Romney schedules convention break to see vets

WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney and his party have a host of pre-election work to do this week in Florida, but the Republican presidential nominee will be taking a 1,000-mile campaign detour to Indianapolis on Wednesday to address the American Legion’s annual veterans convention.

Last month Romney and President Barack Obama delivered stump speeches before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno. Obama has taped a message for the American Legion convention, but Romney’s campaign hopes the in-person Indianapolis appearance will give him an edge with the 2.4 million Legion members and the 22 million veterans nationwide.

Pricey VA conferences included $52,000 'Patton' parody video

WASHINGTON – House Veterans Affairs Committee officials today posted online the $52,000 parody video of the movie “Patton” used at a pair of expensive, controversial Department of Veterans Affairs conventions in Florida last summer. The events – and their $5 million price tag – are under investigation by Congress and the department’s inspector general.

About 1,800 VA employees attended the four-day events, held in July and August 2011 in Orlando. Officials from the inspector general’s office have said that the conferences were for legitimate training purposes, but appear to have included excessive spending.

VA taps vets groups to help fast track claims

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials hosted a workshop last week to brief 10 veterans service organizations on plans to fast track certain veterans benefits claims, and how they can help in the process.

The move is part of larger efforts announced last month to separate “fully developed claims” from the rest of the growing pile of paperwork and to streamline the entire benefits process. Along with an express-lane system for claims already reviewed by VSO partners, the department is creating a team to sort complex compensation questions for issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, prisoner of war status or homelessness.

July jobless figures continue positive trend for vets

WASHINGTON — Though July unemployment figures revealed a relatively stagnant national economy, the outlook was brighter for the veterans community.

For veterans of the post-9/11 era, the jobless rate was 8.9 percent in July, down from 9.5 percent a month ago, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The improvement over the last 12 months is even greater. In July 2011, 12.4 percent of recent veterans were out of work.

Comprehensive vets bill heads to the White House

WASHINGTON — Congress finalized work on the “The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act” on Tuesday, sending the measure to the White House to be signed into law. Most of the focus on the legislation has centered on provisions to provide for the first time VA health care to families who were exposed to contaminated well water at the North Carolina military facility.

 But the sweeping legislation also includes other provisions that could provide new benefits to a wide range of veterans, and represents one of the few major pieces of legislation to work its way through Congress this year. Highlights:

  • Rural veterans: Co-payments for veterans using using online or other remote health care programs would be eliminated. The department will also look into the providing travel reimbursements to veterans seeking care at distant vet centers.
  • Sexual assault: Creates new tracking and reporting policies to monitor sexual assaults that occur at VA facilities.
  • Traumatic brain injury: The bill creates new individualized rehabilitation and reintegration services for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with TBI.
  • Adaptive housing: VA’s program for specially adapted housing will be expanded to include housing grants for veterans with lower limb loss and vision problems, and the VA will revise how additional monies are counted against those veteran’s grant maximums.
  •  VA home loans: Surviving spouses will be eligible for VA home loan guarantees for 10 years after the death of a veteran. Also, the fee for the home loan program will be waived for disabled servicemembers.
  • Funeral protests: Prohibits demonstrators from picketing any military funeral two hours before or after the service, and requires those protestors be at least 300 feet away from the grieving families.