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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a notice in the Federal Register April 1, to solicit public feedback to guide implementation of the new VA Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program (SSG Fox SPGP).  SSG Fox SPGP will be a $174 million, three-year grant program to provide resources to community organizations that serve Veterans at risk of suicide and support to their families across the U.S.   Those resources are outlined in the grant program Congress established under the authority of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019.  “Suicide prevention is a top priority for VA and this grant program is part of our comprehensive public health approach to reach all Veterans through the use of results-oriented initiatives aimed at reducing suicide," said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “This congressionally-enacted grant program will allow us to work with local providers to offer Veterans the support they deserve. The information gathered from this initiative will allow us to better invest and share resources with community organizations to collaboratively reduce Veteran suicide.”  The public notice requests feedback on distribution and selection of grants, development of measures and metrics for administering the grant program, training, and technical assistance to grant recipients and non-traditional and innovative approaches and treatment practices for suicide prevention services. It also seeks public comment on how grant recipients should determine suicide risk and refer Veterans at risk of suicide or other mental or behavioral health conditions to VA for care. In addition to soliciting public comments, VA will be hosting two virtual listening sessions in the coming months. A second Federal Register Notice with registration information and further details will be forthcoming in the coming weeks. The feedback from both notices will be used to provide recommendations for the SSG Fox SPGP.  View the notice and submit comments at the Federal Register. The public comment period ends April 22, 2021.   ###  If you’re a Veteran having thoughts of suicide or you know one who is, contact the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7/365 days a year. Call?1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at http://veteranscrisisline.net/Chat or text to 838255.
The American Legion The U.S. flag will be raised above the soon-to-open National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., during a live broadcast program April 16. The ceremony will commemorate the millions of Americans who served in the trenches and on the homefront, transforming the nation through the sacrifices they made and the ideals they bequeathed. Set to begin at 10 a.m. Eastern time, the 75-minute broadcast will feature Oscar nominee Gary Sinise, as well as performances from the U.S. Army’s Band “Pershing’s Own,” the 369th Regiment Harlem Hellfighters Tribute Band and the original cast of the musical “Hello Girls.” Viewers will also hear insights from elected officials, military leaders, members of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission and the memorial’s design team. The flag that will wave over the memorial first flew over the U.S. Capitol April 6, 2017, commemorating the centennial of the day the United States went to war in 1917. It then flew over the American World War I battlefield cemeteries of Europe, honoring the 116,516 Americans who died during the war. The flag’s journey to Europe and back echoes that of the legendary doughboys, honoring those who gave their lives in battle and celebrating others’ triumphant return home. Register to watch the broadcast here, and watch a promotional video here.
VAntage Point All Veterans, their spouses and caregivers can get COVID-19 vaccinations from VA under the SAVE LIVES Act signed into law March 24. Covered individuals can receive a vaccine from VA due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency. Under the bill, covered individuals are: Veterans who are not eligible to enroll in the VA health care system; specified Veterans who are eligible for hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care abroad; family caregivers approved as providers of personal care services for Veterans under the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers; caregivers of Veterans participating in the VA’s Program of General Caregiver Support Services; and caregivers of Veterans participating in the VA’s Medical Foster Home Program, Bowel and Bladder Program, Home Based Primary Care Program, or Veteran Directed Care Program. Civilian Health and Medical Programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs recipients. Veteran spouses. VA must prioritize the vaccination of (1) Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, (2) Veterans who fail to enroll but receive hospital care and medical services for specified disabilities in their first 12 months of separation from service, and (3) caregivers accompanying such prioritized Veterans. Additionally, vaccines furnished abroad are authorized to be furnished in a geographic location other than a state regardless of whether vaccines are needed for the treatment of Veterans with a service-connected disability. This includes those participating in a VA rehabilitation program. More information To learn how to get COVID-19 vaccine from VA, visit https://blogs.va.gov/VAntage/84404/veterans-designated-caregivers-can-get-covid-19-vaccine-va/. Find answers to general VA COVID-19 vaccine questions at https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/. To receive ongoing updates about VA’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts and to indicate your interest in getting the vaccine once you’re eligible, visit https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/stay-informed. Read the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet at https://www.fda.gov/media/144638/download. View the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet at https://www.fda.gov/media/144413/download. Read the Janssen COVID-19 fact sheet at https://www.fda.gov/media/146305/download.
American Legion When President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill last week, it also created a policy change that has been long-advocated for by The American Legion — closing the 90/10 loophole. “The American Legion applauds Congress and President Biden for moving to protect veterans and members of our Armed Forces from being targeted by predatory, for-profit schools,” said American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford. The 90/10 rule mandated for-profit schools obtain at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than Title IV education funds, which are the primary source of student aid. GI Bill benefits fall within the 10 percent category, making them valuable to for-profit institutions. Because of this, for-profit institutions have aggressively targeted veterans and servicemembers with deceptive recruiting methods. This left veterans particularly vulnerable to predatory institutions. Closing this loophole will protect veterans and their earned education benefits from being exploited by these institutions. In 2015, The American Legion’s National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 15: Support Greater GI Bill Outcomes By Closing 90-10 Loophole. This resolution reaffirmed the Legion’s longstanding advocacy when it comes to securing a veteran’s right to education. “As the original drafters of the first GI Bill, our membership has unequivocally stated that closing the 90-10 loophole is critical to ensuring the Forever GI Bill is protected,” Oxford added.
VAntage Point As a member of what will be the most diverse White House Cabinet in history, I am honored to lead VA. We are charged with caring for Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. We will accomplish our mission by always putting Veterans first. I take full responsibility to ensure that our employees have everything they need to carry out the important work before us and that we operate in a culture that celebrates and draws strength from our country’s great diversity. This means that all VA staff, patients, their families, caregivers, survivors, visitors and advocates must feel safe in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. I will not accept discrimination, harassment, or assault at any level or at any facility within VA. We will provide a safe, inclusive, equitable environment for all employees and the Veterans we serve. To ensure a welcoming environment for Veterans, we must foster fair and inclusive VA workplaces where the experiences and perspectives of our diverse employees are valued. The success of our mission depends on everyone being able to contribute their expertise, experience, talents, ideas and perspectives. I commit to advancing equity in VA and providing all employees with opportunities to reach their full potential; I commit to these principles and will make sure that my senior leadership team reflects and embeds them in everything that we do. One manifestation of that will be the Department’s commitment to equal employment opportunity, maintaining a workplace free of unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and creating a workplace that promotes equity, diversity and inclusion. All employees, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including gender identity, transgender status and sexual orientation), pregnancy, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, marital status, parental status, or political affiliation will have an equitable and inclusive workplace free from unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation. I will hold all VA managers and supervisors accountable for maintaining this safe and civil environment, and I will instruct them to review my policy statement with staff and colleagues to reinforce these expectations. These protections will guide all management practices. VA and our Nation face great challenges made even more daunting by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges make it even more important that we have workplaces where everyone is treated well. I am committed to ensuring that employees have what they need to serve our Nation’s Veterans as well as those Veterans who have served us. As Americans, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who have worn our Nation’s uniforms.
Based in Washington state, Freedom Sisters Media is a multi-media company focused solely on women vets and offering guidance for success in life VFW Magazine Kerri Jeter is on a mission. She is working to tell the empowering stories of her fellow female veterans. On Veterans Day 2019 she launched Freedom Sisters Media to do just that. This faith-based, multi-media company shares the successes of women veterans via the internet. Through the Freedom Sisters podcast, which airs weekly, Jeter highlights the successes of her “sisters” who served in the military. “The conversations have been authentic, real, transparent and vulnerable,” said Jeter, a mother of five. “The show can be summed up like this: It’s women veterans’ soulful stories that help others overcome, heal and thrive.” Jeter, who served from 2012-2013 at Camp Buehring in Kuwait with the Army National Guard’s 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, said she finds her podcast guests through her network of fellow veterans and following specific hashtags on social media.  “No matter how different the stories are week to week, the common thread is sisterhood, hope and healing,” said Jeter, a member of VFW Post 5878 in Tenino, Wash. “No topic is off the table. This is real life, and our sisters are real ‘sheroes.’ ” From her interviews each week, Jeter discovered common themes among female vet entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders: lack of funding, marketing, connection and networking. To address these issues, Freedom Sisters Magazine launched in January.  Jeter put a call out on LinkedIn and Instagram and ended up with 30 female vets to write for the magazine. She calls her team “writeHers.” Magazine “readHers” will find practical tools, skill-sharing and knowledge to succeed in whatever endeavors lay ahead, Jeter said.  The digital magazine app is available for subscription on iOS and Android. Subscribers get their first issue for free. ‘That Wasn’t Okay with Me’The road to Freedom Sisters started when Jeter enlisted on Dec. 5, 2006. A single mom with three kids, Jeter said she wanted to better her life for her children and herself.  When she deployed to Kuwait in 2012, she was apart from her children for 18 months. She tried to make the best of it at Camp Buehring. While others were on the receiving end of care packages, Jeter was making care packages from things she bought at various markets and sending to her kids back home. “It was nerve-wracking because I was their primary caregiver,” Jeter said. “It was difficult, but I was really focused on my job and was promoted to captain during that time.” In 2015, Jeter was crowned Ms. Veteran America. During her reign, Jeter realized that the stories being reported about female vets simply weren’t accurate. “The stories are about our pain points or that we are all damsels in distress,” Jeter said. “That wasn’t okay with me.” When she left the National Guard, Jeter was re-married and had a “surprise” baby. She took a year off but felt “called by God” to serve women vets. “I just thought, ‘There has to be more to what I was called to do,’” Jeter remembered. “One night, I went to bed in distress and had a dream about the words ‘Freedom Sisters.’ When I woke up, I looked up the domain name and found it was available. We launched on Veterans Day 2019.” Jeter and her husband are both active members of Post 5878. While campaigning for Ms. Veteran America, Jeter said the Post kept inviting her back to speak about homeless women veterans. Currently, her husband, Marcellus, is junior vice commander.  To learn more about Freedom Sisters Media, visit freedomsisters.com. This article is featured in the March 2021 issue of VFW magazine as part of our spotlight on women veterans for Women's History Month, and was written by Janie Dyhouse, senior editor for VFW magazine. 
WASHINGTON — The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, signed into law March 11 by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., equips the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure Veterans have continued access to quality health care and protections against COVID-19, as well as providing needed economic relief.  The $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic relief package for Americans allocates $17 billion in support of VA’s nationwide response to the pandemic.  “Like other hard-working Americans, Veterans have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Countless Veterans have lost jobs, closed businesses, home-schooled children and faced uncertain prospects while our nation grapples with this health crisis. The American Rescue Plan is a significant piece of legislation that helps VA deliver on the president’s promise of caring for the men and women who served our great nation, especially during this unanticipated and challenging time.”  Outlined for VA in the American Rescue Plan:  $14.5 billion for COVID-19 related health care, including information technology and facility requirements, ensuring access for 9.2 million enrolled Veterans who may have delayed care or have more complex health care needs as a result of the pandemic, as well as resources for Veterans currently receiving housing support and an estimated 37,000 homeless Veterans.  $1 billion for debt forgiveness related to copayments or other cost sharing Veterans paid for VA health care and to reimburse Veterans who paid a copay or other cost sharing, for care and prescriptions provided from April 6, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021.  $750 million for both construction grants ($500 million) and payments ($250 million) to State Homes to greatly improve the living conditions of our most vulnerable Veterans who reside in these facilities.   $386 million to initiate a COVID–19 Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program that provides up to 12 months of training and employment assistance for unemployed Veterans to enter high demand occupations.  $262 million to reduce the backlog of compensation and pension claims, which has grown from 76,000 in March 2020 to more than 212,000 in March 2021. The ARP funding will enable the Veterans Benefits Administration to reduce the claims backlog to around 100,000 by September 2022.  $100 million to facilitate the modernization of VA’s badly antiquated supply chain system by accelerating the Department’s transition to the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support.     $80 million to establish the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Leave Fund, which provides funds for paid leave for COVID-19 related causes.  $10 million to decrease the Board of Veterans’ Appeals hearing requests (currently 87,499) and intake (35,000 appeals) backlogs. These efforts help Veterans economically by resolving their VA appeals and allowing them to begin receiving compensation and services.  Additional American Rescue Plan support:  Veterans experiencing unemployment and other financial hardships may also qualify for further assistance in the form of extension of unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility, stimulus checks, or expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.  Veterans with children could benefit from additional stimulus payments, an increased child tax credit and expanded childcare tax credits.  Veterans are prioritized for the $28.6B Restaurant Revitalization Grants in the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. During the initial 21-day period in which the Small Business Administration (SBA) awards grants under this program, SBA will prioritize awarding grants to eligible entities that are owned and controlled by Veterans.  Helps small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas keep front line state and local public workers on the job and paid and help public transit agencies avoid layoffs and service reductions. Assists communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, many of which are Veterans living in diverse communities across the country. Women and racial/ethnic minorities are becoming the fastest-growing populations of Veterans, as the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic crisis have hit communities of color and women particularly hard.  Provides emergency funding for community investments to ease challenges experienced by many American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans and their families and provide much needed relief to embark on the long road to healing in the aftermath of tremendous losses during the pandemic. Closes what is known as the “90/10 loophole” to protect the integrity of the GI Bill and Veterans in receipt of their well-earned educational benefits.  Learn more about the American Rescue Plan.
(VAntage Point) After almost a year of disconnection, desperation, loss, isolation, and numbness because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now more hope and positivity around us. We have new weapons in the war against the pandemic – three safe and proven vaccines that can significantly protect us from hospitalization and death caused by the coronavirus. This good news means that now is the time for VA to evaluate the lessons it has learned in the past year: the processes we’ve developed to provide efficient, optimal care to Veterans, and how we’ve recalibrated to improve the nation’s largest integrated health care system. But, how else can we best serve our Veterans for the many years to come? The first step is listening to you – tuning into your thoughts, opinions, ideas, needs, feelings and suggestions for building a VA that best serves our mission. You are what’s most important to VA’s future, and your opinion is the most valued. We want to hear from you VA will be holding public virtual listening sessions across the country from March 2021 through June 2021. We want to hear the voices and insights of Veterans and the communities that VA serves. We are hosting these sessions to learn from you how we should design a health care system of the future, and how to grow its services for Veterans in a way that also reinforces VA’s role as a leader in U.S. health care. Your feedback will be used to develop the recommendations that VA submits to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission in January 2022. The AIR Commission will also conduct public hearings as part of its review of VA’s recommendations before submitting those recommendations to the President and Congress for review and approval in 2023. These listening sessions represent an exciting opportunity for Veterans to help VA reimagine how we deliver care in an equitable, high quality, Veteran-centered manner and to develop a plan for investing in VA’s aging infrastructure. It won’t be just talk – we are committed to modernizing VA significantly and we want to make sure we are in close step with the Veterans we serve. Now is the time to help determine the future of VA. We can’t do it without you. Where and how Additional information, including session dates, times, and registration information, is available at https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPOLICYPLANNING/listening.asp. Dr. Richard Stone is acting under secretary of health for the Veterans Health Administration. He is a retired Army major general and Veteran of the war in Afghanistan. 
By J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes   Troops exposed to shockwaves from bomb blasts may be at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological issues, even if they haven’t suffered a traumatic brain injury, recent Army-funded research suggests. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke found that even small explosions — ones unlikely to cause concussions or injuries — change the molecular structure of the brain, a study published last week in the journal Brain Pathology found. “This finding may explain those many blast-exposed individuals returning from war zones with no detectable brain injury, but who still suffer from persistent neurological symptoms, including depression, headaches, irritability and memory problems,” Ben Bahr, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UNC-Pembroke, said in an Army statement. Explosions from roadside bombs, rockets and mortar rounds have affected many deployed troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the past 20 years. Traumatic brain injuries and concussions from these blasts often lead to problems with sleep and memory, and sometimes to depression that leads to suicide. Long-term issues can arise from blasts that troops might not recognize as harmful at the time, Bahr said. “Our interest was focused on the effects of low-level blast waves that soldiers can experience during training and in war zones ... where nearby explosions can cause blast waves that can knock soldiers to their knees but they are able to get back up with no obvious injury to the body or brain,” Bahr said in an email. To test the impact of explosions on troops, researchers used slices of rat brains, specifically from the hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory. They placed the brain tissue into a makeshift skull: an aquarium filled with warm water. Seven inches away from the aquarium was a 1.7-gram explosive charge, capable of a “seemingly innocuous level of blast wave intensity,” Bahr said. The explosion produced a blast wave that pulsed through the air, the tank and then through the water before reaching the brain tissue. The blast damaged the hippocampus and diminished electrical activity between neurons, said Frederick Gregory, program manager for the Army Research Office, which funded the research. “You start seeing the development of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s plaque, as well as a loss in proteins you need to maintain your synaptic connections to your neurons,” Gregory said in a phone call. These effects could be seen after only one blast, with further explosions showing cumulative damage, he said. The research also involved the Development Command Army Research Laboratory and the National Institutes of Health. Researchers said they plan to look at the effects of blasts on other parts of the brain. “Early detection of this measurable deterioration could improve diagnoses and treatment of recurring neuropsychiatric impediments, and reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life,” Bahr said in the Army statement.   Photo Credit: National Guard
WASHINGTON — All Veterans insured under Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) will receive a reduction in premiums effective April 1, ensuring that VGLI remains a cost effective option for Veterans and transitioning uniform service members who choose Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) insurance products. Premiums for VGLI will be reduced by an average of 7% across all age groups — allowing separating service members to continue their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage level as a renewable term insurance policy after leaving service. “The reduction in VGLI premiums will make life insurance even more affordable for Veterans,” said Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Thomas Murphy. “Offering our Veterans better rates for their life insurance as they transition to civilian life is just one effort the department is taking to address the needs of our customers.” While any separating service member who has SGLI coverage upon separation is eligible to sign up for VGLI after separation, they must submit their application and initial premium within 240 days after leaving the military to apply without proof of good health. Those who apply after the 240-day period but before the deadline of one year and 120 days from separation will need to submit proof of good health by completing a questionnaire regarding medical conditions. Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VA is temporarily extending the application deadlines for VGLI by an additional 90 days beyond the initial 240-day period and the one year and 120 day-period, referenced above, to offer more flexibility to separating service members. This enrollment extension will remain in effect until June 2021. Learn more about VA Insurance, the new VGLI rates, calculating your insurance needs and opening an application.