Obama signs veterans measures into law

On Aug. 9, President Barack Obama signed into law two bills that stand to help veterans. They are:

  • P.L. 113-27, the Helping Heroes Fly Act. This measure would update the Wounded Warriors Screening Program established in 2005 to let disabled veterans and severely injured servicemembers request expedited screening from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The bill would direct the assistant secretary of Homeland Security for TSA to develop ways of easing airport screenings. Nothing in the bill would prohibit more security screening of a servicemember if law enforcement officials deemed it necessary. As amended by the Senate, the bill would not allow expedited screening for family members accompanying the veterans and servicemembers.
  • P.L. 113-26, the Formerly Owned Resources for Veterans to Express Thanks for Service Act of 2013 or, more simply, the FOR VETS Act of 2013. This legislation, introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., will add veteran services to the list of eligible uses for surplus federal property offered to not-for-profit groups through the Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program. When federal agencies no longer need property such as office supplies, furniture and motor vehicles, the surplus items are eligible to be donated to public service organizations for education or health-care related services. In 2010, Congress added veterans service organizations to the list of eligible organizations. However, under current law veteran service organizations cannot receive surplus property to use toward the full range of services they provide to veterans.

In other news:

Veteran homelessness: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the South Carolina State Library are hosting a free educational webinar on ways to help spread the word about VA’s resources for veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. The webinar is titled “How You Can Help End Veteran Homelessness in your Community” and will take place online Aug. 21 from 2 to 3 p.m. EDT. The webinar is free, and you can register online at statelibrary.sc.libcal.com.

Every day librarians, government employees and community affiliates across the country come into contact with individuals who are homeless, but may not know how to help. The VA has established an easy way for homeless and at-risk veterans to get connected to services that can help them get back on their feet. A call to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 424-3828 will connect veterans to a wide range of services, including health care, employment, education and housing assistance. The hotline is part of a nationwide VA initiative to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

This webinar is free and open to everyone. To register, visit the South Carolina State Library’s events calendar at statelibrary.sc.libcal.com. For more information, please contact Jason Broughton at (803) 734-8576 or jbroughton@statelibrary.sc.gov.
Career fair: A Hiring our Heroes job fair was held in Farmington, N.Y., on Aug. 14. This event was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), with The American Legion Department of New York, Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR), Accenture, and the local Chamber of Commerce. The job fair saw 73 employers, 221 jobseekers, 868 resumes accepted, 103 interviews conducted, 48 tentative job offers and six on-the-spot hires.

Commander testimony: The national commander testifies before a joint Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committee hearing on Sept. 10 beginning at 10:15 a.m. in Room G-50 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. All the Legion Family is invited to attend.

Flag amendment: On Aug. 15, Legislative staff met with a staffer for Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to discuss the Flag Protection Amendment and to request that the senator sign on as a co-sponsor. Legislative staff also plans to meet with amendment sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, about the possibility of pursuing an amendment with alternative language with a new sponsor, not in lieu of his, but as a dual-track strategy until circumstances become more propitious for a successful vote on his original amendment.

Education assistance: Economic division staff met on Aug. 12 with education staff from the New America Foundation to discuss the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). HEA is one of several vehicles The American Legion is reviewing to advance our national interest to create a better educated workforce. Economic division staff will continue to monitor the extent to which the act currently meets its purposes and a potential new direction that would enable legislators, the Department of Education, the higher education community, and veterans service organizations to better serve society, servicemembers, veterans and their families.

Health care: On Aug. 13, Warren Goldstein, senior national field service representative, provided remarks for The American Legion at the veteran groups portion of the Joint VA/DoD Airborne Hazards Symposium in Gunpowder. The purpose of this symposium was to provide an update on the VA and DoD collaborations related to health effects of airborne hazard exposure during deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. The symposium provided information on environmental exposure assessment, clinical care, surveillance, outreach and research that will assist in improving the health of servicemembers and veterans. 
System Worth Saving: During the week of Aug. 12, Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation staff met with others on the Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) efforts:

On Aug. 14, VA&R staff members met with Lisa Pape, national director of homeless programs for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). This meeting will assist The American Legion with an understanding of VHA’s plan to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, as well as help (SWS) formulate site visit questionnaires.

On Aug. 15, VA&R staff met with Mark Yow, VA’s associate chief financial officer for Resources Management, to discuss VA’s health-care budget with regard to the impact of sequestration and the Affordable Care Act through 2024. This is part of a series of planning meetings in preparation for the next cycle of SWS site visits, set to begin in late October or early November.

Claims: During the week ending Aug. 9, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 96 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 76 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 28 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 45 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, 19 (19.8 percent) were outright denials.