Tag Archives: DOD

September 27, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sarge
What’s new regarding the VA Compensation program?

Jason D
Via the internet

Dear Jason
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the awarding of 12 contracts between 5 firms totaling $6.8 billion to improve the Medical Disability Examination process (Compensation and Pension or Comp and Pen Examinations) for Veterans. The awards are intended to reduce Veterans’ wait times for examinations for service-connected benefits, thereby providing faster claims decisions in a more efficient and streamlined way.

“This is good news for Veterans who are waiting for VA to determine whether a condition can be considered service-connected,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “For these Veterans, we want the process to be smoother – from beginning to end. When we announced the MyVA initiative in 2014 to improve Veterans’ experience with VA, that meant looking at every process and every product. These awards represent a way for us to improve a significant process for Veterans.”

Contracts were awarded to the following firms:

  • VetFed Resources, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia;
  • Logistics Health, Inc., La Crosse, Wisconsin;
  • Medical Support Los Angeles, A Medical Corporation, Pasadena, CA;
  • QTC Medical Services, Inc., Diamond Bar, California; and
  • Veterans Evaluation Services, Inc., Houston, Texas.

The contracts are being awarded for a period of 12 months with (4) 12-month options, with an aggregate ceiling of $6.8 billion. The contracts will be managed by VA’s Strategic Acquisition Center based in Frederick, MD.

Shaft NotesBlue military style mailbag with BAVF red letters stenciled on it. Below the BAVF is a tag that says SGT. SHAFT
Chairman Miller released the below statement regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General report on the replacement Denver VA medical center, the biggest construction failure in VA History.

“To this day, the department’s handling of the replacement Denver VA medical center continues to be a case study in government waste, incompetence and secrecy. This report makes two things abundantly clear: there are many more people responsible for the biggest construction failure in VA history than the department has led the public to believe, and it is possible that former VA construction chief Glenn Haggstrom or other employees committed perjury in hiding information regarding the project’s cost overruns during congressional testimony. Consequently, I will be asking the Department of Justice to determine whether charges are warranted against Haggstrom or others, and I am renewing my call for VA to immediately fire Office of Construction and Facilities Management Executive Director Stella Fiotes, who has presided over much of the Denver project’s mismanagement yet remains firmly entrenched at the department. It’s well past time for the department to fire all of those responsible for botching this project or explain to America’s veterans and American taxpayers why these individuals have earned the right to continued VA employment.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and a bipartisan group of Congressional Members delivered a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter calling for the Department of Defense (DoD) to address millions of dollars misused by DoD personnel on government travel credit cards.The letter follows a recent Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD OIG) report revealing inadequate action by the DoD to respond to multiple cases of abuse in recent years.

“In just one year, from July 2013 to June 2014, an initial audit found 4,437 transactions totaling $952,258 in which government travel cards were likely used at casinos for personal expenditures.Furthermore, the report noted more than 900 instances of these government-issued cards being used at adult entertainment establishments, totaling $96,576,” the lawmakers wrote.“The most recent report found that the Department of Defense has failed to take appropriate actions to resolve the issues highlighted by the previous audit.The Department has not taken steps to eliminate additional misuse of the government travel cards, initiated reviews for improper payments, or consistently considered the security implications of the misused travel cards.As a result, the government travel card program remains susceptible to continued waste and exploitation.”

The letter was also signed by Reps.Jim Costa (CA-16), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Walter B.Jones (NC-03), Seth Moulton (MA-06), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09).Full text is available below:

Dear Secretary Carter,
We are writing to express our concern about DoD personnel misusing government travel cards and American tax payer dollars.

The Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD OIG) has investigated these abuses on multiple occasions in recent years. The most recent investigation resulted in a report, issued on August 30, 2016, in which the DoD OIG found the Department has not done enough to respond to the infractions. The report findings also suggest the Department still maintains insufficient processes to address the problem: insufficient instruction on the appropriate use of the government travel card; improper reimbursements for personal expenses; and a tepid response from DoD management to correct these issues. Most troubling is that the most recent audit was conducted as a response to a previous report on DoD misuse of government travel cards released in 2015.

In a one year period from July 2013 to June 2014, the initial audit found 4,437 transactions totaling $952,258 in which government travel cards were likely used at casinos for personal use. Furthermore, the report noted more than 900 instances of cards being used at adult entertainment establishments, totaling $96,576.

The most recent report found that the DoD has not taken appropriate actions to resolve the issues highlighted by the previous audit. The DoD has not taken steps to eliminate additional misuse, initiate reviews for improper payments, or consistently considered the security implications of the misused travel cards. As a result, the government travel card program remains vulnerable to continued waste and exploitation.

The DoD IG made a number of recommendations to re-focus the Department’s efforts on identifying, investigating, and reporting the misuse or abuse of government travel cards. In light of the Department’s halfhearted response to the previous audit, we request a response on how the Department intends to implement the DoD IG’s recommendations. We will continue to monitor the Department’s progress.

We thank you for your attention to our concerns. We welcome further discussion on this issue.



June 7, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Are there any new programs of concern to women veterans?

Nancy K
Via the internet

Dear Nancy
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans recently announced a partnership with LeanIn.Org, the nonprofit organization founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to empower women to achieve their ambitions. Building on the successful launch of LeanInCircles.org  within the Department of Defense, VA is following the same model to increase support to women Veterans.

The VA initiative is called the LeanIn.Org Women Veterans’ chapter. The Women Veterans Chapter is comprised of two distinct pilot programs: the Veteran-to-Veteran program, a virtual program, which allows any woman Veteran to participate, no matter where she is located; meetings will be moderated and attended by women Veterans throughout the United States. The second is a face-to-face pilot circle. The face-to-face program is created in partnership with the existing LeanIn.Org chapter in Seattle, WA.  This circle is an innovative hybrid of women Veterans and non-military members providing an environment for both to learn and share leadership skills.

“We are thrilled to have LeanIn.Org as our collaborative partner,” said Kayla M. Williams, Director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “For many years, women Veterans have expressed to us that they need to have a mechanism to engage with their fellow women Veterans to make a difference in their community and we believe this is the perfect match. VA is pleased to be a part of these two pilot programs.”

“Women are the fastest growing population of our nation’s Veterans and through this Circles program, these women will have the peer support and community they need to reach their goals,” said Ashley Finch, LeanIn.Org, Head of Partnerships. “Leanin.Org is proud to be a part of this groundbreaking and important initiative.”

For more information about the LeanIn.org Women Veterans’ chapter, visit LeanIn.Org/womenvets or http://leaninseattle.org/veterans.

Shaft Notes
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a rule to grant full practice authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) when they are acting within the scope of their VA employment. Full practice authority will help optimize access to VA health care by permitting APRNs to assess, diagnose, prescribe medications and interpret diagnostic tests. This action proposes to expand the pool of qualified health care professionals authorized to provide primary health care and other related health care services to the full extent of their education, training, and certification to Veterans without the clinical supervision of a physician.

APRNs are clinicians with advanced degrees and training who provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. APRNs complete masters, post-master or doctoral degrees. There are four APRN roles: Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and Certified Nurse Midwife. All VA APRNs are required to obtain and maintain current national certification.

“The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Implementation of the final rule would be made through VHA policy, which would clarify whether and which of the four APRN roles would be granted full practice authority. At this time, VA is not seeking any change to VHA policy on the role of CRNAs, but would consider a policy change in the future to utilize full practice authority when and if such conditions require such a change,” Shulkin said.  “This is good news for our APRNs, who will be able to perform functions that their colleagues in the private sector are already doing.”

The American Nurses Association (ANA) applauds VHA’s leadership for proposing to grant full practice authority to the four types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. “VA will be able to more effectively meet the health care needs of our nation’s Veterans,” said ANA President Pamela Cipriano. “This proposal removes barriers that prevent APRNs from providing a full range of services and will assist VA in its ongoing efforts to address staff shortages and improve Veterans’ access to care. APRNs are critical members of the health care workforce and an integral component of the health care delivery system with a proven track record of safe quality care and high patient satisfaction.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it will extend the healthcare enrollment application period for one year to approximately 545,000 living Veterans that have pending incomplete enrollment applications.

“Fixing the Veterans enrollment system is a top priority for VA. This is an important step forward to regain Veterans’ trust and improve access to care as we continue the MyVA Transformation,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. “We’ve got a lot of work left to do, but this is a big step in the right direction to restore the data integrity of our enrollment system,” Gibson said.

The National Enrollment Improvement team conducted a detailed analysis of the pending applications in VA’s enrollment system and identified approximately 545,000 living Veterans whose applications were incomplete and in a pending status. The team also validated that approximately 288,000 pending enrollment system records were for deceased Veterans. VA has segregated deceased records from living Veteran records and, as part of the Veteran Enrollment Rework Project (VERP), will review each incomplete application to determine if any should have been enrolled in VA health care.

As Veterans choose to enroll, VA offers an enhancement to their enrollment experience through “Welcome to VA” (W2VA). Veterans enrolled since July 1, 2015 have received a personal introduction to VA health care services, programs and resources to help them become more familiar with VA’s services. In addition, VA sends each new enrollee an introductory letter and personalized handbook in the mail. W2VA enhances communication by reaching out to newly enrolled Veterans through personal phone calls upon enrollment, providing assistance with health care inquiries and assisting with their initial appointment at their preferred VA healthcare facility.

January 26, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Have you heard anything about new members being appointed to the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans?

Jenifer R
Via the internet

Dear Jenifer
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the appointment of four new members to the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. The committee was chartered on November 2, 1994, and advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the needs of the nation’s 4.7 million minority Veterans on compensation, health care, rehabilitation, outreach and other benefits and programs administered by the VA.   The committee assesses the needs of Veterans who are minority group members and recommends program improvements designed to meet their needs. The committee members are appointed to two or three-year terms. Minority Veterans comprise nearly 21 percent of the total Veteran population in the United States and its territories.

The new committee members are:

Melissa Castillo: Navy Veteran of San Antonio, Texas. Served as the Assistant Regional Director for San Antonio Region, Veterans County Service Officer Association of Texas; Assistant Women Veterans Coordinator; Advisor to the US Army Survivor Outreach Services Program; and Advisor to the Alamo Community College District Veterans Affairs Committee.  Currently serves as the Assistant Veterans Service Officer at the Bexar County Veterans Service Office in San Antonio, Texas, and is an accredited Veterans Service Officer.

Benno Cleveland: Army Veteran of Fairbanks, Alaska. Served two tours in Dong Tam, Vietnam where he earned a Purple Heart.  He also served as Senior Vice Commander and Department Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  In recognition of his distinguished military service, the Alaska Federation of Natives bestowed him with their “Veteran of the Year” honors in 2014 at their Annual Convention in Anchorage. Mr. Cleveland also founded the Alaska Native Veterans Association and is currently serving as President.

Ginger Miller: Navy Veteran of Accokeek, Maryland, and former homeless disabled Veteran. Ms. Miller became Founder and CEO of two nonprofit organizations that serve Veterans and their families: John 14:2, Inc. and Women Veterans Interactive.  She served as Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission; Commissioner, Maryland Commission for Women; member of the Maryland Veterans Resilience Advisory Council; and a member of the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council.  She is currently a member of Disabled American Veterans.

Xiomara Sosa:  Army Veteran of Summerville, South Carolina. Ms. Sosa is the Founder and Principal of XAS Consulting, LLC, an integrative mental healthcare and holistic wellness consulting firm. She served on the Women Veteran Social Justice board of directors; Military Partners and Families Veteran Initiative; the Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness Advisory Board; and a current member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.

The new members join current members:

Marvin Trujillo, Jr., Committee Chairman, Marine Corps Veteran

Many-Bears Grinder, Col. (USA-Ret)

Patricia Jackson-Kelley, Lt. Col. (USA-Ret)

Librado Rivas, Command Sgt. Maj. (USA-Ret)

Teresita Smith, Sgt. First Class (USA-Ret)

Rebecca Stone, Staff Sgt. (USA-Ret)

Cornell Wilson, Jr., Maj. Gen. (USMC-Ret)

Anthony Woods, Army Veteran

Shaft Notes
Brooke Goldberg, Deputy Director for MOAA’s Government Relations Department,  testified on behalf of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)  and The Military Coalition before the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee today on the military commissary program and maintaining the value of this important benefit for the entire uniformed services community.

Goldberg thanked the committee for their continued support of the “landmark benefit” that remains protected due to their efforts.

She went on to explain how military families are doing a lot more with a lot less citing smaller pay raises and decreased housing allowances. She said families rely on the consistent products, savings and sense of community provided by the commissary.

The FY2016 Defense Authorization Act specified that any changes to the commissary system must ensure the same levels of product quality, patron savings, and patron satisfaction or maintained.

Goldberg said those standards are exactly the ones that should be used in assessing any proposed changes.  In the process, she said, it will be important to guard against any redefinition of what the “patron benefit” actually is.

She described how the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) currently compares thousands of items in its market basket study, weighted by sales volume, against private grocers and calculates an average savings level of 30 percent. When Boston Consulting Group measured just 50 items in their market basket, it found a much lower savings level.

“We believe that changing the market basket could result in a reduced benefit by excluding comparison of items commonly purchased by patrons in calculating the savings measured,” Goldberg said. “Therefore, maintaining consistency with previous calculations is imperative to continuing the benefit that patrons know and rely on.”

“The commissary is more than just a grocery store; it is a benefit that supplements income for the currently serving, wounded warriors, widows and military retirees, at a price that would be far more costly to DoD if paid in monetary compensation,” said Goldberg.  She explained that while the commissary costs taxpayers the equivalent of a 2 percent pay raise for the entire military, the monetary value of grocery savings it delivers for an E-5 family of four with eight years of service equates to a 9 percent pay raise. That amount is higher for more junior families.

“In times of austerity, we should not be doing anything to cut a benefit that the currently serving, wounded, widows and retirees so greatly rely upon and earned access to, when we cannot afford to replace it with something equally good or better,” she stated.

Representative Joe Heck, subcommittee chairman, expressed his appreciation for the views of the witnesses, asserting the subcommittee’s intent is to preserve the benefit first while exploring options that might generate savings while still meeting that prerequisite.

“The goal is to continue to sustain a commissary benefit that is substantial and valued,” he concluded.

August 25, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
I understand that there is a program initiative for wounded warriors and their families. Do you have any formation on this?

Via the internetDear RW

Dear RW
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) are cosponsoring the 9th Warrior-Family Symposium here in D.C. on Sept. 9 www.moaa.org/wfs2015.

For those who may not have received the latest news release on the WFS it said,” We invite you to join us. I realize some of you are out the immediate D.C. metro area, but thought you would like to hear about this important event and the issues addressed for future stories. Please let me know if I can connect you to any of our panelists.

NOTE: Army Chief of Staff, Gen Odierno covered a wide range of topics during his final presser last week. You may find his final question from Barbara Starr, CNN, to be interesting and relevant for our WFS.  Starr asked him about long term care for our wounded.  Gen Odierno addressed caregivers, easing restrictions on private enterprise to collaborate more with DOD and VA, taking care of senior leaders officers and NCOs, and staying connected to Gold star families.

Shaft Notes
The John A. Biedrzycki Jr., national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) added his official signature to the new congressional charter of its Auxiliary organization in a historical event solidifying the VFW’s commitment to membership equality for all military families.

Watch the charter presentation ceremony on Youtube.

The former Ladies Auxiliary VFW, founded in 1914, is the VFW’s highly regarded support organization and is considered its “Partner in Service.”

Under its former name Ladies Auxiliary VFW, membership within the organization was offered exclusively to female spouses and family members of any member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The gender-specific eligibility requirement remained for more than 100 years until July 20, 2015, when delegates to the VFW’s 116th National Convention in Pittsburgh voted to amend the dated by-law to extend the same membership opportunity to eligible males.

Appropriately, the Ladies Auxiliary VFW has changed its official name to the VFW Auxiliary.

“It’s an exciting time to be a member of the Auxiliary,” said National President Francisca Guilford. “Women comprise nearly twenty percent of our nation’s military, and this change allows all spouses, fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons and brothers to serve others in honor of their veteran.”

Currently, the Auxiliary has more than 465,000 members, a number that is now expected to sharply increase over the next year. Its members represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, several foreign locations including Germany, Guam and Panama, and have made an impact in local communities around the globe.

Last year alone, its members worked to provide $4.6 million dollars in monetary aid to veterans, active duty military and their families, and volunteered nearly 800,000 hours in VA Medical Centers, hospitals, nursing and veterans’ homes. Auxiliary members also contributed greatly to cancer research, youth activities, civic patriotism and much more.

For more information about the VFW Auxiliary, please visit www.vfwauxiliary.org.

Sgt. Shaft Kudos badgeKudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on its announcement that it has revised its regulation regarding the presence of animals on VA property. The updated regulation will ensure VA practices remain consistent with applicable federal law. It will also assist individuals entering VA facilities in developing a clear and consistent understanding of the criteria governing facility access for service animals.

“As I have traveled to VA facilities throughout the country, I have heard from many Veterans about what a vital role their service animals play in their lives,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “The revised regulation will ensure Veterans and employees have clear guidance regarding the presence of service animals in our facilities. VA remains committed to ensuring America’s Veterans have access to the health care benefits for which they are eligible.”

Under the revised regulation, only dogs that are individually trained to perform work or tasks on behalf of an individual with a disability will be considered service animals.  Other animals will not be permitted in VA facilities, unless expressly allowed as an exception under the regulation for activities such as animal-assisted therapy or for other reasons such as law enforcement purposes. The regulation further confirms that service animals may access VA property subject to the same terms that govern the admission of the public to VA property, and may be restricted from certain areas on VA properties to ensure that patient care, patient safety, and infection control standards are not compromised.

In accordance with required practices, the revised regulation was published in the Federal Register in November 2014, to obtain feedback from Veterans, advocacy organizations and other stakeholders.

Over the next thirty days, VA will provide training to frontline employees and ensure policies at all facilities are consistent with the new regulation.

Long before there was an organized retail system specifically charged with supporting America’s military, there were sutlers – bands of peddlers who followed the Army and sold provisions.

After the Civil War, Congress found the sutler system to be an ineffective means of serving Soldiers. On July 25, 1895, the War Department intervened and issued General Order Number 46 directing post commanders to establish an exchange at every post practicable.

For the next 46 years, exchanges were independent operations before the Army Exchange Service was formally established in 1941. Six years later, the Air Force was born and, in 1948, AES became the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

As the Army & Air Force Exchange Service and its predecessors mark their 120th anniversary on July 25, the organization’s mission remains basically the same: go where Soldiers, Airmen and their families go to improve their quality of life.

May 19, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
You have highlighted many organizations who have helped our wounded military personnel.  Can you recommend another organization which does exemplary work to which I can contribute?

Thank you for your interesting and up-to-date information.

Via the Internet

Dear RS
I highly recommend the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation) who by the way recently announced the lineup of special guests who attended this year’s 11th annual Night of Heroes Gala, “Building the Future. Honoring the Past.” The event was held on Thursday, May 14, at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., to honor those who lead the way in serving our nation’s defenders, and will also include a special tribute to those who served during the Vietnam era.

“We are proud to honor this diverse group of Americans for their commitment to our troops and their spouses, families, and caregivers,” said Jane Whitfield, president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation. “They represent so many others who support our military community and help them along the way, and we are thankful for their leadership.”

General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret), 32nd Chief of Staff of the United States Army and president and CEO of the Association of the United States Army, received the Military Hero Award. Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, received the Community Hero Award. Betty Easley, the wife and caregiver of United States Army veteran Greg Easley, received the Hero at Home Award.

Other notable guests attending this year’s gala included awards presenters General George W. Casey, Jr., who served as the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and R. James Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Jake Tapper, anchor and Chief Washington correspondent for CNN, who l served as the Master of Ceremonies, and Miss DC Teresa Davis made a special appearance. The evening also included special messages from First Lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Night of Heroes Gala, a black tie or military dress occasion, begin at 6 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Washington, D.C., with a reception and silent auction followed by dinner, live auction, and the program.

“America’s military community is spread out among numerous bases and towns around the world,” added Whitfield. “It’s nice when one night a year we can bring the community together to honor such leaders for their tireless work helping the men and women who work to protect our freedom.”

Sponsors of this year’s gala include event underwriter PSCU and Lee & Penny Anderson; corporate circle of honor sponsor The Niner Foundation; and legendary hero sponsors Allied Solutions, HMS Home Warranty, Leidos, TitleClose, and TrueCar, Inc.

Shaft Notes
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, with leaders from local and national service organizations, corporate employers and government agencies, will announce the launch of the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, an effort focused in a total of 50 U.S. cities to promote economic success for Veterans. The goal: to increase education and employment opportunities America’s Veterans by bringing together local and national employers to coordinate services for Veterans, Servicemembers and military families.

The Veterans Economic Communities Initiative launch event will be hosted at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. During the event, Secretary McDonald, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle White will provide remarks. Campaign partners will participate in panel discussions on public-private partnerships and the Dallas area’s efforts to create a community conducive to Veteran economic success.

Representatives from major corporations such as Hilton Hotels and Resorts and TriWest Healthcare Alliance will also join Secretary McDonald in pledging their commitment to furthering Veteran economic opportunities across the country.

The first 25 communities participating in the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative include:

Atlanta, Georgia; El Paso, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York, New York; San Antonio, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; Honolulu, Hawaii; Los Angeles, California; Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Phoenix, Arizona; Seattle, Washington; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Jacksonville, Florida; Miami Florida; Richmond, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; Riverside, California; Washington, D.C.

For more information about the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, contact Ozzie Garza, Ozzie.garza@va.gov 214-505-4315 and James Hutton, james.hutton@va.gov, 202-461-7600.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) submitted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would restore eligibility for Department of Defense benefits, including tuition assistance, if an individual is unable to complete their education due to the closure of the school.

Last month, Corinthian Colleges Inc. closed its remaining campuses, leaving more than 16,000 students in limbo and thousands of employees without a job. It is estimated that the closure of Corinthian Colleges Inc. could cost American taxpayers $214 million.

After the House Rules Committee refused to consider the amendment, Takano released the following statement:

“I’m disappointed that the Republican-run House Rules Committee refused to consider an amendment that would restore Department of Defense benefits to servicemembers and veterans who are unable to complete their education because their school closed. As we now know, for-profit colleges have intentionally sought to enroll servicemembers and veterans to their institutions specifically for their guaranteed benefits. With several for-profit colleges being investigated for fraud, and the closure of the largest for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, Congress should be working to help the students who have been left with mountains of debt and worthless degrees – especially if they are serving or have served our country. By refusing to consider this amendment, Republicans in the House have aligned themselves with the very worst actors in the for-profit sector, instead of our nation’s heroes. While I’m frustrated with this development, I will continue to explore other avenues to help servicemembers and other students who have been taken advantage of.”

April 14, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
I copied a post from the FRA website that relates to my situation. I was medically retired from the military with less than 20 years active duty because of a service-connected disability. The complete severance of medical retirees from CRDP, 10 USC 1414 has angered me because I would have gladly done 20+ years and been eligible for the benefit. I loved being active duty in the Coast Guard and regret that my career was cut short… frozen in time… by a debilitating disease. An 80% DAV, I am faced with this painful reminder every 1st of the month when I receive my VA disability pay and a small fraction of what I would get it I had served 20 years. I know the FRA is an advocate for this situation. Can you please tell me more of when this issue may hit Congress again and exactly what change the FRA is advocating for?

I am now a federal civilian and have encountered another discriminatory law that baffles me. Although the CRDP law doesn’t give me full consideration as a military retiree, OPM’s policy for Creditable Service for Leave Accrual does. This is detrimental because I am only authorized 4 hrs of leave a pay period for being retired vice 6 hrs a pay period if I had just been separated at 11 yrs. So I am being punished again for leaving the military not on my own terms. Out of anyone, I NEED the leave because of my disability. It would be medically helpful for me to take a day of annual leave regularly to minimize my symptoms. Has the FRA addressed this at all?

Also, do you know when the government is going to update their list of Campaigns and Expeditions creditable for leave accrual? Will they consider Natural Disaster Response periods such as Hurricane Katrina or Deepwater Horizon oil spill operations? Thanks again.

Jaime B
Via the internet

Dear Jamie,
This answer comes courtesy of the Military Officers Association of America. Concurrent receipt programs (the receipt of both retired pay and VA disability compensation) have been incomplete since they were first established back in 2003.

As it stands now, a person with combat-related illnesses or disabilities has full concurrent receipt regardless of years of service or VA disability rating. The combat-related program is known as Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). Here is the USCG CRSC site (http://www.uscg.mil/ppc/ras/CRDP-CRSC-News.asp) for info.

Non-combat-related situations do not have full concurrent receipt. This program is Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP). CRDP requires both 20 or more years of service and a VA rating of 50% or more. Two-thirds of retirees with eligibility for retired pay and VA compensation are not eligible for concurrent receipt due to the CRDP eligibility limitations.

Eliminating the CRDP eligibility limitations has been an initiative on our part up on Capitol Hill ever since the limitations were put in place. Everyone fighting for the elimination of CRDP restrictions understands the wrongheaded logic of docking a retiree’s earned retired pay due to a disability condition and payment—two pays for two completely different reasons.

We could use your support by contacting your elected representatives. In principal, the elected members get it. The problem comes down to money. They are looking to cut the budget and this CRDP initiative costs more money. With the DOD facing massive sequestration budget cuts over the next six years, there are many high priority causes in the DOD fighting for their lives. CRDP is not a priority to the Services or the elected officials so it is an uphill battle being fought by some military associations.

We have these bills working on the Hill. Reference these bills when contacting your elected officials. Senate 271, House 333 and 303.

Thank you for your service.

Shaft Notes
In order to expand eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it will change the calculation used to determine the distance between a Veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility from a straight line distance to driving distance. The policy change will be made through regulatory action in the coming weeks. The Veterans Choice Program was authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA).

“VA has worked very quickly to implement the Veterans Choice Program and we appreciate the constructive feedback shared by Veterans and our partners to help us improve service to Veterans,” said Secretary Robert McDonald. “We’ve determined that changing the distance calculation will help ensure more Veterans have access to care when and where they want it. VA looks forward to the ongoing support of our partners as we continue to make improvements to this new program.”

The method of determining driving distance will be through distance as calculated by using a commercial product. The change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible Veterans.

The Veterans Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows eligible Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program should call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment. Since the Choice Program went into effect on November 5, 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled.

Using expanded authorities from VACAA, VA continues to expand access to care through increased staffing and enhanced collaboration with both the Indian Health Service and Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems. See the VACAA progress fact sheet here:

VA is enhancing its health care system and improving service delivery to better serve Veterans and set the course for long-term excellence and reform. VA has made significant progress in various areas of the legislation, such as extending the Assisted Living/Traumatic Brain Injury Pilot program and Project Arch, to expand timely access to high-quality health care for Veterans.

March 31, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
We seem to be having difficulty obtaining Scriptalk printers for 3 of our VA pharmacy locations within the Greater Los Angeles area. The lack of this technology in our other facilities creates a problem for our blind vets when they receive prescriptions at these locations. As far as I know, there is one at the main pharmacy distribution center in Los Angeles, but when prescriptions are filled at Sepulveda, Bakersfield or West Los Angeles, Scriptalk is not available. We suspect that this issue is not on the pharmacy priority list when it comes to their budget. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated in moving forward to remedy this issue.

Jim H
VIST Volunteer
Greater Los Angeles

Dear Jim
I am forwarding your missive to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald. I am sure that when the secretary learns that blinded vets in your area do not have access to this essential pharmaceutical tool, which allows them to easily identify their medical information by voice, he will ensure that the Los Angeles medical centers get Scriptalk printers.

Shaft Notes
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is issuing a Notice of Funding Availability for up to $8 million in grants for fiscal year 2015 to provide adaptive sports opportunities for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces throughout fiscal year 2016.

“We encourage non-profit organizations, Veterans’ groups, universities, municipalities and other eligible groups to apply for this funding,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Adaptive sports are more than recreation. Adaptive sports can play an important role in Veterans’ rehabilitation process and help ease the transition from the military to the civilian sector.”

Grants are available to non-federal entities with experience in managing a large-scale adaptive sports program for persons with certain disabilities. The grants call for planning, developing, managing and implementing appropriate adaptive sports activities geared to disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces. Adaptive sports are those that have been adapted or created specifically for people with disabilities.

Recipients may use grants for training, program development, coaching, sports equipment, supplies, program evaluation and other activities related to program implementation and operation. The deadline to apply is May 26, 2015.

Applications for the adaptive sports grant program may be found at

In FY 2014, VA awarded $8 million in adaptive sport grants to 65 organizations providing services throughout the United States to approximately 10,000 Veterans and Servicemembers.

sgt_shaft_kudos_smallerKudos to Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) for introducing  the Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act, which would allow deaf and hard of hearing individuals to serve in the United States Air Force in a demonstration program. Original co-sponsors include Rep. Niki Tsongas, Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Ted Lieu, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Currently, the Department of Defense sets medical standards for enlistment. Within the “hearing” section, there are requirements for hearing levels that would exclude an individual who is deaf.  The section also excludes individuals who currently or historically use a hearing aid, or who have a cochlear implant.

The Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act would create a demonstration program in the Air Force for 15-20 Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who would otherwise qualify to serve in the Air Force.

Officer Casey Doane, who grew up in a deaf family and is currently serving as a commissioned Officer in the Air Force, believes hearing impaired Americans are capable of serving.

“It is from my direct experience that I can say it is entirely possible for deaf or hard of hearing Americans to serve in the Air Force,” said Officer Doane. “Obviously, certain accommodations and limitations would have to be made but ultimately no more than for other individuals with unique circumstances who are already serving.  Growing up in a deaf family I was able to see first-hand the adversity that deaf individuals faced every day. But more importantly, I was able to see the determination and perseverance that is necessary to serve as a leader in the Air Force. In fact, I credit my own determination to those experiences.”

“Over the past few decades, our military has given groups who were previously excluded the opportunity to serve,” said Rep. Takano. “It is time for the Armed Forces to do the same for individuals with auditory impairments, as many are fully qualified model cadets. The demonstration program that this legislation would create would allow 15-20 deaf and hard of hearing individuals who would otherwise qualify to serve their country in the Air Force. I’m proud to introduce this legislation and hope that it moves through the House so that millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans have the opportunity to serve their country.”

The National Association of the Deaf has endorsed the legislation.

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) believes that educating our service members, veterans and their families is a matter of critical importance. Each year, FRA’s Education Foundation awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to help students achieve their educational goals. Scholarships are available to all Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard personnel and families, and several more are exclusively available to FRA members, their spouses, and their children and grandchildren.

We want to help the students in your life succeed in their pursuit of a college degree! Please visit the links below to learn more about FRA’s scholarship programs and how to submit an application.

The deadline for applications to our 2015 scholarship program is fast approaching—April 15! Please pass this message along to friends, family members, and others you know who may have eligible family members or be eligible in their own right — especially fellow shipmates who do not use email.

If you have questions about FRA Education Foundation scholarships, please email our scholarship team at scholars@fra.org or call 1-800-FRA-1924.

February 10, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
I am a legally blind Veteran who currently gets most of my prescriptions filled at a DOD Pharmacy, i.e. Randolph Air force Base, TX. I have experienced difficulty being able to tell my prescriptions apart and believe that the use of ScripTalk would ease that problem as well as promote safety in the use of these medications. I know there are other blinded veterans who get their prescriptions from other DOD pharmacies. Would it be possible to make an arrangement whereby some of the DOD pharmacies can offer ScripTalk?

Thank you very much for your help and consideration

Best Regards,
E. M
Via the internet

Dear EM,
ScripTalk Station gives those who can’t read their prescriptions a safe and easy way to listen to all the information printed on the label.  The tabletop ScripTalk Station reads a thin antennae and microchip embedded within the label by the pharmacy. By placing the prescription over the ScripTalk Station Reader, all the information is read out loud. I urge the Department of Defense to do what the VA Medical Centers have been doing for many years and prove the Script Talk devices.

Shaft Notes
Veterans can now track the status of most of their prescriptions online, thanks to an innovative idea by a Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) employee. The new 24/7 service allows online tracking for most prescriptions mailed from the VA Mail Order Pharmacy.

The Prescription Tracker was recommended by VA employee Kenneth Siehr, a winner of the President’s 2013 Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) Award. Siehr’s idea focused on the use of technology as a way to save money and improve the services VA provides to its patients.

“Our nation’s Veterans deserve a first-class pharmacy and quality customer service as a part of the exceptional health care available from VA,” said Siehr, the National Director for Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacies. “It is an honor to be part of serving Veterans and to have been recognized for an idea that enhances our services to them.”

More than 57,000 Veterans are currently using the service through My HealtheVet, an online feature that allows Veterans to partner with their health care team. The number is expected to grow as VA starts to educate Veterans about the new feature.  Later this month, the tracking feature will include images of the medication that dispensed. Over the next year, a secure messaging alert will be added so that Veterans know when a medication was placed in the mail.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald and attorneys representing homeless veterans in Los Angeles announced an agreement that dedicates  the West Los Angeles VA campus to serving veterans in need, and commits the department to design a plan to help end homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles County. The agreement is an important step forward in carrying out President Obama’s commitment that no veteran should live on the streets, or forego necessary medical and psychological services.

“This agreement offers VA a historic opportunity to build new community relationships in Los Angeles and continue the work needed to end veteran homelessness here,” said Secretary McDonald.  “VA is proud of the progress we’ve made in ending veteran homelessness—down 33 percent since 2010—but we won’t be satisfied until every veteran has a home.”

Under the agreement, Secretary McDonald and plaintiffs’ representatives will develop by February 13, 2015 a written plan to help end veteran homeless in Greater Los Angeles. The plan will focus on serving veterans, particularly homeless veterans, women veterans, aging veterans and veterans that are severely disabled. Secretary McDonald will appoint a Special Assistant, who will report directly to him, to oversee the plan’s implementation with the necessary resources and support.

“This historic agreement, forged through the leadership of Secretary McDonald, creates a partnership that will be invaluable to help end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles, provide needed medical care and services, and make concrete our commitment to those who served our nation’s highest calling,” said Ron Olson, one of the counsels for the organizations bringing the lawsuit.

Under the agreement, Secretary McDonald will also launch an accelerated process to develop a new long-term Master Plan for the future use of the West Los Angeles campus.  This Master Plan, which is targeted to be completed by October 16, 2015, will prioritize the provision of bridge housing and permanent supportive housing.  It will also describe an exit strategy for third-party land use agreements that do not comply with applicable laws, and do not fit within the Master Plan.  Representatives from the veterans’ community will be actively involved in providing input to the Master Plan, along with other stakeholders, including the local community.

Attorneys for homeless veterans agreed to pursue a dismissal of the lawsuit Valentini v. McDonald, which was filed in 2011. Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Public Counsel, and Inner City Law Center, with the pro bono support of Arnold & Porter LLP, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe.  The landmark case was a major impetus behind realizing the vision of eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles among veterans who entered the military to serve the nation.

“The Department of Justice is pleased to have come to a positive resolution in this nearly four year litigation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Ending this litigation will facilitate the continuing partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and key stakeholders to end veteran homelessness in greater Los Angeles in 2015 and beyond.”

The 387-acre West Los Angeles VA campus was deeded to the United States in 1888 to serve as a home for disabled veterans.  Today, Los Angeles has the nation’s largest population of homeless and veterans with disabilities.

December 2, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
I am a 74-year-old woman married to a retired Army officer for the past 11 years and before that I was married to an Air Force enlisted man for 27 years both times I was eligible and used Tricare. I will be divorced next year from my present husband and I was wondering how I could continue with Tricare for life benefits since TriCare is the only health care I have ever known for 37 years?

Sharon B

Dear Sharon
In order to continue your Tricare benefit after divorce, you must abide by what’s known as the “20/20/20 rule” under the law. This law states that after a divorce the spouse of a military member or military retiree must have 20 years of marriage, the Service member/retiree must have 20 years or more of service, and the marriage and service years overlap for 20 years. Without meeting this requirement, the Tricare benefit is lost for the non-military spouse. This means you will be covered by Medicare still but it will be without the Tricare supplement backing it up under Tricare for Life. The only way to get the Tricare back is to remarry another military retiree. You should check into Social Security retirement benefits to determine your greatest benefit from which previous spouse. You may want to research Medicare supplement plans to replace the Tricare portion of your coverage.

Shaft Notes
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently held a hearing to explore how VA’s longstanding information technology security weaknesses may be allowing continued data manipulation among VA’s various computer systems.

As VA’s wait time manipulation scandal raged, America learned about data manipulation schemes that involved VA officials using scheduling software to “zero out” appointment wait times and VA electronic records being changed to hide veteran deaths.

A Government Accountability Office review released today details how VA’s failure to fully address known IT weaknesses puts the department’s information “at heightened risk of unauthorized access, modification, and disclosure.” The GAO report comes on the heels of news that VA will fail its annual cybersecurity audit for the 16th straight year.

The purpose of this hearing was to review the steps VA is taking to address its longstanding IT security weaknesses and identify who – if anyone – has been held accountable for VA’s failure to effectively deal with the department’s cybersecurity challenges.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) joined a group of 40 Senate colleagues in supporting the Department of Defense’s (DOD) plan to update the Military Lending Act (MLA) and close existing loopholes in order to better protect soldiers and their families from abusive financial practices.  The letter, sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, expresses strong support for the proposed new rule to help prevent lenders from charging excessive fees and taking advantage of military families.

Following a 2006 Pentagon report that found that “predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force,” Congress passed the MLA.  This law capped the annual interest rates for consumer credit to service members and their dependents at 36% while giving DOD the authority to define what loans should be covered.  The DOD’s 2007 implementing regulations narrowly included only three types of loans: (1) payday loans: closed-end loans with terms of 91 days or fewer, for $2,000 or less; (2) auto title loans: closed-end loans with terms of 181 days or fewer; and (3) refund anticipation loans: closed-end credit.

In the proposed changes to the rules implementing the MLA, first announced in September, DOD sought to close existing loopholes in the current MLA rule.  Today’s letter voices strong support for the proposed rule, arguing that the changes strike a better balance between protecting service members and their families while maintaining access to good credit.

As our service members are asked to take on even more tasks in defense of our nation, we should take every opportunity to protect them and their families here at home, especially from unscrupulous lenders,” the Senators wrote.  “We strongly support the proposed MLA rule and urge that the final MLA rule be similarly robust in enhancing protections for service members and their families, producing significant cost savings for DOD, and improving military readiness.”

Murray was joined by Senators Reed and Durbin, Mark Udall (D-CO), Levin (D-MI), Brown (D-OH), Hirono (D-HI), Manchin (D-WV), Warner (D-VA), Franken (D-MN), Baldwin (D-WI), Nelson (D-FL), Murphy (D-CT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Merkley (D-OR), Heinrich (D-NM), Warren (D-MA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Whitehouse (D-RI), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kaine (D-VA), McCaskill (D-MO), Shaheen (D-NH), Schatz (D-HI), Markey (D-MA), Bennet (D-CO), Coons (D-DE), Donnelly (D-IN), Feinstein (D-CA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Wyden (D-OR), Heitkamp (D-ND), Tester (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), and Schumer (D-NY) in signing onto the letter.  The signatories include every Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comment period for the proposed rule, which was recently extended, ends on December 26, 2014.

Chairman Jeff Miller House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently released the below statement following VA’s announcement that Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman has been fired.

“VA will never regain the trust of America’s veterans and American taxpayers until all of the corrupt senior executives who created the biggest scandal in the department’s history are held accountable to the maximum extent under the law. Sharon Helman’s removal is a positive step, but there are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department’s payroll in order for veterans and families to receive the closure they deserve.”

July 22, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
My inquiry concerns compensation for exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp LeJeune. Many military dependent children lived at New River MCAS, and traveled to attend Brewster Jr. High School at Camp LeJeune, such as myself. Why aren’t we included in the unfortunate incident of compensation?

Susan T.
Via the Internet

Dear Susan,
The DOD and/or VA make the call on operational dates and conditions that qualify for VA benefits in situations like Camp Lejeune. At this time, they believe there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between certain diseases and the chemical compounds found at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination. So the VA is considering disability compensation claims based on exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps you can provide evidence that indicates you were required to serve on Camp Lejeune for education purposes during the period of contamination (August 1953 through December 1987). The evidence must show you have a current disease and include a medical opinion indicating the disease is a result of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

You should seek counsel from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) to determine your actual status. There are two types of VSOs; private organizations and state offices. All VSO counseling services are free and you do not have to be a member of the organization to receive their services. Private organizations are the American Legion, VFW or Disabled American Vets; among others. To find a state VSO in your area click here (http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm), find your state on this site, then look for claims help or the county service officers on the state site.

Shaft Notes
• After Acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that VA needs approximately $17.6 billion in additional funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 through Fiscal Year 2017, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:

“I am committed to giving VA the resources it needs to provide our veterans with the care and benefits they have earned. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that we can’t trust VA’s numbers. That includes the $17.6 billion in additional funding Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson asked for today. Given that this figure seems to have magically fallen out of the sky today — after years of assertions from VA leaders at all levels that they had nearly every dollar and every person necessary to accomplish VA’s mission — it would be an act of budgetary malpractice to blindly sign off on this request. VA has had hundreds of millions more in medical care funding than it could spend every fiscal year since 2010. So if VA truly needs this additional $17.6 billion, that would mean the VA administrators involved in past department resource allocation decisions are either incompetent, disingenuous or both.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee stated her view in a similar statement. Murray where continued her call to address the systemic problems at the VA in order to ensure veterans are getting the care and support they deserve:

“VA is still struggling with major systemic problems, there are many vacancies in key leadership positions, and most importantly, veterans are still waiting too long for care.

“Secretary Gibson, as we discussed yesterday, I appreciate you stepping up during this crisis.

“The Department needs strong leadership right now — because VA is facing serious challenges.

“Rob Nabors’ review identified several of these issues — which we have also been discussing here for some time.

“A corrosive culture has developed in the Department — one that is unworthy of VA’s many dedicated and talented medical providers who only want to help veterans.

“Management failures and a lack of communication is a problem at all levels of VHA. And VA needs more providers, more space, and modern IT systems.

“As we continue to work in the conference committee to craft a final bill, I hope an agreement will be reached so we can send it to the President…

“And start making the changes needed at VA to get veterans into care, create transparency, and hold people accountable.

“The compromise bill will be an important first step. As more reviews are done and more problems are found, we will need to take additional steps.

“And while we continue working on these problems, we cannot lose sight of many other pressing issues.

“Too many veterans still die by suicide each day, and sexual assault survivors still need help.

“VA must continue to make progress toward the commendable — and even more challenging — goals of eliminating veteran’s homelessness and reducing the claims backlog.

“On a more positive note, Secretary Gibson, I appreciate your help in finally getting the money to build the Walla Walla State Veterans Home. We have been working on this for a very long time.

“Now, hundreds of veterans in the area will be able to access the long-term care they need.

“As I have said repeatedly here in this room — when the nation goes to war, it also commits to taking care of the veterans when they return home.

“Their needs are a cost of war, and we will provide for them — no matter what.

“We know many veterans will need VA care for several decades to come.

“Others will come to the VA for the first time many years after their service has ended.

“So today I want to hear about solutions to these systemic problems, and smart ways to strengthen the VA for the long-term.

“Because VA needs to be there for our veterans, ready to help, right away, and every time.”