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-- Senate Passes VA Funding Bill (11/16/2006)
-- No Lump-Sum Disabled Pay (10/27/2006)
-- Men With HALOs  (8/24/2006)
-- National Airborne Day (posted 6/19/2012)
-- Guard may Miss Border Deadline (7/30/2006)
-- Homelessness a Threat for Vets (7/05/2006)
 

 Senate Passes VA Funding Bill

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs | November 16, 2006

Washington, DC - Veterans across the nation will benefit from a record budget increase for a variety of construction projects for the military and Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation (H.R. 5385 - the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act) must still be agreed to the by the House before going to the President to become law.
The bill provides nearly $78 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is $8.88 billion above the amount VA received last year.
"I'm pleased that Republicans have led the way in taking care of veterans. This year's budget is more than 11 percent higher than last year, and is more than 65 percent larger than it was when President Bush was first sworn in," said Sen. Larry Craig, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "These large increases cannot continue forever, but we have made a large improvement for veterans in the past few years."
The legislation includes an amendment Sen. Craig offered which will enable the Department of Veterans to spend up $10 million on individual projects without having to seek specific Congressional authorization. The prior limit was $7 million.
"By increasing the limit, we allow VA officials to move quickly and actually save money. The longer you wait on construction projects, the higher the costs go," Craig said.
Also under this bill, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims would receive nearly $20 million for fiscal year 2007, a 6.4 percent increase over its 2006 appropriations. This level of funding would allow the Court to increase its staff, continue an electronic case-filing initiative, and continue studying the feasibility of constructing or obtaining a dedicated Veterans Courthouse and Justice Center.
Significant spending accounts include:
Compensation and Pensions: Provides $38.01 billion for compensation and pensions, which is $4.11 billion above the FY06 enacted level.
Medical Services: Provides $28.69 billion for Medical Services, which is equal to the Administration's request and $4.51 billion above the FY06 enacted level.
Readjustment Benefits: Provides $3.26 billion for Readjustment Benefits, which fully funds the Bush Administration's request. The readjustment benefits appropriation finances the education and training of veterans and servicepersons whose initial entry on active duty took place on or after July 1, 1985.
Veterans Housing: Provides $196.7 million for the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund Program Account, which is $132.1 million above the FY06 enacted level.

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 No Lump-Sum Disabled Pay

Tom Philpott | October 27, 2006

Veterans' Disability Panel Rejects Lump-Sum Option

The Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission has examined and rejected a proposal that the VA begin offering veterans with lower-rated disabilities a lump-sum payment instead of lifetime monthly compensation.

The 13-member commission reached its decision unanimously last week at a public meeting in Washington D.C. It did so after being briefed on the pros and cons of lump-sum VA disability payments, and hearing arguments against the idea from veterans’ service organizations.

The commission, created by Congress in 2004, is conducting the first comprehensive review of veterans’ disability benefits in 50 years. Its recommendations are to be delivered to lawmakers next fall.

One idea the commission won’t embrace is lump-sum compensation, rather than monthly disability pay, for veterans rated 10 or 20 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans with 10 and 20 percent ratings represent about three quarters of all disabled veterans.

Those with a 10-percent rating now receive $112 a month in disability compensation. Veterans rated 20 percent disabled get $218. The payments are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

Under a lump-sum option, a 25-year-old veteran, newly-rated as 10 percent disabled, might be offered $11,000. A veteran with a 20 percent rating, who is also 25, might be offered $22,000. Veterans who have been receiving monthly compensation for years obviously would get smaller offers. Actual amounts are unknown. They would be based not only on age or disability but final economic assumptions used including “discount rates” that veterans attach to dollars paid today versus in the future. The goal of a lump sum option would be to balance fairness for veterans with savings to the VA.

Joseph V. Violante, legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, testified Oct. 19 against the lump-sum settlements, on behalf of 13 veterans’ groups and service associations. Later, in an interview, Violante said he was surprised to learn that commissioners, that same day, directed their staff to prepare a decision paper recommending rejection of all lump-sum options.

Commissioners intend to approve that decision formally at a future meeting, said Ray Wilburn, spokesman for the commission.

Veterans should be relieved, said Violante. Those tempted by lump sums, he said, “would be giving up a lot of their benefit…and would face the possibility of not being able to re-open their claim should conditions worsen.”

The idea of lump-sum offers for lower-rated disabled veterans was raised in 1956, the last time the VA disability system was overhauled. It has been endorsed periodically since then, by various studies. The Department of Defense uses lump sums under its own disability retirement program. Service members rated 30 percent disabled or more qualify for monthly disability retirement. But those rated 10 or 20 percent by DoD can only get a lump-sum disability severance.

Most DoD disabled retirees apply for a VA rating after leaving service. That can result in a higher rating and better benefits. Those with DoD ratings of 10 or 20 percent typically see their monthly VA compensation delayed until an amount equal to their lump sum from DoD is recouped.

CNA Corp., formerly known as the Center for Naval Analyses, was hired by this commission to study and report on the advantages and disadvantages of a lump-sum option for VA. CNA reviewed how an option might be designed, who should be eligible and what savings might be gained.

CNA said veterans might view lump sums as more useful in transitioning to civilian life. They also might enjoy having a choice. And because lump sum recipients would have fewer interactions with VA, the timeliness of the VA claims process might improve, said the CNA report.

VA compensation costs, over time, also would fall because total dollars paid in lump sums would be a lot less than paid over a lifetime as monthly compensation. Compensation savings, in time, could be 10 to 20 percent.

The VA also would save on administrative costs, CNA concluded. That would be especially true if veterans who accepted lump-sum payments were prohibited from applying for a “re-rating” as their disabilities worsened.

But CNA acknowledged that lump-sum settlements raise new worries about the welfare of veterans who accept such deals. Some would use lump-sum payments foolishly, placing their financial futures in greater jeopardy. Another issue is what these veterans can do if their disabilities worsened.

To better understand the implications, CNA tracked how VA disabilities in the year 2000 changed over the next five years. CNA found that by 2005 almost no veteran saw his or her disability rating drop and only five percent of disabilities had a rating increase. The average increase was between 20 and 30 percentage points. Skin, hearing, sight, gynecological and lymphatic conditions showed the smallest rating changes, an average of less than two percent. Ratings for post-traumatic stress disorder rose sharply, with that average between 30 and 40 percentage points.

To estimate both near-term costs and long-term potential savings from use of lump-sum settlements, CNA assumed they would be offered only to veterans rated 10 or 20 percent disabled and with conditions having no more than a two-percent probability of a rating increase over the next five years. Likely candidate conditions that fit the profile include tinnitus, thumb amputations, hypertension and scars on the face, neck or head.

CNA calculated that offering lump sums to newly-rated veterans with these ratings and types of conditions would raise VA compensation costs by $545 million in the first year. More surprisingly, the VA wouldn’t break even and begin to see net savings from this change for 25 years.

To comment, e-mail milupdate@aol.com, write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111 or visit: www.militaryupdate.com

Copyright 2006 Tom Philpott. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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 Men With HALOs

W. Thomas Smith Jr. | August 16, 2006

When I attended jump school more than 25 years ago, there was a saying among non-paratroopers that ground week separated the men from the boys. Tower week separated the fools from the men. And during the third and final week, the fools jumped.

 Of course, it was all light-hearted jabbing and a bit of sincere professional jealousy.  We knew then -- as every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine knows today -- there is something special about a combat-trained parachutist or paratrooper, something uncommon that sets him apart from the ordinary foot-soldier.

It's not simply the fact that a paratrooper jumps out of a perfectly good airplane -- though not everyone has the physical courage to do that -- but he does so ready to fight, knowing full-well that he will probably be outnumbered by the enemy on the ground; certainly surrounded; and that his survival depends on his ability to catch the enemy by surprise; kill him, perhaps in close quarters; and continue to fight with limited food, equipment, and ammunition until he is reinforced by heavier ground units.

In fact, the initial perception of most anyone seeing a uniformed soldier or sailor wearing a badge, medal, or patch with a “parachute” might be that that soldier or sailor is “specially trained.” The second thought might be “he probably knows how to fight.”

In his book, Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force, best-selling author Tom Clancy writes, “Most special forces claim a unique ethos. Many other branches of military service have tried to claim their own code: One that is special to them. Trust me: In most cases, the people doing the claiming are full of crap. In the whole of the American military, only a handful of groups are truly worthy of such a distinction -- the Marine Corps, certain special forces units [Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, Air Force Special Tactics, others] and of course, Airborne.”

Clancy is right. The American paratrooper is in many ways the epitome of the modern conventional warrior (if we can call him conventional): In order to be an Airborne soldier, one has to be fit and able to endure physical hardship beyond that required of an ordinary soldier. He must be able to fight with a variety of personal weapons as well as his bare hands. He must be courageous. And he must have a reasonable capacity to think on his own, outside of the box, and during periods of extreme stress.

In fact, in most cases, the very basic requirement of any “special operations” combatant is that he be first-and-foremost a sky soldier.

“Of course, it [parachuting] is a means of delivery,” Lt. General John Bruce Blount (U.S. Army, ret.), former chief of staff of Allied Forces Southern Europe, tells NavySEALs.com. “Then you have to consider the types of people who make up Airborne units. They're young, fit, brave, willing to take a chance, and all of those things appeal to the special operations folks. Those characteristics are what special ops are looking for.”

Which brings us to August 16 -- National Airborne Day -- currently a marginally observed day that was decreed by presidential mandate in 2002.

For it was on the morning of August 16, 1940, that members of the brand new Parachute Test Platoon began leaping from C-33 transports at an altitude of 1,500 feet over a recently cleared drop zone near Lawson Field at Fort Benning, Georgia.

First Lieutenant William T. Ryder jumped first, making him the first American soldier to jump from a plane. Second in the door was an anonymous enlisted soldier, so-paralyzed with fear, he was unable to jump. Next in line was Private William N. “Red” King, who would become the first enlisted soldier to jump.

Parachutes began to blossom over the Georgia countryside as one-by-one Ryder's men stood in the door of the aircraft and waited for the leg slap and the “go” command from the Air Corps jump instructor. The platoon made a second jump the next day.

Then, thanks to one of the test platoon members and a legendary Apache Indian chief, observers of the platoon's third jump witnessed the birth of one of the great traditions of the American paratrooper: The jump cry or battle cry: “Geronimo!”

On the night prior to the jump, several members of the platoon were at the base theater watching a movie in which the warrior chief, Geronimo, and a band of his Apache braves were pursued by the U.S. Cavalry. Later, over a few beers, some of the men began teasing fellow trainee, Private Aubrey Eberhardt, saying that during the next day's jump he would be too frightened to speak. Eberhardt boasted that he would not only speak, but shout the name of the great Indian warrior.

The following day, the six-foot-eight Eberhardt leapt from the plane yelling, “Geronimo!” He followed the shout with a war whoop so loud, soldiers on the ground could hear him. Other jumpers followed, also screaming the now-famous battle cry.

By September 1940, the Parachute Test Platoon would form the core of the new 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first operational Airborne unit in American military history. But it was not the first time there had been any substantive consideration for establishing U.S. Airborne forces.

General Billy Mitchell actually proposed an Airborne assault operation during World War I. Mitchell's plan called for strapping parachutes onto 12,000 select men of the 1st Infantry Division, the famous “Big Red One.” They would be loaded onto 1,200 British-built Handley-Page bi-winged bombers -- ten men and two machineguns per plane -- and dropped on the French city of Metz, a German stronghold deep behind enemy lines.

Enroute to the drop zone, the entire air fleet would be escorted by fighters, which would fly above, below, and on both flanks of the formation. Once safely on the ground, the paratroopers would assemble their weapons, reform into infantry units, and dig-in.

Overhead, Mitchell's fighters would provide close air support until the paratroopers were sufficiently positioned behind their newly dug works and ready for action. With the paratroopers spreading panic and confusion in the German rear areas, the primary U.S. ground forces would climb out of their trenches and attack along a wide front. The plan proposed in October 1918, might have been carried out in the spring of 1919, but the war ended in November 1918.

In April 1940, during the initial stages of World War II, large numbers of German fallschirmjäger (literally, parachuting hunters) jumped over Norway and Denmark, seizing key bridges and military installations. Surprisingly, the attacks received little attention. This has since been attributed to the fact that a series of more dramatic Naval clashes took place off the Norwegian coast around the same time.

In May, the German Army crossed the borders of Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Nazis spearheaded their attacks with surprise Airborne and gliderborne assaults which confused and overwhelmed their enemies and shocked the world.

The effectiveness of the fallschirmjäger compelled the U.S. War Department to begin planning and crash-building their own Airborne forces. Thus, the Parachute Test Platoon.

U.S. paratroopers proved their mettle during the war, with Airborne forces ultimately swelling to five Army Airborne divisions -- the 82nd, the 101st, the 11th, the 13th, and the 17th -- several gliderborne units, even the Marine Corps' short-lived Paramarines.

Over the next 60-plus years, U.S. paratroopers, military parachutists, and Airborne units would go through a number of evolutionary phases, downsizing, changing, yet performing magnificently in all of America's war and military excursions.

Today, the Army's Airborne strength has been reduced significantly to only a single division of paratroopers, the 82nd (the 101st is also designated “Airborne,” but it is in fact “air assault”), the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 75th Ranger Regiment, and various smaller units. But combat trained parachutists also serve as the basic element of modern American special operations forces.

All services -- Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, even the paramilitary elements within the Central Intelligence Agency -- maintain airborne-qualified units or parachute elements. And all paratroopers or combat parachutists, regardless of service branch, are initially trained at the U.S. Army's “jump” school at Fort Benning. There is also advanced parachute training -- HALO (high altitude low opening) and HAHO (high altitude high opening) -- conducted by the Army as well as other service-branches in-house.

Airborne is a key component of all modern special operations and special warfare units. In fact, the very nature of a parachutist's mission is special: Dropping behind an enemy's lines is essentially an unconventional thus “special” operation. And the level of personal commitment and basic athleticism required of a paratrooper is a prerequisite for joining the ranks of special operations forces. Lastly, a paratrooper is not likely to be the kind of soldier who would fold under fire. The “airborne spirit” is a kind of ethos that when integrated with a soldier's psyche practically ensures that he will fight, and fight well. And that is not some hollow rah-rah statement.

“The intangible but very real end product that stems from an individual's evaluation of himself is perhaps the most precious result of the process that produces parachute soldiers,” the late Lt. General William Pelham "Bill" Yarborough, one of the “founding fathers” of both American Airborne and special operations forces, wrote in the foreword to Airborne by Edward M. Flanagan Jr. “A warrior who will bail out at night onto a battlefield deep in enemy country while carrying fifty pounds of equipment, weapons, and ammunition is not likely to perform poorly in combat.”

In his 2002 National Airborne Day proclamation, President George W. Bush said, “Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers.”

So perhaps the fools do jump during the final week of parachute training. But it is the threat of those same fools which keeps America's enemies wide awake at night, while the rest of us soundly sleep.

This article first appeared at NavySEALs.com

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 National Airborne Day

Posted 6/19/12:  August 16, 1940 marked the first official Army parachute jump, validating the innovative concept of inserting United States ground combat forces behind a battle line by parachute.

On August 14, 2002 President George W. Bush issued the following proclamation:

The history of airborne forces began after World War I, when Brigadier General William Mitchell first conceived the idea of parachuting troops into combat. Eventually, under the leadership of Major William Lee at Fort Benning, Georgia, members of the Parachute Test Platoon pioneered methods of combat jumping in 1940. In November 1942, members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, conducted America's first combat jump, leaping from a C-47 aircraft behind enemy lines in North Africa. This strategy revolutionized combat and established airborne forces as a key component of our military.

During World War II, airborne tactics were critical to the success of important missions, including the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, the invasion of Southern France, and many others. In Korea and Vietnam, airborne soldiers played a critical combat role, as well as in later conflicts and peacekeeping operations, including Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm, Haiti, Somalia, and the Balkans. Most recently, airborne forces were vital to liberating the people of Afghanistan from the repressive and violent Taliban regime; and these soldiers continue to serve proudly around the world in the global coalition against terrorism.

The elite airborne ranks include prestigious groups such as the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, "Sky Soldiers," 82nd Airborne Division, "All American," and the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Airborne forces have also been represented in the former 11th, 13th, and 17th Airborne Divisions and numerous other Airborne, glider and air assault units and regiments. Paratroopers in the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps, the 75th Infantry (Ranger) Regiment and other Special Forces units conduct swift and effective operations in defense of peace and freedom.

Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers. Often called into action with little notice, these forces have earned an enduring reputation for dedication, excellence, and honor. As we face the challenges of a new era, I encourage all people to recognize the contributions of these courageous soldiers to our Nation and the world.

Now, therefore, I, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 16, 2002, as National Airborne Day. As we commemorate the first official Army parachute jump on August 16, 1940, I encourage all Americans to join me in honoring the thousands of soldiers, past and present, who have served in an airborne capacity. I call upon all citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-seventh.

George W. Bush

On August 3, 2009 the Senate recognized National Airborne Day with Senate Resolution 235.

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 Guard may Miss Border Deadline - Associated Press  |  June 30, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Bush administration has been unable to muster even half the 2,500 National Guardsmen it planned to have on the Mexican border by the end of June, officials in the border states said.

The head of the National Guard Bureau disputed that tally and said the goal would be met by Friday.

As of Thursday, the next-to-last day of the month, fewer than 1,000 troops were in place, according to military officials in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona.

President Bush's plan called for all 50 states to send troops. But only 10 states - including the four border states - have signed commitments.

Some state officials have argued that they cannot free up Guardsmen because of flooding in the East, wildfires in the West or the prospect of hurricanes in the South.

"It's not a combat priority. It is a volunteer mission," said Kristine Munn, spokeswoman for the National Guard Bureau, an arm of the Pentagon, "so it's a question of balancing the needs of the Border Patrol with the needs of 54 states and territories, and all those balls roll in different directions."

Bush's plan called for 2,500 troops to be on the border in support roles by June 30, and 6,000 by the end of July. But officials in the border states said the Guard won't reach the 2,500 target until early to mid-July and will likely need longer to meet the 6,000 mark.

"The magical numbers coming out of Washington are not going to happen, definitely not by Friday," said Maj. Paul Ellis, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard.

A White House spokesman declined to comment, referring questions to the National Guard Bureau.

Later Thursday, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, issued a statement saying that the Guard "will have 2,500 Army and Air National Guard members supporting Operation Jump Start in the four border states," by Friday.

"Reports to the contrary are factually incorrect and ill-informed," his statement said.

Blum's spokesman, Daniel Donohue, said he could not account for the state reports about the lagging numbers. He suggested Guardsmen serving in support roles, such as cooks and others, may have been overlooked.

Lower troop numbers and gaps in deployments could mean fewer Border Patrol officers will be able to focus on catching illegal immigrants as planned. Bush had said the mission would free up thousands of officers now on other duties to actively patrol the border. Guardsmen are expected to build fences, conduct routine surveillance and take care of other administrative duties for the border patrol.

Munn said nearly 1,800 troops were committed to the mission. But Guard officials from California to Texas said more than half have yet to reach the border. At least 600 are weeks away from getting there.

Only six non-border states - Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee and Wisconsin - have officially joined the mission.

In recent days West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Arkansas pledged troops, but many of those would not arrive until sometime next month, said Tom Koch, a New Mexico National Guard spokesman. On Thursday, Virginia announced that about 350 National Guard members had volunteered.

Major problems began to appear last week when California, which has already committed to sending 1,000 troops, said it turned down an administration request for 1,500 more to cover expected shortfalls in the numbers sent by Arizona and New Mexico.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Adam Mendelsohn, said the state is leading all others in contributing troops and the shortfalls are not California's responsibility.

"The governor is prepared to do whatever it takes to secure California's border," he said, "However, at the start of fire season, we cannot send troops to New Mexico and Arizona and other states when we already have 1,000 troops committed to this."

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 Homelessness a Threat for Vets - Associated Press  |  July 05, 2006

NEW YORK - Herold Noel had nowhere to call home after returning from military service in Iraq. He slept in his Jeep, taking care to find a parking space where he wouldn't get a ticket.

"Then the nightmares would start," says the 26-year-old former Army private first class, who drove a fuel truck in Iraq. "I saw a baby decapitated when it was run over by a truck - I relived that every night."

Across America on any given evening, hundreds of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan like Noel are homeless, according to government estimates.

The reasons for their plight are many. For some, residual stress from daily insurgent attacks and roadside bombs makes it tough to adjust to civilian life; some can't navigate government assistance programs; others simply can't afford a house or apartment.

They are living on the edge in towns and cities big and small, from Washington state to California and Florida. Some of the hardest hit are in New York City, where housing costs "can be very tough," says Peter Dougherty, head of the federal government's Homeless Veterans Program. Studio apartments routinely exceed $1,000 a month - no small sum for veterans trying to land on their feet.

As a member of the National Guard, Nadine Beckford patrolled New York train stations after the Sept. 11 attacks, then served a treacherous year in the Gulf region.

But when she returned home from Iraq, she found her storage locker had been emptied of all of her belongings and her bank account had been depleted. She believes her boyfriend took everything and "just vanished."

Six months after her return to America, she lives in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, sharing a room with eight other women and attending a job training program. Her parents live in Jamaica and are barely making ends meet, she says.

"I'm just an ordinary person who served. I'm not embarrassed about my homelessness, because the circumstances that created it were not my fault," says Beckford, 30, who was a military-supply specialist at a U.S. base in Iraq - a sitting duck for around-the-clock attacks "where hell was your home."

It was a "hell" familiar to Noel during his eight months in Iraq. But it didn't stop when he returned home to New York last year and couldn't find a job to support his wife and three children. Without enough money to rent an apartment, he turned to the housing programs for vets, "but they were overbooked," Noel says.

While he was in Iraq, his family had lived in military housing in Georgia.

In New York, they ended up in a Bronx shelter "with people who were just out of prison, and with roaches," Noel says. "I'm a young black man from the ghetto, but this was culture shock. This is not what I fought for, what I almost died for. This is not what I was supposed to come home to."

There are about 200,000 homeless vets in the United States, according to government figures. About 10 percent are from either the 1991 Gulf War or the current one, about 40 percent are Vietnam veterans, and most of the others served when the country was not officially at war.

"In recent years, we've tried to reach out sooner to new veterans who are having problems with post-traumatic stress, depression or substance abuse, after seeing combat," says Dougherty. "These are the veterans who most often end up homeless."

About 350 nonprofit service organizations are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans.

But the veterans still land on a hard bottom line: Almost half of America's 2.7 million disabled veterans receive $337 or less a month in benefits, according to the government. Fewer than one-tenth are rated 100 percent disabled, meaning they get $2,393 a month, tax free.

"And only those who receive that 100 percent benefit rating can survive in New York," says J.B. White, a 36-year-old former Marine who served with a National Guard unit in Iraq. His colon was removed after he was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, which civilian medical experts believe started in Iraq under the stress of war.

"I'd be homeless if it weren't for the support of my family," says White, who is trying to win benefits from the VA. He also helps others, like Beckford, as head of a Manhattan-based social service agency that finds non-government housing for vets.

Noel now attends a program to get work in studio sound production. He was the protagonist of the documentary film "When I Came Home," which was named best New York-made documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival this year.

Just after the news reports about his plight, he learned the government was granting him the 100 percent disability compensation he sought - after being turned down.

Noel doesn't blame the Army, which "helped make my dreams come true," he says, recalling the military base life in Georgia and in Korea that his family enjoyed before his deployment to Iraq.

"I had a house, a car - they gave me everything they promised me," he says. "Now it's up to the government and the people we're defending to take care of their Soldiers."

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