Veterans Affairs – May/Jun 2015

I must humbly admit that I keep finding benefits for veterans and retirees that I never knew existed. Some of these could have a major impact on your lifestyle and boost your wallet! Three that I find most interesting follow.

 

Transferability of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  The Secretary of Defense has authorized the transfer of all or some GI Bill benefits to a spouse or children. Service members must have served at least 90 days on active duty on or after 11 September 2001. Benefits accrue on a sliding scale, and certainly have some limitations. But benefits can cover tuition, fees, up to $1,000 a year for books and other living expenses.

 

Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance.  Even if a service member has used his GI Bill benefits, his spouse or children may be eligible for tuition assistance. This could apply to job training, an apprenticeship or to earn a degree. In this case, the service member must be totally or permanently disabled as a result of service, or have died from a service-related cause, is missing in action, or other situations.

 

Military Spouse Career Advancement Account.  Military spouses can receive up to $4,000 in tuition assistance for various high-demand career fields. This is available to spouses of service members in grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, and O-1 or O-2.

For more information on all of these, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs web site and do a search on GI Bill. There are lots of other benefits you may not be aware of.

 

Are you hearing disabled and have hearing aids from VA or DOD? Are you eligible for free hearing aid batteries from the VA Denver Acquisition & Logistics Center? I highly recommend their new automated 24-hour reorder system. Just call 303-273-6200 and follow the prompts. You will be asked to enter your Social Security number and mailing zip code. I used it for the first time last month and was amazed at how simple it is. And I got my new batteries a lot faster than using the old mail-in-the-card system.

A couple of items from the Military Archdiocese.  In this year’s “Ordination Season” the Class of 2015 will turn out almost twice as many military vets compared with each of the past two years. For this year, 24 men being ordained to the priesthood report previously serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. And on March 27, the Senate confirmed the promotion of Father Paul K. Hurley from the rank of Colonel to Major General (Yes – he skipped Brigadier General) and his appointment as the 24th U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. Say a prayer for Father Hurley, and for all our military chaplains of all faiths and services.

Finally, please remember to thank a Veteran or an active duty Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman or Coast Guardsman. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

 

 

J J Kelly

Walk for the Wounded

We were at the Walk for the Wounded on May 2, in Media, PA. Black Jack Kehoe Division of Delaware County, PA, have supported each of the eight annual walks put on by Operation First Response.

They announced that in the eight years of the walks, over $1.2 million has been raised to support our wounded troops and their families. They claim over 95 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to support the troops and families.

J J Kelly

 

Veterans Chairman JJ Kelly, Delaware County Vice President Tony Mielich and Bill Hart, past president of the Black Jack Kehoe Division.

Veterans Chairman JJ Kelly, Delaware County Vice President Tony Mielich and Bill Hart, past president of the Black Jack Kehoe Division.

The officers and brothers from Black Jack Kehoe Division.

The officers and brothers from Black Jack Kehoe Division.

Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs

 

JJ Kellly

As I write this, we are “leaning forward in the foxhole” heading into November and its important dates – November 10th – the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps – and November 11th – Veterans Day – which honors all those who have served honorably in our armed forces. Following those two days we had the Sixth Annual Benefit for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. While this event is a wonderful opportunity to support the Military Archdiocese, it is not the only opportunity. I have often written about the need to continue to support this great Archdiocese. Just go to their website, www.milarch.org/, and click on the DONATE button. Again, the Military Archdiocese receives no funds from the United States Government. They need our help!

November is also Military Family Appreciation Month. The term “family” really means more than just relatives and immediate family. It also applies to those folks in the community who pull together to support one another. All those who stand behind our nation’s service members are a part of helping our military readiness. While November is the official month for this, don’t limit our support of our nation’s military families to just this month. Do it every day of the year – let our service members and their families know we are one hundred percent behind them.

I am always looking for organizations and opportunities for easing the transition from military to civilian life for our veterans. I just came across a new one for me – Voices of Valor. This program provides an opportunity for veterans, most of whom have no musical experience, to learn to channel their experiences into song. The claim is that participants often see a reduction in stress, anxiety and emotional health issues. Meeting in groups of eight to ten with facilitators, they explore and write about their experiences and collectively write a tune that reflects their challenges in returning to civilian life. While at the current time all options appear to be in New Jersey, the program is expanding. Go to www.voicesofvalor.org.

Finally, please remember to thank a Veteran or an active duty Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman or Coast Guardsman. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Rituals and Degrees

by J J Kelly
Chairman

One of the highlights of the recently concluded National Convention was the outstanding exemplification of the Major Degrees in which we had almost 110 candidates. A huge class by any measure. And, okay, maybe I’m a tad prejudiced about the performance of the degree team in that it was my team, The Brian Boru Major Degree Team of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As a follow-up to this degree, however, I remind Financial Secretaries that they must submit a Form 40 to National Secretary Jere Cole indicating their member(s) have taken the Major Degrees. Secretary Cole, by the way, will not immediately issue the changed status of the members, but when you get your 2015 cards, the new degree status will be indicated by the notation DGR14 on the same line as the member number. I know at least one brother did not receive his degree pin and card from the Brian Boru team and I am handling that. If there were any others, please let me know.

With the changes to the Major Degree Manual two years ago, and the changes to our National Constitution in St. Louis, National Legal Counsel Patrick Sturdy and I will be working on changes to the July 2000 edition of the AOH Manual – aka The Blue Book. In my role as National Chairman for Rituals and Degrees, I remind everyone that it is not only the Shamrock Degree and the Major Degrees which are a concern of the Order. The current Blue Book describes in detail the proper way to conduct an AOH meeting, to include the layout of the room, positioning of flags, conduct of the meeting, wearing of medallions, etc. Our history and traditions are compromised if we fail to follow these procedures. Failure to do so makes us just “another fraternal organization.” All officers at Division level should have a copy of The Blue Book, National Constitution, State and Division By-Laws, and refer to them frequently to insure compliance. To do less diminishes us as an Order. I fully understand that a Division with over one hundred members meeting in a Hibernian Hall may have different resources and means as opposed to a Division of 35 members meeting in the church basement. Having said that, all Division officers should be aware of the requirements and comply with them as best they can.

Veterans Affairs

Kelly

J J Kelly, Chairman

A special thank you to all the state level and division/county level Veterans Affairs chairmen who attended the St. Louis convention, and who attended the session devoted to Veterans Affairs. I continue to be impressed by the work you all are doing to support our veterans, our active duty members of the armed forces and their families. From spreading the word, to raising funds for education and helping our wounded warriors, you all are doing wonderful work. I encourage you to keep letting me know what you are doing so that through this venue and others we can get the word out to others.

One area where I encourage all to get involved is in support of those needing assistance at our VA hospitals and medical facilities. So many of our elderly and disabled veterans need help in getting to and from their appointments, and even just navigating the hallways of the hospitals. Every VA facility has a volunteer coordinator. Please find him or her, let them know you are an AOH member and are available to help.

Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project

We covered a lot of areas in our discussions in St. Louis, but an area I need to stress again is the Irish Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Project. To iterate, this project has as its goal to honor and memorialize the service and sacrifice of those Irish nationals who gave their lives in service to the United States during the Viet Nam war. A permanent memorial has been designed and approved to be built in the City of Ennis, County Clare. It will list the names of those 29 individuals who lost their lives. This is a 501 C 3 non-profit organization. For more details, go to their web site at www.ivnvmp.org.

Some help from Congress

I suspect many of you, as I, continue to follow the troubles and scandals ongoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs. It sure looks like help is on the way with new folks at the top, and Congress getting involved. Both the House and Senate voted to allow many more thousands of vets temporary access to private-sector health care at government expense. It is only a stop gap measure, but at least it is a good first step.

One other item. Have you ever heard yoga and Army used together in the same sentence before? One of the new approaches the Army is trying to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is an ancient yoga practice known as Yoga Nidra. You may be aware that the Catholic Church has some reservations about yoga and its meditative practices. So we will just have to see where this process goes.

Finally, please remember to thank a Veteran or an active duty Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman or Coast Guardsman. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Irish American History Month

 

            We have been quite busy the past couple of months in our continuing effort to have March permanently established as Irish-American Heritage Month. I take this occasion to publicly thank Neil Cosgrove and John Schell for all they have done and continue to do. A couple of highlights of our ongoing efforts follow.

We have been in communication with the Department of Education regarding their Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE) webpage. In an effort to make information available regarding Irish-American heritage, history and culture, we have asked them to include Irish-American information onto the list of Ethnic Groups under the U.S. History Topics. The officer in charge of this webpage, Kirk Winters, has responded favorably, stating he will be searching federal agency websites for quality teaching and learning materials related to our heritage, history and culture. He further stated that what he finds will be added to the FREE website. He further invited us to do the same — to locate any federally created or federally supported materials — and send the URL to him. If you are aware of any such sites, please send the information to John Schell at jschell31@verizon.net.

We met with Congressman Peter King’s senior staffer in charge of Irish Programs, and brought her up to date on our efforts to make IAHM a permanent event. She was fully supportive of this, and promised to work with Congressman King and other members of the Friends of Ireland in helping to make this happen. She had further ideas in how we, the AOH, can proceed, which we will pursue. Further, she provided us with the names of the current Friends of Ireland. This comes to about 44 names.

We have initiated a letter-writing campaign to a very limited number of federal agencies, asking them to devote resources to Irish-American events during the month of March in future years. Primary targeted agencies include the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, a letter has been drafted to the Secretary of the Army asking that Army Regulation 600-20, Table 6-1 be amended to include Irish-American Heritage Month, thus allowing DOD agencies to plan for and expend funds to promote IAHM. This would not require public law, in that some of the ethnic observances listed in this table cite as the authority the date of an earlier Presidential Proclamation.

So, our efforts continue. Finally, thank you all for all you do to support and promote our Irish heritage, and to support our goal of making Irish-American Heritage Month a permanent, recurring event, not dependent upon an annual Presidential Proclamation.

Veterans Affairs

A couple of unrelated items this month. For starters, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced the expansion of the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) program to include injuries servicemembes and veterans received outside of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).  Under the original TSGLI law, it was made retroactive by Congress to October 7, 2001, for those qualifying service men and women who suffered injuries in the combat zones of OIF and OEF. In 2010, Public Law 111-275 removed the OIF/OEF requirement. Therefore, TSGLI coverage is now provided retroactively for those men and women who incurred qualifying severe injuries or illnesses between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, regardless of where the injury occurred and whether or not they had Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage at the time of the injury or illness.  TSGLI covers a wide range of injuries and losses, including amputations; limb salvage; paralysis; burns; loss of sight, hearing or speech; facial reconstruction; and certain traumatic brain or other traumatic injuries. If you or anyone you know falls into this category, claims can now be submitted, which will be payable starting October 1, 2011.

From time to time, items are passed around the Internet on the origins of certain military customs. A few months ago I reported on the origin of Taps. The following on the Origin of the 21-gun salute comes from the Arlington National Cemetery web page. The tradition of saluting goes back to the Middle Ages. By placing yourself in an unarmed position, you have placed yourself in the power of the ones being honored. Thus, the cannon salute might have originated in the 17th century with the maritime practice of demanding that a defeated enemy expend its ammunition and render itself helpless until reloaded – a time consuming operation in that era. In the Anglo-Saxon Empire, seven guns was a recognized naval salute, seven being the standard number of weapons on a vessel. Because more gunpowder could be stored on dry land, forts could fire three rounds for every one fired from sea, hence the number 21. With the improvement of naval gunpowder, honors rendered at sea were increased to 21 as well.

Beginning in our colonial period, the United States fired one shot for every state in the Union. This was continued until 1841 when it was reduced to 21 from 26.  Although it had been in use for more than 30 years, the 21-gun salute was not formally adopted until August 18, 1875. This was at the suggestion of the British, who proposed a “Gun for Gun Return” to their own 21-gun salute.  So now you know!

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced the expansion of the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) program to include injuries servicemembers and veterans received outside of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Under the original TSGLI law, it was made retroactive by Congress to October 7, 2001, for those qualifying service men and women who suffered injuries in the combat zones of OIF and OEF. In 2010, Public Law 111-275 removed the OIF/OEF requirement. Therefore, TSGLI coverage is now provided retroactively for those men and women who incurred qualifying severe injuries or illnesses between October 7, 2001, and November 30, 2005, regardless of where the injury occurred and whether or not they had Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage at the time of the injury or illness. TSGLI covers a wide range of injuries and losses, including amputations; limb salvage; paralysis; burns; loss of sight, hearing or speech; facial reconstruction; and certain traumatic brain or other traumatic injuries. If you or anyone you know falls into this category, claims can now be submitted that will be payable starting October 1, 2011.

The annual benefit for the Archdiocese for the Military Services is coming up on Tuesday, November 8, at the Army Navy Country Club, Arlington, Virginia. This is such an important event in the annual schedule of the Archdiocese. The funds they need to support our Catholic men and women serving around the world must be generated by the Archdiocese. They receive no funding from the U.S. government. If possible, I encourage you to attend. If you cannot, please make a donation to the Archdiocese. Go to www.milarch.org/events to RSVP or to make a donation.

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Veterans Affairs

Continuing on my pledge from the most recent edition of the Digest to highlight some of the great work from our many Veterans Affairs State Chairman, I will take this month’s report to highlight a document brought to my attention by Danny Boy Crawford, the Florida Veterans Affairs Chairman. As Danny Boy points out, this could affect thousands of our veterans. At issue is a letter issued by the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This document – Training Letter 10-06 – which has been sent to all VA Regional Offices has the somewhat lengthy title: Adjudicating Disability Claims Based on Herbicide Exposure from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Veterans of the Vietnam Era. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations provide Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam with the presumption of herbicide exposure due to widespread use of Agent Orange and other herbicides during U.S. military operations within the country. This allows for service connection on a presumptive basis for certain diseases that are associated with such exposure. VA limits the presumption of exposure to Veterans who served on the ground or on the inland waterways of Vietnam and excludes Veterans who served aboard ships operating on Vietnam’s offshore waters. However, VA has become increasingly aware of evidence showing that some offshore U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships also operated temporarily on Vietnam’s inland waterways or docked to the shore.

Additionally, the VA has recently acquired evidence showing that certain ships operated primarily on the inland waterways rather than offshore. Veterans who served aboard these ships qualify for the presumption of herbicide exposure. Assisting Veterans who served aboard these ships requires special claims processing steps that are explained in this training letter. Bottom line – if you are a Navy or Coast Guard veteran who may be affected by herbicide related diseases and have not received proper compensation from the VA, go back to your regional office and tell them they should refer to Training Letter 10-06 and follow the special claims processing steps.

A quick update on the Archdiocese for the Military Services. Remember that AMS has the mission of serving Catholics in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, VA Medical Centers and government service overseas. What a wonderful mission! As one can imagine, the need for clergy is great. In the past I have addressed the co-sponsored seminarian program. I am happy to report that two of the co-sponsored seminarians were ordained in June, and there should be at least thirty in the seminary for the fall term! Our prayers for more vocations, especially for service to the military must continue. Realize that half of the cost of educating and supporting these seminarians is the responsibility of the Archdiocese of the Military Services. I ask you to keep the AMS high on your list of places to support, both prayerfully and financially.

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

 

 

Irish American Heritage Month

Brothers, we are making progress! We are not yet where we need to be in getting March permanently designated as Irish-American Heritage Month, but the many outstanding events currently being reported to John Schell and Neil Cosgrove show that we, the AOH, are in fact leading the way.

President Obama once again issued his Presidential Proclamation designating March as IAHM. This has now been done by US Presidents every year since 1991. This is remarkable. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but we know that at least three federal agencies have actively observed March as IAHM, these being Department of the Navy, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security – Customs and Border Protection. There may be others – we are still searching.

In my article in the next issue I intend reporting on some of the more outstanding events you have held in March. The reports are still coming in. I do want to report on one event, though, that was so very noteworthy. Virginia state pro-life chairman, Joe Kennedy, a member of Fairfax County Division 2, had the idea of displaying thirty thousand flags on the field in front of St. Michael Parish in Annandale, VA. The number was to illustrate the magnitude of the number of abortions performed each year in Virginia. After several modifications to the plan, Joe was able to procure the required flags – the type used by utility companies to mark your underground utilities – ten thousand each of green, white and orange, displayed as a huge Irish flag! The plan was for it to be put up the day before St. Patrick’s Day, and come down the day after St. Patrick’s Day. However, after the pastor blessed the flags he decided the flags should stay up for two weeks, to make sure everyone could see and appreciate what it was all about. What a wonderful combination of Pro-Life and IAHM. It’s what we are all about!

Keep up the good work. I am encouraged that we are on the right track, and will eventually get March permanently designated as IAHM.