- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am pleased to announce a new program for service members sustaining traumatic injuries, Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI). This new insurance program will help families focus on recovery, readjust to military or civilian life and ease worries about financial difficulties.

The TSGLI benefit payments, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, are made to service members who have suffered certain traumatic injuries while on active duty. The program became effective Dec. 1 and provides financial help to military families through extended periods of medical care and healing. Benefits are also payable retroactively to Oct. 7, 2001, for service members and veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I hope you will share this information with your readers and ask that they pass this information along to service members or veterans who may be eligible to take advantage of this program. Additional information can be found on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Web site at www.insurance.va.gov or by calling the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance at 800/419-1473.

Vice. Adm. Daniel L. Cooper (retired)

Undersecretary for Benefits

Department of Veterans Affairs

Dear Admiral Cooper,

Thanks for reaching out to our wounded heroes and alerting them to how to obtain this well deserved benefit.

Shaft Notes

The Senate recently approved two bills that will improve the health care of the nation’s military veterans.

As Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, put it, “Congress has sent a powerful message to the troops that we support you and will continue to support you when you get home.

“Much of the new health care bill (S. 1182) will ensure that our returning service members get the care and attention that they need so that they can enjoy long and healthy lives after defending our freedom. With the passage of the Vet Center Enhancement Act (S. 716), sponsored by Senator [Daniel K.] Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and ranking member of our committee, we will ensure that parents and immediate family members of soldiers killed in action receive the help they need.

“For rural states, like my state of Idaho, the telehealth provisions of the health care legislation will expand access to important care while reducing the need for long distance travel. For those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), this new legislation will provide more mental health care services. For our returning National Guard and Reservists, the VA is now directed to reach out and ensure that they receive the care they need.”

The provisions of S. 1182, the Veterans Health Care Act of 2005

• Allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire marriage and family therapists within the agency to provide complete readjustment services and counseling to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans.

• Requires VA to expand the number of clinical care providers dedicated to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

• Requires VA to expand telehealth initiatives in rural areas

• Requires VA to expand mental health services in community-based outpatient clinics

• Requires VA to expand the global war on terrorism outreach program, which places Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in Vet Centers and encourages them to reach out to returning National Guardsman and reservists

• Requires the veterans’ affairs secretary to establish a strategic plan for long-term care

• Increases funding for VA’s programs to assist homeless veterans to $130 million

• Allows the VA to provide up to 14 days of care for newborns of female veterans.

Mr. Craig’s health care legislative effort will cost about $193 million in 2006 and an estimated $1.2 billion over five years. The value of the Vet Center Enhancement bill is calculated at $180 million for 2006. Funding for the new measures was appropriated earlier in the year when Congress approved the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bills await action by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Northwest Illinois Chapter of Operation Homefront has nationally launched Operation Softball program with a goal of collecting 10,000 softballs and baseballs to send to troops in Iraq.

The original goal was to collect 1,016 softballs autographed by the donors to build a pyramid of support for our troops. For months, softballs were distributed to area businesses, churches, and schools for people to sign and write words of support for our troops. Because of the tremendous outpouring of support, the program has been continued through April 15, 2006, and extended to the national level.

Operation Homefront is accepting donated and signed softballs and baseballs from business, churches and citizens across the country.

More information on the Operation Softball program is available at www.operationhomefront.net/Northwest.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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