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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) hired seven new Veterans Law Judges (VLJs) effective March 1, to help the Board continue its record-breaking progress adjudicating Veterans appeals.  These new hires bring the Board’s total number of VLJs to 102 – the largest since the Board’s inception in 1933.  “2019 was a historic year for the Board and we look forward to reaching new milestones in 2020, said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “In fiscal year 2019, the Board issued 95,089 decisions to Veterans and held more than 22,000 hearings – both are record numbers.”  Eight months after implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (AMA), VA announced its plan to resolve legacy appeals by the end of 2022. The appointment of the seven VLJs will help VA towards meeting that goal.  Veterans Law Judges are both experienced attorneys and subject matter experts in Veterans law.  Following an initial screening, the chairman of the Board recommends a list of candidates to the VA secretary. The selected VLJs are then appointed by the secretary with the final approval coming from the president.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered opening remarks before the joint hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs entitled "Legislative Presentation Of The Disabled American Veterans" (DAV). A Link To The Video Chairman Takano’s opening statement and remarks as prepared can be found below.   Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared: I want to start by thanking Commander Whitehead, and the many women and men who have served our nation. Your country owes you a debt of gratitude that we in Congress strive to repay every day. Thank you. I want to congratulate Senator Moran on his Chairmanship and look forward to working together this year. I’ve had the privilege to work with many veteran groups over the years, and I appreciate the dedication and care that Disabled American Veterans and other Veteran Service Organizations share for our veterans. Without the volunteers mobilized in small towns, the VSOs who take mobile service clinics into remote areas, and our government partners who pitch in to lend a hand where needed, we could not reach all the veterans in need. This is why we need your advocacy. This year, we have the opportunity to celebrate DAV’s 100 years of service to our veterans.  In fact, Ranking Member Roe and I coauthored a House Resolution to honor your work for our veterans and their families—join me in thanking DAV for their tireless advocacy! DAV is integral in the work to connect veterans with resources and helping them navigate the often-confusing VA system.  But DAV’s advocacy also helps Congress recognize emerging issues and pioneer solutions.  As a result of DAV’s partnership with Congress, we have better legislation that best serves the needs of our veteran population. As I am sure everyone in this room can agree, we must work together with all our partners to reduce veteran suicide. It’s clear that we have a national public health crisis—and it will take all of us working together to truly address this crisis. That’s why the Committee adopted a comprehensive, evidence-based strategy to reduce veteran suicide. We must look at every factor from economic burdens to increased access to care to reduce this crisis. I introduced the Veterans’ ACCESS Act as one piece of this puzzle to ensure all veterans-- regardless of discharge status or enrollment in the VA healthcare system -- have access to emergent mental health care. Under this bill, no veteran will have to pay out of pocket for the care they need during a mental health crisis. While the Veterans’ ACCESS Act is one part of the solution, the fight to end veteran suicide must be shared by everyone in our nation. As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I have tasked my staff with working with stakeholders, advocates, medical professionals and VA to find more ways to not only reach our veterans who are in crisis, but to also find ways to expand access to key resources. This work will take all of us—and I encourage everyone to write down the Veterans Crisis Line phone number:: 1-800-273-8255. That is 1-800-273-TALK. If you are a veteran in crisis, please reach out and know there is someone on the other end of the line there to help. I also want to thank DAV and the VSO community for their diligent and good-faith efforts to perfect the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. This bipartisan effort became law in June  and while VA began processing claims in January of this year, the work to ensure  VA is completing accurate, fair and timely rating decisions is not done.  A strong working relationship between VA and the VSO community will increase access and visibility of these new benefits.  I hope VA will provide open and transparent communication with Congress and VSOs about the progress of Blue Water Navy implementation. I continue to be thankful for DAV and the VSO community for their efforts to support veterans. 
A group of nearly 900 black women made sure U.S. troops in Europe got their mail in 1945, and they made history as the only all-women, African-America U.S. unit to deploy to Europe in World War II   February 25, 2020   Anyone who has served overseas away from family and friends knows the power of a letter from home. But toward the end of WWII, there was a two-year back- log of mail for U.S. troops, Red Cross and uniformed civilian specialists serving in Europe. Led by Army Maj. Charity Adams, the nearly 900-strong 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) had a motto: “No mail, low morale.”   Women's Army Corps Maj. Charity Adams (forefront), 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion commander, and Army Capt. Abbie Noel Campbell, 6888th executive officer, inspect the first soldiers from the unit to arrive in England on Feb. 15, 1945. In February 1945, the “Six-Triple Eight,” as it was known, went to England becoming the first and only all-black WAC unit to be sent overseas during WWII. Lena King, who was with the 6888th, said the mail was stacked nearly to the top of the hangar in Birmingham, England. The women worked three shifts a day, seven days a week to make sure the mail reached troops in the field. “They had asked if we could get it done in about six months,” King told CBS News in November. “We were able to get it done in three months.” By the time they were done, they had processed 17 million pieces of mail and were off to France to work their magic there, as well. The women of the 6888th worked on sorting the mail in Europe until March 1946. When the women returned home, however, there were no parades or special recognition. Retired Army Col. Edna Cummings hopes to see the 6888th recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal. “During a time when they were denied basic liberties as Americans, they still wanted to serve the United States,” Cummings told CBS News. As such, the identical bills S. 633 and H.R. 3138 — “Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 — have been introduced in the Senate and House, respectively. On Nov. 30, 2018, a monument to these women was dedicated at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Furthermore, on March 15, 2016, the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation inducted the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion into the Army Women’s Hall of Fame. “Servicemen want their mail,” King said. “That’s a morale booster. That made me feel good that I had done my part.” This article is featured in the February 2020 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Janie Dyhouse, senior editor for VFW magazine.
(The American Legion)   On Jan. 31, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed paperwork renaming the 432-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 20 running through his state the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.” The renaming is the continuation of an effort that began in Oregon in 2018 and has since moved into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Similar efforts have begun in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, with the hope the designation eventually extends all the way to the end of Highway 20 in Boston. Now that the highway has been renamed, two members of American Legion Post 159 in Beemer, Neb., are planning to walk the entire stretch of highway to further honor the 73 Nebraska residents who have earned the Medal of Honor. Ken Hanel and Daryl Harrison will start along U.S. 20 at Nebraska’s western border and traverse the 432 miles by alternating six-mile stretches. During the first stretch they will honor two Medal of Honor recipients from the state, while one recipient will be honored on each of the six-mile legs after that. “Ken and I believe it’s up to us to show the rest of the state the proper way of paying homage to these Medal of Honor recipients from Nebraska,” said Harrison, Nebraska’s Area A Vice Commander. “That’s why we’re walking the walk.” The journey will begin May 11 and end May 22 at Siouxland Freedom Park in South Sioux City, Neb. The goal is for the end of the journey to coincide with both the dedication of a Korean War memorial and American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford’s official visit to Nebraska. A flag that has been passed from state to state will be presented to Oxford following the last leg. Along each six-mile segment, Hanel and Harrison will have hanging from around their necks a laminated biography of the Medal of Honor recipient they are honoring along that stretch. “We have had some people ask to walk for a specific recipient,” Harrison said. “They can join us and walk alongside us so they can feel that they have done their due homage for that particular recipient.” Hanel said the effort in Nebraska began with Past Department Commander Gene Twiford, who got letters of support from every community and county along the route. Hanel and Harrison came on board to assist Twiford, picking up political support needed to take the project before the Nebraska Department of Roads Commissioners. Splitting up 36 miles a day over the course of 12 days is a big commitment. But Harrison didn’t have to look far for motivation. “All of you have to do is read the stories (of the Medal of Honor recipients),” he said. “You read those stories and you begin to become familiar with what these men sacrificed and what they went through. This is the least Ken and I can do.” For Hanel, the project is “a personal thing,” he said. “My granddad served in the Army in World War I in France. My dad served in the Army in World War II in the Big Red One. I served in the Army. “This is a not a drive through town, honk the horn, make a U-turn, go on to the next (town) and be done in three days. This is something personally that I want to do.” The Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation, of which Harrison is the president, is hoping to place six signs along the stretch of highway: one entering the state from both the east and west, two at the crossroads of the American Legion Memorial Highway in O’Neil and two at the crossroads of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway. For more information about the walk and the signs, click here.
In response to the “unacceptable” numbers of Marines killed in November 1943’s Battle of Tarawa, Navy leaders ordered the creation of nine underwater demolition teams to clear the path for future amphibious landings in the Pacific Theater By the time they had targeted Iwo Jima in their island-hopping campaign toward Tokyo, Navy leaders had decided that “frogmen” would lead the way in amphibious landings. These volunteer sailors were specially trained and possessed “physical strength, endurance, swimming ability, courage, coolness and good judgment.”  They began probing the Iwo Jima beaches on Feb. 17, 1945 — two days before the main invasion. Four underwater demolition teams (UDTs) — 12, 13, 14 and 15 — comprising about 100 swimmers were dropped off by small boats called Landing Craft, Personnel Ramped (LCPRs) within 700 yards of the beach.  The frogmen swam to the shore to gather intelligence about beach and surf conditions, clear all mines and obstacles, gather sand samples in small tobacco sacks and take note of Japanese defenses.    An LCPR (Landing Cra , Personnel Ramped) carries frogmen and a sevenman IBS (Infl atable Boat Small) to their drop-off point during a World War II mission in the Pacifi c Theater. Preceding the Battle of Iwo Jima, frogmen exited the LCPRs about 700 yards offshore and swam the rest of the way in. A group of 22 Marines from the 5th Reconnaissance Detachment were assigned to accompany the teams to take photographs of the beach.    Team 12 was responsible for Red Beach One and Two; Team 13, Green Beach One; Team 14, Yellow Beach One and Two; and Team 15, Blue Beach One and Two.  The teams had an hour to complete their mission before being picked up and returned to their High-Speed Transport ships, or APDs.  The second part of the mission was to reconnoiter the western beaches in the late afternoon.‘Synchronize Watches. Muster on the Fantail.’On the morning of Feb. 17, the swimmers prepared for the mission. They coated their faces, shoulders and arms with grey-blue paint as camouflage and cocoa butter or heavy grease to ward off the chilly 59-degree water temperature. They traveled light — swim trunks, face masks, fins and Ka-Bar combat knives. Other equipment included Tetryl (explosives) demolition packs, mine detectors, markers to record observations and devices for determining water depth. A member of Team 15 recalled exactly how their mission began with orders over the loud speaker: “Synchronize watches. Muster on the fantail,” according to A History of UDT 15. Then the LCPRs were lowered from the APDs, the teams boarded and they headed for the beach. A total of 12 LCI (infantry landing craft) gunboats were assigned to cover the UDTs by bombarding the beaches with gunfire and rockets. The LCIs came under withering fire, according to unidentified participants in A History of UDT 15.  “Gunfire splashed all around us, mortars and heavy shells, which doused us,” a frogman later reported. “The noise even underwater was deafening, and the metal falling around was terrifying. The idea was to run a chart of the beach to determine its slope. We were also looking for obstacles and mines.” Several men crept up on the beach to get samples of the coarse sand.  “We took a little fire doing that, but we got our samples and swam back out,” another frogman noted. The samples were needed to determine if the beach would support vehicles. As later discovered, it did not and caused congestion when many vehicles bogged down in the coarse sand.  At 11:55 a.m., as LCPRs raced along the beach line at 16 knots, the pickup started. The “catchers” snagged the tired swimmers with a rubber ring. “We hooked their arms and swung them aboard,” recalled one sailor. The frogmen suffered only one fatality. Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Frank W. Sumpter was shot in the head and died later of his wounds.Relaxation Turns to TragedyBecause the LCIs had taken such a severe beating suffering 30 percent casualties to their crews with one craft sunk and 11 damaged, U.S. commanders decided that the afternoon mission would be supported by battleships and air. The mission went smoothly, unlike the morning session. The swimmers were able to accomplish their afternoon tasks without casualties. As the swimmers reached the dropoff point, one of the support planes laid a smoke screen the length of the beach. “We could see the gun emplacements on the beach,” said Arthur D. Hettema, a Seabee and member of Team 15. “After several surface dives to look for possible electric cables connected to mines, we swam to the breaker line.” At the end of their mission, the UDTs returned to their respective ships. For Team 15 that was USS Blessman (APD48), a former destroyer escort. On the evening of Feb. 17, the mess hall of the Blessman was filled with crewmen and frogmen relaxing after their stressful encounter with Japanese artillery. Some were playing cards, while others were drinking coffee or writing letters. Suddenly around 9:21 p.m., a prowling Japanese aircraft spotted the luminescent wake of the Blessman and released a bomb, which penetrated through the deck, destroying the mess hall, galley and number one engine room. It left a 40-by60-foot hole in the main deck. Disoriented by the resulting fire and smoke, the men struggled to escape from below deck. About 11 p.m., the USS Gilmer (APD-11) arrived to prevent the fire from detonating the tons of explosives on board and to assist with the casualties. A total of 40 troops were killed, including 15 frogmen, and at least 34 were wounded. The dead were buried at sea as the captain read the burial rites. Three officers received Bronze Stars for their courageous evacuation of the wounded in spite of imminent danger of fire reaching the explosives. According to the after-action report written by H. F. Brooks, the frogmen at Iwo Jima “were gallant under the mortar and small-arms fire as they made their reconnaissance right up to the water’s edge. All exhibited an eagerness to carry out their mission.” This article is featured in the February 2020 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Dick Camp and Suzanne Pool Camp. Richard "Dick" Camp and his wife, Suzanne, reside in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Richard, a former Marine who served in Vietnam, is the author of 16 books.
VAntage Point Blog- Blue Star Families is collaborating with VA to ensure Veteran families, caregivers and survivors are pulled into the Veteran community. VA and Blue Star Families are connecting Community Veterans Engagement Boards and Blue Star Families Chapter locations and neighborhoods for a stronger coordinated support system and to improve access to community resources. Additionally, Blue Star Families is connecting with VA’s Benefits Administration to improve its outreach, to get resources like the GI Bill, home loan guaranty and Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment programs embedded into communities to better support Veterans and their families. Who is Blue Star Families? Blue Star Families is a nonprofit organization founded by military spouses that works continuously to create vibrant communities of mutual support through its Chapter model. Why? It believes we’re all stronger when we take care of one another. It started in World War I. You could often spot a flag or banner featuring a blue star, or stars, within the front windows of homes and businesses of each community. It was generally flown by the families of U.S. soldiers and sailors to signify the number of loved ones actively serving during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States were engaged. Fast forward to today, the blue star thrives at Blue Star Families. It serves as a reminder that countless military families continue to selflessly serve our country. They are the backbone of our armed forces and the fabric from which the flag is woven. Survey It conducts a yearly Military Family Lifestyle Survey. No matter if you’re an active duty, Veteran, National Guard, or Reserve family, the survey gathers your stories and challenges. From there, Blue Star Families amplifies your voice to push for positive change to policymakers, community leaders and nonprofits at the local and national level. It offers unique, yet beneficial military family programming to empower you along your journey. Blue Star Families’ ultimate goal is to provide continuous solutions to the unique challenges you face as a military family—from frequent moves and deployments to reintegration, transition into the civilian world and more. And to help achieve that, through its research and discussions, the organization offers: Complimentary access to Blue Star Museums and Blue Star Parks Family and adult reading programs and free books through Blue Star Books Military spouse employment opportunities and career support through Blue Star Careers Caregiver-specific gatherings and digital resources through Blue Star Caregivers Countless discounts and perks (like a free membership to Thrive Market and Headspace) It hosts exclusive events in Chapter locations & Neighborhoods across the country. More than 900 events in CONUS and OCONUS locations every year, to be exact. From Chapter launches to Coffee Connects at your local coffee shop, holiday-themed gatherings, hiring events, resources and more, these opportunities get you connected to your community and find you the support you need from civilians who appreciate your service. The goal of Chapter gatherings is to help forge connections between military and civilians, as well as gather valuable information to share across all partnerships in a way that further supports military family members. It’s important to note that these events and resources wouldn’t be possible without Blue Star Families’ volunteer team and generous Blue Star Neighbors! Want to tap into these resources and events? Blue Star Families is eager to support and empower you. Click here to become a part of their family today! Membership is free, and as soon as you join, you’ll begin to receive invites to exclusive events online and in-person, as well as access countless innovative programs that will help you foster meaningful and supportive connections within your community.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partnered with Verizon, Medivis and Microsoft, effective Feb. 12, as part of its efforts to deliver Veterans VA’s first advanced, 5G-enabled, clinical care system at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. The public-private partnership, Project Convergence, will be led by VA’s National Center for Collaborative Health Care Innovation and work to help identify potential clinical uses for technology that combine emerging health care innovations with 5G capabilities. “Last year, President Trump challenged America to be among the first to provide 5G wireless services, and VA met that challenge,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our hospital in Palo Alto, California is currently one of only a handful of 5G enabled health facilities in the world. We’re excited to use this hands-on opportunity to work with our partners to develop foundational practices and deploy advanced medical solutions to serve our nation’s Veterans.” Project Convergence will unveil and demonstrate initial clinical uses of the combined technology at the upcoming Health Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando, Florida, March 9-13.
If you’ve read about a new technology, there’s a good chance VA is already using it. Communications We’re living in an era of communications miracles. Telehealth is a tool VA uses to consult remotely with rural patients. We’re even tele-consulting to prepare transitioning Veterans for employment outside the Armed Forces. But telehealth isn’t just a high-tech phone call – we’re also diagnosing patients remotely. For example, diabetes is a disease that makes it harder for the body to deliver blood to the extremities. It can lead to sores and painful ulcers in the feet. As these ulcers develop, they cause temperature variations in the foot. Today, VA can monitor these temperature variations by using a floor mat embedded with thermographic sensors that Veterans can use at home. VA doctors can detect these variations remotely with a telehealth connection. Last year, VA spent $3.2 billion treating diabetic foot ulcers. Now we can improve patients’ lives by detecting them earlier and directing treatment. Robotics VA has decades of experience treating patients with limited mobility and spinal injuries. In the first decade of the new century, VA unveiled the first powered ankle-foot prosthetic, ushering in a new era of increased mobility for Veterans and other disabled Americans. And our robotic exoskeletons have brought mobility to the lives of thousands of Veterans. Today, we’re taking our expertise on exoskeletons to the next level. We’ve launched a pilot program to equip these exoskeletons with components that stimulate the spinal cord. And we’re seeing promising results. Instead of the exoskeleton moving the patient around, the patient can increasingly control the exoskeleton as their own muscles are reactivated. With further research at VA, we’re hoping to turn the exoskeleton from a mobility device into something that trains injured people to walk again under their own power. Artificial Intelligence VA is even finding ways to use Artificial Intelligence to more efficiently care for Veterans. We’ve developed an AI system that can forecast a life-threatening kidney disease in patients. AI is also helping us keep the books. One of our pharmacists in Chicago developed an AI-driven program to sort out the billing of medications that are dispensed to our Veterans. It can make sure medications are billed to the right parties more efficiently than any human can. That means money saved, and more time spent with patients. At VA, we’re making sure that every technological advance means better lives for patients.
The number of women in the military has increased over the last few decades. As a result, the number of women Veterans also has increased. VA wants those women who are transitioning out of the military to know about the many specialized health care services available to them at VA. VA’s Women’s Health Transition Training (WHTT) program was developed by VA Women’s Health Services, with the Department of Defense and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). A woman Veteran who uses VA health care teaches the four-hour, voluntary course. The training includes: The range of available women’s health care services offered by VA. Services include maternity care, contraception and gynecology. In addition, VA offers cancer screenings, whole health and mental health care services. The process and eligibility requirements for enrollment into VA health care. How to stay connected with other women Veterans through networks, resources and programs post-service. Who should attend the training? All service women who are transitioning within the next year can attend training. The WHTT is offering 100 in-person training events and 18 virtual training opportunities. The training is available both within the United States and overseas. The number of women Veterans is growing. In-person training runs from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. local time. Dress is uniform of the day or civilian casual. Bring note-taking supplies and lunch. Virtual sessions will be available on the Adobe Connect Online platform. You will receive the direct link to access the training via email message after you register. A full list of upcoming training events, as well as the agenda and registration details, are available at https://www.whttforyou.com/registration. In fiscal 2018, there were 1.9 million women Veterans. Of these, over 780,000 have enrolled in VA health care. While that’s 41% of all women Veterans, VA is working to increase that number through the WHTT program. VA has a dedicated Center for Women Services office and a Women Veterans Program manager at each VA Medical Center nationwide. Veterans who are interested in receiving care at VA should contact the nearest VA Medical Center. The highest percentage of military women during the Vietnam Era was 2%, and 11% during the Gulf War. Currently, more than 19% of active duty is female. VA is here for you VA assigns women Veterans who receive VA health care to a dedicated primary care provider. That provider provides general primary care and is specially trained in women’s care. For more information on VA benefits and services provided to women Veterans, call the Women Veteran Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN or 1-855-829-6636. Register today for a training near you: https://www.whttforyou.com/.
Heroes Linked provides professional development resources for Veterans, military spouses and transitioning service members. By offering mentoring and other support, the goal is to enhance professional networks, promote professional growth and potentially expand career opportunities. Resume advice, networking tips and assistance with finding Veteran-friendly jobs are a few of the professional development tools the non-profit gives to those enrolled in the no-cost program. Other services include assistance with medical accommodation in the workplace and post-military security clearance. How Heroes Linked Started Heroes Linked seeks to create digitally accessible mentoring programs for transitioning military members seeking post-service careers and pointing them toward available opportunities based on their skill sets. Who Can Join? All transitioning service members, separated or retired Veterans, military spouses, or Gold Star family members (family of a fallen soldier) are eligible to utilize Heroes Linked resources. All eligible individuals, called Advisees, will have access to personal, digital and phone-based professional development mentoring with private sector expert advisors. Advisees will be given guidance for every action that is performed on the Heroes Linked platform. How to Apply To apply for the program, interested individuals must register as an “Advisee” on the Heroes Linked application page. Advisees and Advisors will complete their profile, which identifies their expertise, areas of interest, goals, experience and desired outcomes. A matching algorithm recommends individuals of interest and initiates dialogue. Advisors or Advisees can start a conversation by sending an in-platform message to an individual. Once the message is received and accepted, the Advisee can submit various times and dates for a phone call. The Advisor will then approve a call time, then schedule it in the Heroes Linked platform. Both parties will then receive an email confirmation for the appointment, as well as an offer to sync to the individual’s personal calendar. For more on the Heroes Linked Program, visit https://heroeslinked.org. Find more information about Veteran and military employment resources here. The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA. Writer Sarah Concepcion and editor Michaela Yesis and graphic designer Sarah Kowalewski are student interns working for VA’s Digital Media Engagement team.