1. VFW Applauds Choice Program Extension and Improvement: On Wednesday, Congress passed S. 544, which would authorize VA to use the $10 billion Congress intended to go toward providing veterans care in their communities when they are not able to receive timely access to care at VA health care facilities. S. 544 would also improve the Choice Program by addressing two issues the VFW has identified and asked Congress to fix. “While this bill is an important step, Congress still has a long way to go,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “Congress must still act on a permanent replacement for the Choice Program, one that consolidates VA’s community care authorities, as well as integrates the best aspects of the VA system with available health care capabilities in the community, both public and private. Congress must also act on legislation to improve VA’s ability to construct and lease facilities; hire, retain and discipline employees; and improve its health processes and systems to ensure veterans have timely access to high quality care,” he explained. Learn more about the VFW’s concerns about the Choice Program and other VA community care programs.
2. VFW and PatientsLikeMe Join for Mental Health Awareness: The VFW is proud to have teamed up with PatientsLikeMe to raise awareness, improve research and provide intervention for veterans, service members and their loved ones who may be suffering from mental health injuries. VFW National Commander Brian Duffy calls on VFW members and supporters to join the mental wellness fight and harness the synergy of our combined voices by sharing experiences and contributing to research that makes a difference in the lives of those suffering from mental health injuries. Join PatientsLikeMe and view VFW National Commander Brian Duffy’s announcement.
3. VFW Testifies on Veterans Crisis Line: On Tuesday, the VFW testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about the recent Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s report on the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). The panel discussed how VA is working to address the issues with the VCL. VFW Legislative Associate Kayda Keleher called on VA to focus on the quality of service the VCL provides veterans. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
4. VFW Testifies on Veterans Legislation: On Wednesday, VFW Associate Director Patrick Murray testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on seven bills being considered by the subcommittee. The VFW supported all seven bills discussed, in particular the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act which would expand Agent Orange related presumptive conditions to Blue Water Navy veterans; the American Heroes COLA Act, which would add an automatic trigger for annual COLA increases; and the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, which would require VA to accept private medical evidence when veterans submit disability compensation claims. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
5. Hearing on VA Home Loan Appraisers: On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing on ways to improve the VA’s Home Loan Appraisers Program for the 21st century. The VA home loan program is a widely touted benefit that has helped countless veterans since its inception. VA home appraisers work tirelessly to help safeguard our veterans in making sure the homes they purchase are valued at the correct market price. When asked how to improve the program, especially in isolated and rural areas, VA and independent home loan appraisers said to hire more home appraisers or contract out to local agents. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
6. Continuing Resolution Spells Disaster for DOD: Chief of Staff of the Army General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Air Force David Goldfein, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday regarding the impact a year-long continuing resolution would have on the armed services. The military leadership was outspoken about the negative impact a year-long continuing resolution would have on personnel, maintenance, readiness, modernization, recruitment and retention. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
7. New SGLI Management Website: Several federal agencies involved with the management of the insurance program used by the military, known as Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), have announced their new website for online enrollment and management of services. The Navy will be the first branch of the military to have access to this website and other branches will be given access during the remainder of the year. Read more information on SGLI.
8. VA Urges Female Participation in Million Veteran Program: The Million Veteran Program is a voluntary research program led by the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a better understanding of how genetics affect overall health. Veterans who use VA facilities are welcome to participate in the study. This data is stored anonymously and is used for research in areas such as cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. The study is currently lacking female veteran participants, and VA is urging more women to participate. Read more about the program.
9. President Authorizes Gulf War Memorial Location: President Trump signed into law the resolution for the location of a national memorial dedicated to those who served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. The memorial will be in Washington, D.C., in the area commonly known as the National Mall and will be within walking distance of many other memorials that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It will be built with private donations before being turned over to the U.S. Park Service and the VFW has committed to donating $500,000 in support of the construction of this memorial. Read more about the memorial.
10. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of nine Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Marine Corps Pfc. James O. Whitehurst, 20, of Ashford, Ala., will be buried April 12, in Cowarts, Ala. Whitehurst was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Whitehurst’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Whitehurst was killed on the first day of the battle, one of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors killed in the intense fighting. Read more about Whitehurst.
— Army Master Sgt. Joseph Durakovich, 30, of Gary, Ind., will be buried in April in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. Durakovich was a member of Company G, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. His unit was attacked by Chinese forces while establishing a defensive position in Pongmyong-ni east of Kuni-ri, North Korea, on Nov. 28, 1950. After the battle, Durakovich could not be accounted for and was reported missing in action. Read more about Durakovich.
— Navy Seaman 1st Class George A. Coke was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Coke was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read more about Coke.
— Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Fred M. Jones was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Jones was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read more about Jones.
— Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Ewart T. Sconiers served as a bombardier on the B-17F Flying Fortress with the 414th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group. On Oct. 21, 1942, his plane was severely damaged during a mission to bomb the German U-boat pens at Lorient, France. The crew parachuted safely and were rescued from the water, only to be turned over to German forces as prisoners of war. Sconiers was transferred to Stalag Luft II in present-day Zagan, Poland, where he remained until 1944. He was reported deceased on Jan. 24, 1944. Interment services are pending. Read more about Sconiers.
— Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Jack J. Fox was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Fox’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Fox was killed on Nov. 22, 1943, one of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors killed in the intense fighting. Interment services are pending. Interment services are pending. Read more about Fox.
— Army Pfc. Reece Gass served with Company E, 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division. On Jan. 14, 1945, tanks from Gass’ unit began a three-pronged advance against enemy forces moving toward Cherain, Belgium. Gass was declared deceased after his tank was hit by enemy fire. Interment services are pending. Read more about Gass.
— Army Cpl. Daniel F. Kelly was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. In late November 1950 his unit was ordered to advance as part of an offensive push to drive the North Koreans to the Yalu River. They were attacked by Chinese forces and Kelly was declared missing on Nov. 26, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read more about Kelly.
— Army Cpl. Freddie L. Henson served with Battery A, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The RCT was attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese forces in late November 1950. Henson was among 1,300 members of the RCT killed or captured in enemy territory. He was reported missing as of Dec. 6, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read more about Henson.