LVMAC News — Lang Says Schools Need to Pay More Attention to their Veterans

LANG EMPHASIZES ROLE OF THE STUDENT VETERANS OF AMERICA, INC.

On 16 May 2012, Mr. Joshua Lang, Vice President, National Leadership Council, Student Veterans of America,  spoke to the Council at its business meeting on the topic of “Student Veterans of America and Returning Veterans.”

Mr. Lang served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 2005 to 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan. Subsequently he has served in the National Guard.  He is one from the youngest generation of veterans.

At the beginning of his talk, he highlighted the process of “getting out.”  In his experience, many veterans, especially the younger ones, are not set up for success when their term of service expires – both financially and mentally. The Department of Defense has acknowledged this and begun taking steps forward.  The Student Veterans of America, Inc. (SVC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is all about “setting up veterans prior to their getting out and sending them on the path to success.”

Upon leaving service, he himself struggled in going college because he had very little knowledge on how to go about the process of selecting one and getting the relevant information to make a decision. The schools he checked out usually provided little information about available scholarships.  [Editors Note:  The Post 9/11 GI Bill commenced August 2009.]

He went on to state there are about 22.6 million veterans in the United States, with 1 million of them in Pennsylvania [when rounded up].  Only about 12,000 veterans nationwide are using their Post 9/11 GI Bill administered by the VA.  Of these, about 879 are Pennsylvania veterans.

All of this is partly why, when contacted by the  SVA, he found a purpose in joining it.  SVA emphasizes a peer support model, hosts conferences and benefits workshops to disseminate information and awareness, provides one-stop shopping for veterans looking for information, and has its own scholarship program for chapters and those veteran students wanting internships but do not  have the finances to do so.

“When veterans are empowered and advocate on their own campuses, they can do a lot of great things to increase the graduation rate of veterans [a problem area].  Supportive campuses reduce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) problems, decrease homelessness, and increase the chances of a veteran getting a job [Employment solves a lot of problems.].” However, universities, private or public, for profit or not for profit (see Holman speech), often take the money without giving back [enough attention and concern] to the veteran, in his opinion.

Lang concluded by saying about 20 chapters exist in Pennsylvania, but there needs to be more of them for the reasons he has cited.  It requires no dues, each chapter is autonomous and SVA is changing its recruiting method to ensure a chapter is formed and run by veterans who are students and not by school personnel.

In the question and answer session, he pointed out:

–  The VA claims to see about 60% of the veterans.
–  Better training of college counselors is important to the organization.
–  Access to VA Vet Centers has proven useful (there are none in the Lehigh Valley despite pleading to the VA).
– Turbo Taps is getting better (there have been problems with it).
– MilitaryFriendlySchools.com is not a credible resource.  Its standards are insufficient.
– West Chester, California University, Community College of Philadelphia, and University of Pittsburgh are model schools for veterans (truly veteran friendly).
– There has been a problem with transfer credits and recognizing military training credentials.

When asked how one forms a chapter. He stated each school is supposed to have a VA certifying official [if a SAA approved school] who has a list of veterans and an email can be sent out to them to gather them together to set up a meeting to start a chapter. He would be willing to talk with the first meeting and is willing to travel, as he has done.

 LVMAC IS TURNING TO SOCIAL MEDIA

We’re trying to improve our social networking to reach the younger generation of veterans more effectively.  Jillian Drainville of KSI has agreed as a volunteer to help us on getting a Facebook page for LVMAC up on the air and is working with our website provider, Jeff  Tintle of Thrive.  Go to www.facebook.com/lvmac. It’s already a reality.

We’re considering doing the same specifically for our JOVE program. Robert Lofthouse is reviewing doing the same for our JOVE program.  And William Carmody of First Generation, has offered his company’s services to improve our marketing and support to our various programs.

 SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM APPLICATION PERIOD EXTENDED

We’re still accepting applications despite the original 15 May suspense date in hopes of receiving a few applications from veterans in addition to high school students, but the subcommittee is to make recommendations to the VAC Committee by the end of June. Dieruff High School is once again dominating the application pile.

PROJECT HEALING WATERS FLY FISHING

Trout Unlimited – Hokendauqua had a successful event on May 5th 2012 at Bob Saks’ Pond, with about 60 people attending – 20 of those being veterans and 10 being their families.  The balance was instructors.  Next planned event at a fishing lodge, all expenses paid, in June, had to be cancelled because the lodge is undergoing flood control improvements.  The next planned event will be in the Fall.

LOCAL FUNDRAISING SPECIAL EVENT

As was discussed in the last Council meeting, Cohen-Feeley, Attorneys at Law, conducted a fundraiser to support LVMAC and other local organizations which support veterans.  Called the “Salute to the Heroes,” it was held in conjunction with a Steelhawks (indoor arena football) game at Stabler Arena on 19 May.  Involving a pregame silent auction and a sports celebrity autograph session, tickets were free for all military and veterans and their families.

HOMELESSNESS PROGRAM IS UNDER REVISION

As a result of our supporting Lehigh County Conference of Churches’ Permanent Employment Program training, two of four veterans have acquired fulltime, unsubsidized employment by its third quarter.

Pat diLuzio introduced a new business plan for our homelessness program to the Veterans Affairs Committee this month.  It will be reviewed by the committee to provide additional input. We just think that Lehigh Valley veterans need more attention in this area and no one, to include the VA, has a good handle on the extent of the problem.  The new plan has three key goals:

1) Create and implement a Media Plan to enhance and educate the public on veteran’s problems and, especially, the plight of the homeless veteran; where the public can get help for all veterans’ issues. A media plan will also foster partnerships with local Lehigh Valley organizations and supporters and will help reveal potential, new funding sources.

2) Increase LVMAC funding and support to allow continued support of currently funded programs and services that help veterans while developing potential new programs which help homeless veterans and their families.

3) Increase collaboration with the local community, to include the Department of Veterans Affairs, to expand opportunities in health care, employment and housing for Lehigh Valley homeless veterans.

LOCAL MILITARY HEALTHCARE INITIATIVE CONTINUES

Speaking of collaborations, Eric Johnson will conduct our fifth workshop meeting on 17 May with the VA Liaison Officers (VALO) from the hospitals and other service providers.  As originally planned, we are driving to complete a health assessment and a July CEO meeting.  However, the development of a resource manual and in-house training are coming up fast behind.  As for two older tasks, we hope to wrap up every team player institution designating a formal VALO by this month and concurrence on a veteran screening protocol soon after this meeting.  On their part, Wilkes-Barre VAMC has designated two VALO’s and they have been attending the workshop sessions.

The current players are Sacred Heart Hospital, St. Luke’s University Hospital Network, Lehigh Valley Hospital Network, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, Westfield Hospital, Easton Hospital, Treatment Trends, Victory House, and Heartland Hospice and Coordinated Health. The County Director of Veterans Affairs for Northampton, Mr. Freddie Ramirez, has been attending.

OPERATION JOVE HAS ITS FIRST SUCCESS, REGROUPS

Dave Newton and his subcommittee have wrapped up their first cycle of classes on 16 May. There have been two graduates and both have found the program useful in finding jobs. The next cycle will start in two weeks.  If this useful and slightly different program from the norm is to be successful, we need to improve our outreach. So, Dave is now tackling how to improve marketing for the second go around. In fact he now has 5 volunteers who have agreed to help with the marketing.  More alliances will need to be formed. It is one reason we are keen on every college have a student veterans club.  We would particularly like to know the status of Lehigh Carbon Community College’s and will find out.

 COMMUNITY EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH PROGRAM UNDER DEVELOPMENT

On 15 May, we held our second brainstorming meeting to incubate a Community Educational Outreach initiative. Robin Carmody is taking lead on this. We’re tentatively looking at developing useful programs which will appeal to counselors, teachers, and school children while educating them on the military to a purpose.  We’re working on what those purposes should be and then we will survey for interest (to confirm some conversations which have already occurred) and also explore what organizations and products are is already out there that we could harness.  We are thinking of using the elementary schools in the Northwestern Lehigh School District for a pilot test. If you like to join this effort because you have a concern for our school children and involving veterans in their school districts, please contact Robin.

VETERANS SUPPORT

The state is now providing an accredited veterans service officer of its own for the first time at the Allentown VA Clinic.  Her name is Jen Dominguez-Heany and she accepts clients on a walk-in basis or by appointment on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Go to our blog site “Answers Desk” section to find out how to contact her.

DoD/VA NEWS

VRAP Application Period Opens: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 was passed and signed into law last November in an effort to reduce Veteran unemployment. Included in this new law is the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for unemployed 35 to 60 year old Veterans, which will begin on July 1, 2012. This program is jointly administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor (DOL) and enrollment has begun as of 15 May.  Spaces are limited.  See our blog site Tidbits articles.

VA Adding Family Therapists and Mental Health Counselors to Workforce:  The VA has decided to expand its mental health services to include professionals from two additional health care fields: marriage and family therapists (MFT) and licensed professional mental health counselors (LPMHC). The two fields will be included in the hiring of an additional 1,900 mental health staff nationwide, the probable result of a blistering VA Inspector General report and recent Senate Veterans Affairs Committee testimony where it was revealed the VA was intellectually fudging its mental health access promptness of service reports by 100% and that it had weak tools for analysis of staffing requirements (in comparison with other hospital networks).  This revelation – in addition to the 1500 mental health personnel shortfall they are already experiencing – leads to doubts whether the VA has found the key to improving service without involving community partners in this area of healthcare.

Update on Congressional Sequestration and Veterans Benefits: Sequestration, or across-the-board-cuts in the Federal budget, was mandated by the bipartisan Budget Control Act in August 2011. This is slated to kick in on January 2, 2013, unless Congress stops it. Fortunately, VA benefits, entitlements and programs are unaffected, almost uniquely.

Military pay is also unaffected unless the House gets its way:  Military pensions are expected to take a major cut if the budget that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year becomes law, but this is unlikely. The House-passed Republican budget makes huge cuts –$380 billion below current law.  Already, the Department of Defense will take a major hit under sequestration.  Of the $380 billion, not readily apparent, would be up to $134.5 billion in cuts to military pensions – a demonstration of the lack of understanding in the House of why people serve in the military?

While TRICARE is not generally exempt from the sequestration, TRICARE for Life (affecting those over the age of 65) is fortunately not affected.

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20 May 2012

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