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Congratulations to the winners of the American Legion Family Scholarship.
The winners will each receive a $1500 college scholarship and complimentary lodging on Friday, October 1, 2020 so that they may be recognized during the Fall Conference general session.
Isabelle Blazey of Jasper, Indiana, attending Indiana University
Madison Brown of Economy, Indiana, attending Manchester University
Candice Carter of Martinsville, Indiana, attending Indiana Weslyan University
Emily Graves of LaPorte, Indiana, attending Valparaiso University
Wyatt Harvey of Mooresville, Indiana, attending Butler University
Emma Hassfurther of Ferdinand, Indiana, attending Purdue University
Emma Ruggles of Fishers, Indiana, attending Indiana University
Nicole Wernimont of New Palestine, Indiana, attending Iowa State University
In the spring of 2016, Licensed Practical Nurse Aaron Robinson heard that the greenhouse at the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System was to be razed. As an employee at the VA location, the greenhouse had always caught his attention, and he knew he could put the structure to good use. Robinson approached his Nurse Manager on the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit and the Mental Health Inpatient Chief Nurse with his interest. They both encouraged him to use the greenhouse to get patients out of the building and more active. By May of 2016, the Greenhouse/Garden Project was approved and Robinson started his “dirt-therapy” program with a small group of participants.
The group planted tomatoes, peppers, green beans, squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. “While tending the garden our veterans enjoyed the fresh vegetables, sunshine, the grass under their feet and dirt under their nails,” Robinsons says.
The following year, Robinson decided to expand and start all of the plants from seed inside the greenhouse. Doing so allowed Robinson to include more veterans in the program, and the Recreation Therapy Department started to transport veterans with mobility issues to the greenhouse, providing additional opportunities for therapeutic activity.
Just over a year into the program, Robinson found that he needed more supplies to accommodate the growth, and since the program falls outside of the VA and DOD budget, the program relies entirely on donations. The Voluntary Services Department located on-site has been the primary source for supplies, but with quick growth of the program, the needs began to mount.
When The American Legion Department of Indiana heard of the need for resources in the Greenhouse/Garden Project, the Department wanted to help cover the operating budget for the program so that Robinson could grow without having to worry about funding. The Department wrote an Operation Comfort Warrior grant on behalf of the Greenhouse/Garden Project to cover the cost of two years worth of operating expenses. Department of Indiana Commander Allen Connelly presented the check to Robinson and representatives of the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System. “It takes a big weight off my chest. Because I’m always worried, always trying to find things on sale, trying to find every resource I can possibly find to cover what I need to have done.” Says Robinson.
Results from the therapy program have surpassed everyone’s expectations. Robinsons says “When we started, I was working as a nurse on the psychiatric unit, we would have behaviors that were assaultive and when we started coming out here (to the garden) we saw behaviors go from one to two a week, to one to two a year. Which was phenomenal.” Robinson has become popular with the veterans, “When I walk into the building, guys ask “when can we go back out?”
“Today, our garden supplies several projects. …We use our vegetables to prepare fresh meals for our veterans on the units. And now the majority of the veterans that are housed in the Veteran Community Living Center and the Mental Health Inpatient units are participating in the Greenhouse/Garden Project.” Says Robinson. Staff support for the program has grown as well. “We have assistance from staff on most units and all service departments to keep things working smoothly. …Just like our plants, the program continues to grow. With the support from the leadership of the Veteran CLC, Engineering, and Voluntary Service, we have been able to triple the garden size and start an orchard.”
Thinking of the future, Robinson points out that one day he might be a patient in the program. “I’m a veteran myself. There may come a day when I’m here, you never can tell what tomorrow holds. If I need to come here to have my mental health or physical health taken care of, at least I know there are programs and people that care enough to make sure it happens. It could be any of us, and we all deserve the best of what can be offered out here.”
(WASHINGTON—May 29, 2020) – The head of the nation’s largest veterans organization is imploring President Trump to sign legislation which would relieve students from repaying loans that were issued because they were defrauded by disreputable schools.
“Veterans have been aggressively targeted due to their service to our country,” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford said. “Student veterans are a tempting target for certain online and for-profit schools to mislead with deceptive promises, while offering degrees and certificates of little-to-no value. We urge President Trump to sign House Joint Resolution 76, which allows for a ‘borrower defense’ to be used by students to obtain discharges to loans that were issued because of these false promises. This is the type of legislation that our delegates called for when they unanimously passed Resolution No. 82 at our 2017 national convention.”
Oxford added that Trump stood with veterans in 2019 when he exercised his executive authority to order the Department of Education to forgive hundreds of millions of student loan debt for veterans with severe disabilities. “We are hoping that President Trump will once again come to the aid of student veterans,” Oxford said. “Under current conditions, it is nearly impossible for veterans to successfully use a ‘borrower defense.’ The American Legion believes this needs to be fixed. We hope that he will sign this needed legislation.”
The American Legion, www.legion.org, is the nation’s largest veterans service organization and was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national defense, the care and wellbeing of U.S. military veterans, patriotic youth programs and Americanism.
Veterans disability exams to resume at some sites as backlog hits 114,000, nearly doubling in six months
Veterans Affairs officials announced they will resume in-person compensation and pension exams at 20 department medical centers in coming weeks in an effort to bring down a backlog of benefits cases which has grown substantially since November due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The exams backlog currently sits at 114,000 cases, up from 65,000 in November 2019.
The news came just a day after lawmakers and veterans advocates expressed concern that department leadership hasn’t done enough to inform veterans about their plans to handle benefits cases stalled in recent months, as in-person exams were banned in almost all cases.
The 20 sites are the same ones that earlier this month began offering non-emergency services to patients as part of the department implementing their first phase of re-opening hospitals.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the move is an important step forward for the department following weeks of restrictions due to the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans, including 1,200 VA patients. “We’re keeping the safety of veterans and our medical providers as our highest priority and have put a robust set of measures in place to ensure medical providers can safely conduct these examinations,” he said. Compensation and pension exams are often required after veterans file disability claims to verify their medical conditions and help evaluators set individuals’ disability rating.
In early April, in response to concerns about coronavirus, VA officials halted the exams along with numerous other face-to-face non-emergency appointments. Department leaders promised veterans benefits claims would not be penalized by the delays, and cases needing the medical reviews would be handled at a later date. But this week, members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee questioned why more information hadn’t been released about how and when those exams would return.
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va. and head of the committee’s Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs panel, said outside advocates have reported cases of veterans receiving letters about appointments that have already been cancelled and missing paperwork which cannot be completed without VA reopening facilities. “It’s clear there is going to be a lot of catching up,” she said in an interview with Military Times on Thursday. “There was a substantial backlog even before all of this, and the department said they added 25,000 more cases in April alone.” During a separate congressional appearance on Thursday, VA Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence said the delay in exams “sets us back, because we can’t process all the claims.” Lawrence asked lawmakers to approve new regulations allowing doctors to conduct online appointments across state lines and allowing nurse practitioners to conduct some of the exams, in an effort to reduce that number. Luria said she worries officials may rush through too many exams in an effort to clear the backlog, resulting in more benefits appeals and veteran frustration in coming months.
VA officials said veterans outside of the coverage area of the 20 sites “will continue to be served through telehealth appointments or the acceptable clinical evidence process, which includes a review of existing medical records to provide information needed to complete the claim, whenever possible.” And officials said exceptions will be made for veterans “who do not yet feel comfortable receiving in-person exams.” Veterans will not be penalized for that choice, but may see their cases stalled for longer as staff looks for alternatives to the face-to-face meetings. Department leaders said they plan to expand the list of locations for the exams “as conditions allow, with guidance from various agencies driving decision making.” Currently, 121 different VA facilities are still dealing with at least one active coronavirus case. That includes 18 of the 20 sites not being re-opened for the compensation and pension exams.
(Source: Military Times)
American Legion Department of Indiana Rehabilitation Director John Hickey released the following statement regarding the announcement:
The COVID-19 Virus has changed the way most all of us do things – including VA. VA had placed a hold on conducting in-person compensation examinations, and has attempted to make decisions based upon reviewing the veteran’s medical records, conducting interviews over the phone, and conduction video conferencing examinations whenever possible. If VA believes enough evidence and information is available using these alternatives for compensation examinations, VA will decide the veteran’s claim without requiring them to report for an in-person examination and possibly subjecting the veteran or someone else to further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
There are times, however, when in-person examinations are necessary. VA will begin conducting those examinations again, but only when absolutely necessary.
Although faster decisions are possible without the veteran having to wait for an in-person compensation examination, we will carefully review those decisions to help make sure errors were not made. If VA denies a claim for a veteran with American Legion representation based upon incomplete findings or information that an examination could provide, we will insist that VA conduct the in-person examination.
The sweepstakes drawing is typically held during the Department Convention, however this year, we will hold the drawing online and participants can watch live.
The Department sweepstakes drawing will take place Friday, July 10, 2020 at 2 p.m. It will be streamed live on The American Legion Department of Indiana’s Facebook page.
Additional tickets are available for purchase from Department Finance Director Mark Bernhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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