Welcome to your Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs

We are committed to providing you with the information you need and invite you to use us as your resource if you or someone you know needs assistance.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

WDVA goes to the dogs

WDVA goes to the dogs

Conference focuses on service dogs and veterans

By Melanie Casey Reprinted from www.Northwestmilitary.com  July 24, 2014 http://www.northwestmilitary.com/veterans/health/2014/07/wdva-goes-to-the-dogs/

Most of us have seen service dogs. Sometimes we'll spy one at a restaurant, laying calmly by its master's feet. Or perhaps in the mall, walking sedately as its owner makes his or her way through hordes of people. Usually distinguished by their tell-tale vests, service dogs are trained to assist with a myriad of conditions, including vision and hearing impairment, epilepsy, paralysis, diabetes and more. But a service dog is much more than the vest it wears.  For servicemembers and veterans suffering from visible and invisible wounds of war, including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, these highly-trained dogs provide physical and emotional support that can truly save lives.
But for some, there is confusion about what service dogs can and can't do. Thursday, Aug. 7, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) and King County Veterans Program are hosting a daylong conference entitled "Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs" at Green River Community College in Auburn.
Geared for veterans, veteran service providers, dog trainers and local business owners, the event is designed to foster awareness and educate the public about the different roles of service dogs.
"It's really to educate the general population about what service animals can and can't do," said Dorothy Hanson, MA, LMHC, the Behavioral Health Program director at WDVA.
Conference presenters, including WDVA Service Dog Program Coordinator John George (with his goldendoodle, Alphie), will discuss and demystify the different types of service dogs, such as emotional support dogs, companion dogs and therapy dogs.
The event's keynote speaker is Kathryn Champion, a former science teacher from Thurston and Yakima counties. Champion, a U.S. Army reservist who deployed to Iraq where she commanded a civil affairs unit and earned the Bronze Star Medal, lost her vision due to a virus contracted downrange that caused her optic nerve to deteriorate.
Also on the docket is Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient currently stationed with the 7th Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and service dog proponent.
Hanson notes that currently there is no nationally recognized certification for service dogs. Therefore, some dogs may be better trained - and behaved - than others. Moreover, not all dogs wearing a vest are professionally trained service animals.
The conference will also include a panel discussion that will highlight the different methods of training service dogs. For instance, some may be owner trained or rescues, while others are specifically bred for service. Representatives from Northwest Battle Buddies and Prison Partnerships will also take the stage.
"It's just a good lineup of interesting, informative presenters," Hanson said.
For more information about the event, visit dva.wa.gov/dogs.html.
Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs, Aug. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Green River Community College, Lindbloom Student Center, 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. $10 administration fee. Lunch will be provided. Register online at www.regonline.com by July 30. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches


Thank you to Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes for sharing this article about Veterans on the Washington Conservation Crew cleaning our beaches here in Washington!


Check out some additional Internship opportunities at http://www.dva.wa.gov/internships.html

Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches

by Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes

This WCC crew included Edward Hueghs, Aurelio Elliott, Peter Fritzerald, Justin Bebee, and Mikeal No-Line (not pictured) and was led by Aurelio Elliott Aurelio of the WA Department of Ecology. Photo: Mikeal

In the summer of 2011, Tony Petrillo spent ten days hiking the wilderness coast of the Olympic National Park.  Like many before him, he returned home impressed by nature’s beauty and disturbed by the amount of plastic and other marine debris he had seen.  But instead of resignation, he chose action. Tony, who is a member of the Jefferson County MRC in Port Townsend, drafted a plan for remote beach debris cleanup and brought it before the North Pacific Coast Marine Resources Committee (NPC MRC) in early 2013. Options outlined in his plan included hauling debris out by land, by air, or by water and discussed pro’s and con’s: the land route takes lots of person power and time; the air and water options involve less human labor but intersect with government bureaucracy due to Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s (OCNMS) access restrictions intended to minimize wildlife disturbance and maintain the character of designated wilderness. 

While the NPC MRC members discussed options for facilitating remote beach debris cleanups, a gift was delivered by the Washington State legislature. Fully-funded veterans conservation crews working for Washington Department of Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were made available to the coast as part of this program to provide jobs and educational opportunities for Gulf War II era military veterans. Here was an immediate means of implementing part of Tony’s plan. Debris removal from outer coast beaches has long been the mission of Washington CoastSavers. Hundreds of CoastSaver volunteers clean up beaches each April and September where they have safe access and can get out and back with loads of debris in one day’s effort.  The more remote “red zones” on CoastSavers maps were the logical targets for WCC veterans crews – places too challenging to send untrained volunteers.  These areas include Goodman to Mosquito Creek, Toleak to Scott’s Bluff, south from Sand Point, and Duk Point. In late October 2013, a WCC veterans crew arrived at Neah Bay for their first assignment: to wrestle with debris on the far stretches of Shi Shi Beach and on the Makah Reservation. Aaron Parker, a Makah tribal member and employee, led the crew down unimproved trails to beautiful and remote shorelines fouled with debris. 

The veterans crews’ work on the outer coast has been coordinated and supported by Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), the Makah Tribe, Olympic National Park, and NPC MRC members. OCNMS staff trained the crews to collect data on the types and weight of debris and to identify and respond properly to hazardous waste, Japan tsunami marine debris, invasive species on debris, marine mammal strandings, and sea star wasting disease. Since that first visit last October, the crews have been out there for a total of eight weeks being chased by tides, slogging through mud and rain, and hauling heavy loads up steep bluff trails and out to the nearest road. Thus far, over a ton of plastic, foam, metal, rope and other debris has been gathered and removed from the marine environment by these WCC crews.

 The goal is to keep the remote outer coast shorelines as regular destinations on the WCC veterans crews’ schedules for the duration of their funding—at least through June 2015. In addition to removing debris, the crews are documenting the locations of things left behind. Generally these are objects too heavy or awkward to haul out over trails. With time, the crews’ data will be used to measure the cost effectiveness of this approach to remote beach cleanup. It is likely that a combination of approaches – volunteers, field-hardened crews, and boats or helicopters – will be required to keep our wilderness coastline from looking like a trash dump. In the meantime, the WCC veterans crews are a gift we are making the best use of, as often as possible.

"The AmeriCorps and Veteran Corps programs through the WCC allow environmentally concerned individuals to do many things to improve the many unique habitats of Washington State. We have removed at least one ton of debris from the shorelines of our home state. This restoration work is vital to keeping our beaches clean and aesthetic. To put it almost bluntly, we pick up the ball while others toss the ball around waiting for someone else to score,” comments crew member Mikeal No-Line.

Coastal visitors are certainly benefiting from the labors of these dedicated crews. If you see them out there, express your appreciation for their hard work and service to our nation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

WDVA Partnership with Thurston County Veterans Court Celebrates Five Years of Success


Five Years of Veterans Court Success Celebrated Throughout July

Public invited to special court presentations each Wednesday in July 

The public is invited to join in the celebration each Wednesday in July at 4 p.m. at the start of the weekly Veterans Court proceedings with special guest speakers, Veterans Court staff, and Veterans Court graduates and their families.  

"When we first introduced Veterans Court back in 2009, we were seeing more and more military veterans show up in court clearly struggling with military-related PTSD, other mental illness, and sometimes drug and alcohol addiction, " said District Court Judge Brett Buckley, who is also a veteran and presides over Veterans Court. "We knew that simply punishing them and churning them through the system wouldn’t address the underlying causes of their problem behavior. So our goal with Veterans Court all along has been a two-pronged approach—hold them accountable for their actions, but also support them in their efforts to get sober, get treatment, and find stability with their families.” 

Judge Buckley continued, “Now that we’re coming up on the five year anniversary, we’re not just celebrating the success of the program. We’re really celebrating the success of dozens and dozens of veterans who worked hard to turn their lives around and once again be positive contributors to the Thurston County community. "  

When Thurston County Veterans Court program was introduced on July 23, 2009 it was only the eleventh such program in the nation. Since then, veterans court programs have grown across the country and now number more than 160.  

Thurston County Veterans Court combines rigorous treatment and accountability to veterans and active duty military personnel facing incarceration. Participants sign a contract to complete the voluntary 18-24 month program in order to reduce their jail time or to avoid jail time. The program combines ongoing judicial supervision and intensive monitoring with input from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals led by the judge. Veterans Court staff also work closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans' Benefits Administration, the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Thurston County WorkSource, and other veterans service organizations and legal resources to connect qualifying veterans and military service members with military benefits and programs that will help them achieve sobriety and stability.  

Thurston County Veterans Court is one of six therapeutic courts that are funded by the county’s Treatment Sales Tax, which was established in January 2009. The one-tenth of one percent sales tax raises about $4 million annually in Thurston County to support Veterans Court and other therapeutic courts, as well as chemical dependency and mental health treatment services for jail inmates and for outpatient mental health and chemical dependency treatment services for adults and juveniles currently involved in the criminal justice system. For more information about the Thurston County Treatment Sales Tax, visit www.co.thurston.wa.us and click on the “Treatment Sales Tax” tab under Quick Links. 

Over the last five years, Thurston County Veterans Court has had 43 participants, and 24 have successfully graduated the program. There are currently 10 who are in the process of completing the program. Graduates often praise the program upon graduation, stating that they have rediscovered the pride, dignity and honor they learned during their service in the United States military and are now applying those principles successfully in their personal lives and with their families.  

Thurston County Veterans Court recently launched a volunteer mentor program where other veterans provide help, guidance and advocacy to the participants in a way that only a fellow veteran can provide. Mentors are required to be veterans themselves, and can be graduates of the program. 

To learn more about Thurston County Veterans Court and how you can support the program, visit the Thurston County District Court homepage at www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt and click on the “Veterans Court” tab.  

WHAT:          Veterans Court Fifth Anniversary Presentations
  • July 2—Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe
  • July 9—Veterans Court Graduate Casey Turner and Volunteer Mentor Program Coordinator Casey Wegner
  • July 16—Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza
  • July 23—Washington State Attorney General Rob Ferguson invited
  • July 30—JBLM I-Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza invited
WHEN:        4 p.m. each Wednesday in July

WHERE:      County Courthouse Building Three—District Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW in Olympia, 98502
Contact:  Staci Coleman, Veterans Court Program Manager at (360) 867-2034 or ColemaS@co.thurston.wa.us


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Making a Year of Service the American Way of Life

In March, 2014 WDVA’s VetCorps joins the Nation’s Leading National Service Organizations in a campaign to show how AmeriCorps members are making an impact on some of our nation’s toughest issues.  From disaster relief and veteran reintegration to college access and childhood nutrition, AmeriCorps has engaged writers and producers in Hollywood who are ready to tell these stories. Our goal is simple, but ambitious: We envision a day when young Americans turn to each other and ask, “Where will your year of national service be?”

As one of the faces in this campaign, WDVA’s VetCorps is being highlighted for our work in Empowering Veterans! 

Over the next three years, ServiceNation will lead this initiative, engaging entertainment companies and TV show executives in an effort to integrate powerful stories of service by AmeriCorps members into the scripts of their shows. Only two weeks ago, AmeriCorps was mentioned in an episode of HBO's True Detective, a direct result of this effort. In the coming months, the campaign plans to roll out other partnerships with humorous digital platforms, YouTube stars, social-minded brands, athletes, celebrities, and more successful integrations that will help tell the story of national service in America.

We also want to hear from you -- share this exciting news with your friends and family on social media using the hashtag #serveAyear. Tell us what you think or if you have a great idea about how AmeriCorps could play a role in your favorite show.

To learn more about this exciting campaign, check out http://www.serveayear.org/. And to find a VetCorps member near you, visit: http://www.dva.wa.gov/vet_conservation_corps.html Stay Tuned!

Monday, March 24, 2014

VA Eliminates Veterans’ Annual Financial Reporting Requirement (Means Test)

Beginning in March 2014, most Veterans will no longer be required to complete the annual financial assessment known as a Means Test. Instead, VA will receive income information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), and will contact the Veterans only if the information received indicates a change in their VA health benefits may be appropriate. However, Veterans who are eligible for enrollment only because their income is below an established threshold will be required to complete a means test when applying for VA health care enrollment.

What is Changing?

Beginning in March 2014, most Veterans will no longer be required to complete the annual financial assessment known as a Means Test.
Under the new process, Veterans will be required to have one financial assessment on file – their current file if they’re already enrolled, or the assessment they provide when they
apply. That assessment will be maintained and monitored by VA and updated only as substantial income changes occur.

VA will receive income information from the IRS and SSA, and will contact the Veteran only when the information received indicates a change in VA health benefits may be appropriate. Consistent with VA’s current income verification processes, no changes to the Veteran’s health benefits will occur unless the review process confirms the Veteran’s income exceeds applicable thresholds.

Veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information.

There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent Veterans, Veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, Veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”

If at any time the Veteran’s financial status changes, the Veteran may submit an updated financial assessment. VA encourages Veterans to continue to report changes in their income information as well as their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, and health insurance using VA Form 1010EZR available online or at their local medical center.

Veterans may contact their local VA health care facility or call VA’s toll-free number at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).


Monday, December 30, 2013

A Call for Applicants: Rebuilding Together Seattle - Guest Blog

Dear Friends,
Happy Holidays from Rebuilding Together Seattle!  On behalf of our organization, I wanted to thank you for your support of our programs in recent years.  Your efforts to refer clients to our organization are truly appreciated.  Last year, Rebuilding Together Seattle was able to help 98 families in the greater Seattle area with free home repairs – 35 more than the previous year.  This year we hope to help 112 families in need.  We are (again) asking for your help in meeting this goal.

Our office has begun the process of planning for our Spring programs, including our 24th Annual Spring Rebuilding Day (Saturday, April 26, 2014), where we hope to help 27 homeowners in the greater Seattle area with the support of over 1,000 volunteers.   We also hope to help 30 more families through our year-round maintenance program, Safe at Home, and 16 more families through our Team Build program by June 30thWe are currently in need of more applicants to consider for all of our programs.  

This year, Rebuilding Together Seattle has made a number of changes to our programs and operations in order to serve more homeowners in need of our services than ever before.  We have reduced our average wait list time by more than 50%.  Through the expansion of our year-round maintenance program (Safe at Home), we are often able to serve homeowners within just a couple weeks of having been approved for our programs.   RTS has also made adjustments to some of our basic qualifications.  Through our partnership with the King County Emergency Medical Service (One Step Ahead Fall Prevention program; 206-263-8544), we are now able to provide grab bar installations for homeowners throughout the county.   Likewise, we have increased our income guidelines for veterans and their families from 50% to 80% of the HUD very low income guidelines for the Seattle metro area.  Rebuilding Together Seattle is proud to be the only comprehensive and free home and nonprofit facility rehabilitation organization in our area, and we look forward to continuing our missing of bringing together volunteers and communities to help low income homeowners live in warmth, safety, and independence.

While Rebuilding Together Seattle accepts applications year round, we are requesting that interested homeowners apply ASAP or by January 17, 2014 to be considered for our Spring programs.  www.rtseattle.org  Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.  Rebuilding Together Seattle is happy to visit your office in person to talk about our programs in greater detail, or deliver program fliers and/or homeowner applications upon your request.   Thank you in advance for your support!

Margie Thirlby
Executive Director, Rebuilding Together Seattle
811 Harrison St, Seattle, 98109
P: (206) 682.1231 F: (206) 682.8962

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Veterans to Receive 1.5 Percent Cost-of-Living Increase

WASHINGTON: Veterans, their families and survivors receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in their monthly payments beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

“We’re pleased there will be another cost-of-living increase for Veterans, their families and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The increase expresses in a tangible way our Nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by our service-disabled and wartime Veterans.”

For the first time, payments will not be rounded down to the nearest dollar.  Until this year, that was required by law.  Veterans and survivors will see additional cents included in their monthly compensation benefit payment. 

For Veterans without dependents, the new compensation rates will range from $130.94 monthly for a disability rated at 10 percent to $2,858.24 monthly for 100 percent.  The full rates are available on the Internet at www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp.

The COLA increase also applies to disability and death pension recipients, survivors receiving dependency and indemnity compensation, disabled Veterans receiving automobile and clothing allowances, and other benefits. 

Under federal law, cost-of-living adjustments for VA’s compensation and pension must match those for Social Security benefits.  The last adjustment was in January 2013 when the Social Security benefits rate increased 1.7 percent.

In fiscal year 2013, VA provided over $59 billion in compensation benefits to nearly 4 million Veterans and survivors, and over $5 billion in pension benefits to more than 515,000 Veterans and survivors. 

For Veterans and separating Servicemembers who plan to file an electronic disability claim, VA urges them to use the joint DoD/VA online portal, eBenefits.  Registered eBenefits users with a premium account can file a claim online, track the status, and access a variety of other benefits, including pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.

For more information about VA benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov, or call 1-800-827-1000.