‘This is a momentous victory for the more than 65,000 military spouse who endured the tragic loss of their husband or wife who paid the ultimate sacrifice’
WASHINGTON – After a nearly half-century long fight, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its veterans service and survivor organization partners claimed victory with the termination of the contentious and embattled Military Widow’s Tax as part of the presidential signing of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act today.
“This is a momentous victory for the more than 65,000 military spouses who endured the tragic loss of their husband or wife who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz. “Without these extraordinary spouses fighting in the trenches with us, the termination of the Widow’s Tax may not have been possible.”
Prior to today’s presidential signing of the NDAA that included the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2019, recipients of both the Department of Defense Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) and the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) faced a reduction of $1,319 – the current payout for DIC benefits. For many survivors, this offset completely eliminated their SBP payments and threatened their financial security.
“There is no justifiable reason why money should have ever been stripped away from our military spouses,” said Schmitz.
The VFW led the first SBP/DIC Offset Roundtable in May with other veterans’ service organizations, congressional staffers, and widows and widowers to create a legislative campaign to eliminate the nearly half-century old Widow’s Tax.
Soon, surviving spouses of troops will keep their SBP payments, even if they are eligible for DIC.
VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Kyle Kalman said the signing of the FY2020 NDAA rights a wrong for our military widows and widowers.
“We commend senatorial and congressional leadership and the coalition of veterans and survivor organizations who fought alongside us for their commitment to the 65,000 surviving military spouses who were unjustly forced to endure a dollar-for-dollar offset of their Survivor Benefit Plan payments and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation,” said Kalman. “Our military widows and widowers deserved this victory.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020, extending the presumption of herbicide exposure that include toxins such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Prior to the measure, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure.
Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975, as well as Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971.
These Veterans can apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans do not need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides. The specific conditions can be found by searching Agent Orange on www.va.gov.
“For six months VA worked diligently to gather and digitize records from the Naval History and Heritage Command in order to support faster claims decisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These efforts will positively impact the claims process for Veterans filing for these benefits.”
Qualifying recipients, in addition to affected Veterans still living, are certain survivors of deceased BWN and Korean DMZ Veterans.
Survivors can file claims for benefits based on the Veteran’s service if the Veteran died from at least one of the l14 presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida if their parent is or was a Veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program.
The law creates more access for Veterans to obtain no-down payment home loans, regardless of loan amount, and the home loan funding fee is reduced for eligible Reservists and National Guard borrowers who use their home loan benefits for the first time. Certain Purple Heart recipients do not pay a funding fee at all. VA’s website describes these and other benefits.
Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office.
BWN Veterans who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, Veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.
For more information about the Blue Water Navy Act and the changes that will take effect visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp.
Help A Hero is now one of the “top-awarding” programs of its kind
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Dec. 9, 2019) – A $1.25 million donation by Sport Clips Haircuts to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation will boost the impact of the Help A Hero Scholarship program that supports education for civilian careers. Sport Clips Founder and CEO Gordon Logan, who is a veteran and VFW Life member, presented the million-dollar-plus check to VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz today at the VFW National Headquarters.
“There’s a common misconception that GI Bill benefits and military training are enough to secure education or training for civilian occupations, but that’s often not the case. For many service members, additional degrees and certifications are needed to secure sought-after post-military work. There are 165 student veterans attending colleges and certification programs right now with the aid of Help A Hero Scholarships and more than 1,450 student veterans have benefited from these scholarships since 2014. This year’s fundraising will make even more scholarships available to U.S. service members and veterans in the year ahead,” says Logan. “We are so grateful to the men and women who serve, and to their families, and we owe the success of the Help A Hero campaign to our generous Sport Clips clients, team members, and product partners. It’s an honor to say ‘thank you’ to them all.”
“To date, the program has awarded more than $6.5 million in scholarships, which places it among the top-awarding service member and veteran scholarship programs in the country,” said Schmitz. “Higher education doesn’t come easily to all of our student veterans. It often takes the support of scholarships or burdensome loans beyond what the GI Bill covers to get the education needed for meaningful careers as they transition from military service. Working with veteran-friendly companies such as Sport Clips is one way we can help make the transition from service member to the civilian world easier for veterans and their families.”
More than $120,000 of the money was raised from Sport Clips’ own $1 per haircare service donation made on Veterans Day while clients, individual supporters and Sport Clips team members donated the largest portion of the money raised. Sport Clips partners Direct Beauty Express, American Crew, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Nioxin, Sexy Hair, Gibs Grooming and Darlington Raceway also made substantial contributions.
The Help A Hero program started in 2007 when Sport Clips first worked with the VFW to provide phone calls home for deployed and hospitalized service members and veterans. After the drawdown in troops began a few years later, the partnership transitioned in 2013 to become the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” program.
Sport Clips is the Official Haircutter of the VFW, and its Help A Hero campaign is just one of the many ways it supports active-duty military and veterans. To find out more, visit your local Sport Clips or SportClips.com.
‘This important legislation would make individuals eligible for hospital care, medical services and nursing home care’
A bill introduced to the House could provide veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who were exposed to burn pits the same VA medical care as Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
The VFW-supported Jennifer Kepner Healthcare for Open-Air Burn-Pit Exposure (HOPE) Act, H.R. 4137, was introduced to the House by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) in August.
A member of the Air Force tosses items into a burn pit in Balad, Iraq
Air Force Master Sgt. Darryl Sterling, of the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit in March 2008 in Balad, Iraq. The obituary of Jennifer Kepner, the namesake of the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act, states she died from pancreatic cancer “due to the open exposure burn pits” while serving in Balad, Iraq, in 2004.
If passed and signed into law, H.R. 4137 would add vets exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits to the VA’s priority group 6, meaning it would allow veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars the same treatment as veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.
VFW National Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes said Ruiz also is working on a separate bill that could provide compensation benefits for conditions that are known to be associated with burn-pit exposure.
“This important legislation would make individuals eligible for hospital care, medical services and nursing home care, provided the individual served as a member of the armed forces in support of a contingency operation and was based or stationed at a location where an open air burn pit was in use after Jan. 1, 1990,” Fuentes said. “The eligibility for care would be open even for those who have insufficient medical evidence to conclude that a disease or disability is associated with burn pit exposure.”
The bill is named in honor of Air Force veteran Jennifer Kepner, of Cathedral City, Calif. She died from pancreatic cancer “due to the open exposure burn pits” while serving in Balad, Iraq, in 2004 as a medic, according to her obituary from The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif.
“Jennifer Kepner was a hero who courageously battled pancreatic cancer while fighting for her fellow veterans suffering from pulmonary conditions and rare cancers linked to burn-pit exposure,” Ruiz said. “I am humbled to introduce the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act in her memory, legislation that will ease the financial burden on sick veterans who have served and sacrificed for our nation by reducing their health care costs from the VA.”
This article was featured in the November/December 2019 issue of VFW magazine.
PA VFW State HQ has received a list of APOs for PA National Guardians serving overseas. If you would like to send care packages to these brave men and women, who will be spending the holidays away from family, please email State VFW Public Affairs/Communications Director David Sandman, [email protected], and put “PA Guard APOs” in the subject line.
On Nov. 12th, representatives of Wendy’s restaurants in PA’s west/central region presented another significant check to PA Veterans of Foreign Wars officers to support military families and veterans facing hardship.
The campaign’s ninth check—for $35,224—was presented by Wendy’s, bringing the campaign donation total to $291,746 since the program’s beginning. During that time, 160 grants have been distributed—including 19 grants so far in 2019—to assist those serving in, and those who have served in, the military.
The campaign name is “The Michael J. Beaver Wendy’s-Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars Military Assistance Grant Program,” in honor of the fund’s creator. Mr. Beaver of Salix was an Army Special Forces veteran, who wanted to “return the favor” to military personnel and veterans. Mike passed away four years ago. His wife, Mrs. Diane Beaver, works with other Wendy’s franchise owners to keep supporting military troops and veterans through the grant program.
Wendy’s in the following areas participate in this campaign through a fundraising program: Somerset (Somerset county); Johnstown, Ebensburg (Cambria county); Altoona, Duncansville (Blair county); Bedford, Breezewood (Bedford county); Clarion (Clarion county); Indiana (Indiana county); Punxsutawney (Jefferson county); DuBois (Clearfield county); St. Marys (Elk county); State College (Centre county); Huntingdon (Huntingdon county); and Lewistown (Mifflin county).
The annual donations are made possible by a summer Wendy’s Key Tag fundraiser, when customers purchase a $1 Frosty Key tag and received a Free Jr. Frosty with Wendy’s purchase until December 31st. All proceeds are donated to the State VFW State Headquarters to assist military families and veterans in areas where Wendy’s stores participate in the fundraising campaign. Applications are submitted to the VFW State HQ by National Guard Family Assistance Specialists, officers in active and reserve units, and veterans’ assistance providers.
“The Wendy’s campaign leaders and the participating Wendy’s stores continue to provide an outstanding level of life-changing financial support for military personnel, their families and veterans facing hard times. The VFW is very appreciative of the support that Wendy’s, their customers and the media give to this fundraiser,” said State Commander Wayne D. Perry. “We are proud to be a part of this important project because serving and supporting our troops and veterans is a top VFW priority. We thank Wendy’s for serving up such strong support for our troops and veterans.”
“Dave Thomas believed that giving back and supporting our community is everyone’s responsibility,” said Wendy’s franchise owners. “Wendy’s is involved in thousands of local events each year that lend a hand to those in need. This key tag fundraiser was one way of giving back to the local community where we live and work. It is especially meaningful to help many families of those who sacrifice so much to defend our freedom and to whom we owe so much!”
‘The health and welfare of our nation’s veterans should, and must, be our number one priority’
WASHINGTON – Military Times today reported that White House officials, including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, are responsible for the delayed decision on additional Agent Orange diseases.
“In light of today’s news regarding the continued delay to add four presumptive diseases to the Agent Orange list, the VFW is extremely upset and dissatisfied with the backdoor political games that are being played in Washington as the lives of our veterans are at stake,” said VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz. “The health and welfare of our nation’s veterans should, and must, be our number one priority.”
According to the story, White House officials challenged the authority of former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and impeded enactment of three additional health conditions to the list of diseases eligible for Agent Orange benefits. The article included an excerpt written by Shulkin and sent to Mulvaney requesting support for his effort to expand the list of Agent Orange presumptive diseases.
“What we are seeing this week only underscores the need for Congress to take up comprehensive toxic exposure legislation for veterans during this term,” said Patrick Murray, deputy director of VFW National Legislative Service. “Every time we send our men and women to war we end up deliberating for decades as to whether or not they were exposed to toxic chemicals. This type of absurdity must stop.”
When the VFW came to Capitol Hill 100 years ago, we argued that veterans of World War I deserved health care and compensation benefits because of the human tolls of war. Today is not different.
“The White House and VA must do the right thing and approve these Agent Orange presumptive conditions immediately,” said Schmitz. “We cannot, and will not, stand by and allow another veteran to lose their life because of the bureaucracy of Washington. The time for waiting is over.”
‘This class of veterans was unjustly and arbitrarily excluded from compensation benefits for nearly 20 years.
With the legislative and judicial battles seemingly over for the Vietnam War’s so-called “blue water” Navy veterans, the process for them to receive VA compensation is just beginning.
National Veterans Service Director Ryan Gallucci said that contacting a VFW Service Officer should be a common course of action for all blue water veterans affected by Agent Orange exposure. This would include those who have never filed a claim, as well as those who have filed that were granted compensation and stripped of their benefits.
“This class of veterans was unjustly and arbitrarily excluded from compensation benefits for nearly 20 years,” VFW National Veterans Service Deputy Director Michael Figlioli said. “We are pleased to see Congress and VA make them whole. VFW looks forward to assisting every one of them who seek our help, which is always free of charge and has no VFW membership requirement attached.”
In June, President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law (P.L. 116-23). It restores VA benefits to Vietnam War blue water sailors (those who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam) who had their disability eligibility arbitrarily taken away by VA in 2002. Those veterans also could be eligible for retroactive benefits.
The law, which goes into effect in January 2020, requires VA to contact veterans who filed a disability claim that originally was denied.
“The VA told us that they are being proactive in reaching out to the veterans who were given benefits then stripped in 2002,” Gallucci said. “However, people will slip through the cracks. VA may not have identified everybody, so it’s important for veterans who believe that they are covered by the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act or the Procopio decision to reach out to a VFW service officer.”
Also in June, the Department of Justice decided not to contest a federal case ruling that paved the way for VA to restore the availability of disability benefits to blue water Navy veterans. In the case of Procopio v. Wilkie, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., ruled that Alfred Procopio Jr., a Life member of VFW Post 6587 in Spring Lake Park, Minn., is eligible for VA disability benefits. The Vietnam War Navy veteran claims his diabetes and prostate cancer diagnosis is linked to Agent Orange exposure off the Vietnamese coast while serving aboard the USS Intrepid in 1964-67.
The court’s decision also means that VA can no longer deny disability benefits to eligible blue water Navy veterans. To qualify for Agent Orange-related benefits, a veteran must have one or more of the conditions VA presumes to have been caused by exposure.
The 14 presumptive diseases on the list are:
- Chronic B-cell Leukemia
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
- AL Amyloidosis
- Diabetes Mellitus Type
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Early onset Peripheral Neuropathy
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
For help with a disability claim, find a VFW service officer at vfw.org/NVS.