- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I am rated 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Recently, my wife passed away. How do I inform the VA so that my monthly benefit check can be adjusted downward? What address do I write to?

Tom C, Maryland

Dear Tom,

Sorry for your loss. Veterans can notify VA of the death of a spouse by submitting a written statement to their regional office or by calling the toll-free number 800/827-1000. In your case, the address of the Baltimore Regional Office is 31 Hopkins Plaza, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Shaft notes

Thanks to a grant provided by the Sierra Club’s Military Families Outdoors Initiative, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) will provide a unique outdoor experience for military children and their families free of charge in 15 states.

“During this time of heavy deployment, the camps provide military personnel — and their children — a much-needed respite from the grim reality of war. It also offers these families an opportunity to build a support network of others who have similarly experienced the pressures of deployment,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Frank Gallo, national executive director of the ASYMCA.

“The ASYMCA is happy to be able to provide our troops and their families a memorable experience that is not only fun but also educational for the entire family.”

The ASYMCA and Sierra Club sponsor two types of outdoor camp programs: one that is for military children and one for the whole family. Since the start of the program last year, 1,549 children have attended resident camp, 1,081 children have attended day camp and 621 adults have been able to accompany their children to resident camp.

Through this initiative, ASYMCA and Sierra Club aim to:

• Decrease stress and anxiety levels that stem from deployment, frequent moves or everyday pressures.

• Increase social interaction and skills of children by participating in group activities.

• Increase self-confidence of children through the development of positive relationships and new outdoor experiences.

• Develop a support system composed of other military families that have similar experiences.

• Develop an awareness and appreciation for nature by learning about local plant life and animals.

“Sierra Club is happy to be able to provide outdoor experiences for military families,” said Brittany McKee, the club’s national military representative. “We recognize the burden that military families are under and want to connect those families making the greatest sacrifices for our country with the healing benefits of our natural heritage.”

Camps are held in the following locations this year: Augusta, Ga.; Beale Air Force Base, Calif.; Bremerton, Wash.; Clarksville, Tenn.; Blue Ridge, N.C.; Colorado Springs; El Paso and Killeen, Texas; Junction City, Kan.; Hampton Roads, Va.; Honolulu; Watertown, N.Y.; Phoenix; Augusta and Winthrop, Maine; Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa; and Detroit.

Recovery plan

The Department of Veterans Affairs has asked the Department of the Treasury to make $250 payments to eligible veterans as part of President Obama’s recovery plan. The first payments were sent June 22. All payments should have been disbursed as of June 30.

As part of the recovery plan, VA is making one-time payments of $250 to eligible veterans and survivors to offset the effects of the current economy. VA estimates $500 million in payments will be made to approximately 1.9 million veterans and eligible beneficiaries as part of this measure.

To be eligible for the payment, VA beneficiaries must have received VA’s compensation, pension, dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), or spina bifida benefits at any time between November 2008 and January 2009.

Also, beneficiaries must reside within the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa or the U.S. Virgin Islands. No application is necessary.

VA used its existing payment records to determine eligibility for the $250 payment. Beneficiaries will receive their payments the same way they receive their monthly VA benefits - either by direct deposit or in the mail.

This payment is not countable in determining eligibility for VA pension or parents’ DIC. The law allows one $250 payment per person. The payment is tax free. VA beneficiaries who also receive benefits from the Social Security Administration or Railroad Retirement Board will be paid through those agencies, and will therefore not receive the payment from VA.

Philippine veterans

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, recently reintroduced a bill to reunite Philippine World War II veterans who are U.S. citizens and U.S. residents with their children in the Philippines who have languished for years on the visa waiting list.

The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act of 2009 is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

“In seeking an exemption from the numerical limitation on immigrant visas for the children of the Filipino veterans, our bill will address and resolve an issue rooted in a set of historical circumstances that are now nearly seven decades old,” Mr. Akaka said. “It does not require any appropriation and will serve to reunite these veterans with their children and honor their too-long-forgotten World War II service to this nation.”

Now in their 80s and 90s, these men continue to wait for their children - who languish on the visa waiting lists - to join them. This legislation exempts the veterans’ children - about 20,000 individuals in all — from the numerical limitation on immigrant visas.

• 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.

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