VA’s Caregiving Program Is Still Dropping Veterans with Disabilities

VA’s Caregiving Program Is Still Dropping Veterans with Disabilities

VA’s Caregiving Program Is Still Dropping Veterans with Disabilities

By Debbie Gregory

In 2015, veterans and their caregivers began sharing reports about being cut from the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). The program pays a stipend to family members, often a wife or mother, of a disabled Post 9/11 veteran, who provide care. The stipend ranges from a a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars a month depending on the severity of the disability and the market rate for caregivers. The program also provides medical training and access to other services.

In April of 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs suspended revocations initiated by VA medical centers based on eligibility for the PCAFC, in order to conduct an internal review that would evaluate the consistency of the program nationwide.

Then-VA Secretary David Shulkin took action by ordering an internal review that was intended to evaluate the consistency of program revocation, and also standardize communication with veterans and caregivers nationwide.

“It became very clear to me that we had inconsistencies in this program and that it wasn’t working the way that we thought it should,” said Shulkin. “There were rates of revocations that were in the very, very high levels (which) other programs didn’t have and that was really unacceptable.”

Based on their review, the VA has made significant changes to the program that will affect policy and execution moving forward.

The VA will make sure that a consistent message is sent to those veterans discharged from the program, while also providing plain language explanations for the reason behind the revocation.

The VA has also updated its Roles, Responsibilities, and Requirements document that will be used in the execution of the PCAFC. This document, posted on the VA website, will ensure compliance with current regulations. This document will be used  to maintain consistency across the program, and caregivers will have the opportunity to walk through the document upon entry into the program.

Twin Brothers Reunited after WWII Deaths at Normandy

Twin Brothers Reunited after WWII Deaths at Normandy

 

Twin Brothers Reunited after WWII Deaths at Normandy

By Debbie Gregory

Identical twins Julius “Henry” Pieper and Ludwig “Louie” Pieper from Creston, Nebraska were inseparable, which is why the 19-year-old brothers died together at Normandy. While their service on the same ship ran against standard military policy, they had pleaded with their father to approve their service together.

Their father wrote a letter to their commanding officer saying, “My boys came into the world together, they want to serve together, and if they go down together, so be it.”

Their tank landing craft was shattered while trying to reach Utah beach on D-Day.

While Louie’s body was found, identified and laid to rest, his brother’s remains were not recovered until 1961, and not identified until 2017. As technology advanced, the Department of Defense increased its efforts to identify the thousands of lost American service members from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Julius was previously buried at a World War II American cemetery in Belgium. In 2015, Pentagon officials decided to dig up the unknown remains buried within all of the American Battle Monument Commission’s cemeteries.

The twins final reunion, 74 years in the making, is due to Nebraska high school student Vanessa Taylor doing a history project. She was able to conclude what the military had not: same last name, same birth date, and same date of death. Julius was moved and laid to rest beside his twin brother.

The Pieper twins were both radiomen second class enlisted together in the Navy. Both were on the same flat-bottom boat, Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), making the crossing from Falmouth, England, to Utah Beach 13 days after the June 6 D-Day landings. Their mission was to deliver supplies at the Normandy beachhead and remove the wounded.

But the vessel struck an underwater mine and sank off the coast, killing 117 of the 145 Navy crew members aboard.

The Pieper twins were given full military honors.

Inseparable in birth, in life and now, finally, in death.

Deployment Tips for Guard/Reserve Spouses

Deployment Tips for GuardReserve Spouses

Deployment Tips for Guard/Reserve Spouses

By Debbie Gregory

If you’re married to a member of the National Guard or a Reserve servicemember, you probably already know that deployment may happen without a lot of advance notice. Since knowledge is power, here are some tips to help you through the process:

Many people are surprised to discover how many in their community have some connection to a deployed service member. Networking to find neighbors, co-workers, school personnel, etc. will provide the opportunity for mutual support on a very local level.

The Department of Defense and each branch of the military Services provide online information for military families, including those in the Guard and Reserve. National Guard families can take advantage of the Guard Joint Services Support site for information on resources at https://www.jointservicessupport.org/fp/default.aspx. Military Reserve families can obtain information from the Joint Service Support site at https://www.jointservicessupport.org.

Referrals for a wide range of needs for each stage in the deployment cycle are available through Military OneSource, by phone at 800-342-9647 or online at www.militaryonesource.mil .

Yellow Ribbon events and family readiness activities help families prepare for and stay strong during and after a deployment. Pre-deployment events will offer information about family support in areas such as education, counseling, child care and religious support. During deployment, families are assisted with handling the impact of separation. Upon the servicemember’s return home, post-deployment activities help families reconnect.

Immediate family members of active duty Guard or Reserve members can avail themselves to the services at military installations including Army Community Service Centers, Fleet and Family Support Centers, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, and Marine Corps Community Services.

Unit family readiness groups and other programs rely on the voluntary efforts of family members, so once you become a pro at deployment, pay it forward and help someone take their first steps on their journey.

Family readiness is not only as critical to mission success, but also to quality-of-life issues for those who serve and the ones who offer the most support, their families.

Veterans Groups Adopt New “Veteran’s Creed”

Veterans Groups Adopt New “Veteran’s Creed”

 

Veterans Groups Adopt New “Veteran’s Creed”

By Debbie Gregory

Eleven veterans organizations have annouced the adopted a “Veteran’s Creed.”

The creed, which is similar to the Army’s Soldier’s Creed, was presented by the participating organizations at an event on Flag Day, June 14th. It is meant to inspire veterans to continue to serve and lead in their communities, as well as throughout the country and the world.

Each element of the Creed is rooted in shared military tenets, the missions of participating veterans and military service organizations, and in the altruistic ethos of veterans themselves.  It reminds the civilian population that the principles and values veterans learned in the military – integrity, leadership, teamwork and selfless service add great value to the contributions those who serve make to society.

“I believe the Veteran’s Creed could remind veterans of what they miss about their service and encourage them to continue to make a difference in their communities and across our country,” said Retired Army Gen. George W. Case, Jr., the former Army chief of staff and commander of Multi-National Force Iraq. “We need their talents.”

The Creed states:

  1. I am an American veteran
  1. I proudly served my country
  1. I live the values I learned in the military
  1. I continue to serve my community, my country and my fellow veterans
  1. I maintain my physical and mental discipline
  1. I continue to lead and improve
  1. I make a difference
  1. I honor and remember my fallen comrades

The eleven veterans organizations that have come out in support of  the Creed are as follows: AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, HillVets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Reserve Officers Association, Student Veterans of America, Team Rubicon Global, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Wounded Warrior Project.

U.S. Commander and Army Son Could Both Deploy to Afghanistan

U.S. Commander and Army Son Could Both Deploy to Afghanistan

U.S. Commander and Army Son Could Both Deploy to Afghanistan

By Debbie Gregory

Army Lt. Gen. Austin S. “Scott” Miller, a three-star lieutenant general is expected to be approved by the Senate for another star and then take over from Gen. John “Mick” W. Nicholson Jr. as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

His son, Army 2nd Lt. Austin Miller of the 82nd Airborne Division, may be one of the troops who deply to Afghanistan under his father’s command.

The elder Miller, 57, is a West Point graduate who has spent much of his career with Special Ops in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, he was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which includes Delta Force and SEAL Team 6.

Miller was among the first U.S. troops to enter Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks of 2001. In June, 2013 he was once again in Afghanistan to command of Special Operations in the country. He also had a role in the training of the first two women to make it through the Army’s arduous Ranger training back in 2015

Miller was wounded as a Delta Force captain in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle of Mogadishu, and again in Iraq in 2003.His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with combat ‘V’ device and two oak leaf clusters, and the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing, Miller confirmed that the two-pronged U.S. mission would provide training to Afghan troops while going after terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State in conjunction with Afghan commandos.

Miller did express surprise that troops were still deploying to Afghanistan. He looked over his shoulder at one point during the hearing and gestured toward his son.

“This young guy sitting behind me,” the general said, “I never anticipated that his cohort would be in a position to deploy [to Afghanistan] as I sat there in 2001 and looked at this.”

Appeals Court Tosses Veterans’ Lawsuits Over Burn Pits

Appeals Court Tosses Veterans' Lawsuits Over Burn Pits

 

Appeals Court Tosses Veterans’ Lawsuits Over Burn Pits

By Debbie Gregory

In what can only be termed as a major disappointment for burn pit veterans and their families, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a federal judge in Maryland and upheld the ruling that barred more than 60 lawsuits against KBR, Inc.

The former Halliburton subsidiary will not be held accountable for the health issues of more than 800 veterans who claim their illnesses were a result of the toxic burn pits they were exposed to during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The three-judge panel found that the lawsuits are barred under a legal doctrine holding that courts are not equipped to decide political questions; only Congress and the president have the power to resolve those. Furthermore, the military had unrestricted control over KBR so that KBR’s decisions on waste management and water services were “de facto military decisions” not appropriate for judicial review.

Attorney Susan Burke, representing the servicemembers, argued that KBR repeatedly violated the terms of its contract with the military to handle waste disposal by burning batteries, medical waste, amputated body parts, plastics, ammunition, human waste, animal carcasses, rubber, chemicals, & more in open pits.

The victims have experienced health issues that include constrictive bronchiolitis, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders and neurological problems. It is believed that at least 12 service members have died from illnesses caused by the burn pits.

Advocates say more attention needs to be put on the issue to ensure that veterans don’t face a years-long wait for recognition of their injures, much like the position Vietnam veterans found themselves in with Agent Orange.

More than 141,000 veterans and current servicemembers have enrolled in Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which allows individuals to document their experiences and illnesses with the department.

 

Taking Care of Caregivers

Taking Care of Caregivers

Taking Care of Caregivers

By Debbie Gregory

By a vote of 92-5, the Senate passed the VA Mission Act, which will expand the VA’s caregiver stipend program for the families of disabled veterans. Currently, the caregiver program is limited to post-9/11 veterans and would be extended to veterans of all eras.

This program is separate from the Aid and Attendance benefit, which is paid to veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound.

The Mission Act will consolidate seven separate programs under Choice in an effort to improve efficiency.

The VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers provides small stipends to family caregivers that in many cases allow disabled veterans to remain at home. The program focuses on the needs of both the eligible veteran/servicemember and the eligible primary and secondary family caregivers.

Under the proposed legislation, the caregiver program would be expanded to benefit the families of all veterans with a serious injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

“DAV has long advocated for extending comprehensive caregiver benefits to veterans injured and ill prior to September 11, 2001, and this legislation takes major strides to close that gap and provide equity to thousands of family caregivers,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of the DAV’s Washington headquarters.

A care giver is defined as a member of the veteran/servicemember’s family, such as a spouse, son, daughter, parent, step-family member, or extended family member, or if not related, must live with the veteran/servicemember, or will do so if designated as a family caregiver.

The VA recognizes that family caregivers enhance the health and well-being of Veterans they care for in their home.

Caregivers should contact their local Caregiver Support Coordinator with any questions or concerns. Contact information for Caregiver Support Coordinators can be found at www.caregiver.va.gov, using a zip code lookup. The Caregiver Support Line is also available by calling toll free 1-855-260-3274.

What Does the Fourth of July Mean to You?

july 4 2

What Does July 4th Mean To You?

July 4th. Fourth of July. Independence Day. It is a day filled with cookouts and fireworks and merchandise sales – but what does it really mean?

On July 4, 1776, the founding fathers of this country voted to declare independence for the 13 colonies from England. This decision – and the subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence – was the first step on a long road that led to the creation of the United States of America.

242 years later, Independence Day brings us a reason to gather and celebrate. The day brings us fantastic sales (some of them are just for military personnel and veterans), parties, fireworks and festive gatherings. Stores sell us clothes and shoes emblazoned with images of our flag, and we wear them happily – but rarely do we think about the many sacrifices that were made to form this country, and the sacrifices that are made every day by our military servicemen and women and their families to continue to protect it.

To provide a military perspective, we asked our own Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, USA Retired, what today means to him:

“To me, Independence Day all about honoring sacrifice. The sacrifice of so many that served before me, in so many conflicts. The sacrifice our families make serving at home while their loved ones are deployed. The premature sacrifices of those who’ve paid the ultimate price and the sacrifice of the Gold Star Families they leave behind.

In honoring the sacrifice, I feel an incredible sense of gratitude for having been able to serve my country and state, and that gratitude resonates deep within me every time I see the flag of these United States and hear our National Anthem”.

So today, while you gather with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s independence, take a moment to remember the sacrifices of our servicemen and women. Remember the sacrifices they make for us all every day and honor those sacrifices.

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Air Force Is Looking For Gamers

Air Force Is Looking For Gamers

 

Air Force Is Looking For Gamers

By Debbie Gregory

Game controllers at the ready. Signal Sonic to be on standby: the U.S. Air Force is looking at gamers as their future airmen.

The Air Force is currently and has been facing a shortage of qualified pilots.This has the service branch working with contractors on a series of video games it hopes to put online later this summer. The games will be able to track the abilities of players, and contact those who show the right attributes to perhaps, one day, be fighter pilots.

By developing the online game aimed at high school gamers, the Air Force can identify potential airmen, according to Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, head of Air Education and Training Command. The game will be able to identify conceptual, constructive, contextual, creative, critical, and collaborative thinking.

The idea is reminiscent of movies like “The Last Starfighter” and “Ender’s Game” where young people who score well on flight simulator video games are recruited to fly spaceships.

Because they are playing anonymously and only identified by an IP address, the player’s privacy is protected.

Data to create the game has been coming from the service’s pilot training next initiative, which explores how pilots can learn and train faster. This encompasses existing and emerging technologies including virtual reality simulation and artificial intelligence to get airmen in an aircraft faster, with the potential of expanding the streamlined training.

But there are those that argue that video gamers’ psychology might be better-suited to flying drones. Gamers have a unique set of skills. They excel at interpreting their screens for visual clues about their environment, and have a lot of patience. For gamers, it’s really no big deal to sit in front of their screens for hours on end, paying attention to what’s going on, and intervening only if needed.

 

Veterans Ask Court to Reinstate Lawsuits over Open Burn Pits

Veterans Ask Court to Reinstate Lawsuits over Open Burn Pits

 

Veterans Ask Court to Reinstate Lawsuits over Open Burn Pits

By Debbie Gregory

During the OEF and OIF wars, government contractors burned up to 227 metric tons of hazardous waste at forward operating bases using jet fuel in large ground pits. Now veterans and their families have asked a federal appeals court to reinstate more than 60 lawsuits against KBR, Inc, a former Halliburton subsidiary, for health issues caused by the toxic burn pits.

The case, which dates back to 2008, consolidated dozens of lawsuits by hundreds of veterans and their families seeking to recover damages

Previously dismissed by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus, his 2017 ruling stated the burn pits were a military decision, not one made by KBR, Inc. He added that federal courts have no power to second-guess the executive branch’s wartime decisions, a precedent known as the political-question doctrine. Titus also held that “sovereign immunity,” which generally shields the federal government from being sued, extends to private contractors supporting the military in a combat zone.

Attorney Susan Burke, representing the servicemembers and families, has asked the 4th Circuit court to reverse Titus’s ruling, allowing the cases to move forward.

Items burned included: batteries, medical waste, amputated body parts, plastics, ammunition, human waste, animal carcasses, rubber, chemicals, & more.

Burke said KBR operated burn pits at 119 locations when it only had permission to use the pits at 18 sites. Warren Harris, KBR’s attorney, said that KBR operated only 31 burn pits, and the remainder of them were operated by the military.

The health issues include lung diseases such as life-threatening constrictive bronchiolitis and cancer, as well as a range of diseases including gastrointestinal disorders and neurological problems. It is believed that at least 12 service members have died from illnesses caused by the burn pits.

For years, veterans’ advocates have been pushing the Veterans Administration (VA) to adopt burn-pit exposure as a presumptive-service connected disability. The VA has denied many of their claims, concluding there is not enough evidence to link burn pits to their illnesses.