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SGT. SHAFT: Are all vets entitled to burial in a VA cemetery

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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Dear Sgt Shaft:

Are all veterans entitled to burial in a VA cemetery?

Thanks from an old vet.

R.S.
Silver Spring, Md.

Dear R.S.:

* Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Their spouse, widow or widower, minor children, and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the veteran.

* Gravesites in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance. However, families are encouraged to prepare in advance by discussing cemetery options and setting aside copies of any discharge documents.

* VA will provide — at no cost to the veteran's family — a gravesite, headstone or marker, Presidential Memorial Certificate, U.S. flag, perpetual care of the gravesite and will open and close the grave. Fees for services provided by funeral directors and other related costs must be paid for by the veteran's family.

* VA's Veterans Benefits Administration pays a burial and plot allowance for those veterans who are eligible by law. For information, please contact the nearest VA regional office at 1-800-827-1000.

* To establish eligibility for burial in a VA national cemetery, the family should provide: the veteran's discharge document; report of casualty; or the veteran's full name; military rank; branch of service; dates of entry and discharge; serial, Social Security, and/or VA claim numbers; date and place of birth; and date of death.

* If the discharge document is not available, a copy may be obtained from the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records Office,1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138. This should be done prior to the time of need. Additional information about requesting military personnel records is available at the National Archives Website, www.archives.gov.

Shaft notes

• Kudos to the Senate for passing the first two of 22 House-passed bills to spur job growth, including the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Using the framework of the House-passed VOW Act, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 is a bipartisan, bicameral bill to get America's nearly 1 million unemployed veterans back to work. The bill is expected to be taken up by the House next week.

"Today, America's veterans won. It was not politics as usual," said Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "I applaud the Senate on taking up this commonsense legislation that puts our veterans first and puts them on the path to gainful employment. As more and more of our service men and women come home, we need to ensure that they receive the homecoming they deserve, not an unemployment check. This legislation positions our veterans to be competitive in today's tough job market."

The latest Department of Labor unemployment report shows that in October 2011, the average unemployment rate among all veterans was 7.7 percent and 12.1 percent for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans between the ages of 35 and 64, the group with the highest financial obligations and the fewest available VA education and training options, continue to make up nearly two-thirds of all unemployed veterans. Overall, nearly 1 in 12 of our nation's heroes are out of work.

"I hope that today's display of bipartisanship will continue, and a special thanks to Senator Murray for her leadership in working with me to craft this compromise," Mr. Miller said. "I hope we don't stop here. The House has passed 13 bills to support America's veterans, 10 of which are still pending in the Senate. We must continue that work to provide programs that improve veterans' quality of life and honor our veterans every day of the year."

Key provisions of the VOV to Hire Heroes Act:

* Expands education and training opportunities for older veterans by providing nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to a year of additional Montgomery GI benefits to go toward education or training programs at community colleges or technical schools for high-demand jobs.

* Makes the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — an interagency workshop coordinated by Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs — mandatory for most service members moving on to civilian life to help them secure jobs in the 21st Century.

* Provides disabled veterans up to a year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits.

* Works with the states to create licensing and credentialing standards to break down the barriers to find meaningful employment in their military occupations.

* Allows service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military.

* Strengthens USERRA protections for service members in the workforce to clarify what constitutes a hostile work environment.

* Provides a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than 4 weeks, but less than 6 months. Also provides a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs is reaching out to homeless veterans by providing free meals and spending money to eligible homeless veterans.

"VA is committed to ending homelessness for our veterans who defended our nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "As part of that effort, I am pleased the Canteen Service has added these incentives that help veterans get off the streets and into the care and housing they need."

The free meals will be offered at Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) cafeterias to homeless veterans attending their first VA medical appointment, and new veterans participating in the Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing program.

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 email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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