GOP TARGETS VETERANS GUN BAN — THE HILL The Obama administration is facing congressional scrutiny for blocking more than a quarter-million military veterans from owning guns.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reported more than 257,000 former members of the military who cannot manage their finances to the FBI’s list of people who are not allowed to own guns, Republicans claim, even though “it has nothing to do with regulating firearms.”

“The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is effectively a national gun ban list and placement on the list precludes the ownership and possession of firearms,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote in a recent letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

The VA is responsible for appointing a fiduciary to help veterans who it determines cannot manage their own finances, but the agency is also taking the additional step of reporting these veterans to the “mental defective” category of the FBI’s background check system, even if they do not pose a danger to society, the senators allege.

The senators called the practice “highly suspect” and said veterans’ ability to manage their own finances is “totally unrelated” to whether they should be prohibited from owning a gun.

“Under the current practice, a VA finding that concludes a veteran requires a fiduciary to administer benefit payments effectively voids his Second Amendment rights,” the senators wrote.

“At no time in the process does the VA determine a veteran to be a danger to themself or others, a key determinant for whether someone is a ‘mental defective,’ precluding the right to own firearms,” they added.

In a separate letter to Senate appropriators, Grassley requested lawmakers block the VA from continuing this practice in the upcoming budget negotiations.

Grassley also complained about the practice in another letter sent last year to the Justice Department.

Republicans hope the congressional inquiries will pressure the VA to stop the practice.
The VA noted in a statement to The Hill that it is legally required to report veterans who are “mentally incompetent” to the FBI, which then decides whether to prohibit these former soldiers from owning guns.

“From time to time, media has reported that VA ‘confiscates’ veterans’ firearms,” a VA spokesman said in a statement. “This is simply not true. VA has no authority to confiscate or ‘seize’ anyone’s firearms.”

INSPECTOR GENERAL: VA SCHEDULERS ‘ZEROED OUT’ WAIT TIMES FOR TX VETERANS SEEKING HEALTH CARE — CNS NEWS — An investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “substantiated” reports that schedulers at the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Houston, Texas “zeroed out” patient wait times between 2010 and 2014 in order to make it appear that veterans were being seen by healthcare professionals during the standard 14-day time period. “Interviews of [25 current and former] schedulers in all three services disclosed that clerks had been trained to schedule by using the patients’ actual appointment date as their desired date,” a March 8 report by Quentin Aucoin, assistant inspector general (IG) for investigations at the VA, revealed.

FLORIDA IN BOTTOM QUARTER IN VETERAN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE — ORLANDO SENTINEL — Florida was in the lower 25 percent of all states in veteran unemployment last year, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday. The agency each year takes a look at veteran employment, compiling numbers throughout the year through monthly surveys. Overall, the state sits ahead of 11 others with its 5.4 percent unemployment rate among veterans. The unemployment rate among so-called “Gulf War-era II veterans” dipped to 5.8 percent from 7.2 percent the previous year. Gulf War era II includes veterans who have served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001. That remains slightly higher than the U.S.’s February unemployment rate of 4.9 percent. The jobless rate nationally for all veterans is at 4.6 percent. Veteran unemployment was lowest in Iowa (1.9 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (7.7 percent). Central Florida is home to a cluster of defense companies, many of which employ veterans. These include Lockheed Martin, Cubic Corporation, Northrop Grumman and many others. Every year, the city hosts one of the largest defense conferences in the World. The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference brings thousands of companies working in the defense industry into the region in late November/early December.

CHUCK HAGEL LAMENTS THE DEARTH OF VETERANS IN KEY NATIONAL SECURITY ROLES — MILITARY TIMES — Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel worries that too few veterans are helping shape national security decisions today. On Tuesday, during comments at a HillVets event across the street from the U.S. Capitol, Hagel said the lack of veterans in key political posts has left a “deficit” in critical military and security discussions, and helped widen the knowledge gap between civilians and those who served in the military. “When you look at the presidential candidates today, not one is a veteran,” Hagel told the crowd of more than 200. “Our current president and vice president are not veterans. The entire senior White House security staff, none are veterans. “That doesn’t mean they’re bad people, that doesn’t mean they’re not smart, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about this country. But there is something missing here. And at a time when everything is hair-triggered, everything is nitro glycerine, and miscalculations can lead to a lot of trouble, we need veterans input.” Hagel’s remarks were part of a larger event by HillVets to highlight contributions by military, veterans and advocates in politics and wider cultural efforts. The group honored Shaye Lynne Haver and Kristen Marie Griest, who last August became the first women to graduate from Army Ranger School, with a new leadership and service award.

WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR A VA WIDOW’S PENSION? — MOTLEY FOOL — Military veterans are entitled to certain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including healthcare and pension benefits. Following the death of a military veteran, the VA also pays a survivor pension, also known as a widow’s pension, to qualifying family members. Let’s take a closer look at the qualifications for receiving the VA widow’s pension.

A need-based benefit

The VA widow’s pension is payable to families with relatively low incomes, including both a surviving spouse and unmarried children. In order to qualify, the veteran must meet the requirements of military service, and the family must meet yearly family income limitations.

To meet the military service requirement, the veteran must generally have wartime service. For those who served before Sept. 7, 1980, 90 days of active military service is necessary, and at least one of those days has to have been served during a war-time period. For those entering active duty after Sept. 7, 1980, at least 24 months of service is necessary unless the full period for which the servicemember was called to active duty was shorter. In addition, at least one day must have been during a war-time period. In addition, the veteran must not have been dishonorably discharged.

Eligible family members include the surviving spouse, but benefits end if the surviving spouse remarries. In addition, children of wartime veterans can receive benefits if they are under 18, under 23 and attending an approved educational institution, or incapable of self-support due to a disability before reaching age 18.

Calculating the benefit

To figure out the amount of the pension benefit, you need to compare what counts as income against the annual pension limit. The annual pension limit depends on the size of the surviving family as well as other factors, such as whether the surviving spouse is housebound or is eligible for aid and attendance benefits. You can find the full list of benefits for various families here.

This maximum amount is reduced by what’s known as countable income, which includes wages and salaries, disability and retirement payments, and investment income. Unreimbursed medical expenses above 5% of your maximum pension limit can reduce your income. Once you subtract countable income from your maximum pension, and you’ll have the net widow’s pension that you’ll receive. If your countable income is greater than the annual pension limit, then you won’t receive a widow’s benefit.

The VA widow’s pension isn’t a huge amount. For some families, though, it can make the difference between getting by and not having enough.

NINETY-SIX MAN CONVICTED OF TRYING TO DEFRAUD VETERANS AFFAIRS — COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) —- A 48-year-old man from the town of Ninety-Six was sentenced in federal court this week for conspiring to defraud Veterans Affairs. Charles B. Harris was sentenced to 20 months in prison and ordered him to pay $45,000 in restitution. Prosecutors showed during the trial that from 2011 to 2014, Harris owned and operated the Greenwood Barber College, a school that was approved by the VA to teach veterans how to be barbers. Harris was supposed to certify student attendance and progress. In December 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs received a complaint that Harris was conspiring with various veterans in stealing government funds, prosecutors said. That’s when agents opened an investigation and talked to several students who said they made an agreement to pay Harris $400 per month and they would not have to attend classes.

BEST FOR VETS: EMPLOYERS 2016 — OUR 7TH ANNUAL RANKINGS — MILITARY TIMES — Should you base your civilian career on your military job? Many service members use their transitions out of the military as a chance to start over and ditch the career paths that their military occupations started them on. Doing so comes with advantages and disadvantages, all of which transitioning veterans should weigh carefully. If you have a decade’s worth of military experience in a field that translates well into the civilian world, changing course could force you to start at the bottom, with a salary to match, rather than at a higher level that recognizes the technical skills you learned in uniform. “When you work from weakness, it only makes it more challenging,” said Evan Guzman, head of military programs and veteran affairs at Verizon, which tops our Best for Vets: Employers rankings for the second consecutive year.

TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP OUR VETERANS — TEXAS INSIDER — WASHINGTON, D.C. — A few weeks ago, my Democratic Colleague from Massachusetts, Seth Moulton, posted a Facebook video that went viral. One of his staffers, who is also a Veteran, tried for several minutes to make an appointment with this local VA Medical Center by phone, only to be pushed through a never-ending cycle of prompts that kept taking him back to the beginning. He was never able to talk to a real person and was unsuccessful in scheduling an appointment. The reaction was universal – “That’s outrageous!” What’s even more outrageous is that no one was particularly surprised. This level of customer service from the VA has come to be expected, and that is deeply unfortunate. I am working to change that.

FEMALE ARMED FORCES VETERANS BOUND BY SERVICE, SACRIFICE — THE ACORN — Mary Bandini said it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to approach her and her husband when they see the U.S. Air Force sticker on the back of her car. It is also not uncommon, she said, for those same people to drive her to “tears of fury” by belittling or dismissing her service to her country because she’s a woman. Bandini was a staff sergeant in the security forces division of the U.S. Air Force for six years. “People will come running up to him, across the parking lot, to reach out and shake his hand,” she said. “And he says, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person. I didn’t serve. She did,’ and they look at me and go, ‘Oh, OK,’ and turn around and walk away.” Bandini, the commander of VFW Post 10049 in Simi Valley, said such exchanges are part of a much larger and more complicated issue. M any female service members do not think of themselves as veterans and, as a result, do not seek—or know—the services and resources available to


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