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SGT. SHAFT: Reader offers to help return dog tags to veterans

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Thank you for your service to our country during Vietnam. I am writing to offer my volunteer research services to help your readers return the dog tags they have found. I have done the research to help others return more than 200 WWII dog tags. I do not charge a fee for my services, and I only work with people who are willing to send the tags home, free of charge.

On Dec. 12, 2006, (today is the six-year anniversary of finding out about Uncle Angelo's tag being found) I found out that my great-uncle Angelo S. Viale's dog tag had been found on New Georgia Island, Solomon Islands, near the town of Munda. Uncle Angelo served with the 25th Infantry "Tropic Lightning" Division/161st Infantry Regiment/Company L.

In the past three to four years, most of my work has been through my own organization and website, www.ww2tags.org, Angelo's Angels WWII Dog Tag Return Project, but I am also the Lead Researcher (dog tag returns) for Justin Taylan of Pacific Wrecks. His website is www.pacificwrecks.org. I am currently assisting the Marine Raiders Association in researching and returning several USMC dog tags that were found by a contractor on Guadalcanal.

This work is a labor of love and my way of honoring veterans and thanking them for their service to our country. In case you have any questions about the legitimacy of the project, here are a few links to news about the project and my part in it. The first link is for a podcast that you can listen to from the "Labrador Morning Show" on CBC Canada Radio:

http://www.cbc.ca/labradormorning/episodes/2012/08/17/dog-tags-found-in-labrador-returned-to-family-of-fallen-soldier/

http://www.times-herald.com/local/Group-helps-return-metal-IDs-to-veterans--families--801545

http://www.times-herald.com/local/WW-II-dog-tag-comes-home-801544

Here is one link to an article about how I assisted the Baker's Creek Memorial Group in finding one of the families of an American soldier who had died while on leave in Baker's Creek, Australia. The Baker's Creek Air Disaster is still listed as the largest aircraft disaster in Australia's history. They have erected a monument in Arlington National Cemetery honoring the American servicemen who died in that crash. Most of the families were not even aware of how their loved ones actually died, since the location of the crash was not disclosed by the military at that time.

http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2008/nov/10/bakers-creek-memorial-may-finally-find-home-americ/

If the dog tags haven't been returned yet, I'd be honored to help. If they have already been returned, I hope you'll give me a chance to help with any new requests for assistance that might come in.

All the best,
Francesca Cumero
www.ww2tags.org
Angelo's Angels WWII Dog Tag Return Project

Dear Francesca:

Thanks for the info. I know that it will be helpful to anyone who is seeking information about lost dog tags.

Shaft notes

• The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is cutting red tape for veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR). VA will implement a new process for confirming eligibility for benefits, and staff that had been responsible for processing the old form will instead focus on eliminating the compensation claims backlog.

Historically, beneficiaries have been required to complete an EVR each year to ensure their pension benefits continued. Under the new initiative, VA will work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits.

"By working together, we have cut red tape for veterans and will help ensure these brave men and women get the benefits they have earned and deserve," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

VA estimates it would have sent nearly 150,000 EVRs to beneficiaries in January 2013. Eliminating these annual reports reduces the burden on veterans, their families and survivors because they will not have to return these routine reports to VA each year to avoid suspension of benefits. It also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees that usually process EVRs to work on eliminating the claims backlog.

"Having already instituted an expedited process that enables wounded warriors to quickly access Social Security disability benefits, we are proud to work with our federal partners on an automated process that will make it much easier for qualified veterans to maintain their VA benefits from year to year," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.

"The IRS is taking new steps to provide critical data to help speed the benefits process for the nation's veterans and Veterans Affairs," said Beth Tucker, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support. "The IRS is pleased to be part of a partnership with VA and SSA that will provide needed data quickly and effectively to move this effort forward."

All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses.

More information about VA pension benefits is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension and other VA benefit programs on the joint Department of Defense—VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.

• U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and Washington Democrat, applauded Senate passage of the Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012. This House and Senate-negotiated package contains proposals from Democrats and Republicans in both Chambers.

The legislation includes provisions from Ms. Murray's original bill to authorize the VA to furnish a casket or urn to a deceased veteran when VA is unable to identify the veteran's next-of-kin and determines that sufficient resources are not otherwise available to furnish a casket or urn for burial in a national cemetery.

Earlier this year Ms. Murray and Ranking Member, Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, joined by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, and Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, introduced this legislation after a veteran, with no known next-of-kin, was buried in a cardboard container at a VA National Cemetery in Florida. The exposed remains were discovered during a project to raise and realign headstones at the cemetery.

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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