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Wounded Times

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Marine Justin Kuhel has 850 more miles to go

Man walks across U.S. for veteran causes
Albuquerque Journal
Charles D. Brunt
Journal Staff Writer
August 28, 2014
Marine veteran Justin Kuhel, who has completed nearly 2,000 miles of his 2,700-mile journey from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Camp Pendleton, Calif., chats with 98-year-old Bataan Death March survivor Ralph Rodriguez on Wednesday at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial. Rodriguez was among about 75 people who welcomed Kuhel to Albuquerque.
(Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Only 850 miles and about $50,000 to go before Marine veteran Justin Kuhel, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, reaches his goal of walking across America to raise $100,000 for two charities that help veterans.

“I decided a couple of weeks ago that if I don’t reach my ($100,000) goal, I’ll just turn around and walk back until I make it,” Kuhel said Wednesday as he prepared to continue his March Across America.

After visiting with a group of supporters at Tramway and Central – which included a local chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, the New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders and a vintage six-wheel-drive military vehicle known as a Gama Goat – the 26-year-old veteran marched briskly down Central en route to the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial.

Passers-by along Central and Louisiana cheered and honked as Kuhel passed by. He smiled and waved, occasionally handing out pamphlets explaining what he was up to.

Accompanied by a city police escort and a small parade of supporters, the Clintonville, Ohio, native said he left Camp Lejeune, N.C., on May 23 and plans to arrive at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in late September or early October. That’s 2,753 miles, give or take.

When he started at Central and Tramway about noon Wednesday, he had walked 1,923 miles.

“I walk about 23 miles a day,” he said. “The (support van) picks me up at the end of the day, takes me wherever we’re staying, then drops me right back where I left off the next morning.”
read more here

Soldier killed in Afghanistan on Third Tour

Family remembers soldier killed in Afghanistan
TBO.com staff
Published: August 27, 2014

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett, 39, died during combat in Kabul on Aug. 20.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett, 39, died during combat in Kabul on Aug. 20.

The family of an Army paratrooper who was killed in action in Afghanistan last week has released a statement.

The Department of Defense said Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett died during combat in Kabul on Aug. 20. The 39-year-old was assigned to the headquarters battalion of the 18th Airborne Corps.

Leggett enlisted in the Army in May 1995 and had been based at Fort Bragg since 2012. He served three combat tours and was the recipient of numerous awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster and a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat.

His mother, Thea Marie Kurtz, is from Ruskin.
Here is the family's statement:
“LET'S GET IT ON” was Matthew's favorite saying when he was on motorcycle rides with his brother Ben or participating in online racing forums. Matthew (Matt) was born in Wabasha, Minnesota on October 13, 1974 to Thea Kurz, of Port Edwards, Wisconsin and Thomas Leggett of Nekoosa, Wisconsin. He has two brothers, Roderick and Benjamin, as well as two nieces and a nephew. He was raised with his brothers in Pepin, Wisconsin. He spent his early childhood and early teenage summers fishing and paddling around the Mississippi river on various watercrafts.
Matt completed two previous combat tours in Iraq and was on his third combat tour in Afghanistan. He was set to retire from the United States Army in the summer of 2015. read more here

Fake PTSD Claims in New York Beyond Police Department

The case of police officers faking PTSD for financial gain goes far beyond them. Wonder if they ever thought about it or thought about what this would do to veterans? Somehow I doubt they thought about anyone else.
With Esposito's plea, 87 people have admitted guilt. They must pay $100,000 or more in restitution, and most are expected to complete community service, probation or both. A few have gotten time behind bars.

Prosecutors dropped charges last week against eight defendants, saying that information obtained after their indictments had "led to the determination that these cases cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."


Ex-officer admits helping others feign psych problems in massive NYC disability-fraud case
Associated Press
Published August 27, 2014

NEW YORK – An accused ringleader of a sprawling disabilities fraud scheme admitted Wednesday he helped coach retired police officers and others to fake mental-health problems to get Social Security benefits.

Joseph Esposito pleaded guilty to grand larceny in a scam that prosecutors say spanned a quarter-century, involved more than 120 people and netted tens of millions of dollars. The retired officer is the top defendant, at least thus far, to admit guilt in what Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has called a massive case of "gaming the system," sometimes through invoking the trauma of Sept. 11.

Esposito's lawyer, Brian J. Griffin, said his client "acknowledged that in his role as a disability consultant, his actions crossed both an ethical and legal line.

"For that he has taken responsibility," Griffin added.

If Esposito, 65, keeps a promise to cooperate with prosecutors, he'll be sentenced to 1 ½ to 4 ½ years in prison and $734,000 in restitution.
read more here

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act

I can tell you right now that hearts around the country are breaking for this Mom, but not for the reason you may think.
"Other mothers need to speak up like I’ve spoken up. My son wasn’t the first one to die — another mother should’ve opened her mouth. Maybe then my son would still be here.”

The problem is, many, far too many other Moms and Dads and all others grieving after suicides tied to military, even though she was not aware of them.

It hasn't just been the last few years, or the last decade. It has been decades since the first Moms, Dads, Wives and Husbands tried to do everything possible to prevent another family from suffering the way they did.

It was happening all over the country before the internet and even before I got into all of this over 30 years ago. We shared our pain, our fears and struggles, but we also shared what worked. We saved more than we lost but we lost too many along the way.

Now with the internet linking people together from around the world, we seem further away than we were in the 70's and 80's. The problem is the pain is discussed far more often than healing is.

More and more families are in fact talking about how they managed to stay together and help their veterans heal. Far from perfect but we learned by doing and living the lives of Combat PTSD Families.

This story made me cry because all of this pain should not be replacing smiles, hugs, joys and futures.

Losing more lives after combat does not make sense to any of us.
Veterans Suicide Prevention Act Honors Legacy of Thousands
Times San Diego
POSTED BY EDITOR
By Bryan Kim
AUGUST 27, 2014

Soldiers wounded in Iraq on a flight to Germany. Air Force photo

“When my son came home he was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TBI…they put him on more than 24 medications at one time. Now, somebody with severe PTSD — there’s no possible way for them to take control of medicating themselves…my son was 90 percent disabled,” she said. I was on the phone with Janine Lutz, CEO of the Lance Corporal Janos V. Lutz Live to Tell Foundation. “I think ‘we the people’ have to fight for those who fought for us. The families need to get involved. Other mothers need to speak up like I’ve spoken up. My son wasn’t the first one to die — another mother should’ve opened her mouth. Maybe then my son would still be here.”

Her son Johnny lost his battle with combat-related PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, in January of 2013. In spite of the fact that she and thousands of others have spoken up, 22 veterans continue to die by suicide every single day. Janine has dedicated time and energy to the project of honoring them through her online PTSD Memorial Wall — hundreds of photos of veterans who’ve lost their lives in their struggle to cope with their mental anguish. Young men and women from all branches smile in their uniforms, snapshots from a better time. Families from all over America have sent her photographs and loving eulogies. Seeing them all together is a monumental and humbling experience.

Our Congress has but three working weeks left in session, but that is plenty of time to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act (HR 5059). Clay Hunt was a Marine scout sniper who was discharged honorably in April 2009 after serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Initially given a disability rating of only 30% despite what he described as severe PTSD, he filed an appeal and fought our government for two years to get the benefits — including greater access to mental health care — he earned with his service. He was upgraded to 100 percent in April 2011, but it was too little, too late: he’d taken his life 5 weeks before the decision was made.
read more here


How many more bills do we need written for the dead when many more lived to share what congress ignores?

Massachusetts Air National Guard Pilot Missing After Crash

Authorities comb mountains for missing pilot after Guard F-15 crash
Stars and Stripes
By Chris Carroll
Published: August 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — Military and civilian authorities searched a thickly forested, mountainous swath of western Virginia on Wednesday in hopes of finding a missing Massachusetts Air National Guard pilot whose F-15C went down en route to a maintenance depot.

The pilot’s commander said he could not confirm a report that a witness had seen the pilot eject and a parachute open.

“It’s a traumatic event for everyone here, and we’re thinking about the family and keeping our thoughts and prayers with them,” said Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing based in Westfield, Mass. “Hopefully we’ll get a good outcome.”
read more here

UK:Captain Died Because Helicopter Not Suited for Mission

British soldier died in helicopter crash in Afghanistan because aircraft was not suitable for the mission
Captain Ben Babington-Browne was killed in helicopter crash in Afghanistan
The aircraft lost visibility in a dustbowl then drifted into fence and crashed
Capt Babington-Browne was trapped when helicopter burst into flames
Inquest heard the aircraft was not the correct helicopter for the mission
Daily Mail
By COREY CHARLTON FOR MAILONLINE
26 August 2014

Captain Ben Babington-Browne was said to be a 'rising star' within the British army

A helicopter which crashed on take-off in Afghanistan, killing a British soldier and two Canadian troops, was not suitable for the mission, an inquest has heard.

Captain Ben Babington-Browne, 27, was a passenger on the Canadian Griffon CH-146, which was being used as a 'taxi' from forward operating base (FOB) Mescal.

The inquest was told that as the aircraft, carrying six people, tried to take off on July 6 2009, a dust bowl was whipped up by the rotor blades, cutting visibility.

At a height of less than 10ft, the helicopter then drifted and its rotors collided with a perimeter fence in a corner of the FOB before it crashed and burst into flames.

Capt Babington-Browne, from 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, had been strapped in but seated on the floor of the aircraft on take-off, with his legs dangling out.

Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander William Robley, of the UK Defence Helicopter Flying School, told the inquest that Capt Babington-Browne, of Maidstone, Kent, became trapped.
read more here

VA Training for "Grouchy" Veterans Using Oscar the Grouch?

VA training slides for interacting with veterans
Philly.com
Tricia L. Nadolny
Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED ON TUE, AUG 26, 2014

Go here to look at the rest of the pictures

The beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs depicted dissatisfied veterans as Oscar the Grouch in a recent internal training guide, and some vets and VA staffers said Tuesday that they feel trashed.

The cranky Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can was used in reference to veterans who will attend town-hall events Wednesday in Philadelphia.

"There is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in," said Joe Davis, a national spokesman for the VFW. "And especially to insult the VA's primary customer."

The 18-page slide show on how to help veterans with their claims, presented to VA employees Friday and obtained by The Inquirer, also says veterans might be demanding and unrealistic and tells VA staffers to apologize for the "perception" of the agency.

The spokeswoman from the Philadelphia VA benefits office - which will host the town halls Wednesday at noon and 6:30 p.m. - said in a statement that the agency regretted any misunderstanding caused by the slide show.
read more here

Vietnam Veteran Faces Eviction After 13 Years

Vietnam veteran Robert Nelson faces eviction, delays at veteran housing complex Liberty Village
Long Island News 12
August 26, 2014

RONKONKOMA - A Vietnam veteran from Ronkonkoma is facing eviction from his apartment and delays in the opening of a veterans housing complex.

Robert Nelson worked as an Army chemist in the late 1960s. He says exposure to chemicals left him with a variety of medical problems including diabetes and high blood pressure.

For 13 years, Nelson has rented a one-bedroom unit at the Nob Hill Condominium complex in Ronkonkoma. The board of managers sent him a letter this year, telling him his lease would not be renewed because of noise complaints from his neighbors.
read more here

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Supportive Services for Veteran Families

SW-WRAP Awarded $3.4M for Veteran Administration Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program
Sweetwater NOW
by News Desk
August 26, 2014

GREEN RIVER – SW-WRAP, receives $1.4M for the renewal of its Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program by the U.S. Veterans Administration which has covered 48% of Wyoming since October 2013.

SW-WRAP also has received a second award in the amount of $2M for the remainder of Wyoming and an expansion into areas of Nebraska and South Dakota.

SW-WRAP’s Founder and CEO, Cathie Hughes, has been active in procuring funding to assist vulnerable populations to become self-sustaining throughout Wyoming since 2007. During the past several years she has recognized the need, and been vigorously involved in, identifying solutions to address veteran homelessness in Wyoming. In 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that 13 percent of impoverished individual Veterans become homeless at some point during the year.

In 2009, the American Community Survey estimated that 1,356,610 Veterans lived in poverty. Additional statistics have shown that 23% of Wyoming’s homeless population are veterans.

In March 2014 Hughes applied for the renewal of the current SSVF Program project, which she initially procured in October 2013, plus an additional SSVF Project. She received notice of the multiple awards in August. SW-WRAP is the only Wyoming entity to receive the award for 2014-2015.
read more here

Two recycling plant workers killed by mortar rounds

Mortar round explodes at recycling plant, killing 2
The Associated Press
By SARA BURNETT and JOHN O'CONNOR
Published: August 25, 2014

GRANITE CITY, Ill. — A mortar round exploded Monday at a suburban St. Louis metal recycling plant that does business with the military, killing two people.

The explosion at Totall Metal Recycling in Granite City occurred about 6:25 a.m., police said. Totall Metal Recycling, which employs about 160 people, according to its website, does business with the military and it's not unusual for it to have items such as "military engines and ammunition casings," police chief Rich Miller said.

Bomb technicians were sweeping the site for other possible explosives Monday afternoon.

The victims, whom responders could not initially get to because of the fear of further explosions, were not immediately identified. A third person was injured and taken to a St. Louis hospital, police said, but a condition was not available.

"This corporation recycles everything you can think of, from plastics to cardboard to metals, and some of their contracts involve getting materials from the military," Miller said at a briefing for reporters near the plant Monday afternoon.
read more here

Gettysburg Soldier and Two Vietnam Soldiers, 3 New Medal of Honor Heroes

Obama to award 3 Medals of Honor
Stars and Stripes
By Jennifer Hlad
Published: August 26, 2014
3 minutes ago

President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to two soldiers who served in Vietnam and one who distinguished himself in the battle of Gettysburg, the White House announced Tuesday.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins and Army Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat will be honored Sept. 15 for their conspicuous gallantry.

Adkins deployed to Vietnam three times. During his second deployment, in March of 1966, he was a sergeant first class with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces.

Adkins displayed "extraordinary bravery" during a sustained and vicious attack by the Vietcong from March 9 to March 12, 1966, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. said in 2013.

Rogers spoke about Adkins' actions in asking Congress to pass a bill allowing the president to award him the Medal of Honor.
Adkins had been recommended by his command for the Medal of Honor but received a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, which included running through exploding mortar rounds while wounded to drag several of his fellow soldiers to safety, Rogers said.

Adkins retired from the Army after serving 22 years and will travel to Washington from his home in Alabama to receive the medal, the White House said.

Sloat was a machine gunner with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, when he was killed in Vietnam in 1970.

Sloat’s squad was on a patrol near Hawk Hill Fire Base on Jan. 17, 1970 when one of the soldiers triggered a grenade booby trap in their path, the White House said. Sloat picked up the grenade, intending to throw it away, but realizing it was about to explode, instead used his body to shield three fellow soldiers from the blast, the White House said.

Sloat’s brother, William Sloat of Enid, Oklahoma, will accept the medal on his brother’s behalf.
read more here

19 new executive actions to serve the military community



The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 26, 2014

FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Executive Actions to Fulfill our Promises to Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families

Today, President Obama will address the American Legion’s 96th convention and outline the five priorities the Administration is focused on to ensure we are fulfilling our promises to service members, veterans and their families: delivering the quality health care veterans have been promised; ensuring all veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream; providing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with the resources our veterans deserve; protecting the dignity and rights of all veterans; and eliminating the decades-old disability claims backlog.

The President will announce 19 new executive actions to serve the military community, including new efforts to strengthen service members’ access to mental health care. The President will also highlight efforts to improve the transition between DoD and VA care for those leaving military service, and improve economic opportunity for our military families with new private-sector commitments that will make it easier to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions and reduced monthly payments – helping more of our troops save money through lower monthly payments. The President will also announce that the Administration is continuing to make significant progress toward reducing the number of veterans who suffer from homelessness. Over the past four years a third of homeless veterans, nearly 25,000, have moved off the streets, out of shelters and into housing. The President will also renew his call for community action -- asking every American to do their part to support our service members, Veterans, and their families.

All of these announcements, including the new executive actions and progress being made on existing efforts, reflect the commitment of the President and his administration to expanding opportunity for those who sacrifice so much to serve our country:our service members, veterans and their families.

Delivering the Health Care Veterans Have Been Promised

Access to Quality VA Healthcare

The President and VA are committed to ensuring that veterans have access to the timely, high-quality health care that they have earned and deserve. Over the last several months, we have seen inexcusable delays in care at some VA health care facilities. We have taken a number of steps already to change the way VA does business to ensure that this never happens again, and we will keep at it as long as it takes.

Improving Access to Care: To improve the access to care for our veterans, VA has taken several initial steps over the last several months, including: Reaching out to over a quarter million veterans to get them off waitlists and into appointments sooner and training or re-training approximately 10,000 schedulers. Additionally, VA has surged resources to the hospitals and clinics that need it most, including Phoenix. This includes deploying mobile clinics, adding more clinic hours, and recruiting additional and temporary staff members to VA medical centers nation-wide.

Accountability: As the President has made clear, those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records at VA must be held accountable. VA established an independent accountability review board to review employee actions and hold them accountable where there is misconduct. VA has proposed action to relieve several employees of their responsibilities; additional investigations continue.

Recruiting the Best Medical Professionals: This week VA will announce that it is launching a new recruiting campaign designed to help attract the best and the brightest medical professionals to work in the VA system, and to fill the shortages in health care workers, including doctors and nurses, at many VA facilities.

Electronic Health Records: Key to helping Veterans and Service members receive better, safer, and more efficient care is modernizing VA and DoD’s Electronic Health Record systems. Today, more than 5.3 million records are jointly accessible and more than 1.5 million pieces of health data are shared daily. By the end of this fiscal year, the Joint Legacy Viewer will be deployed to more DoD medical centers and every VA medical center. This viewer will allow DoD and VA providers to see nearly all of the electronic health records stored in both Departments’ systems, including doctors' notes, problem lists, and inpatient discharge summaries.

New commitment to Transparency: For the first time ever, VA is providing the public with regular, updated information on the timeliness of VA care and will continue to report regularly on quality of care on VA.gov. This is more information than any private hospital in the United States currently provides.

Protections for Whistleblowers: VA has reaffirmed and strengthened its commitment to protections for whistleblowers and the new leadership has been clear that retaliation against, or intimidation of, whistleblowers will not be tolerated. In addition, the VA has been working to achieve compliance with the Office of Special Counsel's whistleblower protection certification program.

Reforming VA: Over the last several months, the Administration has taken action to reform the way VA operates. The 14-day scheduling goal has been removed from employee performance plans, and Secretary McDonald is convening a panel of experts to make recommendations on new standards for access to care. We will also establish a new board of physicians to advise the Secretary on best practices for delivering timely, quality care to our veterans, and to ensure that VA care remains the best care anywhere.

Veterans Mental Health
The President will announce 19 new executive actions to improve the mental health of service members, veterans, and their families, which builds on the progress the Administration has made since the President’s 2012 (Mental Health) Executive Order. In response to the 2012 Executive Order, VA has increased its mental health staffing, expanded the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line, and enhanced its partnerships with community mental health providers; DoD and VA worked to increase suicide prevention awareness and, DoD, VA and the National Institutes of Health jointly developed the National Research Action Plan on military and veteran’s mental health to better coordinate federal research efforts. The new mental health executive actions will fall under the following six categories:

Improving Service Members’ Transition from DoD to VA and Civilian Health Care Providers: DoD will now be automatically enrolling all service members leaving military service who are receiving care for mental health conditions in the Department’s inTransition program, through which trained mental health professionals help these individuals transition to a new care team in VA. Currently, service members must be specifically referred to inTransition by their DoD provider or seek out the program on their own. Additionally, VA will implement a new policy to ensure that recently discharged service members enrolling in the VA health care system maintain accessto mental health medication prescribed by an authorized DoD provider regardless of whether the medication is currently on VA’s formulary, unless the health care provider identifies a specific safety or clinical reason to make a change.

Improving Access and Quality of Mental Health Care at DoD and VA: VA will pilot the expansion of mental health peer support to veterans being treated in primary care settings. In addition, DoD has initiated action to do what they can under its authority and will continue to work with Congress to take action to bring TRICARE, DoD’s health care coverage, up to full mental health and substance use disorder parity, meaning benefits for these conditions are generally on par with benefits for medical/surgical conditions.

Continuing our Commitment to Improve Treatments for Mental Health Conditions including PTSD. In support of the National Research Action Plan on military and veteran’s mental health, the DoD and the National Institutes of Health are launching a longitudinal project focused on the early detection of suicidality, PTSD, and long term effects of TBI, and other related issues in service members and veterans. VA is launching a $34.4 million suicide prevention study involving 1800 veterans at 29 VA hospitals. In support of the President’s BRAIN Initiative, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is announcing a new $78.9 million research program to develop minimally-invasive neurotechnologies that may help treat many diseases, including PTSD. In addition, the White House announced that this fall it will host the White House BRAIN conference, including a focus on PTSD and TBI.

Raising Awareness About Mental Health and Encouraging Individuals to Seek Help: VA and DoD are expanding their suicide prevention and mental health training for healthcare providers, chaplains, and employees who work directly with veterans.

Improving Patient Safety and Suicide Prevention: VA and DoD are taking action to provide new opportunities for servicemembers, veterans, and their families to give back unwanted medications, and thereby help reduce the opportunities for abuse. The Departments are also taking action to encourage firearm safety and reduce the risk of overdose.

Strengthening Community Resources for Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families: While all individuals can experience mental health conditions, service members, veterans, and their families may experience stressors unique to their time in the military. Understanding military culture and the experiences of service members and their families can help community providers best serve these individuals. DoD and VA will disseminate its existing military cultural competency training to 3,000 community mental health providers during FY 2015. For the full list of executive actions, click HERE.

HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION

The American Nurses Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Nurses Association, is launching an innovative web-based PTSD Toolkit for registered nurses – all 3.1 million of them. The toolkit provides easy to access information and simulation based on gaming techniques on how to identify, assess and refer veterans suffering from PTSD. www.nurseptsdtoolkit.org

In collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forcesinitiative, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) along with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), Give an Hour, and many others will collaborate to deliver “Joining Forces Wellness Week 2014.” The week-long series of educational topics and programs will occur around Veterans Day. The cornerstone event will be a webinar focusing on military cultural competency, taking a military health history, generational differences in veterans, unique needs of guard and reserve personnel, and the needs of parents and family members of veterans.

Ensuring All Service Members Have Every Opportunity to Pursue the American Dream

President Obama will announce a new voluntary partnership with financial lenders across the country that will help deliver important financial and home loan-related protections to our military community. Congress passed the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in 2003 to provide protections for military members as they enter active duty. Our Service women and men have earned important financial protections under the law, but too many do not exercise these important rights. But when business and government work together we can make a difference.

Banks and Mortgage Servicers Answer the President’s Call to Action: Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., CitiMortgage, Inc., Bank of America, N.A., Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, and Quicken Loans are partnering with the Administration to make it easier than ever for active duty service members to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions and reduce their monthly payments. The partnership cuts red tape where possible and establishes concrete steps to reduce the burden on service members by having participating mortgage servicers proactively identify, notify and assist in enrolling eligible service members.

Key Provisions of the Partnership

Proactive Identification of Active Duty Service Members: Under the partnership, participating servicers will proactively identify active duty personnel no less than once a quarter by querying the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), a searchable database of individuals who were or on Title 10 active duty status, against their loan portfolio, reducing the burden on the service member.

Proactive Outreach to Eligible Service Members: Participating mortgage servicers will proactively reach out to individuals that have been identified as being eligible for benefits under SCRA to notify them of their benefits. Servicers will leverage multiple marketing and communication tactics including telephone, mail, e-mail, or other reasonable forms of communication.

Simplify the Application Process: Participating mortgage servicers will work together to ease the burden of enrollment and satisfaction of the SCRA written notice requirement.

Ensure Active-Duty Military Get the Student Debt Relief They Are Entitled to: In addition to the Administration’s efforts to work with banks and mortgage servicers to ensure service members have access to the benefits they are eligible under the SCRA, the Department of Education has directed its federal student loan servicers to match their student borrower portfolios against DoD’s database to identify active-duty service members who are eligible to cap interest rates on student loans – including federal student loans -- at 6 percent and to reduce those interest rates automatically for those eligible without the need for additional paperwork. This week, the Department released additional guidance to encourage Federal Education Loan program servicers to provide for a similar streamlined process.

Ensuring Veterans Have Access to a Quality Education

Principles of Excellence: Making good on our commitment to support Student veterans, President Obama will announce that this week, VA will launch an updated version of the GI Bill® Comparison Tool and that nearly 6,000 education institutions are now meeting the goals set out in the “Principles of Excellence” (POE) Executive Order. POE ensures schools are providing meaningful cost and quality information, preventing deceptive recruiting practices, and providing high-quality academic and student support services. We know through the work of organizations like the American Council on Education, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and Student Veterans of America that a successful student veteran is an informed student veteran. The Comparison Tool leverages many of the lessons learned from these organizations and others and makes it easier to calculate GI Bill® benefits and provides key information about college affordability and value so beneficiaries can choose the best education program to meet their needs. Since its launch in February 2014, there have been over 350,000 unique visitors to the tool. (benefits.va.gov/gibill/comparison)

Operation Educate the Educators and the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children: Through First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, all 50 States have now signed on to “Educate the Educators” with over 100 institutions of higher education committed to help train future teachers for the unique needs of military students. 50 States have also signed on to participate in the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children that helps provide consistent policies across school districts and states to help ease the transition for military connected students.

UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION

The President will announce that commitments to the 8 Keys to Veterans Success on Campus have increased to more than 1,000 community colleges and university campuses and he called on more educational institutions to join this effort. Last year, the President challenged to educational institutions to adopt best practices supporting educational success and fostering postsecondary educational opportunities for veterans. At that time, only 250 community colleges and universities had signed up.

Ensuring Veterans Have Access to Good-Paying Jobs

Economic Communities of Interest: The Administration is announcing that VA has developed specific campaign plans in 20 communities where public/private partnerships can make a significant difference in the lives of our transitioning service members, veterans and their families. These community based campaigns will last for two years and will promote awareness and use of education benefits and build veteran skill sets by expanding VA’s existing partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Veteran Service Organizations and federal agencies. Each campaign will kick off with a two-day hiring summit.

Making it Easier for Qualified Service Members to Earn a Commercial Driver’s License: Thanks to the local community based efforts of many, including our Veteran and Military Family Service Organizations like the American Legion and others, for the first time all 50 States and the District of Columbia, now waive the skills test for qualified service members and veterans applying for a State Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). For four years, the Administration has worked state-by-state, partnering with DoD, DoT, other Federal agencies and outside stakeholders to make it easier for military truck drivers to earn a CDL. The waiver process saves the CDL applicant time and money, making it easier to transfer the skills learned in the military to civilian life and a job. To date more than 6,000 service personnel have taken advantage of the Skills Test Waiver.

Veterans Employment Center: Earlier this year, the Administration announced the Veterans Employment Center, the first government-wide effort that brings together public and private employers with real job opportunities, and provides the military community with the tools to translate their military skills into plain language and build a profile that can be shared – in real time – with employers who have made a public commitment to hire veterans. The VEC lists over 1.5 million private and public sector jobs and consolidates over a dozen redundant sites. Employers have made commitments to hire over 150,000 individuals from the military community. The site averages over 50,000 users daily.

Veteran and Military Spouse Employment: Through the Administration’s Joining Forces initiative, businesses have trained or hired more than 540,000 veterans and military spouses. Furthermore, over 64,000 military spouses have been hired with 224 private- and public-sector partners since the program began three years ago. In addition, 48 States have removed credentialing impediments for separating service members and another 47 States are facilitating military spouse transition and licensure portability.

EMPLOYERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION

The President has emphasized the important role employers play in increasing economic opportunity for veterans through stable employment opportunities—not just because it’s good for veterans but because it’s good for the bottom line. He is calling for more employers and educational institutions to take on innovative veteran training partnerships. For example, corporate leaders like Blackstone have made veteran hiring a priority. Together with their portfolio company, Hilton Worldwide, they are partnering with Kendall College to develop a hotel management education and training program to provide transitioning service members and veterans on-the-job experience and an inside track to available jobs upon graduation from the program. All of this is bolstered by the veteran’s use of their GI Bill® benefits.

Protecting the Dignity and Rights of All Veterans

Ending Veteran Homelessness: President Obama will announce that the number of veterans who suffer from homelessness has dropped by a third over the past four years as nearly 25,000 veterans have moved into housing. This announcement follows the First Lady’s event in June, with HUD and VA, announcing the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Through this Challenge, mayors, county executives, and governors are signing on to end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015. To date, over 200 communities have signed on.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION

There are over 4,000 homeless women veterans in our country today. These women veterans struggle to find employment and short and long-term housing, and subsequently may be faced with the unthinkable possibility of losing their children. The VA has entered into a public-private partnership with TriWest Healthcare Alliance to connect women veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, especially those with children, to the services and benefits that lead to employment. This effort will initially focus on five cities: Seattle, WA; Phoenix, AZ; San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and Honolulu, HI. Partnerships in each city will be established among community leaders, employers, government and non-government organizations, and committed citizens who can work together, individually and collectively to help reduce barriers to employment for homeless women veterans and connect them with employment. The President will call for more public-private partnerships to help end veteran homelessness.

Two years ago, The National Guard Bureau announced their own community based effort last year, and launched Joining Community Forces to leverage their local community foot-print and family support centers to connect Guardsmen and Reservists of all services, Veterans and military families to local community based resources. They are re-doubling their efforts, and are challenging all 54 Guard Bureaus in that effort.

Ensuring that Veterans Affairs Has the Resources to Serve Our Veterans

On August 7, 2014, the President signed into law the bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. At a time of crisis, our Veteran and Military Family Service Organizations called the country and Congress to action. This legislation provides VA with additional resources to improve access and quality of care for Veterans. This law will help VA hire more doctors, nurses and other medical staff, as well as to provide needed additional space and modernize VA’s hospitals and clinics. It authorizes the new Veterans Choice program, which allows eligible Veterans to choose to use non-VA care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or cannot be seen by a VA doctor within a reasonable amount of time. And finally, the law will give Secretary McDonald more authority to hold senior VA leaders accountable.

Ending the Disability Claims Backlog

Disability Claims Backlog Update
Improving quality and reducing the length of time it takes to process disability claims is integral to the Administration's mission of providing the care and benefits that Veterans have earned and deserve in a timely, accurate, and compassionate manner. Through initiatives supported by President Obama, VA has decreased the backlog by more than 50 percent since its peak in March 2013. Continuing this work in 2014, VA is implementing additional changes to the Veterans Benefits Management System to increase automation and integration, system-wide. Thanks to transformation initiatives and the creative and impactful partnerships with our VSOs like the Disabled American Veterans, VFW, The Legion and others, VA is on track to meet the President’s goal and eliminate the claims backlog by completing all claims in 125 days in 2015.

VA Investigators did not find proof of deaths caused by delays

Veterans Affairs says no proof delays caused deaths at hospital
CBS/AP
August 25, 2014

WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs says investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix, deflating an explosive allegation that helped expose a troubled health care system in which veterans waited months for appointments while employees falsified records to cover up the delays.

Revelations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital rocked the agency last spring, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well. The scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. In July, Congress approved spending an additional $16 billion to help shore up the system.
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Marine gave life with poem he carried, it has been stolen

Poem found on fallen Marine's body stolen
Memento given to family stolen from truck
WCVB News
Heather Unruh
Aug 25, 2014

FAIRHAVEN, Mass. —He was only 19, when Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodriguez of Fairhaven died in action in Afghanistan last December.

Now, as his family struggles to cope with his death, a theft of something very precious to the Marine. He carried it with him the day he died.

His family hopes it will be recovered.

The Marine and his high school sweetheart Julia Tapper were engaged just a year before Rodriguez was killed on the battlefield last December.

"We would have talks about what might happen to him and he would always tell me not to be sad or crying," said Tapper, Rodriguez's fiance.

"He was always smiling, must a big goofy kid," said the soldier's mother, Lisa Rodriguez.

Holding on to memories is all the family has.

Then on Sunday a precious part of those memories was stolen.

Matthew's truck was broken into in a New Bedford parking lot. Julia's purse was taken.

Inside the purse was Matthew's iPhone and a poem she shared with her lost Marine.

Rodriguez had cut it out, laminated it, and never parted with it. It was found in his helmet the day he died.
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