Legion departments address credentialing and in-state tuition for veterans

Nine departments have begun to address the issues of credentialing and in-state tuition for veterans with their state legislatures.

The action follows a roundtable hosted by the Economic Commission at The American Legion’s 94th National Convention. The roundtable led to a push for a state-by-state initiative to introduce, advocate for and support state legislation that would assist veterans to obtain their credentials in critical professions.

The departments that have begun addressing this issue with their state legislatures include Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Washington. Additionally, Arizona, New Jersey and Texas will be contacted in an effort to begin addressing this issue with their legislatures.

Additionally, as the Legion continues to engage departments for their support and leadership, the Economic and Magazine Divisions are finalizing The American Legion toolkit for distribution to departments and Economic Commission members. The toolkit’s purpose is to educate, assist and provide point-of-contacts to Legionnaires.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 1, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Reps. Jeff Miller of Florida and Mike Michaud of Maine – the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, respectively – showing support for H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013. This measure would make all student veterans eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, regardless of their residency status.

The bill would correct an unfair and widespread financial burden on America’s veterans, who often have a difficult time establishing residency for purposes of obtaining in-state tuition rates. Many student veterans are required to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses in nonresidential tuition rates.

In other news:

Immigration reform: President Barack Obama made his immigration plan the centerpiece of a speech in Las Vegas and two days afterward a bipartisan group of senators proposed an immigration framework that included a path to citizenship to some 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. A bipartisan group of House members is also working on a plan that leads to legal immigration status.

National Commander James Koutz issued a release after the president’s Las Vegas speech, stating in part, "Whether it’s called ‘Pathway to Citizenship’ or some other euphemism, it’s still amnesty," Koutz said. "It didn’t work when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and it will be even more disastrous if we repeat that mistake again."

The American Legion has several resolutions dealing with immigration enforcement, including Resolution No. 21, Resolution No. 268 and Resolution No. 19.

Veteran suicide rate increases: Every day nearly 22 veterans in the United States kill themselves, a rate that is about 20 percent higher than the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2007 estimate, according to a newly released two-year study by a VA researcher. The VA study indicates that more than two-thirds of the veterans who commit suicide are 50 or older, suggesting that the increase in veterans’ suicides is not primarily driven by those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true," said Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study. "The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it." The number of suicides overall in the United States increased by nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the study says. For more on the study, click here.

Check the box: The Economic and Legislative divisions met with Ariana Reks, legislative assistant to Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, to discuss details of S.62, Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2013. The legislation would create a "check-off box" on annual tax return forms that would allow taxpayers to make a voluntary contribution in the amount of their choice to support programs that prevent and combat veteran homelessness.

Taxpayer donations would be deposited and safeguarded in a new Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund established by the Treasury Department. These funds would be available only for the purpose of providing assistance to homeless veterans. Specifically, funds allocated to the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund would be available to the VA - in consultation with DOL and HUD - to provide services to homeless veterans, including developing and implementing new and innovative strategies to end veteran homelessness.

Resolution No. 308 urges Congress to establish a fund in the Treasury of the United States to be known as the "Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund," to provide assistance to homeless veterans as a supplement to, but not a replacement for, existing funds for such assistance.

Spreading the message: The Economic and Legislative Divisions met on Jan. 29 with representatives of Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida to discuss The American Legion’s 2013 agenda. This included policy and legislative issues such as education, credentialing, small business, homelessness, sequestration and Transition Assistance Program. On Jan. 31, a similar meeting was held with a staff member of Rep. Judy Chu of California.

Claims: During the week ending Jan. 25, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 118 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 81.3 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 39 cases, the Board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 57 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims that mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 21 were outright denials.

SWS visit: Roscoe Butler, national field service representative, and Past National Commander Paul A. Morin conducted a System Worth Saving site visit last week at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Ga. The purpose of the site visit was to evaluate whether women veterans are experiencing any access or quality of care issues when obtaining health care at the medical center. Prior to the site visit, a women veterans town hall meeting was conducted at American Legion Post 17 in Dublin. Seventeen veterans came out for the town hall meeting, of which eight were females.

SSVF grant: The Supportive Services for Veteran Families Grant was delivered to Philadelphia before the Feb. 1 deadline. SSVF is a new program, which in fiscal year 2011 granted 151 groups awards ranging from $89,950 to $1 million. General information and resources for the program can be found here: www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp

Washington Conference: Planning continues for the Washington Conference, Feb. 25-27. The Legislative Division will be in charge of the "Commander’s Call" on Feb. 26. Legislative Commission Chairman Ken Governor of New York is coming to Washington in two weeks to work with staff to prepare the agenda.

POW/MIA update

Pfc. James R. Hare, U.S. Army, Battery B, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, was lost on Feb. 13, 1951, near the Korean town of Hoengsong. He was accounted for on Jan. 19, 2013.

Pfc. Bobby L. Byars, U.S. Army, Company M, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was lost on Dec, 12, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir. He was accounted for on Jan. 4, 2013.