From left: Terry Hamby (Post 5, Nashville, Tenn.), Sen. John Warner (Post 295, Middleburg, Va.), Jack Monahan (La Place-Champlin Post 18, Essex, Conn.) and David Bernhardt. (Photo via Jack Monahan) By The American Legion By The American Legion   On Dec. 12, key leaders gathered on the site of the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., to mark the start of construction, after the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission received a building permit from the National Park Service (NPS). Those leaders included commission chair Terry Hamby, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, National Park Service acting director David Vela, commission special advisers Sen. John Warner and Adm. Mike Mullen, and American Legion representative to the commission Jack Monahan. The first phase of construction will be a 360-day project to rebuild the former Pershing Park, and prepare the site for the eventual installation of the memorial bronze sculpture when it is completed. The building permit was awarded after the memorial design was approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission earlier in 2019. The memorial is being built under the commission's authority by the Doughboy Foundation. Hamby was very pleased with the receipt of the building permit and start of construction. "Finally, the 4.7 million Americans who left their homes to deploy to a country most had never visited, fight in a war they did not start, and were willing to die for peace and liberty for people they did not know, will be honored at this magnificent spot in our nation's capital," he said. "The new, national World War I Memorial will join the other war memorials in Washington, D.C., each serving as a fitting tribute to the sacrifices that American men and women made to defend freedom throughout the world," Bernhardt added. The memorial design of architect Joseph Weishaar, featuring a monumental bronze by sculptor Sabin Howard, was selected as the winner from among five finalists after an international design competition in 2015 which received over 350 entries from around the world. "It's wonderful to see construction beginning at last," Weishaar said. "It's been a tireless effort by the design team and the commission to see this project through, and I'm proud of all we've been able to accomplish. This memorial is a century overdue, but here we are, and we're doing it." The two were profiled in The American Legion Magazine in 2016. The bronze, entitled "A Soldier's Journey," is being sculpted in clay by Howard and his team at his Englewood, N.J., studio, and will be cast in bronze at the Pangolin Editions sculpture foundry in the United Kingdom before being installed at the memorial site, along with the existing sculpture of John J. Pershing, General of the Armies of the United States, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. As well as the sculptural and landscape works in the park, the memorial will feature extended reality elements to enhance and extend the visitor experience. A detailed document of the approved National World War I Memorial design is available to the public; it can be downloaded as a PDF at The commission’s VSO/Military Affairs Director David Hamon added that the groundbreaking marks a "great opportunity for American Legion posts to be a part of this historical moment … by making a donation to the memorial in the name of your post, you can forever be part of this great legacy by becoming an AEF Memorial Corps post.” About 22 posts nationwide have joined in 2019. For more information contact Hamon at (540) 379-8584 or
WASHINGTON – After a nearly half-century long fight, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its veterans service and survivor organization partners claimed victory with the termination of the contentious and embattled Military Widow’s Tax as part of the presidential signing of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act today.  “This is a momentous victory for the more than 65,000 military spouses who endured the tragic loss of their husband or wife who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz. “Without these extraordinary spouses fighting in the trenches with us, the termination of the Widow’s Tax may not have been possible.”  Prior to today’s presidential signing of the NDAA that included the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2019, recipients of both the Department of Defense Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) and the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) faced a reduction of $1,319 – the current payout for DIC benefits. For many survivors, this offset completely eliminated their SBP payments and threatened their financial security. “There is no justifiable reason why money should have ever been stripped away from our military spouses,” said Schmitz. The VFW led the first SBP/DIC Offset Roundtable in May with other veterans’ service organizations, congressional staffers, and widows and widowers to create a legislative campaign to eliminate the nearly half-century old Widow’s Tax. Soon, surviving spouses of troops will keep their SBP payments, even if they are eligible for DIC. VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Kyle Kalman said the signing of the FY2020 NDAA rights a wrong for our military widows and widowers. “We commend senatorial and congressional leadership and the coalition of veterans and survivor organizations who fought alongside us for their commitment to the 65,000 surviving military spouses who were unjustly forced to endure a dollar-for-dollar offset of their Survivor Benefit Plan payments and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation,” said Kalman. “Our military widows and widowers deserved this victory.”
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in partnership with the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA), launched the Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP), available starting Dec. 20. The program will provide Veterans and their beneficiaries the chance to safely, reliably, and inexpensively receive and manage their VA monetary benefits through financial services at participating banks. “VBBP offers another way to simplify banking choices to help eligible Veterans select the right bank for themselves and their families,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The VA and AMBA are proud to provide this opportunity to connect veterans with banks that understand their needs.” VA’s collaboration with AMBA will leverage its consortium of military-friendly financial institutions that cater to service members. AMBA is the only trade association representing banking institutions specializing in providing services for military personnel, Veterans, and their families around the world. VBBP leverages participating AMBA institutions and banks operating within the gates of installations of all branches of service and National Guard and Reserve components. “AMBA and its member banks welcome the opportunity to provide our nation’s Veterans additional financial services options to help them achieve greater financial independence, resiliency, and literacy,” said AMBA president and Air Force Veteran Steve Lepper. “We hope that as Veterans recognize the benefits of working with the banks to achieve financial stability, more Veterans, banks and credit unions will join this effort.” The current available banking options include direct deposit into an existing bank account, electronic funds transfer into a Direct Express pre-paid debit card and mailing of a paper check for pre-approved beneficiaries. VBBP introduces new financial resources to Veterans and their beneficiaries. The program is an effort to address the problems some Veterans experience using these payment methods. VBBP offers these VA beneficiaries – including many who have been unable to open bank accounts in the past – the opportunity to deposit their benefit funds directly into existing or new bank accounts offered by participating AMBA member banks. Neither VA nor AMBA is endorsing any particular bank or requiring Veterans and other beneficiaries to use them. It does not require Veterans who are satisfied with their current financial situation to change how they receive their VA monetary benefits.  All Veterans and other beneficiaries – who currently receive more than $118 billion in financial benefits through VA – are eligible to access this program. There are approximately 250,000 Veterans and beneficiaries who receive their VA benefits through a pre-paid debit card or paper check who may not have a bank account. VA’s Veterans Banking Benefits and AMBA’s Veterans Benefits Banking Program websites have details for identifying participating banks. To have your federal benefits electronically transferred to a Veteran’s designated financial institution (e.g. bank), VA beneficiaries interested in changing direct deposit options can also call 1-800-827-1000 with their relevant banking information. VA financial literacy information is an additional resource available to Veterans and VA beneficiaries.
By Ken Kraetzer Not only did Navy senior quarterback Malcolm Perry rush for more than 300 yards in Saturday’s victory over Army, he achieved his primary goal. “It means the world; it was my biggest goal,” Perry said after the 31-7 win that broke a three-year losing streak in the annual rivalry game. In an extraordinary performance that will long be remembered, Perry ran for 304 yards and two touchdowns in the 120th Army-Navy game. Traditions of the Army-Navy game abound starting with game balls run by marathon teams from each academy to the stadium, tug of war and obstacle course competitions, the “Prisoner Exchange” of exchange students from each academy. The night before the game thousands of alumni of both schools gather for a gala dinner while on game day thousands of tailgate parties reunite families, graduates and veterans. Army got off to a strong start as backup quarterback Christian Anderson led an 18-play, 78-yard drive, which led to the first score. On the drive, Anderson ran 11 times for 43 yards, including the touchdown that put Army up 7-0. Navy responded quickly with a 55-yard touchdown run by Perry. Later in the second quarter, Perry broke free for a 44-yard run to the Army 17 just before halftime. Facing first and goal from the Army 1-yard-line with 13 seconds left in the second quarter, Navy deployed a play called the "Navy Special." Perry took the snap, then handed the ball to wide receiver Chance Warren, who faked a reverse, then threw Navy's only pass of the game, a perfect spiral over Army defenders. Sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers hauled it in for the go-ahead score. Navy wore down Army with its running attack, eventually taking a 21-7 lead with 4:53 left in the third quarter. After a field goal, Perry closed the scoring with a 15-yard run. In addition to advancing its record to 10-2, Navy won the coveted Commander in Chief Trophy and will receive an invitation to visit the White House. They will play Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31. Army ends its season at 5-8. Coach Jeff Monken said afterward, “We’ll start working on next season Monday morning.” Ken Kraetzer reports for Sons of the American Legion Radio and is a member of Squadron 135 in White Plains, N.Y.
(Photo by Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes) By Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes Dozens of American veterans in their 90s returned Sunday, probably for the last time, to attend ceremonies to honor them in the village in eastern Belgium where they fought in the Battle of the Bulge 75 years ago. Herb Sheaner, who was 19 when he fought here in December 1944, helped dedicate a monument in St. Vith to the thousands of soldiers like him who were captured by Nazi troops in the opening days of the turning-point battle, which then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called America’s greatest during World War II. “I was two years out of high school. At that age, you want to feel good,” he said at the dedication ceremony in a small park on the banks of the Our River. Instead, Sheaner was one of thousands of American troops taken prisoner by the Germans in one of the largest mass American surrenders since the Civil War. Sheaner was an infantryman in the 106th Infantry Division, which had deployed to the St. Vith area, near Belgium’s border with Germany, less than a week before the Germans launched their last major offensive on the Western Front on Dec. 16, 1944. Made up mainly of inexperienced soldiers with little training, the 106th “ended up absorbing the central load of the German attack,” said Doug Mitchell, a former Marine who was one of the driving forces behind the prisoner-of-war monument. “The Germans were going to put artillery on us and we couldn’t do anything about it,” Sheaner said. “We had no defense. We hadn’t eaten for five days. So we surrendered.” World War II veteran Herb Sheaner talks about his experience during the Battle of the Bulge, before a ceremony in the St. Vith, Belgium, district of Schoenberg, where a monument to World War II prisoners of war and missing in action was dedicated, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. Days earlier, Lt. Lyle Bouck celebrated his 21st birthday “shoring up his injured men in the cafe in Lanzerath,” a village near St. Vith, said his daughter, Diane, from Colorado, as she waited for a ceremony to begin at another monument to allied soldiers who fought in and around St. Vith. After holding off 500 Germans for 20 hours on the first day of the battle, Bouck and his unit of 18 men from a reconnaissance platoon attached to the 99th Infantry Division, plus three forward artillery observers, were taken prisoner by the Germans. A fourth artillery observer was the only American who died in the fighting. Bouck’s men killed 92 Germans. Bouck’s unit and many of the other Americans who were captured by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge survived the POW camps, “despite enduring the most severe circumstances,” St. Vith Mayor Herbert Grommes said in a speech at the POW memorial. “The intent of this memorial is to keep the memory of these brave men alive so that we never forget that the price of peace and freedom is very high,” Grommes said. St. Vith “is where the Bulge broke when the Germans overran the town and captured 8,000 Americans from the 106th,”said Andy Biggio, a Marine who brought 17 veterans, many of them in wheelchairs, from the U.S. to Belgium to mark the anniversary of the start of the landmark battle. After flowers were laid at the base of the memorial and the speeches drew to a close, the elderly veterans, bundled up against the cold, bitter wind, saluted and sang softly as a brass quartet played “The Star Spangled Banner.” The group of veterans who make the trip to Belgium for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge is expected to be far smaller than the 80 who came this year, said former Marine Scott Huesing, who served in Afghanistan and accompanied the elderly veterans along with Biggio. “We have to be honest about their and our mortality,” he said. “There probably won’t be an 80-year commemoration with the veterans. “But the constant in war is the people,” Huesing added. “The Belgians want to keep the memory of these men alive. In my war, … in these 95-year-old men’s war, we remember the people, the children and to have a reunion with them all these years later is remarkable.” Belgians gave a warm welcome to the veterans who returned for the anniversary events, treating them as if they were still the fresh-faced, young men who fought in the Ardennes 75 years ago. “This is a very moving experience, very heartwarming,” said Bob Weber, 95, who fought in the battle with the 10th Armored Division. “It’s incredible how these people remember and how they’ve educated the younger generation to appreciate it just as much as the old folks. You don’t only see elderly people out on the streets clapping for us, you also see their children, their grandchildren.” Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020, extending the presumption of herbicide exposure that include toxins such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Prior to the measure, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure. Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975, as well as Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971. These Veterans can apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans do not need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides. The specific conditions can be found by searching Agent Orange on “For six months VA worked diligently to gather and digitize records from the Naval History and Heritage Command in order to support faster claims decisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These efforts will positively impact the claims process for Veterans filing for these benefits.” Qualifying recipients, in addition to affected Veterans still living, are certain survivors of deceased BWN and Korean DMZ Veterans. Survivors can file claims for benefits based on the Veteran’s service if the Veteran died from at least one of the 14 presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifidaif their parent is or was a Veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program. The law creates more access for Veterans to obtain no-down payment home loans, regardless of loan amount, and the home loan funding fee is reduced for eligible Reservists and National Guard borrowers who use their home loan benefits for the first time. Certain Purple Heart recipients do not pay a funding fee at all. VA’s website describes these and other benefits.  Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office. BWN Veterans who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, Veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.   For more information about the Blue Water Navy Act and the changes that will take effect visit
“I want ‘top-notch’ care for my daughter”    Posted onWednesday, December 11, 2019 10:00 am Posted in Health by VAntage Point Contributor  Women Veterans make up 8% of Oregon’s Veteran psopulation. However, that growing population requires answers to the unique challenges facing women Veterans. The Women Veterans Program at the Roseburg VA Health Care System is designed to identify those challenges. It also works with women Veterans to find those answers, according to Jessica Burnett, social worker and interim Women Veterans Program manager. Burnett is pictured above with her daughter Emily. For Burnett, the mission is personal “I am a true Oregonian. After visiting many places, I knew Oregon is where my heart is,” said Burnett. “I spent nearly 15 years providing rural social services in Coos and Curry Counties. I decided it was time to move to a warmer climate and relocated to Roseburg, where my daughter attended college. “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Hey Mom. I’ve decided to take a different path in life and I signed up for the Navy.’ I didn’t see that coming. She said, ‘This is something I felt called to do and this is what I’m going to do.’ My role at that point was to be a support person. I felt if my daughter is feeling called to do this, I’m going to see what I can do to support Veterans, and I came to VA.” “How can we serve them best?” Burnett hopes to expand services available for all Veterans – primary care, mental health, housing assistance. She also wants to localize it specifically for women Veterans. She fosters a program that is open, accessible, welcoming and Veteran-centric. “From my perspective, we should be taking a patient-centered approach. Hearing their feedback, what is it that they need? Let them tell us what they need so we can best support them. It is their journey, their life. We don’t know unless we ask the question, ‘How can we can serve them best?’” For Burnett, the best way to serve women Veterans is to expand on the understanding of women Veteran needs and the availability of health care specific to women: yearly exams, such as pap smears and mammograms. “When she comes home, I want her to have top-notch health care.” And support for those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma. Women Veterans, the fastest growing minority population “Women Veterans served alongside men. They are a minority within the VA, but they’re the fastest growing minority population,” said Burnett. Her daughter serves aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. “Women tell me all the time they get addressed as ‘Mister’ instead of ‘Miss.’ It’s just assumed that they are a spouse or if it’s just a last name, that they are male. “I feel we really need to put a lot of effort and work into women’s health care in VA because it is an area that, previously and historically, hasn’t been part of VA. “My daughter is active duty right now, but when she comes home, I want her to have a health care system that is top-notch. “I want it to be better than what she can find in the community.” Tim Parish is a public affairs officer for the Roseburg VA Health Care System.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joseph Kotora, division surgeon with 2nd Marine Division, monitors a live fresh whole blood transfusion drill at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California Oct. 26. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Leon Branchaud) By 2nd Lt. Sydney Murkins, Engagements/Media Officer, 2nd Marine Division "Corpsmen are tasked with the grim reality of either restoring a person to life or taking them to their final resting place." Those were the words of Lt. Cmdr. Russell Wier, deputy division surgeon for the 1st Marine Division, as he explained the genesis of Valkyrie, a fresh whole blood transfusion initiative he is presently spearheading, designed to get more troops off the battlefield alive. Marines are often charged with going on dangerous missions where some lose their lives, but they're not alone – Navy corpsmen go on these missions with them, playing a guardian angel role. "The number one killer on the battlefield is massive hemorrhage," Cmdr. Joseph Kotora, division surgeon for the 2nd Marine Division, said. "Right now we use a junctional tourniquet and it does a good job as long as we don't move the patient, but patient movement is a battlefield necessity." Wier, who twice deployed to Iraq as a casualty evacuation pilot, would agree with that sentiment. He recalled a tragic incident in 2007 when a CH-46E was shot down while transporting urgently needed blood to a remote surgical facility. It resulted in the loss of five Marines and two Navy corpsmen aboard the aircrew. The event underscored the importance of having blood available far forward in the battle space. As a physician 10 years later, Wier became aware of the possibility of conducting walking blood bank operations at the small-unit level. Realizing the life-saving potential there, he committed to bringing fresh whole blood transfusion to the Marine Corps. And the Valkyrie program was born. Wier began developing the Valkyrie program in 2017. "The ultimate goal is to make it a program of record in the Marine Corps, which will change the way Marines and corpsmen operate in future wars," he said. "Right now, we're implementing it across the 1st Marine Division, Cmdr. Kotora and his team are beginning to implement this across the 2nd Marine Division, and we're working with a team within the 3rd Marine Division to start establishing trainers on Okinawa, too." Fresh whole blood transfusion is not a new concept; it dates back to World War I and World War II, Kotora said. "We got away from this sort of treatment during Vietnam because we outstripped the blood bank supply and had to start breaking up blood components," he said. "But what is old is new again, and as we learn more about trauma and what the body needs to combat trauma, we recognize that fresh whole blood is the preferred fluid for resuscitation." Other branches of the military have already begun bringing fresh whole blood transfusion back to life. The Army's 7th Ranger Regiment successfully began fielding their own program in 2015, which also is designed to reduce the number of hemorrhage-related deaths by replacing junctional tourniquets with the transfusion of fresh whole blood to soldiers on the battlefield. "Special Forces have been doing this for years," Kotora said, "so we thought, 'why not us?'" It was a valid question: Why not the Marines? Thanks in no small part to Wier's and Kotora's belief and persistence, the 2nd Marine Division has been given the opportunity to notionally test fresh whole blood transfusion during Marine Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise I-20. It was a division-scale, unscripted, force-on-force exercise, within which a select group of corpsmen were immersed in an intensive four-day program and learned how to perform fresh whole blood transfusion in a tactical field environment. Notional casualties are certain in this exercise, and this kind of training gives the corpsmen the opportunity to test their newfound skills in a lifelike scenario. Various aspects of trauma need to be treated during a massive hemorrhage, and that's why fresh whole blood is the preferred resuscitation fluid. It has clotting factors, acid binding, oxygen transportation capabilities and it is warm, which addresses the hypothermia aspect of trauma. It replaces what the body is leaking out in a way that separated components or saline cannot. "Not only is fresh whole blood transfusion the most effective form of resuscitation, it is also the cheapest," Kotora said. "Whereas one unit of stored whole blood is about $180 on the civilian market, we are able to safely collect that same amount of blood from a fellow Marine at a fraction of the cost. And because it is drawn fresh from the donor, on-site, it is more effective than stored blood." There is no additional cost to train the corpsmen because their salary is already paid. The only additional cost is the price of the transfusion kits, which are about $120 per kit. It requires two or three of the kits, plus some additional equipment, to outfit corpsmen. That translates to about $400 per corpsman on the battlefield. "I think one would be hard-pressed to find medical interventions for that price that are going to be as fruitful in saving somebody's life," Kotora said. The transfusion process would start about four months prior to deployment. A blood drive is conducted, which allows physicians to identify individuals with a specific type of blood: disease free, low-titer (a low antibody count), Type-O blood. If the potential donor meets certain criteria, they will be placed on the unit's blood roster and ultimately receive a card that identifies them as a qualified donor. Kotora said under the program each corpsman would know which Marines in their platoon are on the donor roster, which squads they are in, and where these individuals could be located at any given time. For the more dangerous missions, where casualties are all but certain, blood can be drawn in the field and refrigerated in field-expedient coolers for 48-72 hours. "We wouldn't take blood to the field just to have corpsmen wait for weeks or months before they use it, and that's why we need the option to draw blood on site, right before a mission, for transport on the backs of corpsmen. That's the ultimate goal we're working toward," Kotora said. "The major risk involved with this procedure is bodily rejection of the transfusion, which is almost always due to clerical error, meaning the wrong blood type is administered to the patient. So we mitigate this by only drawing Type-O blood – the universal blood type – and then we ensure that it is tested, re-tested and then tested again." Kotora believes the program will not want for blood donors. "I never see an issue with having enough blood," he said. "The esprit de corps of being a Marine, and the unit comradery that Marines feel, is more than enough to make them want to contribute. Once they understand what this program is, how it helps the individual Marine, and that they could be the recipient of blood one day, it really gives them a vested interest in the program." Marines and sailors are more likely to be bold and daring on the battlefield when they know there is a greater chance of survival if something goes wrong. The Valkyrie program gives them the confidence they need to be aggressive and complete the mission. "We don't know exactly how many people this will save because every injury is different, but we do know that we will save a lot more people with it than without it," Kotora said. The name of the proposed Marine Corps program – Valkyrie – is drawn from Norse mythology. "Valkyries were these angels of war that soared over ancient battlefields and gathered the fallen. They manifested the capability of restoring the warrior to life or shouldered the responsibility of transporting them to Valhalla," Wier said as he explained the genesis of the program. "I liked the imagery of it ... that presence on the battlefield alongside the warrior. I think this program enhances our corpsmen's capacity to restore life."
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) and Office of Information and Technology (OIT) are working towards nationwide availability of virtual hearings for Veterans next year, allowing access using their mobile phone or laptop via the VA Video Connect app. The virtual hearings are based on the Veterans Health Administration's tele-health platform and lets Veterans participate in their appeals hearings from the comfort of their homes. “VA strives to provide integrated solutions that leverages 21st century technology to significantly increase the number of hearings completed annually,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Giving Veterans the ability to participate in secure, confidential virtual hearings is another aspect of VA’s modernization to provide Veterans with the ultimate customer experience.” The testing of virtual hearings began July 2019. The collaboration with OIT, Veteran Service Organizations and other Veteran representatives has been positive. To date, the Board has held 155 successful virtual hearings. Veterans who otherwise would have had to cancel their hearings were able to participate in virtual hearings and receive decisions. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) makes final decisions for VA regarding appeals for Veterans’ benefits and services. The Board’s mission is to conduct hearings and issue timely decisions for Veterans and other appellants in compliance with the law. 
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII) for advancing the health and well-being of Veterans, as part of the commemoration of National Veterans and Military Families Month in November. The new NAII is incorporating input from Veterans and its partners across federal agencies, industry, nonprofits and academia, to prioritize and realize artificial intelligence (AI) research and development that is meaningful to Veterans and the public.   “VA has a unique opportunity to be a leader in artificial intelligence,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s artificial intelligence institute will usher in new capabilities and opportunities that will improve health outcomes for our nation’s heroes.” VA is an ideal environment for advancing AI technology to benefit Veterans. It  is the most extensive integrated health care system in the country and is home to the Million Veteran Program – the world’s biggest genomic knowledge base linked to health care information. VA also serves as the nation’s largest training system for physicians and nurses. VA uses AI to reduce Veterans’ wait times, identify those at high risk for suicide, to help doctors interpret the results of cancer lab tests and to choose effective therapies. AI uses computers to simulate human thinking, especially in applications involving large amounts of data. It is also being leveraged in the commercial technology sector and is seeing early uses in health care. NAII is a joint initiative between VA’s Office of Research and Development and Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships. It will design, execute and collaborate on large-scale initiatives and national strategy, and build on the American AI Initiative and the National AI R&D Strategic Plan. Learn more about NAII and the director, Dr. Gil Alterovitz.