- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dear Sgt Shaft:

It’s been a while. Hopefully you remember me! Cpl. Leslie M. (now V.). A lot has changed since I last lost touch with you. I am now married and have a 2-year-old old boy! My husband is military — six years active duty Marine Corps and 13 National Guard Reserve. He is currently receiving a medical military discharge for a back injury sustained during his last activation for deployment.

With his current military discharge and transition to his veteran civilian job as lieutenant for Department of Corrections, he has been looking at going back to school. I remember you once helped me when I had trouble with VA GI Bill, as I myself came off active duty. My husband has a few questions as to what would suit him best in planning his education; primarily, deciding as a disabled veteran if he should pursue an online degree or opt for night courses in order to receive his bachelor’s degree.

I thought you might be our best bet, as to pointing him in the right direction. I don’t know if you have any liaisons that might be able to help him. Being in the Wounded Warrior Program, he has received much guidance and direction during his active duty. But we are bit out in limbo as far the education portion. Your advice and guidance would greatly be appreciated.

Thanks in advance,
Leslie V.

Dear Leslie,

My sources tell me that someone returning from active duty has rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Check out the Department of Labor’s website for more information: http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-userra.htm.

There is a lot of information about the GI Bill on the VA website to be able to compare programs. Your husband can always call to speak with a representative: www.gibill.va.gov or 888/442-4551. Also, if he’s injured, he may qualify for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program, which would offer counseling and assessment testing from an employment counselor: www.vetsuccess.gov.

I suggest he check out what the GI Bill and VR&E programs offer first before trying to find education grants — they are very comprehensive benefits. But there are a lot of nonprofit programs available to help separating service members and veterans if he is still looking for help. One place to start could be the Wounded Warriors Project: www.woundedwarriorproject.org or any one of the other Veterans Service Organizations.

Shaft notes

More than 400 metro area homeless veterans are expected at the VA Medical Center’s Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down on Saturday, Jan. 22, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The veterans will receive medical screenings and mental health consultations, employment and housing support, along with many other services. The event is held annually at the Washington, D.C., V.A. Medical Center (DCVAMC) at 50 Irving St., NW. The Medical Center provides transportation to veterans residing in area shelters. Comfort kits and warm clothing are provided at the event.

During the month of December, Zips Dry Cleaners is sponsoring a clothing drive to collect coats, jackets and other gently used clothing items for homeless veterans who attend the Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down. Zips Dry Cleaners will dry clean all the items collected and deliver them to the Medical Center. This is the sixth year Zips has hosted the clothing drive.

Winterhaven is a one-stop outreach event that brings together community agencies and volunteers from the D.C. metropolitan area to provide homeless veterans with a full day of services including: flu and pneumonia vaccinations, HIV screening, prostate exams, as well as ophthalmology, podiatry, oral health and women’s health consultations. Psycho-social referrals for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse are also offered.

Employment support will be available through the D.C., Md. and Va., Department of Labor Employment Offices, V.A. Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. Staff from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) will assist with VA benefits claims. Chaplain Service will be present for pastoral care and counseling.

In addition to the warm clothing, veterans attending will enjoy haircuts, a large holiday-style meal and tokens for goods at local thrift stores.

Those wishing to donate clothing may deliver items to any participating Zips Dry Cleaners. To find the nearest location, visit www.321zips.com. For further information about the VA Medical Center’s Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down, contact the Office of Public Affairs at 202/745-4037 or visit the website at http://www.washingtondc.va.gov/.

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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