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SGT. SHAFT: Move to streamline absentee voting

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

As the nation prepares to inaugurate a new president, the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) continues its work to reform the absentee voting process for military and overseas voters. FRA advocates for enlisted members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and supports initiatives that streamline the process by which military voters request and cast absentee ballots.

Just 47.6 percent of overseas military voters who requested an absentee ballot actually had their votes counted in 2006, according to a report of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Although statistical data is not yet available from the 2008 elections, there has been little change to the absentee voting process in recent years, and FRA believes significant numbers of military voters remain disenfranchised. As a result, the association continues to seek support for reform initiatives to expedite the transmission of military overseas ballots.

In addition to FRA's repeated calls for Congress to improve the absentee voting process, the association also has joined forces with other military and voting advocacy groups to expand awareness and develop solutions to address these concerns. FRA is supporting the Make Voting Work for Military and Overseas Voters initiative sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation and participated in the Democracy at a Distance summit on Capitol Hill, which focused on ways to make it easier for voters to cast absentee ballots. FRA national Executive Director Joe Barnes moderated a discussion group at the summit on potential legislative strategies to address the challenges faced by this segment of the voting public.

FRA is also part of the newly established Alliance for Military and Overseas Voting Rights, focused on reform of the absentee voting process. The alliance's work will include efforts to enact legislation in the next Congress to streamline military voting and expedite the military mail processing of overseas ballots.

FRA encourages military personnel to share their absentee voting experiences at www.fra.org/communities and click the OnWatch discussion area. Personal anecdotes and comments can strengthen FRA's advocacy efforts on this and other matters associated with our legislative agenda, available at www.fra.org.

Sincerely,

Joe Barnes

FRA national executive secretary

Dear Joe:

I, like you, am outraged by the inadequate Third World-like voting processes for our most cherished citizen privilege, our right to vote. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to correct hanging chads, then question legitimate identification checks to ensure the individual's eligibility to vote. In many cases, students are spoon-fed registration and voting opportunities while those who are fighting for our right to vote cannot exercise the privilege themselves.

Shaft notes

The Sarge is looking forward to joining the effort to support several hundred homeless veterans who are expected to attend the annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center (DCVAMC) on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Fernando O. Rivera, medical center director, recently commented: "This is a significant event. We owe much to our veterans, and it is important that we reach out to those less fortunate veterans who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves homeless. We want to make sure that they receive the care and attention they need and have earned."

This program, sponsored by the DCVAMC and supported by many veterans service and community organizations, will provide medical screenings, mental health consultations, employment support and housing services to eligible homeless veterans.

Medical screenings will include flu shots; cholesterol, hepatitis C and prostate screening; and general physical exams. Consultative services offered include ophthalmology, podiatry, infectious diseases, oral health and women's health. Psychosocial referrals for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse also will be offered.

Employment support will be provided through Department of Labor employment offices, VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services, the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless and many others agencies. Staff from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and veterans service organizations will be on hand to assist with VA benefits claims. Chaplain service will be present for pastoral care and counseling. Hot meals, haircuts, clothing tokens and comfort items will be available.

The medical center will provide shuttle buses from both Union Station and the Brookland/CUA Metro station. For more information, contact the office of public affairs at 202/745-4037 or visit www.washingtondc.va.gov.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced immediate actions to quickly identify and pay surviving spouses who are eligible to receive a one-time compensation or pension payment for the month of the veteran's death.

"This benefit payment is long overdue to many of our beneficiaries," said Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake. "In these difficult economic times, it is imperative that we take aggressive action to fix this situation for the families of our veterans."

Problems in VA's implementation of a change in law that was effective in 1997 resulted in some surviving spouses not receiving the veteran's compensation or pension payment for the month of death. Surviving spouses most likely to be affected by this processing problem are those who never applied to VA for survivor's benefits following the death of a veteran.

Surviving spouses are encouraged to contact the survivors' call center at 800/749-8387. Call center agents will assist surviving spouses in providing VA with the information needed to determine their eligibility.

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