- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My mom was married to a U.S. military man for more than 14 years and was his first wife. He passed away more than a year ago, and she is the Social Security beneficiary.

My mom never remarried and will turn 80 on March 27. She would like to find out about any benefits she may have.

Thank you for your time and looking forward to hear from you.

John L.
Cape Coral, Fla.

Dear John:

It is important that your mother apply for benefits to determine her eligibility. More information can be found at www.vba.va.gov/bln/dependents/spouse.htm.

 

Shaft notes

Congratulations to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican, who recently was named vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The position will allow Mr. Bilirakis to play a vital role in providing veterans access to the benefits they have earned and deserve. At 1.7 million, Florida has the second-largest population of military veterans in the United States.

“It is an honor to continue to serve, not only the veterans in my district, but also those throughout the nation,” Mr. Bilirakis said. “As our men and women in uniform continue returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, this committee has an important role in ensuring that their needs are met.”

In addition to providing veterans with access to the appropriate benefits, the committee also oversees and evaluates the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest of the 14 Cabinet departments.

“I look forward to improving efficiency in the current system and know that this Congress in particular will give us that opportunity,” Mr. Bilirakis said.

Mr. Bilirakis has served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee since joining Congress in 2007 and is co-chairman of the Military Veterans Caucus. Mr. Bilirakis has established himself as a strong advocate for veterans’ concerns and has introduced legislation to address the concurrent receipt of military retirement pay and VA disability payments and to expand the Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). He also has worked to establish new programs to help those with traumatic brain injuries and other mental health needs.

In addition, Mr. Bilirakis is chairman of the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications subcommittee — part of the Homeland Security Committee — and is on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, is chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

• • •

Congratulations to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for the VFW Operation Uplink Free Call Day (FCD), which as of Jan. 16 had surpassed 5 million connections from deployed military personnel to their loved ones. Operation Uplink initially provided calling cards to deployed and hospitalized troops, but on Mother’s Day 2006, because of the growing popularity of the program and thanks to the generosity of corporate donors such as Sport Clips and Harleysville Insurance, the program began hosting free-calling days.

Operation Uplink hosts a Free Call Day for service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and for hospitalized veterans, giving them the opportunity to call their loved ones in the States at no cost.

Free Call Days are available at more than 700 MWR Internet cafes using SPAWAR. Soldiers use their regular SPAWAR prepaid PIN and use regular dialing procedures. If they don’t have a PIN on the free-calling day, the café manager can issue them one. A sponsor message greets them before the call is placed to inform them that the call is at no charge and they are free to talk for as long as they are able.

The program is the only one of its kind and provides two designated days each month on which deployed service members making calls from their Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) center to the United States, and from German and Italian land lines are greeted by a recording that states their call will be free courtesy of Operation Uplink.

Members of the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary VFW posts, as well as other caring citizens, generously support the program. The VFW is proud of Operation Uplink because it provides an easy way for individuals and organizations to make an immediate difference in the lives of active-duty military personnel.

• • •

Veterans will find it easier and faster to apply for their health care benefits now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has enhanced and streamlined its online Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits.

This revised online application now features a chat function that will allow veterans to receive live assistance while they are filling out the form. Additional enhancements to the process include simplification of questions relating to military service in Southeast Asia during the Gulf and Vietnam wars. Several additional minor enhancements make the application easier and faster to complete.