D.C. staff hosts DSO school

The American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation staff this weekend conducted one of its two annual training conferences for Department Service Officers (DSOs), the Legion-accredited representatives who give free assistance to veterans with their claims across the country.

The DSOs of The American Legion are the frontline soldiers in the trenches, battling for veterans benefits.

Often policies that are dictated by VA Central Office in Washington wind up falling short in execution as they are implemented in regional offices around the nation. By increasing direct contact with DSOs from all over the country, Legion staff members are better able to paint a picture for congressional lawmakers about the reality of the problems in the disability benefits system.

The interactive, two-way training included a question-and-answer session with the DSOs about legislative activity in the recent past as well as in the future that could have an impact on the claims process. Furthermore, the training conference provided extensive information about a new Fully Developed Claims push by VA and veterans service organizations with The American Legion at the forefront, that is drastically reducing some of the wait times on claims. The claims backlog has received extensive focus in the news and on Capitol Hill for many years, as veterans are facing record wait times to have their claims for service-related disabilities decided.

As VA&R conducted its DSO school, Legislative Division staff members participated in the training, increasing their contact with the DSOs and the training topics they are focused on, to improve subject matter knowledge to convey to Capitol Hill.

In other news:

Possible civilian furloughs ahead: Most of the 800,000 Department of Defense civilian employees will see their workweeks shortened and their pay cut by 20 percent from late April through September, if Congress fails to stop $46 billion in indiscriminate defense budget cuts set to take effect March 1.

With lawmakers on a nine-day President’s Day recess, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially notified Congress Feb. 20 of the department’s intent to furlough the “vast majority” of its civilian workers. This, he said, will be necessary if Republicans and Democrats continue to refuse to negotiate a “balanced” debt-reduction deal to defuse or delay the “sequestration” budget bomb built into the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The furloughs would capture about $5 billion of needed savings but would hit overall readiness along with other plans to cut stateside base operations, reduce military training except for next-to-deploy units, delay maintenance of ships, aircraft, vehicles and facilities, suspend many scheduled ship deployments and make deep cuts in aircraft flying hours.

National Commander Jim Koutz said Wednesday that “This cutback would not only impose an economic hardship on those workers and their families, but the resulting reduction in workforce coverage could also compromise national security.”

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System Worth Saving visit: During the week of Feb. 22, field service representative Roscoe Butler and task force member Vickie Smith-Dykes conducted a System Worth Saving site visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala. The visit focused on health care for women veterans. The SWS team conducted a town hall meeting prior to reaching the hospital site visit and 15 veterans attended.

Claims: During the week ending Feb. 15, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 146 American Legion-represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 73.2 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 31 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 76 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 34 (23.2 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update:   

  • Master Sgt. Robert A. Stein, U.S. Army, Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, was lost on Dec. 4, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was accounted for on Feb. 6, 2013.