TREA: The ENLISTED ASSN
NEWS FOR THE ENLISTED
FOR JUNE 15,2012
HAPPY FATHERS DAY!
Yes, this Sunday is Fathers Day. And below please find a very appropriate article from the VA. We at TREA wish all you Fathers a wonderful weekend celebration.
Now to business. It was a rather quiet week in Washington since the House of Representatives was on recess. But the Senate held some important and dramatic hearings. And new ideas about what to do about the threat of the looming sequestration were talked about. Hopefully more on that next week.
1) A Story of Fathers and Sons from the VA
Three Generations of Veterans
A face in the kitchen window frightened and then puzzled me. After a few seconds, I recognized whose face it was. It was my father Chief Carpenter (CWO) Charles E Bellais. He was in his naval aviator uniform—green in those days—and his hat with the naval officer emblem gleamed in the evening light. He was home from the war. This was August 22, 1945.
We did not expect he would be home within a week after the war ended but there he was staring through the kitchen window. Running into the living room and shouting, “Daddy’s in the back yard,” everyone thought I was hallucinating. I was so excited I forgot to go to the door and let him in resulting in a strong bang on the back door.
Our dad was home and we anticipated peace.
Four years earlier, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There was a somber mood in our Navy Housing area that day. We knew our navy father was going to war. A few months later, my mother would put a blue service star in our front window.
Nearly seventy years later I put a service star banner out in front of my home. The star, for my son as he served in Afghanistan, represented three generations of men (grandfather, father, and son) who have gone off to serve in a foreign war.
In addition, my father served in the World War I era. He joined the Army in 1918 as a medical corpsman when he was 17 years old. The Philippines, instead of France, became his first assignment. Nevertheless, he did not avoid the turmoil of the time. His regiment served at Vladivostok, Russia, to guard the Trans-Siberian Railroad against the Bolshevik’s Red Army and the Japanese who occupied neighboring Manchuria. The brutal conditions of Eastern Siberia convinced him that his soldiering days were over. On his return to the U.S. and after discharge from the Army, he decided he wanted to be a sailor; he joined the Navy.
In 1953, I decided I wanted some adventure after high school and I joined the Marine Corps. I too went to Asia to serve in the Fleet Marine Force. This was the era of the Korean War.
Later I decided to work toward an Army commission while in college and earned my gold bars in 1960. By 1968, I was on my way to Vietnam for my first year there leaving behind my four-month-old son, his six-year-old sister, and their mother. Two years after my return, I repeated the sad good-byes and returned to Vietnam.
My son, LCDR John C. Bellais, USNR, is now the third generation of my family to go off to war in the past ninety years. He served with the Navy in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant in 2010 and 2011.
The star on the flag that flew out in front of my home represented a man who was four months old when I departed or Vietnam in June 1968. Like his father and grandfather, my son left his home to answer the call of country and to fulfill duties as a naval officer, leaving behind an infant son and his mother.
William Bellais served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He went on to become commissioned in the U.S. Army and serve his country again in Vietnam.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), held a hearing this past Wednesday to examine legislation designed to expand economic and educational opportunity, among other things, for veterans. TREA: The Enlisted Association was represented at the meeting by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders.
While many bills were discussed at the hearing, six of importance sticks out:
S. 1798, The Open Air Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011: TREA: The Enlisted Association supports this bill as a way of identifying servicemembers who have been exposed to burn pits and to inform them of any programs that may be targeted towards them in the future. VA opposes the bill, saying that the registry won’t be of any use in diagnosing symptoms. However, one of the many problems with VA’s system of retroactively identifying service-connected disabilities is getting the word out, and we believe that this will help to accomplish that mission.
S. 1852, The Spouses of Heroes Education Act: TREA: The Enlisted Association strongly supports this move to make the spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits even though the servicemember died before they transferred the benefit to their spouse. The current Survivor and Dependents Educational Assistance program (DEA) simply is inadequate for the needs of today’s Gold Star family members when it comes to raising a family on their own while also going to school.
S. 2179, The Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act: TREA: The Enlisted Association believes that some reforms to military educational benefits need to be made in order to both safeguard the benefit and to prevent certain bad actors from defrauding US taxpayers and denying servicemembers and veterans the ability to make a better life for them and their families once they leave the military. With that in mind S. 2179 would enact oversight of institutions that take federal money from servicemembers and veterans to ensure they are providing value in exchange for their tuition. It also requires that all students using military education benefits are fully informed about their decisions and have the ability to easily and quickly report waste, fraud and abuse. Finally, it would require that any vocational school that trains students so that they can receive a license or certification actually meets the training requirements as defined by the state or approving body that issues the license or certification. These changes will go a long way towards ensuring that veterans are actually receiving what was promised from their earned benefit.
S. 2299, The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Act of 2012: This bill is extremely important because of the focus the Department of Defense has put on using the Guard and Reserve as an “Operational Reserve” in the coming years. This bill would require employers to affirm an employee’s military status, as well as granting powers to subpoena and serve defendants in Servicemember Civil Relief Act lawsuits. TREA: The Enlisted Association supports this legislation.
S. 3236, the Servicemember Employment Protection Act of 2012 is important for the same reason as S. 2299: in the coming years more will be asked of the Guard and Reserve, and strengthening protections for them in regards to civil lawsuits and re-employment rights will be critical to maintaining national security. Thus, TREA: The Enlisted Association strongly supports removing the ability of employers to use binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts (thus making servicemembers unable to defend their rights in court using Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, or USERRA) , expanding USERRA to include servicemembers undergoing medical treatment for service-connected disabilities and disbarring government contractors who violate USERRA repeatedly.
S. 3233, The Servicmembers Access to Justice Act of 2012 would remove the “sovereign immunity” defense that the federal government often uses when it is hit with USERRA complaints. It would also remove USERRA claims from the reach of binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts, and it includes mandatory recovery of legal fees for attorneys who win USERRA claims, as well as making notice of USERRA compliance mandatory for federal contractors and granting the right to a jury trial. All of these provisions will far towards making service in the Guard and Reserve more attractive in the coming years.
TREA will keep you updated on any developments.
This week TMA described several projects that they were working on to several VSO representatives including TREA Washington Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman. The most interesting piece of news was that they have put on hold the planning of implementation of several fees proposed in the President’s FY2013 budget since both the House and the Senate’s proposed bills did not include the changes. However they are going forward with implementing the changes that were included in last year’s law. Primarily that means they are instituting the COLA increase for retirees under the age of 65 enrolled in TRICARE Prime. To know what these costs are you can go to www.tricare.mil/costs
Below please find the latest explanation of the enrollment fees:
Other small changes in TRICARE programs include:
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently released a report on its investigation of well-off veterans who find a way to qualify for a VA pension program that is meant to help low-income veterans. According to the study, there are more than 200 companies that offer financial services that help some veterans defraud the government. The VA pension program involved is “means-tested,” which means it is meant only for veterans with a low income.
In its report, the GAO explained, “…we identified over 200 organizations that market financial and estate planning services to help pension claimants with excess assets qualify for pension benefits. These organizations consist primarily of financial planners and attorneys who offer products such as annuities and trusts. All 19 organizations our investigative staff contacted said a claimant can qualify for pension benefits by transferring assets before applying, which is permitted under the program. Two organization representatives said they helped pension claimants with substantial assets, including millionaires, obtain VA’s approval for benefits. Some products and services provided, such as deferred annuities, may not be suitable for the elderly because they may not have access to their funds within their expected lifetime without facing high withdrawal fees. Also, such asset transfers may result in ineligibility for Medicaid coverage for long-term care for a period of time. The majority of the 19 organizations contacted charged fees, ranging from a few hundred dollars for benefits counseling to $10,000 for establishment of a trust. In our report we asked Congress to consider establishing a look-back and penalty period for pension claimants who transfer assets prior to applying for pension benefits, similar to other federally supported means-tested programs, such as Medicaid. We also recommended that VA obtain timely information on asset transfers, strengthen income and asset verification processes, and provide clearer guidance to claims processors. VA concurred with our recommendations and agreed that a look back and penalty period for asset transfers was needed.”
As a result of the study, three senators have introduced legislation to fix the problem. The bill, authored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to look back at an applicant’s true net worth for the previous three years and penalize those who falsify their applications. Currently, the VA only looks at an applicant’s net worth as of the date they apply for the pension benefits and there is no procedure for determining how recently an applicant may have transferred his or her assets in order to qualify for the program.
This week, the Department of Veterans affairs released the following information:
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced that his department will add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce to help meet the increased demand for mental health services. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has developed an aggressive national recruitment program to implement the hiring process quickly and efficiently.
“The mental health and well-being of our brave men and women who have served the Nation is the highest priority for this department,” said Secretary Shinseki. “We must ensure that all Veterans seeking mental health care have access to timely, responsive and high-quality care.”
VA has developed an aggressive national mental health hiring initiative to improve recruitment and hiring, marketing, education and training programs, and retention efforts for mental health professionals, to include targeted recruitment in rural and highly-rural markets. This will help VA to meet existing and future demands of mental health care services in an integrated collaborative team environment and continue to position VA as an exemplary workplace for mental health care professionals.
It is critical for VA to proactively engage psychiatrists and other mental health care providers about the vital mission to deliver high-quality mental health services, especially for returning combat Veterans.
“The VA mental health community is aggressively transforming the way mental health care services are provided to the Veteran population. As the mental health care workforce continues to increase, VA is committed to improving Veterans’ access to services, especially for at-risk Veterans,” said VA’s Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel.
The national recruitment program provides VHA with an in-house team of highly skilled professional recruiters employing private sector best practices to fill the agency’s most mission critical clinical and executive positions. The recruitment team consists of 21 national, dedicated health care recruiters targeting physician and specialty health care occupations. These recruiters also understand the needs of Veterans because each member is a Veteran.
VHA has also established a hiring and tracking task force to provide oversight for this initiative to move the process forward expeditiously in a focused manner to ensure challenges, issues, or concerns are addressed and resolved. This task force is accountable for reporting progress in hiring of mental health professionals in these occupations: psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers, mental health technicians, marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors.
VHA anticipates the majority of hires will be selected within approximately six months and the most “hard-to-fill” positions filled by the end of the second quarter of FY 2013. VA has an existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff that includes nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.
Interested mental health care providers can find additional information about VA careers and apply for jobs online at www.vacareers.va.gov. To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, Veterans can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov.
Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.
This week the results of a study by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) were released to the public that says most corporate executives now believe hiring veterans is “good business.” In a survey of 69 businesses done by CNAS, those executives said veterans were reliable, loyal, disciplined, and had good character and those are the reasons they look for veterans to hire.
However, the study also says the Labor Department and Department of Defense must become better at helping veterans translate their military experience into marketable skills because many employers have a difficult time understanding how military experience helps equip veterans for jobs in the private sector.
Bloomberg news service reports that about 12.7 percent of veterans who have served in the services sometime since 2001 were unemployed last month, compared to a 7.7 percent unemployment rate for all non-veterans.
According to the study, some employers still view veterans negatively because of “concerns about the effects of combat stress, including post-traumatic stress issues, anger management, and tendencies toward violence.”
Another concern of some employers is concern about future deployments. “Some employers are concerned that veterans will leave their civilian employment for long or repeated deployments. This is particularly true of employees who serve in the National Guard or Reserve.
More U.S. troops are dying due to suicide than in the war in Afghanistan. Newly released data shows 154 suicides among active duty troops in 155 days. That is clearly 1 a day and more than 50% more than those killed in Afghanistan. This surge from last year was not expected by the Pentagon and they do not have an immediate explanation for it.
In 2008 and 2009 the active duty suicide rate was also higher than the combat death rates in Afghanistan. This recent surge is 18% over last year’s rate for the same part of the year. And this is happening after all the services have focused on trying to prevent suicides.
Suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011 which is one of the reasons the present surge came as a surprise. Studies have suggested that possible reasons for the large number of suicides include combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems, and the pressure of multiple combat tours. However substantial numbers of the Army suicides are committed by soldiers who have never been deployed.
The head of the newly created Defense Suicide Prevention Office in the Pentagon, Jackie Garrick, reacted to the new data by saying:"We are very concerned at this point that we are seeing a high number of suicides at a point in time where we were expecting to see a lower number of suicides. . She guessed that perhaps the difficult economy might to be adding to the pressure but then added, “What makes one person become suicidal and another not is truly an unknown."
These numbers include only active duty suicides. They do not show the number of veterans who commit suicide or the number of non- mobilized members of the Guard and Reserve.
One thing everyone who is trying to deal with this problem is attempting to lessen the stigma that people in the military (and the rest of society) about seeking help for mental illness or distress. SecDef Panetta wrote: "We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues…… Commanders cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services."
On Thursday DoD stated that they plan the first ever salute to gay and lesbian troops marking June as Gay Pride month. Officials would not say exactly what the event would be but said that Secretary of Defense Panetta believes it is important to recognize the service of gays in the military.
For several years other federal departments and agencies have celebrated June as Gay Pride Month. DoD’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy was repealed last September. This will be the first time DoD marks the celebration.
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