The Crusader Newspaper Group

Jesse Brown VA and VBA highlight the Blue Water Legislation

By Chanda Johnson

In early February, Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center (JBVA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office (VBARO) joined the America’s Heroes Group radio show to discuss VA programs.

Among the topics were Voluntary Service, the Veterans School at Work (VSAW) program and the Navy’s Blue Water initiative.

JBVA panelists included Public Affairs Officer Chanda Johnson; Community Employment Coordinator Beatrice Smith-Redd and VA Outreach Coordinator and Voluntary Service Specialist Denisse Montoya.

U.S. Army Veteran Paratrooper and VBARO Executive Director Hughes S. Turner and Veterans Service Center Manager (VBARO) Adam Wentz joined the discussion.

Smith-Redd has over 10 years experience developing and training employees at all organizational levels and preparing veterans for the workforce.

JBVA offers many employee programs veterans use to advance their careers, such as VSAW. The VSAW program combines education with career planning to prepare veterans for successful employment or higher education. VSAW runs for 13 weeks and includes instruction on topics such as Communication in the Workplace, Life Management Skills, and refreshers in grammar, reading, writing and math.

Such programs are offered to increase the likelihood of job-related success by connecting veterans with job related resources from within the VA and the community.

Montoya, a U.S Air Force veteran who started at the VA as a volunteer, shared that VA Voluntary Services is one of the largest volunteer programs in the federal government.

Their mission is to facilitate the strategic integration of volunteers, donations, and community partners to enhance care and benefits for America’s Heroes. The focus for February is the annual National Salute to Veteran Patients, which aims to thank veterans and let others know about the wide range of opportunities to give back to veterans.

JBVA has many successful volunteer programs like the Veterans Clothing Closet, Food Pantry, and Social Security Video Sessions where Jesse Brown hosts video calls to connect veterans to resources at the Social Security Administration.

The Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office also shared information about the Navy’s Blue Water initiative.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law in June 2019 and took effect January 2020. Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam may now be eligible for disability compensation and other benefits for themselves and their families. VBA is working to spread the word to veterans to initiate a claim.

For more information on Veteran Employment Services, contact Beatrice Smith-Redd at 312-569-7012; for details on VA Voluntary Service, contact Denisse Montoya at 312-569-6340.

To find out more about the Navy’s Blue Water initiative, veterans can visit the VBA Chicago Regional Office or

VBA Chicago is co-located with the JBVA at 820 S. Damen St.

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