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New site for veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs quietly unveiled the beta version of Vets.gov, a new site eventually intended to give users single sign-on access to thousands of online veteran services.

  • On Veterans Day, VA Quietly Unveils New ‘Vets.gov’, By Mohana Ravindranath NextGov (November 11, 2015).

    Currently, the site is a bare-bones framework of that vision.

    Within the next year, veterans will be able to manage all their personal information in one account on Vets.gov, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement on the site.

In honor of Veterans’ Day

Because today is Veterans’ Day, I thought it would be interesting to investigate some recent government publications from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Here are a few things I learned by searching for “veterans” in the Catalog of Government Publications:

  • Merchant Mariners who served during World War II were not granted full veterans’ status until January 17, 1988. Legislation has been proposed to offer additional compensation to this group of veterans. (See here for the Congressional hearing where I first learned of this. For more information, you can also see the House bill, the related Senate bill, and an additional House bill that specifically addresses Merchant Mariners that were awarded the Purple Heart.)
  • Roughly 30% of people who have served in the military and have signed up to receive educational benefits as accorded by the GI Bill never take advantage of these benefits. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs is working to expand these educational benefits to include a wider variety of programs – including “short-term, high-cost” educational programs. I gather that, in the recent past, these short-term, high-cost programs have focused on high tech. One of the points brought up in a hearing held last May is that there should be support for educational programs in other high-demand fields – for example, health care .

From what I’ve read, it seems that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is chronically underfunded. One of the issues brought up in the Merchant Mariners hearing is the question of where the funding will come from in order to compensate this group of veterans (as well as other groups who contributed in World War II, but have not yet been recognized). Since our discussion over the last several days has oft turned to the discussion of civic engagement, I’d like to encourage Free Government Information readers to advocate for or become involved with veterans’ affairs. Let’s honor our veterans with action, and not just words.

Veterans’ Affairs institutes rights management software

The Veterans’ Affairs Administration has recently instituted Microsoft’s Rights Management Services (RMS) (AKA DRM) to “manage” security of internal documents, email, handheld traffic. This sounds to me like a REALLY bad idea on so many levels, especially for a government that plays loose with emails, has a problem with classification and transparency. This seems to me a nuclear solution to a manageable social problem (duh! don’t put home records of more than 26 millions veterans on a laptop PC that can be stolen!!), and one that will have far-reaching affect on open and transparent government.

“VA gets its rights: Department specifies how people can use — or not use — documents employees create.” By Joab Jackson. Government Computer News, 3/3/08.

Perhaps not surprisingly, VA has become one of the earliest adopters — and thus far, the largest — of rights management software with its use of Microsoft’s Rights Management Services (RMS).

VA expected that by press time all employees would be able to set restrictions on what can be done with the documents they create.

When Word, PowerPoint or Excel files, or Outlook e-mail messages are sent to others, the authors can set permissions on what the recipients can do with those documents.

The creator of the document can decide whether it can be printed, forwarded or edited by other people. It’s the employee’s or the agency’s call.

Moreover, the documents are encrypted, so anyone without the appropriate permissions cannot see the contents.

“This ability provides our agency and users the assurance that only the author of the content or someone that has been given full-control permission to the content can remove the persistent protection from the e-mails and documents,” De Sanno said.

“For instance, say I send you an e-mail and RMS that message,” De Sanno said. “I can actually say you cannot print this [document], or that you cannot forward this. Or, it can evaporate in 30 days.”

Among employees, contractors and other people, more than 250,000 individuals will shortly begin using this feature, the agency said.