Senator Gaines Asks Governor to Support California Veterans in Bonus Repayment Fiasco

Source: Office of Senator Ted Gaines  |  2016-10-25


Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) today sent the following letter to Governor Jerry Brown requesting that he take action to support the California National Guard veterans being forced to repay enlistment bonuses:

Dear Governor Brown,

I am writing to ask you to be a champion for more than 10,000 California National Guard veterans who are currently being subjected to an unbelievable injustice.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that these Guard members have been ordered to repay enlistment bonuses they received as a condition for enlisting or reenlisting in the Guard during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the nation was desperate for combat soldiers to carry out its missions.

These soldiers deployed in combat roles and risked their lives in service to freedom and their fellow Americans. Now, due to incompetence and mismanagement in the enlistment bonus program, the Department of Defense is demanding repayment from these soldiers a decade after the fact.

This is unacceptable. The time for certainty in this program was BEFORE these fighting men and women shipped off to war. To demand these bonuses back now is little more than a cruel bait-and-switch for our combat veterans. The calculation in this travesty is entirely backwards – it is the country that owes, and will continue to owe, a debt to these soldiers.

Thank you in advance for working with California’s legislative delegation in Washington to ensure that our veterans are being honored for their service and not suffering from this betrayal at the hands of the Pentagon.

Sincerely,

Ted Gaines

Senator, 1st District

Senator Ted Gaines represents the 1st Senate District, which includes all or parts of Alpine, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra and Siskiyou counties.


IRS Marks National Military Appreciation Month

Source: IRS  |  2016-05-26

May is National Military Appreciation Month, and the Internal Revenue Service wants members of the military and their families to know about the many tax benefits available to them.

Each year, the IRS publishes Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide, a free booklet packed with valuable information and tips designed to help service members and their families take advantage of all tax benefits allowed by law. This year’s edition is posted on www.IRS.gov.

Available tax benefits include:

  • Combat pay is partly or fully tax-free.

  • Reservists whose reserve-related duties take them more than 100 miles from home can deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ, even if they don’t itemize their deductions.

  • Eligible unreimbursed moving expenses are deductible on Form 3903.

  • Low-and moderate-income service members often qualify for such family-friendly tax benefits as the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a special computation method is available for those who receive combat pay.

  • Low-and moderate-income service members who contribute to an IRA or 401(k)-type retirement plan, such as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, can often claim the saver’s credit, also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, on Form 8880.

  • Service members stationed abroad have extra time, until June 15, to file a federal income tax return. Those serving in a combat zone have even longer, typically until 180 days after they leave the combat zone.

  • Service members may qualify to delay payment of income tax due before or during their period of service. See Publication 3 for details including how to request relief.

Service members who prepare their own return qualify to electronically file their federal return for free using IRS Free File. In addition, the IRS partners with the military through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to provide free tax preparation to service members and their families at bases in the United States and around the world.


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Placer Speeds Access to Housing Assistance, Focuses On Veterans

Source: Scott Sandow, Placer County  |  2016-03-29

Having a place to call home is a basic human need, but for some, having a home can be a tremendous struggle.

The Placer County Public Housing Authority Board of Commissioners March 22 took two steps to improve access to resources for those struggling to afford a place to live, updating its housing assistance plan to streamline applications for veterans and reduce wait times for rental assistance vouchers.

The voucher program, formerly known as the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program, is a rental assistance program to help low-income individuals and families, persons with disabilities, veterans and seniors so they can live in affordable, safe and decent housing. The program covers all of Placer County with the exception of the City of Roseville, which has its own housing authority.

Placer County’s housing assistance resources are administered under the Placer County Housing Authority Administrative Plan, a policy document required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to receive federal funding for local programs.

Placer’s updated plan, which was approved by PHA Board of Commissioners, as well as submission of the board’s resolution and required certificates of program compliance, will secure $2.1 million in federal funding for the Placer County Housing Choice Voucher program, providing up to 297 subsidized housing vouchers.

One update to the plan allows veterans preferential placement on the housing authority’s waiting list. Currently, Placer County has 69 vouchers available through a separate Department of Veterans Affairs voucher program. Local veterans currently use 35 of these vouchers. These veterans are referred to the county by the VA office in Reno, Nevada. Under the current program, the county cannot seek out veterans to apply to the program. Instead, veterans must be referred to the county by the VA.

“This new amendment will allow veterans who are not part of the VA voucher program preferential placement on the housing authority list,” said Jeff Brown, director of Placer County’s Health and Human Services Department. “We are committed to providing the best possible housing solutions for the community we serve, and that includes the veterans who have served our country.”

The plan update also allows the housing authority to open its waiting list annually rather than every couple of years. This will help reduce the number of applicants waiting for assistance, rather than the current process of clearing off people who have already found housing and identifying those applicants still in-need.

The program is not limited to units in subsidized housing projects and allows participants to choose their own housing, including single family homes, townhomes and apartments, provided they meet program requirements.

The voucher program currently assists 556 Placer County residents. There are 200 people on the waiting list. Placer County staff anticipate the wait list will be open this fall once the current list has been purged of applicants no longer in-need of the program. The wait list opens when the number of applicants is low enough to warrant a new list.

Visit the Placer County Housing Choice Voucher Program for more information. More information on Roseville’s Housing Choice Voucher program is available here.


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Veterans Healing by Writing War Stories

Story and photos by Steve Liddick  |  2016-03-18

Veteran writing program Co-Director Indigo Moor works with Emtt Hawkins, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, to express his feelings about his experiences.

A character in John Steinbeck’s classic novel “East of Eden” had suffered unimaginable pain and loss in his life. He was asked how he could live with those memories. He said, “I forget by remembering.”

That concept is being applied to a small Sacramento area group of veterans of America’s wars. A writing workshop doubles as a support group to help each to offset the trauma of battle by giving them a way to confront the demons they continue to carry with them.

Rancho Cordova Library Branch Supervisor Jill Stockinger coordinates the writing program that is funded by a four-year state and federal grant. She said veterans returning from war are an “underserved population,” and those who still suffer the effects of war can benefit by writing. Therapeutic, of course, but the hope is that it will be enjoyable, as well. “Self-expression is a positive experience,” she said. “We encourage veterans to express themselves to help them adjust to civilian life.”

Seated around a table in a quiet room in the library, five veterans gathered to write of their experiences among others who will understand what they have gone through.

Local writer, poet, and CSUS and Sacramento City College English professor Bob Stanley is co-director of the group in the first of what will be four Wednesday evening sessions at the library. The remaining three sessions are: March 30th, April 20th, and May 18th. Veterans of all branches and all eras are welcome, even if they were not able to attend the first session.

“The main focus of the group will be to get words down on paper,” Bob Stanley said. Any subject, any form. No rules or pressure came with the exercise. Each was encouraged to express what they feel and put it in words.

Co-Director Indigo Moor is a poet, screenwriter, and author as well as a U.S. Navy veteran of Desert Storm. Moor read from the published works of several war veterans who had poured out their feelings as free verse poetry. One of those works was a poignant retelling of the poet’s visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Judging from the reaction of those present, the words were resonating with them as well.

Another author wrote obscurely of things he heard, saw, and felt on a night patrol in Vietnam, but which each of the veterans present easily interpreted as a soldier waiting for the enemy to come at him from the darkness. Not knowing was as damaging to the psyche as combat itself.

At one point Moor asked those present to close their eyes and envision that “one moment that defines the [war] experience” for them. He urged the men to use the sights and sounds of their experiences in the writing exercise, “use the senses that keep us interested,” he said. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of what happened, he asked that they call upon their feelings and condense them onto paper.

Some who attended are still burdened by what happened to them in their war. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Daniel Gomez served four tours in Vietnam. Gomez was wounded twice and continues to suffer the health effects of the injuries, exposure to Agent Orange defoliant, and malaria. When asked why he was attending the workshop, he said, “To figure out why the hell I’m still here.” His war may have ended four decades ago, but it is still as fresh in his mind as yesterday.

The five men who attended the gathering represented different branches of the service: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, as well as different wars: Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Carmichael resident Bob Pacholik is an author of some renown. He was a U.S. Army combat photographer in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. His book “Night Flares: Six Tales of the Vietnam War,” chronicles the war and honors the men and women who served in it.

Most of those present were there for the therapeutic value writing might offer. Some of the men said they hoped to continue to write beyond the program. Emmett Hawkins served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea. Among other subjects he is interested in religion and history.

For each of the veterans who took part in the Rancho Cordova writing workshop, the object was to reduce their experience down to its essence to help them to better understand what happened to them.

Poetry: a large idea, written small.

For additional information about the veterans writing project, check out www.saclibrary.org and click on “events.” Also, the library information line number is (916) 264-2920.


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Veterans Seek Alternative Treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-01

(BPT) - Most people can’t imagine being terrified by the sound of a fork falling and hitting the ground. They don’t understand how someone cannot sleep because the fear of recurring nightmares keeps them awake. They’ve never experienced anxiety that turns everyday tasks into impossible chores.

But for thousands of American veterans, these are just a few symptoms that can make their lives unbearable. And while millions are aware of the condition they suffer from - post-traumatic stress or PTS - few are able to grasp the severity of the condition, and medical science is a long way from understanding the neurological causes of PTS.

In the news, stories of PTS tend to focus on bureaucratic mishandling, ineffective medications that have severe side effects and the general tragedy of those who are afflicted. However, there is also a side of the story that has to do with hope, strength and love. While a single cure has not yet been discovered for PTS, there are many instances of veterans finding peace and a path to recovery through some non-conventional - and often controversial - means.

Equine therapy

The greatest challenge for many who suffer from PTS is to rebuild relationships with other people. Many have found that a powerful way to lessen the anger and hypersensitivity that often prevents them from enjoying normal relationships is through caring for horses. Grooming, feeding, cleaning the pen and riding the animals helps those who suffer from PTS to return to the trusting and nurturing emotions they learned to suppress due to the stress of combat.

Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese practice of pushing pins into specific points on a patient’s body has gained widespread acceptance for a variety of medical and psychological purposes. The idea behind the practice is to heal and restore balance between various systems of the body. Though there is no conclusive evidence that acupuncture can help in all situations, several studies and many veterans report long term benefits in recovering mental stability.

Bariatric oxygen treatment

This treatment involves a patient entering a pressurized oxygen chamber for about 90 minutes, during which time they can read, watch TV or even take a nap. The theory is by increasing the oxygen levels in the body’s tissues and red blood cells, it will speed the body's natural healing capabilities and repair neurological damage. Though the treatment is still experimental, many have claimed this treatment is a miracle, and several studies have confirmed its benefits. The Purple Heart Foundation has invested money to make this therapy more readily available to veterans.

Medical marijuana

Perhaps the most controversial therapy on the list, there is a fine line between PTS patients being treated with marijuana and abusing marijuana. Nonetheless, as veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, more tales of the benefits of medical marijuana began to emerge, leading many advocates in both state and federal governments to push for more research and availability.

Meditation

Meditation comes in many different forms, but the idea is the same: to create a quiet space in your mind through focusing on something as simple as your breath. Achieving the deep level of relaxation allows many veterans to begin to sort out their traumatic experiences. By no means is it a cure, but results from countless veterans and studies show meditation to be an important part of the healing process.

Because PTS is such a complicated condition that arises from experiences that are unique to each veteran, there may be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cure. What this means is that each person needs to be treated as an individual, and have a range of treatment options available.

The Purple Heart Foundation is dedicated to doing just that. Through investing in research for therapies such as bariatric oxygen treatment, as well as supporting state-of-the-art programs like the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Fort Hood, the organization is helping veterans live a full and rich life in the country they fought for.

To learn more about how your donation to the Purple Heart Foundation can help veterans with PTS, visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org.


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Entrepreneurs Find Opportunity After the Military in Key Cities

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-10

(BPT) - John Lentini carefully considered his career options after leaving the Navy. He decided to leverage the leadership skills fostered in the military by starting a business in Asheville, North Carolina, specializing in search-engine optimization.

“I had the infrastructure to do it, and there wasn’t a lot of competition,” says Lentini, owner of AshevilleSEO.org. “In Asheville, people like to support local things.”

Lentini’s example supports the findings in a recent list that named Asheville as the best place in the United States for veteran entrepreneurs.

Military transition experts with USAA and an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation called Hiring Our Heroes commissioned the list. They worked with researchers from Sperling’s BestPlaces and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to come up with a list of 10 metro areas with a strong veteran-owned and small business environment.

They analyzed more than 400 metropolitan areas by criteria such as veteran-owned businesses per capita, small businesses per capita and overall economic stability. Cities in Florida and North Carolina dominated the list.

“This list identifies the top places for those veterans who want to use their discipline and determination to start and grow a small business,” says Eric Eversole, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes.

Geographic location choices are very important for service members entering the civilian workforce, especially those wanting to start their own business, Eversole says.

That’s certainly the case for Brian McCarthy, CEO of Always Home, a real estate company specializing in concierge services for landlords and absentee homeowners. Always Home is based in Sarasota, Florida, which ranks No. 2 on the list of Best Places for Veteran Entrepreneurs.

“We have about 70,000 veterans in Sarasota County and surrounding areas, including 14,000 military officers,” says McCarthy, who served in the Navy. “It’s very veteran friendly with lots of activities for veterans. When you have that type of support, it makes it easy.”

This list provides a snapshot of places where starting a small business could make sense. For instance, it excludes areas with a median cost of living of more than 20 percent above the national average.

It also aligns with the post-separation help service members learn about through the military transition assistance program from the U.S. Department of Defense. USAA also offers the military separation assessment tool to help give veterans a starting point from which to plan their next steps.

Lentini, the Asheville business owner, gives simple advice whenever he meets with others transitioning away from military life.

“Use whatever resources you can get your hands on,” Lentini says. “And don’t be shy about telling customers you’re a veteran. It helps.”

The full entrepreneurship list includes:

  1. Asheville, North Carolina
  2. Sarasota, Florida
  3. West Palm Beach, Florida
  4. Staunton, Virginia
  5. Prescott, Arizona
  6. Wilmington, North Carolina
  7. Missoula, Montana
  8. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Oklahoma City
  10. Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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Veterans: Are You Missing Out On Key Benefits?

Brandpoint  |  2016-01-14

(BPT) - There are currently 19.6 million veterans in the United States. These hard working men and women have access to a variety of programs and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during active duty and retirement - yet many are not taking full advantage. Why?

One reason is that the VA system can be difficult to navigate. That’s where the Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Officers can help. NSOs are accredited veteran representatives located at VA regional offices, medical centers or clinics, and military bases throughout the country. Guidance from these experts can make all the difference for veterans of all ages.

In 2014, National Service Officers helped over 19,000 veterans get over 300 million dollars in lifetime benefits from the VA.

“My job is to get them [veterans] the most compensation I possibly can within the guidelines, but I also want to take care of them,” says Sandra Ripe of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Program. “I always encourage them to go to the VA and get enrolled.”

Ripe says a main piece of her job is making veterans comfortable so they can start talking about their experiences. “We talk and figure out what’s going on. Often they don’t think of certain things or don’t realize issues they may be having are combat related, such as tinnitus,” she says.

While veterans can file claims on their own, Ripe doesn’t recommend it. NSOs are experts who not only have ongoing training in the legislation, regulations and precedents, they have relationships within the veteran community they can leverage.

“If I get a really tough case, I can go to appeals at the VA and ask how to put it in, and they will help me, because wording is very important,” Sandra says.

Her primary goal is to put the fully developed claim in correctly the first time with all the proper documentation and evidence to back it up. If submitted incorrectly and a claim has to go into the appeals system, it can take 2-3 years to be resolved opposed to the 4.5 month average a first-time claim takes to make its way through the system.

This complex and time-consuming process is why many veterans miss out on important benefits. The Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Program, which is funded by the Purple Heart Foundation, assists all veterans who are trying to navigate programs and obtain benefits through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. In addition to health and wellness programs, these benefits include:

  • Compensation and pension
  • Veteran’s preference housing
  • Education
  • Employment services
  • Job training
  • Death and burial benefits

Another function of the program is the National Appeals Office in Washington D.C., where expert professional representation is provided to veterans whose claims have been denied at the regional office. This program is one of the few Veteran Service Organizations eligible to take selected cases to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

This Veterans Day, celebrate the service men and women in your life by ensuring they are getting the benefits they deserve. NSOs are available to be advisors and confidants to veterans who struggle to speak openly to friends and family about their time in the service as well as current struggles. They help veterans get the care they need and the benefits they deserve.

Consider making a tax-deductible, nonprofit donation to the Purple Heart Foundation to help support this important program. Visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org to find out how easy it is to help.


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