Fort Wayne, IN – Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03), a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, announced that legislation he introduced in March has been signed into law Thursday as part of a bipartisan legislative package that expands and extends the GI bill.
The Banks legislation makes permanent a pilot program called VetSuccess on Campus, which places counselors on college campuses to assist veterans in navigating their GI benefits and charting their higher education path. More information about the VetSuccess on Campus program is available here.
“The VetSuccess on Campus program is a valuable tool that helps our veterans use their GI benefits well,” said Banks. “This program has proven effective, and I am happy to see it made permanent today.”
Banks said he strongly supports the broader GI Bill Expansion law as well, which improves and extends GI Bill benefits granted to veterans, their surviving spouses and dependents.
“The original GI Bill transformed our country and allowed an entire generation of veterans the opportunity to receive an education,” said Banks. “The law President Trump signed today will continue that investment in our veterans and fill gaps in the previous GI Bill.”
A white nationalist demonstrator with a helmet and shield walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. (Steve Helber/AP)
WASHINGTON — Veterans groups on Monday forcefully rejected the views of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups following reports that the Charlottesville extremist who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters briefly served in the military.
“The disgusting displays of hatred and bigotry on display in Charlottesville dishonor all veterans who fought and died to stamp out fascism,” American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt said in a statement two days after the violent protests in Virginia.
“Americans fought fascism and crushed the Nazis in WWII, and anyone who waves a Nazi flag on our soil is, by very definition, anti-American.”
Extremists groups clashed with counter-protesters during a “Unite the Right” rally designed initially to protest the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces. But participants at the rally displayed Nazi and racist paraphernalia, and chanted offensive slurs during the event.
Two Virginia state troopers were killed in a helicopter crash responding to the violence caused by the event. In addition, a 32-year-old woman was killed when James Alex Fields Jr., 20, sped his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Fields was charged with second-degree murder and is being held without bail.
In a statement released Monday, Army officials confirmed that Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015 but was released from active-duty four months later “due to a failure to meet training standards.” He was never assigned to a unit outside of basic training.
Several other extremists seen at the rally sported U.S. military and veteran gear, though their military status remained unclear.
A number of prominent veterans groups decried the violence and the rationale behind it, saying that hate speech and discrimination are unacceptable in all forms.
Vietnam Veterans of America president John Rowan issued a statement noting that “if there are any VVA members who harbor any of these bigoted ideologies, they are encouraged to turn in their membership cards. We did not don the uniform and serve our country to enable the acceptance of intolerance.”
He also said that the hate groups’ “bigoted ideology must be resisted by all true patriots.”
Officials at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called the actions of the extremists “detestable,” “cowardly” and “un-American.”
“Veterans come from all backgrounds, represent the diversity of America and have stood together against our enemies overseas,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA. “And we will stand together now against intolerance, hatred and violence here now at home.”
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Simone Askew marched into history Monday as the first black woman to lead the Long Grey Line at the U.S. Military Academy.
After an early morning 12-mile march back to the grey stone academic complex with 1,200 new cadets she led through the rigors of basic training at “Beast Barracks,” the 20-year-old international history major from Fairfax, Virginia, assumed duties as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. That’s the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point.
“It’s humbling, but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates with me,” a beaming Askew, still in camouflage fatigues from her march, told reporters.
As first captain, Askew is responsible for the overall performance of the Corps of Cadets. Her duties also include implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between the cadets and the administration.
“Simone truly exemplifies our values of Duty, Honor, Country,” said Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, commandant of cadets.
“I can’t believe this has happened in my lifetime,” said Pat Locke, one of two African American women in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980. “When I entered the Academy in 1976, the men did not want us there. Now 40 years later, everybody recognizes the talent and skills women bring to the game.”
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, was West Point’s first African American first captain in 1979. The first female in that role, in 1989, was Col. Kristin Baker, now commander of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe, Analytic Center.
Women make up about 20 percent of cadets, who are usually commissioned as first lieutenants in the Army upon graduation. The academy created a diversity office in 2014 with the goal of recruiting more women and African Americans and increasing diversity among department heads and other leaders.
Pam Askew, of Fairfax, says her daughter is a natural born leader with incredible drive.
“That leadership is something I’ve seen throughout her life — wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life,” Askew said. “And to serve others, as well.”
(BEDMINSTER, N.J.) — President Donald Trump has signed an emergency spending bill that will pump more than $2 billion into a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense.
Trump, who made improving veterans care a central campaign promise, signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act while at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday. The bill, which addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veteran Affairs that threatened medical care for thousands of veterans, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private care.
Another $1.8 billion will go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities.
"Today is another milestone in our work to transform the VA where we're doing record-setting business," Trump said.
The Choice program was put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal that was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital and spread throughout the country. Veterans waited weeks or months for appointments while phony records covered up the lengthy waits.
The program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait at least 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, the Choice program would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care for thousands of veterans.
The bill will extend the program for six months. Costs will be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.
Veterans groups applauded the bill being signed, though some criticized the delay and the cost.
"We're grateful President Trump is taking decisive action to ensure veterans using the Choice Program won't see lapses in their care due to a lack of funding," said Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America. "Unfortunately, this bill took far too long to get to the president's desk and is $1.8 billion more expensive than it needed to be."
Leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the VA's future. While the bill may avert a shutdown to Choice, disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.
Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014. The VA has an annual budget of about $180 billion.
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By: Kevin Lilley
The “Loneliest Road in America” is about to get some company — for a good cause.
About 500 motorcycle riders and support staffers will take part in the American Legion Legacy Run, leaving Fort Dodge, Kansas, on Aug. 12 and arriving in Reno, Nevada, on Aug. 17, the day before that city hosts the Legion’s national convention. The ride is the signature fundraising event for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, which pays for need-based scholarships for children of fallen post-9/11 service members and, as of last year, for children of post-9/11 veterans with disabilities rated 50 percent or higher by the Veterans Affairs Department.
More than $1.1 million in scholarships has been awarded since the program launched in 2002. The fund sits at nearly $13 million, Legion officials said, with more than $1 million more expected this year thanks largely to the American Legion Riders, who raise money at the local level in addition to the national ride, the first of which took place in 2006 with about 60 bikes.
“One of the key things that doesn’t get mentioned enough … is that 100 percent of the money goes [to the fund],” said Bob Sussan, national ALR chairman and chief planner for the Legacy Run. “There is no overhead, it’s 100 percent. There are very few scholarships that can say that. Our membership dues pay for the admin of it.”
Sussan, an Army veteran, has planned the ride for the last three years, he said. This time, the degree of difficulty has gone up a bit — riders will go through the Rocky Mountains, battling high altitudes and temperature swings of up to 40 degrees in a day.
And once that part’s done, they’ll cover Nevada on a stretch of U.S. Route 50 dubbed by Life magazine as “The Loneliest Road in America,” where riders will be greeted with scenic views … and not much else.
“I’ve got to be able to get 500 motorcycles off a highway and off a road into some sort of pre-staging area, then into a gas station,” Sussan said. “Even if you hit the gas station, they’re obviously not going to have enough water or food for 500 people. And they have a challenge with the restrooms, to be honest. Small gas stations, even the big ones, don’t have enough restrooms. We have to bring in port-a-potties or make alternate arrangements”
Every session, Congress authorizes the US Mint to produce commemorative coins that celebrate and honor American people, places, events, and institutions.
These coins help raise money for important causes. Part of the price of these coins is a surcharge that goes to organizations and projects that benefit the community. For example, surcharges on the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center commemorative coins helped build a new visitor center under the U.S. Capitol’s East Plaza.
Since the modern commemorative coin program began in 1982, the United States Mint has raised more than $506,301,189 in surcharges to help build new museums, maintain national monuments like the Vietnam War Memorial, preserve historical sites like George Washington’s home, support various Olympic programs, and much more.
The US Senate just passed S.1182 authorizing the US Mint to produce a commemorative coin to mark the 100th Anniversary of The American Legion (1919-2019). The funds raised by this act will help support many of The American Legion’s veteran support programs.
Below is a statement from Charles E. Schmidt, National Commander of The American Legion:
“On the behalf of our nation’s American Legionnaires, I extend our sincere thanks to the members of the U.S. Senate, especially Senators Joe Donnelly, Todd Young, Johnny Isakson, and Jon Tester, for the passage of S. 1182 The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act.
This bill will authorize the U.S. Mint to produce a commemorative coin celebrating the 100th birthday of The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veteran service organization with more than 2 million members and 13,000 posts across the U.S..
The American Legion assists veterans and their families access the benefits they earned while defending our Nation. We ensure America’s veterans receive healthcare and disability compensation for their injuries, and the education and training required to be contributing members of society following their military service.
Again, we are thankful for the Senate’s steadfast support of our veterans and military families. We look forward to swift passage of this bill's companion, H.R. 2519, in the House of Representatives so that the President can sign this important legislation into law.”
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COLUMBUS, Ind. – A local Hoosier was one of two U.S. service members killed in an attack in Afghanistan.
Jonathon Michael Hunter of Columbus, Indiana, was killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a NATO convoy outside Kandahar. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.
Another unidentified soldier was killed, and four others were wounded.
The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. released the following statement regarding Hunter’s death:
“The BCSC family is mourning the loss of one of our own. This morning we confirmed that Jonathon Hunter, a 2011 graduate of Columbus East High School, was one of two United States soldiers killed in a suicide bombing attack on a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, August 2, 2017. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Hunter family, friends, and the BCSC community during this difficult time. We express our deep appreciation for all who have served and continue to serve, in the military in order to protect the rights and freedoms we are blessed to have.”
According to BCSC, this is the second Columbus East graduate that has given his life for his country while serving in Afghanistan. In 2010 Jeremy McQueary was killed while conducting searches for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS). He was 27-years-old.
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By NICHOLAS FANDOS
WASHINGTON — Caleb Bennett was days away from starting the final semester of an associate degree at ITT Technical Institute outside Indianapolis last fall when he got word that the school had unexpectedly gone belly up.
Like thousands of ITT students, Mr. Bennett, an Army veteran with four years of service and a tour in Afghanistan, had paid for the schooling, books and even his family’s housing with benefits he had earned under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. With the degree, he planned to enter a bachelor’s program in electrical engineering and, eventually, to get a better-paying job to support his growing family.
Instead, Mr. Bennett found himself with only a week’s notice, a pregnant wife and nearly two years of worthless credits paid from his non-reusable store of G.I. benefits. When a refund check from ITT bounced a month later, the young family’s finances were thrown into chaos.
“It’s a real big hit on the chin,” Mr. Bennett, 25, said recently. “But you just have to suck it up and get to it and hope something happens. Thankfully something did.”
That something came in the form of a sweeping set of changes to the G.I. Bill for post-Sept. 11 veterans like Mr. Bennett that passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Wednesday. A patchwork of fixes and coverage expansions years in the making, the measure restores education benefits to the thousands of veterans still reeling from the closings of for-profit schools like ITT and Corinthian Colleges while they were enrolled.
Other major provisions include the lifting of a 15-year limit on benefit use, as well as the expansion of tuition assistance and other benefits for Purple Heart recipients; certain National Guard and military reservists who deploy on active duty; families of soldiers who die in the line of duty; and veterans pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. A host of smaller changes modernize the benefits program.
Advocates of the legislation say it could directly affect more than half a million veterans over the next 15 years.
But the bill’s beneficiaries are not limited to veterans. Its passage presents President Trump with another modest legislative victory in one of the few areas he has been able to find them: veterans issues. And to congressional lawmakers who have struggled to advance Republican priorities despite the party’s control of both chambers, it offers a rare accomplishment to bring home to constituents over the summer recess.
“It is one of those bills that addresses a lot of irritating problems that have been festering around for a long time,” said Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It shows the intent of Congress to make sure that the benefits that come with being a veteran reflect the times.”
Mr. Trump is expected to sign the measure, which had already passed the House 405 to 0, in short order.
Associated Press/Eric Berman
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis has won National Historic Landmark status.
The 115-year-old limestone tower and its grounds were named to the National Historic Landmarks list on Jan. 11 by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel.
A plaque officially marking the monument as a historical sight was unveiled on Wednesday, August 2nd.
The Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument was included as an expansion of the Indiana World War Memorials Historic District, which includes the already-designated World War Memorial Plaza to the north.
The 284-foot-tall tower's landmark nomination cites its exceptional nature. Dedicated in 1902, it's the largest of more than 200 Civil War memorials in the U.S. and the only one that combines large-scale sculpture in bronze and stone.
It set the trend for civic architecture in Indianapolis and led to the construction of the Indiana World War Memorial and its plaza.
Indianapolis won historic status in 1994 for the War Memorials District, encompassing the American Legion Mall and the Indiana World War Memorial. But it stopped short of Monument Circle. The War Memorials Commission sent a new application in 2007. 10 years and three presidents later, it's been approved.
Landmark status shields the monument from development that might intrude on the Circle. Indiana War Memorials Commission executive director Stewart Goodwin says it's also a reminder of the lives the monument was built to memorialize. He notes it was America's first monument to the common soldier -- the Tomb of the Unknowns wasn't built until 19 years later.
President Trump will present his first Medal of Honor to a Vietnam hero on Monday.
Former Specialist Five James C. McCloughan risked his life on nine separate occasions to rescue wounded comrades while serving as a medic in Vietnam.
According to a statement from the White House, McCloughan "suffered wounds from shrapnel and small arms fire on three separate occasions, but refused medical evacuation to stay with his unit, and continued to brave enemy fire to rescue, treat, and defend wounded Americans."
McCloughan spent his childhood in Bangor, Michigan, where his parents moved to take over a family farm. It was there that he found his passion for sports and music. The consummate athlete, McCloughan was a four-sport varsity athlete at Bangor High School and went on to wrestle, play football and baseball at Olivet College. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and a teaching certificate in 1968, McCloughan accepted a teaching and coaching position with South Haven Public Schools in Michigan. Three months later, McCloughan was drafted into the Army at the age of 22.
McCloughan reported to basic training in September 1968 at Fort Knox, Kentucky. His training in athletics and coaching gave him a foundational knowledge of sports medicine, and his leaders took notice. Two months after arriving at basic training, he was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to complete advanced training as a medical specialist. On his last day of training, McCloughan received deployment orders to Vietnam. He was assigned as a combat medic with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. His Vietnam tour was from March 1969 to March 1970.
Following his service in Vietnam, McCloughan returned to his teaching and coaching profession. In 1972, he earned a Master of Arts in counseling and psychology from Western Michigan University.
McCloughan taught sociology and psychology at South Haven High School until his retirement in 2008 earning him the Michigan Education Associations’ 40 years of Service Award. He was also the recipient of the Wolverine Conference Distinguished Service Award for 38 years of coaching football and baseball in addition to 22 years of coaching wrestling. He was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1993, Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame 2008. McCloughan was also a Michigan High School Athletic Association wrestling official for 25 years.
McCloughan’s Army awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, the Army Valorous Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Medical Badge, and the M16 Expert Rifle Badge.
He currently lives in South Haven, Michigan with his wife Chérie.
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