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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie today released the following statement after a bipartisan group of more than 30 senators called on House leaders to pass S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which would expand mental health resources for Veterans both inside and outside VA. “The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is an honest and bipartisan solution to an issue that demands Congress’ immediate attention. The bill would boost care at VA facilities by expanding in-person and telehealth mental health services and allowing Guardsmen and Reservists to receive counseling at VA Vet Centers across the country. It would also expand the amount of non-VA community resources available to Veterans, wherever they may live, a key component of President Trump’s President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) initiative. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and we call on the House to give it the timely attention and bipartisan support it deserves.” – Secretary Robert Wilkie
The American Legion As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make social distancing a priority for the health and safety of everyone, and to stop the spread of the virus, Fall Meetings of The American Legion National Executive Committee will be held virtually. This includes the meeting of commissions and committees. In advance of these meetings, commission chairmen or division directors will send attending members instructions on how to join the meeting. The month and date for the meetings is as follows. September 3 – Endowment Fund 4 – Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission 15 – Child Welfare Foundation 15 – Committee on Children & Youth 15 – Committee on Youth Education 15 – American Legion Baseball Committee 15 – Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Committee 18 – National Security Commission 18 – Veterans Employment & Education Commission 19 – Marketing Commission 24 – Internal Affairs Commission 28 – Media & Communications Commission 29 – Internal Affairs Commission October 2 – Finance Commission 3 – Americanism Commission 5 – Convention Commission 5-6 – Finance Commission   National Executive Committee Meetings Oct. 14-15
(VAntage Point) September is Suicide Prevention Month. This month – and every month – you can take action to help prevent suicide. Simple acts of support can make a real difference to someone going through a difficult time. Check in with a phone call, send a text or an email. Simply reaching out can remind someone they are not alone. Resources Long Description Take time to check in with Veterans this Suicide Prevention Month. Here are some resources that can help you Be There for a Veteran in your life: Start the Conversation: This toolkit provides the information about common issues that many Veterans face. It also offers concrete steps to help you support a Veteran who may be dealing with emotional distress. Learn tips to start conversations about mental health and suicide using these fact sheets and find resources to understand common challenges that you and other Veterans may face. VA’s Make the Connection: This website encourages Veterans and those in their community to explore topics of mental health and common life challenges. It also has videos of Veterans openly discussing their experiences with mental health treatment and recovery. You are never alone, especially if you or someone you know is thinking of ending their life. At the Veterans Crisis Line, caring, qualified responders are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via phone, chat and text. Veterans having a difficult time or those concerned about a Veteran can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255. Take a moment to visit BeThereForVeterans.com for resources you can use and share. Reporters covering this issue can download VA’s Safe Messaging Best Practices fact sheet or visit www.ReportingOnSuicide.org for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide. Matthew Miller, Ph.D., is the director of VA’s Suicide Prevention Program, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
(American Legion) 100 Miles for Hope is a virtual 100-mile walk/run/ride challenge that started Aug. 3 and will continue through Veterans Day in 2020. It’s a way to invigorate donations for the Veterans & Children Foundation, as well as encourage American Legion Family members to be active in this time of social distancing. The foundation serves two primary functions. It provides critical grants for military and veteran parents in unexpected financial crises, and support for service officers in their tireless efforts to obtain care, benefits and opportunities for disabled veterans and families. The American Legion's 3,000 accredited service officers provide free assistance for any veteran in need. Participants in 100 Miles for Hope would have from the official kickoff to run, walk, bike or ride their motorcycle for 100 miles. That time frame is 100 days so it would mean being active for just a mile day, roughly 20 to 30 minutes for walkers — which coincidentally is the activity level many health experts recommend.  Some may choose to walk a mile a day. Others may do longer stretches of walks, runs and/or bike rides on a less frequent basis. Legion Riders could easily knock off 100 miles on a single trip. To register, go to the Emblem Sales site. For a $30 registration fee, participants will receive a men’s, women’s or children's tech shirt, and a sign they can display once the 100 miles is completed. After figuring the cost for the shirt, other materials and shipping, the remaining proceeds will go directly into the Veterans and Childrens Foundation. Participants are encouraged to wear their shirts when they are walking, running or riding their 100 miles. Additionally, they are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #100MilesForHope. After completing their 100 miles, participants can download and print a Certificate of Accomplishment. They are also encouraged to share their journey on a special category on Legiontown where they can publish their stories and photos.   
By Mackenzie Wolf   Bryan Crosson always loved creative writing. From a young age, the Marine Corps veteran used writing as a form of catharsis. So when one of his professors at Georgetown University reached out to him about possibly publishing a book, Crosson was struck by the opportunity. “I figured if nothing else,” he said, “even if the book doesn't get published, it is an exercise in creativity for myself and it's a structure that holds me accountable to writing and creating something new every week.” Writing his book, “The Lonesome Thread,” was more than just an exercise in writing and publishing for Crosson, who served as a military advisor in Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — it was a period of learning more about himself and deeper self-actualization. “I initially wanted to write it because I think there's a lot of power in the amount of time that we spend alone and how we structured that time,” said Crosson, a member of Post 297 in The American Legion Department of Maryland. “It’s this idea that the time that we spend out in the woods or in our own heads, alone and thinking about whether or not we made the right decision or wrestling with feelings of self-doubt, but then you gain this level of confidence from navigating the woods on your own … this is the type of confidence I think more people need in everyday life.” In terms of learning about himself, Crosson says this was what he wanted to explore. “Taking that pretty simple idea and turning that into a bigger idea of the inner lives that we build for ourselves … that was very much a learning experience for me,” he said. The reflections Crosson found in writing his book became timely with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I started writing it in January because it was something that was deeply important to me,” said Crosson. “And then it just so happened that by March the world had stepped off the precipice into this crisis of a pandemic and social isolation.” “The Lonesome Thread” started out as anecdotes that Crosson had about all the time he’d spent alone and the techniques that he’d used to structure his time from day to day. From there, the book blossomed as he started to collect stories that span place and time. Crosson delves into stories of those who’ve taken the time to go into retreat and spend time alone — from historical figures like Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, to Andy Puddicombe, the Buddhist monk and co-founder of a modern-day digital health company Headspace — they’ve used their experiences and lessons learned in solitude as catalysts that then allowed them to return to society and make better contributions than they had been before. “There are quite a few anecdotes from my own life experiences, but I think what really makes it special is being able to include all of these stories and thoughts from other people and places,” Crosson said. “What I wanted to do with this is make it an entertaining read that's worth people's time, and to also create a kind of a toolkit for people. So I included tools for how to create time in your life.” While Crosson was writing his book, he was also pursuing his Master of Business Administration at Georgetown University. Being self-disciplined in setting aside that time without distraction for himself was critical. That meant avoiding any kind of social interaction — even for just 30 minutes at a time. “But if you take that time every day and aggregate it over six months, then you’ve given yourself a solid amount of time," he said. "Taking that time to be on my own … it made me more present. And that's another premise of the book as well.” If people would take one thing away after reading his book, Crosson says he hopes that people come to grasp that time isn’t something to waste. “Whenever life does go back to normal, we'll look back at this time and we’ll want to feel like we did something useful with it. For me, it was writing this book," he said. "I think everybody should seek out some type of creative endeavor and then use that to enhance the relationships that we have and share the things that we create with people.”
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it is partnering with OnStar’s emergency services to improve access to suicide prevention resources for Veterans. This partnership will offer Veterans in crisis the opportunity to be transferred to around-the-clock, confidential support via VA’s Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) when they use the emergency services button in an OnStar-equipped vehicle or OnStar Guardian smartphone app. “The VA-OnStar partnership aims to promote suicide prevention and reduce deaths by suicide by providing additional resources to Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This partnership will help Veterans access suicide prevention support services and assistance directly and immediately. More than 400 VA suicide prevention coordinators and their teams, located at every VA medical center, connect Veterans with care and educate the community about suicide prevention programs and resources daily.”  An average of 20 Veterans die by suicide each day. Through this partnership, VA and OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, will collaborate to provide education and training to VA clinicians and OnStar call center staff to facilitate suicide prevention efforts for Veterans. Additionally, VA will provide resources and education to OnStar about military culture and how to determine if a caller is a Veteran. “OnStar services are designed to help our customers go out into the world feeling safer, and we recognize that for many people, and in particular Veterans, a crisis can start from within,” said Catherine Bishop, senior global emergency services manager for OnStar. “This partnership with VA allows our emergency-certified advisors to better serve the heroes who have served us.” Suicide prevention is a top priority and VA has made great strides in Veteran suicide prevention, especially in crisis intervention. Partnerships such as this are coordinated by the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Community Engagement.
American Legion AUG 18, 2020   The American Legion issued the following statement today highlighting its commitment to veterans who rely on timely mail delivery to receive prescriptions. “Millions of our nation's veterans depend on a strong U.S. Postal Service for critical needs such as prescription refills. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fills over half a million prescriptions each day through the Consolidated Mail Output Pharmacy system. The vast majority of these prescriptions are mailed to veterans through the USPS. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced availability of in-person services at VA facilities, including access to the pharmacy, places veterans in larger reliance on mail-ordered prescriptions and a strong USPS. If our leaders in Washington, D.C., choose not to fund the post office by the end of September, The American Legion is concerned it could have dire consequences for the millions of veterans who rely on the mail every day to deliver life-saving medication. The Postal Service often plays a pivotal role in the delivery of paperwork needed to process claims for veterans who have been disabled in the service of their country. “The American Legion has spoken out in favor of a strong USPS before with the passage of Resolution No. 344 at our annual national convention in 2016. The American Legion implores Congress to address this issue impacting our nation’s veterans in an expedited manner so they can continue to receive the critical services they need during these difficult times.”
Thirty-one years ago, Harold Lee Davis, an Army Veteran, began serving Veterans by volunteering along with his wife Hilda, first at the Fort Howard VA Medical Center and then at the Loch Raven VA Medical Center. Today, he has a dual role as a representative for the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks on the medical center’s VA Voluntary Service Committee and as a volunteer group leader. The VA Maryland Health Care System welcomes back volunteers. Davis has helped organize Christmas in July events, participated in National Salute to Veteran Patients Week, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day recognition luncheons and lent himself to an array of other activities. He was the VA National Advisory Committee Male Volunteer of the Year for 2019. Pandemic disrupted volunteer activities Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal activities of thousands of VA volunteers like Davis and his wife have been disrupted since early spring. VA paused its volunteer program to protect patients, health care providers, and volunteers from the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The pandemic has kept Davis away from his volunteer duties since March. But it hasn’t stopped him from worrying about the Veterans and wondering if they are feeling isolated, lonely, and bored. He found himself considering how he could continue serving Veterans upon his return. “We’ve already missed this year’s Christmas in July event but we are researching all the necessary steps to implement a movie night for Veterans when volunteers are able to return,” he said. Welcome back volunteers — gradually Now, across the country, VA medical facilities are expanding services, including previously cancelled elective procedures and routine in-person appointments. Along with these services, we will begin welcoming back our volunteers carefully and gradually with several safeguards. Based on our critical needs, we’ve created new volunteer roles, adapted some, and continue to pause others. Other changes include virtual assignments at some locations and continuing the pause for students under 18. Checklist: what to do before volunteering Before showing up for work, volunteers should obtain approval and complete orientation and safety training. Like everyone at VA facilities, they need to wear a face covering and follow physical distancing guidelines while on duty. They also need to consent to health screenings, including temperature checks, prior to entering the facility. Volunteers interested in returning to work should contact their local Voluntary Service office to discuss current facility needs and their interests. To find your local office, visit https://www.volunteer.va.gov/directory/ and click “VOLUNTEER OR DONATE NOW.” Before showing up for work, volunteers should obtain approval and complete orientation and safety training. Leadership will bring back volunteers in phases, beginning with the most essential assignments. Volunteers should consider their own personal safety and comfort before returning to service. Volunteers at risk, please stay home Older people and people of any age who have serious health problems are at higher risk of developing serious symptoms of COVID-19. Those health problems include: heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity and diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people at higher risk stay home when possible. They should also keep distance between themselves and others if COVID-19 is spreading in their community. We know how dedicated our volunteers are to their service and we look forward to their safe return as soon as possible. R. David Edwards is the chief of Public & Community Relations at the Baltimore VAMC; Dore Mobley is a communication specialist for VHA Internal Communications.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it will begin awarding more than $400 million in grants under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) to 266 non-profit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Oct. 1 of this year.  SSVF funding provides thousands of low-income Veteran families around the nation with access to case management and other assistance to rapidly re-house Veterans who become homeless or prevent Veterans from becoming homeless.  “Helping Veterans exit homelessness and remain in stable housing is more important now than ever,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program remains a vital resource to ensure that every Veteran has a safe and stable place to call home, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  In fiscal year (FY) 2019, SSVF served 105,156 individuals, including 70,524 Veterans and 20,608 children. As a result of these and other efforts, Veteran homelessness has been cut in half since 2010’s launch of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Since then, VA’s homelessness programs and targeted housing vouchers provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development have placed hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their family members into permanent housing or helped to prevent them from being homeless.  This year’s grant recipients competed for funding under a Notice of Fund Availability published Dec. 5, 2019. The funding will support SSVF services in fiscal year 2021 which begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2021.  Visit VA homeless SSVF to view the list of 2020 grantees and to learn more about the program.
WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), along with the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of the COVID-19 Insights Partnership, an initiative to coordinate and share health data as well as research and expertise to aid in the fight against COVID-19. The COVID-19 Insights Partnership creates a framework for VA and HHS to utilize DOE’s world-leading high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence resources to conduct COVID-19 research and analyze health data that would otherwise not be possible. “Veterans served this country by putting on the uniform and protecting American interests overseas and now their health data will help in the fight against COVID-19 here at home,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “President Trump is marshalling all the resources he has available in the federal government to fight the virus and Veterans should be proud of the role they’re playing.” “The Department of Energy is proud to be a member of the COVID-19 Insights Partnership,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “Our nation’s understanding of COVID-19 has already benefitted greatly from our world-leading high-performance computing and artificial intelligence resources and we look forward to continuing our coordination across federal departments and agencies in the fight against this virus.” “This unprecedented data and computing partnership is the latest addition to President Trump’s whole-of-government effort against COVID-19,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The volume and quality of the data HHS has on COVID-19 has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent months. The Department of Energy’s world-class resources will help us derive new insights from the data we gather to help patients and protect our country.” Research and analysis conducted by the COVID-19 Insights Partnership will focus on vaccine and therapeutic development and outcomes, virology and other critical scientific topics to understand COVID-19 better. HHS and VA will provide additional updates and information on research projects as it becomes available. Summit, the United States’ fastest supercomputer, located at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is accelerating COVID-19 research by running large scale, complex analyses on a vast amount of health data. Summit’s unmatched capacity to analyze massive integrated datasets and divine insights will help researchers identify and advance potential treatments and enhance outcomes for COVID-19 patients with unprecedented speed. The partnership expands upon recent efforts by the Trump Administration to leverage cutting-edge technologies in the fight against COVID-19, such as the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which provides researchers worldwide with HPC resources and expertise from leading industry, Federal Government, and academia partners to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic research.