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Updated news about Veterans and the VA

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

If someone had pulled aside the signers of the Declaration of Independence 240 years ago and told them that, one day, the country they founded would be home to the largest number of imprisoned people in the world, they might have been more than a little disappointed.
Yet this is where we find our country today: The United States, founded on the basis of liberty and justice for all, suffers from that distinction. Twenty five percent of all imprisoned people on our planet are imprisoned right here in America. And the fact of the matter is that, at the federal level, the majority of those imprisoned aren’t hardened, violent prisoners. Far too many are nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. 
Thanks to policies enacted by Congress, our federal prison population has exploded by nearly 800 percent over the past the 30 years. And to pay for it, we’ve had to increase our prison spending by almost 400 percent. But the fact that these polices were enacted by our government in the first place should serve as a reminder that we have the agency to change them.
Momentum is building across America -- in states, in the federal government, in both political parties -- to change this misapplication of justice that so grossly misrepresents our priorities as a nation.
A diverse coalition of individuals, groups, and organizations -- ranging from Democrats to Republicans to law enforcement officials and clergy -- have come together to call for a comprehensive change in the trajectory of our justice system. And under President Obama’s leadership, the collective vision of these groups has found a home and a voice in the White House.
I have been proud to stand by President Obama as he has taken courageous steps in recent years to make our justice system more just.
Today, the White House is announcing that over 300 companies and organizations have signed the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a commitment to eliminate unnecessary hiring barriers facing people with a criminal record. Along with this step and a series of Administrative actions to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, he’s shown that the federal government can lead the way to progress.
President Obama has created a legacy of bold action that we must carry on to elevate the cause of criminal justice reform, from Congress to statehouses across the country.
But the conversation can’t stop there, and neither can the work. We must once again declare that we are a nation of independence, rooted in the spirit of interdependence. What happens to any of us, happens to all of us -- and we won’t get where we want to go faster by leaving anyone behind.
I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with you in this fight to reclaim our criminal justice system in the years to come.
Thank you,
Cory Booker
U.S. Senator

 


Center for Women Veterans turns 20

 

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The Center for Women Veterans (CWV), established with the support and urging from DAV and other veterans service organizations, celebrated two decades of serving women veterans in November.

“Our nation has 359,000 women serving right now— about 16 percent of the active, Guard and Reserve force,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald during a ceremony recognizing the center’s anniversary. “Women veterans represent 10.5 percent of all veterans in the United States. They have earned the title of veteran, and we’re proud to honor them all.”

In November 1994, Public Law 03-446 required the VA to create the CWV as a means to monitor and coordinate VA programs for women. Late VA Secretary and former DAV National Headquarters Executive Director Jesse Brown supervised the office’s establishment. This was more than a decade after the VA first created the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans in 1983 in response to the 1980 census, which for the first time asked women to identify themselves as veterans. An astonishing 1.2 million respondents said yes, and in response, the VA and Congress focused their efforts on ensuring women veterans were aware of the benefits available to them.

Two years following the creation of the CWV, the VA hosted the first-ever National Summit on Women Veterans Issues. DAV was the first major veterans service organization to co-host what has become a popular, reoccurring event that brings veterans across the country together to collaborate on issues facing women veterans.

In the years following the center’s creation, noticeable progress has been made in caring for our women veterans. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Boston VA medical center created its Women’s Health Sciences Division in 1994. In 1999, the VA was authorized to provide prenatal and obstetrical care to eligible veterans, signaling a new focus on genderspecific services for women veterans. The following year, the VA allocated funds to support programs specifically designated for women veterans who are homeless. The sunset provision for sexual trauma counseling in the VA was extended permanently in 2004. By 2008, there were more than 27 research projects funded by the VA specifically addressing issues impacting women veterans.

The list of accomplishments continues to expand under the leadership of Elisa Basnight, the current Director of the Center for Women Veterans. “Looking forward, 2015’s substantive focus follows up on 2014’s, with a focus on employment and entrepreneurship, as it relates to women veterans,” said Basnight, referencing the center’s 2014 emphasis on enhancing women veterans’ competitiveness in order to prevent homelessness. “CWV would like to build and enhance partnerships that can enable women veterans to build economic stability and improve their wellbeing and that of their families,” continued Basnight.

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“I come to work each and every day motivated to make a difference for our approximately 2 million extraordinary women veterans, whose service spans multiple generations and eras of war and peace,” said Basnight, who has served at the center’s top post since her appointment in 2013. “As an Army veteran, the daughter of a Navy veteran and a member of a family dedicated to military service, I am personally tied to the VA’s mission of caring for veterans, and the Center for Women Veterans’ goal of ensuring that women veterans receive the respect they deserve.”

Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine applauded the center’s two decades of service to women veterans. “Since the Center for Women Veterans opened its doors two decades ago, the VA has demonstrated it is committed to ensuring that the women who served have access to the benefits they’ve earned,” said Augustine. “While great strides have been made, there is work yet to be done. DAV outlined these areas of need in the landmark study, ‘Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home.’

“DAV commissioned this report to shed light on the unique challenges facing women as they transition out of military service,” continued Augustine. “While the study shows there are still many gaps to fill, I have complete confidence that the VA can step up to the challenge.

“The Center for Women Veterans illustrates the VA’s commitment to meeting the needs of all eras of women veterans,” he said. “DAV is proud to have worked alongside them for the past 20 years, and we look forward to continuing to work together to best serve women veterans for years to come.”

Basnight echoed Augustine’s sentiment. “Women veterans have benefitted from DAV’s partnership with CWV—and the VA in general—in many ways. The partnership is an effective vehicle for delivering women veterans’ concerns directly to the entity that can address them,” said Basnight. “DAV and CWV engage in important, inclusive conversations about policies that impact women veterans, ensuring that discussions are meaningful and can help effectuate change.

Senator Introduces Bill to Help Improperly Discharged Veterans

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U.S. Senator Gary Peters has introduced legislation to help veterans who may not be receiving all the benefits they are entitled to as a result of being improperly discharged from the military due to behavioral changes.

Peters, of Michigan, said the bill would ensure the fair treatment of veterans who were discharged because of behavior resulting from conditions such as traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.  A wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms can arise from such mental traumas, including aggressive outbursts, memory problems and poor judgment.

Peters introduced the bill on Aug. 3 along with several Republican lawmakers.  "Service members suffering from mental health trauma should not lose access to benefits that they've earned through their service, and they should receive fair due process when petitioning for an upgrade of their discharge status", Peters said.

The way service members leave the military can have a significant impact on their eligibility for benefits.  When veterans are given administrative discharge rather than an honorable one, they often lose out on health, retirement and other benefits offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The bill would give veterans in such situations an opportunity to have their records reviewed.

"If they have good, solid medical evidence that they indeed suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, then they can get their discharge changed to an honorable discharge", Peters said. 

 

Congress Passes Bill to Provide Veterans with VA-issued ID Cards

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Congress, on July 7, approved a bill that would allow veterans to obtain official identification cards through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Supporters of the measure say the ID cards would contribute to reducing identity theft, along with making it easier for veterans to prove their veteran status.

Current federal law requires some veterans who do not receive VA health services to carry paperwork as proof of military service to employers or private businesses for discounts.  The document, known as the DD-214, contains Social Security Numbers and other personal information that could make veterans vulnerable to identity theft.

"At a time when many vets are struggling to reintegrate to society, we should be providing them with solutions, not paperwork.  This bill will allow veterans to immediately prove their service to employers, thereby expanding their access to jobs and a number of other benefits", said Dan Benishek, chairman of the Veterans Subcommittee on Health and Northern Michigan's U.S. Representative, who has co-sponsored the bill.

The VA currently issues ID cards to veterans who receive its benefits, mainly for healthcare.  The new ID cards would not replace the cards already issued to veterans, nor can they be used as proof of eligibility for obtaining federal benefits.  No time frame has been determined for when the first ID cards might be given out.

Veterans requesting the ID cards would have to pay a small fee, the amount to be decided by VA officials.  The payments would fund the program.  In Michigan, like many other states, veterans already have the option to declare their veterans status on state driver's licenses or IDs with no extra cost.

 

Study Links PTSD to Higher Sleep Apnea Risk in Veterans

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A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicates that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.

Some PTSD symptoms include nightmares, heightened emotional reactions and negative changes in mood.  Researchers examined 159 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans with PTSD symptoms and found that 69% of them had a higher chance of getting the sleep disorder.  For every significant increase in PTSD symptom severity, the risk of developing sleep apnea rises 40%.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing frequently stops and starts.  A common symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness, though not all patients suffer it.  Certain aspects of PTSD, such as sleep deprivation and the psychological stress from combat, may increase the changes of developing sleep apnea.

Many veterans tend to experience PTSD and other mental health conditions upon returning to civilian life.

"The implication is that veterans who come to PTSD treatment, even younger veterans, should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea so that they have the opportunity to be diagnosed and treated", Dr. Sonya Norman, PTSD Consultation Program Director at the National Center for PTSD, said in a statement.

Sleep apnea could potentially lead to other health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, depression and worsening PTSD.