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As Americans start to get a handle on managing life with the Coronavirus, and the states are opening up, the travel industry is slowly beginning to come back.  Hotels and travel destinations are reopening in anticipation of travelers ready to throw off their cabin fever and venture out.  Various studies and surveys from the likes of The Points Guy, Deloitte and RENTCafé.com have recently indicated that 31% to 42% of Americans are beginning to feel more comfortable and ready to vacation away from home and willing to fly to get to domestic and international locales. Your plans may be for a weekend get away to a cozy bed and breakfast, or perhaps a fishing trip to catch that “big one” that won’t get away this time. Maybe it’s a camping trip full of hiking adventures with stunning vistas, or possibly you would rather walk through America’s glorious past by taking in all the amenities offered in any of hundreds of museums?  How about a week’s stay at a ranch out west?  Whatever your travel desires are, your options are plentiful and, more importantly, clean, safe and following all CDC guidelines for Coronavirus.  Each week we will feature travel options to help make your vacation choices easy. Resorts, Inns and Bed & Breakfasts: Want a getaway location with grounds to explore and activities to enjoy?  Balsam Beach Resort in Bemidji, Minnesota, is open and ready for your visit! Bed and Breakfast offer the quiet getaways, and yet you’ll find plenty to do nearby.  Step back in time at Tuxedo Park Bed & Breakfast in St. Louis, Missouri and enjoy luxurious comfort.  Located near all the major medical university hospitals, healthcare professionals will find this the perfect home away from home.  If Pennsylvania is calling you, Felicity Farms Bed and Breakfast in Beaver, provides classic and modern comforts and historic downtown Pittsburg is close by.  Traveling further east? At Mayanuk Chambers Guest House in Philadelphia, enjoy fine homemade pastries and know that you will be treated “better than family.”  If east coast travel is in your sights, head to Lewes, Delaware and stay at the Savannah Inn for a peaceful coastal escape. If you’re looking for fun in the sun, in Kissimmee, Florida, Amber Inn & Suites offers spacious rooms and suites loaded with amenities. Travel over to San Marcos, Texas and stay the elegant Crystal River Inn where you will find 12 luxurious rooms in three buildings that surround a rose garden, fountains and beautiful old trees. RV Resorts & cabins: If the great outdoors are calling, the campground and RV resorts are…wide open! From the lush Pacific Northwest, to the wide open spaces of Texas, our featured facilities have all the sought after amenities. Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park KOA Oregon: Crown Villa RV Resort - Bend Minnesota: Eagle Cliff Campground – Lanesboro Texas: Triple Creek RV Music Park - Woodville, Holiday Trav-L-Park - Del Rio Washington: Mt. St. Helens RV - Castle Rock West Virginia: Germany Valley Overlook Cabins - Riverton When you are ready to travel, we are here to help!  Keep checking back every week for more featured locations.  Our travel hosts are eager to see you and work with you to provide safe and clean facilities.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is rolling out a new system in July for Veterans and eligible beneficiaries to submit and track transportation reimbursement claims using VA’s secure web-based portal, Access VA. The Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System (BTSSS), which is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year, will simplify how eligible Veterans and beneficiaries claim mileage reimbursement for travel to and from both VA health care or VA authorized non-VA health care service locations. “VA is working diligently to find new ways to innovate and simplify how we serve Veterans and their beneficiaries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Streamlining the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System will help our Veterans get their travel reimbursements more securely and efficiently.” BTSSS enables Veterans and caregivers to submit claims for reimbursement of costs from a personally owned vehicle, common carrier, meals and/or lodging, and other travel related expenses such as tolls, parking and luggage. The national implementation across Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) will run in phases through November. The first phase will start in July and includes VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, Kansas City VA Medical Center, Bay Pines VA Health Care System, Bay Pines, FL and Minneapolis VA Health Care System. The implementation will continue in phases beginning on the following dates:  September 8: VISN’s 1, 9, 12, 17, 21, 22 October 5: VISN’s 2, 6, 10, 15, 20 November 2: VISN’s 4, 5, 7, 8, 16, 19, 23  As BTSSS goes live, the use of kiosks will be discontinued however, in person claims and hard-copy submissions are still available. For more information on BTSSS and eligibility, visit the VA Travel Pay Reimbursement webpage.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today the launching of a digital COVID-19 screening tool to streamline Veteran access to medical care during the coronavirus pandemic. The tool, designed with Veteran and staff input, enables the screening of more than 10,000 people each day. Veterans, their caregivers and VA health care employees can use this tool on their mobile phones before entering facilities. It takes less than a minute to complete and helps reduce wait times, lowers exposure risk and eases patient stress. It also helps Veterans gain confidence with increased digital interactions as part of their VA health care experience.   “This screening tool emphasizes the ongoing importance of VA’s investment in digital modernization, as it went from initial concept to national availability in less than two weeks,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “In addition to providing a broad range of innovations and improvements that significantly benefit the Veterans we serve; our culture of innovation allows us to respond quickly to urgent and evolving needs.” To protect patients and staff, VA screens everyone for coronavirus symptoms and exposure each time they enter a health facility. VA staff uses the information received to direct people to either enter the building or go to a designated area for additional screening. Veterans, caregivers and staff can use the tool by texting the word “SCREEN” to 53079 or scan a dedicated QR code with their mobile phone to get a link to the tool. They then answer a series of simple questions and share their results at the VA facility entrance. For more about VA efforts to meet Veteran and staff needs during the coronavirus pandemic, visit VA.gov coronavirus FAQs and VA’s public health response.
Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness can now stay connected with their health care providers, case managers, and loved ones thanks to a nonprofit organization’s collaboration with VA. America’s Adopt A Solider has worked with VA since 2010 on a multitude of services and support for Homeless and at-risk Veterans. The non-profit’s newest program keeps Veterans connected with VA care providers via a laptop and mobile phone donation program. Some Veterans often lack the resources needed to remain connected with VA services and family members. And the need for telecommunication donations to promote connectivity with care providers became evident as many states across the country enacted stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. Mobile phone and laptop donations so far America’s Adopt A Soldier has already provided VA with hundreds of  smartphones and laptops, procured through public and corporate donations from Verizon and AT&T. These donations have been shipped to Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 21, which includes the Northern California Bay Area (San Francisco VAHCS, Palo Alto VAHCS, and Northern California VAHCS) and the Southern Nevada VAHCS. The laptops and smartphones will go to Veterans currently in the Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), Grant and Per Diem transitional housing, and Health Care for the Homeless Contract Residential Services programs. As additional donations arrive from corporations and other organizations, America’s Adopt A Soldier will work with VA to identify additional VISNs in need. “Having this Veteran population shelter in place without the technology to keep them connected, might result in catastrophic impacts and immeasurable setbacks to their treatment,” said Mary Keeser, founder and chair of America’s Adopt A Soldier and a former U.S. Army officer. “Many of these Veterans have worked so hard to get on a path forward. With VA by their side creating the correct treatment plan, we reached out to assist the staff – who also recognized this challenge – in providing the required technology. We are humbled to be able to help provide this technology.” Assists with social distancing Keeser’s organization used active duty military and Veterans to update and reconfigure donated laptops to make sure they were ready for use once distributed. The laptops allow Veterans to stay in contact with their VA caseworkers, family, and friends while also maintaining CDC guidelines for social distancing. All devices are equipped with Windows 10 and can be used at Wi-Fi hot spots. The organization receives donations and support from several large organizations, including Microsoft, AT&T, and Envistacom. “Veterans can use the technology to access treatment plans and medical support, conduct job searches, continue their education, and of course, stay in touch with their social networks,” said Keeser. “A lot of our Veterans depend on those social connections with other Veterans and military organizations.” VA remains committed to securing safe and stable housing for Veterans and helping them stay connected during these uncertain times. Donations from America’s Adopt A Soldier organization facilitate Veterans’ continued progress in their treatment plans and increase their ability to comply with safe distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. More Information Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Anyone wishing to make a donation should visit https://www.americasadoptasoldier.org/makeadonation.html. Businesses and corporations interested in partnerships and resource donations can contact Mary Keeser at mary.keeser@americasadoptasoldier.org.
By Nikki Wentling/Stars and Stripes President Donald Trump praised his new plan to prevent veteran suicide Wednesday as unprecedented, bold action against the problem — but critics argue it isn’t enough. Trump unveiled the plan, which was three months overdue, in the White House on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by Department of Veterans Affairs officials and veterans advocates. The plan is the result of an executive order Trump signed March 5, 2019, creating a Cabinet-level task force titled PREVENTS, short for “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide.” The last annual report from the VA showed that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than among the rest of the population, particularly among women. About 20 veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve die by suicide every day. The task force issued its 60-page plan, which included 10 recommendations. The recommendations are expected to take two years to fully implement. The first action will be a national public service announcement, which Trump described as a “historic” campaign to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. Second Lady Karen Pence, mother of a Marine Corps pilot, will be the campaign’s lead ambassador. The plan also focuses on improved research into veteran suicide, increased suicide-prevention training and new partnerships between government agencies and outside organizations. It includes a legislative proposal that would establish a federal grant program to fund state and local groups that help veterans. “We’re gathered to address an especially urgent struggle,” Trump said. “Today, we’re unveiling our roadmap to empower veterans and end the national tragedy of suicide.” Republican lawmakers praised Trump’s plan, including the GOP leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We must do more to change the culture and conversation surrounding suicide in the public and private sectors and, most importantly, in neighborhoods across the country where the real healing work must start and end,” Roe said in a statement. “The PREVENTS roadmap shows us how, and I am confident that it will help to save and improve the lives of at-risk veterans and others for years to come.” Democrats, though, criticized the plan for not being bold enough. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the plan was a “necessary step forward,” but “far more” — including policy changes — needs to be done to make a real difference. Tester and Moran have pushed legislation for over a year that would boost funding to local organizations that help veterans, as well as increase mental health staff, alternative therapies and research at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, also builds into the law an initiative that Trump announced in 2018 to automatically enroll every servicemember into VA mental health care for one year when they transition from active duty. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was even more critical of the PREVENTS plan, describing it Wednesday as “meek” and “tepid.” He claimed it was developed with little input from veterans service organizations and lawmakers who work on veterans policy. “Tepid calls for more research, interagency coordination and meek public education campaigns won’t do enough to end this crisis,” Takano said in a statement. “We have much more substantial work to do to prevent veteran suicide and ultimately help save veterans’ lives.” Karen Pence, along with other senior administration officials who spoke on background Wednesday, said the plan came at an urgent time. The coronavirus pandemic has created more need for a national plan to address suicide, an official said. “I feel like right now is such an opportune time because we’re all dealing with anxiety, we’re all dealing with stress,” Pence said. “So, if I can do anything as lead ambassador, it’s my goal to help take away the stigma around mental health. We want them to know there are people out there who want to help. There is a way forward.” The VA’s budget request for fiscal 2021, released in February, includes $53.4 million to the PREVENTS initiative. Photo Credit: White House photo
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released today, results of the first long-term study aimed at determining the effectiveness of the VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — and its impact on Veterans in their civilian life. The 2019 Post-Separation Transition Assistance Program Assessment (PSTAP) Outcome Study Report, and appendices, commissioned by the Veterans Benefits Administration, outlines the results from the first year of a multi-year study. Designed to assess what drives Veteran satisfaction in TAP, the study identifies how best to improve Veteran experience and the delivery of benefits and services — ultimately improving their long-term outcomes across various aspects of their lives. “Service members transitioning to civilian life have served our country well,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It is important for VA to know what our Veterans want and need to make this transition successful. This study provides invaluable feedback we can use to make the TAP program even more beneficial.” Cross-sectional surveys were created to get feedback in response to the research. It looks at service member transition in three groups: Veterans separated for six months, those separated for one year and those separated for three years. The survey uses data from these groups to obtain feedback annually, while tracking transition outcome success of those who opt-in to the longer-term study. 2019 survey results revealed: The majority of Veterans found TAP courses beneficial. The TAP VA benefits briefings received an 85% positive rating and were deemed most useful by respondents. Most respondents (67%) said they adjusted well to civilian life after separation, are making progress toward their post-military goals and generally employed in full-time, permanent positions. Many Veterans (70%) felt the transition was challenging with an array of causes, including nostalgia for the camaraderie and teamwork they experienced in the military. The study and surveys were developed and conducted in coordination with the TAP interagency group, led by VA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor. Approximately 200,000 service members transition from the military each year. TAP provides information, resources and tools to service members and their loved ones to help prepare for the move from military to civilian life. Service members begin TAP no later than one year prior to separation or up to two years prior to retiring. The VA portion of TAP features an in depth briefing and available one-on-one assistance by benefits advisors who help transitioning service members understand the benefits and services earned.
(VAntage Point Blog) Recently, I had the honor of sitting with five Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) from VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in a quiet private airport in Reno, Nevada. We were waiting for their jet, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, to arrive and whisk these heroes away to New Jersey. They were on their way to provide relief to the weary practitioners fighting the pandemic. These LPNs volunteered to go to New Jersey to assist medical staff in nursing homes, where staff has been stretched to the breaking point caring for their high-risk senior population. As I sat with them, I realized that I had an honest admiration not only for these five individuals, but also for my entire VA health care team. Nurses on their way to help in New Jersey. Not one of them expressed regret with their decision to volunteer. Each would be working nonstop, 12-hour shifts (maybe longer) with complete strangers, caring for senior citizens on the East Coast. They spoke with compassion and used phrases like, “This is what I was born to do.” We need nurses now more than ever One even stated she has no family here in Nevada and if requested to extend her short tour in New Jersey, she gladly would. She said she hoped she would inspire someone to consider a career in health care. “We need more nurses,” she said, “now more than ever.” The small Air Force C-21 jet arrived and three young crew members stepped down onto the tarmac. Through the waiting lounge window, the six of us made comments about the crew’s appearance in their military issued olive green flight suits. We started making Top Gun references. “That one looks like Maverick,” said one. “If there’s a Goose, we are screwed!” said another. We all burst into laughter, which increased even more as the three young service members entered the airport with looks of bewilderment at our good humor. Their faces quickly transformed into comforting smiles. They understood that this moment was necessary. “God speed and safe travels” The pilot assured everyone that once the plane is fueled, loaded, and pre-flight checks done, they would be on their way. The flight crew graciously humored me with pictures of them with our nurses and the plane. I assisted with loading the LPN’s bags onto the jet and bid everyone a safe journey. I remained in the small airport to watch through the window until the wheels were off the ground. “God speed and safe travels,” I said aloud. I heard an “Amen” from behind me and turned to see a baggage handler had come to watch as well. To the nurse who claimed to have no family here in Nevada, I beg to differ. You have VA. Together we are strong, and together we are a family. Shane Whitecloud is a Navy Veteran and a public affairs officer with the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System.
Soldiers at Fort Riley, Kan., represent various periods in the Army's history during a ceremony commemorating the Army's birthday in 2017. (U.S. Army photo) (American Legion) June 14 is the birthday of the U.S. Army. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s website – at history.army.mil – it was on June 14, 1775, that “the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.” The site also includes information about the specific birthdays of the Army's basic and special branches. Those are interesting factoids in themselves, but here are some other things you might not know about the institution. 1. Before World War II, 45th Infantry Division members wore a swastika patch on their left shoulder in honor of Native Americans. It was changed to a thunderbird in the 1930s. (via USO) 2. The Army was tasked with mapping America, including the Lewis & Clark expedition. Army officers were some of the first American citizens to see Pikes Peak and the Grand Canyon. (via USO) 3. The Army was the last service branch to adopt an official song. On Veterans Day 1956, “The Army Goes Rolling Along” was so declared. (via USO) 4. Twenty-four U.S. presidents served in the Army, including in state militias that supported it during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (via Mental Floss) 5. And two of them are connected: in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, the man holding the flag alongside future president George Washington is future president James Monroe. (via Mental Floss) 6. There are Army astronauts, who wear astronaut wings. One is retired Col. Douglas Wheelock, who logged 178 days in space after serving as the first active-duty soldier to command the International Space Station. (via Mental Floss) 7. If the Army was a city, it would be the 10th-largest in the United States. (via We Are the Mighty) 8. And it owns so much land that if it was a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined. (via We Are the Mighty) 9. In 2011, each soldier required 22 gallons of fuel per day on average; a soldier during World War II only required 1 gallon of fuel per day on average. (via Fact Retriever) 10. The oldest active-duty infantry unit is the famous 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Old Guard." Stood up in 1784, the 3rd is an official ceremonial unit and escort to the president of the United States, and is also in charge of the "Changing of the Guard Ceremony" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Old Guard received The American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2016. (via Fact Retriever)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced Veteran trust in VA reached 80% in April, reflecting a 19% increase since January 2017.  Each quarter Veterans Signals (VSignals), VA’s customer experience feedback program, randomly surveys approximately 257,000 Veterans with recent interactions VA-wide with claims, appeals, health care, memorials and other services to rate their overall trust in VA.  This VA-wide trust survey compliments the previously reported Veteran trust survey focused specifically on VA outpatient health care only which reached 90% for the first time on April 12. The monthly average of Veteran trust in VA outpatient health care increased to 90.1% for the month of May.  “These survey results show VA is listening to the voice of the Veteran and taking decisive actions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Customer feedback continues to drive improvements in the way VA provides care and services.”  The VA-wide quarterly trust survey also asks Veterans to rate VA’s ease of use, effectiveness and its staff’s ability to provide an empathetic experience. The most recent VA-wide survey saw a 2% increase in effectiveness to 78%, a 3% increase in ease of use to 75% and a 3% increase in empathy to 77%.  VSignals currently has 35 wide-ranging surveys in use across VA and the feedback gained from the more than 5 million surveys received since January 2017 are used in real-time to resolve concerns, answer questions, record compliments and share recommendations. VA began measuring Veteran trust in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016.  Since 2017, VSignals has referred more than 2,755 Veterans to the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1) or the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (1-877-424-3838) as needed or requested.  In June 2019, VA was designated as Lead Agency Partner for the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal on Improving Customer Experience with Federal Services. 
WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries will resume committal services starting June 9 in all but two VA national cemeteries.  VA national cemeteries will contact families who were unable to hold a committal service due to the COVID-19 pandemic to arrange memorial services for their loved ones beginning in July.   "During the last 10 weeks VA national cemeteries have continued performing our essential mission — to inter Veterans and eligible family members," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them."  While VA is eager to resume normal operations, the department’s national cemeteries have remained open for interments and visitation throughout the pandemic. However, as a matter of health and safety, committal services and military funeral honors have been deferred since March 23.  Interments scheduled on or after June 9, will be offered the option of a committal service at the time of interment. At Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries, that option will be available starting June 22, provided state and local guidance permit.  Military funeral honors, customarily provided by the Department of Defense and volunteer honor guards, will be based on local availability.    VA national cemeteries will continue adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of individuals attending committal services, practicing physical distancing between individuals not from the same household, ensuring all attendees and employees wear face coverings, encouraging frequent use of hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay home. The number of permitted attendees will vary based on state and local guidelines for gathering sizes provided the facility can accommodate increased attendees while maintaining physical distancing. Families may continue to choose direct interment and opt for a memorial service later when all restrictions have been lifted.   Memorial services for Veterans and eligible family members who were interred without a committal service between March 23 and June 8 will commence in July.   For more information, visit the National Cemetery Adminstration (NCA). Media should contact NCA Public Affairs chief Les' Melnyk at Les.Melnyk@VA.gov. To make burial arrangements at any VA national cemetery contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117.