- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am not sure what I need to do or who can help me at this point. Your name was mentioned as a person who helps veterans and widows.

My story is quite simple. My husband, Michael, was a Navy corpsman assigned to the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. He died from multiple myeloma. This was added to the Agent Orange presumptive list. I filed to reopen my DIC claim.

Now, the VA tells me that I have to prove Mike was in Vietnam. The records I am sending have RVN on them. I have been told this means Republic of Vietnam. I cannot understand what else would be needed. His records, 1st Marine Division history, death certificate and the VA letter are provided for you.

I have two daughters. We have struggled since Mike’s death in 1990. Now I know what caused his death at such an early age. The VA benefits would help.

I am asking you to make inquiries on my behalf to resolve the VA claim.

Thanks for all you do for veterans and widows.

Sincerely yours,

Rita S.

Upper Darby, Pa.

Dear Rita:

I have forwarded your letter and documents to top officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Be assured that you will get an appropriate review of your claim for widow’s benefits.

Shaft notes

Congratulations to members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee for recently conducting an oversight hearing examining vital VA rehabilitation programs for blinded veterans and veterans requiring prosthetic devices.

There are about 157,000 veterans who are legally blind. About 44,000 of them are enrolled in VA health care, with slightly more than 2,000 of them receiving treatment in the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Centers (BRC). The committee examined whether and how VA would modernize this program to meet the needs of today’s blinded veterans. The committee also looked at successful cooperative efforts between the Army and VA in meeting the needs of service members with amputations.

The House recently approved H.R. 4175, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2004, legislation sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican. H.R. 4175 would provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase to veterans receiving VA disability compensation, as well as to surviving spouses and dependents of disabled veterans who receive monthly dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) payments.

Another provision of H.R. 4175 would add osteoporosis to the list of diseases presumed to be service-connected for former prisoners of war.

The full committee marked up four bills, including H.R. 4658, the Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Protections Act of 2004, sponsored by Mr. Smith. H.R. 4658 strengthens existing and adds new legal, economic, and job rights for veterans and service members who are activated or deployed to new duty stations. H.R. 4658 builds upon the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, comprehensive legislation signed by President Bush in December.

“The Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Protections Act is another step forward in guaranteeing that the men and women serving in our armed forces have all of their legal, financial and job rights protected,” Mr. Smith said. “This important legislation significantly strengthens both the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act we passed last year, as well as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly known as USERRA.”

As approved by the committee, H.R. 4658 would strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by closing potential loopholes in the law, and by adding new protections to:

• Clarify that SCRA’s lease-termination provisions also cover individual deployments, as well as military unit deployments.

• Increase from 18 months to 24 months the maximum period of employer-provided health coverage that an employee covered by Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployments Rights Act (USERRA) may elect to continue.

• Require employers to provide notice to employees of their USERRA rights and benefits, as well as the obligations of employers under USERRA.

• Establish a demonstration project for the expedited handling by veterans employed by the federal government who believe their USERRA rights have been violated.

H.R. 4658 also contained a new section authorizing VA to pay for the cost of care for infants of women veterans enrolled in VA health care.

Also gaining committee approval Wednesday were H.R. 4768, the Veterans Health Programs and Facilities Enhancement Act of 2004, which was sponsored by Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican and chairman of the Veterans Affairs health subcommittee, and two bills (H.R. 1318 and H.R. 4836) naming VA health care facilities in New York and Texas.

Finally, the legislation would clarify that all enrolled veterans are eligible to use the VA Canteen Service, and establish a specific procedural framework that VA must follow in order to expeditiously begin operation of the four National Emergency Medical Preparedness Centers previously authorized by Congress in P.L. 107-287.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO 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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