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(VFW Magazine) KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Veterans of Foreign Wars is proud to announce its 2020 “Uniting to Combat Hunger” campaign has raised more than 1 million meals for veterans and military families in need, transcending its original goal of 500,000. VFW Quartermaster General Debra Anderson and Ed Sandrick, director of Humana’s Strategic Alliances and Veteran Channel, made the special announcement live Monday during the VFW’s #StillServing Celebration, a virtual, weeklong event to bring awareness, respect and gratitude to veterans who remain committed to a life of service after their time in the military ends. Originally established in March of 2018, “Uniting to Combat Hunger” is a collaborative campaign from the VFW and Humana designed to help to raise awareness and fight food insecurity in the veteran and military communities. Defined as the lack of access to enough nutritionally adequate foods to live an active, healthy life, food insecurity contributes to poor health, lower productivity and higher medical costs. This societal issue impacts one in nine Americans, and 25% of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. Initially planned as a national food drive, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced this year’s “Uniting to Combat Hunger” campaign to drastically shift its focus to raising donations in support of local VA food pantries that were struggling to keep up with the increasing needs of the veteran and military families in their communities. “When we set our goal of 500,000 meals, we never could have anticipated the increased struggles the COVID-19 pandemic would bring,” said VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz. “As more and more military and veteran families struggled to put food on the table, shifting our focus to supporting local VA food pantries just made sense. The efforts and dedication of VFW members, Humana representatives and VA employees across the country are perfect examples of how we are #StillServing.” “It’s an honor to support veteran and military families during this unprecedented time, as no one should be food insecure,” said Ed Sandrick, Humana Director of Strategic Alliances and Veteran Channel. “Through the ‘Uniting To Combat Hunger’ campaign, we’re proud to help feed those who have sacrificed so much for our country and we’re thrilled to more than double our goal in collaboration with dedicated partners like the VFW.” For more information on how you can help the VFW and Humana address food insecurity, visit vfw.org/UTCH.
(The American Legion) By 1943, The American Legion’s blood-donation program was institutionalized in multiple cities across the country, fulfilling needs locally and in support of military personnel at war. Following deadly race riots of June 1943 in Detroit, the American Legion Civilian Defense Blood Bank there was credited for acting quickly and effectively amid the bedlam. “Much of this blood plasma was delivered while rioting was at its height,” explained George C. Dollar, chairman of the American Legion Civilian Defense Blood Bank in Detroit. “It was delivered through streets filled with overturned cars; through flying missiles and showers of glass from broken windows, and through the picket lines. Because we were driving our white emergency unit cars of The American Legion Civilian Blood Bank unit, we were permitted to proceed without being attacked by the rioters or stopped by the police.” Area hospitals called on the bank for 512 units of plasma, most of which was reportedly used to treat citizens who had gotten caught up in the rioting that claimed 31 lives and injured hundreds of others. Detroit-area American Legion posts had established the blood bank at Henry Ford Hospital in March 1941 for “the purpose of serving veterans, indigent and emergency cases,” according to an article in the September 1943 American Legion Magazine. More than 2,500 Legionnaires and American Legion Auxiliary members regularly donated to the bank to keep it well stocked in case of emergency. Similar American Legion blood banks were operated in Boise, Idaho, and Brooklyn, N.Y., serving the civilian and military communities there. In other cities, including Detroit, The American Legion worked as the primary blood-distribution hub for local medical institutions and emergency services.
WASHINGTON —The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it is partnering with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger to improve and ensure Veterans have reliable access to food. VA and MAZON will work together to distribute information to Veterans to increase awareness about the risks associated with food insecurity and share the benefits of programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). “Veterans must have consistent and reliable access to healthy foods in order to thrive,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By raising awareness of the problem of Veterans’ food insecurity and executing solutions, this partnership will lead to more Veterans having more food on the table.” MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths in the United States and Israel. The organization works to raise awareness about community and government resources to encourage the anti-hunger community to effectively address emerging issues. “VA and MAZON will use various tactics to help Veterans facing food insecurity access available food assistance resources, like trainings for VA staff to help them better recognize and respond to Veteran food insecurity, ” said MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger President and CEO Abby J. Leibman. “These tactics include exploring the creation of a VA pilot program on SNAP outreach for Veterans that can be replicated and scaled up and formalizing target goals for Veteran SNAP eligibility screenings and application assistance.” This partnership is managed by the Veterans Health Administration’s Nutrition and Food Services office and was facilitated by the VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE). Partnerships supported by OCE, such as this one, support VHA’s commitment to delivering patient-driven health care. Visit VA health partnerships and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger for more information.
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES WASHINGTON — More than 30 sailors have suffered minor injuries from the fire that broke out Sunday and firefighters continue battle aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, Calif. As of Monday morning, 34 sailors and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries, said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a spokeswoman with Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Of the 17 sailors who were hospitalized Sunday, five sailors have remained in the medical facility for observation and are in stable condition. So far, minor injuries include heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, according to Schwegman. A fire was reported aboard the amphibious assault ship at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday while it was moored at the pier, said Mike Raney, a spokesman for Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.   The cause of the fire is still under investigation and the origin of an explosion that also occurred on the ship Sunday is still unknown, The Associated Press reported. Firefighting operations continued aboard the ship through the night and two helicopters with water buckets were brought in to help, according to the Navy. At the time of the fire about 160 sailors were on the ship, which was undergoing maintenance, according to Raney. The ship typically has a crew of about 1,000. Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, called the fire “a terrible tragedy.” "We are grateful for the quick and immediate response of local, base, and shipboard firefighters aboard USS Bonhomme Richard. Our thoughts and prayers are with our [Bonhomme Richard] sailors, their families, and our emergency responders who continue to fight the fire. Godspeed," he said in a statement. Two nearby ships, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS Russell, had to move away from the pier Sunday afternoon because of the fire. The USS Fitzgerald had just arrived in San Diego July 2, according to U.S. Naval Institute News, after undergoing more than two years of restoration and modernization following the deadly 2017 collision that killed seven sailors. Photo Credit: CHRISTINA ROSS/U.S. NAVY
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced its commitment to extend debt relief to Veterans adversely impacted by COVID-19 to the end of 2020 by suspending certain debt collection actions. The department recognizes Veterans and beneficiaries are still being greatly impacted by the coronavirus prompting the extension of financial relief. “Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the pandemic,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times.” VA is suspending all actions on Veteran debts under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Treasury Department. This includes the suspension of collection action or extending repayment terms on preexisting VA debts, whichever the Veteran prefers. For benefit debts, Veterans should contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648. For health care debts, Veterans should contact the Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238 or https://www.pay.govfor payments.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is rolling out a new system in July for Veterans and eligible beneficiaries to submit and track transportation reimbursement claims using VA’s secure web-based portal, Access VA. The Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System (BTSSS), which is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year, will simplify how eligible Veterans and beneficiaries claim mileage reimbursement for travel to and from both VA health care or VA authorized non-VA health care service locations. “VA is working diligently to find new ways to innovate and simplify how we serve Veterans and their beneficiaries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Streamlining the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System will help our Veterans get their travel reimbursements more securely and efficiently.” BTSSS enables Veterans and caregivers to submit claims for reimbursement of costs from a personally owned vehicle, common carrier, meals and/or lodging, and other travel related expenses such as tolls, parking and luggage. The national implementation across Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) will run in phases through November. The first phase will start in July and includes VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, Kansas City VA Medical Center, Bay Pines VA Health Care System, Bay Pines, FL and Minneapolis VA Health Care System. The implementation will continue in phases beginning on the following dates:  September 8: VISN’s 1, 9, 12, 17, 21, 22 October 5: VISN’s 2, 6, 10, 15, 20 November 2: VISN’s 4, 5, 7, 8, 16, 19, 23  As BTSSS goes live, the use of kiosks will be discontinued however, in person claims and hard-copy submissions are still available. For more information on BTSSS and eligibility, visit the VA Travel Pay Reimbursement webpage.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today the launching of a digital COVID-19 screening tool to streamline Veteran access to medical care during the coronavirus pandemic. The tool, designed with Veteran and staff input, enables the screening of more than 10,000 people each day. Veterans, their caregivers and VA health care employees can use this tool on their mobile phones before entering facilities. It takes less than a minute to complete and helps reduce wait times, lowers exposure risk and eases patient stress. It also helps Veterans gain confidence with increased digital interactions as part of their VA health care experience.   “This screening tool emphasizes the ongoing importance of VA’s investment in digital modernization, as it went from initial concept to national availability in less than two weeks,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “In addition to providing a broad range of innovations and improvements that significantly benefit the Veterans we serve; our culture of innovation allows us to respond quickly to urgent and evolving needs.” To protect patients and staff, VA screens everyone for coronavirus symptoms and exposure each time they enter a health facility. VA staff uses the information received to direct people to either enter the building or go to a designated area for additional screening. Veterans, caregivers and staff can use the tool by texting the word “SCREEN” to 53079 or scan a dedicated QR code with their mobile phone to get a link to the tool. They then answer a series of simple questions and share their results at the VA facility entrance. For more about VA efforts to meet Veteran and staff needs during the coronavirus pandemic, visit VA.gov coronavirus FAQs and VA’s public health response.
Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness can now stay connected with their health care providers, case managers, and loved ones thanks to a nonprofit organization’s collaboration with VA. America’s Adopt A Solider has worked with VA since 2010 on a multitude of services and support for Homeless and at-risk Veterans. The non-profit’s newest program keeps Veterans connected with VA care providers via a laptop and mobile phone donation program. Some Veterans often lack the resources needed to remain connected with VA services and family members. And the need for telecommunication donations to promote connectivity with care providers became evident as many states across the country enacted stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. Mobile phone and laptop donations so far America’s Adopt A Soldier has already provided VA with hundreds of  smartphones and laptops, procured through public and corporate donations from Verizon and AT&T. These donations have been shipped to Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 21, which includes the Northern California Bay Area (San Francisco VAHCS, Palo Alto VAHCS, and Northern California VAHCS) and the Southern Nevada VAHCS. The laptops and smartphones will go to Veterans currently in the Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), Grant and Per Diem transitional housing, and Health Care for the Homeless Contract Residential Services programs. As additional donations arrive from corporations and other organizations, America’s Adopt A Soldier will work with VA to identify additional VISNs in need. “Having this Veteran population shelter in place without the technology to keep them connected, might result in catastrophic impacts and immeasurable setbacks to their treatment,” said Mary Keeser, founder and chair of America’s Adopt A Soldier and a former U.S. Army officer. “Many of these Veterans have worked so hard to get on a path forward. With VA by their side creating the correct treatment plan, we reached out to assist the staff – who also recognized this challenge – in providing the required technology. We are humbled to be able to help provide this technology.” Assists with social distancing Keeser’s organization used active duty military and Veterans to update and reconfigure donated laptops to make sure they were ready for use once distributed. The laptops allow Veterans to stay in contact with their VA caseworkers, family, and friends while also maintaining CDC guidelines for social distancing. All devices are equipped with Windows 10 and can be used at Wi-Fi hot spots. The organization receives donations and support from several large organizations, including Microsoft, AT&T, and Envistacom. “Veterans can use the technology to access treatment plans and medical support, conduct job searches, continue their education, and of course, stay in touch with their social networks,” said Keeser. “A lot of our Veterans depend on those social connections with other Veterans and military organizations.” VA remains committed to securing safe and stable housing for Veterans and helping them stay connected during these uncertain times. Donations from America’s Adopt A Soldier organization facilitate Veterans’ continued progress in their treatment plans and increase their ability to comply with safe distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. More Information Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Anyone wishing to make a donation should visit https://www.americasadoptasoldier.org/makeadonation.html. Businesses and corporations interested in partnerships and resource donations can contact Mary Keeser at mary.keeser@americasadoptasoldier.org.
By Nikki Wentling/Stars and Stripes President Donald Trump praised his new plan to prevent veteran suicide Wednesday as unprecedented, bold action against the problem — but critics argue it isn’t enough. Trump unveiled the plan, which was three months overdue, in the White House on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by Department of Veterans Affairs officials and veterans advocates. The plan is the result of an executive order Trump signed March 5, 2019, creating a Cabinet-level task force titled PREVENTS, short for “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide.” The last annual report from the VA showed that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than among the rest of the population, particularly among women. About 20 veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve die by suicide every day. The task force issued its 60-page plan, which included 10 recommendations. The recommendations are expected to take two years to fully implement. The first action will be a national public service announcement, which Trump described as a “historic” campaign to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. Second Lady Karen Pence, mother of a Marine Corps pilot, will be the campaign’s lead ambassador. The plan also focuses on improved research into veteran suicide, increased suicide-prevention training and new partnerships between government agencies and outside organizations. It includes a legislative proposal that would establish a federal grant program to fund state and local groups that help veterans. “We’re gathered to address an especially urgent struggle,” Trump said. “Today, we’re unveiling our roadmap to empower veterans and end the national tragedy of suicide.” Republican lawmakers praised Trump’s plan, including the GOP leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We must do more to change the culture and conversation surrounding suicide in the public and private sectors and, most importantly, in neighborhoods across the country where the real healing work must start and end,” Roe said in a statement. “The PREVENTS roadmap shows us how, and I am confident that it will help to save and improve the lives of at-risk veterans and others for years to come.” Democrats, though, criticized the plan for not being bold enough. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the plan was a “necessary step forward,” but “far more” — including policy changes — needs to be done to make a real difference. Tester and Moran have pushed legislation for over a year that would boost funding to local organizations that help veterans, as well as increase mental health staff, alternative therapies and research at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, also builds into the law an initiative that Trump announced in 2018 to automatically enroll every servicemember into VA mental health care for one year when they transition from active duty. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was even more critical of the PREVENTS plan, describing it Wednesday as “meek” and “tepid.” He claimed it was developed with little input from veterans service organizations and lawmakers who work on veterans policy. “Tepid calls for more research, interagency coordination and meek public education campaigns won’t do enough to end this crisis,” Takano said in a statement. “We have much more substantial work to do to prevent veteran suicide and ultimately help save veterans’ lives.” Karen Pence, along with other senior administration officials who spoke on background Wednesday, said the plan came at an urgent time. The coronavirus pandemic has created more need for a national plan to address suicide, an official said. “I feel like right now is such an opportune time because we’re all dealing with anxiety, we’re all dealing with stress,” Pence said. “So, if I can do anything as lead ambassador, it’s my goal to help take away the stigma around mental health. We want them to know there are people out there who want to help. There is a way forward.” The VA’s budget request for fiscal 2021, released in February, includes $53.4 million to the PREVENTS initiative. Photo Credit: White House photo
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released today, results of the first long-term study aimed at determining the effectiveness of the VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — and its impact on Veterans in their civilian life. The 2019 Post-Separation Transition Assistance Program Assessment (PSTAP) Outcome Study Report, and appendices, commissioned by the Veterans Benefits Administration, outlines the results from the first year of a multi-year study. Designed to assess what drives Veteran satisfaction in TAP, the study identifies how best to improve Veteran experience and the delivery of benefits and services — ultimately improving their long-term outcomes across various aspects of their lives. “Service members transitioning to civilian life have served our country well,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It is important for VA to know what our Veterans want and need to make this transition successful. This study provides invaluable feedback we can use to make the TAP program even more beneficial.” Cross-sectional surveys were created to get feedback in response to the research. It looks at service member transition in three groups: Veterans separated for six months, those separated for one year and those separated for three years. The survey uses data from these groups to obtain feedback annually, while tracking transition outcome success of those who opt-in to the longer-term study. 2019 survey results revealed: The majority of Veterans found TAP courses beneficial. The TAP VA benefits briefings received an 85% positive rating and were deemed most useful by respondents. Most respondents (67%) said they adjusted well to civilian life after separation, are making progress toward their post-military goals and generally employed in full-time, permanent positions. Many Veterans (70%) felt the transition was challenging with an array of causes, including nostalgia for the camaraderie and teamwork they experienced in the military. The study and surveys were developed and conducted in coordination with the TAP interagency group, led by VA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor. Approximately 200,000 service members transition from the military each year. TAP provides information, resources and tools to service members and their loved ones to help prepare for the move from military to civilian life. Service members begin TAP no later than one year prior to separation or up to two years prior to retiring. The VA portion of TAP features an in depth briefing and available one-on-one assistance by benefits advisors who help transitioning service members understand the benefits and services earned.