NY Metro Vets- June 2006 Newsletter

NY Metro Vets is a group dedicated to Veteran’s Issues, News and Events that take place within the NYC Metropolitan Area, as well as on the State and Federal level. The group’s purpose is to inform members of issues, news and events that are of importance to veterans. The information comes from individual veterans, as well as veteran service organizations (VSOs), government agencies and news media sources. For some issues, you may be asked to take some action to help solve or publicize a problem, issue or event.

This group is open to all Veterans, Active Duty, Reservists, National Guard and their family members and supporters who live in the New York City Metro Area. However, it is also open to anyone who wishes to join, regardless of where they are!So join, stay informed and spread the word! Thank You!

Joe Bello
Joe BelloPhoto: Joe Bello and Ed Daniels with the Commanding Officer of USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) during New York City Fleet Week 2006.

This Newsletter Includes the Following Articles:
– Active Duty Data Also Stolen from VA (Update)
– Veterans Urged to Protect Private Information
– Denied VA Health Care Claims
– VA Claim Representation
– Purple Heart Stamp Re-Issued
– Purple Heart Museum Looking for PH Recipients
– COLA Update
– NYS DU Update
– VA CARES Update
– Mayor Bloomberg’s Record on Veterans Issues
– June Veterans’ Events in NYC
– My Final Thoughts

ACTIVE DUTY DATA ALSO STOLEN FROM VA: Personal data on more than 2.2 million active-duty military personnel – not just 50,000 as initially believed – were among those stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee last month. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the agency was mistaken when it said over the weekend that up to 50,000 Navy and National Guard personnel – and no other active-duty personnel – were affected by the May 3 burglary. In fact, names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of as many as 1.1 million active-duty personnel from all the armed forces, along with 430,000 members of the National Guard, and 645,000 members of the Reserves, may have been included. The disclosure is the latest in a series of revisions by the government as to who was affected since publicizing the burglary on May 22. At the time, the VA said the stolen data involved up to 26.5 million veterans discharged since 1975, as well as some of their spouses.

It also came as a coalition of veterans’ groups charged in a lawsuit against the federal government this week that there privacy rights were violated by the theft. The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, is the second suit since the VA disclosed the burglary two weeks ago. The lawsuit filed this week demands that the VA fully disclose which military personnel are affected by the data theft and seeks $1,000 in damages for each person – up to $26.5 billion total. The veterans are also seeking a court order barring VA employees from using sensitive data until independent experts determine proper safeguards.
In response to the lawsuit, the VA said it is in discussions with credit-monitoring services to determine “how veterans and others potentially affected can best be served” in the aftermath of the theft, said spokesman Matt Burns.

Veterans groups have criticized the VA for a three-week delay in publicizing the burglary. The VA initially disclosed the burglary May 22, saying it involved the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers – and in some cases, disability codes – of veterans discharged since 1975. Since then, it also has acknowledged after an internal investigation that the data could also include phone numbers and addresses of those veterans. There have been no reports that the stolen data have been used for identity theft in what has become one of the nation’s largest security breaches. [Source: AP, 6 June 06]

VETERANS URED TO PROTECT PRIVATE INFORMATION: Members of Congress are urging veterans and their spouses to initiate certain procedures and carefully monitor their financial and other personal information in light of the theft of 26.5 million veterans’ personal information. All three have credit major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion have simplified the process for veterans requesting a fraud alert. Concerned veterans also can get more information by calling 800-333-4636 from 8 AM to 9 PM EDT, Monday through Saturday to reach the manned call center. They can also visit: www.firstgov.gov. The Federal Trade Commission is encouraging veterans to report suspected incidents of identity theft via the commission’s identity-theft hotline at 877-438-4338. Banks also have received an advisory from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. [Source: Military.com, 5 June 06]

DENIED VA HEALTH CARE CLAIMS: Do you need help to reprocess a denied claim? The VA Health Administration Center has recently created a new service to provide additional guidance on how to respond to a claim denial, based on their 10 most frequent used denial codes. If you have the Explanation of benefits (EOB) form available, you can use the denial code on the form to get detailed instruction about how to respond to the claim denial. HAC also offers an e-mail address to submit questions for less common claims denial codes. Click here to go to the denied claims page. [Source: Military.com, 22 May 06]

VA CLAIM REPRESENTATION: In 1862, with the Civil War raging, Congress passed a law prohibiting lawyers from charging more than $5 dollars to help a veteran with his claim. In 1864 Congress raised the limit to $10 dollars where it stayed for the next 120 years. As a result of that low fee very few lawyers helped veterans with their claims. Under the current law all living veterans are prohibited from hiring a lawyer to help them navigate the Veterans Affairs system. However, in 1988 the law was changed which created a situation in which lawyers could be retained, but not paid until after the adjudication and appeals process was completed within the VA. The result of this change was that veterans could not retain an attorney until after their case has been lost and they have often spent at least 3 years in the VA appeal process. Under the current appeals system, about 85% of veterans choose to be represented by a Veterans’ Service Organization or a State Veterans agency personnel. In an effort to provide freedom of choice in representation the Veterans Choice of Representation Act of 2006 (S.2694) has been introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs & Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The Craig-Graham legislation seeks to allow veterans to use the services of an attorney at the beginning of the process. This would put veterans into a similar situation other Americans have. For example: If you have a dispute with Social Security regarding your benefits, you can hire an attorney to represent you; or if you have a dispute with the IRS, you can hire an attorney to represent you. Language in the Craig-Graham bill would allow the VA to set up a payment structure like the Social Security system, where an attorney could only be paid either 20% of past due benefits or a set dollar amount specified by VA, whichever is lower. The change does not require the use of an attorney but would simply allow veterans that option if they so choose. [Source: Sen. Larry Craig, 4 May 06]

PURPLE HEART STAMP RE-ISSUED: A new version of a postage stamp commemorating the Purple Heart and all those who have earned it was issued in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery recently. The stamp is a new version of the Purple Heart Definitive stamp, first issued in May 2003 by the U.S. Postal Service. The stamp image is a photograph of one of two Purple Hearts awarded to James Loftus Fowler of Alexandria, VA. Fowler was a lieutenant colonel in the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, when he received the Purple Heart in 1968 following action close to the Ben Hai River on the border between North and South Vietnam. The new Purple Heart stamp is on sale now at most Post Offices. [Source: Military.com, 5 June 06]

PURPLE HEART MUSEUM LOOKING FOR PURPLE HEART RECEIPENTS: A new museum devoted to veterans who earned the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat was besieged with over 6,000 inquiries after a weekend Associated Press story detailed the ongoing efforts to find recipients.

Construction is well underway on a $5 million, 7,500 square-foot facility in Vails Gate, New York that will honor our nations Purple Heart Recipients. The Hall of Honor is located at the picturesque setting of the 1782-83 encampment of George Washingtons Army at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site. This historic site, north of New York City is where Washington created the Badge of Military Merit, which he decreed would be “the figure of a heart in purple cloth.” Organizers are asking Purple Heart recipients, friends and family members to help complete the project by registering all known recipients on a database and by submitting memorabilia associated with the recipients experience of war.

When the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor opens in November, visitors will be able to search out facts and stories about soldiers wounded or killed. New York officials heading the project think there are up to 1.7 million soldiers who belong on the list.

To contact the hall:

By Web: http://nysparks.state.ny.us/heritage/purple_hrt.asp

By phone: 845-561-1765. By fax: 845-561-6577.
[Source: AP, 31 May 06]

COLA UPDATE: In mid-May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the April 2006 monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, VA disability compensation, survivor annuities, and Social Security. The CPI rose another full percentage point in March, for a total of 2.3% growth so far this fiscal year. Again, energy cost increases of 4.2% from March to April was the dominant reason for the increase. Month-by-month figures and historical inflation data are available at: www.moaa.org. [Source: MOAA Leg Update, 19 May 06]

NYS DU UPDATE: The NY National Guard Testing/Task Force Bills have been amended by the Assembly Veterans Committee in consultation and agreement with the Senate Veterans Committee and has been approved by both Assemblyman Dinowitz and Senator Morahan. Both bills will now be “ON THE FLOOR” in both the NYS Assembly and the NYS Senate. Between “on the floor” and becoming a NYS Law stands three people: Senate Speaker Bruno, Assembly Speaker Silver and Gov. Pataki. The time allotted to take this step is limited by the looming end of the legislative session, which is June 23rd. The NY American Legion, the NY AFL-CIO have written letters of support, and the NY Veterans Council which includes the VFW, DVA and other groups have promised the same!

Please contact Senator Bruno (518) 455-3191 and express your support for S.6964. For Assemblyman Silver, please call (518) 455-3791 and express your support for A.9116B. Our veterans deserve it! [Source: Joan Walker-Wasylyk, 30 May 06]

VA CARES UPDATE: This month there are some items to report. According to sources, VA Secretary Nicholson has said that he will give his recommendations by September 30 (as we have heard before), however the June/July issue of VFW Magazine is reporting that the Secretary may make the announcements sometime this summer. Secretary Nicholsons announcements are supposed to be followed by a (later date) third-round public hearing. Initial rumors have Nicholson recommending keeping both Manhattan and Brooklyn open however the VFW Magazine does not list Brooklyn. We currently have no word on the future of Saint Albans. I personally fear that Nicholson will make his decision sometime during the summer while everyone is away. Please continue to remind and pressure our elected officials to fight for these hospitals. As always, I will keep you up to date as things develop. Special thanks once again to the JWVs Jerry Alperstein.

STATEMENT ON MAYOR BLOOMBERGS RECORD ON VETERANS ISSUES: With our country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mayor Bloomberg has stated on many occasions that we should honor the sacrifices made by veterans. However, supporting the troops is more than a slogan and a look at the Bloomberg administration’s record on veterans’ issues reveal that the Mayor does not practice what he preaches.

The Mayors Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) serves as the citys chief liaison to veterans, veteran organizations and other entities that serve the city’s veterans population. MOVA is supposed to serve the needs of the roughly 348,000 New York City veterans, but it has a staff of only three (3) and is funded with an insufficient budget despite the fact that MOVA has testified before the city council that calls and walk-ins have increased during this war.

The Bloomberg administration has consistently refused to increase MOVAs budget or make it more responsive to the veterans community. It recently opposed a bill that would create Veteran Resource Centers within each of the five boroughs. It has made no appointments to the citys Veterans Advisory Board in a year. It has not formed a much needed partnership with the VA to create a homeless veterans intake site and has refused to ask: Are you a Veteran? to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE). The administration has also worked against disabled veteran vendors, creating two classes of disabled veterans and pitting them against each other. It has also punished city employees who served our country by unfairly adding military entitlement pay in determining money owed to the city.

So when Mayor Bloomberg states: “We owe an enormous amount, seriously, to our veterans” but does little to back it up, the public, as well as veterans deserve to know where the administration stands. To make public statements honoring veterans and then hide behind funding issues is a disservice to all those who have served. With Fleet Week and Memorial Day becoming a memory, pomp and circumstance events are not going to get it done and while we believe that Mayor Bloomberg is supportive of veterans he must do better. For veterans, there is something worse than being used as political pawns or backdrops at a press conference and that is watching those who use us work and vote against us! [Source: NYC VPC] *Note: Official Press Release and Fact Sheet are located on the NYMetroVets yahoogroups site – click on Files.

JUNE VETERAN EVENTS IN NYC: The following is a list of events that are taking place throughout the five boroughs during the month of June (with two events in July). This list is not all inclusive and other events may be taking place throughout the city. Any other events will be posted separately. Please pass on to others.

June 10, 2006- The Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside will hold its Annual Flag Day Parade at 11 AM along Greenpoint Avenue from 39th Street to 48th Street. The parade forms at 10 AM on 39th Street. There will be ceremony at 12 PM at the Veterans Memorial Plaza/Joe Sabba Park, which is located at Queens Blvd. and 49th Street.

June 12, 2006- The Manhattan Vet Center presents the 23rd Annual “Hidden Client Conference.” This years title is: “PTSD Re-Deployed: Readjustment Issues.” This event will take place at the Hunter College School of Social Work (129 East 79th Street -Lexington & 79th Street) and runs from 9 AM until 4 PM. Registration starts at 8:30 AM and the Registration Fee is: $20 NASW Members, $25 Non-Members, $10 Students, Retired, Unemployed (Unemployed Veterans FREE). The Keynote speaker is Mr. John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The workshops will take place after the keynote speech and in the afternoon. For more information, contact Jack Maloney at (212) 742-9591.

June 14, 2006- The Armys 231st birthday (Flag Day).

June 14, 2006- The Armys 231st Birthday Retreat Ceremony and Flag Day Celebration will take place at Fort Hamilton at 4 PM in front of the Garrison HQ, 113 Schum Avenue. Following the retreat ceremony, a cake will be served in celebration of Fort Hamiltons 181st birthday.

June 14, 2006- The Staten Island Borough President will be having a Flag Day/US Army 231st Birthday event at Flag Circle this year on 6/14, beginning at 11AM. Freedom Circle is a series of American Flags from different important points of our history, located adjacent to the boardwalk at Fr. Capodanno Blvd. and Seaview Avenue, Staten Island.

June 15, 2006- NYC Council Veterans Committee Hearing. The City Council Veterans Committee, chaired by CM Hiram Monserrate will be holding a hearing. The topic of this hearing will be: “Oversight: The Process of providing citizenship for immigrants serving in the United States Military.” This hearing will take place at 1 PM on the 14th Floor hearing Room, 250 Broadway. All are invited to attend and testify.

June 19, 2006- All Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans and their family members are invited to a special “Veteran Information Day and Fair” at the Manhattan VA Medical Center (423 East 23rd Street, just off 1st Avenue), Atrium Conference Center from 10 AM to 1 PM. Representatives from various agencies will be available to provide you with valuable information on how to enroll in VA Healthcare and how to obtain other benefits and services from the VA and New York State and City governments. Employment and job assistance counselors will be present and individuals will also be on hand to assist you with filing claims for disability compensation, disability pensions, etc. Please call 1-888-762-0132 to register (by June 19, 2006) and let them know how many individuals will be joining you.

June 21, 2006- The US General Service Administration (GSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are hosting their 4th Annual Veterans Small Business Resource Day at 26 Federal Plaza, 6th Floor Conference Center, NYC from 8:30 AM until 1 PM. This event is targeted to service-disabled and veteran owned small businesses. The goal is to assist veterans in learning about federal government procurement opportunities and the various veteran programs and services. All are invited to attend. You must pre register at: www.gsa.gov/r2smallbusiness. (Look under “GSA Events” on the right side of the screen on the website.) If you have any questions please call: 212-264-8265 or email: r2.sbuc@gsa.gov.

June 24, 2006- Twilight Tattoo. The Annual “Twilight Tattoo” will be presented this year in Marine Park starting at 5:30 PM with pre-TLT music by the Army Band. Please bring a lawn chair or blanket.

June 25, 2006- 7th Annual Veterans Recognition Day Park and Bike Run. Sponsored by Rolling Thunder Chapter 1 NY. Registration starts at 9 AM and the ride fee is a $15 dollar donation for riders and $10 dollar donation for a passenger. Ride leaves from Staten Island, Midland Beach parking lot at 10:15 AM. The run will be escorted by Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 NY. At the end of the ride there will be food, classic cars, bike contest, vendors, raffles, entertainment, games, trophies and more. For more information please call: (212) 217-3105.

June 26, 2006- All Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans are invited to attend a special “Open House” from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM at the VAs Staten Island Community Health Center, located at Southport Plaza, 1150 South Avenue, 3rd Floor, Suite 301. Representatives from various agencies will be available to provide you with valuable information on how to enroll in VA Healthcare and how to obtain other benefits and services from the VA and New York State and City governments. Employment and job assistance counselors will be present and individuals will also be on hand to assist you with filing claims for disability compensation, disability pensions, etc. Please call 1-888-762-0132 to register (by June 21, 2006) and let them know how many individuals will be joining you.

July 8, 2006- Nassau County Homeless Veterans Stand Down. In the military a stand down is a time to relax and regroup, while plans are made for the future. The Nassau county stand down is an opportunity for veterans in need to get help from other veterans and several levels of government. American Legion Post #390, Hempstead is the host of Nassau Countys fourth Homeless Veterans Stand Down. Needy veterans will enjoy a BBQ while getting the opportunity to meet with federal, state, and local government and not for profit agencies that can help veterans. Island Harvest is providing the food but donations of summer clothes and suitcases are needed. Volunteers are welcome. For more information contact Pat Yngstrom at 516-227-8731.

July 9, 2006- USO Metropolitan NY/Avenue of the Americas Summerfest (Street Fair) will take place from 11 AM to 6 PM from 42nd to 56th Street (along 6th Avenue).

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: First off, let me say that I hope that everyone had a wonderful and safe Fleet Week/Memorial Day Weekend.

As this is the last newsletter until September, I once again ask everyone to please join NYMetroVets and keep up with all Veteran news. The site is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NYMetroVets/. As I have said before, I promise not to overwhelm you with e-mails and by the end of the summer I will not be sending out individual e-mails anymore so please join so you can stay informed.

As always, please pass this newsletter on to others. Also, like last year I am asking you all to write and let me know if you think I should continue this newsletter. Last year I received a lot of positive responses and I am hopeful that this year I will hear the same thing. My e-mail address is: bjoe7@hotmail.com. So take care, have a wonderful summer and and until September….

Joseph Bello, NYC Veterans Advocate