Dear Sgt. Shaft:
My father has applied for VA benefits and is currently waiting for a response. It's been a few months now, and he's starting to worry. If there's any way you could check on the status of the application or find out if there's a processing problem of any kind, we would both be most grateful.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1970, exclusively in military music. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and the associate conductor of the United States Army Band in Washington, D.C. With the band, he co-founded the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets who play at the White House, and he started the military tattoo originally called "Prelude to Taps" but now called "Spirit of America." His recording of bugle calls was used around the world at Army installations until fairly recently.
He will be 88 years old in April and currently lives in an assisted-living facility in Camp Hill, Pa. He is having to draw from his savings to cover his expenses after paying the monthly fee to the facility. VA benefits would ease his mind considerably, even if they were a small amount.
Please let me know if you need any other information to find out the status of his application. Any information is better than none.
Thank you so very much in advance for any assistance you can provide.
Via the Internet
I have referred your inquiry to the powers that be at the Department of Veterans Affairs and by now you should have received assistance from a local VA representative.
• Congratulations to Reps. John Carter, Texas Republican, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, who will serve as co-chairs of the prestigious House Army Caucus for the 113th congressional session. The caucus includes more than 100 members from both parties and works to educate their fellow House members on Army needs and advocate for those needs in the legislative process.
Mr. Carter — whose district includes the Army's largest base, Fort Hood — has served as co-chair of the caucus since 2009. He is chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and also sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
"At this especially stressful time for the Army due to sequestration, we must have a strong bipartisan voice to support the needs of our soldiers and their families," Mr. Carter said. "This caucus can and should continue to provide that support, and I am honored to serve as co-chair for the 113th Congress."
Mr. Ruppersberger, who has served on the caucus since 2007, will replace outgoing Rep. Silvestre Reyes as the Democratic co-chair. Mr. Ruppersberger's district is home to two Army bases: Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. He is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and is a former member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"Knowledge is power," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "It's imperative that all members of Congress understand and appreciate the work that the Army does for our country so that we can ensure the men and women in uniform have the resources they need to keep us safe. This is an honor and responsibility I will take seriously."
• The American legion has reacted cautiously to the announcement that the U.S. military plans to expand combat roles for women in the military.
"Women in the military are performing magnificently in Afghanistan and in U.S. military units throughout the world," American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said. "Women comprise nearly 15 percent of our active forces, and we simply would not be able to accomplish our missions without them. That said, we do not believe that the administration should precipitously change long-existing policies without careful review and oversight from Congress."
Delegates to The American Legion National Convention last August passed a resolution that called on all branches of the military services to maintain the current physical and mental requirements and qualifications for acceptance into military service that has "created the best and most respected military in the world. ..." It further called on all military personnel, regardless of gender or age to be held to a single standard based on their MOS (Military Occupation Specialties) and that the elimination of the combat exclusion clause for women come only after congressional approval.
The most important aspect to consider in changing existing policy, Commander Koutz said, is if it enhances the military's war-fighting capability. "Political or career considerations should not enter into the equation," he said. "The bottom line is: 'Will it make us a more capable fighting force?' "
Membership in the American Legion has been open to women who are serving or have served during wartime periods since the organization's founding in 1919. Women Legionnaires were eligible to vote for their national commander before they could vote for the president of the United States.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide. In the past, data on veterans who died by suicide was only available for those who had sought VA health care services. This report also includes state data for veterans who had not received health care services from VA, which will help VA strengthen its aggressive suicide-prevention activities.
The report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, while the estimated total number of veterans who have died by suicide has increased.
"The mental health and well-being of our courageous men and women who have served the nation is the highest priority for VA, and even one suicide is one too many," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. "We have more work to do, and we will use this data to continue to strengthen our suicide-prevention efforts and ensure all veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve."
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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