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VA News

101-Year-Old WWII Vet Commissions Grandson Into Air Force: 'One of the Best Days of My Life'

101 Year Old WWII Vet

 

Graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy is already an exciting milestone, but for one class of 2019 cadets, the ceremony served as a touching multi-generational event.

Walter Kloc, a 101-year-old WWII Veteran traveled some 1,500 miles from Amherst, New York, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to commission his grandson, Joseph Kloc, as an officer in the Air Force on Wednesday, May 29, according to CNN and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“This is what it’s all about … Walter received a standing ovation, and everyone in the room was gifted with a memory they’ll never forget,” Air Force officials wrote in a Facebook post alongside photos of the grandfather and grandson sharing the special moments.

Joseph shared the pictures in his own Facebook post, writing, “Probably one of the best days of my life.”

Walter was a bombardier and pilot for the Army Air Forces more than 70 years ago, CNN reported. He traveled to Colorado with his son and Joseph’s father, William Kloc, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ. Ahead of the event, Walter’s wife, Virginia, told WGRZ that he was “absolutely thrilled and excited” to be part of the graduation ceremony.

“I’m so excited for him,” William told the station of his son. “He’s fulfilling his dream, and he was so excited that his grandfather … World War II, Air Force, bombardier, pilot, could come and commission him.”

Walter was raised in Michigan and worked for General Motors after the war, WGRZ reported.

Source

Guam EPA: Andersen Air Force Base violates Guam environmental law

Andersen AFB 001

 

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency issued a violation notice to Andersen Air Force Base Northwest Field Facility after finding non-approved chemicals used for treating water.

According to the notice, Guam EPA charged with the responsibility of implementing the Guam Pesticides Act, found there was a possible misuse of a product to disinfect water for distribution.

On Dec. 28, 2018, a routine sanitary survey inspection was conducted on a water storage tank on Northwest Field and Guam EPA staff discovered a different form of chlorination from what was approved by Guam EPA was installed, the notice stated.

A review by Guam EPA's Pesticides Enforcement Program found the product is a pesticide and is used only for swimming pools, per the product labeling. Guam EPA imposed a $750 administrative penalty.

Andersen responds

Andersen in a release said it used Pool Time chlorination tabs to sanitize a half-million-gallon drinking water tank that serviced the facilities on Northwest Field; however, Guam EPA classifies the tablets as a pesticide and when this became known, the use of the tablets was immediately ceased.

The Northwest Field water tank provides water to Northwest Field only. It doesn't provide water to any other part of Andersen Air Force Base, the release stated.

Although Andersen received the notices of violation for the Northwest Field water tank, at no time was the water deemed unsafe to drink. Both Guam EPA and Andersen concluded that the use of the Pool Time chlorination tabs wouldn't result in any adverse health effects, the release stated.

A public notice explaining what had happened was sent to people who may have been exposed to the drinking water, the release stated

Andersen conducts routine analysis of its water supply and at no point was it deemed unsafe, the release stated, and the base fully cooperated with Guam EPA. Military representatives met with Guam EPA on Feb. 7 to discuss the actions required by the notice of violation and committed to paying the appropriate fines, the release stated.

The $750 fine is in the final process of being paid and the $1,700 fine is still being discussed with Guam EPA as there is no record/proof of exactly when the tabs were used, the release stated.

Personnel involved in operating and maintaining the water systems have been disciplined/counseled and additional training accomplished, the release stated, and new standard operating procedures have been put in place, requiring regular internal inspections of all systems with environmental permits and notifications to environmental experts when primary methods of chlorination are inoperable.

Source

Exclusive: Air Force to push Congress for military housing tenant bill of rights

AF Push Congress

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aiming to grant military families far greater say to challenge hazardous housing, the U.S. Air Force told Reuters Monday it will push Congress to enact a tenant bill of rights allowing families the power to withhold rent or break leases to escape unsafe conditions.

The proposed measure, outlined in an interview at the Pentagon by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein, follows complaints from military families who say they are often powerless to challenge private industry landlords when they encounter dangerous mold, lead paint and vermin infestations.

“Clearly there are areas where we have issues,” Goldfein said.

Added Secretary Wilson: “That could put a little more leverage into the hands of the renters.”

The Air Force push adds to a drumbeat of reforms to emerge in recent weeks following a Reuters series, Ambushed at Home, that documented shoddy housing conditions at bases nationwide and described how military families are often empowered with fewer rights than civilian tenants.

Read the series Ambushed at Home at www.reut.rs/2t1Y2UA

Wilson said the Air Force is actively working with the Army and Navy to push a tenant bill of rights that would give military families a stronger hand in housing disputes. She wants to strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law that includes active duty housing protections. As one example, Wilson proposed expanding the act to allow base families to end their lease or withhold rent if their landlords fail to correct health and safety problems.

Beyond that effort, she said wing commanders of each U.S. Air Force base have been directed to inspect all 50,000 privatized family housing units in the force’s portfolio by March 1. She cited housing breakdowns at Air Force bases including Tinker in Oklahoma, Maxwell in Alabama, MacDill in Florida and Keesler in Mississippi.

In addition, she said, the inspector general’s office will launch a review of how Air Force bases respond to housing health and safety complaints.

Last week, the U.S. Army vowed to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting residents. And on Friday, the Army issued a letter directing senior commanders to conduct inspections of all housing within the next 30 days.

The military action plans follow a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this month in which members of Congress sharply questioned private industry landlords and Defense Department leaders over conditions at U.S. bases.

Wilson said the Air Force is also considering working with Congress to renegotiate its contracts with housing companies to allow the service to withhold all incentive fees from low-performing landlords.

Source

Army Veteran to become first living recipient of Medal of Honor for war in Iraq

David Bellavia 001

 

The White House announced on Monday that former Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia will become the first living Medal of Honor recipient for the war in Iraq for his heroism during the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. The five previous Medals of Honor in the Iraq War were handed out posthumously and Bellavia's award is an upgrade from the Silver Star he had previously received .

President Trump will present the award to Bellavia at a White House ceremony on June 25.

A few years ago, the Pentagon began a blanket review of all valor awards to see if they should be upgraded.

Bellavia is being honored for his heroism on Nov. 10, 2004 when he was a squad leader in Operation Phantom Fury, an American offensive on the western Iraqi city of Fallujah an Iraqi insurgent stronghold.

The Army Veteran is credited with saving his entire squad that day after being pinned down by enemy fire coming from a block of houses.

"He quickly exchanged an M16 rifle for an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, entered the house where his squad was trapped, and engaged insurgents, providing cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely," said a White House statement announcing his award.

When an armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle could not fire directly into the house, Bellavia re-entered the house armed only with an M16, and attacked insurgents who had been firing rocket-propelled grenades.

"He proceeded to kill one insurgent and wound another, who then ran to another part of the house," said a White House statement announcing his award. "Then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia was soon engaged by another insurgent rushing down the stairs when the previously wounded insurgent reemerged to engage him as well." Bellavia was able to return fire and killed both attackers.

"He then took enemy fire from an insurgent who had appeared from a closet across the room. He pursued him up the stairs and killed him," said the statement.

Bellavia then to the roof "where he engaged and wounded a fifth insurgent, who fell from the roof of the building."

For his heroism, Bellavia was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor; the Distinguished Service Cross is the nation's second highest. His award is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor as part of the Pentagon's three-year review of valor awards for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that was prompted by concerns that acts of heroism were not being appropriately honored.

David Bellavia enlisted in the United States Army in 1999 and after serving in Kosovo, he deployed to Iraq in 2004 with Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division.

Since leaving the Army in August 2005 Bellavia has been active in Veterans advocacy groups and philanthropic organizations.

Bellavia is also the host of a radio talk show for WBEN in Buffalo, New York.

On Monday morning, Bellavia told his listeners the news of his award was "not really registering."

"I'm going to see guys I haven't seen in 15 years. I'm going to think about them. I'm going to just think about the guys we lost the most," said Bellavia. "It just brings you right back.

"One guy gets attention, but none of that's possible without the work of, you know, 25 guys that nobody talks about," he said. "And in this fight, in this circumstance, it was just a group of guys that were out-gunned, and we -- we fought our way through it together."

"This award is our award, and they're, we all consider it something that we did together," he added.

Source

Soldiers: Disgraceful housing conditions at Texas Army post

Fort Hood Housing

 

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) - Soldiers and their spouses have told Army leaders at Fort Hood of disgraceful housing at the Central Texas post that includes mold and lead paint along with other problems.

Families living at the post detailed their frustrations with housing during a meeting Thursday that the Austin American-Statesman reports came about a week after a congressional hearing that exposed longstanding problems at privatized housing complexes.

Thousands of homes at Fort Hood are owned by the Australian firm Lend Lease, and the U.S. government oversees 141 barracks that house 18,000 soldiers.

Lawmakers have set aside nearly $300 million to renovate 24 barracks but U.S. Rep. Roger Williams and others have expressed concern that the money could be siphoned away as part of President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a border wall.

Source

Why Is the VA Reexamining My Disability?

VA Reexamining

 

Reexaminations- What, When, Why, How

You have been awarded service-connected compensation for your disability. But the VA wants to reexamine you. Why? What does this mean? What do you do? This situation often causes concern for Veterans, leaving them wondering why are they being reexamined and what does this mean for their benefits.

Why and When Are Reexaminations Required by VA?

There are certain circumstances in which the VA may require a Veteran who is already receiving service-connected compensation benefits to be reexamined by a VA physician:

  • When they need to verify the continued existence of a disability
  • When they need to verify the current severity of a disability
  • When there is evidence to indicate a change in the disability since the last examination
  • When the disability is likely to improve
  • When the VA has the duty to assist the Veteran in developing the claim

After the VA awards benefits for a disability, they usually schedule a future exam if they believe that a future exam will be needed to establish that the Veteran is still entitled to that award. The reexamination is scheduled so that the VA can assign an evaluation that accurately reflects the Veteran’s level of disability. After the RO reviews the exam report, the rating could be increased, reduced, or continued at the same level. Once they determine a future examination is needed, the exam will usually be scheduled five years from the date of the rating decision.

How Do I Avoid Being Scheduled for a Future VA Exam?

The VA will generally not schedule a reexamination if:

  • The disability is static
  • Symptoms have persisted without material improvement for five or more years
  • The disability is a disease that is permanent and not likely to improve
  • The Veteran is over 55 years old
  • The rating is a minimum rating, or
  • The combined disability evaluation would not be affected even if a future exam resulted in a reduced evaluation

What Happens if I Don’t Show Up to My VA Reexamination?

If you fail to report for a reexamination without good cause or attempting to reschedule, they may have your benefits reduced or discontinued. If you fail to report for the reexamination, the VA is required to send you a predetermination notice. That notice will let you know that you have 60 days to notify the VA that you are willing to report for the scheduled examination or present evidence that the disability should not be discontinued or reduced. If you do not notify the VA, your benefits will be reduced or canceled. If the VA scheduled an examination for a Veteran’s claim for increase and the Veteran doesn’t attend without good cause, then the VA may deny the claim without having to consider any evidence that shows a higher evaluation.

If, however, you are not notified beforehand of the reexamination, and the VA takes adverse action against you, then the VA has committed an error and you should not be held responsible for not showing up.

What Happens if I Can’t Show up?

When the VA schedules a reexamination, you must report for the examination. But if you have good cause for not reporting for the exam, the VA will reschedule the examination. If you have a reasonable excuse for failure to report for a scheduled exam, you should notify the VA as soon as possible. They will determine if your reason is good cause on a case by case basis. If you are found to have good cause, the VA will take no action against you. If the VA finds you failed to report for the examination without good cause and you agree to report for a second examination but then don’t report, the VA can take immediate action and reduce or discontinue your benefits. If you make no effort to explain to the VA why you didn’t report for the exam, the VA will promptly reduce or terminate your benefits.

Keep in mind that a doctor-patient relationship does not exist in these examinations. While your own doctor may be sympathetic to you, these doctors will likely not be. They are not treating you; they are reviewing the extent of your disabilities.

Source

Am I Still Able To Work While on IU | Unemployability?

Unemployability

 

If I Apply for Unemployability, Am I Still Able To Work?

One of the most common questions asked is, “If I apply for Individual Unemployability, am I still able to work?” Although there isn’t a concrete answer to that question, let’s focus on the VA’s choice of words: “substantially gainful employment”. Individual Unemployability can be filed as a supplementary claim for your service-connected disabilities if those disabilities prevent you from securing and maintaining substantially gainful employment. By definition, the VA will award Individual Unemployability, or payment at the 100% rate, to a working Veteran who can prove that their service-connected disability(s) prevents them from maintaining substantial employment; in other words, one must be earning under the poverty level to qualify for these benefits if they are currently employed.

Another gray area involving Individual Unemployability that you may have heard before is the term sheltered employment. Sheltered employment refers to accommodations that an employer makes to a Veteran to assist them in maintaining their occupation while making special arrangements that are not typically offered to other employees.

Is My Employment Sheltered?

As previously stated, sheltered employment is another variable to look at when deciding whether you may qualify for Individual Unemployability. When looking at your employment, first think about how your service-connected disabilities affect you, and then look at how you cope with them while you’re at work.

Do you set your own hours? If you are able to lie in bed until noon because you woke up with a migraine and then go into work later, that is considered sheltered employment. Do you work in the warehouse away from customers because your PTSD causes angry outbursts? That is also sheltered employment. Some other examples include self-employment, allowing multiple breaks throughout the day for pain management, the ability to go home early when feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, replacing physical labor with a sedentary position such as inspections or office work, or even having an employer create a unique position just for you. Ask yourself, “If I was no longer working here, would my current position be filled?” Many jobs create unique circumstances that one may not even recognize as an accommodation because they are so used to working under those relaxed conditions. That is why it is important to closely examine how you find relief from your service-connected disabilities while you’re at work, and then look to see if anyone else is receiving the same privilege. Do you feel you’d be able to maintain employment in the competitive job market? If you’re receiving special accommodations for your disabilities, chances are other employers would not be so generous.

What Do I Need to Do?

Sheltered employment can be defined as having fewer restrictions in the workplace. You are typically not working under as high of expectations as other employees. If you are planning on claiming Individual Unemployability while you are currently employed, it will be important to provide evidence concerning the accommodations that are being made for you; the VA will not pay you the 100% rate if they feel you could work in any kind of job setting. Statements from coworkers and employers describing the sheltered conditions would be very beneficial. It is not easy to obtain entitlement to Individual Unemployability while continuing to work, so be prepared to substantiate your claim with proof that you would be unable to maintain your job if not for the lower set of standards your employers provided for your service-connected disabilities. Remember, you will still need to file the VA Form 21-8940; Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability to start your claim.

Source

VA Is Changing GI Bill Payment Amounts for Some Online Classes

GI Bill Payment

 

GI Bill students enrolled in courses that combine distance and in-class learning will soon get paid a full housing allowance thanks to a change by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The change impacts "hybrid courses," which the VA defines as any course that combines both classroom training and distance learning, often conducted online.

Starting Aug. 15, hybrid courses will be considered residence training for GI Bill purposes, triggering the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) to be paid accordingly. Until now, a student enrolled in hybrid classes was eligible for only half the national average MHA, a much lower payout than the full residence rate in almost all cases, unless their class met these stringent requirements:

  1. The course must have had at least one classroom session every two weeks.
  2. The total amount of classroom sessions for a term must have been equal to at least the credit hours multiplied by the weeks in the academic session. For example: A three-credit hour class meeting over a 12-week quarter was required to meet in-classroom for at least 36 hours over the entire quarter.

Starting Aug. 15, however, all GI Bill recipients taking hybrid courses using the Post-9/11 GI Bill will be paid the MHA amount for the location where they take the majority of their classroom training.

In the past, to receive the MHA rate for the location of their training, students would have to be enrolled:

  • Solely in classroom training;
  • In a combination of classroom and online training;
  • In a hybrid course that met the rules above.

Students who aren't enrolled as a greater than half-time student do not receive any housing allowance, no matter what the situation or location. That is not changing.

The change to hybrid class housing payments is not retroactive; it applies only to classes that begin on or after Aug. 15, 2019.

Keep Up With Your Education Benefits

Whether you need a guide on how to use your GI Bill, want to take advantage of tuition assistance and scholarships, or get the lowdown on education benefits available for your family, Military.com can help. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to have education tips and benefits updates delivered directly to your inbox.

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Updated VA rating schedule includes Infectious Diseases, Immune Disorders, Nutritional Deficiencies

Rating Schedules

 

Effective August 11, 2019, there is a new rating schedule for infectious diseases, immune disorders and nutritional deficiencies. The collection of federal regulations used by Veterans Benefits Administration helps claims processors evaluate the severity of disabilities and assign disability ratings. Since September 2017, VA has updated the rating schedules for Dental and Oral Conditions, conditions related to the Endocrine system, Gynecological Conditions and Disorders of the Breast and the General Rating Formula for Diseases of the Eye, Skin conditions, and the Hematologic and Lymphatic Systems. VA will continue updating the remainder of the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD)—affecting 15 total body systems—over the next several months.

The complete list of updates to the rating schedule for infectious diseases, immune disorders and nutritional deficiencies is now available online. Claims pending prior to August 11, 2019, will be considered under both the old and new rating criteria, and whichever criteria is more favorable to a Veteran will be applied. Claims filed on or after August 11 will be rated under the new rating schedule.

VA is updating the entire VASRD for the first time since 1945. VA remains committed to staying at the forefront of modern medicine to provide the best service to Veterans and their families.

Source

Is DoD moving too quickly to merge commissaries and exchanges?

DoD Moving to Merge

 

Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist has given the green light to consolidation of military commissaries and exchanges — pending changes in law that would allow that consolidation.

Norquist’s Aug. 19 memo marked his official agreement with the recommendation to consolidate the Defense Commissary Agency, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Service Command, and the Marine Corps Exchange into one entity. That merger was recommended by DoD’s chief management officer, following a business case analysis.

“The department’s intent is to improve community services for our service members and families, improve support to commanders, and fulfill its fiduciary responsibility” concerning taxpayer dollars and morale, welfare and recreation funds, stated Norquist.

But advocates, long concerned that this consolidation may pose a threat to the stores’ future, are concerned that DoD is moving too quickly.

“This is a bold document,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. “We are concerned that DoD is moving forward much too quickly with their recommendations. We don’t think they’re considering the risks to the defense resale system as a whole.”

In March, NMFA was among a group of 27 groups in The Military Coalition, who wrote a letter to House and Senate armed services committee leaders expressing their concerns that the consolidation will cost more than anticipated and fail to result in projected savings in operational costs. If those predictions are accurate, they said, the defense resale system may be unable to provide the low-cost groceries and support for morale, welfare and recreation programs that service members, their families and survivors rely on.

Current law prohibits consolidation of commissaries and exchanges. Norquist lays out actions that can be taken to prepare for the merger in the event the law is changed — such as determining whether any legal mechanisms currently exist in DoD for financing a consolidated resale enterprise.

The move comes as the House and Senate armed services committees are in the midst of conference about the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. A provision in the House version of the bill would delay any military store consolidation until the Government Accountability Office has conducted a review of DoD’s business case analysis. That GAO report would include information such as implications for the financial viability of the military exchanges and commissaries if they are consolidated; and the ability of exchanges and commissaries to provide earnings to support morale, welfare and recreation programs under a consolidated model. It also calls for review of the DoD’s analysis related to pricing, sales assumptions, accuracy of methods that measure customer savings levels, timetable for consolidation, and budget and oversight implications.

“I have more questions than I have answers,” said Hruska. “We think DoD should hold off on consolidation until a GAO study is complete.”

There have been 12 studies between 1989 and 2015 that studied the idea of consolidating all the military exchanges and the commissary agency, but this is the first time DoD officials have had agreement from all the military services about consolidation. Navy and Marine Corps officials didn’t initially agree with the concept, and cited disagreements with the business case analysis, but they eventually acquiesced. House lawmakers also asked GAO to look at the extent to which DoD addressed the concerns of the service secretaries and service chiefs about consolidation.

The services commissary stores were consolidated into one agency, the Defense Commissary Agency, on Oct. 1, 1991.

A DoD task force which began its work a year ago determined that “the benefits from consolidation outweigh the expected costs of consolidation.” The task force projected cumulative savings of $700 million to $1.3 billion over the first five years, with $400 million to $700 million in recurring annual net savings afterward. The cost of implementing the consolidation in the first year is estimated at $75 million, doubling in each of the three years after that.

The report noted substantial duplication in management and back-office functions, redundant supply distribution chains, and highly overlapping product lines, particularly among the exchanges.

Consolidation could happen without any change to the customer’s experience, and no store closings would be anticipated, the DoD task force reported.

Over the years, defense officials have proposed budget cuts to commissaries, which are currently operated with about $1.4 billion a year in taxpayer dollars to allow the stores to sell groceries at a discount. Concerns have been raised about where the savings will be going in this consolidation — and whether the money that’s been used to fund morale, welfare and recreation programs would be used to underwrite the cost of commissaries.

By law, as commissaries have been undergoing reforms, they must still be able to maintain the savings level baseline, determined at the global overall average in 2016 of 23.65 percent, compared to local commercial grocery prices. If the savings decline, DoD will use taxpayer dollars to shore up the benefit.

Source

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