Dear Sgt. Shaft:
Thank you for your inquiry on behalf of Mr. Ben B. regarding the health care services available to him at the Kansas City VA Medical Center (KCVAMC) and his family’s need to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
KCVAMC leadership completed a clinical and an administrative review of his health care and the support services currently being offered to him and his family. KCVAMC staff contacted the family on June 14, 2013, to follow up on any outstanding concerns and will continue to work with the family throughout this process.
Thank you for the opportunity to address these concerns.
Dr. Robert A. Petzel
Under Secretary of Health
Department of Veterans Affairs
Dear Dr. Petzel:
Thanks for making this disabled vet's life a little brighter.
• Kudos to the House of Representatives for the passage of legislation on human rights issues in Vietnam. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was the author of the legislation, the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013. The bill was approved in a unanimous voice vote of the full Committee.
Mr. Smith’s Vietnam bill, H.R. 1897, would institute measures to improve human rights in Vietnam by prohibiting any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Vietnam above Fiscal Year 2012 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing a democracy and promoting human rights.
The bill aims for improvement in freedom of religion (and releasing all religious prisoners), rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the release of all political prisoners, independent journalists, and labor activists, and to an end any government complicity in human trafficking.
“Brazen human rights violations by the hands of the Vietnamese government continue against its own people,” Mr. Smith said, noting an April 11 congressional hearing that detailed widespread abuses, as well as government officials’ involvement in trafficking Vietnamese women to Russia, Jordan and other locations.
“The powerful testimony before Congress showed widespread religious, political and ethnic human rights abuse, and that Vietnamese government officials are complicit in human trafficking. Vietnam, in fact, continues to be among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world,” Mr. Smith said, noting the rights and freedoms of Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and other faiths are routinely trampled upon by the government.
• The Sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in urging intervention in the ongoing class-action lawsuits against Prudential Insurance Co. of America concerning its handling of the life insurance benefits for service members and veterans.
Prudential administers the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the 2010 suit alleges that Prudential failed to pay death benefits in a manner required by federal law, and instead profited from money belonging to the families of deceased service members and veterans.
“SGLI was created by Congress to provide special protection to military families. It was not created to enrich an insurance company that concocts a scheme to hold onto those families’ money while purporting to provide them access to it,” said VFW National Cmdr. John E. Hamilton, a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran.
Prudential has publicly stated that its actions were taken only in the interest of military families. Cmdr. Hamilton maintains that if that were true, Prudential should have no objection to the facts being made public.
“Prudential has actively tried to seal documents about its conduct from the public record and has opposed efforts to unseal those records. That inconsistency strongly suggests that Prudential has not been forthcoming with Congress, the military or the American people,” he said.
Prudential has denied wrongdoing, but most of the records filed in the case have been sealed from the public at Prudential’s request. The VFW insists it is in the best interests of the families and the public to fully understand what Prudential has done in connection with its administration of federally subsidized life insurance programs for service members and veterans.
The VFW’s motion seeks to unseal the record filed with the court in connection with the plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain class certification and records filed in connection with motions pending.
Prudential argues that it cannot be required to return profits it made by using military family’s death benefits unless each family proves it would have used the money to make more interest than what Prudential paid out.
The VFW disagrees.
“If Prudential broke the law and made a profit, it should not be allowed to keep that profit,” Cmdr. Hamilton said.
• U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has introduced an amendment to help track school progress of students from military-connected families was adopted as part of a major Senate education overhaul.
The amendment passed in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by a bipartisan vote of 13 to 9.
“We ask so much of our service members and their families, but we don’t have any programs in place to study the impact that life in a military family can have on child’s education.” said Ms. Murray, a Washington state Democrat. “This amendment allows us to take the first step in helping military-connected children succeed in school by learning more about what life events — from deployments of their parents to changing schools every few years — impact their success in the classroom.”
Currently, schools and educators do not have access to reliable, consistent data on the academic well-being of students from military families.
Without a military-connected student identifier, school districts cannot track these students’ performance, educators cannot as effectively prepare transitioning students for their new school, and there are no performance indicators for the local districts to discover practices and processes worthy of attention and replication to ensure success.
This amendment would create a report-only subgroup for military-connected students, generating precise data about their classroom success and the schools they attend. The amendment would help federal, state, and local entities eventually target resources for this vulnerable population, and it has broad support by organizations supporting military families across the country.
• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sgt. Shaft was hatched in April of 1982 at the home of the veterans' newspaper, Stars & Stripes, in Washington, D.C. This moniker combines the name of its creator, John Fales, Marine MOS in Vietnam and "Scout Sgt.," with the military expression when wronged, "Shafted."
Sgt. Shaft's wry sense of humor, empathy for the underdog, and strong love of country and fellow veterans closely mirror the nature of its creator.
In addition to writing the column, John Fales is President of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation. His decorations include Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, New York State Conspicuous Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, and South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Sgt. Shaft has no twin.