Jim Alton’s Veterans Affairs Jan. 2017 Column: Ensuring accurate discharge ratings, suicide prevention hotline info

Advocacy group calls on Obama to pardon some post-9/11 vets

The veteran service organization Vietnam Veterans of America penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, calling on the former to pardon all post-9/11 veterans who were discharged under less-than-honorable conditions without the due process of a court-martial.

Written by John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America, it reads, “Over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our government has failed to respond appropriately to multiple, comprehensive reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged from the military.”

It goes on to say that because of the under-diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other service-connected illnesses and injuries, thousands of veterans have been unjustly discharged from the military and denied veterans’ benefits as a result.

“The sole purpose of VVA existing is to ensure that no generation of veterans ever has to face the horrors that Vietnam veterans did when they returned home from overseas in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” VVA assistant director for policy and government affairs Kristofer Goldsmith told Task & Purpose.

While post-9/11 veterans have fared better than their Vietnam counterparts, Goldsmith continued, Vietnam Veterans of America found that the rate of veterans denied honorable discharges and left without benefits has increased.

“VVA’s core mission, its founding principle, of ‘Never again will one generation of veterans leave behind another’ would not be fulfilled if VVA wasn’t fighting for every veteran of the post-9/11 generation,” Goldsmith added.

To the Trump administration, the letter calls for the president-elect to support the initiative and make this pardoning program’s success a top-priority for his transition team.

I for one agree with this assessment and have a number of veterans with “bad papers” who have never had their day in court. If you have a bad DD214, I implore you to come into our office with it and let’s take a look together. Our veterans desire a quick answer to this problem. Call us if we can help; (231) 348-1780.


Veterans Crisis Line improves service with new call center

VA cut the ribbon recently for its new Veteran Crisis Line (VCL) satellite office in Atlanta, allowing the life-saving hotline to expand capacity by nearly 600 veterans each day – essentially doubling VA’s ability to help veterans in need.

As a part of the MyVA initiative, the largest restructuring in the department’s history, improvements of the VCL are a key priority, with the goal of providing 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to veterans, service members and their family members across the globe.

The Veterans Crisis Line is (800) 273-8255, or you can have a confidential chat at www.veteransCrisisline.net or text to 838255.

Locally, this office is here for anyone in need. If you are struggling and feel you would like my private number, please call me at (231) 348-1780. Semper Fi


New Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016

This new bill was signed by President Obama and became effective on Dec. 12, 2016. It directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to identify:

  • Certain severance payments to veterans with combat-related injuries paid after January 17, 1991, from which DOD withheld amounts for tax purposes, and
  • The individuals to whom such severance payments were made.

DOD shall provide each such veteran with notice of the amount of improperly withheld severance payments, and instructions for filing amended tax returns to recover such amount.

The period for filing a related claim with the Internal Revenue Service for a credit or refund is extended beyond the three-year limitation to the date that is one year after DOD provides the veteran with the information required by this Act.

If you are one of the veterans in this category and do not hear from the DOD in the next couple of months, contact our office. 

When an incorrect rating is received

“I received my rating and it’s wrong” is a statement VA call center agents hear every day. You may think that VA shouldn’t have denied your claim, that you should have received a higher percentage, or that the effective date was wrong, but the odds are against it. That’s not to say that VA never makes a mistake, but an overwhelming majority of the time VA makes the correct decision based on the evidence available. In fact, VA’s issue-rating accuracy is 95 percent.

Submitting the Notice of Disagreement: To file the NOD, submit the VA-Form 21-0958, Notice of Disagreement that was included with your claim decision. This is your chance to tell VA how you feel the decision is wrong. If you don’t feel confident enough to do this on your own, your VSO can help you. Also, this is why we are here; call or stop by the Emmet County Veterans Affairs office and we can help.

A special thanks to Greenwood Cemetery

I want to take this opportunity to say a special ‘Thank You’ to Karl Crawford and crew at Greenwood Cemetery in Petoskey for all the work they did to make Wreaths Across America a big success again.  They put out markers on 1,460 veterans’ sites and then distribute wreaths to each one (in nasty weather, too). Their commitment deserves a big thanks from all of us! I know the families of those veterans appreciate it, as does the entire community.

Jim Alton is the Director of the Veterans Affairs Department within Emmet County. Alton served in the United States Marine Corps (1955-62) and is retired from the Michigan State Police. Reach him or his assistant, Rick Wiertalla, at (231) 348-1780 or jalton@emmetcounty.org

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