New Study Debunks 88 Percent Dropout Rate for Vets

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

Student veterans using their GI education benefits between 2002 and 2010 graduated from colleges and universities at the rate of 51.7 percent according to researchers with the Million Records Project.

That graduation rate is in stark contrast to the erroneous 88 percent dropout rate among student veterans that two national news organizations reported in 2012 using flawed data.

But ever since those erroneous reports by NBC News and the Huffington Post, the Student Veterans of America (SVA) organization has been fighting the misconception that student vets are at high risk of dropping out.

So the SVA teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse to start the Million Records Project with the goal of developing accurate data on student veteran graduation rates.

Researchers collected information from the VA on nearly 1 million student veterans and paired it with data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The data was scrubbed of any identifying information and then turned over to the SVA.

The Student Veterans of America President D. Wayne Robinson announced the project’s initial findings Monday.

“Fifty-one-point-seven percent of today’s veterans are completing their programs of study and we’re confident that this number will continue to grow as time passes and Post 9-11 GI Bill users have the opportunity to earn their degrees,” Robinson said. “I am very proud to report this number.”

He said the graduation percentage is similar to the general population which he finds remarkable considering the additional challenges that student vets have to handle.

In addition to worrying about academics, 47 percent of student veterans have families and many hold fulltime jobs. Additionally, many Reservists and National Guard members may have their academic year interrupted by a deployment overseas.

Robinson pointed to the example of Kiersten Downs, now a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, who served four years in the Air Force and then joined the Air National Guard while attending college in New York.

“While pursuing her political science degree at Binghamton University in New York, Kiersten’s unit was mobilized just three weeks before finals,” Robinson said. “And so, she was forced to put her education on hold to deploy.”

The Million Records Project is not over, instead, this was just the first of several reports. Future research hopes to look at specific programs and their success at helping student veterans reintegrate and excel  in higher education.

A 6.5 Percent Increase in Veterans’ Budget Proposed

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki speaking at the suicide prevention conference. Photo courtesy of the VA blog.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki speaking at the suicide prevention conference. Photo courtesy of the VA blog.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will have a $163.9 billion budget for the coming fiscal year if President Obama gets his budget through Congress. The extra money will go toward health care expansion, eliminating the disability claims backlog and ending homelessness among veterans.

The proposed VA budget would be a 6.5 percent increase over the 2014 budget according to the VA. There’s a proposed budget increase of 8.7 percent for services specific to women veterans.

“This budget will allow us to continue the progress we have made in helping Veterans secure their place in the middle class,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, in a written press release. “It is a tangible demonstration of the President’s commitment to ensuring Veterans and their families have the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

Some highlights from the President’s 2015 budget request for VA.

Major spending categories within the health care budget are:

  • $7.2 billion for mental health;
  • $2.6 billion for prosthetics;
  • $561 million for spinal cord injuries;
  • $229 million for traumatic brain injuries;

Among the programs that will expand access under the proposed budget are:

  • $567 million in telehealth funding, which helps patients monitor chronic health care conditions and increases access to care, especially in rural and remote locations;
  • $403 million for health care services specifically-designed for women, an increase of 8.7  percent over the present level;
  • $3.6 million to open two new national cemeteries in Florida and prepare for the opening of two new rural national Veterans burial grounds.

The budget proposal invests $312 million in technology to address the claims backlog and the budget request targets $1.6 billion for programs to prevent or reduce homelessness, including

Goverment Shutdown Impact on Veterans, Military

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki speaking at the suicide prevention conference. Photo courtesy of the VA blog.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki speaking at the suicide prevention conference. Photo courtesy of the VA blog.

There will be little or no impact at least on the largest part of the Department of Veterans Affairs which runs VA clinics and hospitals.

The VA health care administration is on a two-year budget cycle, so it already has advanced appropriates for 2014 fiscal year according to Karen Collins, public affairs officer for James A. Haley Veterans Hospitals and Clinics.

“So, this means that a majority of our employees will continue to provide health care services to our veterans and active-duty service members here at James A. Haley,” Collins said.

But there is a VA Contingency Plan which lists the suspension of some functions like:

  • Claims appeals will be discontinued before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
  • The Office for Congressional and Legislative Affairs will suspend all functions including: Congressional relations; Responding to congressional requests for information; Processing testimony and questions for the record; Congressional correspondence; Constituent casework; Advisory Committee Management; GAO coordination.

The USA Today newspaper answered 66 questions about the shutdown .Here are a few relating to veterans services like benefits that are not part of health care:

  • What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.
  • Does that mean I can’t get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during the last shutdown, “loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed.”
  • Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

Department of Defense

Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale. Photo courtesy: Department of Defense

Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale. Photo courtesy: Department of Defense

According to a release Friday from the Department of Defense, about half of the civilian employees will be furloughed. That means some 400,000 workers will not go to work.

Priority is given to operations relating to the war in Afghanistan and to safety operations such as fire, police and emergency medical.

A DoD news release states that pay of government employees could also be seriously affected.

“Military and other civilians directed to work would be paid retroactively once the lapse of appropriation ends,” Robert F. Hale, Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer.  “Civilians on emergency furloughs … would be paid retroactively only if a law is enacted providing the authority to pay them.”

“We would also be required to do some other bad things to our people,” Hale said. “Just some examples, we couldn’t immediately pay death gratuities to those who die on active duty during the lapse, we would have to close stateside commissaries, promotion boards and other similar personnel activities would be disrupted — probably would have to be stopped — and a number of other actions.”

The Department of Defense has created a website: Government Shutdown What You Need to Know  with guidance for contingency plans.

Tammy Duckworth Named as One to Shake Up Congress

Tammy Duckworth arriving for her speech at University of South Florida Oct 12, 2010.

Tammy Duckworth arriving for her speech at University of South Florida Oct 12, 2010.

An news article by US News names former assistant secretary at the VA and Iraq combat veteran Tammy Duckworth as one of seven new members expected to shake up Congress.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth - One of the first female Black Hawk helicopter pilots to fly combat missions, Duckworth survived a 2004 rocket-propelled grenade attack. She lost both legs and part of her right arm, but managed to safely land her helicopter before attending to her injuries.

Duckworth competed in one of the most bitter races in 2012, against Tea Party incumbent Republican Joe Walsh. Duckworth proved herself as a hefty fundraiser, outspending her opponent by more than $3 million.

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PTSD Veteran to Veteran Program: About Face

Veterans talking to veterans about their post traumatic stress disorder and how treatment turned their lives around. That’s the focus of VA’s About Face program.

More than 40 veterans share their individual stories on video covering several topics:

And much more including how families are affected and reflections on why these veterans didn’t seek help right away.

Take time to see the faces of those who participated in About Face – they did it to help their fellow veterans who are struggling to handle their PTSD.

 

Unemployed Veterans Offered New Education Benefits

Photo courtesy of themilitarywallet.com

New benefits that cover education costs for up to one year are now available for unemployed Veterans between the ages of 35 and 60.

The joint program between the VA and Department of Labor aims to train 99,000 Veterans for work that is in high demand.

“This important tool will help those who served our country receive the education and training they need to find meaningful employment in a high-demand field,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in a written news release. “Veterans are disciplined, hardworking, goal-oriented team members who can play a vital role in helping businesses and the economy grow.”

To qualify Veterans must:

  • Be 35-60 years old, unemployed on the day of application, and not dishonorably discharged;
  • Start education or training after July 1, 2012, in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school leading to an associate degree, non-college degree or a certificate for a high-demand occupation as defined by the DOL;
  • Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program (e.g. Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment);
  • Not be enrolled in a federal or state job training program within the last 180 days;
  • Not receive VA compensation at the 100% rate due to individual unemployability (IU).

The program is on a first-come basis.

Details are available through the VA Call Centers toll free at 1-800-827-1000.

Veterans go to the VRAP application online at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

And, Veterans are also encouraged to visit the nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers in the country. To find the center closest to you at: www.servicelocator.org.

VA Skewed Wait Times for Veterans Seeking Care

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)

Despite a 33 percent increase in veterans seeking mental health services over the last five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a majority got care in a timely manner.

However, an inspector general report finds the VA calculations were slanted according to Larry Abramson’s report on NPR.

Now, any vet asking for help is supposed to be evaluated within 24 hours and start treatment within two weeks. The VA has claimed that happens in the vast majority of cases, but a new investigation by the agency’s inspector general says the VA statistics are skewed to make wait times appear shorter.

… The inspector general’s report says, rather than starting the clock from the moment a vet asks for mental health care, the VA has been counting from whenever the first appointment became available. That could add weeks or months to the wait time.

Last week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced the plan to hire an additional 1,900 mental health experts to help.

“History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more Veterans return home, we must ensure that all Veterans have access to quality mental health care,” Shinseki said.

Yet, retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former vice chief of staff of the Army, told NPR News there aren’t enough good clinicians and their numbers aren’t increasing.

“The issue isn’t whether the VA hires more behavioral health specialists or whether the military hires more behavioral health specialists,” Chiarelli says, “they’re hiring them from a set pool. The fact of the matter is we don’t have enough.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to comment for NPR’s  story, instead the VA released a statement saying it endorses the inspector general’s findings. The Senate is set to hear more on the issue Wednesday.

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