Vietnam Veterans of America Wisconsin State Council

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE       March 29, 2017

No. 17-7   Mokie Porter    301-585-4000, Ext. 146

It’s Official: March 29 Is National Vietnam War Veterans Day 


(Washington, DC) – “Forty-two years ago today, the last American combat troops left the former South Vietnam, marking the end of what was then our nation’s longest war,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America. “And yesterday, the bipartisan legislation, S.305, authored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), permanently designating March 29th as National Vietnam War Veterans Day, was signed into law by President Trump.” 

The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 is the first federal statute to recognize in perpetuity the bravery and sacrifice of veterans who served during the Vietnam War. Although this day may be bittersweet for some of us, and though we cannot claim that the United States emerged victorious from that terribly divisive war, we can look back with pride for the service we rendered in answering our nation’s call,” said Rowan. 

“Our war is long over,” Rowan added, “but for many its legacy of hurt continues to this day.  Because a war does not end after the last bullet was fired, VVA will continue to assist those who still suffer, mentally as well as physically, from the war’s deprivations, and from the failures of those entities of government whose responsibility it is to aid our veterans physically, mentally, and fiscally.”

“We applaud Senators Toomey and Donnelly for their support of our Vietnam veterans and for ensuring that March 29th is permanently designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day,” said Rowan.

“Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation’s only congressionally chartered veterans’ service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

Congress seeks to increase VA FY016 budget request

Vietnam Veterans of America - Legislative Update
December 16, 2015
Congress will vote today on a short-term spending bill funding the Federal Government until December 22, 2015.

H.R. 2029 entitled the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 is no longer a stand along bill because of amendments passed by the House and Senate. The new bill is now the vehicle for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 and the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 and on Friday, December 18, 2015 the house is expected to vote on H.R. 2029 the $1.1 trillion fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill funding the government until the end of September 2016.

Will VA funding for FY2016 see an increase in the omnibus spending bill?

In an article today by CQ Roll Call entitled Military Construction-VA: Spending Bill Boosts Plan to Eliminate Backlog of Disability Claims By Connor O'Brien, CQ Roll Call Veterans programs are due for yet another increase— a boost of $6.4 billion in fiscal 2016 discretionary spending — in a full-year spending measure unveiled by appropriators early Wednesday morning.

Overall, the $1.15 trillion discretionary spending package (HR 2029) would allocate $79.9 billion for military construction projects, family housing, base and veterans’ services, an increase of roughly $8 billion from the fiscal 2015 level.

VA discretionary spending would rise to $71.4 billion in addition to $91.3 billion in mandatory funding, mostly for benefits and pensions, bringing the total funding for VA to $162.7 billion.

The spending bill provides $63.3 billion in fiscal 2017 advance appropriations for the medical care accounts of the Veterans Health Administration. The legislation also includes $103 billion in fiscal 2017 advance appropriations for VA's mandatory compensation and pension programs.

Among its health care funding provisions, the legislation includes $1.5 billion for new Hepatitis C treatments, the cost of which VA cited as partly responsible for a shortfall in its medical care funding over the summer. The bill would appropriate $7.5 billion in fiscal 2016 for veteran’s mental health services and programs as well as a further $7.7 billion for mental health care in fiscal 2017. 

Appropriators included $605 million for VA's Caregiver Program, which clocks in at $50 million over the budget request. Lawmakers also agreed to fund VA's Office of Rural Health, which aims to reach veterans in areas without immediate access to a VA medical center of clinic, at a level of $270 million.

Under the legislation, the Veterans Benefits Administration — which oversees programs that provide financial assistance to veterans, dependents and survivors — would receive $91.4 billion. Of that total, $76.9 billion would fund pensions and benefits. A further $14.3 billion in VBA funds would be allocated for veterans’ readjustments benefits, including education assistance and vocational training.

The bill includes $2.7 billion for disability claims processing — $173 million more than the fiscal 2015 enacted level — to assist VA in its goal of eliminating a backlog of pending veterans’ claims, which the department had aimed to wipe out by the end of 2015. Of the 366,684 pending claims as of Dec. 12, 75,996 — just over 20 percent — had been pending for more than 125 days, the department's official benchmark for a backlogged claim. The legislation also includes $109.9 million, some $11 million more than allocated in fiscal 2015, for the Board of Veterans Appeals to handle appeals of VA claim rulings.

The legislation includes a familiar limitation on the department's attempt to mesh its electronic health records with those of the Pentagon. The measure would provide $233 million for the modernization of VA's electronic health record and efforts to improve interoperability with the Defense Department's record. Under the bill, however, only 25 percent of funding would be available to the VA until reporting and certification requirements are met.

The bill would provide $8.2 billion for military construction and family housing for active military, reserve and National Guard components, an increase of $1.6 billion from the fiscal 2015 enacted level.

The legislation also would provide $107 million for the American Battle Monuments Commission, $79.5 million for Arlington National Cemetery and $64.3 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

Similar to previous years’ spending bills, the Military Construction appropriations measure would prohibit funds from being used to close the military-run prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba or to construct or renovate a facility in the United States to hold detainees currently being held at Guantánamo.

By Connor O'Brien, CQ Roll


Wisconsin’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient from Vietnam War

Gary Wetzel

from 5 years ago / via Vimeo Desktop Uploader Not Yet Rated

Sp4c. Wetzel, 173d Assault Helicopter Company, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life. above and beyond the call of duty. Sp4c. Wetzel was serving as door gunner aboard a helicopter which was part of an insertion force trapped in a landing zone by intense and deadly hostile fire. Sp4c. Wetzel was going to the aid of his aircraft commander when he was blown into a rice paddy and critically wounded by 2 enemy rockets that exploded just inches from his location. Although bleeding profusely due to the loss of his left arm and severe wounds in his right arm, chest, and left leg, Sp4c. Wetzel staggered back to his original position in his gun-well and took the enemy forces under fire. His machinegun was the only weapon placing effective fire on the enemy at that time. Through a resolve that overcame the shock and intolerable pain of his injuries, Sp4c. Wetzel remained at his position until he had eliminated the automatic weapons emplacement that had been inflicting heavy casualties on the American troops and preventing them from moving against this strong enemy force. Refusing to attend his own extensive wounds, he attempted to return to the aid of his aircraft commander but passed out from loss of blood. Regaining consciousness, he persisted in his efforts to drag himself to the aid of his fellow crewman. After an agonizing effort, he came to the side of the crew chief who was attempting to drag the wounded aircraft commander to the safety of a nearby dike. Unswerving in his devotion to his fellow man, Sp4c. Wetzel assisted his crew chief even though he lost consciousness once again during this action. Sp4c. Wetzel displayed extraordinary heroism in his efforts to aid his fellow crewmen. His gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Stolen Valor Act of 2013

Clif Sorenson, VVA WI SC Legislative Chair

A new version of a bill that targets fake war heroes easily passed the House of Representatives late Monday with a 390-3 vote.

The bill, H.R. 258 also known as the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, is the latest attempt by Congress to push through legislation that would punish people who falsely claim to have won military awards, such as the Congressional Medal of Honor, and profit from those lies.

“The awards, and the men and women who have earned them, in some cases posthumously, are worthy of the utmost respect and sanctity,” said Rep. Bill Heck (R-Nev.), who introduced the bill in January. “ Benefiting from lying about receiving one of these awards is an affront to all who have worn the uniform and especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

Companion Bill is S. 210.

Let's make sure our respective Congressmen and Senators are aware of our support of this legislation.

Joining Forces

You must check out what the Joining Forces initiative is and how you as a veteran or professional may fit in to the program.  Click here for more information.

Smart justice for vets

Editorial from the Toledo Blade, November 28, 2012

Specialty courts, whether they deal with the problems of the mentally ill or addicted, have shown extraordinary success around the country, diverting people from prison and jail into less-costly community treatment and supervision. They offer people who commit mostly lower-level, nonviolent offenses a chance to get the help they need, while sparing society the enormous human and economic costs of incarceration.

In Lucas County, a group of Veterans Administration officials, local judges, military leaders, and others are working to start a veterans’ court in Toledo. Details need to be worked out before local judges consider a final plan, including how to manage the court docket, train probation officers, and line up services for eligible veterans, but this is an initiative the entire community should get behind now.

Local advocates, including Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton of the Ohio Supreme Court and retired Lt. Col. Bob Decker, don’t need to start from scratch. Lucas County runs a Family and Drug Court that links drug-addicted parents to services that can preserve families and keep them out of jail. And special courts for veterans already operate in Youngstown, Cleveland, Mansfield, and Akron, as well as in East Lansing and Novi, Michigan.

In Novi’s 52nd District Court, Judge Brian MacKenzie and his veterans’ treatment court give vets a chance to get sober and heal emotional scars, as Blade staff writer Rod Lockwood reported recently.

The program is no free ride. It requires the hard, grueling work of personal change. But the court does recognize the service of veterans to their country, acknowledges that some carry serious psychological and physical problems, including post-trumatic stress syndrome and alcoholism, and connects them to a range of services they might not have known about.

Participants are placed on probation. The court requires them to get counseling through the Veterans Administration, address addiction problems, get tested regularly for drugs and alcohol, and stay out of trouble.

Typically, veterans’ court takes those with low-level felonies or misdemeanors, such as driving under the influence, drug possession, or assault. Once a participant completes the program, which takes about a year, charges are dropped.

In Novi, since the program started in 2010, 70 people have graduated from veterans’ treatment court, while only three have failed.

Reorganizing court dockets costs little or nothing, but savings can be huge. Every person who is diverted from prison or jail saves taxpayers about $30,000 a year. Veterans now make up about 10 percent of the U.S. prison and jail population.

Respect for military veterans is higher than at any time since World War II. Toledo has already shown it’s willing to honor that service with action as well as words. Veterans Matter, an initiative to house homeless veterans eligible for a special program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA, provides vouchers to rent private housing. Meantime, the VA offers supportive services that help those formerly homeless veterans get back on their feet.

In providing housing or dispensing justice, one size doesn’t fit all. Through an innovative housing program and an emerging speciality court, Toledo is honoring veterans by helping those who need it.

Remembrance Sunday - Our wounded warriors: The abandoned soldier & the casualties to come


Iraq and Afghanistan have renewed public awareness of the high costs of conflict, but many fear we are still ill-prepared to help the thousands who suffer hidden mental trauma

Millions will honour Britain's fallen today, Remembrance Sunday, with wreaths at the Cenotaph and poppies worn proudly on lapels. But the nation faces a new wave of casualties – the majority bearing no obvious sign of injury – men who will need help for decades after the last battalions return from Afghanistan in 2014.

Experts warned last night that thousands of soldiers are and will be struck down by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Vast numbers will see their lives destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse as they try to self-medicate against horrific memories of what they have seen and done in the name of Queen and country. Many will end up homeless or in jail.

In the most extreme cases, sufferers commit savage crimes, up to and including murder. Earlier this year, a 24-year-old Afghan veteran, Aaron Wilkinson, was jailed for a minimum of five years for shooting dead his 52-year-old landlady, Judith Garnett. Wilkinson was suffering from PTSD after a tour in Afghanistan in 2009, and admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

According to the military charity Combat Stress, record numbers of soldiers are returning from overseas needing treatment for PTSD: the latest figures reveal a new high in referrals of veterans of Afghanistan. The number has gone up fivefold in the past four years – from 94 in 2008-09 to 481 in 2011-12.

Soldiers are coming for help far earlier than before, reflecting both an increased awareness of help being available but also more severe distress. Previously, on average, veterans waited 13 years before coming for treatment, but those who have served in Afghanistan are asking for help just 18 months after leaving the forces, according to the charity.

Dr Walter Busuttil, director of medical services at Combat Stress, said: "It means that people are more able to say that they have a problem, and are more educated to know a mental health problem is something to take seriously."

He described the treatment available for veterans as "patchy" and added: "The Government is trying to make sure that veterans have appropriate bespoke services, but we are still not there." He warned: "If we don't move forward and continue to increase the number of services, and continue to fund these services, we will go back to square one. We are coming out of Afghanistan very soon but the mental health issue will continue for many years to come – for 10 to 15 years."

As of September 2011, at least 191,000 soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Conservative estimates suggest there could be more than 13,000 PTSD cases in the next decade or so.

Nearly 7 per cent of regular solders who have seen combat will fall victim to PTSD, according to studies by the King's Centre for Military Health Research at King's College London. But the true problem is greater than official figures suggest, with many who spend years, or lifetimes, suffering in silence. "The true numbers [of PTSD] will be higher than an epidemiological study can tell us," Dr Busuttil said.

The plight of injured veterans – those returning with missing limbs or shattered minds – prompted The IoS to call on the Government five years ago to honour the Military Covenant. Much has changed for the better since then. The Armed Forces Act, passed a year ago, placed into law the principles of the Military Covenant – a commitment to care for serving personnel and veterans. In addition, the Government has set up a network of 15 military Departments of Community Mental Health across the country – but it has allocated a paltry £7.2m to fund them over the next five years.

PTSD is part of a wider picture of mental trauma: according to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report released in July, the number of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and needing treatment at mental health clinics rose from 389 in 2007-08 to 1,733 in 2011-12.

And while the needs of veterans have come to the fore much more since 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, service charities fear they could again be forgotten once troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. Brigadier Robin Bacon, chief of staff at ABF The Soldiers' Charity, said: "To remember the living, those who have been through all the stresses and strains and who face uncertainty in the future when their physical or mental injuries manifest themselves, that's absolutely part of remembrance for us."

Uncertainty remains over the long-term ability of a cash-strapped NHS to prioritise the treatment of veterans. In addition, finding work and a home after leaving the forces both remain "big issues", according to service charities.

"I think it would be unrealistic to say that everything we want to be in place is there for everybody," said Sue Freeth, director of operations at the Royal British Legion. "There is still quite some way to go."

In an attempt to make it easier for veterans to get help, the charity hopes to open 16 walk-in centres in high streets across England and Wales next year.

Ironically, the toll on those who serve in the armed forces is expected to worsen as they are removed from the dangers of active service. Many will struggle to cope with planned MoD redundancies and a massive increase in reservists announced by the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, last Thursday. The size of the Territorial Army is set to double to 30,000 – to compensate for a 20,000 cut that will reduce the regular Army to 82,000.

A new documentary being broadcast on Sky 1 tomorrow will air growing calls for the Government to do more for traumatised veterans who face a postcode lottery of treatment. Invisible Wounded, produced by the actor-turned-documentary-maker Ross Kemp, centres on lives shattered by PTSD.

"We are not prepared in any way, shape or form for the onslaught I think we have coming," he told The IoS. "The feeling from some I speak to in the Army is that we have a bigger problem than we admit to."

Even as we pay tribute today to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, for some veterans, the only way of coping will be to lock themselves away.

Take Simon Peacock. He joined the 1st Royal Anglian Regiment aged 19 and was blown up by a grenade in 2007 in Afghanistan. He nearly died. Yet his struggle to survive was just the start of a battle he has fought ever since.

"I wake up in the middle of the night screaming," he said. "I can't go out of the house sometimes, you feel someone is out to get you ... After the war, you come back and you are fighting another war to get on with your life. Often, this is worse than the war in Afghanistan, it's harder."

'It got to a point where I wasn't able to wash myself or change my combats. I was a zombie'

Edward Bland, 34, London

Tipped as a future leader, the Sandhurst graduate rose from the rank of second lieutenant to captain in the Royal Anglian Regiment in two and a half years. But his Army career was cut short when he suffered a nervous breakdown and was flown back to Britain from Iraq in 2006.

"I went out to Afghanistan in 2003, which is where my PTSD started. There was one time when a coachload of German soldiers was blown up by an IED. I was back in camp and really struggled with the sight of my soldiers coming in covered in blood and body parts and looking utterly shocked. I remember the feeling of utter helplessness and became very short-tempered and withdrawn."

In 2006, he was deployed to Iraq. "We were doing very aggressive missions almost nightly, trying to capture corrupt Iraqi soldiers or police. It was 'hard entry', kicking in doors, breaking through windows and all that kind of stuff." After one such "strike op", Mr Bland cracked. "The thing I found most stressful was the collateral damage. There were a lot of tearful, scared and panicked women and children in the house. I knew I was a broken man. It got to the point where I wasn't able to wash myself or even change my combats, I was like a zombie." He was flown back to Britain and medically discharged in 2007. Last year, he completed a treatment programme at Combat Stress and is now rebuilding his life. "There are lots of veterans who are physically intact but mentally damaged. There are going to be more of us coming out of the woodwork in the next few years."

As we approach Veterans Day, we are thinking of all of you and excited to announce Vietnam photo project next Tuesday on the 30th Anniversary of the commemoration of “The Wall”  with founder Jan Scruggs. 

Wisconsin Public Television has honored our state’s veterans over many years and through numerous projects -- including the Wisconsin War Stories documentaries and LZ Lambeau. That work continues with the public announcement next week of a new partnership project with Wisconsin Public Radio that aims to further preserve the memory of Wisconsin service members who were killed in action or missing in action during the Vietnam War.

Tuesday November 13 at Noon

Wisconsin welcomes Vietnam Veteran and founder of “The Wall”

Jan Scruggs

Wisconsin Capitol on the 2nd Floor Rotunda  

You are invited to join us and encourage others.

If you can attend, let us know by replying to this message.  Thanks.

The initiative, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) in Washington D.C., Milwaukee Public Radio, Milwaukee Public Television and veterans groups across Wisconsin, invites Wisconsin residents to collect the photos of each of the 1,244 Wisconsin service people who were killed in action or missing in action during the Vietnam War. These images of the people whose names are on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C. will be used for a new Virtual Wall of Faces both at the memorial and online, further honoring and remembering the ultimate sacrifice made by so many Americans. 

We are honored to have VVMF President and Founder of The Wall Jan Scruggs, WDVA Secretary John Scocos, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and UW Regent Michael Falbo joining us at noon next Tuesday in the Capitol for a public press announcement. The event also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the dedication of The Wall.


What can you do to support this project?  You can have a direct impact on this project in a couple of ways:


1.  By engaging your local community to identify, find and share photos of the casualties from the area. VVMF has set up a special web page ( where visitors can learn about the project, search for Wisconsin names on The Wall and submit photos for use in the new Education Center. 

2.  Contact your elected officials at all levels of government and let them know about this project.  Encourage them to spread the word among their constituents, and their peers in government.  If you see Wisconsin legislators we encourage you to encourage them to attend the welcome event with Jan Scruggs. 


The project partners will promote the effort through statewide broadcasts, online outreach and community engagement activities until photos have been found for each of the 1,244 Wisconsin service people on The Wall.



Also –tune into WPT this Sunday evening at 7pm as we celebrate Veteran's Day by bringing you the National Salute to Veterans – a nationally televised program that honors the sacrifices and service of our more than 22 million American veterans.  Find out more at



Jon Miskowski

Wisconsin Public Television


608-216-6208 (cell)

Smartphone apps  becoming surrogate therapists


Murray, Blumenthal, Nelson Call on Departments of Justice, Treasury to Investigate Charitable Organizations Exploiting Veterans for Own Financial Gain

Recent findings raise serious questions as to whether organizations are violating federal law and abusing their tax exempt status by misrepresenting work on behalf of veterans

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee joined with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in sending two letters regarding the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), addressing potential violations of federal law and abuse of tax exempt status by the 501(c)(3) organization. The first letter was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, requesting an audit and, where appropriate, an investigation of the VSO for potential violations of federal law. 

In a second letter, sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Senator Murray, again joined by Senators Blumenthal and Nelson, expressed concern about the membership criteria used by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC’s failure to require any standards of conduct for its members. The Senators point out the lack of internal controls for membership on the advisory committee and call for the removal of any organization that fails to conduct itself in a manner befitting the Department’s mission or that exploits its relationship with the Department for its own financial gain.

“Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC,” the Senators write in the letter to Secretary Shinseki. “For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization.  But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves.  VSO’s business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law.” 

The full text of both letters follow:

May 30, 2012

The Honorable Eric H. Holder

Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW                                             
Dear General Holder and Secretary Geithner:

We write to request that the Departments of Justice and Treasury audit and investigate, as appropriate, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), a registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, for potential violations of federal law.

Throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, including Connecticut and Florida, VSO has attracted scrutiny from state authorities, reputable veterans service organizations, local news organizations and individual veterans.  VSO’s business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading, and fraudulent and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law.  Taken together, these actions and allegations raise serious questions as to whether VSO has repeatedly and intentionally misappropriated public donations and abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law.

At the heart of VSO’s suspect practices is its use of paid solicitors, violation of state solicitation laws and financial irregularities.  VSO presents its paid solicitors to the public as veterans, providing them with camouflage-style uniforms and instructing them to keep thirty percent of their collected donations as commission.  Through its use of these paid solicitors, VSO has been found in violation of state charitable contribution laws and has faced civil penalties as a result.  VSO’s paid solicitors program is its single largest expenditure, with executive and employee compensation following close behind.  In 2009 alone, VSO paid its chief executive officer $255,000, or over four percent of its total revenue.  That same year, VSO’s spending on its paid solicitor program and executive and employee compensation was over eight times greater than its direct grant awards to other veterans service organizations, government entities, and individual veterans.  Clearly, VSO’s disproportionate spending on paid solicitors and its own executives, coupled with its admitted violation of state solicitation laws and general lack of transparency and accountability is cause for serious concern.  For your reference, we have enclosed a background paper that details VSO’s questionable conduct in greater detail.

As an increasing number of our servicemembers return home and transition to civilian life, it is especially critical that charity organizations act as good stewards of the American people’s goodwill and generosity towards our veterans.  On behalf of our nation’s veterans and those who serve them, we thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your timely response detailing the steps you have taken auditing or investigating, as appropriate, VSO.

May 30, 2012

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

We write to express our concern about the membership criteria used by the Department’s Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC’s failure to require any standards of conduct for its members.

It is critical that organizations permitted to affiliate themselves with, or invoke the name of, the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct themselves in a manner befitting the Department’s mission, its reputation and the integrity of its work.  Yet today, any organization that meets a minimum level of monetary and material support to VA facilities is eligible for membership on the NAC.  No other review is undertaken by the Department to evaluate a potential member organization, nor does the NAC have in place any standards of conduct to which its member organizations must adhere. 

This is both troubling and unacceptable.  Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC.  For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization.  But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves.  VSO’s business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law. 

In response to VSO’s suspect practices, we have written to the Attorney General and to Secretary Geithner, requesting that their departments investigate whether VSO has misappropriated public donations or abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law.  We expressed our concern that charity organizations must act as good stewards of the American people’s generosity towards our veterans.  Surely an organization, such as VSO, which has admitted breaking state law, should be ineligible to serve on the NAC or use the Department’s name in furtherance of its own financial interest. 

To protect the integrity of the NAC’s work, we ask that you review this situation and take such action as you consider appropriate.  It is our hope that you will rescind the membership of VSO and any other organization that fails to reflect the caliber and character of the Department’s mission and work, and institute safeguards to regulate the NAC’s membership accordingly.  We look forward to hearing from you regarding your review of this issue.  Thank you for all that you do on behalf of our nation’s veterans.

Jun 11, 2012 11:41 PM

NEW YORK (USA TODAY) — If his door is open, you can bet student veterans are spilling out of Eric Glaude's office at Borough of Manhattan Community College. On most days, it's standing-room only because his broom closet of an office has become the de facto command central for student veterans.

Space has been at a premium since Sept. 11, 2001, when the school's Fiterman Hall was destroyed by the collapse of the World Trade Center. Add to that a mushrooming student population. More than 400 veterans were enrolled last year, up from 157 in 2009, when Glaude, a disabled Vietnam War-era veteran, was hired to help former servicemembers make the transition from combat to college.

Their ranks at schools across the nation are likely to continue to climb as the drawdown in Afghanistan continues. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, enacted in 2008, has paved the way for hundreds of thousands of recent veterans to enroll in college. Of 923,836 servicemembers who received federal education benefits last year, 555,329 served after 9/11, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although the benefits enable them to go to college, some veterans say it's the camaraderie and support they get on campus that determines whether they finish.

"A lot of us are loners. When you get out of the military, you kind of don't know where you're at," says retired Marine Vincent Acevedo, 26, who is set to receive his associate's degree in criminal justice Friday. "That's what the veterans group is for, to let you know you're not alone."

This year marks a milestone for the school: 26 veterans will graduate, up from six last year. Other schools, too, are reporting their largest graduating classes of veterans in recent history. More than 100 vets were honored at ceremonies this month at Columbia University. Salt Lake Community College conferred degrees on 187 veterans.

Acevedo, who struggles with short-term memory lapses caused by an explosion in 2006 outside Baghdad that slammed him into a wall, is a campus success story, says Glaude, who offers what he calls "little wrinkles and strategies" for navigating the red tape and managing coursework. The road to a college degree is often bumpy. Some veterans may not have cracked a book in years and become overwhelmed by the relatively unstructured rhythm of student life, or they find themselves at odds with faculty or younger classmates.

Glaude estimates that 1% of his veterans each year "just can't seem to make it," often because their emotional wounds are too burdensome. Nationally, no one keeps track of how many drop out. To address that lack of information, President Obama last month ordered the VA, along with the Education and Defense departments, to track college completion data for veterans to provide "a more accurate picture of what success looks like," a White House statement says.

Concerns have centered mostly on for-profit schools. A 2010 Senate analysis found troubling withdrawal rates at eight for-profit colleges that enroll the largest numbers of veterans. Dropout rates for one company were as high as 69%.

Non-profit colleges aren't off the hook. "Many schools will claim to be military-friendly, and almost any veteran will tell you that that is a completely meaningless term," says Gene van den Bosch, president of the Arizona Veterans' Education Foundation. A few years ago, the group's informal check of colleges in Arizona found as few as 3% of veterans graduating from some public universities and community colleges. A law is poised to go into effect that requires Arizona colleges to collect and report graduation rates if they want to be certified as a "veteran-supportive campus."

Elsewhere, efforts are underway to remove barriers. Some New Jersey colleges are condensing academic programs in teaching and engineering to make it easier for Post- 9/11 GI Bill recipients to get their degrees before their benefits run out — in most cases, after 36 months. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, announced a program this month that awards vets college credit for some military service, an effort to speed their progress.

Two non-profit groups, the Pat Tillman Foundation and Operation College Promise, plan to launch an initiative this summer that builds on a seven-campus pilot study. It suggests veterans are more likely to progress at a rate similar to those of non-veterans if they attended schools with robust support services tailored to the needs of veterans.

At this community college, that support comes not only from Glaude's office, but also from classmates who served. "We may not all have seen the same things when we served, but we have a common background," says former Navy Seabee Justin Fiorella, 28, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We know what other vets have been through and are going through now."

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