Compiled by Frank Matranga

In August, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. This bill is the product of years of discussion and work between the VFW, Congress, VA and other veterans’ organizations to create streamlined, non-adversarial, process for veterans to appeal a decision on their VA benefit claims.

VA’s current process has been outdated for many years, which has resulted in roughly 500,000 appeals being placed on hold due to VA’s existing backlog. In fact, between 2015 and 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000, a more than 20 percent increase.

The new process applies to new appeals and would allow certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system, which creates three separate paths for veterans to choose from when seeking redress from a decision by Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits.

However, the bill requires the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals.

Veterans appealing their claims decisions now have three choices: seek a local “higher-level review” by a regional office (RO) utilizing the same evidence; file a supplemental claim with an RO with new supplemental evidence; or appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals, which might result in a hearing and/or the opportunity to submit supplemental evidence.

VFW/SVA fellows
achieve legislative success

In a major victory for the VFW-Student Veterans of America (SVA) Legislative Fellowship program, two recently enacted laws include legislation supported by research from three past legislative fellows.

This marks the first such win for the program that has enabled 30 student veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., and advocate for legislation improving care and benefits for the nation’s veterans.

Karthik Venkatraj, a captain in the Colorado Army National Guard and 2017 VFW/SVA legislative fellow, advocated earlier this year for a two-way exchange of leadership between the private sector and VA, this became the basis for VA’s new executive fellowship program, included in S. 114, which was signed into law in August.

Marine Corps veterans Ryan Taylor, of Florida, and Rob Janice, of Arizona, researched the need for additional GI Bill funding to support veterans pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees. Their work was included in the recently enacted Forever GI Bill, which will give veterans seeking STEM degrees and additional year of post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

Now in its fourth year, the VFW-SVA legislative fellowship offers 10 student veterans the opportunity to meet face-to-face with members of Congress during the VFW annual National Legislative Conference, which will be held March 4-9, 2018.

“We have seen brilliant ideas and amazing research come from this program, and to see actual legislation become law is empowering for those selected fellows,” said Ken Wiseman, VFW National Legislative Service associated director.

Two former fellows have become accredited service officers and others became Congressional staffers. The VFW even hired one fellow.

“This program opened doors for me and led me to being hired,” said Wiseman, a member of the very first class of fellows.

VFW and SVA are now accepting applications from student veterans interested in participating in the 2018 fellowship program. VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship opportunities are open to student veterans at colleges and universities with active SVA chapters. Candidates must be VFW members. All applications must be submitted by close of business on Oct. 20.

Selected fellows will be notified before Thanksgiving, with a formal announcement of the fellowship class in January 2018 at the SVA National Conference in San Antonio.

For full details about the fellowship and to apply, go online to

VFW helps save
Choice Program

VFW members made their voices heard in August as Congress prepared to vote on S. 114, the Department of Veterans Affairs Transparency Act.

It contained an amendment that called for the gradual privatization of veterans’ health care, a move VFW is against.

After being inundated with emails and phone calls from concerned veterans, the House voted down S. 114. Immediately thereafter, VFW worked with Congress to amend the bill to fix the funding shortfall of the Choice Program, which offers private-care options for veterans who live more than 40 miles driving distance from a VA medical facility or can’t get a VA appointment within 30 days.

VFW believes the amendment improves VA’s health care system through such actions as bolstering training for VA doctors and authorizing VA to enter into 28 leases for additional medical facilities.

The amendment version of S. 114 passed both House and Senate and was signed by President Trump in August.

Medal of Honor recipient touts VFW book

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Livingston discussed the Vietnam War 50th commemoration program, which began in 2014. Calling the Vietnam War the “most misunderstood and misinterpreted conflict apart from the Korean War,” the Medal of Honor recipient corrected multiple myths about the war in Southeast Asia, including how most who served were drafted.

“Draftees accounted for only 32 percent of all combat deaths,” the life member of Post 10624 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, said. “Another myth was that most of those killed in action were under the age of 20, when in reality more men over age 30 died.

Saying there has been a “renewed interest” in the Vietnam War, Livingston said it’s important to remember those who did not return from the war. To that end, he encouraged members to purchase a copy of “VFW Brutal Battles of Vietnam: America’s Deadliest Days, 1965-1972,” calling it “an honest historical preservation” of the Vietnam War.

Livingston participated in the May 1968 Battle of Dai Do, which is featured in the book. Serving as the commanding officer of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Livingston earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 2.

“This battle is less known, yet was critical to saving the entire province,” he said. Failure would have been a disaster for our nation, and it could have ended the war later that year or even the next with a north Vietnamese Military victory.”

Rocky Bleier, a former NFL football player and member of VFW Post 5756 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, wrote the forward to “Brutal Battles” and sent a videotaped message praising the book that was shown during the convention’s business session.

“This work is a permanent keepsake that every Vietnam vet should possess to share with family and friends,” he said from his home in Pittsburgh.