Springfield Journal Review (IL)
American Legion pays tribute to Lincoln’s legacy
By Cassie Buchman, Staff Writer Posted Feb 12, 2019 at 2:36 PM Updated Feb 12, 2019 at 10:02 PM
Abraham Lincoln’s legacy should be remembered when thinking about challenges facing both the state and nation today, several speakers said Tuesday at the 85th annual American Legion Pilgrimage to Lincoln’s Tomb.
State and local officials, as well as representatives from Illinois’ American Legion and legions from other states, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas and Iowa, placed wreaths of green leaves topped with a blue ribbon in front of Lincoln’s Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery to commemorate the 16th president’s 210th birthday.
The American Legion is a wartime veterans service organization with about 2 million members.
Keynote speaker Brett Reistad of Virginia, national commander of the American Legion, said Lincoln overcame tremendous odds to become who historians believe is “America’s greatest president.”
“People often underestimated the country lawyer from Springfield, Illinois. They were wrong to do so,” he said. “People would be just as wrong to underestimate what America could accomplish today.”
As a retired law enforcement officer, Reistad is saddened by what he says are divisions regarding race relations in the country.
“I believe President Lincoln would be, too, but he recognized that many battles would be lost before victory would prevail,” he said.
“I believe the victory that most in the law enforcement and civil rights communities both seek today is a safe society where all people are treated equally, where police officers and civilians of every race treat each other with mutual respect,” Reistad continued. “When we look at what Lincoln faced, a long bloody war that took the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, a war that literally tore our country in half, a war that was at times nearly lost, we have to put our modern problems in perspective.”
Times have changed for the better since Lincoln was president, Reistad said.
At the start of Lincoln’s presidency, it was legal in half the country for members of one race to own members of another, Reistad said.
“Americans were divided as to whether the United States was a nation or merely a loose federation of independent states,” he said. “Upon his election, the United States was already on the verge of its bloodiest war, a tragedy that would come to a merciful end in the last days of Lincoln’s life. An important outcome, thanks in part to his unwavering leadership.”
In his speech at the Tomb, Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted that the state is facing “some real challenges right now.”
“We face a fiscal situation fed by years of mismanagement that will take years to overcome. Too many of our communities are being left behind,” he said. “Children in certain ZIP codes are shut out from certain opportunities before they even have the chance. You can work hard at two or even three jobs and struggle to put food on the table, let alone afford quality health care.”
The path forward to solve the challenges will be hard, Pritzker said.
Lincoln’s spirit, however, continues to run through the state, Pritzker said, and he hopes to use this legacy of compassion to lead.
“Lincoln chose to lead with empathy and intellect; he chose not to demonize but to place his hope in the ultimate good of the American people,” Pritzker said.
Other speakers included Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder; Debra Lewis, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Department of Illinois; Michael Carder, commander of the American Legion, Department of Illinois; Springfield Republican state Reps. Mike Murphy and Tim Butler; and state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.
Contact Cassie Buchman: cjbuchman, twitter.com/cjbuchman.
VA to Roll Out New Claims Appeals Process Next Week
14 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
In what Department of Veterans Affairs officials are calling the biggest change to its appeals process in decades, the department will launch a new system next week for veterans challenging their disability claims decisions.
The new process gives veterans three options for contesting their claims, with an eye toward drastically reducing the time it takes to receive a final decision.
At the height of the VA appeals backlog in 2013, some veterans had waited years for a decision and more than 610,000 claims sat unadjudicated. To tackle the backlog — defined as cases that weren’t decided within 125 days — the VA hired new employees, instituted mandatory overtime and introduced new processing systems.
Still, the problem persisted with an average wait time for a decision reaching up to three years and the number of backlogged appeals climbing to roughly 300,000 by 2017, when Congress passed the Appeals Modernization Act, or AMA.
Under the AMA, veterans will have three choices if they want to appeal the decision on their disability compensation or other VA claim.
The first option is the "supplemental claim lane," in which they can introduce new evidence in their case and have a regional specialist review it and make a decision.
Or they can choose the "higher-level review lane," in which they request that their case be reviewed by a senior adjudicator rather than the regional office. This review will consist largely of looking for errors or mistakes made in interpreting VA policies or laws governing the claim. If a problem is found, the senior claims adjudicator can require that a correction be made.
And finally, they can appeal the decision to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals — basically the same as the current system, although there will be several paths to consider if they request a board review. These paths include:
- A direct review, in which they don’t submit any additional information and waive their right for a hearing;
- Submission of extra evidence without a hearing;
- Or a full hearing, in which they can submit more evidence and testify before a judge.
When veterans receive their initial claims decision, they also will get a letter explaining the reasoning for it, as well as the appeal options "in clear language," said Cheryl Mason, chairwoman of the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals.
"What the AMA was built and designed to do was create a simplified process for veterans. … [Officials] realized that veterans were confused by the process; it was a complex system and it simply took too long," she said.
The new system will be used throughout the VA for any claim that requires a decision, according to Dave McLenachen, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration appeals management office.
This includes education and insurance decisions, vocational rehabilitation and caregiver benefits applications, he said.
VA leaders hope that the new system will reduce the time it takes for veterans to receive a decision on their appeal to 125 days.
Currently, the VA’s claims backlog is 265,000 cases, while an additional 136,000 cases are under review by the Veterans Board of Appeals, for a total of more than 400,000 cases. VA officials said Thursday that the goal is to clear the backlog by 2020.
A pilot version of the new system, called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, was introduced shortly after the AMA was signed. According to McLenachen, more than 70,000 veterans with 84,000 claims appealed through RAMP. The VA has adjudicated 70 percent of those appeals, awarding about $250 million in retroactive benefits, he added.
RAMP will stop accepting new appeals on Friday. Veterans whose claims were filed through RAMP will continue to be processed.
Veterans whose claims are currently in the system and who don’t apply for a decision through RAMP by Friday can opt into the new system if they receive a statement of case from the VA or supply supplemental evidence and receive a supplemental statement from the VA.
Legislators and veterans service organizations helped craft the new system and have largely been supportive of it, although some have voiced concerns over legacy claims and the information technology infrastructure needed to support the new program.
VA officials said they are ready, having hired 605 new employees to handle the appeals.
Mason called the new system a "veteran-friendly change."
"It gives veterans a choice and control over their process instead of getting stuck in the legacy system for three to seven years, on average," she said.