Of Note

Peake Confirmed as New VA Secretary


Dr. James B. Peake was approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on December 5 to become VA’s new Secretary. At press time, the Committee had not set a date for a confirmation vote in the full Senate.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Dr. James B. Peake
Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Dr. James B. Peake

Peake was nominated to the position by President George W. Bush on October 30 following the resignation of R. James Nicholson, which was effective October 1. Peake visited with members of the House and Senate during the month of November prior to his appearance before the Committee.

Peake is a 1966 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and began his career as an infantry officer. He served as a platoon leader in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. For his efforts under fire, he was awarded the Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor, and two Purple Hearts. After Vietnam, Peake attended Cornell University Medical College and became board certified in general and thoracic surgery.

In 2000, Peake was nominated as the 40th Surgeon General of the Army and as Commander of the U.S. Medical Command. Four years later, he joined Project Hope, a nonprofit international health foundation with offices and programs in more than 30 different countries on five continents.

Peake has most recently worked closely with former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi as Chief Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer at QTC Management, the largest private provider of government-outsourced occupational health and disability examination services in the country.

COLA Rises 2.3 Percent


The Department of Labor has announced that the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2008 is 2.3 percent. The increase will apply to military retirees and their survivors as well as to Social Security annuities and certain other federal payments that affect millions of Americans.

The increase is the lowest since 2004, having come in at 2.7 percent in 2005, 4.1 percent in 2006, and 3.3 percent in 2007.

COLAs are set by comparing the change in the consumer price index for wage earners and clerical workers from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next year. The COLA is lower for 2008 due to a drop in energy costs in August and September.

The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2007, Public Law 110-111, applies the COLA to veterans benefits.

Poel Retires from VA

VA Blind Rehabilitation Service Director Stanley Poel announced his retirement from government employment in a memo circulated throughout BRS on November 7. His last day at VA Central Office was November 30.
Stan Poel, middle, accepts BVA’s appreciation for dedicated service to America’s blinded veterans from Tom Miller, right, and Tom Zampieri.
Stan Poel, middle, accepts BVA’s appreciation for dedicated service to America’s blinded veterans from Tom Miller, right, and Tom Zampieri.

Poel, a 25-year advocate for blinded veterans in a variety of capacities, also served as Chief of Blind Rehabilitation at the Waco, Texas, VA Medical Center before being appointed as acting national director on April 21, 2005.He was shortly thereafter appointed to be the permanent director.

Poel’s aforementioned statement read: “After careful consideration of personal and family matters, I have decided to retire from government service effective November 30, 2007. It has been an honor for me to serve blinded veterans. I am proud of your commitment and your accomplishments in meeting the needs of our nation’s heroes. My friendships in the blind rehabilitation community mean a great deal to me. I leave with some disappointment that I will no longer be a part of the exciting new developments in Blind Rehabilitation Service but with the excitement of the opportunity to spend more time with my family and to explore new personal opportunities.

Tom Miller and Tom Zampieri presented Poel with a plaque of appreciation on behalf of BVA in a private meeting on November 30.

Editor’s Notes on Additional Social Security Earnings

The “Of Note” section of the Summer 2007 BVA Bulletin included a two-paragraph write-up entitled “Extra Social Security Earnings for Service.” The short piece generated a number of calls and other inquiries to the Bulletin editor and Director of the Field Service Program at BVA National Headquarters from veterans who served in the U.S. Military during 1940-2001.

According to Eva Lujan, Public Affairs Officer at the Social Security Administration (SSA) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, veterans who qualify for the extra earnings have, in probably 99.9 percent of the cases, already had it calculated into their future paychecks when they first applied for Social Security benefits.

The additional earnings are also not blanket payments but credits to income already earned during the course of one’s years of gainful employment, however long such a time period was. The earnings are based on the amount of Social Security taxes paid over that same span.

“What your previous Bulletin information should have mentioned is that most of your readers are already receiving the credit, and that the amount of additional money per Social Security check is probably a matter of cents rather than dollars,” said Lujan.
The Bulletin regrets not having provided a more complete picture of the additional earnings benefit and not having acknowledged that most blinded veterans are most likely already receiving it. Lujan, who participated in Field Service Representative training at the BVA 62nd National Convention, encourages Bulletin readers who are still in doubt to contact SSA at 800-772-1213 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

“The Social Security representative can access, confidentially, the client’s records right during the telephone call and determine whether they are receiving the extra earnings,” she said. “If they are eligible and this has somehow been overlooked in the past, they need only to take their DD-214 to a local Social Security office in order to correct the situation.”

“The American Veteran” Debuts in December

A new monthly half-hour program from VA using the latest in video and broadcast technologies, stirring music, creative graphics, and solid writing seeks to inform active duty service members, veterans, and their families about the services and benefits they have earned while simultaneously honoring and recognizing their service.

Featuring a news magazine format, “The American Veteran” is produced by VA’s Office of Public Affairs and the VA Learning University/Employee Education System (VALU/EES). It is broadcast to VA facilities on the department’s own internal network and around the world on The Pentagon Channel and community cable outlets. Also targeted to the American general public, the program relates stories of heroism and sacrifice. It also relives moments in history with those who previously experienced it, reminding veterans of the bond of service they all share.

“We are committed to informing veterans and active duty military alike about VA’s many benefits and services, and we are very pleased with the quality and reach of “The American Veteran,” said Acting VA Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield. “The feedback and recognition the program has received is a testament to the effort put in by all involved.”

Included in the December program was information about technology for the blind and visually impaired, prevention of falls, the VA suicide prevention hotline, and applying for VA benefits. It also profiled World War II Bataan Death March survivor Ralph Levenberg, who survived three years as a Japanese POW, and Vietnam veteran Wayne Miller, who lost a leg in combat and is today a Vet Center Team Leader and an award-winning athlete and singer.

The VA Office of Public Affairs offers the program to local broadcasters and cable/satellite outlets. It is already available via DISH, EchoStar, T-Warner, and Cox. To view the news magazine on the VA website, go to www.va.gov and click first on “Public Affairs” and then on “Featured Items.” It can also be viewed right as it is being broadcast at www.pentagonchannel.mil.

For more information or to find out how to obtain the program for local broacast, contact VA at 202-273-5730.

Unique Cruises Available To Blind, Visually Impaired

Two upcoming cruises tailored to the needs of the blind and visually impaired have been arranged by a Midwestern travel agency. Damar Travel’s seven-day Hawaiian Island Cruise will leave Honolulu on August 2, 2008 and include the following Ports of Call: Hilo, Maui, Kona, and Kauai. A seven-day Fall Foliage Cruise will depart New York City on Carnival’s Victor on September 27, 2008 and return October 4. Visits include Boston, Portland (Maine), St. John’s New Brunswick, and Halifax (Nova Scotia).

Damar cruises are fully escorted with Braille signs placed throughout public areas. Assistance with service animals is also provided, as are verbally descriptive movies, Braille or large-print menus, and audiocassette versions of daily activities. For more information, contact Dave Kronk at 800-999-6101. An auditory online link at http://www.damarmain.com/blind provides an overview of Damar’s services to the blind and visually impaired.

VA Clarifies Policy on Flag-folding Recitations


Recent misunderstandings regarding recitations made while the U.S. flag is being folded at the gravesite of a veteran at any of the 125 national cemeteries operated by VA has brought a clarification of the policy. The clarification seeks to ensure that burial services reflect the wishes of veterans and their families.

“Honoring the burial wishes of veterans is one of the highest commitments for the men and women of VA,” said William F. Tuerk, VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs. “Families may request the recitation of words to accompany the meaningful presentation of the American flag as we honor the dedication and sacrifice of their loved ones.”

Traditional gravesite military funeral honors include the silent folding and presentation of an American flag, a 21-gun rifle salute, and the playing of Taps. The clarification includes the following:

  1. Volunteer honor guards are authorized to read the so-called “13-fold” flag recitation or any comparable script.
  2. Survivors of the deceased need to provide material and request that it be read by the volunteer honor guards.
  3. Volunteer honor guards will accept requests for recitations that reflect any or no religious traditions, on an equal basis.

Veterans with a discharge other than dishonorable, their spouses, and eligible dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Other burial benefits available for all eligible veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker.

“Silver Book” Released

Silver Book: Vision Loss, a compendium of the latest data on the incidence and economic burden of aging eye disease, is now available online. The module was written and released by the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) in partnership with the Alliance for Aging Research.

“The Silver Book: Vision Loss is a great source of information when one considers the numbers of Americans to be affected by blindness and low vision over the next 15 years,” said Tom Zampieri.

In addition to its focus on the burdens of age-related eye disease, the text also discusses the potential for innovative treatments that are emerging from current research which could, ultimately, relieve such burdens.

A comprehensive summary of a Capitol Hill briefing about the book is found at http://www.eyeresearch.org/naevr_action/silverbookevent.html. The book itself is located at www.silverbook.org/visionloss.

Mental Health Assessment Assists Veterans, Families

An initiative funded by the Department of Defense offers veterans, service personnel, and their family members the opportunity to take anonymous, free mental health and alcohol screenings online, via the telephone, and through special events held at installations.

The Mental Health Self-Assessment Program (MHSAP) is designed to help individuals identify their own symptoms and access assistance before a problem becomes serious. The tests available address common yet often under treated and misunderstood conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and alcohol abuse.
Once the self-assessment is completed, examinees are given information on where to turn for a full evaluation. MHSAP can be accessed online and by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at www.militarymentalhealth.org and 877-877-3647.

“Shades of Green” Salutes Veterans

Shades of Green, An Armed Forces Recreation Center located right on the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, is now offering all military veterans the opportunity to stay at the resort during the months of January and September as part of its “Salute to our Veterans” program.

The center is one of five self-supporting Armed Forces recreation facilities in the world. It provides luxury accommodations at a fraction of the cost of similar facilities.

Shades of Green sits between the Palm and Magnolia Golf Courses, two of Disney’s PGA-certified courses. It consists of 30 acres of landscaped grounds with cascading waterfalls and tropical gardens. Guests are provided transportation to all Walt Disney World attractions and early entry into select venues.

While Shades of Green can assist honorably discharged veterans year-round in acquiring discounted accommodations in neighboring resorts and hotels, the “Salute to our Veterans” program allows veterans to book rooms at Shades of Green Resort for the first time. Space is limited and early reservations are required.

For more information or to make room reservations, call Shades of Green at 407-827-8387 or go online at www.shadesofgreenvets.org

Health Literacy Tool Serves Older Adults

A new information resource filled with useful strategies and suggestions to help bridge the communication gap between professionals and older adults is now available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Quick Guide to Health literacy and Older Adults” has, as a focus, special issues that apply to older adults, including visual and hearing impairment, in an era in which individuals are asked to take a greater role in managing their own health. It offers strategies in plain language for dealing with such issues, including an emphasis on desired actions rather than actions to avoid.

For more information about the guide, visitwww.health.gov/communication/literacy/olderadults/default.htm

Free Service Offers Literature Goldmine

Some 400 classic and contemporary book titles can now be read entirely free of charge via email and RSS installments.

The service, DailyLit, allows readers to choose how often and at what time they want the email messages sent to them. Books on DailyLit can be read through any medium on which a reader receives email, including on a PDA, Blackberry, iPhone, or Treo.

Each installment can be read in less than five minutes and, if a reader finishes a particular installment and chooses to read more, the next installment of the book can be received immediately.

“We have received fabulous feedback from members of the blind community that this service, for those who have computers equipped with screen reading software, is a great resource,” said DailyLit founder Daisy Kline.

Horses for Heroes Moves Forward

The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc. (NARHA) of Denver, Colorado, has developed a nationwide “Horses for Heroes” program for America’s wounded service personnel and veterans.

“Appreciating the power of the horse to change lives is our goal,” said NARHA President Dr. Paul Spiers.

A March 2007 meeting between VA and several members of a Horses for Heroes task force initiated the new partnership. Since then, the task force has provided additional information to VA Voluntary Services, BRS, and Recreation Therapy Service.

Presentations at VA have been received positively with pledges of continued support to expand the program.

“This has been an incredible opportunity and honor for NARHA to be working with VA and its service areas to provide equine-assisted activities to the wounded military returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the many other veterans who can benefit from the various programs that all NARHA member centers provide,” said Sheila Kemper Dietrich, NARHA’s Chief Executive Officer. “It is a great partnership that we are building with a potential for more good to come in the future.”

For more information about Horses for Heroes, including program guidelines, a fact sheet, program contact information, printed articles, and a photo gallery, visit www.narha.org and click on the NARHA Horses for Heroes link. Marketing Coordinator Anthony Chavez is also available at 800-369-7433, Ext. 125, or atachavez@narha.org.

Educator Website Addresses Blindness

A website that addresses education and disabilities features a page on blindness that contains potentially useful information for BVA members and their families.

The site, managed by public school teacher Chris Glavin, is http://www.k12academics.com. Topics related to blindness include causes, adaptive techniques and tools, social attitudes toward blindness, organizations, support services, books, videos, magazines, products, software, mailing lists, and a community discussion list for the visual impaired.

Traveling Wall Still Moving

The Wall That Heals, an exhibition featuring a 250-foot replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, continues to travel across America to major cities and small towns.

The traveling exhibit, now in its 11th year, addresses not only the loss of life but the contributions of the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are inscribed on The Wall. More than 2 million individuals have visited the exhibit. Stops have occurred in more than 250 U.S. locations in addition to an April 1999 tour of the Four Provinces of Ireland and a visit to Canada in 2005.

According to Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, The Wall That Heals is a money-saver for those who cannot visit the Memorial in Washington or who may find the war’s legacy easier to confront within their own communities.
“It transcends the Vietnam War to help our great nation renew its relationship with veterans of all wars and to help veterans from all of America’s conflicts to find healing and a powerful connection through their common military experience,” said Scruggs.

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