The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it will discontinue the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), which provided eligible Veterans with early resolutions to their appealed claims, ahead of full implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 that takes effect Feb. 19, 2019.
VA will not accept RAMP elections from Veterans with a legacy appeal after Feb. 15, 2019; however, RAMP claims pending on or after Feb. 15 will continue to be processed until the inventory is complete.
Beginning Feb. 19, Veterans who appeal a VA decision will have three decision review choices: Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. VA will now offer Veterans greater choice in how VA reviews their claim is committed to ensuring the claims process is accurate, timely and fair.
“VA has been preparing for full implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act over the past 18 months to ensure the new, streamlined process is available to Veterans who have long sought reform of the broken legacy system,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We encourage Veterans whose appeal is currently in the legacy system to opt in to RAMP before February 15 to take full advantage of the benefits of the new process.”
VA initiated RAMP in November 2017 to provide some of the benefits of the new law’s streamlined process before full implementation. Participation in RAMP is voluntary. However, processing times under the program have been faster than legacy appeal processing times. Under the legacy process, decisions currently average three to seven years. Veterans who have a legacy appeal after Feb. 15 will be able to opt in to the process when they receive a Statement of the Case or a Supplemental Statement of the Case after the new law is effective Feb. 19.
Veterans who participate in RAMP can choose to have their VA decision reviewed in either the Supplemental Claim or Higher-Level Review lanes. In the Higher-Level Review lanes, a more experienced adjudicator will conduct a new look at the previous decision based on the evidence considered in the previous decision. Participants who select the Supplemental Claim option may submit new and relevant evidence, and VA will assist in developing new evidence under its duty to assist. VA’s goal is to complete Supplemental Claims and Higher-Level Reviews in an average of 125 days.
Dear VFW Leaders – We’ve produced a short video featuring National Commander B.J. Lawrence, in which he explains the rationale for creating the new VFW logo, and addresses concerns regarding the Cross of Malta. View it here.
During the Mid-Winter Conference on January 25th, the Department presented one of its prestigious VFW Eagle Awards to PAARNG SSG Joshua Hedetniemi, a two-tour veteran of service in Iraq. Joining SSG Hedetniemi was PAANG BG Gregg Perez. While VFW membership is not required to be nominated by the PA Adjutant General for this award, SSG Hedetniemi is serving as Sr. Vice Commander at VFW Post 676 in North Penn.
He currently serves a Human Resource Specialist with the Higher Headquarters Company for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He has served with exceptional dedication in Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division for nearly 16 years.
Then Private Hedetniemi volunteered to deploy to Iraq in June 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, and deployed with Co A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, as a member of Task Force Dragoon. He served as a mounted machine gunner in the Company’s 2nd Platoon, and successfully completed more than 340 combat missions in the Northern Suni Triangle area of operations near Bayji, Iraq.
On 9 June 2005, then Specialist Hedetniemi and his convoy was attacked by a suicide vehicle-born explosive device that detonated and destroyed the lead vehicle in the patrol. Without regard to his personal safety, the Specialist dismounted his own Humvee and entered the destroyed, burning vehicle and pulled out four members of his platoon who were trapped inside while ammunition cooked off inside the flames and smoke. He received the Bronze Star with Valor for his bravery.
Six members of his squad were killed in complex ambushes between 6 August and 9 August rendering the squad and platoon combat ineffective. The platoon never lost heart or gave up on the mission, but instead reorganized and were able to get back on mission cycle and complete the reminder of the deployment with honor.
He returned home to Pennsylvania in February of 2006. In early 2007, he was selected for promotion to Sergeant and assigned as a Recruiting and Retention NCO for the Regiment. During his time in the Recruiting Command, the sergeant was selected as the NCO of the Quarter for South Eastern Pennsylvania and served as a primary instructor for the Recruit Sustainment Program in Philadelphia.
In light of his demonstrated qualities and abilities, he was selected and promoted to Staff Sergeant in April of 2008.
In September of 2008, his Regiment was once again chosen to deploy to Iraq. He again volunteered to deploy and resigned from his non-deployable job as a Recruiting NCO in order to go with his old unit, Co A, the 1-111th Infantry Regiment.
The sergeant served as a Platoon Sergeant and Personal Security Detail, the NCO in charge. During this deployment, his platoon participated in Counter Insurgency and Information Operations focused on capturing High Value Targets.
While out in sector on March 22nd 2008, his patrol came upon an Army Reserve Military Police unit that had just moments before come under attack from insurgents using anti-armor grenades. While many soldiers were injured, one in particular had suffered extremely critical head trauma.
Staff Sergeant Hedetniemi, along with his medic, wasted no time in loading the wounded soldier into his Stryker vehicle and rendered life-sustaining first aid. SSG Hedetniemi held the wounded’s hand and prayed with the soldier while transporting the soldier to the Level 3 aide station.
His efforts ensured the soldier remained alive until the best possible medical care could be given to him, affording him every opportunity to live. When the soldier eventually succumbed to his injuries and passed away, the Staff Sergeant ensured that his entire platoon was present at the soldier’s memorial service, and volunteered to cover the Reserve unit’s patrol schedule in addition to his own patrol schedule to afford the MP’s time to grieve and regroup.
After redeploying to Pennsylvania in January of 2010, Staff Sergeant Hedetniemi was again reassigned to the Recruiting and Retention Battalion where he was later chosen as the NCO of the Year for Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Drawing on his extensive combat experience and devotion to the community and the Commonwealth, he generated the highest number of recruit enlistments among his peers. He was additionally selected as the “Service Member of the Year-Army*’ by the Adjutant General, and was honored at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
From 2012 until 2016, he was reassigned and selected to serve as unit Supply NCO for Headquarters Company of the 1-111th Infantry Regiment. During this time, SSG Hedetniemi oversaw multiple change of command property inventories, IG inspections of arms and equipment, and helped implement and supervise the logistics training for all Battalion supply sergeants. He additionally served as the Battalion S-4 NCO during this period, assuming greater levels of responsibility above his pay grade. At the completion of his assignment in logistics, he directly supervised and accounted for over $70 million dollars in equipment and weapons with no reported losses.
In 2013, during his time in Logistics, in a strange sequence of events, SSG “Head-et-knee-me” worked with FBI investigators to charge and convict 2 known Iraqi terrorists in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As fate would have it, these terrorists were the same men who 8 years prior, had attacked and killed members of his platoon in Iraq in 2005. It was the first time in American history that known terrorists were caught and captured on American soil and charged for new terrorism crimes completely separate from their previous war crimes.
He was selected to represent the Pennsylvania Army National Guard with multiple press appearances; including the Today Show on NBC.
In 2016, SSG Hedetniemi requested a transfer into the Adjutant General’s Corps to serve as a Human Resources Sergeant for the HQ, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Horsham. While assigned to the Brigade S-1/Personnel shop, he was selected for and completed the Senior Human Resources Management Qualification Course.
This course is designed for senior field grade officers in the ranks of Major and Lt. Colonel to lead and manage personnel sections at the Brigade, Division, and Joint Force Head Quarters level. He completed the course as the most junior-ranking member of his class, one of only two enlisted soldiers accepted.
He lives in Oreland, Montgomery County, with his wife Martina. The Staff Sergeant is completing his undergraduate degree in Sociology, and will begin his Master’s program in Human Resources Management.
When asked about the many awards and decorations he has received, this humble soldier simply stated, “When it comes to awards, I do not place much emphasis on them. For my awards, you can just tell people that I brought all my men back home from my last Iraq tour; that in my opinion is my best award.
He has received:
• Meritorious Unit Citation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Bronze Star Medal for Valor (under fire)
• Army Commendation Medal for Valor (under fire)
• Army Commendation Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Army Achievement Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Combat Infantryman Badge
• Global War On Terror Expeditionary Medal
• Iraq Campaign Medal with 2 Campaign Stars
• Overseas Service Ribbon
• Army Good Conduct Medal, 5th Award
And many more federal and state decorations.
While VFW membership is not required to receive this award, State HQ thanks Hedetniemi for his support of the Pennsylvania VFW as a member of North Penn Post 676.
The grant is scheduled to be open through Dec. 31, 2019
The Home Depot has started accepting applications for its 2019 Community Impact Grant. VFW members can receive up to $5,000 to fund repairs or construction projects at their Post building.
While there are no guarantees to being funded, several VFW Posts have been awarded this grant in the past.
Applications are only accepted through Home Depot’s online form. Telephone calls, emails or written submissions sent to Home Depot will NOT be accepted, nor will you be able to turn this application in at your local Home Depot store.
New this year, Home Depot now requires a project budget that must be submitted as a Microsoft Excel file. This new requirement is covered in-depth in the guide.
Pay close attention to the Tax ID Instructions. You will use the Employee Identification Number (EIN) of your Post and upload the Post’s 501(c)(19) IRS determination letter at the end of the application. If you cannot locate the Post’s 501(c)(19) letter, follow the instructions below under “Lost IRS Determination Letter” on how to request a copy from the IRS.
In previous years, The Home Depot Foundation has accepted the first page of the Post’s most recently filed IRS Form 990 tax document in lieu of the IRS determination letter. It is still a good idea to have a copy of your IRS letter, you may need to apply for other possible grants, but using your 990 should allow you to complete the application immediately.
If you receive funding it will come in the form of Home Depot gift cards that can be used to buy materials at your local HD store. You will need to recruit Post members and/or other community volunteers as the use of paid contractors to complete your project is not permitted. The project must be completed within six months. You will also be required to submit a final report. You must be willing to include stories and before-and-after photos of the project. Failure to do so will negatively impact your Post’s ability to receive any future funding from The Home Depot Foundation.
After submitting the application, you should receive an email response after six weeks. The grant is scheduled to be open through Dec. 31, 2019.
Should you have any questions and or concerns, please contact Jason Couch, VFW Foundation Grants Coordinator, directly at 816.968.1174 or [email protected].
Please note: The VFW Foundation has created a Home Depot Guide to assist VFW Posts in applying for the 2019 grant. Carefully read the instructions before attempting to complete the application. We have tried to make the instructions as simple as possible using screen captures and by providing thorough descriptions of how to complete each field. Deviation from this guide could result in the applicant being unable to submit their request. Posts can also download the Home Depot Budget Example to use as a template to complete their own project budgets.
Lost IRS Determination Letter?
If you have misplaced your IRS determination letter, a new copy can be obtained. Most Posts fall under the “Group exemption” of their Department, meaning their Department’s IRS determination letter is also theirs. However, each Post has its own unique Employee Identification Number or (EIN). Your Department leadership should know if you fall under a group exemption. You may also call IRS Customer Service for nonprofit organizations at 1.877.829.5500. They should be able to provide you with a new copy of the letter, but often times will refer you to your Department, which is why I recommend you start your department.
If the IRS representative is unable to furnish you with a new copy of your letter, you can make a written request by filling out a Form 4506-A, “Request for Public Inspection or Copy of Exempt or Political Organization IRS Form,” which can be downloaded at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506a.pdf.
The request can be faxed to the IRS at 513.263.4330 or 513.263.3434, or your request can be mailed to IRS, Room 4024, POB 2508, Cincinnati, OH 45201. Keep in mind that it may take up to 60 days (or more) to fill your request.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decade-old ruling yesterday that potentially paves the way for the return of earned disability benefits for some 90,000 so-called Blue Water Navy veterans from the Vietnam War.
The case, Procopio v. Wilkie, was supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and a number of other veterans service organizations and advocates. It had Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert L. Wilkie Jr. being sued by Navy veteran and VFW Life member Alfred Procopio Jr., who was denied service connection for prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus because he never stepped foot on dry land or served within Vietnam’s inland waterways. Procopio, a Life member of VFW Post 6587 in Spring Lake Park, Minn., was assigned aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which was stationed inside Vietnam’s 12-mile territorial waters. Both of his illnesses are listed among the VA’s 14 presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
The Federal Appeals Court focused on the intent of the 1991 Agent Orange Act, which was to grant a presumption of service connection for certain diseases to veterans who “served in the Republic of Vietnam.” At issue was whether service within territorial waters constituted service in the “Republic of Vietnam.” By a 9-2 decision, the Appeals Court ruled it did.
“Although very pleased with the ruling, the VFW isn’t quite ready to celebrate,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence. “That’s because the VA can always appeal the ruling and Congress has yet to pass a Blue Water Navy bill,” he said. “But, it is very encouraging to now have a court of law support Blue Water Navy veterans along with the court of public opinion. We need to get this done and reinforce to tens of thousands of veterans that our nation does have your back when you come home from war.
“The VFW now calls on VA to make Blue Water Navy veterans whole as soon as possible, and we stand ready to assist VA in doing so.”
From building local playgrounds and organizing clothing drives, to military support events and disaster relief efforts, we take great pride in our long history of service to communities across the globe by being pillars of support in our local communities. If your Post or Auxiliary is interested in a receiving a grant to help with the cost of your next community service event, the VFW Foundation may be able to help! Click here for more information.
Change to better represent America’s largest combat veterans organization
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., America’s largest and oldest major combat veterans organization, is pleased to announce it has deployed a new look.
The new VFW logo and visual language embraces the organization’s storied 119 years of service to America’s veterans, service members and their families, while underscoring its forward-thinking approach to service and distinguished membership base. The VFW believes the new logo will improve market position and provide visual clarity to its mission.
“We’re excited about the bold, new look,” said B.J. Lawrence, national commander of the VFW. “There’s a lot of complex meaning built into our new logo, yet it clearly communicates who we are and what we’re about – service to nation while in the military and continuing service to our nation as veterans.”
The new logo is a drastic change from its predecessor, and is the first-ever official logo that was designed without the organization’s traditional Cross of Malta shield, which remains the official seal of the VFW. It includes an artistic representation of service stripes which represent length of service on most U.S. military uniforms. As such, the first and leaner of the two service stripes represents the organization’s steadfast entry into its second century of service to America’s veterans, service members and their families. The second, broader stripe, represents its first storied century of service, spanning back to 1899. In addition to the direct metaphor of the stripes, the visual progression leading to the build of the letter “V” represents our sustained and forward movement into achieving the VFW’s mission of service to others.
The distinctive gold coloring gives nod to the VFW’s stringent membership eligibility requirements and the gold standard of service the VFW provides. The red represents the danger each of its members has faced and the energy with which the VFW operates.
In support of the project, the VFW has created individual custom logos for use by each of its 52 VFW Department headquarters in all 50 states and overseas, and nearly 6,300 individual VFW Posts.
“The VFW is such an amazing organization and just as relevant, if not more so, than any other time in our history. It’s time all of America notices us and I feel confident this is another step in accomplishing just that,” said Lawrence.