Bob Schwartz

Tag: IAVA

IAVA: “WTF!?!? A tax on our GI Bill!!”

I’ve posted frequently about the sorry state of veterans affairs in America. Hypocritical “Thank you for your service”—particularly from flag-lapel-pin-wearing ultra-patriotic politicians—followed by every effort to not serve those who deserve it.

Following is the text of an email just received from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) about the latest travesty. As the email says: “Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level.”


You’re not gonna believe this!

Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level by announcing a ridiculous plan to tax enlistees $2,400 to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, some in Congress want to tax troops to use the GI Bill. It’s insanity!

It’s bad for veterans. Bad for our military. Bad for recruiting. Bad for our economy. And especially bad for families making a base pay of only about $19,000 a year.

And IAVA won’t stand for it. No way.

If you’ve volunteered to serve this country, you are entitled to your education benefits. It’s a cost of war. PERIOD.

IAVA created and passed the original post-9/11 GI Bill back in 2008. And we’ve been holding the line to defend it ever since. We fought to upgrade it in 2010. We’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of vets use it. And thanks to your support last year, we successfully fought $4B in proposed cuts.

But our earned wartime benefits are under attack again by politicians looking to nickel and dime our brothers and sisters–as bullets continue to fly at them in combat around the world.

IAVA will ferociously #DefendTheGIBill. Now and forever. We will fight to ensure all enlistees get the same benefits (or better) than we got. And we need you to have our back.

Sign our petition to send a clear message to Congress now: if you need money to pay for stuff, find it elsewhere! Not from the wallets of young enlistees.

Together, we will hold the line. And we will win.

Onward,

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq veteran
Founder and CEO
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA

PS. We need fuel for this urgent fight. Donate now to #DefendTheGIBill.

Another Cool Way to Show Support for Our Veterans

IAVA Lifeline Flex

I’ve written a number of times before about veterans issues and about the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which last month sponsored a televised Commander-in-Chief Forum featuring the presidential candidates.

It is an old song, but worth repeating. Our treatment of those we have asked to fight is a national shame. If we don’t want to fight and defend, and don’t ask others to do the job for us, fine. Peace is wonderful. But once we ask, we have to provide virtually infinite support for those who answer. This should be at the top of any policy priority list, because it is a moral test, not a partisan talking point. For a grade, I’d consider giving us an E for Effort, but really, it’s more like an F.

If you want to show your support, IAVA has a very cool and inexpensive wearable. It’s the IAVA Lifeline Flex:

IAVA Lifeline Flex
$14.99

Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Lifeline Flex in Night Vision Yellow and Black with engraved logo on a metal toggle clasp. Hand-wound from the same 550 lb tested parachute chord used in WWII to attach men to their chutes, these cuffs give you up to 15ft of usable paracord when unwound. Not just an all purpose survival tool, the 550 cord also looks killer on your wrist. Don’t leave home without one of these killer bracelets.

ITEM DETAILS:
Hand-wound from military grade 550 cord
One size fits all “Flex” interior with IAVA closure clasp

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Sometimes Heroes Need Help

If it didn’t reduce the impact and get old for readers, I’d post about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and veterans issues just about every day. As I’ve noted many times, eagerly asking men and women to patriotically sacrifice for our security and then not treating them as the most important people in our country is a moral test we continue to flunk.

IAVA has reported its Program Impact in 2015 and it is impressive and heartening. Please read it and be astonished by how much one committed organization can do to advocate for so many important Americans. The report begins:

IAVA had huge accomplishments in 2015. We reached a record 439,269 veterans nationwide through in-person and online programs — and we did it with fewer resources, while maintaining top ratings from leading nonprofit reporting agencies, GuideStar and Charity Watch.

So if you are frustrated by how slowly and imperfectly our politics match our commitments in this area, please donate to IAVA. It is easy to say thank you to our veterans, as just about every politician does. It is harder and more costly to back it up capably and unconditionally.

Veterans Day: The Annual Shame of a Nation

Veterans Boots

Failure to take full and proper care of veterans is not a Democratic or Republican shame. The only reason to focus on Republicans here is that last night, in their debate, on the eve of Veterans Day, only four passing mentions of veterans were made during two hours.

The debate was formally about the economy, but since every one behind the podiums is practiced at changing the subject, there’s no reason some or all of them couldn’t have just said: The economy is an important topic, but just tonight, this particular night, I’d like to focus my time exclusively on veterans matters.

Here’s what one of them might have said:

There is enough responsibility to go around for getting this nation involved in military conflicts. It doesn’t matter what party started it or finished it or didn’t finish it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a great idea or a terrible idea or whether it is too soon to tell. As a nation, we do what we do, and we have to pay the price and keep our promises. In the case of military service, that promise is to spare no expense or effort to not only make combatants whole, or whole as humanly possible, but to elevate their service to priority status in our national consciousness and commitments.

That’s why I’m going to spend whatever minutes I have on this national debate platform tonight to talk specifically about immediate solutions to veterans issues, rather than casting blame or blowing hot air. I also call upon the millionaires and billionaires supporting us and trying to influence the election to divert just a little of that money to nonpartisan efforts such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to start solving the problem. Of course, making this a government first priority would be nice too. Because if it comes down to a choice between any of us actually getting the nomination, which is admittedly a long shot for most of us anyway, and the comfort and well-being of those men and women we’ve flag-wavingly asked to fight on our behalf, I’d rather ask that those veterans be made whole than that I be President.

I know. Dream on.

VA Health Crisis: Listen to IAVA

VA IG Report

We should listen to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America about this VA health system crisis.

As the name implies, IAVA represents the latest generation of American war veterans. They are in some ways the most attuned to the current realities and sensibilities of veterans’ issues in 2014. Not because they have been around the longest, but because they are native to the way things work, or don’t, here in the early 21st century in America.

Those realities regarding the health care crisis in the VA are shocking to some, but come as no surprise to those who have watched it happening, including Congress (both parties) and the President.

Is it fixable? What won’t fix it is political posturing, handwringing, or even the delayed but imminent departure of VA Secretary Shinseki.

What will fix it? Good policy well executed, without excuses or cover up. The IAVA can help with that.

In the wake of yesterday’s Inspector General Report about the Phoenix VA health system, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff said:

The new IG report on the Phoenix VA is damning and outrageous. It also reveals the need for a criminal investigation. Each day we learn how awful things are in Phoenix and across the country. The VA’s problems are broad and deep – and President Obama and his team haven’t demonstrated they can fix it. As one of only two combat veterans, Senator John McCain’s call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation is particularly impactful…

Today’s report makes it painfully clear that the VA does not always have our veterans’ backs. Even before this report came out, IAVA members were losing confidence in Secretary Shinseki and President Obama. At Memorial Day events across the nation, our members voiced outrage, anger, and impatience at the growing VA scandal. This new report only increases the belief that the promise to veterans has been broken. We are sharing this report now with our members and seeking their reaction. In the coming days, we will share the voices of our members with the President, VA leaders and those in Congress.

In the IAVA 2014 Policy Agenda, the VA health system was just one of a number of initiatives offered for consideration. On that score, IAVA recommends this (excerpted):

I. Establish a Presidential Commission to end the VA claims backlog.

II. Transform the Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s (VBA) adversarial culture…

III. Reform VA’s work credit and productivity evaluation system for claims processor….

IV. Outline the VA’s responsibility about the requirements to substantiate a claim….

V. Adopt the “treating physician rule” for medical evaluations for compensation and pension…

VI. Require appeals form to be sent along with the Notice of Decision letters in order to expedite the appeals process.

VII. Evaluate the Segmented Lanes work initiative to continually assess whether it is meeting the goals of fast tracking…

VIII. Report the intake of new compensation and pension claims on the Monday Morning Workload Report.

IX. Report separated statistics on the intake and processing of supplemental and original claims in the Monday Morning Workload Report…

XIII. Continue to engage veteran stakeholders in updating the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

XIV. Require the VA to accept a PTSD diagnosis provided from a qualified private medical provider.

X. Establish a model to accurately project the claims workload and the resource and staffing requirements needed to meet the demand.

XI. Make all disability benefits questionnaires available to private medical providers.

XII. Simplify notification letters to provide easily digestible, specific and clear information about the reasons for rating decisions.

XV. Allow the VA to incentivize private medical providers to furnish medical health records to the VA for processing.

XVI. Clarify and report accuracy ratings for each regional VA….

This is an agenda, and if the President and the good people of Congress want to adjust or add, that is their prerogative and duty. But you have to start somewhere, with something on the table, and this is a good place for that. If these warriors are smart enough and capable enough and honorable enough to fight our wars, they are surely able to suggest the smart, honorable, and capable ways of treating them when those wars are over.

The Wait We Carry

The Wait We Carry
IAVA has been at the forefront of modern veterans advocacy—something desperately needed in the face of modern veterans benefit challenges (that is, much talk, little action).

The latest of these advocacy tools is dazzlingly innovative and personalizing. Here is the IAVA introduction:

This is the true face of the backlog. Introducing: The Wait We Carry.

By now, you’ve seen the big numbers behind the VA disability benefits backlog — over 565,000 vets waiting too long to get their claims resolved. But it’s not enough to talk about the numbers. We wondered: what are those vets going through? How is their wait for benefits affecting them and their families?

We asked vets to tell us about their experiences while waiting for their benefits. Their stories blew me away. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something that would give a voice to their struggle. Harnessing the power of technology, we have created a state-of-the-art data visualization tool to bring those stories to the world. It’s called The Wait We Carry.

The Wait We Carry is an interactive way for anybody to engage with the folks waiting for their benefits through their stories. There are several different search options so you can find a specific story, or you can simply take your time browsing through all of the stories. It drives our point home that there isn’t just one backlog experience. The weight of the wait is different for everybody.

The power of this tool is that it holds everybody accountable for the unacceptably long wait times. That’s why it’s crucial that this thing goes viral.

I’ve been working on this for months, and I am certain that The Wait We Carry is powerful enough to end the VA backlog for good. Make sure you check it out today — thewaitwecarry.org

Thanks,

Jacob Worrell
OIF Veteran, US Army 2004-2007
Product Strategy Associate
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

Go Silent on Memorial Day

Go Silent
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) this week launched a new campaign asking all Americans to “Go Silent” this Memorial Day in honor of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The “Go Silent” campaign encourages Americans to pledge at IAVA.org to pause and be silent for a full minute at 12:01 p.m. EDT on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.

The Pew Research Center has reported extensively on the Military-Civilian Gap:

America’s post-9/11 wars mark the longest period of sustained combat in the nation’s history – and never before has America waged war with so small a share of its population carrying the fight.

Military Participation

For more about IAVA.

To donate to IAVA.

Thank You for Your Service

IAVA
I continue to receive comments from veterans of the recent wars about the post The Tin Anniversary of the Iraq War.  Rather than just reply to each comment, here is what I want to say.

Politics debases our language. Language is a tool, and like all tools, can be used for good, for ill, or for some combination.

In the political context, it is hard to tell whether “thank you for your service” from various politicos is sincere, tactical or, most likely, both. But even if it is meaningful, it sometimes seems like an automatic phrase, much like the obligatory speech close “and God bless the United States of America.” It becomes a cliché.

The Vietnam War is not just a textbook case in modern American history. It is an entire encyclopedia. One of the sorriest lessons was the treatment of returning vets. “Thank you for your service” is something those vets rarely if ever heard. All these years later, they mostly still haven’t.

Here it is, to the veterans and the fallen of our wars, then and now, however essential or popular or ill-conceived the wars may be or have been, and to their families, friends and everyone who has supported them in all ways: Thank you for your service.

In a related note, thanks to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) for keeping the veterans of our longest wars out front and in our faces. Among our “never agains” should be never again asking Americans to sacrifice so gravely, then thanking them loudly or not at all, and then putting them at the back of the line. These people are not political props or calendar items, because every day is Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Thank you.