American Legion receives help from others

Despite its name implying it’s strictly a U.S. veterans group, the American Legion is actually an international organization, with ex­patriot members living around the world.

In Boulder City, Post 31 helps to carry out the work of the parent organization, which is involved in working to pass federal legislation that helps veterans. Although it often works alone, on many occasions the Legion works closely with other veterans groups to accomplish its goals. Here is a brief wrap-­up of current legislation the Legion is supporting, along with help from several other veterans organizations.

A Legion­-promoted, government-­administered program designed to help resolve difficulties that GI Bill students may have with institutions of higher learning launched Jan. 26. The program, dubbed the Complaint Center, acts as a clearing house for grievances lodged by student veterans.

According to Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division, the Complaint Center will deal with allegations by student veterans of schools’ false and misleading advertising, questionable recruiting practices, predatory student loan programs, the issuance of underperforming academic credentials and related issues. Gonzalez says the center will coordinate information sharing, investigative and, ­­ if needed, prosecution and enforcement activities among the Veterans Affairs, Defense, Justice and Education departments and the Federal Trade Commission.

The Legion said more specific information about the center and consumer access to it will be forthcoming soon.

Creation of the new Complaint Center is an outcome of President Barack Obama’s April 2012 executive order establishing principles of excellence for educational institutions serving service members, veterans, spouses and other family members. It also reflects passage of House Resolution 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012.

Both came in the wake of reports of questionable practices by a few schools that seemingly victimized or took financial advantage of service members, veterans and their families.

In August 2012, Legion leadership adopted Resolution 303: support regulation of for-­profit schools and state-approving agencies in response to reports of overly aggressive recruitment of service members and veterans by some underperforming for-­profit schools. Gonzalez said that during the past 18 months, the Complaint Center initiative has been championed primarily by the Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with both veterans service organizations contributing congressional testimony on issues facing student veterans.

The leader of the American Legion, which bills itself as the nation’s largest veterans service organization, has reiterated his call for a single, lifetime electronic medical records system to be shared by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said the system, although costly and slow in development, can make the military-­to-­civilian transition more seamless and improve health ­care services for veterans.

In the VA section of the government spending bill, the text reads, in part: “The (House and Senate defense appropriations) committees want to be very clear with both departments: An interoperable record between the two departments is the chief end goal for Congress … There is rising concern the departments will spend years and billions of dollars on their own electronic health record systems and lose sight of the end­ goal of an interoperable record.”

Dellinger, after spending a month fighting with Congress in an effort to protect benefits for military retirees, concurs with lawmakers on the need to get VA and Defense departments working together on the lifetime record system.

“We share congressional skepticism that, unless checked, VA and (Defense departments) may continue to go their own ways. This, in the opinion of the American Legion, cannot be allowed.”

In February 2013, the two departments announced plans to abandon the joint­ system project. This decision came after “spending and then wasting a billion dollars on it by not seeing the project through.” The departments cited cost as the reason for halting the project some four years after Obama called for its completion.

“From our point of view, (the departments) defied orders from the president and rejected the American Legion by suspending the project last winter,” Dellinger said. “Judging by the language in the omnibus bill, Congress apparently agrees with us and wants them to get this done.”

In October 2012, American Legion leadership adopted Resolution 42 urging development of a single, cross­ agency virtual lifetime electronic record. The call was reiterated by the Legion in subsequent testimony before Congress.

The VFW and its three co-­authors on an Independent Budget expressed concern with the funding provided to the VA by the omnibus bill. The spending package provides only $342 million for major construction, which is about $800 million less than what the Independent Budget recommends for fiscal year 2014, and billions less than what’s truly needed for construction funding. Additionally, the bill would slash funding for medical facilities, reducing that account by nearly $500 million.

Along with AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America, the VFW appreciates the modest increases to medical services and the Veterans Benefits Administration, as well as to information technology, but emphasizes that more must be done. The four organizations again call for the passage of the companion bills House Resolution 813 and Senate Bill 932 to provide advance appropriations for all VA accounts.

Currently, only the medical care accounts are funded through advance appropriations. The 28th edition of the Independent Budget is expected to be released this month.

For the Independent Budget press release, go to http://bit.ly/1fmWwin. For the Independent Budget fiscal year 2015 critical issues report, go to http://www.independentbudget.org/.

Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He can be heard each Thursday from 8-9 p.m. on “The Veterans Reporter Radio Show” on KLAV 1230 AM.

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