing stability by supporting vulnerable tenants and preventing foreclosures. Learn more about VA’s mission to end Veteran homelessness and how you can help.
(VAntage Point) This is about moral injury… and suicide. Starting at a young age, we learn about right and wrong. Our life experiences, education, and environment help us to develop a moral code, or a set of deeply held beliefs and expectations. When we experience potentially morally injurious events, our moral code is violated either by our own or other peoples’ actions or inactions. These experiences tend to result in painful emotions (shame, guilt, contempt, anger, disgust) and cognitions (“I am a monster”). When individuals engage in efforts to try to avoid or control these painful emotions and cognitions, social, psychological and spiritual suffering can result. We describe that as moral injury. Veterans’ moral injury from combat experiences Service members and Veterans can experience moral injury as a result of their experiences in combat. Experiencing a potentially morally injurious event may result in severe distress or functional impairment. Recent research suggests exposure to potentially morally injurious events is a risk factor for suicidal ideation and behavior among Veterans and military personnel. Some common experiences associated with moral injury include: Isolation in relationships Getting caught up in stories about oneself or others related to these morally injurious events Engaging in behaviors to try to get rid of painful and moral emotions (such as drinking) Disconnecting from spirituality Not keeping up with self-care Understanding the injury VA researcher Lauren Borges is a suicide prevention expert. She strives to understand more about the link between suicide prevention and moral injury. She often uses chain analysis, a technique designed to help understand the function of a particular behavior. It explains that successfully identifying and treating moral injury can help prevent suicide among Veterans. However, treating this type of injury comes with a unique set of obstacles and challenges. An influx of recent research helps providers identify moral injury. Still, patients are often reluctant to share their true feelings due to concerns around feeling judged or even ashamed. “In a qualitative study we found that moral injury was often not discussed in treatment. A key component of our approach to therapeutic risk management of suicidal behavior involves the application of chain analysis to understand the function of suicidal behavior. “If suicidal behavior is functioning to avoid or control painful moral emotions, such as shame, guilt, contempt, anger and disgust, we will often assess exposure to potentially morally injurious events to determine if this is influencing the Veteran’s suicidal behavior.” VA supports providers treating Veterans at risk Borges is a consultant and lecturer for the Suicide Risk Management Consultation Program (SRM). This month, she will present how clinicians and health care teams can conceptualize and effectively target suicidal behavior in the context of moral injury. These free, live webinars are offered on the second Wednesday of every month from 2 to 3 p.m. ET. Interested providers can register here, and a recording will also be available for those who are unable to attend the live event. SRM offers free consultation, support and resources that promote therapeutic best practices for providers working with Veterans at risk. SRM providers can help VA and community providers identify and treat moral injury among their Veteran patients. Providers can learn more and request a free consult here.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs and the PenFed Foundation brought together 80 women Veteran entrepreneurs for a six-month accelerator program, July 13 that would prepare them for sustainability and growth in federal and commercial marketplaces. Participants came from 29 states and are VA Center for Verification and Evaluation verified, have three to five years in business and have past performance as a prime or subcontractor. “It’s important we provide an environment where women entrepreneurs can receive strategic and deliberate education, empowerment, engagement and access to enhance their businesses,” said VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Executive Director Sharon Ridley. "Through entrepreneurship, women Veterans have an opportunity to leverage their military and leadership skills to increase and create economic opportuites.” Classes are focused on relationship building, product/market analysis, business development and growth preparation. Participants meet in small groups and receive coaching from industry leaders such as AstraZeneca and Halfaker & Associates and OptumServe. The program culminates with a pitch competition in October. The participant with the winning pitch will receive a PenFed Foundation grant to be used to grow their business. “We have a shared goal: to empower women Veterans and create access to capital and system to support them,” said PenFed Foundation President and retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Jr. “We believe in creating a business ecosystem that establishes service in the U.S. military as the most reliable pathway to successful entrepreneurship." Learn more about the Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program. Learn more about VA’s mission to empower and educate Women Veteran entrepreneurs for success and economic opportunities at the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
By Mackenzie Wolf American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford expressed “deep disappointment” the White House isn’t offering a better plan to evacuate interpreters, family members and other Afghan allies who have served alongside U.S. forces during the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The White House announced on Thursday the United States’ military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31, putting the end to a “forever war” in sight. However, that does not go far enough to protect the 18,000 Afghan interpreters who are still waiting for approval of their Special Immigrants Visas — a promise the U.S. made to them in return for their service. Earlier, the White House said they would house the interpreters and others in a third country pending their visa approval. The American Legion does not believe this action will ensure the safety of all the Afghanistan allies, due to the number and time remaining before the pullout. There is a precedent of such a mass evacuation that the U.S. could emulate in this scenario. In 1975, the United States evacuated about 130,000 Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. Most refugees were held temporarily in Guam before going to the U.S. as their visas were processed. More recently, in 1996, the U.S. evacuated thousands of Kurds at the end of the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War, with a stopover in Guam. Calling the Taliban “the enemy of all human rights,” and welcoming an end to U.S. involvement in 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, Oxford said the withdrawal must be conducted in an honorable and orderly manner and that the current pace of withdrawal is falling short on these counts. “Abandonment of those who assisted us is literally an issue of life or death,” Oxford said. “Any veteran who has worked with Afghan interpreters will tell you how valuable these brave heroes were to our mission there.” Their service alongside American forces has made them — along with their families — targets for retribution by the Taliban as the militant group gains ground across Afghanistan. “It is a moral imperative that we offer them immediate and safe passage away from the enemy and to the United States,” Oxford added. “If we abandon such friends, how could we expect any assistance by potential allies in future missions?”
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs awarded $418 million in grants to more than 260 non-profit organizations in June, allowing low-income Veteran families around the nation to access services under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. SSVF grantees are authorized to use the funds to rapidly re-house Veterans who become homeless or to prevent Veterans from becoming homeless. “As a result of VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program and other housing assistance efforts, Veteran homelessness has been cut in half since the launch of 2010’s Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Since then, hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their families have been placed into permanent housing or prevented from falling into homelessness by VA’s homelessness programs and targeted housing vouchers provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” SSVF grantees are in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Through partnerships with VA and community programs, SSVF provides eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management and assistance obtaining VA and other benefits, which can include health care, financial planning, childcare, legal and fiduciary payee assistance, transportation, housing counseling and other services. Helping Veterans in need of permanent housing remains a critical priority for VA. In fiscal year 2020, VA served 112,070 participants, including 77,590 Veterans and 19,919 children through the SSVF program. This year’s grant recipients successfully competed under a Notice of Fund Availability published November 19, 2020. The funding will support SSVF services from October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. Learn more about the SSVF program.
(VAntage Point) Transitioning from active duty to the private sector is jarring for many Veterans. As many as 27% of Veterans struggle with adjusting to civilian life according to the Pew Research Center. This can be particularly difficult for female Veterans, but VA and other private sector organizations are stepping up to support these women. One organization, Dress For Success Austin (DFSA), provides a network of professional support, business attire and development tools to help all women thrive in work and life. DFSA and its affiliates across the country have three programs for any woman who would like career development assistance: Suiting – work with women to choose an interview outfit and provide guidance and support for the upcoming interview. Career Advancement – support and assist women in identifying and striving towards their professional and personal goals. Includes mapping out the future through financial planning. Leadership Training – teach women to advance their careers and give back to their communities. One former Veteran, Jessica Kirkham, recently landed a job at TikTok using Dress for Success resources, a career change after working for a combined five years as a cryptologic linguist in the Navy and for the NSA. “I was led to DFSA while attending a Veteran Transition seminar hosted by the Texas Veterans Commission,” Kirkham said. “I was looking for guidance on translating my military experience into something civilian recruiters and hiring managers would understand, and DFSA’s Bridge the Gap for Women Veterans program helped me do exactly that. They also set me up with my mentor, Summer McAfee, and she helped steer me in the right direction with numerous phone calls and Zoom sessions, through which we polished and perfected my resume and interviewing skills. “With support from organizations like Dress for Success, people of all ages and stages can build the confidence and soft skills they need to land their dream job,” she added. “Veterans bring strong leadership skills, discipline and other critical competencies to companies in the private sector. Dress for Success Austin and BreakLine (a nonprofit in San Francisco) helped build my confidence and readiness to bring my authentic self to the private sector, specifically to TikTok.” If you or someone you know is interested or would benefit from working with DFSA or any of its affiliates, you can find their contact information at: https://austin.dressforsuccess.org/contact/. DFSA exclusively supports women, but there are other organizations like Career Gear that provide similar services for men actively seeking employment. They can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. To see more information like this, subscribe to VetResources, visit: https://www.va.gov/vetresources/. Social Media: Dress for Success Austin Facebook: @DFSAustin Instagram: @dressforsuccessATX Twitter: @DFSAustinTX YouTube Dress for Success Worldwide: Facebook: @DressForSuccess Twitter: @dressforsuccess Instagram: @dressforsuccess YouTube LinkedIn: @dress-for-success-worldwide The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on the part of VA. Ian Lacy is a communications specialist in VA’s Veterans Experience Office.