VA Makes Gains in Faster Disability Claims Processing

VA Makes Gains in Faster Disability Claims ProcessingWashington – The federal initiative to provide timely decisions on disability payments to Veterans has crossed a major milestone in its final sprint to eliminate the backlog of Veterans’ benefits claims.

The major transformation effort to apply new technology and process solutions has paid off at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It reduced its inventory of backlogged claims from a high of 611,000 claims in March of 2013 to fewer than 200,000 this week, while at the same time improving decision quality.

“Make no mistake, we’re not slowing down short of the finish line,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey. “Our goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by the end of 2015 – meaning all Veterans will receive timely and accurate decisions on their disability claims.”

Hickey credited a combination of factors for the 67-percent drop in backlog: first, the extra hours of work put in by dedicated benefits claims processors across the nation, who have worked evenings, Saturdays and Sundays to drive the backlog down; as well as procedural efficiencies backed by powerful automation tools and paperless claims processing. In addition, she cited the transformation of Veterans Benefits Administration’s training and quality assurance programs resulting in steady increases in the accuracy of decisions.

Just a few years ago, claims processors handled 5,000 tons of paper annually, an amount equivalent to 200 Empire State Buildings. In less than two years, VA converted claims processing to a 21st Century digital environment where claims for VA benefits and services can be submitted and processed, and benefits delivered, online.

Veterans increasingly are filing claims electronically from the start at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

Veterans can submit their applications online, upload their supporting documentation, and check the status of their claim through a multi-channel Web portal boasting nearly 60 self-service features.

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VA Proposes Removal of Employees Who Manipulated Data

VA Proposes Removal of Employees Who Manipulated DataWashington DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed a series of disciplinary actions against six employees at Department facilities in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Fort Collins, Colo. These actions are a part of VA’s effort to rebuild the trust of America’s Veterans.

“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care Veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated,” said Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. “VA must earn back the trust of Veterans. Part of earning back that trust is holding people accountable when there is documented evidence of willful misconduct and management negligence. We depend on the dedicated service of VA employees and leaders who live by our core values. Those who have not delivered results honestly have and will be held accountable.”

Based on a review by the Inspector General and other Department investigations, VA recently proposed disciplinary actions against six employees at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and Fort Collins Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

As a result of these findings, VA proposed disciplinary actions against the Director of the Rocky Mountain Network (VISN 19), and the Director and Chief of Staff of the Cheyenne VA Medical Center.

Certain supervisors in these facilities were found to have personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data, and withheld accurate information from their superiors. VA today proposed two of the supervisors be removed from Federal service.

Additional proposed penalties for other supervisors include two proposed suspensions, a demotion, and admonishments.

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Veterans Services Open House in Yulee

Veterans Services Open House in YuleeVeterans Services Open House will be held at the FSCJ Betty P. Cook Nassau Center, Thursday, May 29, from 6 – 7:30 p.m., in the Lewis “Red” Bean Technical Center, Nassau Room – T126.

FSCJ is hosting this open house to highlight the services available locally to Veterans.

Services for Veterans include disability compensation, pension, education and training, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment VetSuccess program, life insurance, home loans, healthcare, burial, and dependents and survivors benefits.

A brief presentation will be given at 6 p.m. by representatives from VA Health Care Enrollment, FSCJ Military and Veterans Service Center, Community Hospice and the Nassau County Veterans Services Office. The representatives will be available for questions from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Representatives from local Veterans civic organizations have been invited to participate.

Light refreshments will be served.

For more information, call the Betty P. Cook Nassau Center at (904) 548-4432.

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VA Initiative Shows Promise in Reducing Opioids for Chronic Pain

VA Initiative Shows Promise in Reducing Opioids for Chronic PainThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated a multi-faceted approach to reduce the use of opioids among America’s Veterans using VA health care. The Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) is a comprehensive effort to improve the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering from chronic pain.

Launched in October 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, OSI is already demonstrating success in lowering dependency on this class of drugs. At eight sites of care in Minnesota, OSI practices have decreased high-dose opioid use by more than 50 percent. OSI incorporates the team approach with the goal of reducing opioid use by alleviating a Veterans’ pain using non-prescription methods. There is an emphasis on patient education, close patient monitoring with frequent feedback and Complementary and Alternative Medicine practices like acupuncture.

“We have developed and implemented joint pain management guidelines which encourage the use of other medications and therapies in lieu of habit forming opiates,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Early results give us hope that we can reduce the use of opioids for Veterans suffering with chronic pain and share these best practices across our healthcare networks.”

The Opioid Safety Initiative faces the challenge of opioid dependency with an innovative and comprehensive plan that closely monitors VA’s dispensing practices system-wide and coordinates pain management to include patient and provider education, testing and tapering programs, and alternative therapies like acupuncture and behavior therapy.

Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system suffer from high rates of chronic pain. Each VA facility employs personnel including Interdisciplinary Pain Medicine Specialty Teams and Consult Services, Facility Pain Committees, Pharmacy staff and Primary Care/PACT, and other professionals to accomplish the goals and objectives of the OSI.

VA has developed patient management initiatives including Pain Coach, which is a pain management app available for download by patients receiving pain management treatments, a Veterans’ Health Library, including a Patient/Family Management Toolkit, and resources for Pain Management on My HealtheVet. All of these applications allow Veterans to better manage their pain without the use of opioids. VA’s measurement-based pain care includes the “Pain Scale,” which reduces uncertainty and helps Veterans by discussing the potential benefits of a medication and possible side-effects.

“The Opioid Safety Initiative is an example of VHA’s personalized, proactive and patient-centered approach to health care. We are also using a full-range of support treatments for Veterans, including Complementary and Alternative Medicine,” said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s Under Secretary for Health. “We are delivering health care with the patient’s long-term personal health goals at the forefront.”

For further information, Veterans should contact their primary care health team. To learn more about VA health care, visit www.va.gov.

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VA Names Two New National Cemeteries in Florida

VA Names Two New National Cemeteries in FloridaWashington DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the names of two new VA national cemeteries planned in Florida, the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Scottsmoor and the Tallahassee National Cemetery in Tallahassee. “These two new cemeteries are a priority for the growing Veterans’ community in Florida,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “As VA moves forward with these new cemeteries, Veterans, their spouses and families can have peace of mind knowing that they have a final resting place in a nearby national shrine.” The Cape Canaveral National Cemetery is planned for a 318-acre parcel located in close proximity to U. S. Route 1 in northern Brevard County in Scottsmoor, approximately two miles from Interstate 95 and 12 miles north of Titusville. The cemetery will serve more than 163,000 Veterans, spouses and their eligible dependents living in the central eastern Florida area. The initial phase of construction will provide more than 17,000 gravesites.

VA purchased the central eastern Florida property, formerly known as Acosta Groves, for $2.1 million on July 31, 2012. The Tallahassee National Cemetery is planned for a 250-acre parcel in Leon County, with frontage along U.S. Highway 27 (Apalachee Parkway) and Old St. Augustine Road near March Road east of Tallahassee. The cemetery will serve 83,000 Veterans and their eligible dependents in the Tallahassee area, as well as southwestern Georgia and southeastern Alabama. The initial phase of construction will provide more than 6,000 gravesites and an earlyturnover area so that the cemetery can begin burial operations soon after construction begins. VA purchased the Tallahassee property for $6.8 million on Aug. 14, 2012, from the St. Joe Company.

Veterans with a qualifying discharge, their spouses and eligible dependent children can be buried in a VA national cemetery. Also eligible are military personnel who die on active duty. Other burial benefits available for eligible Veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker.

In the midst of the largest expansion since the Civil War, VA operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. More than 3.8 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries. In 2013, NCA achieved a customer satisfaction index of 96, the highest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) score in either the private or public sector in the history of the ACSI. The score is nearly 28 points above the 68 point average for federal government agencies.

Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, from the Internet at www.cem.va.gov, or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

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Targeting Innovations in Veteran Mental Health

Targeting Innovations in Veteran Mental HealthWashington DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the first of multiple Industry Innovation Competitions in 2014, which identifies, tests, and evaluates promising innovations that enhance the accessibility and quality of mental health care and services delivered to Veterans.

“VA has established a track record as an innovative organization that welcomes new ideas,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This competition represents an important way for us to tap the significant pool of talent and expertise inside and outside of government to improve mental health care and services for our Nation’s Veterans, their families, and survivors.”

The innovations from this competition will add to VA’s already extensive mental health programs, which can be found at www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

The competition is part of the VA Center for Innovation (VACI), a department-wide program that seeks the most promising innovations from employees, the private sector, non-profits, and academia to increase Veterans’ access to VA services, improve the quality of services delivered, enhance the performance of VA operations, and reduce or control the cost of delivering those services.

“With this competition we are focused on challenges that affect a population much larger than our Veterans; these are challenges facing our entire nation as we rethink our approaches to mental health care and services,” said Patrick Littlefield, Acting Director, VA Center for Innovation. “We anticipate these efforts will benefit a very large community of providers and customers. Here at VA, we continue to be focused on bringing to bear the best-of-breed solutions to serve our Veterans and their mentally healthy futures.”

This Industry Innovation Competition seeks creative solutions in three areas of significant importance to VA. Public and private companies, entrepreneurs, universities and non-profits are encouraged to propose new ways to respond to Veteran mental health challenges specific to the topics:
-Upstream Suicide Intervention
-Improving Veterans Receptivity to Mental Health Care to Promote Treatment, Engagement, and Participation
-Innovative Methods of Incentivizing Behavior to Improve Mental Wellness

These topics and processes are detailed in the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) and can be found at www.fbo.gov (RFP No. VA118-14-R-0077) and at: www.innovation.va.gov/.

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New GI Bill Comparison Tool Available

New GI Bill Comparison Tool AvailableWashington DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs launched today an online GI Bill® Comparison Tool to make it easier for Veterans, Servicemembers and dependents to calculate their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and learn more about VA’s approved colleges, universities and other education and training programs across the country.

“We are pleased that Post-9/11 Veterans are taking advantage of this significant benefit program,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The new GI Bill Comparison Tool will help future beneficiaries as they make decisions about what education or training program best fits their needs.”

The GI Bill Comparison Tool provides key information about college affordability and brings together information from more than 17 different online sources and three federal agencies, including the number of students receiving VA education benefits at each school.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool is one item in a series of resources VA is launching in response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13607, which directs agencies to implement and promote “Principles of Excellence” for education institutions that interact with Veterans, Servicemembers and their families; and to ensure beneficiaries have the information they need to make educated choices about VA education benefits and approved programs.

Recently, VA also instituted a GI Bill online complaint system, designed to collect feedback from Veterans, Servicemembers and their families who are experiencing problems with educational institutions receiving funding from Federal military and Veterans educational benefits programs, including benefits programs provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the DoD Military Tuition Assistance Program.

The executive order, signed April 27, 2012, directs federal agencies to provide meaningful cost and quality information on schools, prevent deceptive recruiting practices and provide high-quality academic and student support services. VA works closely with partner institutions to ensure the needs of GI Bill beneficiaries are met.

More than 5,000 education institutions have agreed to the Principles of Excellence.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a comprehensive education benefit created by Congress in 2008. In general, Veterans and Servicemembers who have served on active duty for 90 or more days since September 10, 2001 are eligible. Since 2009, VA has distributed over $30 billion in the form of tuition and other education-related payments to more than one million Veterans, Servicemembers and their families, and to the universities, colleges and trade schools they attend.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool can be found at: benefits.va.gov/gibill/comparison

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Increase for Veterans Benefits in 2014

Increase for Veterans Benefits in 2014Washington DC – Veterans, their families and survivors receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in their monthly payments beginning January 1, 2014.

“We’re pleased there will be another cost-of-living increase for Veterans, their families and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The increase expresses in a tangible way our Nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by our service-disabled and wartime Veterans.”

For the first time, payments will not be rounded down to the nearest dollar. Until this year, that was required by law. Veterans and survivors will see additional cents included in their monthly compensation benefit payment.

For Veterans without dependents, the new compensation rates will range from $130.94 monthly for a disability rated at 10 percent to $2,858.24 monthly for 100 percent. The full rates are available on the Internet at www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp.

The COLA increase also applies to disability and death pension recipients, survivors receiving dependency and indemnity compensation, disabled Veterans receiving automobile and clothing allowances, and other benefits.

Under federal law, cost-of-living adjustments for VA’s compensation and pension must match those for Social Security benefits. The last adjustment was in January 2013 when the Social Security benefits rate increased 1.7 percent.

In fiscal year 2013, VA provided over $59 billion in compensation benefits to nearly 4 million Veterans and survivors, and over $5 billion in pension benefits to more than 515,000 Veterans and survivors.

For Veterans and separating Servicemembers who plan to file an electronic disability claim, VA urges them to use the joint DoD/VA online portal, eBenefits. Registered eBenefits users with a premium account can file a claim online, track the status, and access a variety of other benefits, including pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.

For more information about VA benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov, or call 1-800-827-1000.

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Veterans Get FREE Haircut at Great Clips

Veterans Get FREE Haircut at Great ClipsGreat Clips, the world’s largest hair salon, is launching its “Thank a Veteran” promotion on Veteran’s Day this year.

On November 11, active or retired military members can walk into any U.S. Great Clips and get a free hair cut OR pick up a free haircut card they can redeem for a free haircut through the end of 2013. Great Clips leaders say the gesture is one small thank-you for our veterans’ service to country.

Shears Salute
On Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, customers who come in for a haircut at any U.S. Great Clips salon will receive a free haircut card to give to an active/inactive/retired military member of any branch, including the National Guard. Military members can also come in on Veterans Day for a free haircut or to pick up a free haircut card to use, with proof of service, any day before Dec. 31, 2013.

“We’re honored to help the entire nation show appreciation for the men and women who have served our country,” says Great Clips CEO, Rhoda Olsen, who is married to a Vietnam veteran. “We invite everyone to come into a U.S. Great Clips salon on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) to purchase a service and pick up a free haircut card. Give the card to your veteran neighbor, family member or just someone you notice is a veteran to thank them for serving our country. It’s one small way to show you truly care and appreciate their service.”

How It Works:
• Customers come into any U.S. Great Clips salon on Nov. 11 and, with the purchase of a service, receive a free haircut card to give to a veteran.
• Limit one card per customer (while supplies last).
• The free haircut cards are redeemable by veterans at any U.S. Great Clips from Nov. 11 – Dec. 31, 2013 with proof of service. The promotion applies to veterans only.
• Veterans who visit Great Clips in the U.S. on Nov. 11 receive either a free haircut that day or a free haircut card to redeem by Dec. 31. After Nov. 11, veterans must have a free haircut card to get the free haircut.

“Many of our franchise owners, corporate staff and Great Clips stylists have served in the military, or have family members or customers who have served, so we are all excited to be a part of this nationwide ‘thank-you’ to our men and women in uniform,” says Terri Miller, Great Clips vice president of marketing & communications. “To make sure as many veterans as possible have the opportunity to get their free haircut, we extended this promotion through the end of the year. We want to give these great people more time to visit a Great Clips and redeem this thank-you card for a free haircut in honor of their service.”

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Veterans Retraining Assistance Program a Success

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program a SuccessWashington DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs has had an incredible response to the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), a new training and education program for unemployed Veterans to upgrade their skills for in-demand jobs.

“The tremendous response illustrates how important this program is in providing Veterans the opportunity to find employment in a high-demand field,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

The program, a provision of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which was passed by Congress and signed by the President in November 2011, is managed by VA and the Department of Labor (DOL) and allows qualifying Veterans to receive up to 12 months of education assistance equal to the full-time Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty rate, currently $1,473 per month.

The goal of VRAP is to train a total of 99,000 Veterans over the next two years in more than 200 job skills that DOL has determined are the most sought-after by employers.

To be eligible for the program, a Veteran must:
• Be 35-60 years old, unemployed on the day of application, and not dishonorably discharged;
• Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, or Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment;
• Not be enrolled in a federal or state job-training program within the last 180 days; and
• Not receive VA compensation at the 100% rate due to individual unemployability (IU).

Veterans who have been approved for VRAP are encouraged to enroll as soon as possible to start training full-time in a VA-approved program of study offered by a community college or technical school. The program of study must lead to an associate degree, non-college degree, or certificate for a high-demand occupation as defined by DOL.

Applicants approved for the 2013 phase should enroll full-time in an approved program and start training by April 2013 in order to take full advantage of this benefit before its termination March 31, 2014.

“I’m thrilled that the response to the program has been so strong,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “But we need to keep getting the word out to maintain the momentum.”

VA Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity Curtis Coy acknowledged the program applies to a small segment of the Veteran population that may not have regular interaction with VA or stay informed about Veterans’ benefits and opportunities.

“We ask anyone who knows an unemployed Veteran to tell them about VRAP,” said Coy. “We are counting on the continued help of Veterans Service Organizations and the Department of Labor, as well as the American public, to reach as many eligible Veterans as possible.”

Potential applicants can learn more about VRAP and apply online at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW, or call VA toll-free at 1-800-827-1000.

Information about the Department of Labor’s programs for Veterans is available at www.dol.gov/vets. Veterans can also visit the nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers across the nation, listed at www.servicelocator.org, for in-person assistance.

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VA Exploring the Use of Motivational Phone Calls to Vets

VA Exploring the Use of Motivational Phone Calls to VetsWashington, DC — VA staffers conducted telephone motivational interviews as part of a VA study on the effectiveness of therapeutic phone conversations in convincing Veterans to seek mental health treatment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has discovered that a brief therapeutic phone conversation called motivational interviewing is more effective than a simple “check-in” call in convincing Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans with mental health diagnoses to begin getting treatment.

The powerful results produced by motivational interviewing were revealed during a study led by Dr. Karen Seal, director of the Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. She is also an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Study participants receiving telephone motivational interviewing also were significantly more likely to stay in therapy,” Seal observed. “They also reported a reduction in their use of marijuana, and a decreased sense of stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment.”

The study was published recently in General Hospital Psychiatry.

“Fifty-two percent of the approximately half-million Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans currently being seen by VA have one or more mental health diagnoses,” Seal reported. “These diagnoses include posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to provide these Veterans with state-of-the-art mental health treatment,” she continued. “The irony is that they are not necessarily engaging in this treatment. Our study was designed to try to connect our Veterans with the treatments that are available to them. A simple telephone conversation, if done correctly, seems to go a long way in getting these Veterans into treatment.”

“A simple telephone conversation, if done correctly, seems to go a long way in getting these Veterans into treatment.”

— Dr. Karen Seal
Director, Integrated Care Clinic
San Francisco VA Medical Center

Motivational interviewing is when counselors encourage their clients to explore and talk about discrepancies between their core values and how they actually behave. It’s a psychotherapeutic intervention that’s been used successfully in other settings, according to Seal.

“Explaining to a counselor how you want to change your behavior can motivate you to actually make some behavioral changes, such as going in for treatment,” Seal explained. “The counselor then supports and encourages your intention to make those changes.”

The study used 73 Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who screened positive for one or more mental health issues, but were not currently in treatment. These 73 were randomly assigned either to Group A or Group B. Members of Group A received four motivational interviewing sessions. Group B, the control group, received four neutral check-in sessions over a period of eight weeks. All of this was done over the phone.

“We thought that using the telephone to conduct this intervention would be a really good idea because these Veterans are young, they’re busy, they’re in school, they have families,” Seal explained. “And they all carry cell phones.”

By the end of the study, 62 percent of the motivational interviewing group had begun treatment, while only 26 percent of the control group had begun treatment.

“The counselors who helped us conduct this study were not licensed clinicians, but people with masters’ degrees who were trained for about eight hours,” Seal noted. “This means that the expense for personnel will not be huge if motivational interviewing becomes a routine procedure.”

Seal emphasized that the study, while encouraging, was simply an initial pilot trial designed to assess the potential effectiveness of motivational interviewing that occurs over the phone.

“We need more research to test the technique with larger groups of Veterans,” she said. “We’re planning a follow-up study involving Veterans at VA outpatient clinics in rural communities. I think we might be on to something really good here.”

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Stand By Your Local Veterans’

Stand By Your Local Veterans'Washington D.C. – In recognition of September as Suicide Prevention Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs is calling on individuals and communities across the country to show their support for Veterans in crisis and help raise awareness of the VA mental health services Veterans have earned. The theme for the outreach campaign, Stand by Them, is part of a joint VA and Department of Defense (DoD) effort focused on Veteran and Servicemember support networks, especially their friends and family members, who may be the first to realize a Veteran or Servicemember is in crisis.

“History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the wars have ended,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The mental health and well-being of our brave men and women who have served the Nation is the highest priority for the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Throughout September and beyond, VA is partnering with the DoD and other agencies, while urging community-based organizations, Veterans Service Organizations, health care providers, private companies to stand by Veterans and Servicemembers. These groups can educate their networks, including Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ friends and family members, about recognizing suicide risk and encouraging those at risk to call the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1), chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net or text to 838255.

On Aug. 31, President Obama issued his historic Executive Order to improve mental health services for Veterans, Servicemembers and military families. As directed in the Executive Order, VA and DoD launched the joint Stand by Them outreach campaign. VA is also increasing the workforce of the crisis line by 50 percent and hiring 1,600 new mental health professionals and 300 support staff.

“Knowing the signs of crisis and where to turn for support can help save a life,” said Deputy Secretary for Veterans Affairs W. Scott Gould. “Everyone can make a difference. We encourage Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ loved ones and members of the community to show their support for them during Suicide Prevention Month by becoming familiar with the signs of suicide risk and doing their part to let all Veterans and Servicemembers know that confidential support is only a call, click or text away.”

Supporters can work with local Suicide Prevention Coordinators, located at each VA Medical Center across the country, to coordinate special outreach events that encourage the public to make a difference in the lives of Veterans. In September, these local coordinators will host seminars, organize health fairs, conduct training and information sessions, join in community events, organize events at their facilities and provide local organizations with educational and promotional material to distribute to Veterans and their loved ones.

Today, VA is also launching a new national public service announcement Side by Side that focuses on the important role family and community play in supporting Veterans in crisis.

VA is also encouraging people to show their support for Veterans by signing an online pledge at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net to learn the signs of a crisis and spread the word about the Veterans Crisis Line among Veterans and their friends and family members. Supporters can share the pledge through social media and download special Suicide Prevention Month web banners, posters and flyers.

The Veterans Crisis Line, online chat and text messaging services offer free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to Veterans, their families and friends. Veterans or anyone concerned about a Veteran can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or text 838255 to receive support—even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.

Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 650,000 calls and made more than 23,000 life-saving rescues. In 2009 the Veterans Crisis Line added the anonymous chat service, which has helped more than 65,000 people.

To learn more about Suicide Prevention Month or to find a VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator near you, visit www.VeteransCrisisLine.net. For more information about VA’s mental health resources, please visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

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Veterans Benefit From Post 9/11 GI Bill

Veterans Benefit From Post 9/11 GI BillWashington D.C. – August marks the third anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and since it was implemented Aug. 1, 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided educational benefits to 773,000 Veterans and their family members.

“This is one of the most important programs helping our Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans reach their educational goals,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We’re proud this important benefit is making such a big difference in the lives of so many Veterans.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays tuition and fees on behalf of Veterans or eligible dependents directly to the school in which they are enrolled. Eligible participants also receive a monthly housing allowance and up to $1000 annually for books and supplies. The program also allows eligible Servicemembers to transfer their benefits to their spouses and/or children.

The program provides a wide range of educational options, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational/technical training, on-the-job training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance. All training programs must be approved for GI Bill benefits.

“For over 68 years, GI Bill programs have shaped and changed the lives of Servicemembers, Veterans, their families and survivors by helping them reach their educational goals,” said Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “Benefits provided under the Post-9/11 GI Bill will continue to shape and change the lives of Veterans by helping them build a stronger foundation for their careers.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most extensive educational assistance program since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. Since its inception, VA has paid more than $20 billion in benefits to Veterans and their family members.

For the 2012-2013 academic year, 1,770 colleges and universities are supplementing Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits by participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, degree-granting institutions make additional funds available for a Veteran’s educational program without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement. To make up the difference for those students whose tuition and fees exceed what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers, institutions can voluntarily enter into a Yellow Ribbon Agreement with VA to designate an additional amount of funding, and VA will match that amount.

VA is seeking legal authority to trademark the term GI Bill. President Obama signed an executive order on April 26, directing VA and the Department of Defense to undertake a number of measures to “stop deceptive and misleading” promotional efforts that target the GI Bill educational benefits of Servicemembers, Veterans, and eligible family members and survivors. In June, the attorneys general of several states gave VA the rights to the GIBill.com website after the original owners agreed to give up the internet site to settle a lawsuit by the states.

For more information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other Veteran education programs, visit www.gibill.va.gov.

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