The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!

Friday, July 25, 2014

VFW Testifies on VA Care Problems; Tells Congress to Pass Veterans Access Bill NOW

On Thursday, Deputy Director VFW National Veterans Service Ryan Gallucci testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on the issue of restoring trust in the VA health care system. In his remarks, Gallucci laid out the VFW’s actions in response to the recent crisis and the VFW’s concerns moving forward. He detailed the findings of the VFW’s recent outreach and intervention campaign via the 1-800-VFW-1899 help line, and also outlined the VFW’s specific concerns and recommendations to address VA scheduling problems, consistency in the delivery of non-VA care, and the culture of accountability.

Gallucci, who returned late Wednesday night from the VFW National Convention, also carried forward a message of outrage directly from the VFW membership over the slow pace with which Congress is working to pass the “Veterans Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act,” explaining that the bill absolutely must pass before Congress leaves for August recess.

“When the current scandal broke, every legislator agreed that this was a national imperative,” Gallucci said. “However, some have recently backed off, caring more about cost than the veterans who are waiting for care.”

Gallucci’s remarks reinforced the resolution passed on the VFW Convention floor on Monday afternoon calling for the bill’s immediate passage, and comments Tuesday morning from VFW Commander-in-Chief Bill Thien, who bluntly told Congress, "pass a bill or don’t come back from recess.”

To add your voice telling Congress to pass the “Veterans Access Act,” click here.

Other panelists echoed the VFW’s sentiment that it was time for action. Several committee members expressed their frustrations with the ongoing process, but the VSOs were uncompromising, explaining that veterans expect Congress to take action. The panelists also reinforced the notion that the VA health care system must continue to serve as the primary delivery mechanism to care for America’s veterans.

“As we seek to resolve these issues, we must be careful not to dismantle VA or abdicate VA of its responsibility to care for veterans,” Gallucci said. “VA care is far too important, since many of its services cannot be duplicated civilian side.”

The committee also heard detailed testimony from Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson who spoke about the actions VA is taking to regain veterans confidence and change the culture of the department. He stated that the single most important tool that he needs to reform the system is the authority to expedite personnel actions, and defended VA’s recent request for additional resources on the grounds that they are necessary to provide non-VA care, expand capacity, and update their IT systems.

The committee pressed Gibson on his recent request for $17 billion in emergency funding, explaining that the committee needed more specific information on how VA planned to use the funds before it could support such a large emergency supplemental.

In total, the hearing lasted more than four and half hours.

To view the testimony from the VSOs, including your VFW, click here.

To view the testimony from Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, click here.

Your VFW will continue to press Congress to pass the “Veterans Access Act” before the August recess. We will also continue to work closely with Congress and VA to ensure veterans can receive timely, quality care moving forward. Check back regularly for updates.

(Image: On Thursday VFW's Ryan Gallucci, second from the left, testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Photo by Aleks Morosky.)

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

VFW Helps Introduce Comprehensive Veterans’ Suicide Legislation

For months VFW advocates in Washington have worked behind the scenes with legislators to craft meaningful legislation to address unacceptable rates of suicide among America’s veterans. Today, a bipartisan coalition of veterans’ advocates in the House of Representatives introduced their final product, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which will improve access to mental health programs within the Department of Defense and VA. Your VFW was on hand at the U.S. Capitol this afternoon for a press conference announcing the bill, where VFW advocates spoke in support of the legislation.

“Suicide in the veterans’ community is a widely-known crisis that weighs heavily on this nation and especially those who have served in uniform, ” said VFW Senior Legislative Associate and Iraq veteran Aleks Morosky during the press conference.

Morosky went on to explain that simply raising awareness among veterans was not enough – it is time to take action.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act is a meaningful start in meeting the challenge of facing this complex problem. The bill includes suggestions that the VFW brought to Congress from those on the ground - military professionals, mental healthcare providers, family caregivers and veterans, who struggle with the effects of PTSD every day.

Championed by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla.; Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.; and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., the bill looks to reform the discharge review process within DOD by requiring military review boards to reexamine the circumstances surrounding those discharges entirely, rather than assuming that they were handled properly and requiring the veteran to prove otherwise.

The bill would also establish a VA community outreach program focused on successful transition from active duty to veteran status through peer support. Peer support is a proven model of success within VA facilities for which the VFW has consistently advocated expansion, and using peers support specialists in the community to help connect their fellow veterans with the services they need is the next step.

“Every community in America wants to welcome home and assist returning veterans,” said Morosky, “this bill provides that opportunity.”

The bill was named for Clay Hunt, a Marine from Texas who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and became active in the veterans’ community after leaving the military. After years of battling PTSD, Clay tragically took his own life in 2011.

Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, and advocates from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America were also on hand to discuss the importance of the legislation.

The VFW urges all members of Congress to support and quickly pass this critical legislation so that service members, veterans and their families receive the support and treatment they desperately need.

We ask all of our members and advocates to use the link below to contact their legislators and urge support for The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.

For your legislators contact information, click here.

Check back to monitor the progress of this bill through the blog and our Action Corps Weekly. To sign up to receive the VFW Action Corps Weekly, click here.

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide please reach out to VA’s veteran crisis line at: 
1-(800) 273-8255 press 1.

(Image: VFW Senior Legislative Associate Aleks Morosky explains what the The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will do to help prevent veteran suicide. Photo by Brendon Gehrke.)  

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Friday, May 2, 2014

VFW Joins PBS Screening of “Coming Back”

On Tuesday your VFW was on hand at the U.S. Capitol for a special screening of the new PBS documentary series “Coming Back with Wes Moore.” The three-part series, hosted by Iraq veteran Wes Moore, chronicles the personal experiences of Post-9/11-era veterans and their experiences coming home from war.

The Capitol screening shared the stories of Air Force veteran Stacy Pearsall and Army veteran Bobby Henline – each of whom candidly shared their experiences being injured in war and the difficult road back to normal civilian life.

Henline, who lost his hand and was severely burned from an IED blast in Iraq, recounted his long road to recovery, including the deep emotional struggle that resulted from severe burns suffered all over his face through which he could no longer recognize himself in the mirror. Henline opened up his home and his family opened up their lives to recount the difficult transition, but also the subsequent triumph when Henline discovered he could break the ice and heal through humor.

Pearsall, an Air Force combat correspondent who was also wounded in Iraq, shared her story of returning home and suddenly finding herself out of the military after planning a career of service. After struggling to find her place in post-military life, Pearsall now has made a career as a professional photographer, traveling the country taking portraits of veterans in an effort to demonstrate the diversity of a veterans’ community that represents every facet of American life.

Last year, Pearsall was on hand at the VFW National Convention in Louisville, taking portraits of VFW members, and she will join the VFW once again this year for the National Convention in St. Louis.

After the film, Moore, Henline and Pearsall answered questions from the audience, offering more insight into the full series, which will air Tuesdays on PBS starting May 13.

To learn more about “Coming Back with Wes Moore,” click here.

(Image: Wes Moore, Stacy Pearsall, and Bobby Henline field questions from the audience during Tuesday’s screening of “Coming Back.” Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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VFW Joins Monster.com Veterans’ Jobs Summit

Yesterday your VFW joined Monster.com and Military.com for a summit to discuss the national employment situation for veterans. Monster brought together leaders in business, government and veterans’ service to discuss ways in which the nation can better prepare transitioning service members for post-military employment and share promising practices.

The day featured a series of panel discussions on issues like perspectives from military and military spouse job-seekers; myths and stereotypes about the veterans’ community; ways to identify, hire and retain veteran candidates; bridging the gap between military skills and civilian workforce needs; and ways in which communities can come together to better serve the employment needs of veterans.

Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta also took part in the summit, delivering a stirring keynote address in which he recounted his military experiences – including the battle for which he earned the nation’s highest award for combat valor – as well as offered advice on how to better prepare today’s service members for their transition back into civilian life.

One of the panelists, Army Col. Adam Rocke from the Soldier For Life program, explained ways in which the military has improved its transition assistance program, or TAP, to allow transitioning service members more time in which to prepare for post-military life. Rocke explained that the latest iteration of TAP, which was rolled out in 2013, makes service members ask difficult questions about their post-military plans, and ensures that service members accomplish certain tasks before leaving the military, such as applying for jobs or applying to schools.

Since the roll-out of revamped TAP, the VFW has recognized that not only unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans has dropped, but the amount of unemployment benefits paid by the Department of Defense has also been on the decline. Meanwhile, job market participation among Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans continues to outpace participation among civilians within the same age demographics.

However, panelists throughout the day clarified that while both private industry and government agencies have taken steps to improve the veteran’s transition into the job market, more work must be done. Unemployment among young veterans continues to outpace civilian unemployment, and certain military-trained skills still do not directly correlate to civilian career tracks.

Moreover, some employers still hold onto significant negative stereotypes about the veterans’ community, which may leave many reluctant to hire a veteran. Some of these include the ongoing narrative about “broken” veterans who may suffer from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder; concerns about perpetual military obligations for members of the National Guard and Reserve; or misunderstandings about military culture, military life, or military job skills.

Members of Congress were also on hand for the day’s events, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.; and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., each of whom shared why veterans’ transition and employment was not only important to them, but an imperative for the nation’s economy.

Your VFW continues to be a leading voice in veterans’ transition and employment, working closely with VA, Department of Labor, and the Pentagon on implementation and improvement of each agency’s transitional and educational resources. As the VFW continues to advocate for favorable policies and services for transitioning veterans, check back regularly for updates.

(Image: Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta shares his personal experiences during yesterday’s keynote address. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Field Report: Alaska Discusses Veterans’ Issues with Senator Begich

This week, leaders from the VFW Department of Alaska met in Kenai for a town hall meeting with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. The discussion centered on veterans’ issues with an emphasis on ending the budget sequestration and passing the VFW-supported veterans’ omnibus legislation, S. 1982. Begich, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, spoke positively about many of the provisions of the omnibus package, and said that he hopes the Senate will take it up very soon. He also expressed his support to ending sequestration, which could seriously hurt Department of Defense and VA programs in future years

The VFW issued an Action Alert earlier this week to call for the passage of S. 1982. It has so far generated more than 2,800 messages to all 100 Senate offices on Capitol Hill.

According to VFW National Council of Administration member Bob Myles, more than 40 veterans joined in the meeting, where the senator answered questions for more than an hour. Myles also said that Begich and his staff consistently asked for the VFW’s insight on current veterans’ issues, and invited the VFW to continue participating in congressional field hearings, as well as other veteran and military-related events across Alaska.

To submit your Field Reports for consideration on the VFW’s Capitol Hill blog, simply fill out our online form here, or send photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org. Information for this story was provided by VFW National Council of Administration member Bob Myles.

(Image: VFW National Council of Administration Member Bob Myles poses for a photo alongside Sen. Mark Begich during his recent Town Hall Meeting in Kenai, Alaska.)

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