Washington Conference covers a lot of ground

The American Legion conducted its annual Washington Conference Feb. 25-27 in the nation’s capital. The Feb. 26 Commander’s Call provided an opportunity to brief the attending Legionnaires on the current environment on Capitol Hill, as well as to inspire them as they embarked on their meetings with members of Congress later that day. Legislative Commission Chairman Ken Governor of New York conducted the rally in conjunction with National Commander James Koutz of Indiana.

After a briefing on membership conducted by Denise Rohan of Wisconsin, chairman of the Membership & Post Activities Committee, addresses by Legion Auxiliary President Peggy Thomas of Virginia and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Christopher Huntzinger of Pennsylvania, various governmental dignitaries addressed the crowd.

Both Chairman Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, outlined what had been previously accomplished on behalf of veterans in the recent past on Capitol Hill, and addressed where they hoped to take veterans in the 113th Congress. Secretary Eric Shinseki of the Department of Veterans Affairs updated the Legion on VA’s efforts to address the claims backlog, veteran homelessness and continued delivery of health care through the VA.

National Commander Koutz presented former Virginia Sen. James Webb with the Distinguished Public Service Reward for his efforts and leadership in the passage of the landmark Post 9-11 GI Bill. The Commander’s Call concluded with a moving and rousing call to action on behalf of veterans by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Duckworth recounted the harrowing tale of her helicopter shootdown in Iraq which cost her both legs and full usage of her right arm.

Other highlights of the conference included:

• A panel discussion on treating women veterans. 

Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, addressed President Barack Obama’s war policies and nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary.

• The Economic Division, in partnership with RecruitMilitary, conducted a hiring event. Present at the job fair were companies such as Watkins Meeghan LLC, Capital One and PNC Bank.

• The Economic Division conducted roundtables on education for veterans, credentialing and ending homelessness.

• Bob Woodruff was honored with the National PR Award.

In other news:

Hearing on electronic records: On Feb. 27, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ conducted a hearing to examine the recent announcement by VA and DoD that they would no longer continue to pursue the Virtual Electronic Lifetime Record program that they had been pursuing. Jacob Gadd, deputy director of The American Legion’s VA&R Division, testified that "veterans are not getting the single system they were promised. As long as VA and DOD remain in separate camps, pursuing their own individual systems, it’s the veterans that will be short-changed." He noted that he was there to represent the impact that a lack of such a system has had, and continues to have on veterans, including the growing claims and health-care backlog "Getting all the information into one place can be the key to finally breaking the back of the backlog," he said. "VA and DOD have spent four years and close to a billion dollars to develop this and we’re in the same place we were in four years ago ... Until they fulfill the promise made to veterans of a single, seamless, unified record, the veterans of this country will remain skeptical of their government’s ability to deliver on all of the promises made to them."

VAVS: Brian Bertges will be attending the National Advisory Committee next week to discuss issues related to VA Voluntary Services. There will be multiple recommendations voted on in reference to membership requirements, award recognition, security issues, and logging of hours at state and national veterans cemeteries.

Claims: The VA&R VA Insurance unit reviewed and processed 219 applications for new insurance coverage, of which 23 were for Supplemental insurance for totally disabled veterans in the Service-Disabled insurance program, along with 104 disability and settlement claims on other veteran’s VA policies. Further case development included 109 other insurance inquiries or transactions, 71 phone calls with veterans, family members and VSOs, and 150 veteran insureds were contacted by mail on their policies, insurance options and action deadlines. There were also 67 direct contacts with VA personnel in regards to correcting or having additional actions taken on veteran’s accounts.