In This Issue:
1. Forever GI Bill Heads to President’s Desk
2. Funding Agreement for Choice Program and VA Heads to President
3. Senate Advances Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization
4. Senate Passes Ban on Private Sale of Military-issued Purple Heart Medals
5. WWII Veterans to Receive Benefits for Exposure to Mustard Gas and Lewisite
6. GWOT Memorial Bill Clears Congress, Heads to President
7. VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship Program Sees First Legislative Victories
8. VFW Participates in Military to Civilian Transition Summit
9. VFW Speaks at VA Psychology Summit
10. VA Hosts Caregiver Summit, VFW Speaks on Panel
11. President Trump and Secretary Shulkin Announce Veteran Telehealth Initiatives
12. Army Medic Receives Medal of Honor
13. Senate Confirms New Navy, VA Leaders
14. Guadalcanal Commemoration
15. MIA Update
1. Forever GI Bill Heads to President’s Desk: On Wednesday, the Senate advanced H.R. 3218, the Forever GI Bill, which would ensure more veterans and their survivors have an opportunity to pursue their educational goals, such as Purple Heart recipients who do not have the requisite three years of active service; veterans attending schools that close abruptly; thousands of involuntarily activated Reservists and Guardsmen; surviving family members; and it eliminates the 15-year use-or-lose limitation, which means veterans truly have a lifetime to use their GI Bill. “The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is extremely pleased with the swift passage of this bill. The GI Bill is one of our nation’s best tools for setting our veterans up for future success,” said VFW National Commander Keith Harman. “This new legislation improves upon that tool.” The bill awaits President Trump’s signature. Watch the VFW-hosted press conference on passage of this landmark bill.
2. Funding Agreement for Choice Program and VA Heads to President: Last week, the VFW asked its members and supporters to call their Representatives and demand they vote “NO” on S.114, which called for the gradual privatization of veterans’ health care. The troubling bill would have sent billions of dollars into the private sector, using veterans’ benefits to pay for it. This call to action worked and the House voted down S.114. The VFW then worked with Congress on an amendment to S.114 to fix the funding shortfall of the Choice Program, but also make urgently needed improvements to VA’s health care system, such as improving hiring and training for VA doctors and authorizing VA to enter into 28 leases for medical facilities. The VFW supported the amendment to S.114 which cleared the House of Representatives last week with a 405-0 vote and passed the Senate this week with no objections. This could not have been accomplished without direct support of VFW members, its supporters and partner veterans’ organizations who also took part in the fight against VA privatization. The bill must be signed by President Trump before August 15, 2017, when the Choice Program is scheduled to expire.
3. Senate Advances Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization: On Tuesday, the Senate passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. This important bill is the product of years of discussion and work between the VFW, Congress, VA and other veterans organizations to create a streamlined, non-adversarial, process for veterans to appeal a decision on their VA benefits claims. The measure would allow certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system. The bill also requires the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals. Currently, over half a million veterans are awaiting a response to their existing appeals.
4. Senate Passes Ban on Private Sale of Military-issued Purple Heart Medals: on Wednesday, the Senate passed the VFW supported Private Corrado Piccoli Purple Heart Preservation Act. Over past decades, businesses specializing in military artifacts have been selling military-issued Purple Hearts on the public market for inflated prices, which have made it extremely difficult for veterans and their loved ones to track and obtain lost or stolen medals. This bill puts an end to this practice by making it illegal for any business to sell military-issued Purple Hearts. A vote in the U.S. House is expected following August’s recess. The Senate also passed a bipartisan, joint resolution this past week commemorating Purple Heart Day, which is August 7. Purple Heart Day recognizes the sacrifices of those who have earned the Purple Heart Medal and is commemorated each year on the anniversary of George Washington creating the “Badge for Military Merit,” the precursor to the Purple Heart. The resolution supports the goals and ideals of Purple Heart Day, encourages citizens to learn about the history of the Purple Heart Medal, and requests that the president issue an annual proclamation calling on the people of the U.S. to demonstrate support for Purple Heart recipients.
5. WWII Veterans to Receive Benefits for Exposure to Mustard Gas and Lewisite: On Wednesday, Congress passed the VFW-supported Arla Herrell Act, which has been championed by Senator Claire McCaskill and will expand benefits for veterans who were exposed to mustard gas, and other chemical agents during World War II (WWII). This provision would require the VA to reconsider all denied claims for full-body exposure to mustard gas and lewisite brought by WWII veterans who were stationed at 22 locations. Under the bill which is expected to become law soon, the burden of proof for those claims would fall on the VA, rather than veterans. Additionally, it mandates an investigation to determine what went wrong with this process and officially acknowledge the horror these service members endured.
6. GWOT Memorial Bill Clears Congress, Heads to President: The Senate this week unanimously passed the VFW-supported Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act, which exempts the GWOT Memorial from a provision in the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 that requires Congress to first wait 10 years after the official end of a military conflict before considering a war memorial in the nation’s capital. The House had passed its version of the bill earlier. The president is expected to sign the bill, which then allows the GWOT Memorial Foundation to work with the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission to secure federal approval for acreage on the National Mall, as well as coordinate a national competition for the memorial’s design. “This memorial will be wholly dedicated to our 7,000 brothers and sisters who deployed with us, but did not return and their survivors,” said GWOT Memorial Foundation Founder and Executive Director Andrew Brennan, a VFW Life member of Post 3945 in Pittsburgh. “It is dedicated to the 1 million wounded warriors who are reclaiming their lives back here at home, [and] it is for the soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines who struggle in their transition from combat deployments.”
7. VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship Program Sees First Legislative Victories: In a major victory for the legislative fellowship program, sponsored and operated by the VFW and Student Veterans of America, two pieces of legislation supported by fellowship research will now soon become law. The program, now entering its fourth year with applications currently being accepted for the 2018 class, brings 10 VFW members who are also attending college into a semester-long program which includes a week in Washington, D.C., where those selected attend the VFW’s National Legislative Conference. Karthik Venkatraj of Colorado wrote about the need for a two-way exchange of leadership between the private sector and VA which became the basis for VA’s new executive fellowship program included in legislation recently passed by Congress. Ryan Taylor of Florida and Rob Janice of Arizona both researched the need for additional GI Bill funding to support veterans pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees. STEM is one of the fastest growing parts of our nation’s economy and research shows that veterans want to be in these fields but STEM degrees usually take longer than 36 months to complete. The landmark Forever GI Bill legislation that cleared Congress this week would give veterans seeking STEM degrees an additional year of Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility. For more information on the program and to apply for the 2018 class, visit the VFW website.
8. VFW Participates in Military to Civilian Transition Summit: On Monday, VFW National Legislative Service Director Carlos Fuentes attended a VA-hosted summit to discuss the challenges of the military to civilian transition and what DOD, VA and veteran service organizations can do to ensure service members and their families have a seamless transition back to civilian life. Fuentes leveraged the VFW’s presence in 20 military installations, where it provides transitioning service members with direct assistance prior to discharge from the military, to recommend solutions to the challenges transitioning service members and their families share with the VFW. If you or a family member have been recently discharged from military service or are in the process of transitioning from military service and have questions or recommendations on how to improve the process, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the VFW’s Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program.
9. VFW Speaks at VA Psychology Summit: On Wednesday, VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Kayda Keleher spoke at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Psychology Summit. During the hour and a half-long panel discussion, psychologists from all different VA medical centers had the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the VFW and other veterans organization representatives. Conversation and questions focused on VA’s need and desire to hire more mental health care providers, despite the nationwide shortage, in an effort to keep veterans within VA’s programs instead of needing to send them to community providers. Also discussed was the need to expand telehealth services, gender specific services, and employee education on best practices to empower veteran patients.
10. VA Hosts Caregiver Summit, VFW Speaks on Panel: The VFW spoke alongside other veteran and military service organizations at the VA Caregiver Support Program Process Improvement Summit, Wednesday, Aug. 2. The panel was held to discuss the “pain points” of VA’s caregiver program – focusing on the tier program, clinical evaluations, as well as what to do for caregivers victim of intimate partner violence. In attendance were veteran and military caregivers and caregiver coordinators. VA ended is moratorium on revocations this past week, which means VA will resume graduating veterans from the program when a veteran’s care team validates that the veteran no longer needs the assistance of a caregiver. The VFW will continue to work with VA to make certain veterans who continue to need the assistance of a caregiver are not kicked out of the programs and that VA properly prepares caregivers to find meaningful employment to substitute the financial assistance provided by the program. If you feel you have been wrongfully discharged from the caregiver program, please contact the VFW’s Tactical Assessment Center at 1-800-VFW-1899 or email@example.com.
11. President Trump and Secretary Shulkin Announce Veteran Telehealth Initiatives: Yesterday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin joined President Trump at the White House to announce an expansion of access to health care for veterans using telehealth technology. VA will now be able to deliver care to veterans in their homes regardless of if veterans and their VA doctors are located in different states. The VFW has supported legislation championed by Senators Ernst and Hirono and Congresswoman Brownley to grant VA doctors such authority and is glad VA expanded its doctor’s practice authority without congressional action. VA also announced a nationwide rollout of its Veterans Appointment Request application which enables veterans to self-schedule their VA appointments. Find out more about VA’s telehealth program.
12. Army Medic Receives Medal of Honor: On Monday, the president presented the Medal of Honor to former Specialist Five James C. McCloughan of South Haven, Mich., for distinguished actions during 48 hours of close-combat against enemy forces near Don Que, Vietnam, from May 13-15, 1969. McCloughan, then 23 years old, voluntarily risked his life on nine separate occasions to rescue wounded and disoriented comrades. He was wounded by shrapnel and small arms fire on three separate occasions, yet refused medical evacuation in order to continue to rescue, treat and defend wounded Americans. He was assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. Read more here.
13. Senate Confirms New Navy, VA Leaders: The Senate this week confirmed finance executive Richard V. Spencer as the new secretary of the Navy, and retired Marine Corps Col. Tom Bowman as the new deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Spencer, from Wilson, Wyo., served as a Marine Corps aviator from 1976 to 1981, and is heavily involved with the nonprofit Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He was also a driving force behind building the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va. Bowman, a Life member of VFW Post 10209 in St. Petersburg, Fla., was the staff director of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He had previously worked for the VA for nearly 10 years, including serving as chief of staff to former VA Secretaries Jim Nicholson and James Peake.
14. Guadalcanal Commemoration: At 11:30 a.m. EDT, Monday, Aug. 7, visitors to Washington, D.C., are invited to attend a brief ceremony and wreath presentation at the National World War II Memorial’s Pacific Arch to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal. On Aug. 7, 1942, Allied forces — predominantly U.S. Marines — launched a surprise landing on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands. Along with the Battle of Midway, the Battle of Guadalcanal has been called a turning point in the war against Japan. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking could be limited since it’s the tourist season and Monday is a workday. Taxis are plentiful and recommended. The two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. Learn about this and other events.
15. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates on eight American service members who had been missing in action since World War II and the Korean War. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Army Cpl. Richard J. Seadore, 21, whose remains were identified earlier, will be buried Aug. 4 in his hometown of Long Pine, Neb. In December 1950, Seadore was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, when Chinese forces attacked and penetrated his company’s defensive line. Following the battle, Seadore could not be located. It would later be learned he had been captured and died in a North Korean POW camp in April 1951. Read more here.
— Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson, 24, whose remains were identified earlier, will be buried Aug. 4 in Indiantown Gap, Pa. On Dec. 23, 1944, Carlson was shot down in an air battle south of Bonn, Germany. The Flushing, N.Y., native was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot with the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force. German officials reported finding and burying Carlson’s remains at the crash site near Buschhoven, Germany. Read more here.
— Army Air Forces Pvt. William D. Gruber, whose remains were identified earlier, will be buried Aug. 5 in Boulder, Mont. On Dec. 8, 1941, Gruber was assigned to the Philippine Department, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, when Japanese forces invaded. When Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942, Gruber and thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were captured and forced to endure the Bataan Death March. Gruber, 22, of Townsend, Mont., reportedly died on Sept. 27, 1942, at the Cabanatuan POW Camp. Read more here.
— Army Sgt. Willie Rowe, whose remains were identified earlier, will be buried Aug. 8 at Arlington National Cemetery. He was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when on Nov. 25, 1950, his unit was attacked by Chinese forces in North Korea. Rowe, 22, of Hampton, Va., would be declared missing and unaccounted for following the battle. It would later be learned he had been captured but died in a North Korean POW camp in January 1951. Read more here.
— Navy Fireman 3rd Class Kenneth L. Holm, 29, of Clarkfield, Minn., will be buried Aug. 9 in Fort Snelling, Minn. Holm was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. He would be one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read more here.
— Army Pfc. Lloyd J. Lobdell, 23, of Janesville, Wis., was stationed in the Philippines with Company A, 192nd Tank Battalion, when Japanese forces invaded on Dec. 8, 1941. When Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942, Lobdell and thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were captured and forced to endure the Bataan Death March. Lobdell reportedly died on Nov. 19, 1942, at the Cabanatuan POW Camp. Interment services are pending. Read more here.
— Navy Reserve Lt. j.g. Irwin E. Rink, of Kansas, was an F4F-4 Wildcat pilot assigned to Fighting Squadron Twenty Seven (VF-27). On Aug. 4, 1943, he and seven others took off on an escort mission to New Georgia Island when they were attacked by Japanese fighter aircrafts. Rink did not return to base, and would be reported missing in action on Aug. 4, 1943. Interment services are pending. Read more here.
— Army Cpl. Dow F. Worden, of Morrow, Ore., was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and was near an area known as Heartbreak Ridge when the Chinese launched a probing attack on the forward slope of Hill 1024. After repelling the attack, Worden’s company was then ordered to attack the enemy on nearby Hill 867. Worden could not be accounted for after the battle, and he was declared missing in action on Sept. 29, 1951. Interment services are pending. Read more here.