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SGT. SHAFT: Would discharge for pregnancy affect benefits?

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I'm currently an E-5 on active duty in the Army and reenlisted in January or February for three more years. This is my third or fourth reenlistment. I want to stay in long enough to have everything paid for, but I am ready to move on with my life and start something new.

My boyfriend and I want to have a child, and I know I can get out for being pregnant. I'm wondering if I will still have some sort of benefits through the VA or if I forfeit those benefits by getting out.

I wouldn't be fulfilling this current enlistment if I did get out due to pregnancy. I don't really know where to go to get the answers and make the right decision. — Donna via the Web

Dear Donna,

By now, the Department of Veterans Affairs should have responded to your inquiry with the explanation that benefits generally are based upon discharge from active military service under conditions other than dishonorable.

Since your inquiry was concerning health care, you likely were referred to the VA Health Resource Center's toll free number, 877/222-8387, for further assistance.

Shaft Notes

The Sarge is looking forward to joining the Military Officers Association of America in discussing issues of wounded warriors and their families at the fourth annual Defense Forum Washington conference, held Sept. 10 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.

The forum, "A New Normal: How is the War Within Transforming Our Force and Families," is co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The day-long forum features talks by Sen. Jim Webb; Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs; and several panels with key leaders, wounded troops, and family members.

Panel topics include "Navigating Recovery: Are We Meeting Needs and Expectations," "Confronting the Reintegration Process — Embracing the Experience" and "The New Normal: Hope for the Future."

Registration for the DFW is at www.defenseforumwashington.com.

                                                          • • •

Congratulations to Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, Florida Republican, who was given the L. Mendel Rivers Award of Excellence from the Air Force Sergeants Association for his support of the nation's military, veterans and military families:

"There are many things that make our nation so great, but it is our strong and valiant military that is the backbone of this country," Bilirakis said. "The strength, courage, and dedication of the men and women in uniform keep us safe at home from threats abroad and allow us to remain a free and prosperous nation."

The AFSA has represented soldiers on Capitol Hill since 1961. Today, the association has 120,000 members and 142 active chapters around the world. The L. Mendel Rivers Award of Excellence, named in honor of the former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee during the Vietnam War, is presented each year to a member of Congress that has focused on the quality of life and benefits of service for members of the military, their families, retirees, and veterans.

"The Air Force Sergeants Association is an extremely respected association on Capitol Hill, so I'm very grateful and humbled to be honored with this award," Bilirakis said. "As a member of Congress, I feel strongly that one of my top duties is to work with the military and provide them with the resources and the benefits that they need and deserve. I strive to be a voice for the military and for veterans on Capitol Hill."

Rep. Bilirakis joins a prestigious group of congressmen who have been recognized with this honor, including his father, former congressman and Air Force Staff Sergeant Michael Bilirakis.

"I am deeply humbled to receive this magnificent award," Bilirakis said. "However, I believe all service members, veterans and their families deserve to be honored for their service to our country, and to that end, I think everyone here shares in this honor."

Since coming to Congress in 2007, Bilirakis, a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, has advocated for military rights and benefits.

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

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