News

Pivot. Adapt. Teamwork. Resilient.  These are words that The Independence Fund is familiar with while working in the Veteran Service Organization world. But these are also words that have defined how our organization has dramatically shifted its operations to ensure we are meeting the immediate needs of our Nation’s most catastrophically wounded Veterans, their Caregivers, and their families during this new normal.  Independence@Home Pivot. Following the emergent needs we were seeing from our homebound Veterans that were especially hard-hit with isolation, we shifted our entire organization’s structure with our newest program, Independence@Home. We are assisting the hardest hit Veteran families with emergent costs like rent, utilities, childcare, transportation services, home WiFi, household cleaning and grocery and medical product delivery. Because of the demand we’ve seen for this program, we are expanding the program to beyond our participant database. We are now assisting additional Veterans with special circumstances with $100 gift cards to alleviate their financial struggles while expanding online resources.  Adapt. Since our adaptive athletes can no longer participate in group sports, we are partnering our adaptive athlete Veterans with retired athletes for 1-on-1 virtual workouts and consultations. We continue to look at new ways to restructure our existing programs.  Teamwork. The Independence Fund has expanded its mission of connectivity during isolation. Our in-person Operation RESILIENCY retreats reunite company-sized units that suffered high combat casualties and are susceptible to high Veteran Suicide rates. Because we cannot meet in–person, we are now hosting ongoing Zoom reunions with alumni. During virtual events with entire companies, we are providing updates on our organization, hearing from higher level leadership and licensed clinical social workers, and connecting our caseworker for individual issues. We are then providing smaller groups from those entire companies the resources to run their own, individualized reunions.   We polled our Caregivers to see what resources they needed right now to provide relief and respite. In additional to virtual “happy hour” chats, we have hosted an intro to photography course and are conducting online tutorials twice a week. Subjects will include makeup tips, how to sew face masks, and an introduction to belly dancing. We will also be providing job training seminars, including resume writing and how to navigate LinkedIn.  Independence Fund #RAH campaign asks Veterans and their families to share their coping tactics. With the success of our Caregiver and OpRES webinars, we are expanding these virtual chats to our Family program, offering up assistance with tutoring and hosting family game nights.  Resilient@Home Resiliency. What The Independence Fund is most proud of is how we have shown how resilient our organization and its catastrophically wounded Veterans are. We launched RESILIENT@Home, a campaign where people can share their coping tactics on how they are staying resilient at home with the hash tag #RAH while highlighting the difficulties catastrophically wounded Veterans and their Caregivers are experiencing. We’ve loved seeing people coming up with creative ways to stay sane, from turning their homes into a 9-hole putt-putt course to reorganizing their garages.  Together, we can all remain RESILIENT@Home as we navigate, adapt and pivot to these changing times.  Blog submitted as guest post by The Independence Fund. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.
American Legion National Commander James “Bill” Oxford called on the White House to extend federal orders to thousands of members of the National Guard whose current deployments in coronavirus relief efforts fall one day short of the 90-day period required to obtain many benefits including home loans, education and retirement. “Highly unfair and disturbing,” is how Oxford described the plan to award those deployed credit for 89 days of federal service. “I served many years in the North Carolina National Guard. I know the caliber of these outstanding men and women who leave their homes and literally risk their lives so communities across America can be safe during national emergencies. “The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for many people. We would be far worse off if we did not have the National Guard setting up field hospitals, cleaning nursing homes and delivering emergency supplies. An 89-day deployment strongly suggests a decision based on accounting rather than what’s needed to truly respond to this emergency. The American Legion is calling for the president to fix this.”
WASHINGTON – To ensure homeowners and renters have current and accurate housing assistance information during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today, along with several other agencies, launched a new unified mortgage and housing assistance website.  Veterans and service members with a VA home loan, other homeowners with a federally backed mortgage and tenants living in properties with a federally backed mortgage have relief options if they have been financially impacted by COVID-19.  “VA is committed to ensuring Veterans and service members have the financial tools available to make decisions that work for their unique situations,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This collaboration provides an invaluable resource, enabling all homeowners and renters to access up-to-date information regarding their housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  The joint website with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development consolidates: mortgage relief options, protections for renters, resources for additional help and information on how to avoid COVID-19 related scams. It also provides tools for homeowners to determine if their mortgage is federally backed and for renters to find out if their rental unit is financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, VA continues providing home loan services to Veterans and service members who have earned those benefits, working with lenders, servicers and appraisers on temporary measures to assist in processing and servicing VA home loans.  These measures include offering alternatives for appraisers to determine property value in lieu of interior inspections and providing lenders with additional information to close loans remotely. Such alternative procedures help ensure VA borrowers can close on a home even during this pandemic and prevent foreclosures when possible.  VA borrowers experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can review VA guidance for borrowers and either request forbearance through the mortgage loan servicer collecting their monthly payments or call 877-827-3702 to speak with a VA Home Loan Representative. 
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) announced today it will commemorate Memorial Day this year with solemn wreath laying ceremonies.  Another offering is a new online memorial feature allowing the public to pay tribute to Veterans interred in VA national cemeteries across the country.  “This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor Veterans and service members with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.”  Each VA national cemetery will conduct a brief wreath laying ceremony, accompanied by a moment of silence and the playing of Taps. In keeping with CDC guidelines to limit large gatherings, the ceremonies will not be open to the public.  Secretary Wilkie will preside over the wreath laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on Memorial Day. Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers will do the same at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia, while Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves will lay a wreath at Riverside National Cemetery in California Friday, May 22, and at Calverton National Cemetery in New York on Memorial Day. Live streaming, recorded video and photographs from these and other ceremonies will be shared on NCA’s Facebook and Twitter pages.  Other public events typically associated with Memorial Day at national cemeteries, including group placement of flags at gravesites, will not take place. However, all VA national cemeteries will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk for public visitation.  Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to health and safety guidelines and maintain physical distancing while visiting. Visitors are also urged to consider visiting Friday, Saturday or Sunday to avoid possible crowds on Memorial Day. Families may continue the tradition of placing flowers and small American flags at their Veteran’s gravesite.  VA will also be launching a new way for the public to pay tributes to Veterans at the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM). The site, originally launched in 2019, contains a memorial page for each Veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. Starting Thursday, May 14, VLM will permit online visitors to leave a comment of tribute on a Veteran’s page, introducing a new way to observe Memorial Day. The tribute allows visitors to voice memories and appreciation for a Veteran’s service. All comments will be reviewed for appropriateness prior to being posted.  As it has in years past, VA is again partnering with Carry The Load this Memorial Day to honor select “Veterans of the Day” with remembrances on social media from May 11-25. 
VA’s National Cemetery Administration is partnering again with the nonprofit Carry The Load for a Memorial May campaign. Carry the Load provides active ways for Americans to honor and remember the sacrifices made by our nation’s fallen heroes. This year marks the ninth annual Memorial May campaign. It is the second year for VA cemeteries joining to help promote Carry The Load’s signature event. The National Relay is a 15,000-mile trek across the country culminating with a Memorial Day ceremony in Dallas, Texas. First Virtual National Relay This year, the National Relay, with 30 stops in national cemeteries, is a virtual relay. Participants can register for the virtual relay at carrytheload.org/register. By registering, participants can form virtual teams and build community partnerships. National cemeteries and Carry The Load will recognize fallen Veterans by featuring a “Veteran of the Day” on social media. Memorial Drive, Facebook Live and National Moment of Remembrance Memorial Day typically has a traditional ceremony. This year, Carry The Load will host the 2020 Dallas Memorial Drive from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Central Time May 25. Participants must register their vehicles in advance to join the honor drive near Reverchon Park in Dallas, Texas. From 12 pm to 3 p.m. central, Carry The Load has a Facebook Live sharing event, “Lessons from the Front.”  Patriots are encouraged to pause at 3 p.m. local time for a one-minute “National Moment of Remembrance.” This moment is to honor those who died in service to the nation. Although this year’s events will look different, the mission to honor fallen heroes remains the same. For more details on the 2020 Carry The Load National Relay, visit their website. Read more on last year’s National Relay here. “In this time of uncertainty, our mission and our purpose has not changed,” said Stephen Holley, president and CEO of Carry The Load and Navy SEAL Veteran. “Since 2011, Carry The Load has provided an outlet for financial and emotional support to our nation’s heroes. With our current situation, the entire world has become painfully aware of the courage and sacrifice of those on the front lines.” VA National Cemeteries across the nation are partnering with Carry The Load for a virtual relay this Memorial Day to honor the fallen. No Veteran Ever Dies “The National Cemetery Administration greatly values our close partnership with Carry The Load, and Memorial Day provides an important opportunity to work together to pay tribute to the fallen and their families,” Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves said. “Our organizations’ missions are closely aligned, as we make sure that ‘No Veteran Ever Dies.’ This year’s online Memorial Day event will allow people to participate without traveling long distances. So, we actually have an opportunity to reach more people in more places than we would otherwise.” VA operates 142 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. 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, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the launch of the COVID Coach app, a new mobile app designed to help both Veterans and civilians cope with feelings of stress and anxiety they may be experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The app includes practical tools, information and resources that can all be used from the safety of one’s home to track well-being, mood swings and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.  A personal goal setting tracker can help users work toward achieving small victories. The mindfulness and sleep tools can be helpful for improving mental health and well-being. The indoor activities tool and staying healthy recommendations have been specifically tailored to the current COVID-19 situation.  “VA wants to make sure Veterans have access to every resource available,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The COVID Coach app provides tools and information to stay mentally and physically healthy.”   Direct links to resources are available within the app for those who may need additional professional support. The COVID Coach can be used independently or while engaged in mental health treatment but is not intended to replace needed professional care.   COVID Coach was developed by VA’s National Center for PTSD’s Mobile Mental Health Team, in conjunction with the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Download the app on iOS and Android devices or from VA’s Mobile App Store. Contact MobileMentalHealth@va.gov regarding questions about COVID Coach.  The National Center for PTSD has information and resources for managing stress during COVID-19 outbreak.
Members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and VFW Post 3787’s Auxiliary in San Diego have taken donating their time during the pandemic a step further May 07, 2020   VFW Post members around the world have been donating their time and effort to make masks for their community members across the world. Members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and Auxiliary members of Post 3787 in San Diego make face masks in April for sailors aboard the USS O’Kane (DDG-77) stationed in San Diego, Calif. The VFW members made a total of 57 masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Paula Jansen. However, members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and VFW Post 3787’s Auxiliary in San Diego have taken it a step further. These VFW and Auxiliary members made masks for active-duty sailors in the area. Some 30 masks were made for sailors aboard the USS O’Kane (DDG-77).  In total, Post and Auxiliary members made 57 face masks in early April to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the spring 2020 pandemic.   By Dave Spiva/VFW magazine
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it has expanded support services enabled by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to make available immediate relief for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The CARES Act allocates $17.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, $300 million of which will be used this fiscal year to address the challenges faced by homeless and at-risk Veterans.  “A significant percentage of homeless Veterans or those at risk of homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their living conditions, age and chronic health complications,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The funds from the CARES Act are vital and will allow VA to continue working diligently to prevent the spread of infection in communities and keep Veterans safe and on the pathway to permanent housing during this perilous time.” Funding is provided for three critical VA programs to assist with the emergency response needed for Veterans living without safe, stable housing.  Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program - $202 million has been allocated to provide emergency housing and homelessness prevention assistance to very low-income Veteran families to mitigate the expected wave of evictions and potential homelessness that will result from extensive unemployment. Funds for this program will also assist the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program in placing Veterans in safe housing to isolate them from the virus.    Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program - Grants from the GPD program usually consist of a capped per diem payment from VA to community organizations to provide transitional housing and supportive services to Veterans. $88 million has been allocated to this program, which allows VA to waive per diem limits during the crisis and help GPD grantees to provide all needed emergency housing and supportive services, including emergency placement for Veterans who need to be isolated for their safety or the safety of others.   Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program - $10 million has been allocated to provide emergency shelter and supportive services during the crisis, including placement in hotel rooms for Veterans needing emergency shelter or isolation to avoid spreading the virus. Housing will be paired with care, treatment and rehabilitative services. Learn more about how VA is working to protect Veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and   VA’s homeless programs.
(VAntage Point) More than 120 health care providers from the VA New England Healthcare System have deployed to New York City and the greater Boston area. The deployment supports VA’s response to the northeast’s COVID-19 outbreak. In the photo above, Matt Hamel of VA Maine Healthcare System boards a plane for a flight from Portland, Maine, to New York City. There, he’ll begin a 14-day deployment to support VA COVID-19 response operations. “They have left their friends and family here in New England to support colleagues in New York and bolster our COVID-19 teams at VA medical centers in Boston and Bedford,” said Ryan Lilly, the VA New England director. “Their dedication, courage, commitment and selflessness deserve our deepest admiration and gratitude. Their service to our nation’s Veterans is saving lives and making a difference. We are proud of each of them.” Since April 5, teams from VA New England have included full-time VA New England doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical support assistants and housekeeping staff. More than 40 were sent to support the VA New York/New Jersey Healthcare Network. They’ve been attached to COVID-19 response units at the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses. A rotation of VA New England volunteers has left each week to resupply VA’s New York City response with much needed clinical and operational support. Several signed up for a second 14-day shift. 60 staff members to Boston On Sunday, more staff flew on a Department of Defense jet from the Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, to New York. VA New England is also reinforcing the response teams within its network; demand in the Boston area is also high. In the past few weeks, teams of more than 60 staff members from VA New England’s medical centers in Vermont, Maine and Central Western Massachusetts were sent to VA Boston and the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass. All are volunteers as part of the Veteran Health Administration’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). DEMPS is the VHA’s main deployment program for VA’s workforce to assist in a federal emergency or disaster zone under a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Sunday’s flight On Sunday’s flight were a nurse practitioner, an emergency department nurse, a medical support assistant and a housekeeping aide. A fifth person, a primary care physician, drove to New York April 24. The four VA Maine employees boarded a jet with “United States of America” written across its body and an American flag affixed to its tail. Before boarding, military personnel checked their temperatures. One of them was Matt Hamel, a housekeeping aide who served eight years in the U.S. Army. His service included a deployment to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan. Hamel works in Environmental Management Services at the VA Maine Healthcare System in Augusta, Maine. His duty in New York will include cleaning and sanitizing the COVID-19 area at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx. “I’m a Veteran. For me, it’s a call to duty,” said Hamel, who lives in Chelsea, Maine. “It’s just another deployment for me. There’s just something inside, a driving force, that says, ‘Go help.’” 24/7 around-the-clock, 12-hour on-and-off shifts Other volunteers from New England have also mentioned the importance of serving their country and answering the call for help. Mark Zacheis is a registered nurse from the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital. He went to New York for a 14-day deployment. He plans to help his colleagues when he returns to the VA medical center in Bedford. Zacheis said his time in New York was intense. Now, he will use the knowledge he gained and his experience to help save lives in Massachusetts. The Army Veteran said operations have been 24/7 with around-the-clock with 12-hour on-and-off shifts. He said it was, “eat, shower, bed and then do it all over again.” Zacheis said spirits are high, despite the situation’s intensity. He said it was especially uplifting to hear New Yorkers at 7 p.m. each day cheering from windows and banging on pots and pans to show their appreciation for the health care workers. “We’re just doing our best,” he said during his first week in New York. “We’ve seen a lot of teamwork. There’s a lot of communication.” He also noted they were provided donated meals and other items provided to help them settle in. Bridget Fisher, a nurse practitioner from China, Maine, has her identification checked before boarding a DoD aircraft for a flight to New York to begin COVID-19 response operations at VA medical centers in New York City. “Not volunteering was not an option” Several of the VA New England staff said the DEMPS mission is an opportunity to contribute their VA clinical expertise at a critical time and at the epicenter of the coronavirus – New York City. “As I watch the news every day and see my health care colleagues across the country caring for these very sick patients, I know I have the clinical expertise to contribute to this unprecedented pandemic,” said Margaret “Peg” Sullivan, a nurse practitioner from the White River Junction VA Healthcare System in Vermont.  “Simply, this is what I do. Not volunteering was simply not an option.” Sullivan said everyone is “working long, difficult hours.” Both the New York and New England providers work side-by-side and are taking every precaution. “It is an honor to serve during this pandemic,” she said. “We are not heroes. We are simply committed clinicians doing what needs to be done. We’re supporting our colleagues and patients.” Her colleague, Lisa D. Romero, agreed. Romero is nurse manager of the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Bangor, Maine. “This is a chance to give back to those Veterans who fought for the freedoms that allow me to practice as a nurse today,” said Romero. “To serve our Veterans is an honor” Volunteering to help fellow VA staff at the Brooklyn VA is “being there for those who are in need,” said Carolyn L. Stevens. Stevens is a VA licensed practical nurse from Lincoln, Maine, and a U.S. Army Medical Corps Veteran. “To serve our country is a privilege. To serve our Veterans is an honor,” said Tim Chilson, a Veteran of the U.S. Navy and of the Army National Guard and Air National Guard from Florence, Mass. He has also deployed several times when on active-duty with several military deployments. Chilson is a registered nurse with the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System. Vermont and Maine also helping Several staff from Vermont and Maine are now helping in Boston and the nearby VA Bedford campus. The Bedford campus is now caring for Veterans from the state Veterans’ home in Chelsea, a Boston suburb. Tina Kebalka is a registered nurse at VA New England’s White River Junction VA Healthcare System in Vermont. She left her home earlier in April. Now she’s at the VA Boston Healthcare System Intensive Care Unit, caring for Veterans with COVID-19. “As I was packing up my car this morning, I couldn’t help but think of all the Veterans that I have met and taken care of in my 10 years here at White River Junction VA,” Kebalka wrote in a blog. She uses the blog to share her observations with friends and fellow VA employees. “I was thinking about how they must have been feeling on the morning of their first deployment into World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, or leaving for basic training, or any other mission that required leaving their home. I am inspired, determined and excited to use my skills toward this worldwide crisis.” Implementing contingency plans VHA has 18 Veterans Integrated Service Networks. The Manhattan VA campus and the Brooklyn VA Medical Center are within VISN 2. VISN 2 comprises VA medical centers in New York and New Jersey. Lilly noted that his network has kept a close eye on the spread of the virus into New England. VA New England had already built contingency plans for VA providers within New England to support the expected Boston surge. Support of COVID-19 units will be critical in VISN 1 for the foreseeable future, he said. In messages to employees, he has encouraged VA New England staff to volunteer. There’s a need “We need nurses, physicians and other clinical staff and likely other professionals from a wide range of service lines. They’re needed not just in other regions of our nation, but right here in New England, too,” Lilly said. Lilly also appealed to employees to share the need for health care professionals with retired VA providers. “They can make an immediate difference right now, today, close to home here in New England,” said Lilly. Any provider interested in returning to the Veterans Health Administration to help VA medical centers in New England can send a note to human resources at VHAV01NewEnglandHiring@va.gov. Sunday, Lilly was there to tell his staff heading to New York how proud he is. He said their service was an inspiration to everyone. “It takes a tremendous service, tremendous self-sacrifice and a willingness to serve your fellow man,” Lilly said.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its participating medical centers across the country kicked-off blood drives in late April — partnering with the American Red Cross and community organizations — in response to the ongoing national need for blood during the coronavirus disease 2019 public health emergency. Healthy individuals are encouraged to participate in the ongoing Share Your Health, Roll Up Your Sleeve Today blood drives hosted by VA medical centers and staffed by the Red Cross or other local blood collection centers. “As a leader in health care, VA has an obligation to step forward to offer this support to our nation,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilke. “This is an important opportunity for citizens nationwide to support their communities.” By leveraging VA’s resources to ensure vital blood and blood products are available for patients, VA is exercising its “Fourth Mission” to provide back-up health services to the nation in times of disaster. Those wishing to donate blood can visit Red Cross Blood to schedule an appointment. In some areas, VA works with other regional blood collection centers to host blood drives. VA hosted blood drives are scheduled on a rolling basis. Check the Red Cross or VA medical center websites for specific dates. Federal guidance states blood donors are exempt from “stay at home” orders to participate in this lifesaving activity. VA and the American Red Cross have also adopted additional precautions including requiring masks and social distancing measures at all blood drives to ensure the safety of donors and staff.