Legion aids veterans during government shutdown

The VA has announced that the government shutdown will affect many of the agency’s operations but The American Legion will continue to assist veterans, surviving spouses and dependents.

The VA may have to close their doors to veterans wishing to visit but that doesn’t mean claimants won’t be able to reach The American Legion! The American Legion will continue to work cases to perfection and communicate with callers over the phone.

All VA Regional Offices closed their doors to the public, effective Oct. 8. Only claims processing of ongoing cases and electronic claims will continue. However, American Legion service officers – even those working in VA facilities now closed to the public – still are providing claims assistance to veterans.

American Legion appeals representatives will continue to represent appellants by writing briefs and presenting cases at board hearings, with the average of 70 percent of the Regional Office denials overturned with favorable outcomes for the veteran. Hearings will continue through October. In November, The American Legion will continue working cases with or without VA employees.

Legion representatives at the Pension Management Centers, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Insurance, Benefits Delivered at Discharge, and Military Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board representatives will continue to work on thousands of claims throughout the government shutdown.

Currently, recipients of VA payments will receive their benefits but if the government shutdown is prolonged, there is a possibility that compensation and pension payments could be delayed.

For the latest on the government shutdown, check the Legion’s new special web page.

In other news:

Shinseki testifies: Testifying at an Oct. 9 House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki warned Congress that if the federal government shutdown continues, millions of America’s veterans will stop receiving about $6 billion in monthly payments on Nov. 1.

Shinseki stated veterans’ service organizations, such as The American Legion, “have been, quite directly, helpful to me over the past four and a half years, and trying to help us understand how to be better at our responsibilities of caring for veterans, but also servicemembers and families, and survivors that we are responsible for.”

The effects of the shutdown on Shinseki’s department “are negative,” he said. “It is an impediment to VA’s ability to deliver services and benefits that veterans have earned through their service.” Shinseki called the lapse in federal appropriations an “avoidable situation,” and veterans across the country “will be harmed if the shutdown continues.”

Job fairs: Dozens of veterans were hired in the past 10 days thanks to two Hiring Our Heroes job fairs.

• On Oct. 8, in Southfield, Mich., a job fair fielded 86 employers and 186 registered jobseekers. Overall there were 851 resumes accepted, 126 interviews conducted, 50 tentative job offers given and 16 on the spot hires.

• On Oct. 4 in Aurora, Ill., a job fair attracted 69 employers and 160 jobseekers. Overall there were 839 resumes accepted, 126 interviews conducted and seven on the spot hires.

Homeless veterans: The Minneapolis VA Medical Center will convert five old buildings at Fort Snelling into 58 apartments for homeless veterans and their families. Renovations work expected to begin in late 2013 or early 2014. The project represents one aspect of VA’s nationwide effort to end veteran homelessness by 2015. “Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) is a department-wide effort to identify empty buildings and land for repurposing,” said Ralph Heussner, public affairs officer for the Minneapolis VA. “This contributes to two important VA goals: fighting veteran homelessness and decreasing VA’s inventory of vacant and underutilized buildings. “A third benefit,” he added, “is that it allows VA to preserve and restore some of its many historically valuable structures.” Fort Snelling is what is known as an ‘unorganized territory’ located near Minneapolis. It contains numerous military and other federal facilities, including historic Fort Snelling, its cemetery and the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

Letters of support: The American Legion sent three letters of support recently to members of Congress:

• On Oct. 1, a letter of support was sent to Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona for draft legislation that would fund a number of accounts of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These include compensation and pensions account, readjustment benefits, veterans insurance and indemnities, the veterans housing benefits, and vocational rehabilitation benefits and administrative expenses; and Native American veteran home loan program and administrative expenses. These funds would be available until January 1, 2015.

• On Oct. 3, a letter of support was sent to Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, for H.R. 2906, legislation titled the Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act. This legislation would make veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) eligible for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) programs of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Veterans are not presumed to be socially or economically disadvantaged for purposes of DBE programs; instead, the proposed legislation would make VOSBs independently eligible by establishing VOSBs as a separate entity who count for purposes of the 10 percent goal as set by DOT. [Resolution 321-2012]

• On Oct. 8, a letter of support was sent to Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona for House Joint Resolution 91 “Department of Defense Survivor Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014”, which would make appropriations available to ensure the continued payment of a death gratuity in the event of the demise of certain members of the Armed Forces, and certain other persons who pass away during a federal government shutdown.  The bill was prompted by reports that families of the four American servicemembers who died in Afghanistan over the previous weekend would not be able to receive death benefits, usually paid within 36 hours, due to the ongoing government shutdown.  The measure passed the House of Representatives by a 425-0 vote on Oct. 9, followed by passage by unanimous consent in the Senate the following day.  President Obama signed the bill into law Oct. 10.

Claims: During the week ending October 4, 2013, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 124 American Legion represented appeals.  Of those dispositions, 58.8 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran.  In 33 cases, the Board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 40 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, 33 (26.0 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update: The Department of Defense unit charged with recovering servicemembers’ remains abroad has been holding phony “arrival ceremonies” for seven years, with an honor guard carrying flag-draped coffins off of a cargo plane as though they held the remains returning that day from old battlefields. The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that no honored dead were in fact arriving, and that the planes used in the ceremonies often couldn’t even fly, and were towed into position. The story was first reported on nbcnews.com.

The American Legion is demanding immediate reform with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.