View From Table 9

December 19, 2008

Survival Guide for Veterans

Sad that an independent gourp has to come out with this, but hey, it’s out!

December 19, 2008
Editorial
Survival Guide for Veterans

Far too often, military veterans find themselves desperately short of the information they need as they make the torturous quest for benefits within one of this country’s most daunting bureaucracies, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Officials say help is on the way, but administrators are forever promising to streamline procedures for an era of conquered paperwork that never seems to come. That is why it is heartening to see that one promising form of help has indeed arrived: a 599-page guide to veterans’ issues, from educational help to vocational rehabilitation, from housing to citizenship.

It’s called “The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide,” and it comes, unsurprisingly, from outside the system. It is a publication of the nonprofit advocacy group Veterans for America, available as a free download at veteransforamerica.org.

This electronic book is a descendant of “The Viet Vet Survival Guide,” which was published a decade after the end of that conflict — when veterans were still being routinely and shamefully denied their rights. The new book was written by veterans and lawyers for a new generation of soldiers with old problems, like post-traumatic stress, and new ones like traumatic brain injury, the brutal legacy of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s roadside bombs.

The authors caution that while the guide will help a veteran understand what’s going on, it is not a substitute for a good lawyer or other advocate. And it isn’t the only source of information: The government, too, has vast Web sites explaining things — for example, how officers help veterans through the disability evaluation system. (In military acronyms, it’s how the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer, or Peblo, helps with the D.E.S.)

The “Survival Guide” does this, too, but with a difference: It also warns veterans to “pay careful attention to what you say to your Peblo,” because the Peblo is not required to act in their best interests the way an attorney is, and things told to a Peblo are not necessarily confidential.

No book will ever defeat a bureaucracy this large, but a book can help people to subdue it. Veterans and their families often praise the dedication of health-care providers, but at the same time express utter frustration over incomprehensible thickets of rules and the glacial pace at which benefits and appeals are decided.

Unless and until the government significantly improves its treatment of veterans — and our hopes are high for progress under Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to run Veterans Affairs — they will have to keep looking to one another for help, as they always have. This veterans’ guide looks like a powerful updating of that old tradition.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

August 14, 2008

Airlines Charge Soldiers for Excess Baggage

Really, I should not be completely surprised, given our faux “Support our Troops” culture and our own personal experiences with commercial travel on military orders (short version of long story – Continental made DH, traveling in uniform on emergency orders, sleep in an airport because of a flight missed due to weather – God Bless America, don’t mind that sailor sleeping in a corner like a homeless person because we don’t give a crap).

The fact that this is coming from the Washington Times (not exactly a liberal hotbed of journalism) I find somewhat heartening. But really, charging soldiers going to war, fulfilling their promise to protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, extra for their government issued gear and some personal stuff (not much, believe me, fits in those C-bags beyond their uniforms and gear)?  Really We should be ashamed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Soldiers pay bag fee on travel to war

American Airlines is charging troops for their extra baggage, a practice that forces soldiers heading for a war zone in Iraq to try to get reimbursement from the military. One of the country’s largest veterans groups is asking the aviation industry to drop the practice immediately.

American, which recently charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags, said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that the soldiers who incur the fees are reimbursed.

“Because the soldiers don’t pay a dime, our waiver of the fees amounts to a discount to the military, not a discount to soldiers,” said Tim Wagner, spokesman for American Airlines. “Soldiers should not have to pay a penny of it.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spokesman Joseph Davis said service members destined for Iraq should not have to spend the money out of pocket and should not have to worry about filing expense forms in a war zone.

“That’s a lot to ask when the service member has much more important things on their minds, such as staying alive and keeping those around them alive,” he said.

The VFW is asking the Air Transport Association (ATA) to urge member airlines to exempt military personnel traveling on official orders from all excess-baggage fees. “This should not be a very difficult decision to make,” Mr. Davis said.

Several airlines have instituted cost-cutting measures and have eliminated or are charging for amenities including meals, beverages and additional luggage.

In a letter to the ATA on Friday, VFW President George J. Lisicki said troops understand the financial constraints the airline industry faces but that the military traveler represents a minute fraction of the total passengers carried every year.

An ATA spokesman said the association will respond directly to the veterans association.

In a written statement to The Washington Times, James C. May, president and chief executive officer of the ATA, said it is individual airlines that must determine fare rates.

“While ATA cannot by law even suggest uniform pricing policies to our members, we will bring this matter to their attention for their independent consideration,” Mr. May said.

“Air Transport Association member airlines have always been committed to supporting our nation’s military,” he said.

“Airlines routinely offer special fares for military personnel and families, attempt when possible to accommodate unplanned schedule changes and generally seek to do what they can to show their appreciation,” Mr. May said.

Most major U.S. carriers waive baggage fees for up to two bags for military members traveling under orders, Mr. Lisicki said. However, a $100 fee for checking a third bag appears to be the industry norm, except for first-class passengers or elite frequent fliers.

US Airways allows military personnel with identification free luggage up to 100 pounds, and Delta allows two bags up to 70 pounds in the cargo hold, as does Northwest.

When soldiers receive their travel orders, they should make sure that excess baggage is authorized and that soldiers can be reimbursed for additional fees that airlines impose, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

“We can help them with additional expenses for travel, but soldiers have to submit a receipt and it has to be looked at by our finance people,” Mr. Boyce said.

“We appreciate the VFW’s help in assisting soldiers. It would certainly make it easier for soldiers, but there are other ways to help them recoup their money for Army travel,” Mr. Boyce said.

June 20, 2008

Support Our Veterans Radiothon

Finally, someone talking about how we treat our Veterans and offering something we can do.  Philadelphia station WMGK is broadcasting a 12 hour radiothon tomorrow, June 20, from 6 AM to 6 PM in front of the National Constitution Center.  The goal is to raise money for the nonprofit Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service Center, a local group that assists Veterans in housing, benefits, job training, all those things they should be entitled to for serving us well.

http://www.wmgk.com/Extra/Pages/DeBellaVeteransRadiothonFullInfopage/tabid/296/Default.aspx

Listen if you can, they stream online.  Give if you can.  Spread the word – more than anything else raise awareness.  Those who protect and defend us deserve better.

May 6, 2008

Rewarding our Troops…Not

I’m not generally a huge fan of Bob Herbert at the NY Times.  This, however, touched a nerve.

May 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Doing the Troops Wrong

At the top of the list of no-brainers in Washington should be Senator Jim Webb’s proposed expansion of education benefits for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s awfully hard to make the case that these young people who have sacrificed so much don’t deserve a shot at a better future once their wartime service has ended.

Senator Webb, a Virginia Democrat, has been the guiding force behind this legislation, which has been dubbed the new G.I. bill. The measure is decidedly bipartisan. Mr. Webb’s principal co-sponsors include Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia, and Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

(All four senators are veterans of wartime service — Senators Webb and Hagel in Vietnam, Warner in World War II and Korea and Lautenberg in World War II.)

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are on board, as are Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.

Who wouldn’t support an effort to pay for college for G.I.’s who have willingly suited up and put their lives on the line, who in many cases have served multiple tours in combat zones and in some cases have been wounded?

We did it for those who served in World War II. Why not now?

Well, you might be surprised at who is not supporting this effort. The Bush administration opposes it, and so does Senator John McCain.

Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran’s education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite.

As The New York Times wrote on the 50th anniversary of the G.I. bill: “Few laws have done so much for so many.”

“These veterans were able to get a first-class future,” Senator Webb told me in an interview. “But not only that. For every dollar that was spent on the World War II G.I. bill, seven dollars came back in the form of tax remunerations from those who received benefits.”

Senator Lautenberg went to Columbia on the G.I. bill, and Senator Warner to Washington and Lee University and then to law school.

The benefits have not kept pace over the decades with the real costs of attending college. Moreover, service members have to make an out-of-pocket contribution — something over $100 a month during their first year of service — to qualify for the watered-down benefits.

This is not exactly first-class treatment of the nation’s warriors.

The Bush administration opposes the new G.I. bill primarily on the grounds that it is too generous, would be difficult to administer and would adversely affect retention.

This is bogus. The estimated $2.5 billion to $4 billion annual cost of the Webb proposal is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars we’re asking service members to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s important to keep in mind is that the money that goes to bolstering the education of returning veterans is an investment, in both the lives of the veterans themselves and the future of the nation.

The notion that expanding educational benefits will have a negative effect on retention seems silly. The Webb bill would cover tuition at a rate comparable to the highest tuition at a state school in the state in which the veteran would be enrolled. That kind of solid benefit would draw talented individuals into the military in large numbers.

Senator Webb, a former secretary of the Navy who specialized in manpower issues, said he has seen no evidence that G.I.’s would opt out of the service in significantly higher numbers because of such benefits.

Senator McCain’s office said on Monday that it was following the Pentagon’s lead on this matter, getting guidance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Under pressure because of his unwillingness to support Senator Webb’s effort, Senator McCain introduced legislation with substantially fewer co-sponsors last week that expands some educational benefits for G.I.’s, but far less robustly than Senator Webb’s bill.

“It’s not even close to the Webb bill,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group.

Politicians tend to talk very, very big about supporting our men and women in uniform. But time and again — whether it’s about providing armor for their safety or an education for their future — we find that talk to be very, very cheap.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

I’d say “unbelievable”, but, yanno, given the general erosion of benefits over time (retirement is less, health benefits are less, VA is a nightmare, etc.), it’s not as surprising to me as it should be.  Mostly it’s just very very disappointing.

Support Your Troops means more than wave the flag, go to the parade, put the flag sticker on.  It means taking care of them when they’re injured, providing them with compensation that is equivalent to sacrifice or value, and yes, benefits that make it ‘worth it’ to protect us against enemies, foreign or domestic, and allow us to live in freedom.

GI bill benefits are one of those ‘perks’ that pays back in so many ways.  Bill Gates talks about how the GI bill allowed his father to obtain an education and allowed his parents to afford a house.  The house I was born in was a GI Bill VA Loan house, as was the first house my husband and I bought.   Many of my college instructors were themselves GI bill educated, including a world-class, internationally recognized optical scientist and an internationally renowned plant scientist.   So why not support it?  It doesn’t just pay the service member, it pays the community back in droves.

So please, if you really do support our troops, write your congresspeople and demand they are taken care of and rewarded for their sacrifice.

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