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(The American Legion) The American Legion called on President Biden to issue an Executive Order authorizing the reinstitution of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative and reopening all USCIS field offices abroad for servicemembers and deported veterans. “The American Legion believes that non-citizen veterans who are honorably discharged and have not been charged or convicted with felonious or heinous crimes should be guaranteed the promise they were made of citizenship,” said James W. “Bill” Oxford, national commander of The American Legion. Current citizenship status and deportation have no impact on a veteran’s eligibility for receiving benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans who have been deported remain eligible for VA services and care. However, ensuring these veterans are receiving the care they have earned through service is difficult. The American Legion recommended to the White House that VA assess barriers to care for these veterans and develop a plan to address this issue. The American Legion’s National Executive Committee passed two resolutions in 2018 that affirmed the organizaztion’s dedication in advocating for the rights of servicemembers who seek citizenship during their military service, as well as those of veterans who have been deported. Resolution No. 15: Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service, urges Congress to implement measures within the Department of Defense to ensure the process of naturalization through honorable military service is completed prior to discharge. Resolution No. 10: Expedited Citizenship Applications For Deported Veterans, calls on the federal government to grant expedited citizenship applications to deported veterans who were honorably discharged and have no felony convictions. “It is imperative that we strengthen military naturalization programs, prevent veteran deportation, and repatriate deported veterans. These policies would protect our servicemembers and veterans permanently with recognition for their honorable service to the United States,” Oxford concluded. Photo Credit:  A deployed National Guard soldier takes the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. U.S. Army photo.
WASHINGTON — This February the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched Ethics Principles for Access to and Use of Veteran Data as part of ongoing efforts to protect Veteran data. The new online resource outlines nine principles for communicating clear expectations on how Veteran data is to be managed and viewed by Veterans, staff, VA partners and other stakeholders. These principles reinforce VA’s standards of data privacy and protection maintained during VA’s distribution of nearly 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations to date, and other critical health care services during the coronavirus pandemic. “VA’s principle-based ethics framework takes a proactive approach to data management and privacy by setting standards for our partners to follow,” says Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone, M.D. “VA is applying this framework to all data interoperability initiatives, including those tied to our COVID-19 response and modernization efforts.” Having clearly defined integrities for everyone who accesses or uses Veteran data puts VA at the forefront of organizational responsibility for ethical data practices. Veterans trust VA to promote and respect their privacy, confidentiality and autonomy within the services the department provides and supports. The department will continue to uphold that trust by remaining consistent with VA’s I-CARE values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence to promote and ensure responsible practices whenever Veteran data is accessed or used. The ethics framework was developed by the Data Ethics Work Group established by the VA Interoperability Leadership team and the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) National Center for Ethics in Health Care, along with input from Veterans. The department is actively working to ensure all VA directives, policies and standards reflect these principles which the agency anticipates completing by the end of 2022. Learn more about VA’s COVID-19 vaccination response and how VHA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care continues to work proactively to build trust in managing access and use of Veteran data.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will extend the existing moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, as well as extend VA loan forbearance requests, to June 30, because of COVID-19.  The current moratorium extensions for evictions and foreclosures were set to end March 31. “We will do everything in our power to help Veterans, their families, survivors and our caregivers get through this pandemic,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The department’s moratorium and forbearance extensions support President Biden’s Jan. 22 Executive Order to deliver economic relief to Americans amid the COVID-19 crisis by addressing economic hardships the Veteran community faces, through no fault of its own, during the ongoing pandemic.”  VA borrowers experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can review VA guidance for borrowers or call 877-827-3702 for additional information.       
(VFW Magazine) WASHINGTON – Today the Senate confirmed the appointment of Denis McDonough, making him the new Veterans Affairs Secretary. A native of Stillwater, Minnesota, Mr. McDonough graduated from Saint John's University in 1992 and Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service with an MSFS degree in 1996. McDonough has extensive experience on Capitol Hill having served as White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama, deputy national security advisor and chief of staff of the National Security Council. As White House chief of staff, McDonough exhibited his commitment to veterans by working closely with the VA and Congress to address the many challenges and obstacles veterans face in receiving veteran’s health care services from the VA. “The VFW believes today’s confirmation of Mr. McDonough will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to leverage his years of government leadership experience to rebuild trust and confidence in quality VA care throughout the veteran community, especially during these uncertain times,” said Hal Roesch, VFW national commander. “The VFW looks forward to working closely with Mr. McDonough to ensure the VA can continue its aggressive fight against COVID-19, and to improve the delivery of care and benefits to our nation’s heroes.”
The Veteran Farmers Market (VFM) is a local space where senior veterans can come and shop, at no cost for food and household items. Started eight months ago in Cedarhurst, N.Y., it helps at-risk veterans by providing an outdoor space away from stores where they can come without the worry of being infected by Covid 19. Started by Rock and Wrap It Up! CEO Syd Mandelbaum and his wife Diane, food is donated by Trader Joe's, Costco, Wall's Bakery and other local stores to the Veteran Farmers Market. Syd also serves as the commander of American Legion Lawrence Cedarhurst Post 339. Post Adjunct Brig. General Pat Alesia (retired) volunteers with other community members to run the market. The VFM operates from 10-12 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings at the Rock and Wrap It up! offices in Cedarhurst. Veterans are required to social distance and wear face-masks. To set up a VFM, please contact Syd at sydmandelbaum@att.net or call 1-516-295-0670. About the author:Syd Mandelbaum graduated Brooklyn College with a BS in geology and Earth science and an MA in science from Brooklyn College. He taught high school Earth science in Brooklyn and Oceanside, N.Y. before going to work in the medical industry as a scientist. He received his MBA from Hofstra University. He is also certified as a building scientist by the BPI and Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs. He served as a military service staff sergeant, United States Air Force Reserves, 35th Medical Service Squadron. Training included AFSC 90270, 90250 with honors: Service Ribbon, Sharpshooters Ribbon He also has served since 2014 as commander of Lawrence Cedarhurst American Legion Post 339 Web site:http://www.rockandwrapitup.org
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reached a milestone in just a month and a half’s time administering 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Veterans and VA health care workers. As of Feb. 2, VA has dispensed at least one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine to more than 582,000 Veterans and has fully vaccinated over 44,000, totaling more than 626,000 doses. This is in addition to administering more than 401,000 doses to VA employees, and more than 1,200 vaccine doses to federal partners. “In addition to administering 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, VA has begun publishing the number of Veterans who have received Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at each facility across its enterprise,” said Acting VA Secretary Dat Tran.  “The number of doses administered to Veterans at each facility will be updated daily on the VA COVID-19 National Summary website.” VA employees across the country are working diligently to vaccinate the department’s health care personnel and the most vulnerable Veterans as quickly as possible. Making the data about vaccine doses administered to Veterans available publicly, VA is taking another step toward being as transparent as possible during the pandemic. VA is currently providing vaccines at more than 215 sites nationally with plans to expand to additional sites as vaccine supplies increase. As with states distributing vaccines, VA is currently in the limited supply phase, anticipating an increase in weekly vaccine doses in March. Until VA receives an increase in vaccines, many facilities may temporarily run out of vaccines for short periods of time. VA will continue to follow current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and the VA COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Plan until new CDC guidance is available. The distribution plan lays out VA’s overarching intent but implementation of vaccination on a large scale requires agility and flexibility in order to meet the daily threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government will continue to work with states and the private sector to effectively execute an aggressive vaccination strategy, focusing on the immediate actions necessary to convert vaccines into vaccinations. VA is reaching out to Veterans who are eligible for vaccination. Veterans who would like additional information can visit the VA COVID-19 vaccines webpage, visit their local facility’s website or contact their care team.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is proud to celebrate our nation’s African American service members and veterans throughout the month of February, Black History Month. “The bravery and sacrifice of our African American veterans, service members and their families has been integral to our nation’s success,” said Hal Roesch, VFW national commander. “From fighting on the front lines for the freedom of our nation, to celebrating the first Black Secretary of Defense confirmed only weeks ago, the contributions they have made and continue to make have helped to ensure our military remains the most exceptional force in the free world.” Throughout the month of February, the VFW will spotlight the service stories of African American veterans and their invaluable contributions to our military and society.  
(VFW)  In honoring the memory of a local Army veteran, a VFW Post in San Antonio established a scholarship fund that surpassed more than $75,000 in 2020.  In the 10 years since creating a scholarship fund in memory of Jeremiah J. Geffre, VFW Post 1533 and its members have awarded 69 college scholarships ranging between $1,000 and $1,500 to local JROTC high school students.   Jeremiah J. Geffre’s father, John, left, and Post 1533 trustee and scholarship chairperson Ruben Villafranca, right, stand alongside Judson High School AFROTC members and scholarship recipients Taylor Andrews and Nicole Murillo on April 24, 2018, at the Judson High School JRROTC awards in Converse, Texas, about 15 miles from San Antonio. “We have always valued education at Post 1533, so preserving the memory of a young man like Geffre through a scholarship named in his honor was very fitting,” said Ruben Villafranca, a VFW Post 1533 trustee and scholarship chairperson.    The decision to honor Geffre was voted upon by Post members in 2011, five years after Geffre lost his battle to brain cancer diagnosed while deployed to Kuwait between 2004 and 2005 with the Army’s 328th Human Resources Company. Post 1533 began with two scholarships worth $1,000 each in 2011, but has since allocated funds to donate between six and seven scholarships a year. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the Post awarded 13 yearly scholarships worth $1,500 each. Each year, Post 1533 members raise the funds through barbecue and Bingo nights at the Post, as well as receiving private donations from local businesses and residents such as the Geffres. The program’s success has led to testimonials from former awardees, whose presence at yearly scholarship ceremonies alongside Post 1533 members encourage future participants to propel their own goals forward.  “For Geffre’s parents and the Post, the scholarship keeps a veteran’s memory alive. But it also helps our future leaders get their education,” Villafranca said. “It’s a blessing hearing past awardees come and talk to the youth and speak on how the scholarship has helped them achieve their career goals.” Despite not having the means to raise money for the 2021 campaign as a consequence of COVID-19, Villafranca and other Post 1533 trustees expect the program to continue in 2022. “COVID difficulties had us decide to forgo this year’s scholarships, but it’s not the end,” Villafranca added. “We are very proud of the program and hope to continue it for many years to come.”
(VAntage Point) Veterans who receive federal benefits should sign up for direct deposit to receive their benefit payments electronically. Direct deposit is easier, safer and more reliable than prepaid debit cards or paper checks that often get lost or delayed in the mail. Direct deposit also allows beneficiaries to receive their benefits automatically, without leaving their home, which helps protect their health and safety by limiting unnecessary contact with others. More than 98% of SSA and Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) beneficiaries already receive their monthly benefit payment on time, every time, because they’ve enrolled in direct deposit. To provide Veterans and service members with a safe, reliable and inexpensive way to receive their VA monetary benefits, VA launched the Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP). Through VBBP, Veterans can access federally-insured banking institutions that specialize in services for military personnel, Veterans and their families. Participating VBBP banks offer Veterans and service members low- to no-cost checking accounts into which benefit payments can be direct deposited, as well as other financial services. Since the program’s launch in December 2019, more than 30,000 Veterans have signed up for VBBP. Veterans can learn more about VBBP online, sign up by calling VA at 1-800-827-1000, or visit a participating bank or credit union and request to participate in the program. Partnership To streamline the process for disbursing funds to millions of Americans and ensuring timely receipt of benefit payments, VA and the Social Security Administration are joining forces with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service. The agencies have teamed up to share ideas and explore new opportunities for collaboration that will improve the federal benefit experience. VA and the Social Security Administration are connected by their shared commitment to serve the American public and to issue payments for federal benefits. From a retiree who receives Social Security benefits to a Veteran who receives disability compensation, monthly benefit payments are essential for millions of Americans. These payments provide beneficiaries with critical support needed to pay rent, buy food, purchase medicine, pay for school, and more. It is crucial that these payments are delivered on time, every time. Joanne Gasparini is the associate commissioner of the Office of Financial Policy and Operations at the Social Security Administration. Charles S. Tapp II is the chief financial officer at VBA. Ronda Kent is the assistant commissioner for Payment Management and Chief Disbursing Officer at the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the names of several key Biden administration political appointees joining the department. Paula Molloy, PhD, assistant secretary, Human Resources and Administration/ Operations, Security and Preparedness: Paula Molloy rejoins VA after serving as chief administrative officer for the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), an independent federal agency since 2017. Molloy served as VA assistant deputy undersecretary for Health for Workforce Services, leading the strategic integration of initiatives to support human capital systems for more than 320,000 Veteran Health Administration employees and over 120,000 health professions trainees.  Kayla M. Williams, assistant secretary, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: Prior to rejoining VA, Kayla Williams most recently was senior fellow and director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at Center for a New American Security. Williams previously served as director of the Center for Women Veterans at VA, where she was primary adviser to the secretary on department policies, programs and legislation affecting women Veterans. Williams also served eight years at RAND researching service member and Veteran health needs and benefits, international security and intelligence policy.  Chris Díaz, acting chief of staff, White House Liaison, Office of the Secretary: Chris Diaz is founder and former executive director of the Veteran-led non-profit, Action Tank, whose mission tackles the toughest challenges facing the community. He has sat on numerous boards in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, helping to shape the future of the region. For leading these efforts, Diaz has received national recognition earning the SXSW Community Service Award, Aspen Ideas Fellowship and prestigious Pat Tillman scholarship. Diaz is an entrepreneur whose company, Performa, supported clients focused on implementing positive lifestyle changes, increasing their capacity for self-awareness and actualization.  Meg Kabat, senior advisor, Families, Caregivers and Survivors, Office of the Secretary: Meg Kabat is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years supporting America’s service members, Veterans and their families. Early in her civilian career with the U.S. Navy, Kabat served as a case manager. From 2011-2019, Kabat served in leadership roles with the VA Caregiver Support Program. Most recently, Kabat has been a senior director at Atlas Research, supporting the Department of Defense (DOD) Sexual Assault Prevention Office, as well as facilitating the COVID-19 Nursing Home Commission in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Kabat is the recipient of multiple awards including a Special Recognition Award from Disabled American Veterans, VA Exemplary Service Award and VA Exceptional Service Award.  Raymond C. Kelley, liaison, Veteran Service Organization, Office of the Secretary: Prior to his appointment to VA, Raymond Kelley was the majority staff director for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. In this role, Kelley worked as the primary day-to-day Veterans’ portfolio legislative and political advisor to Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and oversaw the daily operations of the Committee staff. Prior to his work on the Committee, Kelley was director of National Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) where he was responsible for the planning, coordination and implementation of VFW’s priorities that were presented to Congress, federal departments and agencies, and other organizations. Kelley also served as the national legislative director for AMVETS before his work with the VFW.   Ya Wei (Jenny) Wang - director of Mission Operations, Office of the Secretary: Jenny Wang recently served on the Biden-Harris transition team. She has worked in various foreign policy and national security positions throughout the government. From 2013-2017, Wang was special assistant and advisor to the White House chief of staff, where she managed executive operations. Wang held different positions on the National Security Council, to include special assistant in the Counterterrorism Directorate.  Tahmika Ruth Jackson, special counsel, Office of General Counsel: Prior to her appointment to VA, Tahmika Jackson served as National Security Agency (NSA) senior representative to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia. Jackson also served as a counterterrorism senior leader in the Counterterrorism Operations Cell of the National Security Operations Center, acting as NSA’s primary coordinator for real-time counterterrorism situational awareness and crisis response. Jackson formerly represented the DOD as an attorney in the NSA Office of the General Counsel working national security and intelligence law issues.  Terrence L. Hayes, press secretary, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: Prior to assuming the role of VA press secretary, Terrence Hayes served as national director of Communication and Public Affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He has worked in critical executive-level public affairs positions throughout his 24-year civilian and military career. As a public affairs professional in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Hayes was responsible for answering national, regional and local media queries on behalf of then Secretaries David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie. He also served as public affairs adviser and spokesperson to the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from November 2011 to January 2016.  John Santos, special assistant, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: John Santos previously served as Asian American and Pacific Islander outreach director at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) where he led the DNC’s efforts to mobilize Asian American and Pacific Islander voters through close partnership with the Biden-Harris campaign and community leaders across the country. In addition to his organizing work, Santos has extensive experience in public affairs and communications having served as Western Region press secretary at the DNC and as deputy spokesperson for the international anti-ISIS coalition in Baghdad, Iraq.  More announcements are to come.