News

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans (Center)  commemorated 25 years of providing dedicated advocacy for America’s women Veterans Nov. 7, at VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Established by Congress in November 1994, the Center monitors VA’s administration of benefits and services to women Veterans to ensure they receive equal access to VA programs. “The Center serves an important role in how VA addresses the evolving needs of women Veterans — from identifying ways that VA can enhance its benefits and services — to creating initiatives that demonstrate the stellar contributions of women Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The Center has also shown great commitment honoring the legacy of the women who serve.”  The commemorative opening remarks came from the secretary, there was acknowledgement of the Center’s accomplishments and recognition of special guests including: Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Irene Trowell-Harris, the center’s longest serving former director; Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5, Phyllis Wilson, current president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation; author and women Veterans rights advocate, Erin Miller; and Elizabeth Estabrooks, Oregon Women Veterans coordinator and pioneer of the “I Am Not Invisible”campaign.  Center accomplishments: Operationalizing and managing VA’s Women Veterans Program (WVP), comprised of representatives from VA’s administrations and staff offices, to enhance the delivery of VA benefits and services. Establishing public and non-profit partnerships, to improve understanding of VA’s benefits, services and processes. Creating national initiatives to promote cultural transformation in VA and the public, and to encourage women Veterans to self-identify as Veterans.  Providing support to VA’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, which was created to advise the VA’s secretary on the needs of women Veterans. Visit the Center for Women Veterans’ initiatives and the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans for more information.
‘Our VFW members, and their families, continue to answer the call in this very important effort to bring closure to those who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War’      WASHINGTON – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States provided six artifacts and personal effects to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency today as part of its promise to help advance the noble POW/MIA missions.“Our VFW members, and their families, continue to answer the call in this very important effort to bring closure to those who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War,” said B.J. Lawrence, executive director, VFW Washington Office.During July’s 120th VFW National Convention in Orlando, Fla., Lawrence, the former VFW national commander, asked Vietnam veterans to search through their closets and footlockers for documents that might help Vietnam to determine the fate of an estimated 300,000 missing Vietnamese, and personal effects that might help bring comfort to their families.U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. (ret.) Kelly McKeague, DPAA director, was overwhelmed by the show of support from our veterans, their families, and the American people. “This is a two-pronged effect,” said McKeague. “Not only is there potential to find answers that families have sought for many years but it also advances our relationship with Vietnam. We have found over the last 20 years Vietnam has increasingly been interested in the recovery of their war dead. Every time we give them an actionable item, it just raises the level of their appreciation, and more importantly, their regard for our cooperation with them.”VFW senior leaders have traveled back to Vietnam every year since 1991 to help U.S. government efforts to account for missing and unaccounted-for servicemen and civilians. According to DPAA, missing and unaccounted-for servicemen and civilians total 1,353 Americans (825 in Vietnam, 287 in Laos, 46 in Cambodia, and 195 in the South China Sea). “It is vital that we return any known artifacts, documents, and personal items back to the Vietnamese government, who have continued to foster a good relationship with the United States as we diligently search for our missing servicemen,” said Lawrence. “This display of diplomacy will only help in our efforts to reach our true goal and promise to our families affected by the Vietnam War – and that’s to achieve the fullest possible accounting of those Americans missing from the Vietnam War.”Vietnam veterans and their families interested in providing items to DPAA, can mail their memorabilia to:VFW Washington OfficeAttention: Public Affairs200 Maryland Avenue, NEWashington, D.C. 20002Items collected by the VFW Washington Office will be turned over to DPAA.
The Air Force's new Remote Combat Effects Campaign Medal is intended to recognize drone pilots and other airmen who make contributions to combat from a remote location.  SAHARA FALES/U.S. AIR FORCE   By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES A new Air Force campaign medal will recognize drone operators and other airmen who directly supported a combat operation from a remote location. The Remote Combat Effects Campaign medal is part of an effort to better recognize the combat contributions of airmen who are not deployed, the Air Force said in a statement announcing the award’s criteria Monday. Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson established the decoration earlier this year. Airmen serving in the following career fields are eligible for the award: remotely piloted aircraft; cyber; space or intelligence; surveillance and reconnaissance. Airmen from other career fields may be considered for the medal on a case-by-case basis, service officials said. To be eligible, an airman’s contributions must have occurred on or after Sept. 11, 2001, while assigned or attached to a unit directly in support of a Pentagon combat operation, the criteria states. An airman must have “personally provided” hands-on employment of a weapon system that has a direct and immediate effect on combat operations, the Air Force said. The airman also cannot have been physically exposed to hostile actions or at risk of exposure to hostile action, though that could qualify them for other awards. Qualifying combat operations involve several in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia: Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Nomad Shadow, Freedom’s Sentinel, Inherent Resolve, Odyssey Lightning and Pacific Eagle – Philippines. The Pentagon for years has grappled with how to recognize the contributions of service members who influence a military operation thousands of miles away from the front lines. Drone pilots have played a central role in U.S. efforts targeting extremists, often putting in long hours. The Air Force has struggled to retain drone pilots, with some developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, studies have shown. A Pentagon effort in 2013 to recognize “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other off-site troops performing noteworthy deeds far away from the battlefield was scrapped due to criticism. Veterans groups objected because the medal would have outranked some awards for troops serving in harm’s way, such as the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with Valor. The new medal is worn lower — above the Air and Space Campaign Medal and below the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. In 2016, the Pentagon approved a new distinguishing device that can be affixed to previously awarded medals, including one for engaging an enemy through remote actions. svan.jennifer@stripes.comTwitter: @stripesktown
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Battle Creek VA Medical Center in Battle Creek, Michigan and VA and the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) hosted 120 Veterans from across the nation for the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.  The weeklong festival culminated with an art and writing exhibition, and stage show performance to encourage artistic expression and help Veterans dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues.  “The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival recognizes the top artistic achievements of Veterans and demonstrates to communities the therapeutic benefits of the arts in the lives of our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “For many of these Veterans, creative expression has served as an avenue toward recovery and this week’s event continues that rehabilitation journey.”  The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, presented by VA and the ALA, features select winners from year-long, national fine arts talent competitions in which more than 3,500 Veterans entered at VA medical facilities nationwide. Veterans representing 130 VA medical centers have competed in local competitions in art, music, dance, drama and writing categories and earned first place recognition for their talent. Veterans will participate in workshops, rehearsals and artistic interaction sessions prior to the grand finale performance.  Veterans’ artwork was displayed at an art and writing exhibition gallery-style meet and greet at the Miller Auditorium located at 2200 Auditorium Drive, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Performing artists were showcased during a grand finale.   ###
(VAntage Point - Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) Finding a job is a daunting and sometimes difficult task after separating from the military. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) is a nationwide initiative to help Veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities. Hiring Our Heroes provides a variety of tools such as a resume builder, a corporate fellowship program and a career planning tool, along with several hiring events across the U.S each year. Career Summits Career Summits are meant to help Veterans improve their chances of obtaining a job by providing training programs and job fairs around the country. Resume Engine The Hiring Our Heroes Resume Engine is a resume building tool used to help civilian employers understand skills learned in the military. Veterans can better explain their skills to potential employers by using this system. Vet Roadmap Hiring Our Heroes provides a guide to help Veterans understand the resources available in their search for a job. Much like the military, the transition process requires a strategic plan, an assessment of resources, and a lot of work. The VET Roadmap breaks the military-to-civilian transition process into three simple actions, helps a Veteran navigate the transition process which is continuous, and identifies best-in-class resources. Veteran Fellowship Program The Veteran Fellowship Program is a six week long paid internship with businesses in Maryland, and Washington D.C. Veterans have the opportunity to work and learn valuable skills from these businesses. Additionally, the fellowship program helps Veterans with their resume and interview skills. Veterans are eligible to apply if they have left the military within the last forty-eight months, live in Maryland or Washington D.C., and meet the specified degree and work experience requirements. Here is the link to apply. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) launched the Long-Term Impact of Military-related Brain Injury Consortium (LIMBIC) Oct. 1, for which the two organizations pledged to fund up to $50 million, to research mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or concussions.  The five-year effort will receive $25 million in funding from DOD and up to $25 million from VA, depending on availability of funds.  “VA and DOD share an urgent, ongoing commitment to better understand the long-term impact of TBI,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Through this overarching effort, we are harnessing the best work of our nation’s scientists and will lay the groundwork for meaningful progress in diagnosis and treatment.”  LIMBIC is composed of researchers and resources from more than 20 organizations, spanning VA, DOD, the National Institutes of Health, universities and nonprofit organizations. VA and DOD’s funding will support a consortium led by a team at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. The lead investigator, Dr. David X. Cifu, is a senior TBI specialist for VA and a professor at VCU.  The consortium extends the work of a previous collaborative effort known as the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, or CENC, also led by Dr. Cifu. The existing CENC cohort, consisting of more than 2 million Veterans and service members, started in 2012 and has become the world’s largest and best-characterized research cohort dedicated to the study of military TBI. It will expand the cohort; integrate with other government, academic and nonprofit research; and spur new public-private partnerships.  Researchers associated with CENC, and now with LIMBIC, have already documented links between combat concussions and dementia, Parkinson's disease, chronic pain, opioid usage and suicide risk. They have also developed specialized diagnostic tests using questionnaires, physical exams, brain imaging, fluid biomarkers and electrophysiology to probe how the brain recovers from injury.  ###
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented a new process Oct. 1 for responding to Privacy Actrequests from claimants received by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for access to their claims files. VA has amended its process for those requesting their own information while respecting the privacy rights of third-parties by redacting third-party personally identifiable information (PII) from the claims files. “VA is committed to providing Veterans prompt access to their claim records increasing transparency and improving customer service,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s imperative that we protect files containing sensitive and personal information. VBA is required by the Privacy Act to allow Veterans -- or their representatives -- the opportunity to review or make copies of claims files.  Under this new process, VA does not anticipate delays in forwarding copies of claims files to Veterans or their designated representatives. ###
A Student Veterans of America chapter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hosted a rucksack march honoring all troops who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars For the second year, student veterans at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) hosted a rucksack march to commemorate the almost 7,000 troops who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Student vets from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas pose for a photo during the 2019 Operation Battle Born rucksack march near Tonopah, Nev. Some 36 groups of four or more people, including student veterans from Nevada, hiked 10-mile stints from Carson City, Nev., to Boulder City, Nev. Photo courtesy of UNLV Rebel Vets. Operation Battle Born was started last year by UNLV Rebel Vets, a Student Veterans of America chapter. Thirty-six groups of four or more people each walked 10-mile segments.  The journey took marchers about 370 miles, from Carson City, Nev., near Reno, to Boulder City, Nev., about 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas.  The teams covered about 70 miles each day and carried four 30-pound rucksacks filled with nearly 7,000 dog tags, one for each U.S. servicemember killed in the post-9/11 wars. Participants also visited VFW Posts along the way, including Post 1103 in Tonopah, Nev., and Post 12101 in Henderson, Nev. VFW Administration and Economic Opportunity Director Tony Lowe participated in the march, starting at VFW Post 1103 and ending outside Tonopah. He said it is “beneficial” for VFW to help groups like SVA. “It’s important for student veterans’ organizations, such as UNLV Rebel Vets, to help student vets not only make the transition from service to universities but to help them get jobs afterward,” Lowe said. “It can be overwhelming for veterans during their transition.” As for the rucksack march, Lowe said he was “overwhelmed and humbled” to be a part of Operation Battle Born. “I am glad to be able to commemorate those who died in any way I can,” he said. Derek Butler, an Air Force veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, also participated in the march.  Butler, who graduated from UNLV in 2019 with a degree in social work, said the network of support at UNLV Rebel Vets helped him get through college and his transition from the military. Butler said honoring those who died overseas should be more than just “lip service” and that more people should take the time to participate in events honoring fallen service members, such as Operation Battle Born. “People take for granted the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price for us,” Butler said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to honor them.”UNLV Outreach Coordinator Dwayne Gordon participated in the rucksack march, too.He is a retired Air Force senior master sergeant who served for 25 years and said his job is to help transitioning veterans find opportunities that their education at UNLV offered them. “Through this position, I found my mission,” Gordon said. “I enjoy helping veterans with their transition from the military to higher education and beyond.” As for participating in Operation Battle Born, Gordon said it means “the world” to him. “It’s just a way the UNLV Rebel Vets organization honors the fallen,” Gordon said. This article is featured in the October 2019 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Dave Spiva, senior writer for VFW magazine.
Photo credit: Katrina Wittcamp Elizabeth A. Myers, BSN, RN and Wendy K. Benson, MBA, OTR/L of 2x2 Health and authors of The Confident Patient.   On average, a typical doctor’s appointment lasts less than 15 minutes. Making the most of that opportunity is critical. The Confident Patient, a new book written by Chicago-based authors Wendy K. Benson, MBA, OTR/L and Elizabeth A. Myers, BSN, RN, coaches patients and their families through the complex healthcare system by providing real life stories, sample questions and advice from medical professionals. After years of experiences and interviews with medical teams across the country, Benson and Myers recognized a recurring theme: medical teams intuitively want to support their patients, but they don’t always feel they’re on the same page with their patients. Ranging from managing costly medications to finding trustworthy online resources to securing second opinions, The Confident Patient shares strategies and insights on ways to improve healthcare decision-making and outcomes. “As a nurse, I saw patients who were extremely overwhelmed with managing their healthcare experience – knowing which medical personnel said what, remembering which medications to take and when, keeping up-to-date with doctor appointments, understanding what is going on and next steps, as well as communicating with loved ones…it all adds up. This is compounded by health complications, insurance coverage, confusing medical terms – it’s no wonder anxiety builds,” explains Myers. “Our goal is to share our experiences with patients and their families, so they find comfort in knowing they are not alone, and they are empowered to take control of their own healthcare journey.” Research indicates that the connection patients build with their medical team directly correlates with the confidence they have in them, as well as the confidence they have in their own decision-making abilities. The Confident Patient go-to guide includes concrete tips and take-aways such as: How to become a confident patient A list of questions to bring with you to your next appointment Definitions of common medical terms and procedures Managing your healthcare information Guide to being a confident patient advocate for your loved one Considerations during follow-up appointments Planning for the ‘After’: Preparing for your return home/recovery period 10 Things your Medical Team Wants you to Know “A few years ago, as I was working with a client and I asked him about the goal of his upcoming surgery that he and his surgeon had discussed.  Unfortunately, the goals were either not discussed or the patient could not recall what the goals were,” recalls Benson. “So while the patient may have expected to return to his golf game within a matter of months, the surgeon could be primarily focused on pain relief with limited mobility. We realized at that point that there can be significant communication gaps between medical teams and their patients. And that’s where The Confident Patient steps in,” explains Benson. The Confident Patient is an international best-seller and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback, as an audio book and on Kindle, and on www.2x2Health.com. Co-authors Wendy K. Benson (Chief Operating Officer) and Elizabeth A. Myers (Chief Executive Officer) are the leaders of 2x2 Health: Private Health Concierge in Chicago. 2x2 Health is a team of experienced healthcare professionals who fill the gaps by providing coordination of services, clinical companionship and recovery care for individuals and their families. With more than 40 years of combined clinical and leadership experience, they are dedicated to helping others improve their health and their quality of life. Together, they have built a comprehensive team that helps with everything from navigating a complex health issue to attending doctor appointments to assisting with a hospital discharge and transitioning home. For more information about setting-up an interview or speaking event with Chicago-based authors Wendy K. Benson, MBA, OTR/L and Elizabeth A. Myers, BSN, RN, please contact: Katie Heraty at kheaty@cs-effect.com.  
In Alton, Ill., members of Post 1308 present the Courage Inspiration Determination Medal to sick youngsters battling life-threatening diseases Since 2015, members of VFW Post 1308 in Alton, Ill., have uplifted sick and terminally ill children — more than 500 in the U.S. and even one in London, England.   VFW Post 1308 members Bill Perkins and Wayne Able present Cheyenne Shears with a Courage Inspiration Determination medal at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in May 2015. Since then, more than 500 sick and terminally ill children have received one of the Post’s medals. Photo Courtesy of Wayne Able. According to member Wayne Able, the Post presents the Courage Inspiration Determination (CID) Medal to children in hospitals in nearby states. On July 19, Able said “several” children at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky., received CID medals. (See November/December 2016 Checkpoint for more on the CID.) Able, co-creator of the CID program, said that wherever Post members travel to present a medal, he calls the local Post to participate in the ceremony as well. The thought behind this gesture, Able said, is to recognize the battle each ill child faces and reward their courage.  “While their brothers and sisters are getting trophies, they’ll have a medal that’s the same size and same dimensions as the men and women in uniform,” said member and co-creator Bill Perkins.  Able said after he read about a dying child named Cody Green and Marine Sgt. Mark Dolfini, the Post presented a CID to the child’s family in 2016. In 2012, Dolfini had heard that Green wanted to grow up to be a Marine. He went to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis to visit Green, who was already unconscious. Dolfini made the decision to stand watch outside Green’s room until he passed, which turned out to be eight hours later.  After a nurse told Dolfini that Green’s end was near, Dolfini presented the 12-year-old with his navigator wings before leaving. Able and other VFW members were so moved by the story once they heard about it, they contacted Dolfini and the Green family. On the fourth anniversary of Green’s death, Dolfini and the CID team made the trek to Lafayette, Ind., to present the family with a CID medal encased in a shadow box. On another occasion, Able recalled getting a call asking if he and Perkins could present a medal to a little girl. The VFW members happily obliged. “We visited the little girl on a Sunday afternoon and she passed away the next day,” Able said. “Her parents and grandparents were overwhelmed. The dad later said he had the image of the medal tattooed on his body.” To make this program happen, Able said he “begs and pleads” for donations from Veterans Day to Easter. He asks other organizations and local merchants and finds that most are eager to give to the cause. Medals are only presented from Easter to Veterans Day because the Post members don’t want to get caught in a snowstorm, after making a promise to be at a hospital for a presentation.  “This is so therapeutic for me,” Able said. “They like getting a gift. The [children] may not grasp the meaning of the medal yet, but when you look at the parents’ faces, that’s really something.” Able said that he’d like to see this program spread to Posts across the U.S.  For more information on how your VFW Post can get involved with this program, email Able at wayneable@yahoo.com or call Post 1308 at 618.466.6883. This article is featured in the September 2019 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Janie Dyhouse, senior editor for VFW magazine.