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Legion holds VA accountable for construction delays

The American Legion told members of Congress at an April 22 field hearing in Denver that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) "needs to take a long, hard look at how they're managing their construction projects because the results across the board are unacceptable."

Ralph Bozella, chairman of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, testified at the hearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing centered upon prohibitive delays and cost overruns in constructing the city's new VA medical center, being built on the site of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center.

In 2009, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced the Denver facility would be set to open in the summer of 2013. Yet, the project has been hobbled by mismanagement that has delayed the project by many months and incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. Last October, VA's Office of Inspector General criticized the department for the lack of guidance, documentation and central tracking, and inaccurate project milestones.

Bozella chairs the Legion's System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force that evaluates health-care quality at more than a dozen VA facilities each year. Based on his own SWS site visits, he told the subcommittee, "I've been able to see VA has some problems with accountability and transparency, largely communications issues, that are hurting veterans' ability to access their health care."

Construction debacles at VA facilities in Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla., have come to be known as the "Big Four." They account for average delays of 35 months and average cost overruns of $366 million. Bozella said construction in Denver "continues to stagnate," and VA needs to complete the project "so veterans will no longer be required to use inadequate and substandard facilities ... mismanagement is killing these projects and nobody seems to be held accountable."

Noting that "VA health care is a great health-care system for veterans when they can access it," Bozella said, "veterans can't get that state-of-the-art health care if they can't get into a facility." For example, he said the VA medical center in Las Vegas (which finally opened in August 2012 at $600 million over budget) needed another $16 million to modify its emergency room because the space was too small, and it lacked a drop-off ramp for ambulances.

"Just to be clear," The American Legion stated in its written testimony, "the VA built a major hospital without a drop-off ramp for ambulances at the emergency room." A serious look needs to be taken, the Legion said, "at how VA conducts their management of construction projects," and that "the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue."

Bozella said that "behind schedule" has a serious ripple effect among veterans enrolled in the VA system. "Behind schedule means veterans have to drive farther, wait longer, (and) delay critical care until their facility can open." It means "pushing veterans out into the private sector where it's harder for their primary-care providers to track the effects of specialty care because the private sector lacks VA's VISTA system to share health records."

Throughout the construction process, the Legion said, "Veterans' groups, the key stakeholders in the community, have been held at arm's length and essentially shut out of comprehensive communication with VA. In the eyes of the veterans' community and the public, nobody in VA has been held accountable for the massive failures in the management of these construction projects."

Caregiver programs, services for veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs has long supported family caregivers as vital partners in providing care worthy of the sacrifices by America's veterans and servicemembers. Each VA medical center has a caregiver support coordinator (CSC) who provides caregiver activities and serves as a resource expert for veterans, their families and VA providers. Several programs available for veteran caregivers include:

In-home and community-based care. Skilled home health care, homemaker/home health-aide services, community adult day health care and home-based primary care.

Respite care. Designed to relieve the family caregiver from the constant burden of caring for a chronically ill or disabled veteran at home. Services can include in-home care, a short stay in an institutional setting or adult day health care.

Caregiver education and training programs. VA currently provides multiple training opportunities that include pre-discharge care instruction and specialized caregiver programs for multiple severe traumas such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury/disorders and blind rehabilitation. VA's caregiver web site, www.caregiver.va.gov, provides tools, resources and information to family caregivers.

Family support services. These support groups can be conducted face-to-face or via telephone. They include family counseling, spiritual and pastoral care, family leisure and recreational activities, and temporary lodging in Fisher Houses.

Travel. VA's Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program entitles the designated caregiver to beneficiary travel benefits. These benefits include

  • Transportation, lodging and subsistence for period of caregiver training.

  • Transportation, lodging and subsistence while traveling as a veteran's attendant to and from VA health-care facilities, as well as for the duration of care at VA or VA- authorized facilities.

  • Mileage or common carrier transport.

  • Lodging and/or subsistence at 50 percent of local federal employee rates.

Other benefits. VA provides durable medical equipment and prosthetic and sensory aides to improve function and financial assistance with home modification to improve access and mobility, and transportation assistance for some veterans to and from medical appointments.

On May 5, 2010, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 was signed into law. Title I of the act allows VA to provide unprecedented benefits to eligible caregivers (a parent, spouse, child, step-family member, extended family member or an individual who lives with the veteran but is not a family member). The law includes provisions that help provide support for the caregivers of seriously injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

New services provided by the law include:

  • Monthly stipend based on the personal care needs of the veteran.

  • Travel expenses, including lodging and per-diem while accompanying veterans undergoing care.

  • Access to health-care insurance through Civilian Health and Medical Program of VA if the caregiver is not already entitled to care or services under a health plan.

  • Mental health services and counseling.

  • Comprehensive VA caregiver training.

  • Respite care.

  • Appropriate care-giving instruction and training.

(Courtesy Military.com)

Dellinger responds to NY Times op-ed piece

American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger has taken a New York Times editorialist to task for falsely linking recent brutal murders to a white supremacist’s military service, which ended decades earlier.

In a letter published in today’s New York Times, Dellinger said, “I condemn the deplorable actions of Frazier Glenn Miller, charged with three killings in Kansas. Veterans have taken an oath to defend America, not attack innocent civilians.”

Dellinger’s letter was in response to an April 16 Opinion-Editorial titled “Veterans and White Supremacy” by Kathleen Belew, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Northwestern University.

“While I am glad that The New York Times published my letter, I am disappointed that they saw fit to publish Ms. Belew’s poorly researched and agenda-driven piece,” Dellinger said. “U.S. military veterans defeated the Nazis, liberated concentration camps and ended slavery in America. Ms. Belew and the New York Times should be above the slanderous stereotyping of the men and women that have defended us against the racist ideology that Ms. Belew and the NY Times no doubt oppose.”

In his letter, Dellinger pointed out that The American Legion passed a national resolution in 1923, opposing the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups as “un-American, a menace to our liberties, and destructive to our fundamental law.

“Mr. Miller is just one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation’s uniform during wartime since the American Revolution,” Dellinger wrote. “Using him and Timothy J. McVeigh as examples of radicalized returning veterans is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as typical Muslims.”

Dellinger, president talk veterans in Oval Office

In a one-on-one meeting this morning in the Oval Office, American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger shared the Legion’s concerns on a variety of issues with President Barack Obama. The 20-minute meeting was part of a busy morning for Dellinger, who earlier spent an hour with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

During the meeting with Obama, Dellinger said the pair discussed easing licensing and credentialing requirements for veterans, the White House’s Joining Forces initiative and the Legion’s role in reducing the VA claims backlog through promoting the use of fully developed claims.

“The meeting went very well,” Dellinger said. “I thanked him for what he did as an administration in moving a lot of these issues forward. He recognized (fully developed claims), and we talked about the interoperable medical record (between VA and the Department of Defense). I asked him about milestones, and he said, ‘We’re working through that process.’ They’re having regular meetings, and his staff is an integral part of all of this to ensure that it stays on schedule.”

Dellinger didn’t get an opportunity to address the Legion’s concerns with sequestration with Obama. “We wanted to do that, but time didn’t allow it to happen,” Dellinger said. “I’m sorry that it didn’t because I think it’s important we continue that fight. Sequestration’s not good for anyone.”

During his meeting with Shinseki, Dellinger said VA construction projects, the claims backlog and shared medical records with DoD were discussed. But a large portion of the conversation focused on transparency within VA and how the agency is dealing with a rash of preventable deaths of its patients. During an April 9 hearing in which Dellinger provided oral testimony, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. – chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs – said that dozens of VA hospital patients in Phoenix may have died while awaiting medical care, and that committee staff investigators also have evidence that the Phoenix VA Health Care System keeps two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for doctor appointments and treatment.

“They are taking this very seriously and looking at these issues,” Dellinger said. “A lot of this would never have come to light if it hadn’t been for their efforts to go back through the records and see what they thought were preventable deaths. He identified 78 cases, and 23 have been attributed (to being preventable) at this point. They’re going to do further reviews on those, also. But he says any death is a tragedy, and we agree with him on that. But they also need to be more transparent, and he says he is working on that.”

Dellinger said he was told both by the president and Shinseki, “That if you all see anything … let us know and we will act on it. And as the president stated, we’re the boots on the ground. We’re out there every day and working hard for our veterans. He realizes that, and he thanks us for what The American Legion does for veterans.”

USAA says data safe from ‘Heartbleed’ bug

In light of the recent “Heartbleed” security bug, USAA is alerting its members that there is no evidence that the financial services provider or its members have been affected. Heartbleed is a flaw found in software that is widely used to enable secure access to websites.

In a news release, USAA — The American Legion’s preferred financial services provider — says its security certificates have been replaced twice since the Heartbleed outbreak was publicized on April 7. Akamai, the hosting provider for usaa.com, implemented security patches on April 4 before the flaw was made public. A second update followed an announcement by Akamai that it identified a group of servers that did not receive the initial Open SSL patch for the Heartbleed bug.

USAA has no indication that its earlier security certificates had been compromised by Heartbleed or that Akamai’s disclosure impacts USAA directly, the release stated.

USAA says it has aggressive fraud detection programs in place, which are designed to detect any unauthorized activities. Based on information gathered by USAA’s fraud detection programs, the security team has not seen any increased threat activity due to the Heartbleed vulnerability.

Still, USAA encourages members to change their passwords. Here are some tips when you change your password:

• Use our password strength indicator.

• Create a strong password that has a combination of letters, numbers and punctuation.

• Make it different from your other passwords.

• Don’t write it down in a visible place.

• Don’t use words or names.

National commander meeting with president, VA secretary

American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger will meet one on one Friday morning with President Barack Obama at the White House, just a short time after Dellinger and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will have a similar meeting in the nation’s capital.

Dellinger and Obama will meet in the Oval Office to discuss several areas of concern to the Legion: sequestration and how it impacts quality of life for military personnel and their families, the VA backlog and the Legion’s successful efforts in helping reduce it, and mental health among the nation’s servicemembers and veterans.

Prior to that, Dellinger will meet with Shinseki in a follow-up to Dellinger’s April 9 testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. In his testimony, Dellinger said VA leadership must be held accountable for mistakes that result in preventable deaths at its medical facilities.

During the hearing, Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said that dozens of VA hospital patients in Phoenix may have died while awaiting medical care, and that committee staff investigators also have evidence that the Phoenix VA Health Care System keeps two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for doctor appointments and treatment.

Nine employment obstacles veterans face

Transitioning from the military into civilian life isn't always easy. Despite the fact that you come from the same country and speak the same language, the culture of the civilian working world is radically different from the U.S. military. Both have different hierarchies, practices and industry-specific languages. Making a successful transition means learning a new set of skills to adapt to civilian workforce culture. Business Insider provided a list of the top nine obstacles transitioning veterans usually face, and we've touched on each of them for you below:

1. You don't see the transition from the military as starting over professionaly. When you first joined the military, how much did you know about it? Maybe a few basic concepts from books or what you heard from friends and family, but not much else. It took months of training and acclimating to fully integrate, and years to move up the ranks. Every step of the way brought new lessons and new ways of doing things.

The working world is no different. No matter what you did in the military, no matter how competent you are with the core skills necessary to do the job you want, it takes training and experience to climb the ranks. Although some may move quickly, the learning curve is unavoidable. When they join the civilian workforce, it's important that veterans realize they are, more often than not, taking a step down. Their responsibilities won't be as intense or, likely, important as they were in the military. Accepting that is imperative to maintaining a focused, realistic perspective.

2. You overestimate how unique your skills and experiences are. Years of intense experiences have shaped you in many positive ways. You should be a shoe-in for any civilian job, right? If there were far fewer people competing for the same positions, then maybe. Monster.com reported that 470,000 résumé were uploaded every week in 2012. If you compare that number to the number of job openings available, you have roughly 187 candidates, qualified or not, per job. No matter how qualified you are, you're likely competing with many others who are just as capable as you or are otherwise flooding the recruiter or hiring manager. Don't ever rely on your inherent worth – finding jobs will always require work.

3. Your résumé is too long or too short. How do you condense the depth and breadth of your work history and military experience into a single sheet of paper? According to Business Insider, you don't. The trick is to cherry-pick jobs and tasks from your work history, military experience included, that are most relevant to the job you're applying for. That means you might need to create a slew of résumés for different applications, but doing so will prove fruitful. An employer will respond more favorably to a résumé that clearly identifies what in your history suits you well to the open position rather than a laundry list of miscellaneous accomplishments.

4. You did not proofread your résumé. If your version of proofreading is scanning for all the red squiggly lines and unthinkingly making the suggested changes, you're doing it wrong. Proofreading tools that accompany word processors are powerful but limited. They won't always catch obvious spelling mistakes, they sometimes autocorrect to the wrong word, and their sense of grammar isn't as impeccable as yours should be. Take the time to honestly analyze every single sentence and scrutinize each punctuation mark. Have other people read it, read it five more times yourself, then have even more people read it; do whatever it takes, even using a professional résumé writing service, to make sure your grammar, spelling and formatting are impeccable.

5. You aren't using LinkedIn, or your profile isn't complete. The civilian working world takes LinkedIn seriously, and so should you. You don't have to be a social media expert, but creating a complete profile and remaining open to networking opportunities will serve well for any job-seeker. Some may even argue it's a necessity. A LinkedIn profile shows that you're capable of navigating modern technology and adapting to shifting business standards. Even if you don't have your sights set on working in upper management, having an easily accessible professional online profile will help you regardless of your chosen industry.

6. You aren't trying to leverage social media. A few years ago, scoffing at Myspace or Facebook wasn't an outmoded thing to do. Social media started off as an interesting way to reach out to others online, but only recently has it exploded into a nearly ubiquitous cultural phenomenon and enraptured the working world. Just as with LinkedIn, you don't have to be an expert but competency will make you a stronger candidate.

Websites like Facebook and Google+ allow you to remain in contact with individuals who may offer you a new job; even if you don't see each other face to face on a regular basis, professionals tend to remember who they like and trust when it's time to fill a position. Furthermore, Twitter isn't just for bragging about food or lamenting about "first world problems" – hiring managers and companies alike often tweet about job openings and provide information about their company, industry and other useful information.

7. You did not prepare adequately for the interview. No matter how many jokes you've heard about professionals successfully faking their way through work, the reality is that valuable employees train, prepare and make sure they're ready to accomplish a given task. Job interviews aren't to be taken lightly, and research and practice can only help you. The more you know about a company and the industries it's a part of, the more knowledgeable and prepared you'll appear during an interview. Potential employers respond well to candidates who show genuine interest, and that's proven by knowing who they are, what they do, who their competition is, what industry trends they're grappling with; the list goes on and on.

8. You wrote a lackluster thank you note. Thank you notes are simple, easy and help you stand out. After a job interview, get busy procuring and crafting your note and make sure it gets to the right people as soon as possible. Having said that, it's not enough to write: "Dear potential employer, thank you for the interview. I'm awesome. Take care, Veteran of the U.S. Military." The thank you needs to be accompanied by genuine introspection. Recall what you discussed during the interview, and mention one or two points in the thank-you note. The note itself is a mark of appreciation, but what you write is an indicator of what you learned and how much you pay attention.

9. You don't know what you want to do. If you really don't know what you want to do professionally, your job-searching forays are a poor time and place to figure it out. Candidates who lack focus aren't appealing to employers. You may not know what you want to do, but no one else will figure it out for you, especially hiring managers and recruiters. Rather than use job listings and the application process to find your path, try securing informational interviews, attending gatherings for different careers and researching online.

(Courtesy Military.com)

California post recruits new members from Vandenberg AFB

American Legion Post 534 in Orcutt, Calif., took advantage of a great opportunity to speak with active-duty personnel at Vandenberg Air Force Base in March. We were joined by members from the Department of California District 16 Post's 371, 211, 125 and 56.

As we engaged the personnel in conversations about The American Legion, we found everyone to be very receptive to hearing about the good work The American Legion has done since 1919, and continues to do in support of all veterans. There were also a few opportunities to dispel inaccurate perceptions of the Legion. We shared some Legion history and explained key benefits of Legion membership to those on active duty.

During our visit to Vandenberg AFB, seven new members were recruited into the Orcutt Post 534 family. One of the new Legionnaires, featured in the above picture, is Dani Drazin, who attended Florida Girls State. Drazin is a supporter of Legion programs and has agreed to serve on our Post 534 Public Relations Committee.

When District 16 returns to Vandenberg AFB in July, Post 534 will be there. Being able to talk with the active-duty personnel stationed at Vandenberg AFB is a great American Legion experience.

Visit Post 534's Facebook page here.

Ansbach JROTC holds military ball

The Junior ROTC Cougar Battalion of Ansbach High School celebrated their 30th annual military ball at the Orangerie in downtown Ansbach April 3. The ball program featured many military traditions, including a receiving line, the separate table set for the fallen Soldier, the posting of the colors followed by a rendition of the American national anthem, a toast, a grog ceremony and a cake-cutting. Col. Christopher M. Benson, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach and guest speaker at the ball, talked about how the JROTC program is designed to teach high school students a variety of values, including leadership, diversity, character development, and engaging in civic and social concerns in the community. He emphasized how important it is to volunteer and give something back to the community. "No matter what path you choose to take in life, I hope you never lose that spirit of engagement, involvement and volunteerism," said Benson during his address. "It's the difference between a nice community and a great community." The 9th Junior ROTC Battalion has earned the Honor Unit with Distinction Insignia (the highest JROTC unit award, also known as "gold star") every year since 2004; with 122 cadets enrolled – or 59 percent of the high school students – the cadet command minimum of 10 percent has been surpassed many times. Participation is the highest percentage of any Department of Defense Dependent School. In the course of the evening, the cadet command honored the members of the successful rifle team, who made first place in their regional conference and third place in the DoDDs Europe championship, and bid farewell to 32 seniors who will graduate this June. http://www.legion.org/fodpal/photos/220926/2014-9th-battalion-jrotc-30th-annual-military-ball-ansbach

Apply for $20,000 Legion scholarship

The American Legion Boys State and Auxiliary Girls State programs will soon get underway, and a scholarship is available for many of the youth who participate in either program.

The Samsung American Legion Scholarship is available for high school juniors who participate in the current session of Boys State or Girls State and are direct descendants (or legally adopted children) of wartime veterans eligible for American Legion membership. The Samsung scholarship awards up to $20,000 for undergraduate studies (e.g.,room and board, tuition and books), and each applicant is selected according to his or her involvement in school and community activities, academic record and financial need.

Students who qualify for and are interested in the Samsung scholarship can download an application online here. Applications are submitted to program staff upon arrival to Boys State or Girls State. Please note that the scholarship is restricted to high school juniors participating in the current session of Boys State or Girls State; youth who participated in either program the previous year cannot reapply for the scholarship.

A Boy State and Girls State participant from each state is selected as a finalist for The American Legion Samsung Scholarship. During The American Legion’s Fall Meetings in October, the Samsung American Legion National Selection Committee will select and award nine finalists with a $20,000 Samsung scholarship; the 89 remaining finalists will receive a $1,100 scholarship. All scholarship recipients will be notified of their award by a letter in late October.

For the past 18 years, the Samsung American Legion Scholarship has awarded more than $4.6 million in grants, through interest earned on the fund’s principal, to nearly 1,700 eligible applicants.

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