NY Metro Vets- Summer Newsletter

July 14, 2008 | Things to Do



This Newsletter Includes the Following Articles:
· Misinformation Clouds New GI Bill
· VA Dental Treatment Legislation
· House Oks Homeless Vets Bill Amid Veto Threat
· Saluting the Flag
· Injured Iraq War Vets Pay More for Health Care
· Body of Alex Jimenez Found (Queens)
· ICL Takes Over BAVR (Queens)
· Councilman Proposes City Agency Program for Soldiers
· Brooklyn VAMC Gets Top Award for Care
· Governor Patterson Signs Legislation (Updates)
· Yoga Classes for Veterans (Queens)
· My Final Thoughts

MISINFORMATION CLOUDS NEW GI BILL: Full-tuition educational benefits included in a new veterans’ program signed into law on June 30 will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2009, unless Congress approves a change in the new law.

There will be a 20 percent increase, effective this August 1st in Montgomery GI Bill benefits for active-duty veterans and veterans who have served two or more years of active duty, raising the maximum benefit to $1,321 for a full-time student who has three or more years of active service, under terms of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.

Full tuition benefits, plus stipends for living expenses and books, will not take effect under the law until Aug. 1, 2009, despite earlier claims by aides to the bill’s chief sponsor that those payments would be retroactive to when the bill is signed.

A spokeswoman for Senator Jim Webb, chief sponsor of the new benefits package, said the fact that the benefits are not retroactive came as a surprise; the final bill passed by Congress omitted crucial paragraphs of Webb’s legislation. The spokeswoman, Kimberly Hunter, said a technical correction bill fixing other problems with the bill could include language that would restore the retroactive benefits Webb wanted in the bill.

That is not the only thing Webb’s staff promised that ended up being wrong.

People who previously enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill program must continue to make their $100 monthly installments until they have fully paid the $1,200 contribution required to participate — even though the post-9/11 benefits program will be completely free.

Pentagon officials said ending contributions is not allowed under either the new or previous law, and that enrollments in the Montgomery GI Bill continue because there are some types of post-service education, including on-the-job and vocational training, that are not covered by the new program. Military officials are working on a briefing for new recruits that will explain the differences between the old and new veterans’ benefits programs. It will recommend that troops continue to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill program if there is any chance they might need non-traditional education.

The disappointing news about the lack of retroactive benefits and continued enrollment charges came from the departments Veterans Affairs and Defense, who have staffs poring over the details of what is now Public Law 110-252 to determine how it will be implemented.

Defense and VA aides said they are working with congressional staff to implement the benefits plan that was passed by Congress and to suggest changes when errors were made. [Source: Army Times, 9 Jul 08]

VA DENTAL TREATMENT LEGISLATION: Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would provide veterans and their dependents with access to dental insurance. The bills would allow the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to establish a dental program for the 7.9 million veterans, surviving spouses, and certain dependent children enrolled in VA health care system.

The program, which is completely voluntary, would give them the benefit of VA’s buying power in order to get lower premiums on dental insurance coverage. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said, ‘Healthy teeth are an important part of overall health, and our veterans should have access to affordable dental care. This legislation would provide veterans with access to group insurance rates they may not otherwise be able to get on their own.” The legislation calls for an annual enrollment period with the ability to cancel insurance once a year or if a person is prevented by a serious medical condition from receiving any dental benefits or moves to a place where dental insurance cannot be used, such as overseas.

Rep. Steve Buyer introduced his bill on June 17, 2008. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced his version on June 23rd. The only significant difference between Buyer’s House bill, HR 6277, Richard Burr (R-NC) bill, S 3178, is that Buyer would authorize, but not require, VA to create the insurance program, while Burr would mandate its creation. In a statement, Buyer described the idea as similar to the Tricare Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) for retirees created in 1997 that now covers about 800,000 people, including military retirees, National Guard and reserve members and families.

VA provides such care to veterans with service-connected dental disabilities, those who are 100% disabled for any condition, and those who were prisoners of war for 90 days or longer.

Additionally, veterans newly separated from active duty can receive one-time dental treatment from VA if their discharge records show they were receiving dental treatment that was not completed before they were discharged. The bills would not replace any dental services provided by VA. While Buyer talked about the military’s Tricare Reserve Dental Program as a success, military retirees have complained about that program’s cost and the fact that the government does not subsidize the insurance.

As a result, dental premiums are higher for some military retirees than their premiums for health care. Premiums for military retirees vary by region, with family coverage costing $90.57 a month in Arkansas, $121.39 in the District of Columbia and $138.66 in California. In addition to the monthly premiums, an annual deductible must be met before any dental expenses are covered. The insurance plan also does not fully cover all costs. For example, it covers only 60% of the cost of a tooth extraction and only 80% of the cost of a filling. New enrollees also sometimes must wait for a year before they are eligible for some coverage, such as dentures and orthodontics. [Source: Marine Corps Times, 26 Jun 08]

HOUSE OKs HOMELESS VETERANS BILL AMID VETO: The House approved a homeless veterans housing bill overwhelmingly Wednesday, even though White House advisers warned they’d urge President Bush to veto it.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, authorizes spending $200 million on housing and services for veterans, requires 20,000 rental vouchers a year for low-income housing for veterans and authorizes $1 million for grants to nonprofit groups to provide housing and services for veterans.

The bill, which passed 412-9, also creates a job in the Department of Housing and Urban Development for someone to coordinate with Veterans Affairs on homelessness and make regular reports to Congress on the issue. The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Democrat Barack Obama, the Illinois lawmaker who is the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

Bush’s advisers said in a statement they oppose a wage provision in the bill that requires builders of veterans housing to pay employees prevailing wage. The advisers said that provision is the bill’s major problem. Bush has long opposed any changes to the law that would either increase or decrease the number of employers subject to the prevailing wage requirements in the Davis-Bacon Act, the advisers said.

But Green said several bills have been passed by Congress with similar wage provisions. Among them is the farm bill which was vetoed by Bush, but Congress overrode the veto. Green asked whether Bush wants to ‘draw the line in the dirt when it comes to veterans.’

Veterans Affairs this year reported the number of homeless veterans has dropped to about 154,000. But Green said more are living in poverty than should. About 57 percent of homeless veterans are African-American or Latino, he said. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would cost about $1.8 billion in the period from 2009-2013. Rep. Green’s bill is H.R. 3329. [Source: Washington Post]

SALUTING THE FLAG: On January 28, 2008 President Bush amended the federal code to allow veterans to salute the U.S. flag while not in uniform during certain situations. The amended federal code addresses actions for a viewer of the U.S. flag during its hoisting, lowering or passing. In these instances, the law allows a veteran in civilian attire to salute the flag.

All other persons present should face the flag, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

However, another section of federal code that specifically relates to actions of those reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was not amended. In this case, a veteran in civilian attire is not specifically authorized to render a hand salute during the Pledge. In any case, a veteran in civilian clothes is authorized to place their right hand over their heart as has been tradition. [Source: Various, 20 Jun 08]

INJURED IRAQ WAR VETERANS PAY MORE FOR HEALTH CARE: Former U.S. soldiers who were disabled fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and live far from government hospitals and rehabilitation centers pay more for health care than other veterans, a government report found.

To address this ‘inequity,’ Congress should pass legislation waiving the requirement for disabled soldiers to pay premiums to enroll in the federal Medicare program, the report said. Under existing rules, the injured soldiers must pay $1,157 a year for their premiums until they turn 65, according to the report.

Disabled veterans who don’t live near clinics and hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Defense Department can use Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, or purchase private health insurance. Either way, they pay more, said the report released yesterday by inspectors general of the two departments.

The report is one of several government reviews triggered by a series of articles in the Washington Post describing the poor quality of care for wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. The investigators focused their recommendations on three issues not covered by other reports.

The report also urged the Defense Department to create an office to ensure that injured soldiers have a ‘seamless transition’ as they transfer out of the military health care system and into the system operated by the VA.

In a third recommendation, the inspectors general urged the VA to propose legislation in Congress that would provide grants to help disabled veterans remodel their homes for wheelchair ramps, accessible showers and other needed amenities. [Source: Bloomberg News, 9 Jul 08]

BODY OF MISSING CORONA (QUEENS) SOLDIER ALEX JIMENEZ FOUND: On Thursday, July 10, Maria del Rosario Duran got the news she has been dreading for more than 13 months as military officials told her that they had found the remains of her oldest son, Sergeant Alex Jimenez, in Iraq.

Jimenez, who was 25 when he went missing on May 12, 2007, had been listed as missing in action or captured until this week. Duran said she found out the news around 3 p.m. that day, but few details were available about how the body was discovered. Duran met with military officials on Friday to find out more information, and addressed reporters with City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate.

‘We expected the chances of him being found [alive] were remote, but we were holding out hope,’ said Monserrate, who spent much of Thursday night comforting Duran and her sisters. During the press briefing outside of her home, Duran along with Alex’s two brothers Andy, 20, and Bryant, 16, spoke about Jimenez as a person who always loved the military and died fighting for the country that he loved.

‘I want for everybody to remember him that he was wonderful and he loved everybody,’ Duran said.

In addition, Roselle Calero, mother of Queens Village Major Jeffrey Calero, and Martha Clark, mother of Jackson Heights Specialist Jonathan Rivadeneira, who both died last year while serving in the military, came to Duran’s home to lend their support.

Jimenez was assigned to the D (Delta) Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum, NY, and four of his fellow soldiers died during a May 12, 2007 attack.

Since Jimenez went missing, Duran has been gathering with her family and friends inside her home in order to pray for her son and the other soldiers. Many of their family members, including Andy Jimenez, took part in a mass in Duran’s house on May 12, 2008 – one year after Jimenez went missing.

Just last month, Duran traveled to Washington D.C. for Memorial Day weekend with her youngest son Bryant, 16, Alex’s father Andy Jimenez and Jim Wareing, Founder of New England Caring for our Military (NECFOM), and the family had a private meeting with President George W. Bush.

In August of 2007, Duran helped launch the Council of Families and Friends of Active, Deceased and Missing Soldiers of American Wars – a support group that began with Duran and two other Queens mothers whose sons died fighting in the U.S. military overseas. [Source: Queens Courier News, 11 Jul 08]

ICL TAKES OVER BORDEN AVENUE: The Institute for Community Living (ICL) has assumed the operation of Borden Avenue Veterans’ Residence (BAVR), the only shelter exclusively for homeless veterans in New York City. The transition took place yesterday, with the beginning of the new City fiscal year.

‘Our veterans deserve the best New York City has to offer,” said Robert V. Hess, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

A team of 85 full-time employees, including two social worker/recovery specialists, two recreation specialists and an entitlements counselor, will provide individualized planning, vocational training, substance abuse counseling and employment opportunities to assist a projected 600 to 700 veterans each year to return to independent housing.

‘Working with veterans is an honor for us, and we thank the Department of Homeless Services for this opportunity,” says Dr. Peter Campanelli, CEO and President, ICL. “Through our experience gained in other shelters, we will implement evidence-based practices — approaches that achieve results — and will incorporate the new shelter wellness module, developed by the Urban Institute for Behavioral Health of NYC.” [Source: Non-Profit News, July 08]

CITY COUNCILMAN PROPOSES CITY AGENCY PLACEMENT PROGRAM FOR US SOLDIERS: Life during wartime has proven to be extremely difficult for every American, but no one is more affected by the devastating costs of a military initiative on foreign soil than the returning members of the military.

After witnessing the horrors and violence of war, it can be extremely difficult to return to civilian life. On the day before Independence Day, New York City Councilman Eric Gioia, Dr. Ray Healy, the co-founder of Veterans Across America, and Mark Jaffe, president of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, proposed a new initiative to assist returning vets with job placement within city agencies and ensure that former soldiers get a portion of the American Dream that they so bravely fought to protect.

The New York City Veterans Employment Training Sponsorship (NYCVETS) would designate a number of jobs with city agencies for veterans, which would provide those who risked their lives to protect American freedoms a guarantee of productive and meaningful work. The plan would also provide veterans with professional mentors as part of a 12-month program that would provide essential job training, expanding military training into business skills, and assist them with the transition back into civilian life.

A study recently released by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated that the number of veterans who did not enter the work force after concluding their military service increased from 10 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2005. For the 1,283 soldiers from New York City that are currently deployed overseas and the 7,176 who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, it is no small number of veterans who are finding occupational difficulties.

The study also revealed that more than half of returning veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 make less than $25,000 a year. Additionally, psychological experts estimate that nearly 30 percent of all veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. CM Gioia’s plan is based on a similar program instituted in Los Angeles. Launched in early 2007 it has placed more than 100 returning veterans.

‘We at Veterans Across America strongly support Councilman Gioia’s plan and will do anything in our power to see that it is fully implemented, and that it expands to other sectors of the economy,” said Healey.

‘Thousands of men and women from New York have made major sacrifices in defending the freedoms of all New Yorkers, and it is only fitting that we in turn should do all we can to ensure that they be allowed to continue to serve there country by putting their skills and talents to work on behalf of the city and its many agencies.’

A number of recently returned veterans stood with Gioia, Healey, and Jaffe at a Queens recruitment center to announce the plan and urge the mayor to put it into effect. A letter written by the activists further urged the mayor to put the plan into effect in agencies citywide. Joe’s Note: Councilman Gioia is expected to run for Public Advocate next year. [Source: Queens Ledger, 10 Jul 08]

BROOKLYN VAMC GETS TOP AWARD FOR CARE: The Combined Intensive Care Unit of the Brooklyn Campus of the Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System has won a prestigious award from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

The Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence was presented by the nurses’ organization in recognition of the ‘highest quality’ standards in nurse recruitment and retention, patient outcomes, staff training and healthy work environments. It is the association’s highest award for an intensive care unit.

Cynthia Caroselli, associate director for patient services and chief nurse executive at VA NYHHS, said the unit is the first within the Department of Veterans Affairs to win the award. [Source: NY Daily News, July 08]

GOVERNOR PATTERSON SIGNS LEGISLATION: Governor David Paterson signed into law on July 8, 2008 more than one hundred and thirty bills, including two Governor’s Program Bills.

Amongst the 137 bills signed by Governor Paterson were five separate bills that, taken together, represent a package of reforms aimed at assisting those New Yorkers who are serving in the armed forces. The laws will aid those men and women while they are stationed overseas and help in easing the transition back into civilian life in New York. They are:

– ID Theft – Armed Forces – Enhances criminal penalties for identity theft when the perpetrator knows that the victim is serving in the armed forces overseas.

– Extension of Acceptance of Military Ballots – Extends the time allowed for receipt of military absentee ballots for a general election from seven to 13 days. This law expires on December 31, 2009.

– Public Servant Soldier Salary Act – Extends the Military Benefits Program (EMBP) offered by New York City or other municipalities to its employees who are called into active military service. In situations where the service time is longer than 60 days, the municipalities are free to devise their own programs to make up the difference for those whose salaries earned while in service are less than their municipal salary.

– Make-up Civil Service Examinations for Returning Veterans – Allows members of the armed forces who miss the application deadline – due to active military duty – for a scheduled State civil service examination to compete in an upcoming examination or in a special military make-up exam.

– Extended Certification for Emergency Medical Technicians after Military Duty – Extends an individual’s certification as an emergency medical technician, advanced emergency medical technician, or certified first responder if the certification would expire within six months after the individual’s separation from active military duty.

Among veterans initiatives currently awaiting the Governor’s Signature is a four-bill package which contains legislation that, if enacted, would offer assistance programs and seminars for returning veterans, educational opportunities and outreach services for current veterans and evaluations for prospective veterans returning to New York.

Provisions of the four-bill package would:

– Establish a veteran program consolidation council to promote efficiency, cost effectiveness, oversight and outreach for veterans residing in New York. (A.11650/S.8605; passed Assembly and Senate)

– Direct the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to host a series of four or more seminars annually across New York State. These seminars would provide information and training focused on veteran-owned businesses successfully obtaining procurement contracts from New York State agencies, municipalities, and authorities. (A.11648/S.8596; passed Assembly and Senate)

– Authorize the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to study and evaluate the number of military personnel expected to return to New York and report its findings. (A.11651/S.8595; passed Assembly and Senate)

– Establish mentoring programs for state agencies that engage in a significant amount of service or construction contracting. These mentor programs will focus on providing training and other assistance to qualified veterans. (A.11652/8606; passed Assembly and Senate).

Bills that Governor Patterson vetoed:

– Cold War Medal (A. 5156) – Seeks to authorize a medal for veterans of the Cold War.

– Militia Plate Fee (A. 6479) – Eliminates a one-time service charge for the issuance of distinctive plates for members of the New York state militia. [Source: Various, NY Gov, NYS Assembly, NYS Senate, July 08]

YOGA CLASSES FOR VETERANS: The Queens Vet Center, in a collaboration with the New York Sports Club announced a collaboration to help veterans readjust to civilian life. Because of the proven benefits of yoga in helping to reduce stress, the New York Sports Club in Glendale, at 80-00 Cooper Avenue in Queens will offer free weekly yoga classes for veterans to complement the services provided by the Vet Center.

The Vet Center offers free counseling services such as psychotherapy, group counseling, marriage counseling and employment counseling to help veterans deal with conditions such as PTSD. Veterans from all wars and conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam are eligible to visit the center. For more information, contact the Queens Vet Center at: (718) 296-2871. Joe’s Note: NY1 recently did a story on this. It can be found at: http://www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?&aid=83541&search_result=1&stid=19. [Source: Business Wire, 30 Apr 08]

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: One – If you’re a busy person (like I am) – stop to take a breath and relax a bit. Two – Enjoy the summer and make sure to spend time with family and love ones. Three – If anyone would like to reach out to me, my e-mail address is: bjoe7@hotmail.com. However, I will be out of town for a bit so I will get to you when I return. So take care and stay well and the battles start in September….Joseph Bello, NYC Veterans Advocate