DEFENSE BUDGET A BAD DEAL FOR RETIREES AND MILITARY FAMILIES

VFW vows to fight against meager pay raises and increased health care fees

WASHINGTON (April 11, 2013) – The Pentagon unveiled its budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 yesterday, outlining how the Obama Administration wants to fund the Department of Defense in the coming year. The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. immediately fired back at the proposal, which he says breaks faith with our military retirees and their loved ones.

“The VFW recognizes that the Pentagon has tough decisions to make about its budget, but the proposals in this year’s budget breaks faith with our volunteers by further burdening our military retirees and our military families,” said John E. Hamilton, who leads the 2 million-member VFW and its Auxiliaries. “The VFW has long believed that trying to find savings from health care accounts and military pay threatens to hollow out the all-volunteer force, and we will not sit idly by and let these kinds of cuts take place.”

The proposed Defense budget for FY 2014 asks for a military pay raise of only one percent and asks for increases in TRICARE health care fees for military retirees and military families. At the 113th VFW National Convention, VFW members voted overwhelmingly to oppose any increases to TRICARE fees for retirees, and Hamilton said the VFW will continue to pressure the Pentagon and Congress to find savings through programs that do not affect military personnel, retirees or military families.

VFW officials also insisted that Congress must offer service members a reasonable pay raise comparable to the consumer price index.

“Our service members volunteer for a dangerous job with notoriously low pay, which is why the VFW believes a 1-percent pay raise simply doesn’t cut it,” said Hamilton. “We owe it to our brave men and women to at least offer a pay raise comparable to the civilian sector if we hope to recruit and retain the best and brightest to defend our nation.”

During the budget roll-out, senior Defense officials acknowledged that they sought to develop a budget that minimally affected service members and their families, and the VFW was encouraged to see a 2-percent increase in the military personnel budget that included increases in housing allowances, subsistence allowances and continued investment in military transition, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention.

The VFW also was pleased to see that the Administration sought to fully fund the military’s Tuition Assistance programs in FY 2014. Services suspended enrollment in Tuition Assistance after budget sequestration took effect in March. In response, the VFW quickly mobilized to save the program as part of the FY 2013 budget resolution, generating more than 14,000 emails to Congress in only two days.

“The VFW sees military Tuition Assistance as a critical professional development and military readiness tool, which is why we are encouraged to see the Administration’s ongoing commitment to the program,” said Hamilton. “Education is critical to building strong military leaders, and the VFW will hold the military accountable for continuing to support Tuition Assistance.”

Defense officials recognized that the proposed budget sought to maintain American military  posture to support global operations in support of the Global War on Terror and ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula, and that further investments would prioritize forward-deployed service members and wounded warriors.

The VFW believes that military quality-of-life is inextricably linked to morale and military readiness. In the coming weeks and months, the VFW will continue to advocate for a responsible Defense budget that not only protects America’s global interests, but also meets the needs of military personnel, retirees and their families.

AARP Driving Safety Classes for Veterans

AARP Driver Safety Classes

 

AARP will be offering FREE Driver Safety Classroom courses to ALL military veterans and their dependents, from 1-30 November 2012.  This is to recognize and thank all military veterans for their service.  These classes will be held statewide. These classes are open to everyone and all ages; you do not need to be a member of AARP to attend this course.  The fee (for non-veterans) is $12-$14 (AARP members or non-members).  Again, for military veterans and their dependents, these classes are FREE and you do not have to be a member of AARP.  Note, certain insurance companies recognize that completion of this course may qualify their members for a reduction in their auto insurance premiums. For listing of classes and NH state locations, call 1-888-227-7669.

VA BLUE BUTTON REACHES ONE MILLION REGISTERED PATIENTS

Blue Button Reaches One Million Registered Patients Cutting Edge Technology Expands to Empower More Patients   WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that, during the month of August, the one millionth patient has registered for Blue Button to access and download their Personal Health Record (PHR) information.   “Since President Obama announced the availability of Blue Button two years ago, VA has worked tirelessly with our sister agencies to make online access to personal health records convenient, reliable, and safe.  I am very pleased with our progress,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.    The Blue Button enables patients to assemble and download personal health information into a single, portable file that can be used inside a growing number of private health care electronic records–as well as those in the VA, Department of Defense, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and private sector partners.  The VA Blue Button PHR includes prescription history, the ability to review past appointments and medical history details, wellness reminders and emergency contact information. Because it is web-based, the information is available anywhere, any time.  Its security measures are identical to those employed by retail websites that accept credit cards.   “VA believes that patients are hungry for their health information,” said Peter Levin, VA’s Chief Technology Officer. “The simplicity of Blue Button makes it easy for other public agencies and Federal Employee Health Program carriers to participate.  Getting to one million registered users so quickly is a great validation for our team.”   The Blue Button will see even wider use as more non-profit organizations and health care industry partners, such as Kaiser Permanente and Aetna adopt it as an integral part of their customer health records.   One of the most recent Blue Button partners is UnitedHealth Group.   “We are just thrilled to see how Blue Button has expanded so quickly, both in the richness of its content as well as the number of institutions that have pledged to make their data available,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.  He went on to say that Blue Button has become the model of data liberation throughout the Federal Government.  “Data is the rocket fuel of job creation in the high tech sector.  Blue Button is just a terrific example of what people can do once we liberate their data – safely and privately – from our vaults.”   For more information on the Blue Button initiative, please visit:  http://www.va.gov/bluebutton/   # # #

 

Mortgage Relief for Servicemembers

 

A new program was unveiled in June 2012 that could help tens of thousands of veterans and servicemembers who are struggling with underwater homes. The program expands the national mortgage settlement that the government previously reached with some of the largest banks, and it steps up enforcement of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

These are key changes for servicemembers who often have to relocate more frequently than their civilian counterparts because of the demands of military life. About 33% of active duty personnel <http://www.consumerfinance.gov/pressreleases/consumer-financial-protection– bureau-and-prudential-regulators-issue-joint-guidance-to-address-mortgage-se rvicer-practices-that-impact-servicemembers/>  are required to relocate each year. These continuous moves can leave them more vulnerable to a drop in housing prices. This new program will help alleviate that pressure.

The government is particularly concerned about firms that required servicemembers to waive rights they have as members of the military before the firms would offer assistance. In some cases, servicemembers were advised to stop making mortgage payments, and then suffered harm for doing so.

The new relief is a joint effort of many agencies and departments, including the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Defense.

FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco explained the importance of the new programs, saying in a press release <http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/24026/CFPBFinalwFS.pdf>  that: “It is in everyone’s interest for the men and women serving in our armed forces to focus on the important job they are doing defending our country, rather than worry about the maintenance and leasing of a property in another jurisdiction.”

SCRA Relief

The key SCRA-related components of the program that offer relief to servicemembers include:

*        Compensation for Wrongful Foreclosures: Every servicemember that suffered a foreclosure since 2006 (when the housing market collapsed and house values plummeted) will have his or her file reviewed. The review will be performed under the supervision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the review will determine if the foreclosure violated the SCRA. If any violations are found, the mortgage lenders will be required to pay significant compensation to parties that they damaged. The White House stated that the damages will be either:

o    The servicemember’s lost equity, plus interest, and an additional $116,785; or

o    An amount provided for the same violation as a result of a review conducted by the banking regulators.

*        Compensation for Excessive Interest: Any servicemember that was charged more than the 6% limit set by the SCRA is entitled to compensation equal to four times the excess interest they were charged. Again, the DOJ will supervise the review done by the mortgage lenders. *        Foreclosure Protection and Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay: No matter when their mortgage was secured, all servicemembers are protected from foreclosure for nine months from the time that they received Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay, as long as they were stationed away from their home.

The White House urged any servicemembers or their dependents who feel that their rights under the SCRA were violated to contact their nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance office. Office locations can be found online <http://legalassistance.law.af.mil> , by clicking on the Legal Services Locator.

Permanent Change of Service

Some of the new protections are specific to servicemembers with a PCS. Because a PCS often requires a quick move, servicemembers are especially vulnerable to financial harm, even moreso if they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth and can only sell their home by doing so at a loss.

Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) said, <http://www.consumerfinance.gov/pressreleases/consumer-financial-protection– bureau-and-prudential-regulators-issue-joint-guidance-to-address-mortgage-se rvicer-practices-that-impact-servicemembers/>  “Those who serve our country deserve to be given the best service by their mortgage servicer. Permanent Change of Station orders can complicate a servicemember’s homeownership decisions in ways that civilians may not experience. This guidance provides specific notice to mortgage servicers that this country already has substantial laws in place to help military members in this still-recovering housing market.”

PCS considered a Hardship- If you have a loan that is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and you have a PCS, you will have the ability to sell a primary residence that was purchased before June 30, 2012 for less than you owe on your mortgage balance. You do not have to be behind on your mortgage or in default. If your home sells for less than you owe, you won’t be responsible for the remaining balance – as long as have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan. You can check online to determine if either Fannie Mae <http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup/>  or Freddie Mac <http://www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage/>  backs your loan.

Increased Funding for the Veterans Housing Benefits Program

In addition, mortgage lenders agreed to fund $10,000,000 into the Veterans Housing Benefits Program. This program offers loans to veterans at very favorable interest rates and terms.

Summary

The White House intends this relief offered to veterans and servicemembers, including the ones harmed by wrongful foreclosures and excessive interest, to be part of its coordinated effort to improve the economy by expanding refinance opportunities through the HARP program and reducing fees for the FHA streamlined refinance program. Regardless, every veteran and servicemember should be sure to take advantage of all relief programs for which they qualify.

 

 

VA Supports Gulf War Veterans on Multiple Fronts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2012

 

VA Supports Gulf War Veterans on Multiple Fronts

 

It has now been 22 years since the start of the 1990-1991 Gulf War which comprises the deployment and combat operations known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Almost 700,000 Servicemembers were deployed during this period. Those Veterans who have enrolled in the VA health care system have made over 2 million outpatient visits for health care and had over 20,000 inpatient admissions in the VA health care system.

 

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has not forgotten the service and dedication of Gulf War Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We continue to provide high-quality health care and benefits to them while we invest in research that helps us understand and treat Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses.”

 

In support of care and services to the Veterans of the first Gulf War, VA has led efforts to better understand and characterize Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses and to improve treatment.   Research initiatives have included:

 

  • Funding an independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) review of scientific and medical research related to treatment of chronic multi-symptom illness among Gulf War Veterans.  The report is expected in 2013.

 

  • Funding and encouraging a wide spectrum of research focused on identifying new treatments to help Gulf War Veterans, including studies on pain, muscle and bone disorders, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory problems, and other chronic diseases.   Research is ongoing in other conditions, as well, that may affect Gulf War Veterans, such as brain cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS), and multiple sclerosis.

 

  • Launching in May 2012, the third follow-up study of a national cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War Era Veterans (earlier studies were conducted in 1995 and 2005; the health surveys are done to understand possible health effects of service and guide health care delivery).

 

  • Continuing the clinical, research, and education activities of the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center program which focuses on post-deployment health.

 

VA is also improving care and services for Gulf War Veterans through initiatives outlined in the 2011 GWVI Task Force Report. These include the evaluation of a clinical care model specifically for Gulf War Veterans and of enhanced education for health care providers about Gulf War Veterans’ concerns.  Additionally, a VA Gulf War Research Strategic Plan has been developed to address effective treatment for the symptoms experienced by some Gulf War Veterans and to guide efforts toward improvements in diagnosis, the understanding of genetic and biologic factors related to Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses, and the application of research findings in Veterans’ health care.

 

VA provides care for Veterans of all eras as part of its mission.  VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system.  With a health care budget of more than $50 billion, VA expects to provide care to 6.1 million patients during 920,000 inpatient hospital admissions and nearly 80 million outpatient visits during 2012.  VA’s health care network includes 152 major medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

For more information on Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses, see: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/.

 

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VA, Veteran Representatives Partner in Fully Developed Claims Process

 

VA, Veteran Representatives Partner in Fully Developed Claims Process

Filing Fully Developed Claims Reduces Processing Times to 110 days

 

WASHINGTON (Aug. 7, 2012) – The Department of Veterans Affairs hosted an event July 31 for 10 Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) to collaborate in VA’s effort to eliminate the claims backlog.

The main focus of the workshop was VA’s emphasis on the shared goal of better serving Veterans and positive impact of filing Fully Developed Claims (FDC). Participation in the FDC Program is completely optional, and allows for faster claims processing, while preserving a Veteran’s right to appeal a decision.

 

“VA prides itself on our ongoing partnership with organizations that represent Veterans throughout the VA claims process,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “They are at the frontlines and have a major role in our ability to transform our claims process, starting with fully-developed claims.”

 

Claims are considered to be “fully developed” when Veterans submit all available supporting evidence, like private treatment records and notice of Federal treatment records, to VA at the time they first file a formal claim and certify they have no more evidence to submit. VA gathers all Federal records the Veterans identify, like those from VA Medical Centers and the Social Security Administration. VA will also send the Veterans for a VA medical examination, if needed. The early submittal of evidence and certification by the Veteran allow VA to start processing the claim immediately, without holding it for mandatory wait periods.

 

Veterans and their representatives do much of the development that typically takes VA 175 days to gather. Currently, FDC claims take an average of 110 days to decide compared to 254 days through the traditional claims method.

 

Part of the workshop featured a discussion lead by Chicago Regional Office Director Duane Honeycutt on how VA’s regional offices and VSO field staff can work together to increase the number of FDCs Veterans file. The Chicago Regional Office is one example of recent successes in reducing the time it takes to process a claim by working with Veteran representatives to increase FDC claims. Currently, FDC make up 10 percent of the RO’s claims, compared to just 3 percent nationwide.

 

“VA, Veterans representatives and Veterans all have a stake in the claims process,” Honeycutt said. “We continue to operate under the mantra, ‘Grant if you can, deny if you must,’ but more often than not, the challenge to obtain certain evidence that allows us to grant the claim.  That is why partnering with the VSO’s to increase the number of fully developed claims that are submitted is so important. ”

 

Honeycutt said FDC involves Veterans in the process and allows them more control over their claims. Their reward is a claim that is finished in substantially less time.

 

“DAV has National Service Officers located in every regional office,” said Jim Marszalak, Assistant Service Director with Disabled American Veterans. “Our NSOs in the Chicago Regional Office started using the FDC program and have seen a dramatic amount of time shaved off waiting times. It has also minimized the amount of appeals we file on our Veterans’ behaves.”

 

Using VA Form 21-526EZ, Veterans can file FDC for disability compensation. VA Form 21-527EZ allows Veterans to file for a non-service connected pension. The FDC forms, found at http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf and http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-527EZ-ARE.pdf  include information on what evidence is VA’s responsibility and what evidence is the Veteran’s responsibility.

 

For more information on the Fully Developed Claims program, visit http://benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/.

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VA Deploys New Processing Model for Compensation Claims

VA Deploys New Processing Model for Compensation Claims

New Procedures Ensure Benefits Delivery to Veterans in Need

            WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it is deploying a new model for processing compensation benefits claims at 16 VA regional offices. The new model is part of a comprehensive transformation plan designed to yield an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 additional compensation claim decisions annually, while ensuring Veterans most in need receive priority attention.

“This new model is a part of our comprehensive plan to eliminate the compensation claims backlog,” said Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey.  “Our redesigned model follows comprehensive planning and testing to ensure we have the right recipe for success.”

The new organizational model involves special handling of claims from Veterans who are facing the most serious injuries or illnesses or experiencing financial hardships or homelessness, and therefore need immediate attention.  Through a new “intake processing center,” claims are routed to one of three segmented lanes:

  • Express: Claims that have only one or two medical conditions, or have all the supporting documentation, medical evidence and service records needed for an expeditious rating decision—referred to as “fully developed claims”.
  • Special Operations: Claims requiring special handling because of the unique circumstances of the Veterans.  These include financial hardship; homelessness; serious wounds, injuries or illnesses; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder associated with military sexual trauma; and former prisoner of war status.
  • Core: Claims with more than two medical conditions, or those that will need additional evidence to make a compensation decision.

The  segmented-lanes approach helps increase speed and accuracy because the claims specialists become familiar with processing claims of similar complexity.

Veterans and their Veterans Service Organization representatives are encouraged to provide all the needed evidence along with their application in a “fully developed claim” in order to expedite the process.

Sixteen regional offices have received the new organizational and process model, including Huntington, W.Va.; Hartford, Conn.; Portland, Ore.; Houston, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Boise, Idaho; Phoenix, Ariz.; New Orleans, La.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Atlanta, Ga.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Wichita, Kan.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Newark, New Jersey and Fort Harrison, Mont.  These offices will also receive new technology systems and software upgrades over the next 3 months.  All 56 VA regional offices will have fully implemented all of the people, process, and technology initiatives in VA’s transformation plan by the end of 2013.

To learn more about how to file “fully developed claims” using VA’s new Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs), visit http://benefits.va.gov/disabilityexams.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT TO POST SERVICE OFFICERS AND POST COMMANDERS

IMPORTANT/URGENT INFORMATION FOR ALL POST SERVICE OFFICERS WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE   Comrades, Within the last few days, there has been a very significant, important change made to the way we conduct our duties here in the Service Office, which also affects each of you Post Service Officers across our Department…

Even though this topic will be discussed at our upcoming OTI Session in August, these changes go into effect before then, so please, take some time to read the information below, which comes from our National Veterans Service Headquarters in Washington,D.C.

In brief, this is what the below message means, and what will be important for each of you to know, as a result of these new changes:   -These changes have come about, at least in part, as a result of actions that took place in another department. These changes are in no way due to anything any of you have done wrong here in our Department, Comrades.

-The form that we normally use that allows us to legally represent a veteran or a widow of a client is known as a VA FORM 21-22:APPOINTMENT OF VETERAN’S SERVICE ORGANIZATION AS CLAIMANT’S REPRESENTATIVE.

Those of you who have worked through our office in the past, or still do work with us may recall that we are required by regulations to have a client sign one before we can operate on a client’s behalf.   What’s most important for you Post Service Officers out in the field to know about the revised Power Of Attorney  (POA) Form is that in order for it to be a valid , Legally-Binding document now, it must also be approved and signed by myself: your Department Service Officer, before the VA will accept the form.

If you please click on the link provided to view the revised POA form contained in the message below, and take a moment to locate Block #17 (“Signature of Veteran’s Service Organization Representative”), you will see that my signature must go just below that of our client’s now.

-IN A NUTSHELL, what this means for each of you at Post level is, that you can no longer print out and have a veteran or widow sign one of these forms , and send it in to the VA, in order to have the VA process a claim for them. If the form does not include my signature, but lists the VFW as their representative, the form will not be valid, and likely will be returned to the veteran or widow who filled it out in the first place.

-If you have a veteran or widow who needs our assistance, we ask that you please CONTACT US FIRST , before filling out any forms, in order to avoid any potential issues with the VA, and so we can help you assist the veteran or widow.

**-Part of the reason this change has gone into place is because as part of our official National Veterans’ Service Policy, we are not permitted to accept POA’s from the following groups of veterans:

a.)Veterans who we have had to Revoke their Power Of Attorney (POA) with our organization because of things such as :Misconduct, Attempting to file Fraudulent Claims with the VA, or Failing to Cooperate with us, to allow us and the VA to process their claim(s), and they make the decision to attempt to ask that the VFW represent them again, despite that.

b.)Veterans who already have claims that are on Appeal, and are currently at the Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA), down in Washington, D.C. ,awaiting a decision from a Veterans Law Judge. Once an Appeal has been filed, it is too late for our organization to jump in to represent the client at that point.

…Sadly, it has been our experience that some veterans are not always forthcoming about details like these, when they come to the VFW (both at office and post levels) for help, because they usually understand that , if we knew this information, we could not assist them at that point. We have discovered some veterans have been less than thruthful with some of you at Post Level over the years, which is in no way your fault, Comrades. Unfortunately, we do encounter fellow veterans who are not always as honest as each of you are out there.

The changes in the POA form make it easier for us here at the Service Office to first verify the following information before taking on a new client:

1.)Whether they are already represented by another veteran’s organization.

2.)Whether we have previously revoked their POA with us due to some form of Misconduct.

3.)Whether or not they have any cases already active, and in process.

4.)Whether or not any of their active claims are in ‘APPEAL’ status at that time.     These changes are meant to ensure that we know exactly who we are representing more accurately, at Service Office level, and also help the VA to know exactly who we are representing,as well.

As always, Comrades, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact us here at the Service Office, so that we can give you the correct guidance in situations you may face there at your posts.     Here’s our contact information, in case you do not already have it handy:   email:  john.barrett1@va.gov   phone: (603) 222-5780   fax: (603) 222-5783

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us…and, attendance at our upcoming OTI session in August is STRONGLY ENCOURAGED, in light of the recent changes the VA has put into affect recently.       Your help and support of the Service Office is always greatly appreciated.     Yours in Comradeship,     John Barrett Department Service Officer

________________________________________ From: Theresa Aldana [mailto:taldana@vfw.org] On Behalf Of Gerald T. Manar Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2012 11:58 AM Subject: **URGENT UPDDATE **Re: Fast Ltr 12-16, Revision of VA Form 21-22 Importance: High Fast Letter 12-16, Revision of VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative, June 20, 2012   This Fast Letter implements changes required by 38 CFR 14.631(a).  Specifically, a service organization representative must accept the appointment, in writing, of a Power of Attorney before it is legally binding on the service organization and the VA.  VA revised its Form 21-22 in January 2012 to include a signature block for this purpose.

There are at least two problems which must be addressed by Department Service Officers immediately:   Education of CVSO’s and PSO’s   FL 12-16 was issued without advance notice to VSO’s.  Although we knew this change was coming, we did not know the date it would take effect.  As a consequence, the effective date of the change, June 20, 2012, took many service officers by surprise.

“The latest version of the VA Form 21-22 is dated February 2012.  Due to significant revisions to the VA Form 21-22, prior versions of the form will no longer be accepted as of the date of this letter.  Prior versions of the form that were processed and placed in claims folders prior to the date of this letter remain valid.”

Department Service Officers must make every effort to ensure that all VFW accredited representatives within your Department (e.g., county veteran service officers; PSO’s) comply fully with this change.

The current version of VA Form 21-22 can be found at: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-22-ARE.pdf

Required E-Mail address   Page 2, paragraph 1 of FL 12-16 states that Block 3C of the new form requires the E-Mail address of the organization named in block 3A.    “Do not update BIRLS or any other VA electronic system with the VSO’s appointment unless the VA Form 21-22 contains a VSO signature.  Items 3A through 3C and 17 and 18 MUST be completed in order for the VA Form 21-22 to be valid.”    DO NOT USE ANY GENERAL VFW E-MAIL ADDRESS.

If you have not done so already, ask VA to create a VFW email account for your office.  Ensure that you have the authority to provide access to at least one other staff member in your office.  Once established, this should be the email address shown in Block 3C.  It will be your responsibility to check the VFW email account daily in order to evaluate and respond, as appropriate, to any emails which appear in that account.  In your absence, one or more members of your staff should check that account at least once a day and respond to those emails as appropriate.

We have learned that VA announced today that it would delay enforcement of the requirements of FL 12-16 for 30-60 days so that service officers have the time to educate CVSO’s and others about these changes.  DSO’s must take action now to ensure that the new VA Form 21-22 is used and properly completed by all VFW accredited service officers in their jurisdiction.

Jerry Manar Deputy Director National Veterans Service Veterans of Foreign Wars

IMPORTANT NOTICE! This email message, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient and may contain privileged and/or confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this electronic information and/or any attachment is prohibited. If you have received this email message in error, please notify the sender immediately and then delete the electronic message and any attachments.

 

Joint VA/DOL Veterans Retraining Assistance Program Reaches Important Milestone – Over 25,000 Unemployed Veterans Have Applied

 

Joint VA/DOL Veterans Retraining Assistance Program Reaches Important Milestone – Over 25,000 Unemployed Veterans Have Applied

Online Site Opened May 15 for Veterans to Apply for Education Benefits

WASHINGTON – More than 25,000 unemployed Veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 have already applied for new benefits to cover education costs for up to one year through a joint Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor (DOL) program that focuses on retraining up to 99,000 Veterans for high-demand jobs.

“This important milestone demonstrates how meaningful this tool will be to help our Nation’s unemployed Veterans receive the education and training they need to find rewarding employment in a high-demand career field,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Veterans realize this is a great opportunity to hone the skills they need to be competitive in the job market, and this program contributes directly to enhancing the strength of our Nation’s economy.”

Forty-five thousand Veterans can start receiving benefits during the current fiscal year.  VA began accepting applications on May 15.  A maximum of 54,000 billets will be available for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2012.

“No veteran should have to fight for a job at home after fighting to protect our nation,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “This training program focused on high-demand jobs will help unemployed Veterans expand their skills and compete for good jobs that need them,” she added.

As part of a provision of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) allows qualifying Veterans to receive up to 12 months of assistance equal to the full-time Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty rate, currently $1,473 per month.

 

Veterans can apply now on a first-come, first-serve basis for VRAP.  Unemployed Veterans should act quickly and apply online to avoid missing out on this great opportunity.  Assistance under this benefit program will end on March 31, 2014.

To complete the application, Veterans must know their direct deposit information (bank routing number and account number), the name and location of the school they will attend, the program they wish to pursue, and the high-demand occupation they are working toward.

To qualify Veterans must:

  • Be 35-60 years old, unemployed on the day of application, and not dishonorably discharged;
  • Start education or training after July 1, 2012, in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school leading to an associate degree, non-college degree or a certificate for a high-demand occupation as defined by DOL;
  • Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program, such as Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, or Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment;
  • Not be enrolled in a federal or state job-training program within the last 180 days;
  • Not receive VA compensation at the 100 percent rate due to individual unemployability.

Upon completion, DOL will contact participants within 30 days after their training to help them find good jobs that use their newly learned skills.

“VA has many partners around the country who are helping us to spread the good news about this unique benefit, which provides our unemployed Veterans with the opportunity to obtain the skills they need to be competitive in the high-demand job market,” added Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.

“It is encouraging that we have reached this milestone; however, there are still nearly 20,000 slots to fill by September 30,” said Ismael “Junior” Ortiz, DOL’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Veterans Employment and Training Service.  “It is critical to continue to spread the word about this program to unemployed Veterans or those who may know an unemployed Veteran,” Ortiz adds.

For more information on VOW, VRAP, the definition of “high-demand occupations,” and how to apply, Veterans may go to the website at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW, or call VA’s Call Centers toll free at 1-800-827-1000. Veterans may also access the VRAP application online at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov through eBenefits, a joint project of the Department of Defense and VA.

Veterans are also encouraged to visit the nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers across the nation for assistance. To find the center near you visit www.servicelocator.org. For more information about DOL’s Veterans programs, go to http://www.dol.gov/vets/.

States’ Attorneys General Action A Victory for Veterans and the GI Bill

States’ Attorneys General Action A Victory for Veterans and the GI Bill

WASHINGTON – Officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs applauded a decision by the attorneys general of several states to give VA the rights to use the GIBill.Com website, after the website’s original owners QuinStreet Inc. agreed to give up the internet site to settle a lawsuit by the states.

“This action is a victory for Veterans and a victory for the GI Bill.  Veterans and VA applaud the great work by the states’ attorneys general, along with Holly Petraeus and her team,” said W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary for Veterans Affairs. “We all want Veterans to be informed consumers and for schools to meet their obligations in training this Nation’s next ‘Greatest Generation.’”

Holly Petraeus is assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The attorneys general of several states had sued QuinStreet Inc., the owner of the GI Bill.com domain, charging it with deceptive practices by directing Veterans and Service Members on its website exclusively to for-profit schools that were clients of QuinStreet.

The announcement comes as VA is seeking legal authority to trademark the term GI Bill.  An executive order by President Obama on April 26 directed VA and the Department of Defense to undertake a number of measures to “stop deceptive and misleading” promotional efforts that target the GI Bill educational benefits of Service members, Veterans, and eligible family members and survivors.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which was authorized by Congress in 2008, is the most extensive educational assistance program since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.  VA has issued nearly $20 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to more than 759,000 people and their educational institutions.

All of VA’s education benefits are designed to be flexible and give Veterans the power of choice by enabling them to pursue college degrees, technical certifications, or vocational training according to their preferences and needs, at public, private non-profit and private for-profit schools.

For-profit schools are held to the same approval standards as all other schools, and VA education programs at for-profit institutions are approved by the State Approving Agencies, which act independently on behalf of the federal government to ensure quality education and training is provided to Veterans within each state.

Gould said Veterans should not be recruited aggressively by institutions principally because of financial motives, and that VA’s and other federal and state agencies’ oversight activities provide strong monitoring.  VA is engaging with other federal agencies to provide this oversight, including the departments of Defense, Education, and Justice, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

            “VA looks forward to helping Veterans make informed decisions by accepting this gift of the GIBill.com domain.  We will continue to support our Veterans by helping them obtain the best education of their choosing—a right for which they have bravely served, and which they have rightly earned,” Gould said.

For more information on GI Bill programs, please visit www.GIBILL.va.gov or call 1-888-GI-Bill-1 (1-888-442-4551) to speak with a GI Bill representative.