|Dear American Legion Family and Friends,
There is no question that The American Legion is the largest veterans service organization, and we have the influence that we do on Capitol Hill because of our active and caring members. With that said, there is an opportunity this week for The American Legion’s voice to be heard on Capitol Hill.
The VA MISSION Act of 2018 (S. 2372) will be going for a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 16. If passed, this bill would do several things to help veterans, including:
Supporting these issues has long been a goal of The American Legion, and this is the time to get it done. From streamlining the multiple ways and programs a veteran can obtain care in the community into one simple program, to opening the caregiver program to all veterans of any war era, to ensuring the VA has the funding necessary to provide the best care anywhere, the VA MISSION Act of 2018 is a great step forward for veterans.
Please call your congressman or congresswoman and let them know that The American Legion supports S. 2372, the VA MISSION Act of 2018, and encourage them to pass this veteran-centric bill as soon as possible.
Throughout my year as your national commander, I have made “Family First” my theme. It’s time that Congress does the same.
There is some opposition to this legislation so your quick action can make the difference. Call now and tell your representative to support the VA Mission Act of 2018. You can find your representative’s phone number by entering your zip code at https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep_house?ZIP or by calling the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121; (press 2 for House).
|Denise H. Rohan
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin appeared before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at an oversight hearing on Jan. 17 to testify about the VA’s progress with implementing reform legislation passed in 2017. Shulkin addressed a variety of concerns ranging from appeals reform and modernization to accountability.
In his opening remarks, Shulkin shared the VA’s top five priorities. These include providing greater health care for veterans; modernizing VA’s infrastructure, equipment and services; focusing resources based on what’s most important to veterans; improving the timeliness of how the VA delivers its services; and preventing veteran suicide.
“A year ago, at my confirmation hearing before this committee, I testified that I’d seek major reform and transformation of VA,” he said. “Thanks in large part to your leadership which helped us pass legislation in 2017, we’re making progress on all five of those priorities.”
Appeals reform and modernization
When asked how the VA plans to dissipate the backlog of appeals in the future, Shulkin said there is a lot of work to do as nearly 470,000 appeals still need to be resolved.
Immediately after the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 was enacted on Aug. 23, 2017, the VA initiated a new appeals system called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). Shulkin said RAMP allows most veterans with pending compensation benefit appeals to participate, giving them the option to have their decisions reviewed in the higher-level or supplemental claim review lanes outlined in the new law.
RAMP is expected to be fully implemented by February 2019, according to Shulkin.
“We’ve actually started to make major improvements already,” Shulkin said. “This year we are on track to do 81,000 appeals – that would be 30,000 more than last year. Just at this period right now in this fiscal year, we’re at 21,000 appeals which is 10,000 more than this time last year. So, we’re getting better and faster and we’ve brought on new staff.
“Secondly, we’ve begun to offer veterans now the choice, in their legacy appeals, to opt into the new process so they don’t have to wait. This is the pilot process to the new project. Here’s the good news, they’re getting their decisions within 30 days and 75 percent of those decisions are going in favor of the veteran.”
Shulkin said he hopes more veterans will make the switch as stakeholders, including veteran service organizations (VSOs) and Congress, trust the VA to do what it promised to do and in good faith.
“I hope the VSOs and agencies will do everything they can to disseminate the fact that our veterans, who have pending appeals, are given the option to opt and go into the modernized program,” Senate VA Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson said. “Those who have done so have gotten a response in 30 days. That is a light year’s improvement in terms of appeals and I commend you on what you started.”
Veterans Choice Program and community care
“Benefits are a gateway to VA services and we need benefit determinations to be simpler,” Shulkin said. “Veterans should know what to expect and have more predictability instead of having to endure the burden of filing claim after claim. Benefits should better enable a lifetime of independence and success for veterans, economic opportunity, physical and mental well-being and financial security for the severely disabled.”
According to Schulkin’s written testimony, more than 1.1 million veterans utilized the Veterans Choice Program in fiscal year (FY) 2017. An increase of about 35,000 Veterans from FY 2016.
“My objective, when it comes to health care for our veterans, is to have a fully integrated, interoperable and operationally-efficient system that’s easy for veterans, employees and community partners to navigate,” he said. “We need a consistent, seamless experience for veterans at every VA facility across the country.”
In October and November of 2017, the VA submitted the Veteran Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences bill to Congress. Shulkin said the department needs Congress to pass legislation that will give veterans a working system and meets or exceeds what the private sector has to offer.
“From health care to benefits, we have to fundamentally and holistically change our service delivery paradigm,” he said. “We need a national network of modern facilities that meets their changing needs of veterans locally. And we need a simple, convenient choice for eligible veterans among a network of high quality community providers in a consolidated program.”
Shulkin’s written testimony stated that the VA is continuing to make progress toward improving the delivery of community care for veterans. The VA believes that the future of community care should include the following tenets:
· Improve veterans’ choice of community providers in meeting their health care needs;
· Simplify veteran eligibility with a focus on veterans’ clinical needs;
· Pave the way for consolidation of all community care programs;
· Add convenient care benefits;
· Set timely payment standards;
· Include provider agreements with flexible payment rates that streamline how VA pays for care;
· Permit medical records sharing in the network when needed for veteran care; and
· Address clinical staffing shortages through expansion of graduate medical education, and by improving VA hiring and staff retention.
The American Legion believes a community care is a basic expectation for enrollees in VA’s health care system. The Legion calls on Congress, according to Resolution No. 363, to enact legislation that will limit outsourcing and give the VA the authority to consolidate its multiple community care programs.
Forever GI Bill
The VA has taken significant steps since the Colmery Act was enacted more than five months ago, according to Shulkin’s written testimony. As of Jan. 5, the VA has received and processed close to 600 applications and restored over 3,500 months of entitlement to students, granting them the opportunity to continue to pursue their academic goals. The VA will notify more than 500,000 Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries by the end of this month, informing them that they no longer have an expiration date to use their benefits.
Shulkin said that the VA will stay committed to its ambitious outreach campaign to include targeted messaging and engagement to thousands of Purple Heart recipients, who starting Aug. 1, 2018, will be entitled to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent benefit level for up to 36 months, regardless of their time in service. The VA will also communicate to reservists and National Guard members on their expanded access to GI Bill benefits.
The VA remains steadfast in its effort to raise awareness of the Colmery Act’s broad impact to Veterans and beneficiaries. “It’s about greater opportunity, especially for veterans returning to communities to pursue careers and fulfill dreams,” Shulkin said.
Suicide and mental health
Shulkin said reducing veterans’ suicide is VA’s top clinical priority. The VA has announced same-day services for primary care and mental health at every VA facility across the country, which includes extending mental health services to veterans with other than honorable discharges.
“When you take a look at where our highest risk for veteran suicide is, it’s in several categories – homelessness and homeless veterans who don’t have access to care,” he said. “Our other than honorable discharge veterans (are at) a higher risk as well because they don’t have access to services. So, what we provided them with is an emergency mental health benefit.”
According to Shulkin, VA has provided mental health services for about 3,200 veterans over the past 10 months. He said the department hopes those efforts will increase as more veterans are encouraged to seek help.
“All they have to do is show up,” he said. “We’re going to give them 90 days’ worth of emergency mental health care (to make sure) we stabilize a crisis and get them in longer-term treatment if that’s what is required.”
According to Shulkin’s written testimony, the VA took expedient action to implement his new authority to hold employees accountable as required in the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. Within weeks of the law’s enactment, Shulkin said he made it his duty to ensure that both the VA and employees are held to the highest standards of performance, integrity and conduct.
VA’S Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP), which was established in 2012, is protecting whistleblowers by utilizing its authority to place a temporary hold on personnel actions in cases where whistleblower retaliation is alleged or a disclosure is unresolved.
As of Jan. 8, Shulkin said OAWP has completed 77 investigations involving nearly 150 persons of interest. Its current inventory is 139 investigations and involves 228 persons of interest.
“Accountability and whistleblower protection is essential to our unwavering commitment to honoring veterans,” he said. “It, too, is about sensible, responsive, modern systems that process and support people to make it better.”
Future of the VA
Thanks to the passage of 10 bills that have all been signed into law, Congress has accomplished several important steps in 2017 to ensure veterans receive the care and services that they deserve. Those steps included:
· Ensuring veterans have access to timely care in their own communities;
· Improving accountability at the VA;
· Authorizing funding that will strengthen VA care;
· Improving veterans education benefits;
· Modernizing the outdated benefits claims appeals process at the VA;
· Reauthorizing more than 20 important veterans programs;
· Increasing veterans disability benefits based on rising costs of living;
· Allowing the VA to securely share opioid date with states;
· Streamlining the process for non-federal veterans job training programs; and
· Authorizing VA to contract with nonprofits to investigate VA medical centers.
“We have a long to-do list,” Isakson said. “Most importantly, making sure we pay back those who have given so much to our country – the veterans of the United States of America.”
Click here to watch the Senate VA committee hearing.
Last update December 27, 2017
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
|9:00am – 9:30pm||Post 168, Key West|
|9:55am – 10:30am||Post 28, Key West|
|11:40am – 1:00pm||Post 154, Marathon (Lunch)|
|2:10pm – 2:45pm||Post 333, Key Largo|
|3:25pm – 3:55pm||Post 43, Homestead|
|4:30pm – 5:05pm||Post 133, Palmetto Bay|
|5:35pm – 7:00pm||Post 31, South Miami (Dinner)|
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
|9:00am – 9:30pm||Post 98, Coral Gables|
|10:35am – 11:05am||Post 92, Hollywood|
|11:20am – 11:50am||Post 310, Hallandale|
|12:20pm – 1:20pm||Post 67, North Miami (Lunch)|
|2:05pm – 2:40pm||Post 36, Ft. Lauderdale|
|3:05pm – 3:45pm||Post 222, Ft. Lauderdale|
|5:45pm – 7:15pm||Post 142, Pompano Beach (Dinner)|
Thursday, January 25, 2018
|12:30pm – 2:00pm||Post 273, Madeira Beach (Lunch)|
|5:30pm – 8:00pm||Post 347, Lady Lake (Dinner)|
Friday, January 26, 2018
|11:15am – 12:30pm||Post 62, Stuart (Lunch)|
|1:00pm – 1:35pm||Post 271, Jupiter|
|2:10pm – 2:40pm||Post 268, Riviera Beach|
|3:00pm- 3:30pm||Post 141, West Palm Beach|
|3:45pm – 4:15pm||Post 199, West Palm Beach|
|4:35pm – 5:10pm||Post 47, Lake Worth|
|5:45pm – 8:00pm||Post 277, Boca Raton (Dinner)|
Saturday, January 27, 2018
|9:15am – 9:55am||Post 162, Deerfield Beach|
|10:45am – 11:30am||Post 180, Plantation|
|12:05pm – 1:30pm||Post 157, Margate (Lunch)|
|6:00pm – 8:30pm||Post 321, Cooper City (Southern Area Ball)|
Sunday, January 28, 2018
|1:30pm – 3:00pm||4 Chaplains Service
Coast Guard Station
7000 N. Ocean Dr, Dania Beach, FL
|3:30pm – 5:00pm||Post 304, Dania Beach (Food)|
|6:00pm – 8:30pm||Post 164, Boynton Beach (Snacks)|
Monday, January 29, 2018
|11:00am||Depart Hotel to West Palm Beach Airport|
|1:40pm||National Commander Departs|
Personal Preferences for National Commander Denise H. Rohan:
- Beverages – Diet Coke and Decaf Coffee
- Main Course – Beef, Pork and Chicken (nothing spicy)
- Sizes – Polo Shirt Women L
- Legion Project – Raise Funds for Temporary Financial Assistance and Veterans Service Officers
Personal Preference for Aide to the National Commander Mike Rohan:
- Beverage – Diet Coke
- Sizes – Polo Shirt XL
Veterans invited to share their stories during moderated panel discussion Jan. 17.
LOS ANGELES – Bob Hope Patriotic Hall welcomes “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill,” a multi-media exhibit, with a public reception and moderated panel discussion Jan. 17 at the historic home of the Los Angeles County Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, 1816 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles. A reception begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by the discussion and audience participation beginning at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Veterans and families whose lives have been influenced by the GI Bill, originally passed as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 under the leadership of California’s Warren B. Atherton during his term as national commander of The American Legion, are invited to share their stories about the GI Bill, which has been described as the most significant social legislation of the 20th century.
Dr. Jennifer Keene of Chapman University, author and distinguished scholar of World War I history, will discuss the GI Bill as one of the most significant accomplishments achieved by veterans of the First World War, who drafted the original bill and fought through its critics, Congress and a late-night Georgia rainstorm to make the measure a reality. Keene, president of the Society of Military History, is a master scholar chosen by the United States World War One Centennial Commission to provide professional training for educators about the First World War’s place in history. The program is supported by an American Legion grant.
American Legion Past National Commander David K. Rehbein of Iowa, chairman of the organization’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee, will moderate the panel discussion at Patriotic Hall. Also speaking at the event will be Verna Jones, executive director of The American Legion, and panelists who will discuss the continuous effort to make the GI Bill a powerful benefit of military service and fuel for the U.S. economy. Scheduled panelists include U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Raymond Jackson, Los Angeles-Long Beach Maritime Safety and Security Team; UCLA student and Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan Sarah Horton; and John Kamin, Iraq combat veteran and assistant director of The American Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division in Washington.
Attendees of the Jan. 17 event are encouraged to RSVP by contacting Los Angeles County Department of Military & Veterans Affairs Executive Assistant Tatiana Rosas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” is a traveling exhibit that features illustrated panels and more than 20 videos in touch-screen kiosks. It will be at Patriotic Hall through March 2018.
The American Legion, with 2 million members serving communities through approximately 13,000 local posts worldwide, was formed March 15-17, 1919, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces stationed in France after the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.
Jeff Stoffer, American Legion Media & Communications Division.
To my fellow Legionnaires and Legion Family members in the Department of FLORIDA:
There are many ways to demonstrate compassion for veterans, but at the top of the list is caring for their families. It is why President Lincoln included widows and orphans in his famous pledge to veterans and it’s why I chose Family First as the theme for my year as national commander.
A recent White House proclamation called it “our patriotic duty” to honor veterans and military families. The American Legion wholeheartedly agrees. It is demonstrated in all 55 departments of our organization every time we award a temporary financial assistance grant, an American Legion Legacy Scholarship or answer a call from our Family Support Network. It is demonstrated every time an American Legion service officer helps a veteran access the VA health care system, which can ease the burden of expensive medical costs that so many families face today.
As the first national commander who also belongs to the American Legion Auxiliary, I am also blessed to have an immediate family that includes Sons of the American Legion members and Legionnaires. My home department of Wisconsin is also the birthplace of a company called Harley Davison, a brand that holds special significance among many of our American Legion Riders. My point is that every component of our American Legion Family is important, just as every relative in our immediate family is important.
We have had some outstanding legislative accomplishments in 2017, including the signing of the Veterans Appeals Modernization Act by President Trump on the stage of our national convention and the passage of The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act. This would not have been possible without the hard work of American Legion Family members who contacted their senators and representatives and asked them to do the right thing.
Numbers equal influence, which is why it is so essential that we recruit, renew and revitalize all of our American Legion components to include posts, units, squadrons and Riders chapters. Reconnect with our active-duty, reserve and Guard units by supporting Family Readiness Groups and letting them know that they are all valued by our American Legion Family.
We have outstanding programs and I am asking for your support in raising money to provide training for our outstanding corps of service officers and temporary financial assistance for children in need.
I thank you for your service as military veterans, as Legionnaires and as members of the Legion Family. Best wishes for a productive and enjoyable conference.
For God and Country,
Denise H. Rohan
At the Fall meetings of the National Executive Committee on October 11-12, 2017, the NEC voted to approve Resolution No. 8 Restructure of Temporary Financial Assistance Policy. The primary changes as a result of that TFA policy restructure include:
• A single onetime non-repayable Temporary Financial Assistance grant of up to $1,500 will be permitted in accordance with the conditions set forth in Exhibit A for the minor child(ren) of a qualifying veteran
• A qualifying veteran is defined as a member of the United States Armed Forces serving on federal orders current under Title 10 of the United States Code, inclusive of all components, or any veteran possessing an up-to-date membership in The American Legion
• Formal documentation is required as part of the Temporary Financial Assistance investigation process and application packet for verification that all other forms of financial assistance available have been sought and applied for, or have already been denied
• Annual cumulative expenditure of Temporary Financial Assistance grants may not exceed $700,000 without prior approval of each chairman of the Americanism and Finance Commissions and the national commander
Please see the attached resolution for the restructure of the temporary financial assistance statement of policy and the updated temporary financial assistance application.
Although this new policy restructure became effective immediately upon approval of this resolution, it is recognized there may be TFA investigations/applications that were in progress prior to its passage. To help accommodate this transition, applications currently in progress will be processed in accordance with previous TFA policy, and those cases recommending that a TFA cash grant be issued from national headquarters should be received by this office no later than November 1, 2017. Those TFA investigations which begin on or after November 1, 2017 will be processed in accordance with the newly restructured policy Resolution No. 8 of the National Executive Committee, October 2017.
National Relief Efforts
The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund provides direct financial assistance to Legion Family members and posts impacted by natural disasters. To date, they have distributed more than $8 million in aid to people in desperate need.
While we do not yet know the full extent of the devastation along the Gulf Coast, we do know that The American Legion will continue to be there for Legionnaires who are impacted by hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, thanks to generous people like you.
A full 100 percent of donations to the National Emergency Fund are turned into grants for individuals, families, and posts impacted by natural disasters. Donations are not used to cover administrative or promotional costs.
Thank you in advance for your support. Please keep everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey in your thoughts and prayers.
Florida Posts Relief Efforts
- American Legion Post 117 – Palm Bay, FL
Post 117 is loading a trailer bound for Texas on Wednesday. They have been communicating with Department of Texas Adjutant, Bill West, to arrange for a drop off at a Texas Post where need is great.
They are accepting donations of water, items for children and cash for fuel and additional supplies. They are hoping to fill one or two trailers. Please help spread the word.
Please drop off items at:
American Legion Post 117
117 Veterans Dr SE # 189
Palm Bay, FL 32909
If you’re post is planning to aid in the relief effort, please email email@example.com with complete details.
August 23, 2017, By Henry Howard ~ Legion.org
President Trump signed legislation Wednesday at The American Legion’s National Convention that will go a long way toward fixing the beleaguered VA appeals process.
“To fulfill our patriotic duties, we must take care of our great veterans,” Trump told about 9,000 American Legion members at the second day of the general session in Reno, Nev. “One year ago at this gathering, I promised you that I would make it my priority to fix the broken VA system and deliver to our veterans the care they so richly deserve.”
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 creates three appeals “lanes.” Veterans would choose the one that best suits his or her needs. The three lanes will be:
• Local Higher Level Review Lane in which an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor.
• New Evidence Lane in which the veteran could submit new evidence for review and have a hearing.
• Board Lane in which jurisdiction for the appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
“I want to thank The American Legion for getting this done,” the president said. “It’s something they’ve been trying to get done for 40 years. And we’ve passed VA accountability legislation. The Legion has a lot of power and they use it well.”
The law’s impact will be felt for a long time. “No longer will veterans be waiting to get their appeals heard,” Trump said. “And they will get decisions much more quickly in a faction of the time.”
As of last spring, more than 470,000 appeals of claims decisions were pending. The average wait time for these appeals to be fully adjudicated is five years. If nothing changes, by 2027 veterans will wait an average of 10 years to get a decision.
The bipartisan bill, H.R. 2288, was crafted with much input from The American Legion. It is expected to shorten the average wait time for final appeal decisions from five years to 125 days.
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt welcomed the news.
“Today’s signing is a major victory for America’s veterans,” Schmidt said. “I can think of no better place for the president to sign this bill than at the national convention of America’s largest and most influential veterans service organization. The legislation is a simple, fair and appropriate way to ensure that our nation’s veterans — and their families — receive their earned benefits in a timely and efficient manner.”
During his speech to The American Legion, Trump also addressed other key issues:
• Patriotism: “The American Legion embodies the spirit of patriotism. That is the true source of our strength and the hope for our future. You cherish our values and you defend our great American flag.”
•American flag: “It is time to heal the wounds that have divided us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people, with one home, and one flag,”
• Infrastructure: “We don’t have to be content with a dilapidated road system with crumbling buildings or rusted out factories. We can build gleaming new highways and state-of-the-art manufacturing and modern works of wonder. And we can do it all with American workers and American iron, aluminum and steel.”
• Young people: “Every veteran here today is part of a long, unbroken chain of American heroes. We salute your service. The American Legion not only teaches history, you help keep history alive. You teach young Americans to have pride in our history so that they will have confidence in our future, history and culture. For generations now, The American Legion has taught young people the principles of America. You’ve emphasized the need to preserve the nation’s cultural, moral and patriotic values. You encourage the observation of patriotic holidays. You stress the need to enforce our laws, including our immigration laws.”
• Newly signed Harry Colmery GI Bill: “Under this legislation, veterans can use their GI Bill at any point in their lifetimes.”
• Recent violence: “We will never tolerate crime in our cities, bloodshed in our communities, or acts of hatred or terrorism against our citizens. We will always support our great law enforcement personnel.”
• Defense spending: “We are committed to expanding and improving our missile defense systems to shoot down missiles in flight. We are getting better and better at it. We will develop better surveillance and long-strike capabilities to prevent our enemies from launching them in the first place.”
Trump also noted positive gains in the war on terrorism, while noting that more work needs to be done to prevent Islamic State and other organizations from using the Internet as a recruiting tool. “We will pursue an honorable outcome in Afghanistan,” Trump said. “Our troops have already made a tremendous sacrifice. We will give the men and women in uniform the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.”
This year’s six-day ride will begin in The Kansas Soldier’s Home at Ford Dodge, Kansas, and will follow much of historic Route 50 through Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, to arrive at the 99th annual American Legion Convention in Reno. Which will be held from August 18-24, 2017.
Should you wish to follow the riders on this year’s Legacy Run
Your 2017-2018 National Membership Polos will be going on sell soon. If you are interested, an order form can be found under Forms on our Resources page or you can click here.