29 June 2009

Statement Regarding June 30 U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Major Iraqi Cities

/PRNewswire/ -- The following statement was released by Qubad Talabani, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is deeply grateful to the United States and the U.S. military for their role in liberating Iraq, and partnering with us as we build our federal democracy. Thanks to the sacrifices and valor of U.S. and coalition troops, Iraq has achieved many successes, including the drafting and ratification of a permanent constitution as well as executing several relatively smooth transitions of power following national and provincial elections.

Moreover, on July 25, those living in Iraqi Kurdistan will elect members of a new parliament, another step in our journey toward a full democracy in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

This progress, along with the relative stability throughout much of Iraq, though promising, should not lull international observers into a false sense of security. Recently, deadly bombings within Iraq have increased--just days before the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq's urban areas. The KRG remains acutely concerned that the departure of U.S. forces has the potential to create an environment easily exploited by extremists and terrorists who desire to foment violence.

Furthermore, critical issues--essential to the stability of our country--remain unresolved, and the current fragile situation could easily degenerate into violence. These include:

1. Universal adherence to the constitution of Iraq.
2. Passage of oil and gas revenue-sharing legislation.
3. Resolution of Iraq's "disputed territories" through implementing
Article 140 of Iraq's Permanent Constitution.

We implore the Obama Administration to uphold its commitment to a phased, responsible withdrawal from Iraq. The existing Status of Forces Agreement signed between the U.S. and the Iraqi governments sets a firm date for U.S. troops to leave Iraq; however, It is our hope that the U.S. withdrawal will be no sooner than the resolution of these key political issues within Iraq -- establishing a foundation upon which Iraq will be able to successfully secure a peaceful future for the entire region.

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26 June 2009

VA Begins Stimulus Payments to Veterans

/PRNewswire/ -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has requested the Department of the Treasury to make $250 payments to eligible Veterans as part of President Obama's recovery plan. The first payments were sent Monday, June 22. All payments will be distributed by June 30.

As part of the recovery plan, VA is making one-time payments of $250 to eligible Veterans and survivors to offset the effects of the current economy. VA estimates $500 million in payments will be made to approximately 1.9 million Veterans and eligible beneficiaries as part of this measure.

To be eligible for the payment, VA beneficiaries must have received VA's compensation, pension, dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), or spina bifida benefits at any time between November 2008 and January 2009. Also, beneficiaries must reside within the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

No application is necessary. VA used its existing payment records to determine eligibility for the $250 payment. Beneficiaries will receive their payments the same way they receive their monthly VA benefits -- either by direct deposit or in the mail.

This payment is not countable in determining eligibility for VA pension or Parents' DIC. The law allows one $250 payment per person. The payment is tax-free. VA beneficiaries who also receive benefits from the Social Security Administration or Railroad Retirement Board will be paid through those agencies, and will therefore not receive the payment from VA.

VA will spend more than $1.4 billion as part of President Obama's economic recovery plan to improve services to America's Veterans. VA's Internet site -- www.va.gov/recovery -- provides current information about VA's work to deliver its portion of recovery act funds to benefit Veterans.

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25 June 2009


It’s not the dirt that makes the hill; it’s the Sledgehammer Soldiers that make the hill.
Vol. 20 – June 25, 2009

- IN THIS ISSUE – Rocking the Marne, Operation: Wedding Bells, NTC Prep, the National Infantry Museum, and all the Brigade news!

- VIDEO: 3RD BRIGADE LOADS UP FOR NTC The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is getting ready for a month long stay at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., to prepare for their scheduled deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pfc. Erik Anderson reports from Kelley Hill, Fort Benning, Ga. WATCH MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1190

- A TWITTER REVOLUTION You can hardly turn on the news these days without seeing Twitter promoted somewhere. Major news networks are using the micro-blogging platform to connect with viewers and get citizen feedback. Whether it’s a major news network or your local affiliate, the past four months have seen a major rise in popularity for this Web 2.0 platform, which is designed to answer the question, “what are you doing now?” READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1145

- VIDEO: ROCKING THE MARNE Fort Benning TV’s Ron Andruss reports on Queensryche’s stop on Kelley Hill to rock the Sledgehammer Brigade. WATCH MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1196

- 3HBCT SOLDIERS PREPARE FOR NTC As they take the next step in preparation for their scheduled deployment at the end of the year, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, began preparations to move over 3500 Soldiers, 1,100 vehicles and 250 storage containers across the country to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1211

- OPERATION HOMEFRONT AND ALFRED ANGELO HOST MILITARY WEDDING Every bride anticipates the day she walks down the aisle in a spectacular bridal gown on her wedding day. On June 13, this dream came true for the military brides from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1139 AND http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1135

- VIDEO: FORT BENNING COUPLES TIE THE KNOT The men and women of Ft. Benning continue to surpass all expectations in serving our country at home and abroad. Now a few companies and organizations have worked together to make a few of the Soldiers and their loved ones dreams come true. NBC 38’s Maria Jones explains. WATCH MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1183

- GETTING THE WORD OUT By now you likely know the National Infantry Museum has opened. As a volunteer and fan of the museum for many years I can assure you it is truly a spectacular facility. The history of our fighting men is worth remembering in such a fashion because we enjoy the freedoms we have in this country, thanks to the sacrifices of our veterans in many bloody conflicts. Remembering those sacrifices, regardless of military service or branch or gender, is important. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1208

- PHOTOS: 3RD BRIGADE EXECUTIVE OFFICER PROMOTED Lt. Col. John Cushing's Promotion and Awards ceremony June 25, 2009, Kelley Hill, Fort Benning, Ga. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1217

- BOSS AND MWR UPCOMING EVENTS Flyers for upcoming events from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (B.O.S.S.) and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (M.W.R.) organizations at Fort Benning, Ga. Includes Whitewater Rafting, UFC Fight-Night and more!
READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1041

- WEST GEORGIA HONOR FLIGHT HONORS AMERICA’S VETERANS West Georgia Honor Flight exists to help honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. Our goal is to fly veteran heroes from Columbus, GA, and surrounding counties to Washington, D.C., to reflect at their national memorials for a one-day free visit. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=1027

- ARMY BLOGGERS: TAKE NOTE! The U.S. Army is inviting Soldier bloggers to share their insights into their personal Army experience in an online forum at http://www.armystrongstories.com. READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=981


- MILITARY SPOUSE PROGRAM NOW OPEN Contact information – Mr. Hodge – 706-545-7677
**Grants starting at $6,000 up to $12,000 per year for spouse education.**
READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=394

- OUTPOST 60 - 3ID SOCIETY The Society of the Third Infantry Division, the US Army’s oldest organization… READ MORE http://www.hammerpao.com/?p=603

- COL. PETER JONES ON TWITTER - http://www.twitter.com/PJHammer6
- 3RD HBCT ON FACEBOOK - http://facebook.hammerpao.com
- 3RD HBCT ON TWITTER - http://twitter.hammerpao.com
- 3RD HBCT ON YOUTUBE - http://youtube.hammerpao.com

22 June 2009

VA Launches 10-Year Health Study of 60,000 New Veterans

/PRNewswire / -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated a large, long-term study to look carefully at a broad array of health issues that may affect Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans and their counterparts who served during the same time period. VA's "National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans" will begin with 30,000 Veterans deployed to OEF/OIF and 30,000 comparison Veterans who were not deployed.

"This study will help us fulfill President Obama's pledge to 'stand with our Veterans as they face new challenges' by enabling us to understand the health problems of our newest generation of combat Veterans," Dr. Gerald M. Cross, VA's acting under secretary for health, said. "The study's findings will help us plan more effectively to provide the best care possible for these deserving Veterans."

The study will include Veterans who served in each branch of service, representing active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members. Women will be over-sampled to make sure they are represented and will comprise 20 percent of the study, or 12,000 women. A combination of mail surveys, online surveys, telephone interviews, and in-person physical evaluations will be used to collect data from the Veterans.

The study will compare the deployed and non-deployed Veterans in terms of chronic medical conditions, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological conditions, general health perceptions, reproductive health, pregnancy outcomes, functional status, use of health care, behavioral risk factors (smoking, drinking, seatbelt use, speeding, motorcycle helmet use, and sexual behavior), and VA disability compensation. VA has contracted with an independent Veteran-owned research firm, HMS Technologies Inc., to collect the data.

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19 June 2009

VA Reopening Health Care Enrollment to Thousands of Veterans

/PRNewswire/ -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which now has nearly 8 million Veterans enrolled in its award-winning health care system, is poised to welcome nearly 266,000 more Veterans into its medical centers and clinics across the country by expanding access to health care enrollment for certain Veterans who had been excluded due to their income.

"This incremental approach to expanding enrollment ensures that access to VA health care for a greater number of beneficiaries does not sacrifice timely access or quality medical care for those Veterans already enrolled in VA's health care system," Dr. Gerald Cross, VA's Acting Under Secretary for Health, said. "Over the next four years, we hope to provide enrollment to more than 500,000 Veterans."

Under a new regulation effective June 15, VA will enroll Veterans whose income exceeds current means-tested thresholds by up to 10 percent. These Veterans were excluded from VA health care enrollment when income limits were imposed in 2003 on Veterans with no service-connected disabilities or other special eligibility for care. There is no income limit for Veterans with compensable service-connected disabilities or for Veterans being seen for their service-connected disabilities.

Veterans who have applied for VA health care but were rejected due to income at any point in 2009 will have their applications reconsidered under the new income threshold formula. Those who applied before 2009, but were rejected due to income, must reapply. VA will contact these Veterans through a direct-mail campaign, Veterans service organizations, and a national and regional marketing campaign.

Information about enrollment and an income and assets calculator are available at www.va.gov/healtheligibility. The calculator provides a format in which Veterans enter their household income, number of dependents, and zip codes to see if they may qualify for VA health care enrollment.

In addition to applying online, Veterans may also contact VA's Health Benefits Service Center at 1-877-222 VETS (1-877-222-8387). Each VA medical center across the country has an enrollment coordinator available to provide Veterans with enrollment and eligibility information.

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Arts Across Georgia

18 June 2009

Columbus Lion’s Host “Sledgehammer Night”

The Columbus Lions arena football team, sponsored “Sledgehammer Night” for the Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at the Civic Center, in Columbus, Ga., June 13.

Before the game, 3rd HBCT Soldiers tailgated in the Civic Center parking lot, enjoyed a free concert, and interacted with the Lion’s players and cheerleaders.

“I enjoyed it,” said 1st Sgt. Dobby Anderson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “I really like how the whole brigade came out and supported this. That was a big-time tailgate party. We had people grilling and throwing the football. The music was going. It set the tone for the whole evening.”

Many Soldiers took the opportunity to branch out and spend time with other Soldiers outside of their units.

“It was good to get the opportunity to mess around with the other battalions and talk with some of the other sergeants major in the brigade,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Huell, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. “That event went along way in building team cohesion and espri de corps in the unit.”

During the game, 3rd HBCT Soldiers and their families supported the Lions as they defeated the Fayetteville Guard, from North Carolina. Before the game, John Hargrove, the managing partner of the Lions, presented Col. Pete Jones, brigade commander, with a banner commemorating the evening. Hargrove also offered words of support to the brigade Soldiers.

Various Soldiers of the 3rd HBCT participated in events throughout the game, including singing the national anthem, playing exhibition games during game breaks, and a reenlistment ceremony during half time, various videos highlighting the brigade’s last deployment. Four Sledgehammer Soldiers also reenlisted during halftime before eight Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, repelled from the rafters down to the field.

After each event, the people of Columbus showed their support to the participating Soldiers by giving them round after round of applause.

“The event was a great team building event, not just for us, but for the brigade and the populace of Columbus,” said Huell. “The support we and our families received was tremendous.”

Photo 1: The color guard composed of 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers, present the colors during the National Anthem during “Sledgehammer Night” at the Civic Center in Columbus, Ga., June 13.

Photo 2: During halftime of the Columbus Lion’s game against the Fayetteville Guard , June 13, at the at the Civic Center in Columbus, Ga., Col. Pete Jones, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division commander, displays a guitar autographed by the rock legends Queensryche. The guitar was given away as a part of Sledgehammer Night.

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08 June 2009

FRC Comments on Supreme Court's Rejection of Challenge to Military's Homosexual Ban

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised today's Supreme Court decision to turn away a legal challenge to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:

"Today's decision is the triumph of solid evidence and simple common sense over politically-driven extremism," said Perkins. "As Congress recognized in the early 1990s, homosexuality is incompatible with military service. Nothing has changed since then.

"The courts have consistently upheld the military's 1993 homosexual ban and affirmed convincingly that the law is constitutional. Congress and the courts have long acknowledged that the military has the responsibility to focus on creating and preserving readiness. Military service is a privilege, not a right, and anything that detracts from the ability of our service personnel to fulfill their mission should be prohibited. The sexual tension that would be introduced by forced cohabitation with homosexuals indisputably fits into that category.

"We urge President Obama and Congress to also reject any administrative or legislative efforts that would overturn the existing law. The military should not be used as a testing vehicle with which to implement liberal social policies.

"President Obama should also consider a recent letter from a coalition of over 1,000 retired flag and general officers -- including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, several Service Chiefs, a Medal of Honor winner, and a total of 47 with four-star rank -- that was sent to him and to Congress, with an accompanying issue overview, in support of the current law declaring homosexuality to be incompatible with military service. The letter warns that overturning the ban would undermine recruiting and retention, and adversely impact the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service.

"Indeed, a 2008 Military Times poll found that 58% of active-duty military respondents object to overturning the ban. In addition, almost a quarter of poll respondents said they would not re-enlist or consider not re-enlisting if the ban is overturned.

"Not taking these realities seriously shows not only contempt for those who serve but also a troubling willingness to put the insistent demands of a vocal minority ahead of the security of our nation. The Commander in Chief should never make a decision based on that kind of highly politicized pressure," Perkins concluded.

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06 June 2009

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

FREE writing workshops at the Atlanta VA Medical Center 6-8pm on Monday evenings, June 8-29

Active duty troops, veterans, and their families are invited to participate in a unique literary program that encourages American military personnel who have served our nation in both current and past conflicts to record their stories and reflections.

These free weekly writing workshops will be led by Atlanta author and journalist Jedwin Smith and will provide the opportunity for participants to improve their writing skills.

To register, email MEisenhart@atlantahistorycenter.com or call 404.814.2063.

More information: www.OperationHomecoming.gov.

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05 June 2009

Over 700 Schools Partner With VA to Help Veterans Pay for Education

/PRNewswire / -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it has entered into more than 700 agreements with institutions of higher learning across the nation to participate in the Post-9/11 GI Bill's "Yellow Ribbon Program."

Many schools signed agreements for participation in not only undergraduate programs, but graduate and doctoral programs as well. Some schools entered into one agreement that covered all their campuses throughout the United States.

"VA is very pleased with the wide-spread interest in the program," said Under Secretary for Benefits Patrick W. Dunne. "We strongly encourage any interested universities to formally sign-up with the agency before the June 15 deadline to ensure participation in the 2009-2010 academic year."

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows degree-granting institutions to voluntarily enter into a formal agreement with VA to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the highest public, in-state undergraduate rates.

The institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses and VA will match this additional funding for eligible students. This may enable qualified students to potentially attend school tuition-free.

This program is reserved for participants at the 100 percent benefit level, specifically those who have served at least 36 months on active duty or served at least 30 continuous days and were discharged due to a service-related injury.

Congress intended the Yellow Ribbon Program to be utilized by universities to make up the difference in the costs for out-of-state, private or graduate tuition, although some institutions may choose not to participate.

Some universities have announced their desire to participate in the program but have not signed a formal agreement with VA, which is required under federal law. VA suggests schools interested in the program contact the Department or visit our Web site for more information.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed by Congress last year, is the most extensive educational assistance program authorized since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.

The maximum benefit allows every eligible Veteran, servicemember, reservist, and National Guard member an opportunity to receive an in-state, undergraduate education at a public institution at no cost. Provisions of the program include payments for tuition and fees, housing, and a books and supplies stipend.

Benefits are payable for training pursued on or after August 1, 2009. The tuition and fee benefit is paid directly to the school and is not meant to exceed the established (or actual) in-state charges at a public institution.

With the large numbers of Veterans and servicemembers expected to sign-up for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill program, VA projects a 20 to 25 percent increase in the total number of participants in VA's education programs.

VA has received more than 60,000 claims for education benefits during the first five weeks since Veterans and servicemembers could apply online. Up to 460,000 students are expected to participate in the program during the first year.

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04 June 2009

Army Begins Mustard Blister Agent Disposal Campaign

/PRNewswire / -- Umatilla Chemical Depot (UMCD) storage workers began delivering HD mustard-filled bulk containers or "ton containers" to the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (UMCDF) at 10 a.m. this morning. This marks the official start of the last individual chemical munitions disposal campaign at the depot.

"Our experienced crews are dedicated to safe and secure munitions movement and delivery to the disposal plant," said Lt. Col. Bob Stein, depot commander. "Deliveries have gone very well during the 12 previous munitions campaigns, but risk remains until the last ton container is gone."

The HD mustard disposal campaign is expected to take between one and two years to complete.

"We begin this final campaign with the same dedication to safe disposal of chemical munitions that we've had since the first disposal campaign that began in 2004," said Mike Strong, the Army's site project manager at UMCDF. "Safety of workers, community and environment has always been and remains our highest priority."

"As always, we'll focus on environmental compliance and safety during the mustard campaign," said Bob Dikeman, project general manager for Washington Defense Group of URS Corporation's EG&G Division. Washington Defense Group built and operates the disposal plant for the Army. "We expect to continue to meet the high standards of state oversight officials."

A safe, slow and deliberate startup of mustard agent processing is planned, similar to past campaigns. The mustard ton containers hold bulk agent only and don't have any explosive components. Destruction of the last munitions in the Umatilla stockpile that contained explosives -- VX nerve agent land mines -- was completed on Nov. 5, 2008.

Disposal of HD mustard containers is the 13th individual chemical munitions disposal campaign for the depot and disposal plant. Previously, the Army successfully destroyed six different types of GB or sarin-filled munitions plus six types of VX-filled munitions. Most of those munitions contained explosive components. A total of 217,969 GB and VX munitions have been safely destroyed to date. The U.S. and other nations are destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) international treaty.

The first chemical munitions disposal campaign in Oregon began on Sept. 7, 2004, with the first movement of GB-filled M55 rockets to the disposal plant. Since that time, the following 12 chemical munitions disposal campaigns have been safely completed:

-- 4 GB (sarin-filled) bulk containers or "ton containers" completed Jan.
5, 2006. This was a Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Project (NSCMP)
-- 27 GB 500-pound bombs completed May 18, 2006.
-- 2,418 GB 750-pound bombs completed June 9, 2006.
-- 91,442 GB rockets and warheads completed Aug. 9, 2006.
-- 14,246 GB 8-inch diameter artillery projectiles completed Jan. 3,
-- 47,406 GB 155mm diameter artillery projectiles completed July 8, 2007.
-- One VX bulk container or "ton container" completed Nov. 26, 2007. This
was a Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Project (NSCMP) mission.
-- 156 VX aircraft-mounted spray tanks completed Dec. 24, 2007.
-- 14,519 VX rockets and warheads completed Jan. 23, 2008.
-- 32,313 VX 155mm projectiles completed June 27, 2008.
-- 3,752 VX 8-inch projectiles completed August 6, 2008.
-- 11,685 VX land mines completed Nov. 5, 2008.

Some of the disposal campaigns ran simultaneously. The disposal plant has multiple processing lines and is capable of safely disposing of different types of munitions at the same time.

When the Umatilla chemical munitions destruction mission is complete, toxic areas in the disposal plant will be thoroughly cleaned and disassembled according to environmental permits. The Umatilla Chemical Depot is slated for closure per the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law. Chemical munitions have been safely and securely stored at the depot since the 1960s. The depot first opened in 1941.

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HHS and VA to Develop a Nationwide Program to Help Older Americans and Veterans with Disabilities Remain Independent in the Community

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki today announced a landmark collaboration to help the families of older Americans and Veterans with disabilities of all ages care for their loved ones in the community. This partnership builds on the similar missions of HHS and the VA with regard to caring for the populations they serve and has as its ultimate goal a nationwide home and community-based long-term-care support program to serve older
Americans and veterans of all ages.

"This HHS-VA initiative combines the hands-on experience and skills of HHS' national network of aging and community-based organizations with the commitment and resources of VA's Veterans Health Administration to provide more people, including our nation's veterans with additional opportunities to remain independent," said HHS Secretary Sebelius. "Through this collaboration, many adults and veterans who would have previously been placed in nursing homes will be able to remain with their loved ones. This is another significant way America can recognize and care for the individuals who have cared for us."

HHS and VA are making $10 million in funding available to bring this initiative to 20 states. This partnership will implement the Veteran Directed Home & Community Based Service (VDHCBS) program through HHS' aging and human services network, in coordination with the
Administration on Aging's (AoA) Community Living Program (CLP) which helps the family caregivers of individuals with ongoing need to keep their loved ones at home. Both programs allow participants to direct their own care, including having control over the types of services they receive and the manner in which they are provided. This includes the option of hiring their neighbors, friends and even some family members, to provide needed services.

"This collaboration provides an opportunity to serve our nation's veterans by offering more long-term care, more choices and control over decisions, and by helping veterans to remain in their homes, supported by family and community," said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

HHS' national network of aging and community based organizations will work in close collaboration with the VA Medical Centers across the country to continue to develop and expand VDHCBS for veterans. The CLP, led by AoA, will help states and communities to assist individuals who are at risk of nursing home placement but who are not Medicaid eligible
to remain at home.

Eligible applicants are State Units on Aging. The closing date for the CLP application is Monday, Aug. 3, 2009. The deadline for submission of a letter of intent is Wednesday, July 1, 2009. Letters should be submitted to Joseph Lugo, by e-mail: joseph.lugo@aoa.hhs.gov or call
(202) 357-3417.

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