- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I ran across a couple of articles you wrote on the Internet. I retired from the Air Force in 1995. I contributed $25 to the VEAP (Veterans Educational Assistance Program) program, then withdrew the money before I retired. I was never offered the MGIB (Montgomery GI Bill). My question is: Can I enroll in the MGIB now? I cannot find this answer anywhere. Your help is appreciated.

Richard M.

Via the Internet

Dear Richard,

Unfortunately, there were no opportunities at any time during your service period to elect conversion from VEAP to the MGIB program. The first opportunity for VEAP participants to enroll in MGIB occurred in 1996, and it was only available to those on active duty for a short period of time. It should be noted that even if you were eligible for the MGIB, you would most likely be past the 10-year period in which you or others could use the benefits.

Shaft notes

• Congratulations to Fernando O. Rivera, director of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center (VAMC), and his employees for being named as recipients of the “Medallion of Excellence,” the highest recognition presented by the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Awards for Virginia.

This award uses the National Malcolm Baldrige Award criteria to rate organizations (in all segments of enterprise - manufacturing, health care, service industries, education and government) on their business practices, reflecting “visionary leadership, customer-driven operations, value of employees and partners, focus on results and innovation.” No organization has received this top honor since 2006, so this is a very special accomplishment.

In reviewing operations and programs, through a complex written application and a site survey, the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Awards for Virginia team determined the Washington VAMC systems for process improvement and performance excellence to be the best in the commonwealth.

This outstanding achievement is a result of the entire flagship team investing efforts to create an environment that expects excellence and accepts no less.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new Web site to strengthen the connection between college and university mental health professionals and the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts now studying on their campuses.

“Many of our newest veterans are beginning their post-service lives by furthering their educations,” said Gerald M. Cross, VAs acting undersecretary for health. “This initiative is designed to ensure that colleges and universities are able to assist with any special mental health needs they may have.”

The Web site, www.mentalhealth.va.gov/college, features recommended training for college and university counselors, with online modules including “Operation SAVE” for suicide prevention, “PTSD 101” and “Helping Students Who Drink Too Much.” It also will feature a resource list that will be updated regularly.

Although the Web site is designed primarily for counselors, it also serves as a resource for veteran-students who wish to learn more about the challenges they may face in adjusting to their lives after leaving the military.

“We hope counselors and our returning veterans find this site helpful and easy to use,” Dr. Cross said.

The new site is one of several Web-based tools VA has developed to assist veterans in dealing with mental health issues. Others include a guide for families of military members returning from deployment and information about a suicide prevention hot line for veterans.

• Troops at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank, Afghanistan, received a special delivery on Memorial Day - the first USO in a Box. The USO in a Box program converts the expandable Tactical Operation Centers (TOC) used by the military into unmanned USO centers that can be trucked or heloed into austere operating environments, allowing the USO to continue delivering services and support to a highly mobile military serving in the most remote regions.

“As the American people remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the safety and security of our nation, it is important to also support our troops who make significant sacrifices every day,” said Sloan Gibson, USO president. “While we cant build a USO center everywhere the troops serve, the USO in a Box program allows us to deliver much of the goodness of a fixed center.”

Each unit features wireless Internet access, two Dell ruggedized laptop computers, three 23-inch HD flat-screen televisions, three Xbox 360 video gaming systems and two voice-over-Internet phones. The movie theater area features a 42-inch HD flat-screen television with a DVD player and Dolby surround sound. Each unit also has a self-contained diesel generator and climate control system with heating and air conditioning.

Working with Michigan-based aviation support company AAR, the USO created the first three USO in a Box units for delivery to troops in Afghanistan. Easily set up to be operational in 20 minutes, the mobile nature of the USO in a Box program allows for quick movement from one location to another.

For more information on the USO and its programs, visit USO.org.

• The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) invites all active duty and reserve personnel and their spouses to participate in its online survey on military child care programs. FRA is conducting the survey to determine how satisfied service members and their spouses are with the quality and accessibility of these programs. The survey, found at www.fra.org/survey, asks Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard active duty and reserve members and their families to rate accessibility and quality of care, as well as their awareness of various child care programs. FRA will share the results with decision makers in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as elected officials on Capitol Hill.

• 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 e-mail [email protected]

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