- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

Where would I write to ask about any medals and ribbons I might be eligible for from Vietnam? I know a couple have been awarded since I left active duty, but somehow they never caught up with me.

- Dave H.

Dear Dave,

My sources tell me that this is the appropriate Web site: www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/replacement-medals.html. It will explain the proper procedure for a veteran to request military awards and decorations.

The veteran may fill out an SF-180, Request Pertaining to Military Records, or complete a request online through www.archives.gov/veterans/evetrecs, which can be accessed from the above Web site link eVetRecs.

The veteran may retrieve the online request through www.va.gov by clicking on the Benefits tab, then clicking on the Compensation and Pension tab, and the link is about midway down the page.

If the veteran sends a completed SF-180 to a VA regional office, the normal action for a VA employee is to forward the SF-180 to the proper branch of service. This action is a courtesy provided by VA employees to benefit veterans.

Shaft notes

More than 890,000 troops and their families visiting any of the 18 USO centers in the Pacific region will be able to connect with their loved ones around the world for free. IPEVO, a designer and manufacturer of Internet-based devices, is donating its S0-10 Skype Desktop Phone and S0-20 Wi-Fi Phone for Skype devices to the USO.

“A simple phone call from a loved one makes a world of difference in the day of a deployed service member,” said Tom Kolstad, vice president for USO Operations Pacific. “We appreciate this generous donation from IPEVO and are excited to be able to provide the latest technology to help keep our men and women in uniform connected with their families.”

“With the number of military personnel around the world, we understand the importance of being able to hear the voice of a loved one,” said Royce Hong, chief executive of IPEVO. “We jumped at the opportunity to give back and provide our troops with products that will improve their quality of life while serving our country.”

The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has approved an amendment by Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican and ranking committee member, to extend to all civilian World War II groups designated as veterans a benefit the House approved earlier this year for Word War II merchant mariners.

Mr. Buyer’s amendment to a draft bill would provide a $1,000-a-month benefit to all World War II civilian groups that were given veterans status under the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1997. A previously passed House bill provides a similar benefit only to World War II merchant mariners.

“I am proud that the committee voted today to provide equity for these aging World War II veterans,” Mr. Buyer said. “One such group of veterans is the Flying Tigers, which is credited for destroying an impressive 297 enemy aircraft and had one of the best kill ratios of any air group in the Pacific theater. These heroic airmen saved countless American lives by engaging Japanese air forces in China before and after Pearl Harbor.

“Another well known group that the amendment would include is the Women Air Force Service Pilots. These female pilots flew every type of mission that any Army Air Force male pilot flew during World War II, except combat.”

The committee also approved the following bills and reported them favorably to the full House for consideration:

• HR 1293,introduced by Mr. Buyer, would provide significant increases in the amounts payable under VA’s Home Improvement and Structural Alteration (HISA) program. HISA provides home adaptation grants to veterans who require in-home medical care. The current maximum amount is $4,100 for veterans with service-connected disabilities and $1,200 for those with non-service-connected disabilities. Service-connected disabled veterans can receive a HISA grant in addition to other VA home adaptations grants.

“I am pleased the committee favorably considered my bill to increase the maximum amount of a HISA grant to $6,800 for service-connected veterans and $2,000 for non-service-connected veterans,” Mr. Buyer said. “This increase is long overdue, and I hope it will soon become law.”

• Draft legislation, which included HR 2379, the Veterans Group Life Insurance Improvement Act of 2009, also introduced by Mr. Buyer, would allow veterans to purchase additional amounts of Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI).

Currently, the amount of VGLI coverage cannot be changed. Because the level of coverage must be made within the first year of discharge and most separating service members are young and single, many select levels that become insufficient as they age and have families.

Mr. Buyers bill would allow veterans to purchase up to $400,000 of VGLI coverage in $25,000 increments every five years until age 60. The cost of such increases would be offset by premiums, so there would be no direct cost to taxpayers.

• HR 3155 would improve and increase services to support family caregivers by expanding outreach, education, respite care, travel benefits and mental health counseling. The bill also would recognize the unique needs of severely wounded Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom warriors by providing a stipend to certain family caregivers, and it would extend the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs eligibility to those without health insurance.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected]

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