- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I need some information on artillery third corps veterans with lung disorders. I am having a problem with mine, and it should be Vietnam related. I have two bronze stars and medals of valor, palm cross and unit citations like most for air mobile artillery from 1968-1969.

via the Internet

Dear Roger:

My sources suggest that you file a claim to find out if you are eligible for benefits. You can apply online at https://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp. If you have already filed a claim and are having problems, let me know and I can get someone to assist you.

Shaft notes

• The Sarge was happy to learn that the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki has selected Fernando O. Rivera, a hospital administrator with more than 26 years of service to our nation’s veterans, to lead the VA’s Mid-Atlantic Region as Director of VISN 5 (Veterans Integrated Service Network).

Mr. Rivera will oversee four medical centers and 15 community-based clinics in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Northern Virginia and parts of West Virginia, providing health care to more than 206,000 enrolled veterans. Since July 3, 2007, Mr. Rivera has served as Medical Center Director of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center (DCVAMC), which, under Mr. Rivera’s direction, was recognized with numerous awards: The Olin E. Teague Award for Rehabilitation, the Robert W. Carey Award for Excellence in Management, the Institute for Diversity in Health Management Leadership Award, the “Medallion of Excellence” of the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award, the D.C. Hospital Association Haynes Rice Community Service Award and many others.

Mr. Rivera began his long and distinguished career with VA in 1984 as a project engineer at the VA Medical Center in New Orleans, the city where he grew up. He held numerous positions at that facility through 2005 when he was selected as Director of the Martinsburg West Virginia VA Medical Center. With an extensive background in health care management, planning and development, he has served on numerous national VA committees.

Mr. Rivera earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering and his master’s in business administration in finance from the University of New Orleans. He is a graduate of the Health Care Leadership Institute and a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. In 1993, he was named VA Engineer of the Year and for two consecutive years he was honored to be VA’s Communicator of the Year.

Mr. Rivera is enthusiastic about his new appointment.

“It’s a privilege to work for VA and to provide health care to those who served our nation,” he said. “Every day, I am reminded of the sacrifices these men and women made so that we can have a free country, and I am humbled by the honor I have been given to provide them health services.”

• Congratulations to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican, who was recently named chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response.

As chairman, Mr. Bilirakis’ position will be vital to the state of Florida, as he will oversee FEMA, emergency grant programs, communication during emergency situations, and disaster response and recovery efforts.

Mr. Bilirakis spent the past two years as lead Republican of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman-elect Peter King, New York Republican, lauded Mr. Bilirakis’ appointment.

“I am very pleased to make this appointment,” he said. “As a member of the Homeland Security Committee since 2007, Gus has demonstrated his steadfast commitment to protecting our homeland from the terrorists who continue to plot and execute attacks against our nation. Gus, a Floridian, is greatly qualified to lead this subcommittee; he and his constituents deal with potential disasters each hurricane season and spent much of this year preparing to respond to the possible arrival of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2009, he has served as the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight, a role in which he oversaw the entire Department of Homeland Security, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Under his new role, Mr. Bilirakis and the subcommittee will oversee preparedness grant programs. For more than a year, Mr. Bilirakis has demanded more oversight of FEMA’s grant program after it was discovered that it provided more than $1 million grants to the controversial group ACORN.

The Homeland Security Committee was established in 2002 to provide congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security and better protect the American people against a possible terrorist attack and during disasters. In 2005, the House of Representatives granted the committee permanent status.

In addition to his duties for the Homeland Security Committee, Mr. Bilirakis also will serve on the Veterans’ Affairs and Foreign Affairs Committees in the 112th Congress.

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 sgtshaft@bavf.org.

• Sgt. Shaft can be reached at .

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