The largest expansion of the GI Bill since 2008 was signed into law and will help veterans, surviving dependents of those killed in action, veterans wounded in combat, and those harmed by for-profit schools closures achieved their educational goals. The Forever GI Bill, which will ensure veterans pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math have enough GI Bill benefits to complete their degrees - a provision that was researched and advocated by two VFW Student Veterans of American (SVA) Legislative Fellows. This bill will protect student veterans who attend schools that close abruptly; expands eligibility to service members, veterans and surviving family members who were unjustly denied access to GI Bill benefits; and removes the 15-year "use-or-lose" restriction.
The VA Appeals Reform, which will speed the process for veterans who wish to appeal their disability rating decision. This is a great leap toward restoring veterans' faith in their VA. This legislation will move to fix the problem of veterans waiting five, seven or even more years for answers on VA disability claims. Veterans will have choices and their due process rights will be protected by this legislation.
Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which will ensure VA is able to hold accountable employees who endanger the life and well-being of our nation's veterans and protect VA employees brave enough to identify ways the VA is failing veterans.
The VFW worked to ensure VA was made stronger with new expedited authority to hire high quality doctors and accountability legislation that protects whistle blowers and provides VA the authority to hold wrongdoers accountable for endangering the lives of our nation's veterans.
Choice Extension and VA Workforce Improvements will ensure veterans can continue to receive care from private sector providers when VA care is not readily available and makes urgently needed improvement to the VA health care system.
The VFW was also instrumental in the enactment of a law which authorizes the building of a national memorial dedicated to those who served in the Global War on Terrorism. The United States has been engaged in numerous theatres against a stateless enemy known as terror for decades. After September 11, 2001, the Global War on Terror took a new meaning to many, including thousands who have served in the military during this effort. However, the current laws governing when a memorial to a conflict can be built do not take into account a conflict that may not know an end date. The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act clears the way for construction of the GWOT Memorial on the National Mall. VFW advocates were the driving force behind the legislation.
Arla Harrell Act - Veterans of World War II were exposed to mustard gas, but few records exist that would meet the requirements of VA to file for disability compensation and health care. The VFW supported liberalizing the evidence requirements for those veterans so they can get their claims successfully adjudicated, as the damage done by this exposure has not gone away.
A very valuable part of some of these victories was research performed by the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellows. The VFW saw the third year of this program and three of the Fellows from different years saw the legislation they touted become law; the VFW is the only veterans' organization able to claim this.
"While we celebrate these victories, we know more battles lie ahead. Please, continue to stay vigilant in the fight for veterans' rights," said Carlos Fuentes, VFW Director, National Legislative Service.
As veterans' advocates, we can influence and help shape public perception, and persuade our elected representatives to support improvements in the quality of life of our veterans, our service members and their families.
The key to getting our members actively involved to best support their local VFW Post is to properly prepare them. We provide them a foundation of three important things:
1. An understanding of our mission
2. A mentor to train them
3. A role that they can fill to make them feel like they are an important member of the team.
Properly prepared, they can play an active part in their Post and Auxiliary and assume responsibility within their community as an effective advocate for veterans.
Together, we can help make a difference in the lives of our veterans by helping preserve and protect the sacred promises made to them when they signed up to defend our country and our way of life. It is now our turn to pay forward for the sacrifices they have freely made for the freedom and liberties we now enjoy.