62nd Anniversary of the Korean Armistice Marked

General Mark W. Clark, Far East commander, signs the Korean armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation.(U.S. Navy Museum photo)

General Mark W. Clark, Far East commander, signs the Korean armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation.(U.S. Navy Museum photo)

A bipartisan delegation from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs including Florida’s Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman, and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), ranking minority member, commemorated the signing of the Korean Armistice July 27, 1953 by the Gen. Mark W. Clark, Far East commander.

Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-D) and Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) assist with the wreath presentation Monday, July 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-D) and Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) assist with the wreath presentation Monday, July 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The two members lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.

In a written media release, Miller noted the sacrifice of more than 36,000 Americans who lost their lives during the Korea conflict and that more than 7,000 U.S. military personnel remain missing.

“…Korean War veterans are a shining example of this uniquely American devotion to defending liberty around the globe.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Some Reductions Made in VA Benefit Claims Backlog

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down was held September 18, 2010 at the National Guard Armory in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. The Stand Down is an annual event designed with the Homeless Veteran in mind. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

Less than three months ago, the VA began expediting disability claims of veterans who have been waiting for more than a year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has made progress resolving more than 65,000 claims in less than two months thanks in part to mandatory overtime for VA benefits claims workers.

Other progress that has been made includes: 97 percent of all claims over two years old are gone from the backlog and the backlog now has the lowest number of claims since August 2011.

“Any progress toward eliminating the backlog is welcome news,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, state in a news release.

“But we cannot forget that the department is still far short of its own backlog performance benchmarks for 2013. Additionally, one can’t help but question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the department let them sit for two years or longer?”

Miller concludes by stating that “this problem won’t be solved unless the backlog is at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders have promised.”

The VA focus is now on claims from veterans waiting more than a year.

Wounded warriors’ claims are a priority and those separating from the military for medical reasons are not part of the VA backlog. Their claims are handled separately.

Other disability claims prioritized at the VA:

  • Homeless veterans
  • Those experiencing extreme financial hardship
  • The terminally ill
  • Former Prisoners of War
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims

According to a news release, VA’s backlog is comprised mostly of supplemental claims from Veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA web portal eBenefits at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

Where Are the Missing Iraq and Afghanistan War Records?

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller.

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller.

Army records from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are missing. And it appears to be more than just a misplaced file or two according to a report in ProPublica.

Cong. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, sent Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a letter requesting a detailed accounting of how many files are missing:

The 12 questions posed to Hagel in the letter focus largely on the Army because it has the largest records deficit. Among other things, the congressmen want to know what happened to operational records for the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division and what is being done to reconstruct them.

In November, ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported that they were among numerous Army units that had lost or failed to keep battlefield records as required, making it harder for some veterans to obtain benefits and for historians to recount what actually happened.

The top Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Cong. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, also signed the letter wanting to know  why records are missing and what the military is doing about it. The Department of Defense had not provided a response to ProPublica as of Monday.

Hidden Camera in VA Hospital Room Prompts Privacy Bill

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

The discovery of a hidden camera in the room of a brain-damaged veteran at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center last year has led to new legislation in Congress filed Thursday.

Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Jeff Miller of Florida, introduced the Veterans’ Privacy Act. 

“This type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous. To think that some VA employees actually thought it a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector really just boggles the mind,” Miller said in a written press release.

“What’s worse is that when we questioned VA regarding the legality of these actions, department officials contended they had done nothing wrong. The Veterans Privacy Act will keep covert, Big Brother tactics out of VA medical centers and protect the sacred trust that should exist between VA and veteran patients and their families.”

Miller’s bill will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain the personal consent of patients before installing cameras in VA medical center treatment rooms.

Student Veterans’ Priority: In-State Tuition for All

Michael Dakduk, executive director of the SVA, visiting USF's student veterans lounge.

Michael Dakduk, executive director of the SVA, visiting USF’s student veterans lounge.

Over the next five years, it’s estimated that more than a million soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines will leave the military. Many of those veterans will transition into college using their Post 9/11 G-I Bill education benefits.

And that growing number of student veterans is leading to an increased number of Student Veterans of America campus chapters.

Michael Dakduk, who served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004-2008, now serves as the national executive director for Student Veterans of America. He visited the University of South Florida campus recently to talk with student veterans

Dakduk said the top priority for student veterans is a national bill that would require  in-state tuition rates from colleges for veterans using GI Bill education benefits even though they may not be residents. Florida Cong. Jeff Miller of Pensacola  is co-sponsor of the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357).

The SVA also is pushing for individual states to adopt similar in-state tuition measures. Florida State Sen. Jack Latvala is sponsoring SB260 which would grant veterans in-state tuition rates at public universities.

Congressman Pushing for Speedier VA Benefit Claims

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

Despite the VA’s goal of clearing the disability claims backlog by 2015, the chairman of the House Comittee on Veterans Affairs said that’s still not good enough.

It currently takes 260 days on average to process a disability benefits claim. The VA plans to cut that to 125 days for processing within two years.

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller told Florida Today that batting.500 is “pretty damn good” for baseball but it’s not a good enough for veterans.

The  backlog is attributed to several items such as the complexity of injuries suffered by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Also in 2010, the VA expanded eligibility for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange which swelled the number of claims.Miller said it was the “right thing” to do.

“But I don’t think VA planned,” Miller said. “They had an idea of the numbers of people that would be coming through the system, and that’s where I fault VA.”

It’s estimated that 260,000 Vietnam veterans were added to the benefits backlog of an estimated 1 million total claims. The VA currently processes about 1 million claims a year.

Lawmakers Appeal on Camp LeJeune’s Drinking Water

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten website.

Displeased with the VA’s response to requests for free health care for veterans exposed to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water between 1957 and 1987, lawmakers are appealing directly to President Obama reports The Army Times:

In February, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, proposed VA could at least provide health care for Camp Lejeune veterans by creating a special health care category that covered them. The cost of care could be paid, Miller suggested, by $5 billion in excess health care funds the VA discovered when preparing the 2013 budget.

Miller’s proposal, which would have applied only to veterans and not to family members who might have lived or visited Lejeune, was rejected by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who said in an April 9 response to Miller that it was premature to provide health care to everyone who served at Lejeune from 1957 until 1987.

Miller and other leading members of congress sent a letter to the president asking him to order the VA to provide free health care to veterans exposed to the contaminated water during the 30-year period.

“These are wounds that cannot wait,” Miller said in a press release Thursday, April 19, 2012.

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