Legion VA&R Director Barry Searle testifies before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee. Craig Roberts

Offering up informed advice

The American Legion recently offered its advice to a House subcommittee on various pieces of legislation - proposed and pending-related to veterans health care.

Barry Searle, director of The American Legion's veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, reminded the House Subcommittee on Health that the Legion monitors the quality and timeliness of VA health care with its "System Worth Saving" Task Force. Its members conduct annual site visits at VA medical centers nationwide.

"We have found that turnover of personnel and the shortage of personnel at most facilities require renewed emphasis on standardized procedures, quality review and individual training," Searle told the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine.

One proposed bill, H.R. 4505, would provide VA nursing home care to parents of children who died while serving in the Armed Forces. The American Legion sent letters to members of Congress in January, urging passage.

While the original provisions were made with good intentions, Searle said it was unrealistic to require "that all children of a parent must die in service to this nation, in order to qualify for admission to a nursing home."

The American Legion supports another proposed bill that would provide hearing aids to World War II veterans with service-connected hearing losses, and recommends the legislation be expanded to cover veterans from the Korean War and Vietnam War eras.

While VA has improved its outreach to veterans, Searle said, "significant issues remain and there is much work to be done." He noted the value of the Transition Assistance Program and the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program, "but outreach efforts vary both in quality and effectiveness.

"In particular, reserve component members released from active-duty mobilizations are often rubber-stamped and returned to their home stations, with little or no understanding of what entitlements they have earned, due to their honorable service," Searle said.

The American Legion provides regular updates to its members on VA benefits and changes to any entitlements; it also reaches out to veterans with professional service officers in each state. Currently, the Legion is helping VA with its outreach efforts to Priority Group 8 veterans.

Searle said that such partnerships between VA and veterans service organizations "continue to benefit the veteran population.

"This demonstrates that extended VA outreach has an immediate impact on the lives of veterans, and VA must not lag behind in the modernization and scope of their own outreach to veterans," he said.