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There is help available for homeless veterans

Homeless veterans are a visible and troubling reminder of how much work we have left to do. When a veteran gets to that point, any number of safety nets have failed, including our own.

That’s why prevention services and unprecedented interagency collaboration have been emphasized ever since Secretary Shinseki called for his goal to end homelessness by 2015. By many measures, the joint effort between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA is working toward that goal.

Since HUD and VA teamed up, homelessness among veterans has dropped 12 percent. The 2012 numbers should be released soon.

Though progress has been made, the problem won’t go away unless more community support is built and sustained. VA is ramping up its local community partnerships by releasing nearly $100 million to 151 agencies.

But where is all this going? Support has always been around for homeless vets, but only in the last few years has the issue been given such urgency. As a VA employee who works on veteran homelessness said to the Washington Post, “The difference is that we now have a momentum that has occurred that is almost an unstoppable force.”

If you’re a homeless veteran or family member or at risk of becoming homeless, please give our help line a call at (877) 424-3838 and visit the homeless veteran site for more information on housing assistance, health care options and more.

VA improves online access

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that 1.67 million veterans and Servicemembers have registered for the secure, joint VA-Department of Defense (DoD) self-service web portal, eBenefits, which provides online information and access to a wide variety of military and veteran benefits resources. 

“We know that three out of four veterans who use VA services want to connect online, so we must to be there for them with the information they need,” said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, “and eBenefits is clearly becoming the platform of choice for veterans seeking access.”

The strong pace of registrations for the site since its launch in October 2009 has allowed VA to exceed its fiscal year 2012 agency priority goal of 1.65 million users, and puts it on track to meet the 2013 goal of 2.5 million users, as outlined for VA in Performance.gov.

Veterans and service members new to the website www.ebenefits.va.gov  are guided through the registration process to get a full-access account, called a premier account, which allows maximum ability to update personal information and learn about benefits without having to visit a VA facility. With the premier account, one password—called a single sign-on—allows veterans to access multiple applications on the secure portion of the website.

A premier account also allows veterans to check the status of compensation and pension claims that they have filed with VA.  This feature, the most popular within the eBenefits application, had over 700,000 visits in June alone.  Overall, visits to the site have increased 60 percent over the previous year, approaching 2 million per month.

On July 1, VA introduced its 11th consecutive quarterly release of improved functionalities to the eBenefits application that includes benefits eligibility email messages to service members as they reach career milestones and a new Career Center page with employment self-assessment tools, a resume builder, and a translator that relates military expertise to civilian work skills.  The Career Center, which received over 8,000 visits in its first week, has single sign-on connectivity to VA’s veteran hiring site, “VA for Vets.”  Another key function added is a single sign-on capability for veterans to transition securely between benefits information on eBenefits and health information on VA’s myHealtheVet website without an additional log-on step.  

VA has completed a record-breaking 1 million claims per year the last two fiscal years, and is on target to complete another 1 million claims in FY2012.  Even so, too many veterans have to wait too long to get the benefits they have earned and deserve.  That is why VA is aggressively building a strong foundation for a paperless, digital disability claims system — a lasting solution that will transform how VA operates and eliminate the backlog.  This plan will help VA achieve Secretary Shinseki’s goal: claim completion in less than 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015 — delivering faster, better decisions for Veterans.

With the most recent release, there are now 46 self-service features enabling Servicemembers and Veterans the ability to download copies of their official VA and military correspondence, including veterans civil service preference, service verification, benefits verification letters, military records and VA home loan certificates of eligibility.  Service members and veterans can also access records that directly impact their family members, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill enrollment status, VA payment history and DoD TRICARE health insurance status. 

The eBenefits application is a key component in VA’s ongoing transformation to a digital environment for veterans’ benefits delivery. Additional functionality and features will continue to be added to the site throughout the coming months.

Travel funds

The American Legion Trust Fund for 2012-2013 has been approved. These funds are not yet available. I will send out notice through this column when funds have been released.

Ensure you apply for travel through the Veterans Administration at VAMC Albuquerque, whenever possible.

Useful links

For further information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll and for filing in the VSO office.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 1970 E. Third Ave. in the old Mercy Medical Center.

Meetings

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108. Second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

Veterans for Veterans. Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., 164 N. Pagosa Blvd. (Buffalo Inn).

Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans. Every other Monday 6 p.m., St. Patrick Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte, 731-1025.

Point Man Ministry (Veterans). Every Thursday at 9 a.m., (Buffalo Inn).

Important information

Durango VA Outpatient Clinic: (970) 247-2214.

Farmington VA Center: (505) 327-9684.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends 24/7/365. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online or text 838255.

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