VA Mileage Reimbursement Update 12: A U.S. Treasury mandate that federal agencies stop handing out cash and paper checks is hitting some veterans, such as Linda Jones of Ogden, hard. Patients who go to Veterans Affairs doctor appointments or classes have always been able to collect their travel reimbursement in cash on the spot at the V.A. hospital or clinics. For many low-income vets, the cash meant gas for the tank — or bus fare — home. But no more. Since 1 MAR, the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City and its 11 clinics in the region have been complying with the Treasury mandate. That means requiring V.A. patients to accept direct deposit into their checking accounts or, if they have Direct Express Debit MasterCards that receive disability payments, into those accounts. The problem, said Jones, a Vietnam era-veteran, is the money is not landing in the bank or on the debit cards fast enough. "They said two weeks ago there was a glitch and we’d have money by Friday or Monday," said Jones. "Even that is too long when people don’t have gas to get home." Jill Atwood, spokeswoman for the medical center, acknowledged there have been delays in the early weeks of the change. "Going from paper to an electronic system is a process, and with any change there is a transition period," she said. "We are working hard to streamline that process and get veterans paid as quickly as possible." [Source: The Salt Lake Tribune | Kristen Moulton | 29 Mar 2013]
MCAS Futenma Okinawa Update 05: Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will not be closed and relocated farther north on Okinawa until at least 2019, newly filed Japanese construction documents indicate. Tokyo has estimated reclaiming land for off-shore U.S. military runways will take five years, according to a voluminous construction application formally accepted for review Friday by the Okinawa prefectural government. Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima will take the next six to eight months to decide whether to approve the reclamation request, his office said 29 MAR 2013. The new timeline brings the Futenma move back into the spotlight after an initial 2014 relocation deadline was scrapped. But it also follows a pattern of delays that has dogged U.S. efforts to realign military forces in the region. Earlier this month, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said the effort to reduce the large military presence here by relocating about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa will take until 2026 — more than a decade longer than originally planned.
Tokyo took its latest step toward the Futenma move last week when it delivered the reclamation request to a prefecture office in Nago near the relocation site. Under Japanese law, the prefecture must OK reclamation work — even by the central government — before it can proceed. The Ministry of Defense is asking Okinawa’s permission to reclaim about 395 acres of land to build V-shaped runways off the tip of the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab, a quiet coastal area that is less populated than densely developed Ginowan city around Futenma. The move is designed to reduce noise and fears over air accidents such as the 2004 crash of a Marine helicopter into a local college campus. Once completed, newly deployed Marine Corps Osprey aircraft would be relocated there. A 12-aircraft squadron of the hybrid tilt-rotor Ospreys was deployed to Okinawa last fall, and another squadron is slated to arrive this year. The five-year reclamation project at Oura Bay will require about 4.7 billion gallons of soil, which the ministry plans to buy from a contractor, according to the Okinawa Defense Bureau.
A similar project headed by the Japanese government at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima reclaimed land for a new off-shore U.S. military runway that began operation in 2010. That project — now the largest heavy-lift runway in the region — hit numerous delays and took 13 years to complete. Still, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to make good on Japan’s pledge to the U.S. to request the controversial runway reclamation work following years of political friction and unsuccessful efforts by his predecessors. It remains unclear whether Nakaima will approve the reclamation work. For years, the governor has lobbied for moving Futenma operations off Okinawa but has stopped short of saying outright that he will reject the request. Nakaima and many Okinawans have strongly opposed keeping the Marine Corps air operations on the island and building a new U.S. air station at Henoko, despite the U.S.-Japan agreement. The island is now home to the majority of military forces stationed in Japan and various Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Army facilities, including one of the largest air bases in the world. Local discontent over air traffic noise and crime by servicemembers has festered on the island for generations. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Travis J. Tritten & Chiyomi Sumida | 29 Mar 2013 ++]
DoD 2014 Budget: For the first time in four years, the Senate passed a budget resolution (S. Con. Res 8) outlining spending limits and priorities for the next fiscal year. Among other things, it envisions repealing the Medicare payment formula that now requires a 27-percent cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments as of Jan. 1, 2014. On issues directly affecting the military and veterans community, the resolution included provisions concerning:
Expanding eligibility for concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation;
Ending the deduction of VA survivor benefits from Survivor Benefit Plan annuities;
Protecting VA benefits from COLA cuts, including the “chained CPI” suggested by many COLA critics;
Extending VA health care coverage to qualifying dependent children until age 26; and
Improving veterans’ access to health care in rural areas.
MOAA applauds the efforts of multiple senators who worked to include the latter provisions in the budget resolution. But it’s important to understand it will be an uphill battle to get these changes into law. First, most were included in “contingent reserve fund” provisions. That means the sponsoring senator would like to see it happen, but it would have to be done on a budget-neutral basis — meaning something else must be cut to pay for it. That’s why Congress hasn’t done these things in the past — unwillingness to make the offsetting cuts. Second, the House-passed budget resolution reflects dramatically different budget priorities than the Senate’s. Given those dramatic differences, the likelihood of House and Senate leaders reaching a compromise seems slim. What’s different this year is a recent law change to suspend congressional salaries if each chamber failed to pass a budget resolution. They’ve each now done that now, so their pay is safe. There was no penalty if they failed to agree. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 29 Mar 2013 ++]
Vet Center Springfield MA:Christopher Adam Scott, the former Executive Director of the Springfield Mass. Mason Square Veteran's Outreach Center, was indicted by a Hampden County grand jury 26 MAR on larceny and fraud charges after the state's Attorney General's Office presented evidence that he stole more than $30,000 from the agency. The grand jury handed down its indictment, charging Scott with two counts of larceny over $250 and procurement fraud. Attorney General Martha Coakley said 27 MAR in her announcement of the charges that the year-long investigation allegedly found money missing from the center's operational accounts as well as from federal block grant funds. "We allege that this defendant abused his position at this charity to steal tens of thousands of dollars for his own use," she said. "We allege the money he stole was intended to be used for the benefit of veterans who have risked their lives to protect our country and our freedom."
Christopher Scott stands outside the Mason Square Veteran's Outreach Center
Among the money taken, the AG's office alleges, was $17,000 from federal grants to improve the handicapped accessibility of the Mason Square facility. Approximately $34,000 was assembled from a variety of federal sources to do the work, but only half that amount was applied to the project, prosecutors said. The remainder was allegedly taken by Scott for his personal use. Another $20,000 was found missing from the center's operational budget, allegedly stolen by means of cash withdrawals, bogus checks and unauthorized loans. Scott headed the local veterans aid agency from it founding in 2006 until it closed its doors in February 2012, when the case was referred to the AG's office by the Springfield city solicitor. According to prosecutors, Scott was authorized to sign checks and make cash withdrawals from the center's bank accounts. It was his responsibility to keep the center's books and present documentation for financial transactions. The Mason Square Veteran's Outreach Center was designed to provide counseling, veterans benefits and health information to veterans. Scott will be arraigned in Hampden Superior Court at a later date. [Source: The Republican | Dave Canton | 27 Mar 2013 ++]
AMVETS Ohio Vet Centers:A state investigation alleging more than $10 million in charitable funds held by veterans services organizations for job training and other services was misused also found that some veterans posts in Ohio set up fake career centers instead of using the money to help unemployed veterans. The Ohio attorney general's office said an agreement between the state and the Columbus-based American Veterans (AMVETS) Department of Ohio, Ohio AMVETS Career Center and AMVETS Department of Ohio Service Foundation requires reforms that include revamped accounting and reporting practices, written financial policies and the removal of personnel in various AMVETS offices and boards. Attorney General Mike DeWine says AMVETS officials have cooperated and started some reforms. He says veterans need the assistance and "going forward we will make sure they get it." An attorney general's spokeswoman said 27 MAR that "no criminal charges have been filed so far." Spokeswoman Lisa Hackley said she couldn't say what may have specifically triggered the investigation that began last year.
The probe found some of the 59 AMVETS posts in Ohio set up satellite career centers that were only "facades," amounting to little more than an "outdated computer in a corner," according to court documents filed 26 MAR in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus. Some used the money intended for centers to reimburse themselves for items such as "rent" for the centers and to pay a member as a "career center coach," who often did little more than register veterans for an online course, the documents state. Investigators who posed as veterans in need of job help said that they were often told a computer wasn't working or that a post had no career center. State officials say the more than $10 million sent back to posts by the AMVETS Career Center over a six-year period from Jan. 1, 2006, through May 31, 2012, was for creation of satellite centers to provide veterans with training and employment services. Ohio law allows AMVETS posts to keep 75 percent of their licensed gambling profits, with 25 percent required to go to a public charity. Fifty-nine posts made the Ohio career center the designated charity for their bingo profits and contracted with the center to operate the satellite centers. About 85 percent of the funds sent to the Ohio center went back to the posts, and posts' members and AMVETS Career Center officials characterized payments to the posts as "kickbacks," according to the documents. The investigation also found that over the six years, about $1.8 million diverted to the AMVETS Department of Ohio was used to subsidize non-charitable department activities, including payroll and travel reimbursements, Hackley said.
Sandy Vorhies, state commander of AMVETS Department of Ohio, said AMVETS officials "are angry that veterans did not receive needed services" and have fired several people who contributed to the problems. A department statement 28 MAR said that it appreciates DeWine's assistance "in identifying inefficiencies" in the career center program and will continue to make the changes needed to ensure veterans receive services. Len Proper, executive director of the newly reformed Ohio AMVETS Career Center that will be renamed, said 28 MAR that the reforms "will allow me to take this organization where it needs to go." DeWine said in court documents that most of the charitable money was spent and requiring posts to repay it would "only result in insolvency" without helping the organizations or veterans. Fifty-nine posts in separate agreements have agreed to fund the newly reformed career center for five years and will only receive charitable money for actual services provided. While some posts had active career centers, all the centers misused money in some way, Hackley said. Court documents say lack of reporting and accountability concerns led the Ohio career center board to request more reporting by posts in 2007, but most "continued to refuse to report and failed to sign up veterans for services." Jay Agg, a spokesman with the Lanham, Md.-based AMVETS National Headquarters, said the group's state departments do not receive day-to-day oversight by the national group. "But we are monitoring the situation, and we are confident the recommendations will be followed," he said. [Source: Associated Press | Lisa Cornwell | 27 Mar 2013 ++]
Korean War Vets: On 11 APR President Barack Obama will award Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Chaplain Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war from Nov. 1-2, 1950. During the battle of Unsan, Kapaun moved through the U.S. ranks under heavy enemy fire to aid and comfort his fellow soldiers. Eventually, Kapaun and his men were surrounded by enemy forces. All able-bodied U.S. troops were ordered to retreat, but Kapaun volunteered to remain with the wounded and fallen, knowing full well it would mean his capture. As the Chinese continued to close in, Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer and convinced him to negotiate the U.S. soldiers' surrender. Just after their surrender, Kapaun saw an enemy combatant standing over and preparing to kill one of the U.S. soldiers. Kapaun bravely shoved the man away, saving the American's life. Kapaun's actions stood as a beacon of hope and strength to the men with him that day and spurred many on to survival.
Chaplain (CPT) Emil Kapaun (on right) and Captain Jerome A. Dolan (on left), help carry an exhausted GI off the battlefield in Korea, early in the war. Dolan was a medical officer with the 8th Cavalry regiment.
Kapaun spent seven months in Sambukol and Pyoktong prison camps, in what is now The People's Democratic Republic of Korea. Eventually succumbing to his injuries and maltreatment by his captors, Kapaun died on May 23, 1951 in Pyoktong prison camp. While imprisoned, Kapaun would bring food for the other men, build water purification systems and laundry cleaning structures with the skills he learned on his family farm as a youth, all while still tending to the sick and wounded in camp. Kapaun kept the men's spirits high by leading them in spiritual services and prayer, even at the risk of punishment for doing so. He was feared by the guards for his outspoken resistance, but respected by his fellow captives. Upon the prisoners' return from Pyoktong prison, they told stories of Kapaun's courage, compassion and spirit, crediting him with saving hundreds of lives. In 1993 Kapaun received the title, "Servant of God", from the Roman Catholic Church, which is the second of four steps before being named a saint. The Vatican continues investigations into his possible canonization.
"He was a great man of faith, compassion and courage. He set a great example for every chaplain, and for any soldier," said Col. Robert H. Whitlock, the Eighth Army Chaplain. "When someone like Father Kapaun sets the bar, he sets it really high. To know that you are in the same profession or have the same calling as someone like him, you strive every day not to let that man down." Following in the footsteps of a man like Kapaun can be daunting, but can also inspire soldiers to aim high, Whitlock said. "When you have heroes who set high standards, it gives all of us something to aspire to," Whitlock said. "All of us aren't going to be Medal of Honor recipients, but we can all chose to be courageous, to act in a selfless way. We can all choose to put the needs of others before our own, and that was what Father Kapaun did." [Source: http://www.army.mil/article/99317 | Spc. Michael Orton | 22 Mar 2013 ++]
VA Appeals Update 12: A federal judge lashed the Department of Veterans Affairs last week for denying veterans certain due-process rights while seeking benefits. He also threatened penalties against the embattled federal agency, saying "it seems that sanctions may be needed to motivate VA in the future. The unwarranted denial of benefits means real-world consequences to veterans," wrote S. Jay Plager, a U.S. circuit judge and veteran of the Navy. "Promises of hypothetical relief do not pay for food or provide needed medical care." By design, the VA is supposed to be veteran-friendly. Officers considering veterans' claims are expected to point out documents they might be missing and help them receive any money they are entitled to, including disability payments and pensions. But in 2011, the agency instituted a new rule: Stop giving veterans a hand through the bureaucracy if their appeals are not in the region where they originally filed the claim. In other words, a veteran from New Jersey who appeals a denial in St. Petersburg may not get help from an agency appeals judge.
When veterans advocates challenged the rule, the VA promised the federal court it would stop enforcing it immediately. But it did not. In 2012, a whistle-blower inside the agency tipped off attorneys for the veterans advocates that the VA was still using the rule, which led to Plager's order. "That's a pretty big deal for the court to come in and sanction a government agency," said Matthew Hill, an Orlando attorney on the board of the National Organization for Veterans' Advocates, or NOVA, which challenged the VA. Sanctions are not guaranteed. Plager ordered the VA to make its case. The VA did not respond to an interview request, but issued a statement. "The Department of Justice represents VA in this matter, and our counsel's office is working with them to ensure an appropriate response to the court's order," a spokesman said.
It is unclear exactly how many veterans were affected by the rule, where they appealed their claims and whether they lost their benefits because they were denied due process. The VA keeps all of that information. But a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing NOVA compiled a list of 60 cases just from March 2012 in which VA appeals judges cited the rule. The judges, he said, appeared not to realize the rule had been nixed. The harsh lecture from Plager was modest vindication for critics of the troubled agency. A steep backlog of claims has drawn greater attention in recent months, as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan and find themselves at the back of a long line of World War II veterans, Korean War veterans and others. More than 1 million veterans are waiting for decisions on their claims or appeals nationally, the VA reports. More veterans are waiting on the St. Petersburg office, which handles Florida claims, than any other in the country. [Source: Sun Sentinel | Ben Wolford | 25 Mar 2013 ++]
USS Guardian Update 01: United States Navy and contracted salvage personnel have started to dismantle and remove the hull of Ex-Guardian (MCM-5), 69 days after it ran aground in the Tubbataha reef in the Sulu Sea. A USN report said that as of 27 MAR, the contracted crane vessel MV Jascon 25 had lifted and removed the first large hull section weighing about 250 tons. "The bow section was safely lifted and removed from Tubbataha Reef to an awaiting barge," according to the report posted on the Pacific Fleet website. This development signals the near completion of the salvage work for the $227 million countermeasures ship. Capt. Mark Matthews, the salvage supervisor, said that the lifting of the first large hull section was a significant accomplishment. The remaining three sections are expected to be removed over the coming days as weather and safety permits. The hull cutting is being done manually
Matthews said preparing the ship for sectioning has been "extremely challenging" as they had to "painstakingly clear about a two foot path inside the ship removing everything that is in our way." "Once the path is clear, the hull cutting is done manually by Navy divers and salvage contractors using chainsaws and reciprocating saws, with some of the cutting done underwater using hydraulically driven tools," he added. Matthews further said, "We continue to work closely with the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy, and Tubbataha Reef Park Rangers, and we are grateful for the support and advice we have received to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef." Aside from the Jascon 25, other vessels on scene supporting the salvage operation are the USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), the SMIT Borneo, the Trabajador, the Intrepid and the Archon Tide.
Ex-Guardian (MCM 5) Bow Removal
The USS Guardian, a 224-foot Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship with a crew of about 80, had completed a routine fuel stop in the western Philippines and was sailing toward Indonesia to participate in a training exercise when it hit the reef at about 2: 25 a.m on 17 JAN. The U.S. Navy declared the vessel a complete loss two weeks after it hit a coral reef at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea and that they are left with no option but to dismantle the Avenger-class minesweeper. Since the Guardian’s grounding, the U.S. Navy has been working meticulously to salvage any reusable equipment and remove any potentially harmful materials including petroleum-based products and human wastewater. Navy officials stressed no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons aboard Guardian were safely transferred off the ship. [Source: Manila Bulletin | Elena L. Aben | 27 Mar 2013 ++]
Cyber Guard Update 01: Legislation introduced in the Senate would create National Guard cyber response teams in every state and territory. The Cyber Warrior Act of 2013, S. 658, establishes cyber and computer network incident response teams, known as Cyber Guards, significantly expanding the Guard's cyber mission. The bipartisan bill was introduced 22 MAR by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. David Vitter, R-LA), and Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA) . The Cyber Guards would be to cyber attacks what the civil support teams and other homeland response units are to responding to weapons of mass destruction. They would provide a scalable response in support of the governors or the defense secretary, depending on the response needed to a cyber emergency.
“Cyber attacks are at the top of the threats that could affect every aspect of our national and economic security,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Terrorists could shut down electric grids in the middle of winter, zero-out bank accounts, or take down a stock exchange causing an unimaginable amount of disruption and harm. Meanwhile, our military and homeland cyber defense forces are thousands short of the need identified by our leaders. We must ensure that we can recruit and retain talented individuals who can protect our nation’s cybersecurity at home and abroad.” Senator Vitter said, “Cyber-attacks remain one of the highest threats to the United States, and there is no excuse for us to not be completely prepared with resources and personnel. Our legislation will help ensure that many of our states, including Louisiana, can continue developing capabilities and cyber response effectiveness.” The Cyber Warrior Act will ensure that in the first hours and days after a devastating cyber attack, our local responders will have the same support of the National Guard for response and recovery that they do when a hurricane strikes.
The 2013 World Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, which listed cyber attacks and espionage as the first among the risks facing the U.S., states that, “We judge that there is a remote chance of a major cyber attack against U.S. critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage.” Yet our government lacks enough cyber experts. According to Alan Paller of the SANS Institute, the Pentagon alone is short by about 10,000 cyber experts with only 2,000 currently in place. There is also a shortfall of both capability and capacity at the federal, state, and local levels to prepare, respond, and mitigate the effects of cyber events. In today’s economic environment, many of the top computer network operations and information technology (CNO/IT) specialists are choosing to work in the private sector, attracted by financial incentives, entrepreneurship trainings and flexibility. To remain competitive, the Department of Defense acknowledges that it must develop new and innovative ways and receive the tools needed to recruit and retain cyber warriors. The Department of Defense Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace states that “the demand for new cyber personnel is high, commensurate with the severity of cyber threats. DoD must make itself competitive if it is to attract technically skilled personnel to join government service for the long-term. Paradigm-shifting approaches such as the development of Reserve and National Guard cyber capabilities can build greater capacity, expertise, and flexibility across DoD, federal, state, and private sector activities.”
The Cyber Warrior Act of 2013 would place Cyber Guards in each state and territory, which could provide a scalable response. This National Guard unit can be activated by the Governor or Secretary of Defense depending on the response needed. These cyber teams would combine Active Guard and Traditional Guard Members, leveraging Members’ private sector IT experience. The use of the Guard would also support the goal of retaining the cyber trained military personnel who would otherwise leave the service. As with any Guard unit, the legislation would allow Governors to call up their Cyber Guard to address a local cyber emergency, boosting the capacity to protect computer networks in the homeland where the military may not play a role. The bill would also allow Governors to get the Guard to help train State and Local Law Enforcement and other Cyber Responders in cyber security, and help them develop sound best practices that allow more cohesive interaction with Federal-level responders. Finally, the legislation would require the Secretary of Defense to report on the following ways to attract and retain more cyber warriors. [Source: NGAUS Washington Report 26 Mar 2013 ++]
WWII Submariners: Jack Hoenes and his comrades who served on submarines during World War II know the number. Fifty-two. That is how many submarines sunk or were missing during the war. For Hoenes, the number includes a submarine that could have taken his life. Nearly 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men died on those ships. Hoenes was one of about a half-dozen veterans who attended the most recent meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II. A plaque on a table at the meeting room in the Acker-Moore Memorial Post 4738/American Legion Hall Post 175 is inscribed with the names of 46 members who have died since the group has been meeting. “There aren’t many World War II submariners left,” said Ellis Augsburger, 88, of Akron, a member of the group who served on the USS Hawkbill. While the Northeast Ohio group continues to meet, the national U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII disbanded last fall and gave up its charter, said Don Beach, 70, of Granger Township, the president of the group.
Even though Beach is an associate member because he served on the nuclear submarines USS Jack and Pollack years after the war ended, he is president because there was no one else who wanted to run the meetings. “Two to three submariners a day are dying nationally,” he said, pointing out that only 2 percent of the sailors who served during World War II served on submarines. Beach’s group is made up of eight World War II submariners, five of their wives and three of their daughters, eight widows of World War II submariners, and several associate members. One of the associate members is an Army veteran who used to bring a World War II submariner to the meetings and continued coming after his friend died. The national group was formed in 1955 and chartered by Congress in 1981. He is not sure when the Northeast Ohio group got started. Beach, who retired from the trucking industry, said he has a great respect for his comrades who served on submarines before him. “In World War II, they didn’t have snorkels on the submarines and they had to surface every day to run their diesel engines to charge their batteries, which left them as targets on the surface,” he said. Comments from other members of the group included:
Jack Hoenes, 87, of Bay Village, who worked 42 years on the railroad as a dispatcher, was serving on the USS Trigger when he was asked if he wanted to switch submarines and serve on the USS Chub. The Trigger later would be sunk in the war. “I figured the good Lord was on my side,” said Hoenes, who went on three patrols in the Pacific during his time on the Chub.
Roland Romito, 87, of Broadview Heights served on the USS Sperry, a submarine tender, a ship that serviced submarines in the water. Romito estimates during his time as a radio repairman, he worked on radios on 32 submarines and he is sure some of those submarines never came back from the war. “You either came back or you didn’t — there was no in between,” said Romito, who worked in the auto parts business after the war, repaired car radios on the side and is still an amateur radio operator under the call number W8GTJ. He joined the group right after the war. “I’ve seen a lot of them come and a lot of them go but I’m still here,” said Romito, who grew up in Bedford.
Dewey Hansen, 86, of Peninsula, who owns Hudson Extrusions, worked as an electrician stateside on a school submarine where young sailors were trained to be submariners in 1944 and 1945. “It was good pay and good food,” said Hansen, who added that submariners were paid 50 percent more than other sailors. He said it was a myth that it was super crowded on a submarine. “We had more cubic feet of space per man on a sub than they did on an aircraft carrier,” he said. Hansen, who grew up in upper Michigan, has lived in Peninsula for about 40 years.
Jim Bock, 87, of Warren, who served on the USS Corporal, which was commissioned in early 1945, has been a longtime member of the group. “It’s quite a group of fellows but we are dwindling down,” said Bock, who worked for the family-owned business Bock Transfer and Storage for 47 years, including several years as president.
Ellis Augsburger made five patrols on the USS Hawkbill and one frightening six-hour period still stands out in his mind. That was off the coast of Singapore in the South China Sea, when Japanese ships were close by. “One depth charge went off under our bow and blew our bow out of the water,” he said. The submarine dove to the bottom of the ocean. It remained there — only about 100 feet below the surface — for several hours to avoid detection. “They went back and forth over us,” said Augsburger, who was a torpedo man on his submarine. “We got scared, of course,” he said.
Lucille Hourigan, 88, of Warren, whose husband, Michael Hourigan, taught radar to sailors on submarines when he served in the Navy, still goes to the meetings. Her husband died four years ago. She worked as a photographer at a Pratt & Whitney aircraft factory as a “Rosie the Riveter” during the war but loves to spend time with her late husband’s submarine pals.“They are still nice to me,” she said.
[Source: Akron Beacon Journal | Jim Carney | 25 Mar 2013 ++]
VA NVGAG Update 01: VA has posted the following regarding the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games that were to take place in Buffalo New York. ( http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/gag/index.asp):
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is dedicated to ensuring our Nation's Veterans receive the excellent and effective care they have earned. “VA has increased its focus on conference, training and related event spending, to include the National Veterans Golden Age Games (NVGAG), because we are committed to serving as good stewards of taxpayer dollars. To that end, in an effort to ensure we meet the high standards of excellence, good governance and efficiency, we evaluate each event, program and initiative for alignment with the department's core mission and priorities. After going through a comprehensive assessment, VA has decided to postpone the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games in Buffalo, New York. The decision to postpone the 2013 NVGAG will have no effect on the health care services or programs offered to Veterans at their local VA Medical Centers, Community Living Centers or Community-Based Outpatient Clinics. The department recognizes the significant value of rehabilitation through sports. We encourage all Veterans to participate in sports, health and wellness programs provided by VA in both local their community and on the national level. Please continue to work with the dedicated team of recreational and physical therapists, nurses, doctors and staff at your VA Medical Center. I assure you, they are here to help you any way they can, and provide you the best care and services you may need. Thank you for your service, and thank you for allowing us to serve you.” Rep. Brian Higgins noted that “the VA made a commitment to this region” and that it’s not right for the agency to walk away from WNY and the veterans. The 2013 Games were expected to bring 1,000 veterans to Buffalo for six days of athletic competition this spring. But the games were summarily canceled by the VA, after six years of planning, only two weeks after the VA had signed contracts for the event and only 10 weeks before the competition was to begin. The cancellation is expected to cost the community two million dollars. Left holding the bag are four downtown hotels that had booked guests; venues including the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Erie Community College and Amherst’s Audubon Golf Course, among others; and, of course, the veterans who were going to compete. Those would be the people the VA was created to serve. [Source: The Buffalo News | Opinion | 23 Mar 2013 ++]
Vet Toxic Exposure ~ Gagetown: Two U.S. Representatives from Vermont and Maine want the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to help veterans who fear they may have been exposed to dangerous herbicides at a Canadian military base. Democrats Rep. Peter Welch, of Vermont, and Mike Michaud, of Maine, re-introduced a bill (H.R.1372) 21 MAR in Congress that would establish a voluntary registry of U.S. veterans who served at the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick. In 2007, the Canadian government acknowledged that Agent Orange and other herbicides were tested at Gagetown and began paying settlements to Canadian veterans. Members of the Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island National Guard and reserves trained at Gagetown. While U.S. veterans trained there after the testing period, many are still concerned they were exposed to toxic levels of herbicides. [Source: Boston.com | AP | 22 Mar 2013 ++]
VA Secretary Update 15: The national commander of the nation's largest war veterans organization is outraged that a TIME magazine columnist has called for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. “Freedom of the press isn’t a license for Joe Klein to twist reality about someone who has volunteered virtually his entire life to serve his country,” said John E. Hamilton, who leads the 2 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries. Klein's column, entitled "Ten Years After: A National Disgrace,” is posted on the magazine's website and is being published in its March 25 edition. “Secretary Shinseki has one of the toughest jobs in America,” said Hamilton, a combat wounded Marine Corps rifleman in Vietnam. “It is his responsibility to heal, help and care for our wounded, ill and injured veterans from all generations. What he doesn’t need is criticism from those who have little or no understanding of the real issues or challenges facing his department.”
In his column, Klein criticizes Shinseki for being quiet and reserved, as if the secretary of the nation’s largest integrated healthcare network and second largest federal department has time for a publicized social life. Klein hides behind a so-called “legion” of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who say the secretary lacks the creativity and leadership skills to run the VA, plus sympathizes with their complaint of not being moved to the front of the line ahead of other — but older — disabled veterans. Still worse, Klein accuses Shinseki of not capitalizing on the mass murder allegedly committed by an Army staff sergeant in Afghanistan. “What occurred in Afghanistan was a tragedy, not an opportunity,” said Hamilton. “The Department of Defense and the VA expend an enormous amount of resources on programs and outreach to provide mental health counseling to those in need, but you can’t mandate any program that first requires someone to voluntarily step forward and ask for help. That same limitation also confronts all of us who are in this battle to end military and veteran suicides. “And regarding the columnist’s personal attack, just because the secretary prefers a lower profile to someone who might ‘Tweet’ their every movement doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means he’s too busy doing his job, and that’s to fulfill our nation’s promise to her veterans.”
For years the VFW has testified before Congress about the lack of funding for the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, especially in the areas of automation and proper staffing. Hamilton said the secretary did the absolute right thing to grant additional presumptive service connections for Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans, but he acknowledged that organizations like the VFW and others who employ service officers to help veterans file their claims knew that the increased workload would overwhelm the existing system. Thanks to the president and Congress, the VA now has the necessary resources to automate the claims processing system. This means the VA is moving in the right direction, said the VFW national commander, but after years of neglect, the fix will not come overnight. “We want the VA to succeed, and that’s why we work closely with Secretary Shinseki and his staff to help identify and correct problems in a professional manner from within, not by enlisting the media to sensationalize issues the great majority of Americans and, quite frankly, many veterans don’t understand,” said Hamilton. “The VFW helped to create the VA in 1930. We will not let it fail. We will also continue to take strong issue with people who blindly criticize the organization or its secretary, who is a combat wounded veteran who understands what it means to serve and sacrifice. Secretary Shinseki gets it, and America should be very appreciative that he volunteered to stay for another tour — the VFW is.” [Source: VFW News 15 MAR 2013 ++]
VA Secretary Update 16: In the wake of calls from a few vocal critics in the media and veterans’ community for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to resign, AMVETS National Executive Director Stewart Hickey announced his organization’s support for the VA leader’s continuation in his post. Hickey argued only Shinseki, a man with a proven record as a transformational leader, with a clear and well-articulated vision for improving the VA claims backlog, is capable of successfully leading VA through the necessary planned changes that will make services and benefits more readily available to those veterans who have earned them. “There is a reason major veterans service organizations, including AMVETS, are standing with Secretary Shinseki,” said Hickey. “It’s because we’re working alongside VA to connect thousands of veterans with their benefits each year, and we understand the organizational challenges VA faces. We know the Secretary is on the right path, prioritizing older and more complex claims, and instituting a new electronic processing system.”
Hickey also lauded Shinseki for adding more than a million veterans to VA’s rolls for care and benefits through his decisions on presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome and PTSD. “The Secretary’s call to serve more veterans despite the existing backlog challenge was nothing short of courageous,” said Hickey. “We need this leader who has consistently made the right calls to advocate for the veterans who depend on their government’s assistance. Instead of calling for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation, those wanting change should urge Congress to adopt the recommendations of The Independent Budget, and guarantee sufficient, timely and predictable funding for VA.” The American Veterans (AMVETS) has been a leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces. The organization provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserve. To learn more about AMVETS refer to http://www.amvets.org. [Source: PR Newswire | AMVETS | 22 Mar 2013 ++]
VA Secretary Update 17: "No veteran should have to wait for claims," Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says, taking head-on the criticism about the growing backlog of claims for disability, pension and educational benefits that have overwhelmed his department. "If there's anybody impatient here, I am that individual," Shinseki told CNN's Candy Crowley in an interviewed aired Sunday on "State of the Union." "We're pushing hard." Part of the problem with the crushing inventory of claims, Shinseki said, is the fact that the Veterans Affairs Department lacks a digitized records system and instead has relied on paper files – sometimes filled with thousands of pages. "We're a paper process, have been for decades," he said. "This has been decades building and we need to go digital, and we're in the process of doing that." The backlog issue has become a point of embarrassment for the department, and bitterly frustrated veterans groups have taken to Capitol Hill to complain of the delays, some even suggesting that Shinseki himself should resign. Asked whether believed he'd lived up to the promises he made when taking the VA helm, Shinseki said his commitment hasn't changed. "I took this job to make things better for veterans. I don't know them individually. I know them as a group. I've served with many of them," the retired Army general said. "The commitment hasn't changed, and we're going to fix this." "No veteran should have to wait for claims as they are today. We have a fix for this. We're open for business and we will end the backlog in 2015," he added. [Source: Politico | Juana Summers | 24 Mar 2013 ++]
Vet Gun Control Update 07: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it will not comply with the provision of New York's new gun control law requiring mental health providers to report potentially dangerous individuals to state authorities. The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act calls on doctors and therapists to alert county health officials to patients they deem "likely" to engage in conduct that will result in serious self-injury or harm to others. Once notified of potentially harmful individuals, the state will check their names against a new state database of licensed gun owners. If there's a match, local law enforcement will be authorized to remove weapons if their owner does not voluntarily surrender them. Mark Ballesteros, spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in an email statement that "federal laws safeguarding the confidentiality of veterans' treatment records do not authorize VA mental health professionals to comply with this NY State law." Veterans determined mentally incompetent to handle their own affairs by the VA are reported to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check database. While the background-check database will be used under the New York law to screen firearms sales, the information on veterans' mental health is not included in the data viewable by states, according to the VA.
The VA provides health care for more than half of returned U.S. veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars. New York is home to nearly a million veterans; Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island and Erie County in the western part of the state rank among the top counties nationally for share of residents who have served in the armed forces. Asked about the VA's statement at a 11 MAR cabinet meeting, Gov. Cuomo suggested that providers have discretion in whether or not to report patients. "You know, I really don't know the specifics, but first of all what the law says is it leaves it totally up to the mental health provider if they want to come forward or not - totally up to them," he said. The bill's language, however, makes it clear that mental health providers "shall" report potentially dangerous patients. The state Office of Mental Health, Division of Veterans' Affairs and Division of State Police did not respond to questions about the VA or the SAFE Act. Cuomo was a driving force behind the SAFE Act, which was introduced and passed by the Legislature without public debate in the wake of the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. When he signed it in January, the governor said that the law's mental health reporting requirement was "common sense."
Some mental health providers and advocates argue that the law could increase the stigma surrounding mental illness, heightening barriers to obtaining needed care and deterring many of those who most need help from seeking it out - paradoxically, leaving the mentally ill and the public less safe. For veterans and active-duty military members, who already face serious cultural obstacles to receiving care and suffer higher rates of suicide, especially with firearms, than the general population, these concerns are all the more acute. "There is a chilling effect on people getting care, and we're particularly concerned about veterans," said John Richter director of public policy at the state Mental Health Association. "We have a hard enough time getting veterans in for PTSD. Veterans are a prime example of someone who would have a disincentive to go." A 2011 report by the RAND Corporation on New York veterans' needs, commissioned by the state Health Foundation, found that more than one in five veterans returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression - rates two to four times higher than the general population for major depression, and eight times higher for PTSD. Yet only a third of surveyed veterans with a mental health need sought care, often driven away by fears about the confidentiality of their treatment and the possibility of losing respect from colleagues and supervisors. RAND concluded that barriers to treatment - and the view that seeking mental health care was undesirable - needed to be moved aside to improve services and enrollment.
Some providers fear these forces keeping veterans away from care will now be exacerbated by the SAFE Act. "A lot of them are not getting treatment because they want to avoid stigma and the labeling," said Connie Przepasniak, a licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo and member of the board of directors of the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York. In the past, she worked as a counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "In my experience, a lot of veterans that I've worked with have some kind of a weapon on them, just in terms of self-protection," she said. "And I think it's going to prevent them from seeking mental health treatment." Mental health professionals have in the past had an array of options in dealing with patients who share thoughts of suicide or harming others, including involuntary hospitalization and warning potential victims, as well as reporting to law enforcement. But once the law goes into effect, care providers who encounter suicidal or otherwise dangerous patients will have no choice but to report.
Mental Health Association chapters across the state, as well as National Association of Social Workers New York State, the New York State Psychiatric Association and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services, Inc. have expressed concerns about the bill's possible effects on New Yorkers with mental illnesses. Jim A., a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, did seek out mental health services when he returned for good. (He asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy.) At the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, doctors diagnosed him with PTSD. But while he actively sought care, he said he can also see fellow veterans holding back on getting mental health treatment because of the reporting requirement. "I can't talk to someone about my level of disconnect for fear of my information being shared when I go to buy a rifle," he said, putting himself in another veteran's shoes. "The sharing of information is a huge concern because, hey, if I want to get a new gun, I better not see the doctor. I better figure this out here by myself." [Source: New York World | Curtis Skinner | 12 Mar 2013 ++]
VA Social Workers Update 02: A question many Veterans should ask themselves is do you need to contact one? You will find social workers in all program areas in VA medical centers who are ready to help you with most any need. If you have questions or problems, the social worker will be able to help you or can refer you to the right person for help. Here are just some of the ways that VA social workers can help:
They can advise you on getting help from the VA or from community agencies, such as Meals on Wheels, so you can continue to live in your own home.
They can help in applying for benefits from the VA, Social Security and other government and community programs? Ask your VA social worker.
VA social workers develop and implement treatment approaches which address individual social problems and work with acute or chronic medical conditions, dying patients, and bereaved families.
They are a voice for Veterans and their families who are at-risk of losing their homes.
They can make sure your doctor and other VA staff on your treatment team know your decisions about end-of-life issues, generally called advance directives and living wills. This includes things like whether you want to be on life support equipment, whether you are an organ donor, and which family member or other person you have chosen to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
They can help you arrange for respite care for your caregiver so she or he can have a break or go on vacation without worrying about who will be caring for you.
The first step is generally for the social worker to meet with you, and often with your family. The social worker will ask you questions about your health, your living situation, your family and other support systems, your military experience and the things you think you need help with. He/she will then write an assessment that will help you and your VA health care team make treatment plans. If you are in a crisis situation, social workers can provide counseling services to help you get through the crisis. The social worker will then help you with more long-term needs and help you apply for services and programs in your community and through the VA. VA social workers are responsible for ensuring continuity of care through the admission, evaluation, treatment, and follow-up processes. This includes coordinating discharge planning and providing case management services based on the patients clinical and community health and social services resources. If any of the following situations apply to you or your family, ask to see the social worker at your VA Medical Center:
If you are having marriage or family problems
If you would like help with moving to an assisted living facility, a board and care home or a nursing home.
If someone close to you has passed away and you want to talk about it
If you have problems with drinking or drug use
If you feel that someone is taking advantage of you or if you feel mistreated in a relationship
If you are a parent who feels overwhelmed with child care
If your parent or spouse is in failing health
If you are feeling stress because of your health or because your medical condition interferes with your daily activities
If you are feeling sad, depressed or anxious
If you really aren‘t sure what you need, but things just don‘t feel right
Financial or housing assistance
There are many more ways VA social workers can help. You can read about all of the services on their VA website http://www.socialwork.va.gov. There is also a web page with a very helpful list of resources within VA and outside of VA. VA social workers place an emphasis on using the strength of their core values to manage serious life challenges, to celebrate the profession, and to be a voice for at risk Veterans and their families. “Today, with our student interns, we are 11,430 strong, with 10,718 social workers employed in the VA. Throughout March, we will identify, recognize and celebrate the numerous contributions of Social Work Departments as well as the many contributions of individual social workers,” says Carol Sheets, Acting Chief Consultant, Care Management and Social Work Services. [Source: VA Have you Heard | Kevin Secor | 12 Mar 2013 ++]
VA Benefits Handbook 2012: The latest edition of the Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents Pamphlet can be obtained from the Department of Veterans Affairs online or by mail. A chapter listing of the pub can be accessed at http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp for quick reference to subjects of interest. It updates the rates for certain federal payments and outlines a variety of programs and benefits for American veterans. Most of the nation's 24 million veterans qualify for some VA benefits, which range from health care to burial in a national cemetery. In addition to health-care and burial benefits, veterans may be eligible for programs providing home loan guaranties, educational assistance, training and vocational rehabilitation, income assistance pensions, life insurance and compensation for service-connected illnesses or disabilities. In some cases, survivors of veterans may also be entitled to benefits. The handbook describes programs for veterans with specific service experiences, such as prisoners of war or those concerned about environmental exposures in Vietnam or in the Gulf War, as well as special benefits for veterans with severe disabilities. In addition to describing benefits provided by VA, it provides an overview of programs and services for veterans provided by other federal agencies. It also includes resources to help veterans access their benefits, with a listing of phone numbers, websites, and a directory of VA facilities throughout the country.
The 2012 publication in English can be downloaded at no cost from VA's Web site at http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/2012_Federal_benefits_ebook_final.pdf. A Spanish version can be downloaded at http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/2012_Federal_benefits_ebook_final.pdf. Hard copies of the English version S/N 051–000–00242–3, ISBN 978-0-16-090303-8 and Spanish version S/N 051–000–00241–5 can be purchased for $5.00 which includes regular postage and handling. For international orders add 40%. Make checks payable to Superintendent of Documents. Include your name, address, day time phone number with orders. Use Order Processing Code 3592. Order via:
Mail: U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), P.O. Box 979050, St. Louis, MO 63197-9000 or Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Stop IDCC, Washington, DC 20401
Phone: (866) 512-1800 or (202) 512–1800 or Fax: (202) 512–2104 with a credit card.
Easy Secure Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov
[Source: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp Mar 2013 ++]