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Nashville VA reinstates triple amputee Veteran's full-time caregiver services after Tennessean report

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JD Williams

 

A triple amputee Veteran will have his full-time caregiver services reinstated after the Tennessean reported Wednesday that the Nashville VA initially decided to deny the level of his caregiver's benefits.

Staff Sergeant J.D. Williams lost his right arm and both legs while deployed with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2010.

He was discharged and sent home, where his wife, Ashlee Williams, was assigned and paid by the VA to be his caregiver.

But after six years, she wrote on Facebook on Nov. 17, the VA decided to lower her husband to the lowest tier of the program, determining that he no longer needs a full-time caregiver.

She claimed that the VA assumed that the care she provided her husband, including helping her husband with applying prosthetics and lifting him into a wheelchair about 10 times a day, was part of her "spousal duty."

"...should have been included on the marriage certificate according to the VA," Ashlee Williams wrote in a post that was shared more than 25,000 times on Facebook by Wednesday morning.

Williams wrote in a separate post that while she still has caregiver designation, being dropped to the lowest tier in the program has been a "pattern" she has seen in other VA caregiver cases.

"I'm just a minuscule part of this MUCH Larger problem," she wrote.

Nashville VA is part of the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. When asked by the Tennessean to comment on the case, the VA said they will reverse their action Wednesday.

"In this case, the reassessment process was handled incorrectly, and VA is taking steps today to reinstate Mr. Williams’ caregiver benefits to their original level," said Chris Vadnais, a TVHS spokesman.

He said Williams' occupational therapy assessment responses were not fully considered by the team assessing his benefits, leading to an "improper reduction."

"The goal of all VA health care programs is to help Veterans achieve their highest level of health, quality of life and independence," said Vadnais.

The Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

Caregiver details the VA's process

According to Ashlee Williams, when a caregiver is dropped to the lowest tier, they're given an opportunity to appeal. But the appeal is reviewed by the same clinical eligibility team that made the decision to change caregivers' status, and the appeals are most often denied.

Then the caregiver is removed.

The practice of dropping the caregiver's to a lower tier before the appeal and dismissal helps ensure the VA pays the cheapest rate, Williams said.

"The VA now only has to pay them the 3 months at the lower tier. It is a SIGNIFICANT difference," she wrote. "THIS is why I'm speaking out. No-one deserves this. I will appeal my decision to be lowered and fight for every other caregiver going through this too."

Williams noted that she had made six attempts to reach the VA Caregiver Support Coordinator on Friday before posting, but ultimately went public due to the VA’s inaction.

An OB-GYN at the VA hospital made the decision, according to her post.

Vadnais said the provider was a primary care physician who works in a women's clinic, not an OB-GYN.

VA to establish clearer assessment

The VA MISSION Act gives the VA the ability to make these changes to participants of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, while expanding the program to those who care for Veterans.

The VA, Vadnais said, periodically reassesses participants to ensure that Veterans and caregivers have everything they need to continue progressing toward improved health and wellness.

"Eligibility for VA’s caregivers program is complex, and determinations are often made by multidisciplinary teams, including primary care doctors, rehab professionals and mental health clinicians," he said.

The VA, he said, is working to establish clearer, more objective eligibility criteria for consistency in these determinations.

"In the meantime, VA is ensuring that all facilities understand better how to differentiate Veterans undergoing positive changes in their needs and capabilities from those who require a consistent or greater level of care," he said.

'A hundred ways I could have died'

J.D. Williams was on his second tour in Afghanistan when he led a small six-person team into a village "that had a great deal of resistance," he wrote in a blog post for Retiring Your Boots.

As they approached, an IED detonated directly beneath him.

"My whole life started flashing through my head and I could feel an ice-cold tingling sensation all over my body," he wrote.

When he checked himself for injuries, he saw that his right arm and legs were gone.

"I (laid) back down and started thinking about life. Chaos going on all around me, I’m laid there thinking I may never see my family, friends, or Montana ever again," he wrote.

Williams said his team risked their own lives to get him to safety and get him a medical evacuation within 20 minutes, all while exchanging gunfire with the Taliban.

"As soldiers, we faced the horrors of war and never backed down ... I take pride in our country and the brave men and women who defend it. I can honestly say that I would do it all again. I can think of a hundred ways I could have died the day I stepped on that IED but I’m here and I’m extremely thankful for that," he wrote.

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We owe our Veterans more than a quick thank you once a year

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Owe our Veterans

 

What does it mean to be patriotic? Earlier this week, the United States celebrated Veterans Day paying homage to those who have served this country.

Over the last 17 years, I’ve seen ubiquitous “yellow ribbons” and “we support our troops” bumper stickers on the back of cars, trucks, and SUVs and heard seemingly endless “thank you for your service” spoken from thousands of Americans who have never served in uniform to the less than 6 percent who have.

True sacrifice has not been experienced by the citizens of this country in several decades; the last time the United States saw anything remotely related to a war tax was during the 1960s during the Vietnam War. In contemporary times, the population has not been asked to give up or forego any comforts, hasn’t been cajoled into uniform via draft, nor has the public had to feel the pinch of paying for the cost of combat in terms of increased taxes. Congress failed to implement a tax to Americans to pay for this war because they believed that it was unpatriotic; the government chose to pay for the war on credit.

Brown University released its annual report earlier this week showing cost projections for the war on terror. The report estimates that the cost of this nation’s forays into Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and over 45 other countries throughout the globe (according to the Defense Department’s eligibility requirements for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal) to end this current fiscal year to come in at $5.9 trillion. Moreover, when juxtaposing this dollar figure to what the country owes, one will see that it equates to almost 30 percent of the United States’ debt which is now well over $21 trillion.

The war continues. Many Americans remain clueless about the fact that we still have troops deployed in harm’s way. The nation’s debt continues to rise (at over $1,000,000 a minute) and we as a nation continue to kick the funding down the road saddling future generations with the bill.

Other costs have been seen through the loss of lives and combat wounds attributed to this conflict. Earlier this month, Brown University’s Watson Institute reported on the human costs showing that almost 7,000 military personnel have died and over 50,000 service men and woman have been wounded in this campaign against terror.

If the citizens of this country are serious about continuing forward with our expedition regarding the global war on terror then we as Americans should debate the issue and if we determine that our patriotism is still high and our actions still warranted then we should all sacrifice by paying our fair share through taxes. If for no other reason, the debate can hold our elected leaders to task to help make it more likely that we have a winning strategy, a definition of what victory will look like, and as a way for us to move away from profligate spending on defense programs that are ineffective or useless.

It is equally important for this country to continue to care for Veterans who have been wounded and injured in the line of duty. Regardless of what the Brown University reports have shown, even if the country moves away from the global war on terror, the costs will continue for many decades as we care for those who have truly sacrificed for this country – the true patriots that are the men and women who have served our nation.

This is increasingly important as our nation’s debt continues to rise. Our nation’s future depends on our elected officials being fiscally responsible and figuring out whether the fight against terror is worth it. And it’s the patriotic duty citizens to hold our leaders accountable for every penny spent and every life lost.

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Congressmen want to know why Veteran went without diagnosis at VA

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Vet went without diagnosis

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) - An 8 On Your Side investigation into why the Department of Veterans Affairs failed a Pinellas County Veteran has two Congressman demanding answers.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R) FL and Rep. Charlie Crist (D) FL want to know why doctors at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center couldn't figure out what was wrong with Mike Henry.

They also want to know if this Veteran was mistreated while he was a patient at Bay Pines.

Mike Henry told 8 On Your Side that one VA doctor called him a faker and drug seeker and even grabbed and shook him.

The VA says it investigated that allegation but can't confirm it.

After months of tests it also couldn't confirm what was wrong with Mike Henry.  

Congressman Gus Bilirakis labels it VA incompetence.

"It's inexcusable for the Veteran to have that type of pain," Rep. Bilirakis said.

Following 8 On Your Side's Thursday report detailing the inability of Bay Pines to diagnose Henry's problem, Congressman Crist is reaching out "to ensure he is receiving the medical care, support and assistance he needs."

So is Bilirakis.

"I'll go over to his house and talk to him personally," explained the congressman.

"That way I get a better understanding of what happened and I hear directly from him and his wife and then we'll go to work for him."

Henry's medical issues flared up in June.

Severe swelling in his shoulder, neck, and face, caused excruciating pain.

Why couldn't VA doctors figure it out?

In an email Bay Pines told us, "The symptoms Mr. Henry presented....were evaluated...laboratory tests and imaging results were not conclusive."

Nonetheless a VA doctor concluded, "This patient has no active neurological disease to require further attention from our neurology service."

"I'm thinking I'm going to sit here and die," Henry stated.

He left Bay Pines and went to Tampa General Hospital.

Within an hour, doctors quickly determined a neurological problem triggered uncontrollable muscle contractions.

According to Henry, one VA doctor called him a faker and a drug seeker.  

"Then he grabs me right here, my neck was swollen, and he's shaking me around and then I said, 'what are you doing? Are you crazy?' He goes, 'oh you're talking normal now, you're just a faker, I told you that's what you were,'" Henry explained.

The VA contends it investigated the allegation and could not substantiate it.

His wife Shelly says Henry suffered tremendously at the VA.

"It breaks my heart to see that happen to anybody, especially him and especially Veterans," Shelly explained.

"The way Veterans are treated, they're treated like garbage. They're treated like garbage in this country, especially by the VA. It's really sad."

An email from Bay Pines claims it offered to refer Henry to outside specialists but he declined.

He contends that is just not true. He says the VA did not approve visits its doctors recommended.

An email sent to the Bay Pines Chief of Staff by Shelly pointed out they ran up medical costs of close to $200,000 visiting outside specialists.

The VA states Henry left the hospital against medical advice.

Nursing notes show his attending physician said, "they've tried everything, now they will try nothing and see how bad it gets."

At that point, Henry decided it was time to leave.

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Late Clinton County Veteran among most decorated from World War II

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Most Decorated World War II Vet

 

The official sounding voice of the woman on the phone asked Pauline Conner to please hold for a call “from the president of the United States.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the Clinton County farmhouse in those seconds before President Donald Trump gave Conner the news she might have thought she’d never hear, that her late husband, Lt. Garlin Murl Conner, was at long last being awarded the nation’s highest recognition for military valor—the Medal of Honor.

Pauline and the Conners’ son, Paul, other family and friends were guests at the White House in June when Pauline accepted Lt. Conner’s posthumous Medal of Honor. The discovery in military archives of three overlooked eyewitness accounts of Conner’s World War II heroism had warranted an upgrade of the Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor, placing the Kentuckian among the most decorated soldiers of the war.

Conner died in 1998 at age 79. He had avoided talking about the war after returning to farm life in Clinton County, where he served as county Farm Bureau president for 17 years while voluntarily helping many Kentucky Veterans obtain benefits. Pauline, a longtime member of South Kentucky RECC, still works part-time for the Clinton County Farm Bureau.

Her husband’s remarkable story might never have been told had Richard Chilton, a Special Forces Veteran from Wisconsin, not accidentally uncovered the Kentuckian’s combat records while researching his own uncle’s military history in 1996.

“I was just amazed at what I was looking at,” he remembers.

Conner, who stood 55 and weighed about 120 pounds, had already been wounded in a previous battle when he slipped away from a field hospital to rejoin his Third Infantry unit on the German front in France in January 1945. In the face of a massive enemy troop and tank assault, he scrambled 400 yards unreeling telephone line in deep snow and, likely armed with a submachine gun, took cover in a one-foot deep ditch for three hours as German troops, at times, advanced to within five yards. He finally called in artillery fire on his own position to save his unit.

Chilton tried unsuccessfully, beginning in 1999, to have Conner awarded the Medal of Honor, then was joined in 2000 by Navy Veteran Walton Haddix of the Clinton County Historical Society—and their quest continued until 2018!

“It had to be done,” says Haddix, a 50-year member of South Kentucky RECC. “As long as I had breath living, I was going to try to stay with it.”

Chilton, 88, and Haddix, 81, both attended the White House Medal of Honor ceremony, along with many others who were among the dozens who had helped them along the way, and to whom they would likely have devoted this page if given the choice.

But surely most would agree that these two great Veterans deserve special, stand-alone salutes for their relentless, two-decade pursuit of honor in Lt. Conner’s behalf—and for reminding us all that it’s never too late to do the right thing.

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Sharing Whole Health: Peer-to-Peer

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Peer to Peer

 

Across the country, Veterans are exploring their missions, aspirations, and purposes in life and are led by special people uniquely qualified to help– their peers. November 14, 2018 is Whole Health Peer Facilitator Day, where the unique skills of Peer Facilitators, who give their time and talents helping fellow Veterans take control of their health and well-being, are recognized.

“Having done what I did in the Army, I find my voice, my example, my pitch, and my display really helps a lot of Veterans have confidence in what I’m saying – to get involved in the system,” says Jerry McClain, a former US Army Ranger and Whole Health Peer Facilitator at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

Jerry has left the Army, but he has not stopped serving. He is a pastor, husband, father, grandfather, and a tireless supporter for his fellow Veterans. He became a Peer Facilitator to share the Whole Health benefits he experienced with other Veterans.

Whole Health encourages Veterans to develop a Personal Health Plan, set goals based on what is important to them and work to achieve those goals in partnership with their health care teams. Many plans include well-being programs such as yoga, aquatic therapy, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, or creative writing classes. The aim is to empower Veterans to take control of their care and equip them with what they need to reach their goals.

When Jerry first learned about Whole Health over three years ago, he was looking for ways to manage pain resulting from a shattered right femur he suffered while in the service. The injury left him with hip, back, and knee pain and unable to walk or run as he had before. He found himself gaining weight, battling depression, and concerned about using too much medication to manage the pain. When he learned about VA’s Whole Health approach to care he was ready to “try anything they were willing to give” him. This is when he was introduced to mindfulness, a practice he found extremely beneficial in dealing with his issues.

He likes the way Whole Health encourages Veterans to think about their health in a new way and consider what matters most to them. As people who have served, Veterans are accustomed to working on a mission. Whole Health encourages each person to look at how their health and well-being helps them achieve their life mission. As a Peer Facilitator, Jerry has seen Veterans practicing Whole Health move away from, or significantly reduce, the use of pain medication. “I’m one of them,” he says.

He’s now leading Whole Health courses in his community at the American Legion in Pelham, Alabama. With more than 25 students in his first class, he says Whole Health makes him feel good about encouraging Veterans to come to the Birmingham VA Medical Center and gives him the opportunity share information about benefits and services other Veterans may not realize they are entitled to.

The VA currently has more than 1,200 Whole Health Peer Facilitators nationwide, bringing this innovative approach to care to their fellow Veterans. Learn more about Whole Health and Whole Health Peer-Facilitator training and contact your local VA Medical Center to get involved.

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Veterans Day: By the time I saw my VA doctor, he said it was too late

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Veterans Day 001

 

As I sat in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital on Dec. 21, 2012, I had no idea my life was about to change. I’d seen a nurse practitioner in 2011 and was finally consulting with a VA urologist almost a year later. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis I was about to receive.

“You’ve got one of the worst cases of prostate cancer I’ve ever seen in my life,” the urologist said to me. “Hospice will call you Monday morning.”

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. Had I been seen by a doctor sooner, my cancer could have been detected before it had progressed so far. Now it was too late. My cancer was so advanced the VA wouldn’t even offer me a treatment option.

I had joined the U.S. Army in 1989 as a young, ambitious kid. I honorably served my country for 18 years in the infantry and military police. When I took off the uniform, I relied on the promise I would be cared for as one who “shall have borne the battle.” But that promise was broken.

I was let down by government, the country that I served and loved. That hurt worse than my diagnosis.

The road I’ve traveled has been long and grueling. Leaving the VA behind, I sought another opinion from a private-sector doctor. I immediately underwent surgery, followed by years of intense radiation, chemotherapy and anti-hormone therapy.

Today, my cancer is in remission, thanks to the willingness of my non-VA doctors to fight for me. I still struggle and endure regular physical pain, but I’ve overcome far more than I or the VA expected.

Unfortunately, I am not the only Veteran who has been denied the care they earned. Thousands of others wait months and even years for medical care and have to endure the bureaucratic red tape of the VA’s health care system every day. They do this because, until recently, it was the only option.

My experience motivated me to act – I wasn’t willing to sit by while Veterans literally died waiting for care from the VA. I led the charge to expose the VA’s flaws by reaching out to the press, rallying friends and family, talking to lawmakers, partnering with advocates, and winning the landmark medical malpractice lawsuit against the Phoenix VA for $2.56 million last year. The voice of Veterans has been heard loud and clear.

A few months ago, I got to stand beside the president as he signed the VA MISSION Act. This law will make it much easier for Veterans to access medical care outside the VA. No more waiting months to see a doctor or driving hundreds of miles to a distant VA facility. We are finally going to get the care we earned.

When we tell our stories and call for change, people listen. Now Concerned Veterans for America Foundation has given many of us an even larger platform to share our experiences, a documentary titled "The Care They’ve Earned." The film sheds light on my life-or-death battle for medical care along with other Veterans around the country. We talk about the care we’ve received from the VA and how we’ve often been disappointed by its flawed health care system.

This Veterans Day, I encourage you to watch "The Care They’ve Earned" on Amazon Prime. Hear the voices of those who served and were disappointed by their government.

Thank you to all my fellow Veterans for your service to this nation and to those at home who support and care for us. Happy Veterans Day.

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Veterans talk about biggest issues they face today

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Veterans Issues

 

SANTA FE COUNTY, N.M. - A parade and ceremony Sunday in Santa Fe honored our nation's Veterans.

KOAT Action 7 News spoke to Veterans about the issues they face today and why more still needs to be done.

Hundreds braved the cold weather in Santa Fe, marching in the annual Veterans Day parade despite the snow and rain.

Air Force Veteran James Lamb said events like these are important for Veterans to know how much their service means to people.

And it's not something that only has to happen once a year.

“Thank a Veteran. Just come up and say thank you and they'll thank you for your support,” Lamb said.

Lamb also said Veterans need to take advantage of assistance programs.

“This state offers a lot of great services for Veterans so take advantage of them, from tax discounts on your housing to healthcare and all kinds of things like that,” Lamb said.

After the parade was over, everyone gathered at the Bataan Memorial Building for a Veterans Day ceremony.

Vietnam Veteran Doug Gomez believes availability of care is a big issue Veterans face.

Because there is not a Veterans Affairs hospital in Santa Fe, he has to drive to Albuquerque for treatment.

But he said the issue of seeing a VA doctor when you need one is something that is happening across the U.S.

“It's pretty extraordinary that so many Veterans have to wait for such a long time to get an appointment,” Gomez said.

Gomez said a lot of promises were made this election season about improving care for Veterans.

Now he wants to see something done.

“Politicians, not only in New Mexico, but around the country, who talk about Veterans as a talking point, take it to the next level and actually help us,” Gomez said.

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VA recognizes Vietnam Veteran with first Medal of Honor Medallion during ceremony at Mississippi cemetery

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Pfc Milton L. Olive

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnished the first Medal of Honor (MOH) Medallion for the private headstone of Pfc. Milton L. Olive III, a decorated Vietnam-era war hero, during a ceremony Nov. 1 at West Grove Cemetery in Lexington, Mississippi.

With the passage of Public Law 114-315 on Dec. 16, 2016, Congress authorized VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) to issue, upon request, a medallion, headstone or marker signifying a Veteran as an MOH recipient who served on or after April 6, 1917, and is buried in a private cemetery with a private headstone or marker.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie saluted Olive for his selfless bravery during a battle in the Vietnam conflict.

“Private First Class Olive was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for his service during the Vietnam War after he heroically used his body to cover a grenade to save the life of his fellow soldiers,” Wilkie said. “The Medal of Honor Medallion illustrates VA’s commitment to ensuring all who see this symbol will know of the courageous sacrifice of our nation’s distinguished service members.”

For information on applying for the MOH Medallion, visit this link. Information on all types of VA headstones, markers and medallions can be found at this link.

VA operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve and maintain 111 Veterans cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam, and Saipan. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service.

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VA celebrates National Family Caregivers Month

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Natl Family Caregiver Month

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is commemorating National Family Caregivers Month this November by honoring the service of 5.5 million family members and friends who have dedicated their lives to providing much-needed care for chronically ill, injured or disabled Veterans.

“Caregivers make tremendous sacrifices to address the daily needs of Veterans who served our nation,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These mothers, wives, fathers, husbands and other loved ones deserve our recognition and support for all they do to care for Veterans.”

Caregivers provide a valuable service to Veterans by assisting them beyond the walls of VA medical facilities with much-needed support, such as accessing the health care system, providing emotional and physical support and enabling many injured Veterans to stay in their homes, rather than living their lives in an institutional setting.

The recent passage of the VA MISSION Act of 2018 will expand eligibility for VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to Veterans of all eras of service — fulfilling President Trump’s commitment to help Veterans and their families live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The expansion will occur in two phases, starting with eligible Veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975, with further expansion to follow.

Currently, VA is developing an implementation plan for the MISSION Act and encourages all caregivers and Veterans to learn about the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, as well as the many additional resources already available to all caregivers by visiting www.caregiver.va.gov or by calling the Caregiver Support Line toll free at 855-260-3274.

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VA celebrates National Veterans and Military Families Month 2018 with events honoring Veterans and their families

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Celebrate

 

Yesterday evening President Donald J. Trump declared November 2018 the second annual National Veterans and Military Families Month to “salute the brave and dedicated patriots who have worn the uniform of the United States, and…celebrate the extraordinary military families whose selfless service and sacrifice make our military the finest in the world.”

Beginning in 2017, President Trump proclaimed November Veterans and Military Families Month, marking the first time America celebrated Veterans and military families for the entire month and not just on Veterans Day, in keeping with the President’s strong focus on improving care and benefits to our nation’s heroes.

That tradition continues again this year, with more than 300 events at VA hospitals, benefits offices and cemeteries across the country, including:

  • Senior leader visits to VA facilities
  • Open houses
  • Town halls
  • Benefits claims clinics
  • Volunteer recognitions
  • Homeless Veteran initiative events
  • Suicide-prevention events
  • Faith-based community events
  • Flag planting tributes at national cemeteries

In addition to the local and regional events across the country, VA is conducting a number of national events, including:

  • The annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and leadership breakfast at the National Press Club
  • White House hosting Veterans state and local leadership event Nov. 15
  • Expansion of the ChooseVA branding campaign
  • Legal Services Week during the first week of November, providing free legal services to Veterans in need
  • VetTalkX events in nine locations, which are TEDx-type local activities featuring key Veterans sharing their stories of post-military life and connecting Veterans with their communities, all to help bridge the civilian-military divide.

This year’s celebration of Veterans and Military Families Month caps an unprecedented period of improvement for VA, as the department has made groundbreaking progress over the last two years in the areas of accountability, transparency and efficiency across the department while enjoying an important series of legislative successes.

“At VA, Veterans and their families are at the center of everything we do,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. Veterans and Military Families Month is an opportunity for us to honor the service of these patriots while educating communities about VA benefits and services and our commitment to customer service improvement.”

The full list of national events for Veterans and Military Families month is available at this link.

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