Category Archives: Veteran News

Is Your VA ID Card a Security Risk?

by Freddy Groves

 

If you have an older ID card issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs,

your Social Security number could be at risk for theft.

 

If your card is pre-2004, your date of birth and Social Security numbers

are right on the front of the card.

 

Since 2011, the VA hasn’t issued ID cards with those two numbers, but that

hasn’t made the information much safer. Here’s why: The information on the

barcode on your card can be read by apps easily available online. “App”

stands for application, a mini-program that gets installed in a cellphone,

like software in a computer. With a phone app scanner held near the card,

the Social Security number will pop up.

 

The VA has known about this since at least 2011, when it issued an online

alert. (Were you notified of the risks of the card?) A message on the

VA website says, “Some bar code readers, including those available as

applications on cellphones, can scan the bar code on the front of the card

and reveal the veteran’s Social Security number.”

 

When I looked for phone apps that would read an ID card barcode, I didn’t

have to go far. I found them everywhere, including brand-name phone app

sites. One scanner works up to 20 inches away.

 

New VA ID cards will be coming out in 2014. Since it’s the squeaky wheel

that gets the oil, call your local medical center and inquire about

getting one of the new cards as soon as they come out.

 

Your best bet until then: Treat your VA ID card like your Social Security

card and leave it at home, not in your wallet, unless you’re going for an

appointment or need it for some reason.

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Hospitalized Vets Need Holiday Cheer

by Freddy Groves

 

If your veterans service group is planning to make a “Santa” visit to the

ward of a local veterans hospital, here is your to-do list to make the

process go smoothly.

 

–Corral your crew and get commitments for time and specific tasks.

–Contact Volunteer Services at the medical center and ask if they’d like

you to be responsible for a holiday party for a whole ward, or for a list

of veterans who have no local family. Set a time and date. Noon-ish for a

pizza party is ideal.

–Locate a real Santa costume and decide who’s going to wear it.

–Your shopping list: service baseball caps (approach recruiters to get

those), small boxes of candy (ask nursing staff if it has to be sugar-free

for some), playing cards, water bottles, mechanical pencils and puzzle

books, small desk calendars — and anything else you can think of. Don’t

forget the women veterans, who might like a comb and brush set or bright

slipper socks.

–Boxes and tissue paper for the above, as well as wrapping paper and

bows. Have a holiday card for each veteran.

–Set a date for your wrapping party. Have everyone on your crew bring

several rolls of gift wrap, tape and scissors. Be sure everyone signs

every holiday card.

–If your budget allows, consider giving each veteran a small ($5-$10)

gift coupon to the canteen.

–Ask store managers for donations of items for your gift boxes.

–Arrange for the pizzas (and sodas, if allowed) to be delivered at the

time of your party. Be sure who is providing plates, cups and napkins, and

paying for the pizza delivery.

 

If gifts aren’t possible, remember that what the veterans want most is

your presence and your time.

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Winter Looms Large for Homeless Vets

by Freddy Groves

 

Did you buy a new coat for winter? Is there any chance you can buy another

one? And maybe some good gloves and a hat? There are homeless veterans out

there who could use them.

 

With temperatures dropping, here are a few ways you can help homeless

veterans this winter:

–Donate clothing and other basics: Call the Department of Veterans

Affairs medical center nearest you and ask for Voluntary Services. Most

locations keep a clothing closet for homeless veterans who come in and

need help, or those who are moving out of rehab into a place of their own.

Maybe the clothing closet is good to go on coats but has completely run

out of lined jeans and gloves. Maybe they need shirts in a super large

size, or even personal-care items and a sports bag to carry everything in.

Ask if they need a transition package of household supplies, like soap,

towels, toilet paper and a laundry basket.

–Sign up to give rides: Voluntary services can help you with that, too.

Homeless veterans often have to get to doctor appointments the best

way they can, and in cold weather that can be tough. Look into driving

opportunities through the Disabled American Veterans.

–Volunteer at a Stand Down: Go online to VA.gov and see when there’s an

event near you. They run from January to November, and this time of the

year the emphasis is going to be to get homeless veterans warm and into

housing. Call and ask what you can do to help.

 

If you’ve a veteran in need of help, call 1-877-424-3838, also known as

1-877-4AID-VET. It’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can help

with health care, housing, mental health, jobs and more.

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Helping Homeless Vets

by Freddy Groves

 

Feel that chill in the air? Tens of thousands of homeless veterans feel

it, too. A joint program between the Department of Veterans Affairs and

the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is working to get

veterans into stable, permanent housing, with a goal of ending veteran

homelessness by 2015. They’re making progress, but have a long way to go.

An interactive map at www.endhomelessness.org shows the good and bad news

when it comes to the numbers of homeless veterans. Some one-year stats:

A suburb of Washington, D.C. shows a 41 percent increase in the number

of homeless veterans. A county outside the Beltway shows a 12 percent

increase. Another nearby county shows a whopping 85 percent increase. A

town in North Carolina shows a 157 percent increase. Other nearby sites

show decreases … but it begs the question: Did those homeless veterans

just change locations?

 

Veterans service organizations that are ready to step up to combat

veterans homelessness can help by getting out information about available

services. Go online to va.gov/homeless and get busy printing out

information. The site offers brochures, fact sheets, posters, videos and

Web ads. The videos have information for legal professionals, social

workers and first responders about inquiring if someone is a veteran.

Read the fine print about how you can work with existing groups to fill

in the gaps that always exist. If your organization has a website, look

for the coding and graphics you can put on your site to lead veterans to

information they need.

 

At the very least, print out the wallet cards and hand them out to all

your members to carry. The cards have the toll-free number for homeless

veterans to get help: 877-4AID-VET (424-3838)

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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How Are Your Computer Skills?

by Freddy Groves

 

To help with the claims backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs wants

you to file your claims online. So says a new release. The claims will be

decided faster, officials say.

 

The VA’s eBenefits portal online has been merged with the Veterans

Benefits Management System (VBMS) at all the regional offices. On a

computer you’ll be able to walk through the “interview-style application”

with drop-down menus and pre-populated data fields. You can, they say,

file your claims online just like you do your taxes. You’ll be able to

upload digital images of records and evidence.

 

And if you’re like many older veterans, you have no idea what all that

means.

 

Hint: If you’re going to file a claim and want help with the computer end

of things, get a local Veterans Service Organization to go online and open

your file. (You file an electronic power of attorney.) Since the benefits

will date from whenever your file was started, that should be your first

step. Once you open your online file and start plugging in information,

you have one year to finish it up. Your original date of claim will be

kept in your file. Study up on the Fully Developed Claim (where you state

that you have no other information to add), because those receive priority

in processing, and get all your information in hand.

 

In my opinion, if the VA wants to help the backlog of claims, it needs

to hire more people to scan the documents into VBMS that come in the

traditional way. Still, if you’re up for online filing, you’ll need an

eBenefits account, which means you need to complete a remote verification

process or visit a VA regional office. Call 1-800-827-1000, option 7, if

you already receive benefits by direct deposit.

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Charity Scams

by Freddy Groves

 

Ten million dollars could have gone a long way toward helping veterans.

That’s how much a veterans service group took in over several years. To

stay just this side of legal, it did give the required 25 percent to its

veterans career centers, locations set up to assist veterans with job

hunts and training. But that’s where the “legal” stopped — the centers

kicked back 85 percent of that money. The career centers were fairly

useless, many with computers that didn’t even work or even no staff.

Then, in another state, heads really rolled when a significant veterans

charity, specializing in gambling, was caught giving a miniscule 2 percent

of the $300 million it had garnered in recent years. People love to

gamble, and did, believing that the money they lost went to veterans.

Instead, the money went to fancy cars and real estate for the ones who ran

the scam.

 

Unfortunately these types of headlines will make people leery of giving to

veterans causes, and they’ll keep their wallets closed.

 

There are ways, however, to make sure that your charity dollars are used

the way you want them to be. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it.

Don’t donate any money in response to a phone call or someone who shows up

at your door. If the cause sounds good, check it out. Use the databases

below to hunt for the good ones.

 

Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) has 61 veterans charity

organizations on its list, all ranked by stars.

 

Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org), aka the American Institute of

Philanthropy, has a veterans section on its website. Charity Watch has

been called the “pit bull of watch dogs” because of the way they get to

the truth about charities.

 

GuideStar (www.guidestar.org) has 45,000 results related to veterans.

Narrow your search with the drop-down menus.

 

Freddy Groves regrets that he cannot personally answer reader questions,

but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Send email to

columnreply2@gmail.com.

 

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Arlington Report

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

In early December, when the Wreaths Across America program put wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery, I flashed back to the ongoing problem of the graves errors at the cemetery: unmarked graves, headstones with no remains, broken urns with scattered remains, graves with more than one person buried in them. The problems, it was thought at the time, could involve upward of 6,000 graves.

Congress demanded that the Army “provide an accounting” of all the gravesites at Arlington. The recently completed report counted (three times) 259,978 gravesites and took digital photos to compare to 510,000 paper records. Of those, 195,748 graves had no discrepancies. But that left 64,230 with errors to be resolved. That’s fully one-quarter of the gravesites.

Supposedly the “errors” involve misspelling of names and other inconsistencies. How then does that jibe with discovering multiple remains in one grave last year, or the 117 graves with no marker whatsoever, or the 94
markers with no remains?

The report was padded with miscellanea. For example, one narrative went on for three pages citing the problems with the spelling of a Civil War-era wife’s name.

But it’s what happens with those other 64,329 unresolved cases that we want to know about. What about those broken, dumped and scattered urns? And those headstones found dumped in a stream in Section 28 last year — will they be returned to the proper gravesite?

I’m lucky. Each year, in conjunction with the Wreaths Across America program, a friend visits my parents’ graves at Arlington. (Yes, they both served.) I get photos back and see instantly that the grave marker is still in good condition — and that it’s still there. I cannot fathom the pain some relatives must feel when they learn that their loved ones aren’t buried where they believed they were.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Make It Easy on Your Survivors

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Do you keep your service files organized? Most of us don’t, unless pushed. But here’s something to consider: Can your family easily find what it needs to handle your affairs if something happens to you?

Here are a few documents your family will need to lay their hands on quickly:

–Your DD214 or service equivalent. If you don’t have your discharge papers, send for them.

–A list that includes Social security number, branch of service, dates of service, date and place of birth. Include all the places you were stationed, and dates.

–Immunization record, birth certificate and will. (You do have one, right? And it’s updated, not one you wrote 20 years ago?) Add your government life-insurance policy, copy of all marriage certificates and divorce decrees and copy of children’s birth certificates.

Download online (or send away for) the following blank forms, to be kept in the file: Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes; Claim for One Sum Payment Government Life Insurance; Claim for Monthly Payments National Service Life Insurance; Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker.

If you have an ongoing claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs, put all related documents in a separate file, newest at the top. Keep several sheets of blank paper in the file so you can note the date, time and whom you spoke with whenever you call the VA so the information is always current.

Go online to www.vba.va.gov, click Veteran Services, then Survivors. Scroll down and look for any additional information that might apply to you. Send for the appropriate forms. Print out the VA Benefits for Survivors pamphlet and put it in the file, or call the VA (1-800-827-1000) and have one sent to
you.

You only need to do this once. When you’ve assembled and organized your information, you just need to keep it updated.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service,
P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2011 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Homeless Women Vets Often Shortchanged

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

The number of homeless women veterans doubled between 2006 and 2010. By now there’s no telling how high that number is. With the increased number of female veterans having served in the Gulf War, the numbers can’t help but rise dramatically.

A recent General Accounting Office study on homeless female veterans found that:
–Two-thirds of the women were between 40 and 59 years of age.
–One-third had disabilities.
–Many of them were raising minor children.

Per the GAO, the big reason there isn’t enough help for these female veterans is that the information isn’t out there: “HUD collects data on homeless women and on homeless veterans, but does not collect detailed information on homeless women veterans. Neither the VA nor HUD collect data on the total number of homeless women veterans.”

Therefore, even though the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to end veteran homelessness by 2015, it’s not on track to deal with homeless female veterans because it doesn’t know the extent of the problem.

To compound matters, female veterans often aren’t aware of the services available to them, and even if they are, those in place to help them aren’t always aware of the services they are to provide.

A quarter of homeless-shelter coordinators didn’t even know there are programs in place for female veterans. It’s no wonder that many women are waiting so long for shelter: up to four months.

There are additional complications. Even if the women veterans are accepted
into a shelter program, more than half don’t take children, or they limit the
number of children. Or there can be safety issues.

Our women veterans deserve better.

To read the whole report, go to www.gao.gov and put Homeless Women Veterans in the search box. Look for GAO-12-182 dated Dec. 23, 2011.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service,
P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475 or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Veteran Foreclosures

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Veterans weren’t forgotten in the recent $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement. In fact, veterans were treated much better than civilian counterparts who’d had their homes foreclosed. In the lawsuit leading to the settlement, it was determined that the four biggest mortgage servicers violated the Servicemen’s Civil Relief Act, the law that outlines the rules under which mortgages must be handled for veterans.

Those banks will now have to pay veterans $116,785 each, plus equity that was lost in the property after it was wrongfully foreclosed, plus any interest. That number might end up being higher JP Morgan Chase will need to provide the veteran with his or her property “free and clear of any debt or the cash equivalent of the full value of the home at the time of sale.”

Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally will have to give a refund to any veterans charged more than 6 percent interest on a mortgage after receiving a request to lower that rate, plus triple that amount. The agreement expands and beefs up the rules for SCRA. Previously a bank was prohibited from foreclosing on a veteran-owned property if the mortgage was taken out before the veteran began military service. Now the rule will additionally state that no matter when the mortgage began, if the veteran received Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and was away from home within nine months of foreclosure, the veteran is protected from foreclosure.

If you believe you are covered by this settlement, get your paperwork in order and call for military legal assistance. Go online to http://legalassistance.law.af.mil and look in the Legal Services Locator for the Armed Forces Legal Assistance office nearest you. Also see www.servicemembers.gov for information, or call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.
(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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