Veterans Transplant Coverage Act Will Save Lives

transplant

By Debbie Gregory.

The House has passed the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide organ transplants to veterans from a live donor, regardless of whether or not that donor is a veteran.

Introduced by Texas Congressman John Carter, the bipartisan legislation guarantees that no veteran is denied transplant coverage.

“No Veteran should be denied a life-saving procedure due to bureaucratic red tape under the VA Choice Program,” said Rep. Carter. Current VA policy has excluded non-Veteran live donations from coverage under the VA Choice Program.

The Veterans Transplant Coverage Act also allows veterans to receive transplant operations at any VA or non-VA facility convenient for them.

The legislation has been supported by the American Legion, AMVETS, Got Your 6, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, among others.

Rep. Carter represents Texas District 31, which includes Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored military installation. He serves as Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, co-chairman of the Congressional Army Caucus, is on the Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

The bill was co-sponsored by Michael McCaul, R-TX 10th; Doug LaMalfa, R-CA; Ted Poe, R-TX 2nd; Elise Stefanik, R-NY 21st; and Sanford Bishop Jr., D-GA 2n.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits

abc

By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Will VA Scrap Ethics Law That Safeguards Veteran Students?

va seal

Debbie Gregory.

Statute 38 U.S.C. 3683 is an ethics law that prohibits Department of Veterans Affairs employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges.

But the VA is now pushing back, claiming that the 50-year-old statute is redundant due to the other conflict-of-interest laws that apply to all federal employees and provide sufficient safeguards.

You may be wondering why this is important.

Veteran advocacy groups believe that doing away with the law would make it easier for the for-profit education industry to exploit veterans with their rich GI Bill benefits.

There is mounting concern that suspending the statute would make it possible for high-ranking agency officials to enact policies that benefit for-profit schools in which they have a financial interest.

“The statute is one of many important bipartisan reforms Congress implemented to protect G.I. Bill benefits from waste, fraud, and abuse,” said William Hubbard of Student Veterans of America. “A thoughtful and robust public conservation should be had to ensure that the interests of student veterans is the top of the priority list.”

“Congress enacted a zero tolerance for financial conflicts of interest for VA employees precisely because Congress uncovered massive fraud by for-profit colleges targeting veterans.”

“Student veterans were already facing an aggressive rollback of their protections under the Trump administration’s Education Department,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success.  The non-profit group works to protect and defend the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs for veterans and servicemembers.

The law already provide measures for any employee that it covers to receive a waiver if they can prove that there is no conflict of interest and that whatever arrangement they have or had will not be a detriment to veterans.

The VA proposal is set to go into effect on October 16 unless the agency “receives a significant adverse comment” by or on that date.

Unfortunately, to date, no such comments have yet been submitted nor have any public hearings been scheduled.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veterans’ Preference Hiring Program

The-Veterans-Preference-Point-System

By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans’ Preference gives those who are disabled, served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns preference over others in hiring for virtually all federal government jobs for veterans. While veterans’ preference does not guarantee jobs for military veterans, it does show our nation’s gratitude by giving them a leg up.

Veterans’ Preference was enacted at the end of the Civil War to aid disabled veterans. It was greatly expanded after World War I, allowing able-bodied, honorably discharged veterans, widows of deceased veterans and wives of severely disabled ones to take advantage of the assistance. Under the Obama administration, federal agencies established hiring goals that has resulted in one-third of new federal hires being veterans.

The program works on a point system, with 100 being the highest score. Typically, applicants receive points by either taking a test or through an evaluation of their education and experience. Disabled veterans got extra 10 points added to that score, while other former soldiers received 5 points. In the case of a tie, veterans are placed ahead of non-veterans. In addition, veterans with more serious service-related disabilities are placed at the top of the list, as long as they achieved a passing grade of 70 points.

Hiring officials cannot pass over veterans in the top category to hire more qualified non-veterans.

Younger veterans born since 1980 are about 15 times more likely than non-veterans of the same age to hold federal jobs.

Veterans’ Preference is a powerful hiring tool that can help veterans reach the veteran employers of the federal workforce.

Although it only directly benefited about one-tenth of veterans in the past, nearly one-third of recent veterans have federal jobs, many more than would have them in the absence of preferential hiring.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

GI Bill for On-the-job Training

otj training

By Debbie Gregory.

When separating from their military service, there are many newly-minted veterans who aren’t desirous of attending a traditional college or university to cash in on their veteran school benefits.  A better fitting veteran education option for them might be on-the-job (OJT) training or an apprenticeship program.

Both OJT and apprenticeship programs are available for veterans using their VA GI Bill education benefits, one of the most valuable veteran benefit.

These programs give veterans the opportunity to learn a trade or skill through training on the job participation rather than attending formal classroom instruction. The programs generally consist of entering into a training contract for a specific period with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, the veteran has earned job certification or journeyman status.

Usually, employers pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage, which must be at least 50% of journeyman’s wage, with periodic wage increases, unless it’s a government program. By the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.

In addition to the wages paid by the employer, veterans who are participating in an approved program can use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend equivalent to the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) of an E-5 with dependents.  However, the stipend is reduced 20% every six months as the Veteran’s wages regularly increase until the Veteran has attained journeyman status and pay.

If traditional college/university education, OTJ training or an apprenticeship doesn’t fit the bill, one other option is available: beneficiaries can use their educational assistance to pursue accredited independent study programs at career and technical schools that provide postsecondary level education and postsecondary vocational institutions. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Major Events in October with Free Tickets for Service Members, Veterans, and Families

By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran Tickets Foundation (VetTix), a national 501(c) 3 nonprofit founded by veterans, is dedicated to supporting and honoring the U.S. military community, veterans and their families.

Vet Tix has provided veterans, service members, caregivers and the family members of those killed in action with more than three million free tickets since 2008. Events include major sports games, concerts and a diverse mix of other ticketed activities. And because they’re a non-profit, individual ticket holders and businesses can receive tax deductions for their donated tickets.

So, if you’re looking for some fun things to this month, check out Veteran Tickets Foundation.

Here are just some of the hundreds of events available at VetTix.org.:

October 7: Denver, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

October 7: Houston, Texas: Houston Museum of Natural Science

October 8: Peekskill, New York: Buddy Guy – Live in Concert

October 13: San Diego, California: Top Gun Party and Movie Night

October 14: Hagerstown, Maryland: Bach to Beethoven and Beyond!

October 14: Fresno, California: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. New Mexico Lobos NCAA Football

October 14: Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Hoosiers vs. University of Michigan Wolverines NCAA Football

October 14: Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Blue Devils vs. Florida State Seminoles NCAA Football

October 21: Manchester, Maryland: Autumn Armageddon 2017 – Live Professional Wrestling Presented by Maryland Championship Wrestling

October 21: East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State Spartans vs. Indiana Hoosiers

October 22: Peekskill, NY: Steve Solomon’s My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy

October 27: Washington, DC: Washington International Horse Show 2017 – Military Night

October 28: Richmond, Virginia: University of Richmond Spiders vs. Stony Brook Seawolves NCAA Football Homecoming

October 28: Rosemont, Illinois: Chicago Wolves vs. Milwaukee Admirals AHL

To become a Vet Tixer and request tickets to these and hundreds of other events, which are free except for a very small delivery fee, visit VetTix.org to create a free account. Once you’ve created an account and verified your military service, you can review hundreds of upcoming events across the country.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Protecting Veterans from High-Pressure Mortgage Refinances

refi

By Debbie Gregory.

After volunteering to protect their country, servicemembers and veterans are often targeted by disreputable forces at home: predatory lenders.

Government-owned Ginnie Mae, whose purpose is to make mortgages more affordable, is conducting an investigation into unscrupulous mortgage lenders who allegedly pressured servicemembers and veterans into unneeded mortgage refinances.

Ginnie Mae backs loans made through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Under investigation are lenders who push consumers to refinance loans over and over again in a short period of time, a practice known as churning.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, an outspoken critic of the finance industry sent a letter to Ginnie Mae’s Acting President, Michael Bright, asking whether some lenders were abusing Ginnie Mae’s program by engaging in aggressive marketing tactics.

Bright replied that Ginnie Mae and the Department of Veterans Affairs have created a task force to address abusive practices by lenders approved to issue Ginnie Mae-backed bonds.

VA loans do not require a down payment and closing costs are added to loan balances, so borrowers don’t have to pay them at the time of the sale. But this also makes these loans prime targets for churning.

Some lenders are persuading servicemembers to refinance loans at rates that barely reduce their mortgage payment.

Ginnie Mae has been trying to slow down the refinancing rush by putting a six-month moratorium between new mortgages and a refinance.

However, once the six-month mark passed, Bright said Ginnie Mae saw a blitz of lenders once again preying on servicemembers. Bright said that some lenders apparently targeted veterans for a refinance at “six months and one day.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

MilitaryConnection.com and VAMBOA Hit Record Numbers on Social Media

mc and vamboa logos

Gregory Media CEO Debbie Gregory is proud to announce that MilitaryConnection.com and its sister organization VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association, achieved new records on social media, surpassing 1.2 million combined fans and followers.

This growth in social media is also having a positive impact and generating increased traffic on the websites.

MilitaryConnection.com, known as “the Go to Site” is one of the most comprehensive online directories of resources and information, with something for everyone. This site connects its audience with excellent jobs and employment resources, military/veteran friendly colleges, universities and vocational schools, benefits, news, resources and much more. There is also a comprehensive directory for each military service branch. MilitaryConnection.com is an outstanding online advertising venue to reach military, veterans and their loved ones.

The web site also works with a multitude of non-profits within the military and veteran communities, using it significant reach to help them “get out the word” on their causes and events, and facilitates win/win partnerships with organizations and clients.

“We are excited to see the continued growth of our social media reach, as well as website traffic,” said Gregory. “We know that we are delivering quality resources to our audience, including the daily articles on our Blog and our Newsletter.”

VAMBOA, a 501 (c) 6 non-profit trade association, has over 7,000 members nationwide. VAMBOA focuses on connecting members with corporations seeking a diverse network of suppliers. The association is supported through corporate sponsorships, and does not charge members any membership fees.

“Supporting the businesses of our military members and veterans and contributing to their successes provides us with the opportunity to express our pride and appreciation to and for the many who have served and sacrificed to make our country free,” said Gregory. “ It also enables corporations to work with companies run by America’s heroes.

Service-related PTSD Disability Claims have Tripled in the Last Decade

 

ptsd

By Debbie Gregory.

More than 20 percent of veterans receiving federal disability are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has tripled in the last decade, from approximately 345,000 cases in fiscal 2008 to more than 940,000 cases today.

This includes all age groups, not just veterans from the recent wars.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not occur until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause great distress, or interfere with work or home life, the individual probably has PTSD.

Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • persistent memories of the event, nightmares, re-living the event over and over
  • not talking to anyone about the event, avoiding any situation that may trigger your bad memories
  • feeling numb and detached, depressed, disinterested in normal life activities, and
  • feeling on high alert all the time, always watching for danger.

PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. Both the VA and Defense Department have worked in recent years to combat the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

PTSD is treatable. Many places within VA provide PTSD treatment. General programs that provide mental health services include VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), and Vet Centers.

Vet Centers also offer services to families of Veterans for military-related issues. There are no fees or charges for Vet Center services, and services are confidential.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Better Protection from Student Loan Fraud Needed By Veterans and the Rest of Us

Student-Loan-Fraud

By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans, with their attractive and generous GI Bill education benefits have been targeted by predatory, for-profit colleges. Often times, they leave with a partial education, or if they do graduate, the diploma comes with a mountain of debt. And for some, they find out too late that their credits won’t transfer or they don’t qualify for the licenses they need.

Until it filed for bankruptcy in 2015, the Corinthian College group was a leader in student loan fraud. Federal authorities, as well as the California attorney general’s office have gone after Corinthian. California’s AG successfully obtained a judgment for more than a billion dollars due to deceptive advertising and unlawful lending practices, and the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau obtained a 40 percent reduction in the private loans owed for tuition at Corinthian Colleges.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education discharged student loan debt for over 27,000 students who enrolled in one of Corinthian’s programs, and it has promised debt relief to 23,000 more former students seeking debt relief based on allegations of fraud.

ITT Tech was another for-profit that filed for bankruptcy, leaving more than 35,000 students in limbo when it closed.

Corinthian, like many other for-profit schools, used fine-print forced arbitration clauses in its student enrollment contracts to have any litigation against the school dismissed.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not been able to secure loan relief to students.

Relief may be on the way in the form of a rule that requires schools taking federal aid to drop forced arbitration, allowing students to pursue fraud claims in court. But DeVos has delayed the rule and is considering reversing it.

Not all for-profit colleges are in favor of arbitration. The University of Phoenix has eliminated mandatory arbitration clauses in student-enrollment agreements. Greg Cappelli, CEO of University of Phoenix’s parent company said that the decision “is the right choice for all of our students.”

DeVry University has also eliminated mandatory arbitration clauses.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a new rule that restores the ability of students, service members and other consumers to band together in court when banks, student lenders and other financial companies act illegally.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.