House bill addresses claims backlog

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2014, by a vote of 315-108 on June 14. The bill contains an amendment that was originally contained in H.R. 1729, the VA Claims, Operations, and Records Efficiency (CORE) Act. The language of the amendment is intended to address the outrageous VA claims backlog.

Sponsored by Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Mike Coffman of Colorado, and supported by The American Legion, the VA CORE amendment would direct the Secretary of Defense (DoD) to make the service treatment records, personal records, unit records and medical records (service records) of each member of the armed forces available to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) in an electronic format. It would also provide post-discharge or release timelines for such availability. It would further require each service record provided to include a DOD certification of the record’s completeness.

Meanwhile, American Legion VA&R staff members Lori Perkio and Ian DePlanque met with SERCO, and Valerie Cochran, the Maryland department service officer (DSO) on June 21. Their goal was to provide basic claim process information to SERCO which is contracting with VA to determine how the roll of the service officer may reduce the VA claim backlog.

Cochran provided a step-by-step explanation of The American Legion Fully Developed Claim (FDC) process. The information that was provided to SERCO was an in-depth view of the VA claim process and how important an accredited American Legion service officer is to the veteran and/or family member filing for benefits.

In related news, VA has announced that the number of backlogged claims fell, though it remains high, at just under 800,000.

In other news:

Soldier’s Wish: Peter Gaytan, Lori Perkio, Steve Gonzales, Steve Brooks, Cory Owens and Richard Smith from The American Legion attended the Soldier’s Wish event June 25 at Union Square in New York City. American Legion staff provided information on The American Legion and VA claims assistance. Past National Commander Fang Wong, American Legion members from the Department of New York and Assistant Service Officer David Sprinkle were present to assist veterans and family members seeking information. American Legion coins were given to veterans in appreciation for their service. American Legion pamphlets, flags and magnets were given out to those who stopped by the booth. About 84 forms were completed by those wanting more information about Soldier’s Wish or to request a "wish" for themselves or a veteran.

Job fairs for veterans: Hundreds of veterans and servicemembers attended two recent jobs fairs, sponsored and hosted the The American Legion and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

• In Lansing, Mich., 48 employers and 40 jobseekers attended the June 27 event. Overall there were 192 resumes accepted, 27 interviews conducted, four tentative job offers and two immediate hires.

• On June 22, a job fair was held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Around 400 veterans, servicemembers and military spouses gathered at the home of the NFL’s New York Giants for the Hiring Our Heroes job fair that welcomed 125 employers – all of whom were looking to hire veterans and spouses. The Legion’s Department of New Jersey supplied around 40 volunteers from the Legion Family and helped coordinate the event as part of its commitment to bring job fairs to the state.

"These job fairs are crucial," said Bob Looby, past department commander for New Jersey. "The drawdown and with all this Defense-spending cutting, there’s going to be more guys and girls who are coming home, and a lot of them are the 24-year-olds who went from high school straight into the service and have nowhere to go."

Immigration bill: The U.S. Senate approved - by a vote of 68-32 - a landmark immigration bill on June 27 that would provide millions of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. However, any bill in the Republican-controlled House is expected to focus heavily on border security and finding immigrants who have overstayed their visas. "Immigration reform has to be grounded in real border security," House Speaker John Boehner said.

Working with the U.S. Chamber: The Economic Division staff met June 25 with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss the extent to which the chamber would participate in The American Legion National Convention, in terms of providing speakers, panels, and co-hosting the job fair and employment workshops. The parties also discussed the possibility of creating a rewards program for Legion posts and local Chambers of Commerce that have worked extremely well over the last few years to try and work together to reduce the veteran’s unemployment rate.

Convention talks continued: The Economic Division staff met twice with the representatives from the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Veterans’ Business Development, SBA Regional Office in Texas and Syracuse University to discuss the progression of the two-day For HEROES Entrepreneurial Course that will be piloted at The American Legion National Convention. Discussion continued regarding legal matters, logistics, data collection and capabilities.

Status, priorities updates: Jacob Gadd, deputy director of health care, and Roscoe Butler, assistant director of health care, on June 28 met with Dr. Tim O’Leary, deputy chief from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development (ORD), to discuss ORD’s goals and priorities, status of their program’s progress toward achieving these goals, and their office resources (budget, staffing and equipment). On the same day, Butler also met with Dr. Ellen Fox, Department of Veterans Affairs Chief Ethics Health Care Officer and Dr. Sherrie Hans, VA deputy chief, National Center of Ethics in Health Care, on the same topics related to their office.

Connecting with wounded servicemembers: Service Officer Gerardo Avila provided an IDES briefing on June 21 to 40 servicemembers new to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Meade, Md. Gerardo also attended the Aleethia Foundation Dinner with Operation Comfort Warriors assistant director James Ellison where gift cards that were given to each servicemember. The dinner is free to wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and their families located within the Washington, D.C. area. This is an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to The American Legion MEB/PEB program.

Claims: During the week ending June 21, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 126 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 71.8 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 27 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 52 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, 28 (25.5 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update: Army Master Sgt. Olen B. Williams, 31st Regimental Combat Team was lost in late 1950 south of a bridge across the P’ungnyuri River, near a small village in Sinhung-ni, North Korea. His remains were accounted for in 2012.