Topic: VETERANS

(HEALTH) WIGWAM KEPT NOBODY SAFE

By Thomas D. Segel Tomsegel@joimail.com [mailto:Tomsegel@joimail.com]

When we read the tales of western lore, it is the humble Wigwam, which protected those inside from cold, rain, snow and wind. Inside the Wigwam all were safe.

Aboard the U.S.S. Tawasa the scientist tasked with filming the event did not feel safe. He panicked. Seeing a massive tidal wave nearing the ship he dove through the open hatch, breaking two ribs and his shoulder when he landed in the passageway.

The shock of the initial explosion smashed into the vessel, breaking pipes, hydraulic lines, and twisting the propeller shaft. The fire pump was torn loose from its retaining straps; a smaller fire pump was torn loose and damaged equipment, including that used for fire control. The ship was tossed about wildly and then was completely submerged by the surge. Slowly floundering to the surface, what was left of a 30,000-foot towline served to hold the ship steady, saving it from complete disaster. The scene, in various forms, was repeated over and over again that afternoon on May 14, 1955.

The initial devastation and the horrors of the aftermath were the result of the only deep-water atomic test performed by any nation. The test was conducted 500 miles southwest of San Diego, California and impacted 6,700 military service personnel, 120 civilian scientists and a fleet of 30 vessels. This was Operation Wigwam and it provided no safety for anyone involved.

It was only a matter of seconds following the detonation when the ocean seemed to explode. The surface at point zero became a boiling white circle, which spread outward for two miles. Radioactive seawater, spray and mist leaped upward until there was a column of water 3,500 feet high above the surrounding ships. Then a fireball broke the surface and became a two-mile circle of bright light.

There were repeated shock waves, which slammed into the circle of ocean craft, assembled for the test. The fleet was tossed and battered. Some were submerged in a tidal surge that reached 800 feet above their main masts. A giant wave 1,200 feet high rolled in the direction of the ships. From that giant wave a spray of atomic mist enveloped every ship and every observer of the blast. The spray was later described in official government reports as “an insidious hazard, which turned into an invisible radioactive aerosol.”

The deep-water test was designed to test the vulnerability of submarines to deep-water nuclear weapons and the feasibility of using depth bombs in combat. Used in this test was a B-7 (Mk-90) Betty, a 31 kiloton depth bomb, suspended by a 2,000 foot cable from a barge. The weight of the bomb alone was 8,250 pounds. A six-mile towline connected the fleet tug Tawasa and the barge. Suspended from the bomb line at various depths were three “Squaws” or sub-scale submarine-like pressure hulls each equipped with instruments and cameras.

Ships conducting the test were positioned five miles from the barge. Two ships, the USS George Eastman and the USS Granville S. Hall were equipped with shielding and stationed downwind of the blast zone. Nearly all personnel were issued film badges to measure radiation exposure. But, no protective gear was provided.

R.J. Ritter was a crewmember on the USS Tawasa and is now a retired marine engineer. His research into Operation Wigwam and its aftermath has been extensive. It was made particularly difficult because everyone involved was required to sing a 25 year non disclosure and secrecy agreement, which if violated would have brought about serious incarceration. He claims that even today, most of the Operation Wigwam survivors are not speaking out about their involvement in the test.

According to Ritter, “The planner’s major concerns were focused on the scientific and military results of the test. Any concerns for the possible hazards facing thousands of men involved first hand and stationed at the blast site, seemed at the time to be secondary in nature. In fact, the Navy was more concerned about their original proposal to stage a much larger operation. But, that event had to be scaled down because of a somewhat restricted budget. Ritter's research found that the radiation standards set for the operation allowed exposure ten times the amount of radiation considered, at that time, to be safe for the public.

Dosimeters, those film badges worn by all personnel, were subject to unacceptable errors in accuracy and did not even measure ionizing radiation particles, which due to the mist created by the atomic explosion, were ingested and inhaled by those subjected to its fallout. The ionizing radiation has since proven to be the most harmful to personnel, years after exposure.

Following the blast floating debris was scattered over a five-mile radius. Weapons were used to sink anything afloat. That which could not be sunk to the floor of the ocean was taken aboard ships for transfer back to shore. The submarine hulls, surface barges support platforms and other items felt important to the test were selectively retrieved and transported to San Diego.

Those Navy personnel with deck duties, crewmembers, boson mates and those with special assignments were sent to their tasks with minimal protection. Divers were sent deep into the radioactive waters. Pilots were ordered to fly into the atomic clouds. They were all exposed to secondary radiation.

The complete devastation of Operation Wigwam may never be known. Due to signed secrecy agreements, high security classifications placed on government documents and even the removal of comments from military records showing individual participation in Operation Wigwam, the public remains uninformed. It may never be known how many became very ill, how many had lives of increased suffering or how many died because of the government’s failure to provide radiation protection and even health care to those how participated in the test.

As for the scientific evaluations of Operation Wigwam, they have now been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

  • Scientists revealed that largely because of adverse weather conditions, fully 70 percent of the experiments were failures.
  • The Wigwam detonation produced sufficient airborne contamination activity to have given radiation doses many times above the tolerance level of those military and civilian personnel exposed to the hot seawater fallout, and to the radioactive contaminated monitoring equipment.
  • Airborne monitors stationed at San Diego measured a higher level of radioactivity over that city within four days of the blast. The radioactivity ranged from ten to twenty times the normal background levels for the next nine days.
  • The frightening base surge tidal wave, created by the blast was characterized as an insidious hazard that turned into an invisible radioactive mist lingering for several days.

It has now been more than 49 years since Operation Wigwam and it was but one of 1066 United States sponsored atomic detonations participated in by the military personnel of this country. Those participants from all the uniformed services have still not been recognized as casualties of the “Cold War” and the Congress has still not passed legislation to give them unlimited medical assistance in the same manner as we treat all others who were wounded in action.

As R.J. Ritter said at the end of his research paper, “The Atomic Veterans also stood in harms way, but unlike the bullet wound that will heal and not effect one¹s future health, ionizing radiation is forever, and will continue to break down body processes over a period of 20 to 40 years, after the fact.”

So, Operation Wigwam provided safety for none and covered all who participated with a blanket of illness and death. Still, little is done by our government to offer relief. As Ritter concludes, “Time does not favor the side of Atomic Veterans, but only favors the side of the Congress of the United States of America.”



BEFORE YOU GO

Forwarded by Slim Russell

October 22, 2005 - The elderly parking lot attendant wasn't in a good mood. Neither was Sam Bierstock.

It was around 1 a.m., and Bierstock, a Delray Beach eye doctor, business consultant, corporate speaker and musician, was bone tired after appearing at an event.

He pulled up in his car, and the parking attendant began to speak. “I took two bullets for this country and look what I'm doing,” he said bitterly.

At first, Bierstock didn't know what to say to the World War II veteran. But he rolled down his window and told the man, “Really, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you.”

Then the old soldier began to cry.

“That really got to me,” Bierstock says.

Bierstock, 58, and John Melnick, 54, of Pompano Beach - a member of Bierstock's band , Dr. Sam and the Managed Care Band - have written a song inspired by that old soldier in the airport parking lot. The mournful Before You Go does more than salute those who fought in WWII. It encourages people to go out of their way to thank the aging warriors before they die.

“If we had lost that particular war, our whole way of life would have been shot,” says Bierstock, who plays harmonica. “Every ethnic minority would be dead. And those soldiers are now dying at the rate of about 2,000 every day. I thought we needed to thank them.”

The song is striking a chord. Within four days of Bierstock placing it on the Web, the song and accompanying photo essay have bounced around nine countries, producing tears and heartfelt thanks from veterans, their sons and daughters and grandchildren.

“It made me cry,” wrote one veteran's son. Another sent an e-mail saying that only after his father consumed several glasses of wine would he discuss “the unspeakable horrors” he and other soldiers had witnessed in places such as Anzio, Iwo Jima, Bataan and Omaha Beach. “I can never thank them enough,” the son wrote. “Thank you for thinking about them.”

Bierstock and Melnick thought about shipping it off to a professional singer, maybe a Lee Greenwood type, but because time was running out for so many veterans, they decided it was best to release it quickly, for free, on the Web. They've sent the song to Sen. John McCain and others in Washington. Already they have been invited to perform it in Houston for a Veterans Day tribute - this after just a few days on the Web. They hope every veteran in America gets a chance to hear it.

Turn up your volume and please visit BEFORE YOU GO [http://www.managedmusic.com/beforeyougo.html ].



CHAMPION OF THE ORDINARY SOLDIER

In Memorium: Colonel David. H. Hackworth, USA (RET) 1930-2005

Washington, D.C., May 5, 2005 – Col. David H. Hackworth, the United States Army's legendary, highly decorated guerrilla fighter and lifelong champion of the doughboy and dogface, ground-pounder and grunt, died May 4, 2005 in Mexico. He was 74 years old. The cause of death was a form of cancer now appearing with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.

Col. Hackworth spent more than half a century on the country’s hottest battlefields, first as a soldier, then as a writer, war correspondent and sharp-eyed critic of the Military-Industrial Complex, and ticket-punching generals he dismissed as “Perfumed Princes.”

He preferred the combat style of World War II and Korean War heroes like James Gavin and Matthew Ridgeway and, during Vietnam, of Hank “The Gunfighter” Emerson and Hal Moore. General Moore, the co-author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young, called him “the Patton of Vietnam,” and Gen. Creighton Abrams, the last American commander in that disastrous war, described him as “the best battalion commander I ever saw in the United States Army.”

Col. Hackworth’s battlefield exploits put him on the line of American military heroes squarely next to Sgt. Alvin York and Audie Murphy. The novelist Ward Just, who knew him for forty years, described him as “the genuine article, a soldier’s soldier, a connoisseur of combat.”

At 14, as World War II was sputtering out, he lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine, and at 15 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Over the next 26 years he spent fully seven in combat. He was put in for the Medal of Honor three times; the last application is currently under review at the Pentagon. He was twice awarded the Army’s second highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, along with 10 Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars. When asked about his many awards, he always said he was proudest of his eight Purple Hearts and his Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

A reputation won on the battlefield made it impossible to dismiss him when he went on the attack later as a critic of careerism and incompetence in the military high command. In 1971, he appeared in the field on ABC’s “Issue and Answers” to say Vietnam “is a bad war … it can’t be won. We need to get out.” He also predicted that Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese within four years, a prediction that turned out to be far more accurate than anything the Joint Chiefs of Staff were telling President Nixon or that the President was telling the American people.

With almost five years in-country, Col. Hackworth was the only senior officer to sound off about the Vietnam War. After the interview, he retired from the Army and moved to Australia.

“He was perhaps the finest soldier of his generation,” observed the novelist and war correspondent Nicholas Proffit, who described Col. Hackworth’s combat autobiography ABOUT FACE [http://www.hackworth.com/usbookorders.html ], a national best-seller, as “a passionate cry from the heart of a man who never stopped loving the Army, even when it stopped loving him back.”

Having risen from private by way of a battlefield commission in Korea, where he became the Army’s youngest captain, to Vietnam, where he served as its youngest bird colonel, he never stood on rank.

From the beginning his life was a soldier’s story. He was born on Armistice Day, now Veteran’s Day, in 1930. His parents both died before he was a year old and the Army ultimately stood in for the family he never had. His grandmother, who rescued him from an orphanage, raised him on tales of the American Revolution and the Old West and the ethos of the Great Depression. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he got his first military training shining shoes at a base in Santa Monica, where the soldiers, adopting him as mascot, had a tailor cut him a pint-sized uniform. “At age 10 I knew my destiny,” he said. “Nothing would be better than to be a soldier.”

He always credited his success in battle to the training he received from the tough school of non-coms who won World War II, hard-bitten, hard-drinking, hard-fighting sergeants who drilled into him the basics of an infantryman’s life: sweat in training cut down on blood shed in battle; there was nothing wrong with being out all night so long as you were present for roll call at 5 a.m., on your feet and in shape to run five miles before breakfast in combat boots.

In Korea, where he won his first Silver Star and Purple Heart before he was old enough to vote, he started his combat career in what he later called a “kill a commie for mommie” frame of mind. He was among the first volunteers for Korea and later for Vietnam, where he perfected his skill. “He understood the atmosphere of violence,” Ward Just observed. “That meant he knew how to keep his head, to think in danger’s midst. In battle the worst thing is paralysis. He mastered his own fear and learned how to kill. He led by example, and his men followed.”

Just met him in the ruins of a base camp in the Central Highlands in 1966, where he was a major commanding a battalion of the 101st Airborne. “He was compact, with forearms the size of hams. His uniform was filthy and his use of obscenity was truly inventive.” What struck the journalist most forcefully was “his enthusiasm, his magnetism, his exuberance, his invincible cheerfulness.”

To young officers in Vietnam and long afterwards, he presented an unforgettable profile in courage. “Everyone called him Hack,” recalled Dennis Foley, a military historian and novelist who first saw him in action with the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry in 1965. “He was referred to by his radio call sign of ‘Steel Six.’ He was tough, demanding and boyish all at the same time, stocky with a slightly leathered complexion. His light hair and deep tan made it hard for us to tell how old he was. He wore jungle fatigue trousers, shower shoes, a green T-shirt and a Rolex watch. In the corner of his mouth was a large and foul smelling cigar. As we entered the tent, he was bent over a field table looking at a map overlay and drinking a bottle of San Miguel beer.”

With Gen. S.L.A. “Slam” Marshall, he surveyed the war’s early mayhem and compiled the Army’s experience into THE VIETNAM PRIMER [http://www.hackworth.com/usbookorders.html ], , a bible on a style of unconventional counter-guerrilla tactics he called “out gee-ing the G.” His finest moment came when he applied these tactics, taking the hopeless 4/39 Infantry Battalion in the Mekong Delta, turning it into the legendary Hardcore Battalion. The men of the demoralized outfit saw him at first as a crazy “lifer” out to get them killed. For a time they even put a price on his head and waited for the first grunt to frag him.

Within 10 weeks, the fiery young combat leader had so transformed the 4/39 that it was routing main force enemy units. He led from the front, at one point getting out on the strut of a helicopter, landing on top of an enemy position and hauling to safety the point elements of a company pinned down and facing certain death. Thirty years later, the grateful enlisted men and young officers of the 4/39, now grown old, are still urging the Pentagon to award him the Medal of Honor for this action. So far, the Army has refused.

On leaving the Army, Col. Hackworth retired to a farm on the Australian Gold Coast near Brisbane. He became a business entrepreneur, making a small fortune in real estate, then expanding a highly popular restaurant called Scaramouche. As a leading spokesman for Australia’s anti-nuclear movement he was presented the United Nations Medal for Peace.

As About Face was becoming a best seller, he returned to the United States to marry Eilhys England, his one great love, who became his business and writing partner. He became a powerful voice for military reform. From 1990 to 1996, as Newsweek magazine’s contributing editor for defense, he covered the first Gulf War as well as peacekeeping battles in Somalia, the Balkans, Korea and Haiti. He captured this experience in HAZARDFOUS DUTY [http://www.hackworth.com/usbookorders.html ], , a volume of war dispatches.

Among his many awards as a journalist was the George Washington Honor Medal for excellence in communications. He also wrote a novel, Price of Honor, about the snares of Vietnam, Somalia and the Military-Industrial Complex. His last book, STEEL MY SOLDIERS HEARTS [http://www.hackworth.com/usbookorders.html ], was a tribute to the men of the Hardcore Battalion.

He was a regular guest on national radio and TV shows and a regular contributor to magazines including People, Parade, Men’s Journal, Self, Playboy, Maxim and Modern Maturity. His column, Defending America has appeared weekly in newspapers across the country and on the website SOLDIERS FOR THE TRUTH [http://www.sftt.org/main.cfm ], a rallying point for military reform. He and Ms. England have been the driving force behind the organization, which defends the interests of ordinary soldiers while upholding Hack’s conviction that “nuke-the-pukes” solutions no longer work in an age of terror that demands “a streamlined, hard-hitting force for the twenty-first century.”

“Hack never lost his focus,” said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth. “That focus was on the young kids that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf. Everything he did in his retirement was to try to give them a better chance to win and to come home. That’s one hell of a legacy.”

Over the final years of Col. Hackworth’s life, his wife Eilhys fought beside him during his gallant battle against bladder cancer, which now appears with sinister regularity among Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Blue. At one point he considered dropping their syndicated column, only to make an abrupt about face, saying, “Writing with you is the only thing that keeps me alive.” The last words he said to his doctor were, “If I die, tell Eilhys I was grateful for every moment she bought me, every extra moment I got to spend with her. Tell her my greatest achievement is the love the two of us shared.”

Col. Hackworth is survived by Ms. England, one step-daughter and two step-grandchildren, and four children and four grandchildren from two earlier marriages. At a date to be announced, he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Soldiers For The Truth is now working on legal action to compel the Pentagon to recognize Agent Blue alongside the better known Agent Orange as a killer and to help veterans exposed to it during the Vietnam War. Memorial contributions can be sent to Soldiers For The Truth by the Internet or by mail to, P.O. Box 54365, Irving, California, 92619-4365.



FACTS AND FIGURES ABOUT VETERANS

Forwarded by E. G. Shuler, Jr.

The origin of Veterans Day began under the name of Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I on 11 November 1918, and honor America’s participants in that great conflict. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislative act that changed the name to VETERANS DAY and honored those who served in ALL of this nation’s wars or conflicts.

The following estimates are from the Census Bureau’s 2006 edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States:

24,500,000 - Total military veterans in the United States
9,500,000 - Are age 65 or older
3,900,000 - Served in WWII
8,200,000 - Served in Vietnam
376,000 - Served in both WWII and Korea
107,000 - Served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam
383,000 - Served in both Korea and Vietnam
432,000 - Served in both Vietnam and Gulf
1,700.000 - are female: 5% WWII/, 2% Korea, 3% Vietnam, 16% Persian Gulf
2,300,000 - Are of Black ancestry
185,000 - Are of American Indian and Alaskan native ancestry
276,000 - Are of Asian ancestry
1,100,000 - Are of Hispanic ancestry
25,000 - Are of Hawaiian and other Pacific island ancestry

States with more than a million veterans:
2.3 million - in California
1.8 million - in Florida
1.7 million - in Texas
1.2 million - in New York
1.1 million - in Ohio
1.1 million - in Pennsylvania

Veterans receiving compensation for service-connected disabilities - 2.6 million

Aggregate amount of money received annually - $22.4 billion

FY 2004 federal spending for veteran’s benefits programs - $59.6 billion.



GI BILL STILL GOING STRONG (1998)

In 1944, the Veterans of Foreign Wars helped author a congressional bill known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act to provide education benefits for returning WWII veterans. It quickly became known as the GI Bill.

Millions of veterans have benefited from it through the years, including:

  • 7,800,000 WWII veterans
  • 2,400,000 Korean War veterans
  • 8,100,000 Vietnam-era veterans and active duty personnel
  • 168,000 in peacetime Veterans' Education Assistance
  • 513,000 under the Montgomery GI Bill

The GI Bill has provided some $69.7 billion aid to veterans, dependents and active duty members through the years.

Today, enrollment in the Montgomery GI Bill is automatic upon entry into the service. Each person has the right to cancel such enrollment during the first two weeks of service

The cost of the program to each enrollee is $1,200, but the benefit is up to $10,800 of education aid while in service or after leaving.

Recent changes in GI Bill provisions include:

  • Vietnam-era veterans have until Dec. 31, 1989 to get their high school certificates and qualify for educational benefits.
  • The VA will waive the high school certificate requirement for such Vietnam veterans who have at least 12 semester hours of college credits.
  • Participants in the Veterans Educational Assistance Program may now use VEAP benefits to pay for a wider variety of educational services. This includes tutorial aid, cooperative training, and remedial or refresher training.
  • Participants in any veterans educational program may drop up to six semester hours of courses without having to repay the VA for those courses.


HEROES NOT JUST ON MEMORIAL DAY

TELL THEM YOU CARE
By LtCol James T. Patterson, USAF Reserve james.patterson@hq.transcom.mil [mailto:james.patterson@hq.transcom.mil ]
Forwarded by Bob Quinn

I recently decided to visit some of the veterans in several nursing homes. I was especially interested in doing this since my dad is a veteran of World War II and I am a reservist in the United States Air Force. I thought the visits would be nice, but I was not prepared for what occurred. I guess I thought these veterans were regularly remembered, especially on holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veterans Day, but unfortunately that is not the case.

These men and women, who brought peace to the world and then quietly came home and rebuilt the nation, have virtually been forgotten and unappreciated. What they did is the platform upon which this nation so proudly stands, yet fewer and fewer of our population understand the sacrifices and commitment these people made.

I wore my uniform when I visited these veterans, but I had no idea how much that symbol would mean to these noble warriors. I visited one man who hadn't spoken in four months. I was told he probably wouldn't acknowledge my visit. When I walked into the room, he saw the uniform and sat straight up in bed, eyes bright and attentive. I told him I wanted to express my appreciation for what he had done. I told him how honored I was to be in the presence of someone who had done so much for the peace of this world and the growth of this nation. I said I wanted to give him a miniature flag as an expression of my gratitude.

He took the flag and held it to his lips and sobbed. He held my hand and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” These were the first words he had uttered in months. There was not a dry eye in the room. In one nursing home, we had the Honor Guard from Dyess Air Force Base present the colors before the veterans. As the Guard entered the room, these wonderful men, with tears streaming down their cheeks, placed their hands over their hearts and pledged allegiance to the flag that they loved.

In two other homes, we had been given a new flag from the U.S. Senator. We brought the veterans outside to view the flying of the new colors. When I gave the command to “Present Arms,” these veterans who were stooped with age, stood as tall as they could and saluted. As the National Anthem was sung, tears flowed with grateful appreciation. I proudly cried with these soldiers of the past. I was honored to talk with men who landed at Normandy, fought in North Africa, Sicily, Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge. I visited with men who survived the attack at Pearl Harbor and three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. These quiet heroes cried and shared their cherished memories with me.

Over and over, they and their families told me how much my visit and my simple expression of respect had meant to these men of history. Never have I felt so humble and yet so proud and lifted up as I did in the presence of these veterans.

Today, the veterans of World War II are dying at an estimated rate of 1150 each day. Soon, they'll be gone. For you active duty military and reservists, I implore you to put on your uniform and go visit any and all veterans you know. I encourage everyone not to waste another day, but rather, sit by the side of these honorable men and women. Hear their stories. Tell them you care. Learn from them.

It will be more rewarding than anything you have imagined.

FALLEN HEROES

They gave up all their tomorrows,
For the freedom we enjoy today.
They gave up their hopes and dreams
That we might have a better way.
They marched across this nation,
With freedom in their breast.
They sailed across the ocean
To meet each and every test.
They fell at Valley Forge.
They marched through Tennessee.
They bled and died at Gettysburg,
So that we might live free.
They fought oppression in the Forest of Argonne,
Battled beneath the Verdun sky,
As they fought the war of wars,
There so many were to die.
They stood on Iwo Jima
And raised Ole Glory way up high,
As cries of fallen comrades
Reached far into the sky.
In the battle of the Bulge,
Were young men, brave and true.
They stumbled upon distant beach heads,
Trying to make it through.
They were there to aid Korea
Some, not knowing why?
Only knowing, that it was ordered
And some would surely die.
They fought in Vietnam,
Not knowing friend or foe,
With peers, at home protesting,
Wailing sad, sad, songs of woe.
They showed up in Croatia,
Were there in Desert Storm,
Brought freedom to Afghanistan,
Protecting Iraq was just the norm.
They had plans for the future.
They had loved ones left behind,
They were sacrificed for others,
Heroes … the very valiant kind.

— Freda Fullerton



HIGHER LIMITS FOR VA HOME LOANS

WASHINGTON - December 29, 2005. America’s veterans and their families now have a greater chance to make their dreams of home ownership a reality, thanks to an increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan guaranty limit.

Effective January 1, 2006, changes in the loan guaranty limits will mean veterans are able to get no-down payment loans up to $417,000. The previous ceiling was $359,650.

The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2004 tied increases in the VA guaranty to increases in the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation’s conforming loan limit. When this limit increases, VA guaranty limits also go up, allowing VA to keep pace with rising home values.

VA-guaranteed home loans are made by banks and mortgage companies to veterans, service members and reservists. With VA guaranteeing a portion of the loan, veterans can receive a competitive interest rate without making a down payment, making it easier to buy a home.

More information about VA home loan benefits is available on the Web at HOME LOANS [http://www.homeloans.va.gov ] or by calling 1-800-827-1000.



IMPROMPTU HEAD BUTT

By Brandan P. Mueller
Forwarded by Don Waterworth

As some of you may know, President Bush was in St. Louis recently and, while here, attended a dinner for Senator Jim Talent. By stroke of luck, a colleague of mine has a brother-in-law in the Talent campaign and they wanted an Operation Iraqi Freedom vet to participate in the dinner. My colleague submitted my name and I got the job.

My small role in the entire event was to say the Pledge of Allegiance after the invocation and right before singing the National Anthem. They had a short introduction, I walked up on the stage, said the Pledge and walked off to meet Amanda at our table in the back corner of the ballroom. This was the extent of my duties and I completed them before the President and Sen. Talent ever made it into the Ritz, much less the room we were in.

After this introductory phase, things slowed for about 15 minutes as we awaited the entry of President Bush and Sen. Talent. During this interim, we were informed that the President's schedule was tight and that we wouldn't be able to meet him. We were told, however, that there would be a chance to shake his hand after his speech when he exited the stage. There were barriers in from of the stage that he would walk along and meet and greet people as he made his way to the door.

When the President finally arrived, Sen. Talent gave the introduction and the President made a rousing and strong speech on the War on Terror and some other topics, though the War was the most animated and inspiring portion. He finished out his speech after about 20 minutes and exited as expected along the barriers in from of the stage.

By the time Amanda and I got from the back of the room to the front, we were four rows deep in people away from the President. I was resigned to catching a glimpse of his head, although Amanda insisted that I push forward. In fact, she was quite forceful in ordering me to the front , even though it was simply impossible short of physically elbowing and pushing people out of the way.

Our position along the barriers was almost at the end where the President would exit the room. He made his away along the barriers talking and shaking hands. Luckily, people were pretty good about clearing out after he walked past their position. The President walked past us, the crowd loosened up to our left and Amanda took the opportunity to use our unborn son in her womb to push me (and I mean literally PUSH me) to the barrier). The President was just to our right and talking with his head turned to the left but still shaking hands without looking to his right.

He paused at this time to take a picture and I was yelling “Mr. President, Mr. President”. Then again, so was everyone else so it was a rather unremarkable effort with poor results. Just then, though, his hand came within reach, I shook it and pulled very slightly and said, “Mr. President, you visited my family in Walter Reed.” When he heard this, he immediately turned his head our direction and came back down the line to us. When he came over, I repeated that he visited us on the one year anniversary of the war and then introduced Amanda. He looked at Amanda and her belly and said “Wow” and kind of held his hands out and shook her hand.

He then looked at me while shaking my hand and asked how I was doing. I told him, “Mr. President, the last time we met my right arm was broken and both legs were smashed up so I was unable to render the proper salute so I would like to do that now.” I came to attention and rendered the long overdue salute to my Commander-In-Chief. He returned the salute and smiled and again asked if my legs were okay and if I had a prosthetic. I told him that I didn't have a prosthetic and that I was doing fine.

At this point, in a great and surreal moment, he took both of his hands, planted them squarely on each side of my head. He then pulled my head forward to his forehead and, yes, head-butted me. He held our heads together for about 3 seconds which is a long time when your head is against the head of the leader of the free world. He then released me and shook my hand one last time. I offered a quick “Keep up the fight, Mr. President” as he was ushered out of the room by Secret Service.

As we walked away, Amanda asked me, “Did the President just head butt you?” I said that he had and that it was one of the greatest things ever to offer the salute 2 years overdue and then to get a head butt from the POTUS.

Amanda offered, “Yeah, I guess, but I also think it was a little weird. Is that like a man thing?” I told her that it was and that it was great to know that the President was all man and that he actually cares enough about service members that he would come back and spend time with us when he had everyone in the room trying to get to him. Amanda agreed but offered “That is nice but still a little weird.”

All in all, it was a great event. Say what you want about the President (and I am obviously a huge supporter) but the guy has impeccable character. Coming back to Amanda and I, spending an great deal of time with us, given the circumstances, and then giving the equivalent of a Presidential “man hug” to a ex-GI who got injured, says everything about him.

It was clear to me that the head butt came when he didn't know what more to ask about my injuries and just wanted to express his emotion. I love it. The guy gives me a man hug while wiping out terrorist animals across the globe. That is a renaissance man. That is my Commander in Chief.

Brandan P. Mueller
Husch & Eppenberger, LLC
190 Carondelet Plaza, Suite 600
St. Louis, MO 63105
Fax 314-480-1505



LETTER FROM THE VA

Here is a recent letter from the head of the VA, of interest to all former prisoners of war - particularly the 11,000 who have never received any of the benefits to which they are entitled:

Highest Priority

THE SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS


WASHINGTON

April 2, 2004

MESSAGE FROM THE SECRETARY

One of the highest priorities here at the Department of Veterans Affairs is meeting the needs of former prisoners of war. They are extraordinary men and women who have endured captivity, suffered extreme deprivation, and sacrificed their own freedom to preserve the freedom of all Americans.

In recent years, VA benefits and services for former prisoners of war have been improved and expanded. However, there may be as many as 11,000 former POWs who are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.

I am asking you to join me in locating these veterans and inviting them to take advantage of the benefits being offered by a grateful nation. Since most missing former POWs are World War II veterans, we must act as quickly as possible to find them and their survivors.

I urge you to use the resources available to you as a VA employee and to use any available network or group in your community to assist in this outreach effort.

You can help these former POWs by encouraging them to contact VA through a local/county/state veterans' service office, by calling 1-800-827-1000, or by looking at VA's POW Web site: http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Benefits/POW/index.htm [http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Benefits/POW/index.htm].
This may be the last chance for these selfless Americans and their survivors to receive the benefits they have earned. Let's be sure they do.

Thank you.

S/ Anthony J. Principi



MORE ON MURTHA

By Tom Segal
Forwarded by p38bob

We can't get away from the media hype about John Murtha. True he completed a reserve career and true he went into combat zones twice. However, the “decorated hero” stuff is a bit much.

To be politically correct everyone in Washington is saying how distinguished, honorable, respected, etc., the man is among his peers. I find it impossible to attribute any of these traits to someone who with purpose undermines the morale of troops in combat. Just having the name “Marine” linked to his name has been reported to me as being offensive to some guys in the field.

I am planning another opinion piece on what veterans think about Mr. Murtha and his conduct. If you wish to opine on this matter, drop me a note. Be sure to give me name, military rank, branch of service and current home town/state for attribution purposes.

If you have active duty friends that would like to comment on this topic, I would be very interested in hearing from them, since the matter is right in their back yard.

Semper Fidelis.

E-Mail [mailto:tom@thomasdsegel.com ]



MEDALS AND MEMORIES

More and more veterans are wearing medals and military insignia for parades and celebrations of Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as proudly displaying them in shadowboxes on walls of their den.

Popularity of military medals among older veterans has been on the rise since the 1980s. Many WWII veterans now in their 70s want proof of their wartime activities to leave to their heirs, as do those veterans who have finally come to grips with the Vietnam war and now want their medals after many years of reflection.

The upsurge in Vietnam requests began in 1980 after President Reagan called that conflict “a noble cause,” and again after the 1982 Vietnam Memorial dedication in Washington, DC. The Army Reserve Personnel Center, Air Force Reserve Branch and Navy Liaison Office, all in St. Louis, busily continue processing the growing number of requests.

Largest of the three, the Army Center receives hundreds of inquiries each week and more than half of them are from WWII veterans. The center processed 57,600 requests last fiscal year, an increase of 25,000 over the previous year. Despite streamlined operations, the backlog continues to build. The situation is similar for the Air Force and Navy.

Those leaving the service today should take advantage of the availability now. They will mean a lot more later on when the memories start to kick-in.



NEW ID CARD FOR VETERANS

BETTER SECURITY AGAINST THEFT AND FRAUD

With identity theft as the major fraud reported by Americans in 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs has designed a new identity card for veterans that will safeguard confidential information.

“The new card ensures veterans' personal information is protected,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. “It also helps prevent the theft of important benefits and services from veterans that they earned by their service to our country.”

The card, formally known as the Veterans Identification Card (VIC), will have veterans' photos on the front and identify them as enrollees in the VA's health care system. The card includes the words “service connected” under the photo if the veteran has a service-connected disability.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation. The Federal Trade Commission listed identity theft as the number one fraud reported by consumers in 2003. Requests from veterans and their congressional representatives were instrumental in bringing about these latest changes.

“The new VIC ensures the security of veterans' personal information as well as ensuring that only eligible veterans receive the benefits and services they've earned,” said Kristin Cunningham of the business office for VA's health care system.

Veterans should request the new card at their local medical center. Processing will take five to seven days once eligibility is verified. VA hopes to complete the conversion to the new, safer card by mid-November. The existing cards will remain valid until veterans receive the new cards.



OLD SARGE GETS A CARE PACKAGE

By Russ Vaughn

It's been almost forty years since I got my last Care Package - a case of twenty-four #2½ cans of sliced peaches from my father. Memory fails me now, but I don't believe I ever asked before he died what it cost to mail that monster, but it must have been a pretty hefty hit in the wallet to a lifelong blue-collar worker. I had happened to mention in one of my rare letters home from Vietnam that canned, sliced peaches were my favorite item in our C Rations even if they were twenty years old. We could date them because the small cigarette packs enclosed with the rations were frequently Lucky Strikes in the old green packages that were phased out in the forties.

In any event, at mail call back in the rear area, the company clerk yells out, “Sergeant Vaughn! Care package!” and I responded with a somewhat surprised “Yo!” Stepping front and center I stared with momentary incomprehension at the large, heavily taped and badly battered, cardboard box at the clerk's feet. He made no move to pick it up and hand it to me; he just grinned and said, “That heavy sucker's all yours from here on, Sarge.” As I bent to pick it up, I noticed the silvery glint of the top of a can and a bit of green label through one of the torn corners and awareness dawned: son of a gun, my Old Man had come through for me! In spades!

The box was indeed heavy but it was a welcome burden for a twenty-five year old paratrooper in the best shape of his life; a few months of conducting patrols and operations in the mountains, jungles and paddies of Vietnam had made me a “lean, mean, Airborne trooper.” When I got it back to my hooch, I cut the top from the box with my jump knife and gazed in awe at twenty-four, count 'em, twenty-four cans, number two and a half cans at that, great big ol' cans of Del Monte sliced peaches. At that moment, I had to be the peaches king of Vietnam. Man, this was even better than the case of Tootsie Rolls my sister had mailed a couple of months earlier.

My unit was on stand down in the rear area at Tuy Hoa air base for a few days and for those few days, I felt indeed like the peaches king of Vietnam. I handed out peaches to my fellow troopers, sharing my good fortune with my brothers, as was our custom. But I must confess I squirreled away several cans for leaner times. I was constantly peppered with, “Hey, Sarge, you got any more a' them peaches?” And by occasionally producing a can, I kept that particular query alive for more than a couple of weeks.

I'd forgotten all that until today. Today, Sergeant Vaughn got a care package from a sweet woman in Oregon named Claudia, a military widow, self-described as “deaf as a door knob.” Claudia, it seems, had read a poem sent to her by her brother, an Army retiree, a former paratrooper in my old division, the 101st Airborne, who correctly surmised she might share the author's sentiments. The poem is entitled FIGHTIN' WORDS [http://www.keepingapace.com/blogarchives/poets_corner/fightin_words.php] and I am that author. I had cobbled it together in angry response to the mainstream media's carping, hypercritical response to a widely broadcast incident in Fallujah, where a reporter had videotaped a young Marine administering a coup de grace to a terrorist. The poem happened to catch the mood of many Americans and was widely disseminated via the Internet and even read on a nationally broadcast talk radio show.

Exhibiting the martial spirit befitting the widow of a career soldier, Claudia decided to do something for the trooper who had written the poem. Those who read my rants on a regular basis are aware that any time I write on a military topic, I sign my work with my military credentials to establish my bonafides to render my opinions on warfare and ground combat. Claudia, seeing my unit designation, somehow missed the Vietnam 65-66 in the last line and assumed a young soldier in Iraq had written the poem. So she set about to send a box of goodies to him as reward.

Once she had it all assembled and packaged, she took it to the post office, but they refused to accept it without an APO. She called the Army recruiter in Coos Bay who graciously called Ft. Bragg, home of the 82d Airborne, the last remaining paratrooper division, and my last duty post in 1967. Nope, Staff Sergeant Vaughn's not here, try Ft. Campbell, that's the 101st’s home base. There she was told they could not give out soldiers' APO addresses for security reasons.

Frustrated, Claudia called her ex-paratrooper brother who contacted some of the men he had served with at Ft. Campbell, which had, in fact, been my primary duty station, although forty years earlier. From someone he learned that I was no longer in the service and there was no forwarding address. Now the motto of the Airborne is “All the way,” meaning you never give up; you never stop moving forward until the mission is completed. Well, Claudia's brother, even at seventy-five, is still a paratrooper. Somehow, someway, he kept hard charging until he found me and sent Claudia my address. He sensibly advised her to forget about the care package and just send me a card.

Nope, not this determined widow; the box arrived today, and after my initial stunned surprise, left me with a pleasant quandary. I don't know whether to eat all that good stuff or close it back up and forward it to some young trooper with the 82d Airborne, now serving in Iraq. I sure don't need all those calories but, dang, I never got a care package from a non-family member; they didn't do much of that in my unpopular war. So I guess I'll sleep on it. Or maybe I'll have a late-night snack. Is this a great country or what?

Thanks, Claudia, I think you would have made one hell of a paratrooper.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66



OORAH!

POSTAL STAMPS HONOR MARINE HEROES

On 10 November 2005, the 231st birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, and the eve of Veterans Day 2005, the U.S. Postal Service honors four Marine heroes with commemorative stamps. They are:

  • Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, awarded five Navy Crosses for heroism in action, the last one at age 52 in Korea
  • Lt. Gen. John Lejeune a WWI hero who spent 40 years in the Corps
  • Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, awarded the Medal of Honor twice, for two separate acts of heroism
  • Gunny Sgt. John Basilone, awarded the Medal of Honor for three days of fighting on Guadalcanal in WWII before dying at Iwo Jima.

Let’s all give the Corps a huge OORAH! and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

VETERANS DAY, 11 November 2005
honors military personnel from all branches of the military. This year is a particularly important time to salute our younger active duty and reserve personnel - many of whom have become veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and are doing a fantastic job maintaining the highest traditions of the military service!

Let's hear another huge OORAH for them, too!



PARALIZED VETS DECLARE INDEPENDENCE

By CDR Byron D. Varner, U.S. Navy (RET)

Paralyzed veterans celebrated two kinds of “independence” during the week of July 4, 1996 - their country's and their own. If every American could attend the VA/PVA National Veterans Wheelchair Games, each might gain a better understanding of what people with disabilities face in their daily lives. They might also witness the true meaning of brotherhood.

Native Americans have a saying, “Never judge others until you've walked in their moccasins.

I “walked a short distance” by using a wheelchair for a while during my coverage of these 16th Annual Games. The difference was that I could get up and leave my wheelchair whenever I chose to, but they must depend upon this form of mobility for the remainder of their lives.

Of course, there is no way that my brief experiment would allow me to tell any of these paraplegic and quadriplegic game participants that “I know how you feel,” because I couldn't possibly know how that perpetual hindrance must feel to them. But it did give me a superficial understanding of their plight, along with a reverence for their unyielding spirit and determination in a quest to overcome life's tragedies.

I learned that it is no easy task maneuvering up and down Seattle's inclined streets — moving through traffic, navigating curbs and around merchandise counters in stores, and going in and out of doors barely wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. I noted expressions on faces of pedestrians who regarded me with varied reactions: some kindly and caring, others giving me the impression that I was an obstacle in their path.

Using elevators, escalators, public restrooms, hotel rooms, restaurants, avoiding inclement weather, etc., are everyday occurrences that most people take for granted, but are real problems for the disabled.

Fortunately, Seattle is one of the nation's better cities for wheelchairs, with curb ramps at every street corner in the downtown area and other necessary assists. Hopefully, many other cities will follow this example.

In addition to these small but enlightening experiences, I learned a larger lesson in life merely by observing these great American veterans and their families — a true brotherhood and sisterhood with no social or racial barriers, expressing a love and appreciation for each other that the rest of us would do well to emulate.

By overcoming limitations and conquering the near-impossible, even in a small way, each participant demonstrates his and her faith and determination to “be all you can be.”



PASSING OF HEROIC GENERATION

By Capt Stephen R. Ellison, USA, M.D.
http://wwww.tv-zone.com/Mary/passingofageneration.html
Forwarded by JayPMarine

I am a doctor specializing in the emergency departments of the only two military level-one trauma centers in San Antonio, caring for civilian emergencies as well as military personnel.

San Antonio has the largest military retiree population in the world. As a military doctor, I work long hours and the pay is less than glamorous.

One tends to become jaded by the long hours, lack of sleep, food, family contact and the endless parade of human suffering passing before you. The arrival of another ambulance does not mean more pay, only more work.

Most often, it is a victim from a motor vehicle crash. Often it is a person of dubious character who has been shot or stabbed. With our large military retiree population, it is often a nursing home patient.

Even with my enlisted service and minimal combat experience in Panama, I have caught myself groaning when the ambulance brought in yet another sick, elderly person from one of the local retirement centers that cater to military retirees. I had not stopped to think of what citizens of this age group represented.

When I saw Saving Private Ryan, I was deeply touched - not so much by the carnage, but by the sacrifices of so many. I was touched most by the scene of the elderly survivor at the graveside, asking his wife if he'd been a good man. I realized that I had seen these same men and women coming through my emergency department and had not realized what magnificent sacrifices they had made. The things they did for me - and every one who has lived on this planet since the end of that conflict - are priceless.

Situation permitting, I now try to ask my patients about their experiences. They would never bring up the subject without the inquiry. I have been privileged to an amazing array of experiences, recounted in the brief minutes allowed in an emergency department encounter. These experiences have revealed the incredible individuals I have had the honor of serving in a medical capacity, many on their last admission to the hospital.

There was a frail, elderly woman who reassured my young enlisted medic, trying to start an IV line in her arm. She remained calm and poised, despite her illness and the multiple needle-sticks into her fragile veins. She was what we call a “hard stick.” As the medic made another attempt, I noticed a number tattooed across her forearm. I touched it with one finger and looked into her eyes. She simply said, “Auschwitz.” Many of later generations would have loudly and openly berated the young medic in his many attempts. How different was the response from this person who'd seen unspeakable suffering.

Also, there was this long retired Colonel, who as a young officer had parachuted from his burning plane over a Pacific Island held by the Japanese. Now an octogenarian, his head cut in a fall at home where he lived alone. His CT scan and suturing had been delayed until after midnight by the usual parade of high priority ambulance patients. Still spry for his age, he asked to use the phone to call a taxi, to take him home, and then he realized the ambulance had brought him without his wallet.

He asked if he could use the phone to make a long distance call to his daughter who lived 7 miles away. With great pride we told him that he could not, as he'd done enough for his country and the least we could do was get him a taxi home, even if we had to pay for it ourselves. My only regret was that my shift wouldn't end for several hours, and I couldn't drive him myself.

I was there the night MSgt. Roy Benavidez came through emergency for the last time. He was very sick. I was not the doctor taking care of him, but I walked to his bedside and took his hand. I said nothing. He was so sick he didn't know I was there. I had read his Congressional Medal of Honor citation and wanted to shake his hand. He died a few days later.

The gentleman who served with Merrill's Marauders… the survivor of the Bataan Death March… the survivor of Omaha Beach… the 101 year old World War veteran… the former POW held in frozen North Korea… the former Special Forces medic - now with non-operable liver cancer… the former Viet Nam Corps Commander… I remember these citizens.

I may still groan when yet another ambulance comes in, but now I am much more aware of what an honor it is to serve these particular men and women.

I have seen a Congress who would turn its back on these individuals who've sacrificed so much to protect our liberty. I see later generations that seem to be totally engrossed in abusing these same liberties, won with such sacrifice.

It has become my personal endeavor to make the nurses and young enlisted medics in our department aware of these amazing individuals when I encounter them. Their response to these particular citizens has made me think that perhaps all is not lost in the next generation.

My experiences have solidified my belief that we are losing an incredible generation, and this nation knows not what it is losing. Our uncaring government and ungrateful civilian populace should all take note. We all should remember that we must… earn this!

__________

Jug's Comment: Here is [http://www.wtv-zone.com/Mary/PASSINGOFGENERATION.HTML ] the same article provided in art form designed by Mary Jones that may inspire you even more.



PROBLEMS IN SEARCH OF A SOLUTION

By Thomas D. Segel tomsegel@joimail.com

Harlingen, Texas, February 17, 2004: - The United States boasts a combined military community of active duty personnel, reservists, retirees, veterans and their families. Though the exact number of people making up this community is unknown, it is agreed the total would surpass 40 million voters. Unified they could be considered a powerful political force that any political party would eagerly court.

Other political action groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the AARP and even the loosely affiliated Moral Majority have all united in a quest for a common group and advancing their particular public concerns.

This has never been the case within our military community. They differ on more things than the branches of the armed forces which they served, or the military occupational specialties that allowed them to ply their crafts. If the antidotal messages I have received by the hundreds are indicative of the national problem, our military family community has failed to unite because individually, their specific problems were not on the top of the political issue pile.

Those who are concerned about improving military and veteran health care see that matter as paramount. Those who worry over lack of attention to reserve and National Guard matters have a different agenda. Widows who feel discrimination over reduced survivors benefits want that flag flying the highest. And disabled military retirees see the primary issue as being a removal of the 100% tax on the disability compensation.

Military members whose lives were disrupted by divorce want to see fairness applied to the distribution of their retired pay, while those who feel they should be able to seek court action in many disputed cases feel wronged by the rules of the Feres Doctrine.

Atomic veterans who served as national guinea pigs want true recognition and fair treatment, while many veterans feel maters such as hospital access; medications, training and education have languished in limbo forever. Added to this maze of concerns is the undisputed fact that every group feels his or her issue should be first out of the starting block.

Attempts to bring these many concerns to the national stage have met with limited success. In most cases those seeking public office, regardless of party affiliation, were concerned about veterans and the military during the course of their campaigns. When the votes had been given a final tally and the politicians were sworn into office, the concern vanished faster than kids scatter at the final school bell.

A variety of grass roots Internet groups have formed in an attempt to give supporters some degree of political clout. Class Action lawsuits have been filed, only to be crushed by those in the seats of power. Other actions in the form of the Veterans Voting Bloc and a number of Veterans Party organizations have formed for the same purposes. None have obtained enough strength or meaningful direction to be of concern to the two major political parties.

Retired Army officer and Texas attorney Philip E. Jones Jones philipejones@earthlink.net [mailto:Jones philipejones@earthlink.net] has developed a fresh idea. He has been deeply involved in most of the movements already mentioned and sees in them an inability to attract the majority of the military community. He is now floating a plan he calls The Patriots Coalition.

In formulating his idea, both major political parties were examined and it was determined the anti-war, anti-military positions projected by Democrats did not leave that organization much room to support the many issues important to military related groups. It was felt the objectives of the Patriots Coalition could best be reached by affiliation with the Republican Party.

Said Jones, The goals of the Patriots Coalition are to work within the established Republican Party to accomplish three things:

First, to alter the party platform over a period of five years to reflect the actual will of the people in company with conservative platform proposals. He suggests this can be accomplished by electing coalition members to the party hierarchy by having them become active members of that political base.

His next objective is to expose the organized socialist movement in this country through the Progressive Caucus in Congress. He wants to bring public awareness to the problem by highlighting the support, affiliation and actions taken by members of Congress who have aligned themselves with the Socialist Democratic Party of America.

Finally, he wants to use the Patriots Coalition to educate the public regarding numerous inequities perpetuated on the veterans of this country in order to gain their support and affect needed changes to correct these problems.

Philip Jones hopes to use the Internet, talk radio and all interested conservative media to grow the organization throughout the country. His mission is to motivate members to go beyond simply voting for candidates and get them to take active roles within the Party. As our members get elected to key positions throughout the country,” he says, “they will propose platform changes to reflect our positions on various national topics.”

The most ambitious of his ideas is to wage a concerted attack on the liberal media by creating a Patriots Coalition Mutual Fund; with the goal of buying controlling or major interest in liberal media outlets and converting slanted news coverage to non-biased presentations. “The presumption here is the American people will be able to discern the truth as presented in a non-biased manner, and make the right choice regarding whom to vote for. In essence, we intend on making the Republican Party what it should have been all along,” he concludes.

In the United States today there are many veterans' problems in search of a solution. Time and time again those who gave the most for their country have tried to place their concerns on the national stage, only to find everyone had forgot them. Another attempt is being made with the Patriots Coalition. Well it works? The only people who can answer that question are the veterans.



PROTECT YOUR DD-214

By Col. Mike Lazorchak USAF (Ret.) , forwarded by p38bob

I covered this subject several times when I was writing for the Times Newspapers, most recently in 2002. This is a widespread problem because of local laws governing the release of “public records.”

At least three states, Florida, Virginia, and California have passed new laws restricting the release of DD Forms 214 and other such personal information without the owners permission.

For decades military retirees were advised by their Services to register their final DD Forms 214 at a local court house for safekeeping. They no longer advise retirees to do this because of
several significant cases of Identity Theft that occurred when individuals obtained hundreds of these documents legally from court houses and sold them to anyone who wanted to buy the information.

My recommendation is to advise retirees to get these documents under their control if the local laws will allow that to happen (many don't). However, there is a procedure to permit the individual to formally petition their local court to eliminate the information from the public record.

A sample petition to do this was published in the May 2002 Air Force retiree newsletter, Afterburner, A copy maybe obtained on the internet from this AF website [http://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/afretire/After_Burner.htm]. Select May 2002 version. Go to page 4.

Editor's Note: The State of Washington passed a similar bill in 2002 that denies access to the DD-214.



REVEILLE

Forwarded by JayPMarine

If you are military, you may want to save this one for any and all special military days… Memorial Day… Veterans Day… Armed Forces Day. Or everyday.

It is 11+ minutes worthy of your time. Any time!

REVEILLE [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2487638612433437293&q=Veterans&pr=goog-sl ].



REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD

By Barbara Stock
Forwarded by p38bob

Over 30 years ago they put away their medals and their uniforms. They buried their anger and bitterness and moved on with their lives—and they waited.

Revisionists are trying to change history, claiming the returning Viet Nam veterans didn't suffer all that much when they returned home. All that talk of being labeled animals has been exaggerated over the years. But the veterans know better. They were there.

On the radio last week, one man related that he had unpacked the uniform that he wore home from Viet Nam all those years ago. It had not seen the light of day for over 30 years. He showed it to his children and grandchildren and, for the first time, spoke of the day that he returned home from war and was spat on, cursed at, and literally had to run a gauntlet of protesters who threw human waste and rotten fruit on him and his fellow vets. With the words “baby killers” ringing in his ears he was warned by laughing policemen not to retaliate or he would be arrested. So he ran.

The able-bodied helped the wounded as they do on any battlefield because those on crutches or in wheelchairs were not spared the profanity and bags full of feces that were thrown at them by the raging anti-war protesters.

This now middle-aged vet went on to tell his family that he had hid in the bathroom at the airport for over two hours, bewildered and afraid. He wondered if he had landed in some foreign land where Americans were hated.

Finally, he cleaned up the uniform he was still proud to wear as best he could and made his way to his plane, where he suffered more insults from the passengers. When he got home, he packed up his medals and his dirty uniform, just as it was, and he knew that one day, he would take it out again and he would have his say. That day has come.

One POW stated that he had never put a face to the name until he heard the words “Genghis Khan” pronounced only as John Kerry does and suffered his first flashback to the time he was being tormented by Kerry's words in a North Vietnamese prison camp.

They buried their anger and the bitterness — and they waited. Most of them didn't know who or what would be the signal to make their move, but they knew they would recognize it when it happened.

On July 29, 2004, it happened. John Forbes Kerry came to the podium at the Democratic Convention and uttered three words that made many Viet Nam vets skin crawl: “Reporting for Duty!” At last the time had come for these long-suffering veterans. The past was staring back at these wrongly disgraced vets from their television sets. The face it bore was that of John Kerry, the man who had shredded their honor without a thought and climbed over the bodies of their fallen friends to launch a political career.

Kerry had stripped them of their dignity the day he sat before Congress in his fatigues and portrayed them as “baby killers” and “murderers.” Kerry did the unspeakable. He had publicly turned on his fellow vets while they were still in harm's way and American prisoners were still in the hands of the enemy.

Kerry accused them all of being out-of-control animals, killing, raping, and pillaging Viet Nam at will. The anti-war movement—the protesters—had their hero and he was a Viet Nam War veteran, an officer, a medal winner, a wounded warrior: John Forbes Kerry.

Many Viet Nam vets buried the memories of their less-than-welcome homecoming, and John Kerry moved off the national scene. The feelings of betrayal had faded, but they were never resolved. The unprecedented injustice inflicted on the Viet Nam vets has always lain just under the surface, waiting for a chance to be uncovered. The war had stolen their youth and innocence and John Kerry stole their dignity and rightful place of honor in history.

Like an unlanced boil, the anger festered but there was nothing that could ease the pain. These vets didn't ask for “forgiveness” because they had done nothing wrong in serving their country. They never asked to be treated as heroes, just good soldiers. All they have ever wanted was the respect due all the men and women who have worn the uniform of this country.

Being allowed to march in a few parades wasn't enough. A long over-due memorial was not enough. The Viet Nam Veterans moveable wall only brought back the suffering as they searched for the names of their fallen friends whose memory had been defiled and disgraced by people who considered them rampaging killers instead of men who died with honor for their country.

Now before them stands this man who would be president—this man who holds his service in Viet Nam up as a badge of honor now that it suits his purposes. This man Kerry brags about his medals and his tiny wounds and demands the respect they were denied, yet he offers no apologies for what he did to them. “I will be a great leader!” Kerry proclaims, because of his brief and self-proclaimed valiant service while wearing a uniform-the very same uniform that they wore and were spat upon because of it.

All across America, soiled uniforms and memories of being shamed and humiliated have resurfaced and Vietnam vets demand their rightful place in history. John Kerry seems bewildered by the reaction of his “fellow vets.”

He has become defensive and angry because now his service and honor are being questioned. Kerry seems oblivious to the pain he caused three decades ago when he stole all honor and dignity from those same “fellow vets” for personal gain. Now he wants to use them again, for the same reason.

All across America, Viet Nam vets are smiling. At last, perhaps they can bury their demons. These angry vets are demanding that this man who
sentenced them to being shunned as criminals, tell the world that he was wrong and that he is sorry for what he did to them. Kerry must admit that he lied about them.

For many, it would still not be enough. Satisfaction and hopefully peace will come when Viet Nam vets see and hear John F. Kerry give his concession speech the night of November 2, 2004 with the knowledge that it was their votes that helped defeat him. There are approximately 2.5 million Viet Nam veterans in America and they have not forgotten. Kerry denied them their rightful place as heroes and they will deny him his dream of the presidency.

Angry Viet Nam veterans, silent for so long, will finally have their say. Payment in full will be delivered to John Kerry on November 2, 2004.

Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.



RECORDS OF DECEASED VETERANS

Associated Press

The VA has made it easier and faster for the public to get answers about family history, old war buddies or famous war heroes. The agency has put 3.2 million records on the Web for veterans buried at 120 national cemeteries since the Civil War.

The VA's Nationwide Gravesite Locator also has records for some state Veterans cemeteries, and burials in Arlington National Cemetery since 1999.

Joe Nosari, VA's deputy chief information officer for Memorial Affairs, said these records were on paper and microfilm. Private companies have put some of the information online and charged for it, but the VA information is free.

The VA's gravesite navigator includes names, dates of birth and death, military service dates, service branch and rank if known, cemetery information and grave location in the cemetery.

The URL to do a search is: http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/j2ee/servlet/NGL_v1 [http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/j2ee/servlet/NGL_v1]



SALUTE TO VETERANS DAY

Here is a great tribute to our “soldiers” - a word used collectively in this case to describe the men and women in our Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard - who have served and continue to serve our nation so well over the years. It is a poem that one sees on the Internet from time to time, but bears repeating as new generations of Americans join our ranks. It is especially appropriate on Veterans Day 2003 with the War Against Terrorism continuing to dominate our thoughts:

Just A Common Soldier
(A Soldier Died Today)
By A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

© 1985 A. Lawrence Vaincourt
http://www.vaincourt.homestead.com/index~ns4.html [http://www.vaincourt.homestead.com/index~ns4.html]



SMITHSONIAN EXHIBIT HONORS VETERANS

By John Valceanu, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2004 - The Smithsonian Institution will launch a major permanent exhibition honoring American armed forces on Veterans Day.

The Price of Freedom: Americans at War will occupy about 18,000 square feet in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History here. The exhibition will cover 250 years of American history, beginning with the French and Indian War of 1756 and running through the current war on terrorism.

“The overall theme of the exhibit is that wars have been defining episodes in American history,” said David Allison, project director for the exhibition. “but wars have multiple dimensions — political, economic and social — and this exhibition explores how Americans everywhere were impacted by wars.”

The exhibition will focus on the service members who fought the nation's wars, but it also will examine the sacrifices made by American individuals, families and communities during wartime, Allison said. It contains more than 800 artifacts, including weapons, uniforms, equipment, flags and medals. Hundreds of images, diary entries, video and audio pieces will help tell the story of what service members and other Americans experienced during war.

“It's not our words, but the words of those who lived these experiences that tell the story. It's their words that carry the message,” Allison said. “The personal stories are really a very important part of this exhibition.”

Most of the stories in the exhibition will focus on the service members who fought in the campaigns, rather than on senior military or civilian leaders. “This exhibit is less about military strategy and grand campaign plans, and it is more about the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen,” Allison said. “We are telling their story in their words, using voice narratives.”

To make this exhibit a reality, the Smithsonian is coordinating with officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, various branches of the military, and the Defense Department.

Melinda Machado, the American history museum's director of public affairs, said the project has brought the military and the Smithsonian closer together.

“In recent years we have collaborated with both the Army and the Navy on major exhibitions, including one on submarines and one on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point,. Now we're working with the Department of Defense on this project. I enjoy working with the military. Everyone has been very enthusiastic and helpful on this project,” Machado said.

“Collaboration has been especially important for this project because of its size and the huge amount of material it covers,” he continued. “I think this may be the first time any American museum has presented this breadth of military history, also going into considerable depth on specific subjects.”

VETERANSRESPONSES OF NOTE:

TELL THIS STORY

Reference your “We are telling their story in their words, using voice narratives.”

I am a military retiree and a military veteran. I served the United States of America in the United States Air Force for 20 years from 1951 to 1971. Please allow me to tell my story in my own words, in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

My story is about “the greatest swindle of all time… a broken contract with America's military retirees”. It's on the Internet at http://mrgrg-ms.org/swindle.ppt [http://mrgrg-ms.org/swindle.ppt] as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. It's narrated.

This is my story, but any one of the other 1.8 million military retirees affected by this swindle could tell you the same story.

To be accurate, the Smithsonian Exhibition should contain some of the “good”, some of the “bad”, and some of the “ugly”.

I look forward to your response.

Floyd Sears, MSGT, USAF, 1951-1971 (Retired)
http://mrgrg-ms.org [http://mrgrg-ms.org]
fsears@bellsouth.net [mailto:fsears@bellsouth.net]

RETIREE CAMPAIGN

From: Robert Thompson robert0931@knology.net
[mailto:robert0931@knology.net]To: fisnews_sender@DTIC.MIL [mailto:fisnews_sender@DTIC.MIL]

My fellow military veterans, retiree's, widows/widowers and friends:

Please help me begin a campaign to require the Smithsonian Institute to include the rest of the story when they tell about the real military veterans‘; exploits over the past 250 years.

It is my fond hope that the addressee forwards this message to the appropriate person(s) and puts me in touch with those who will tell the story.

Reference to the Smithsonian Honoring the regular veteran, do yourself a favor, while truly honoring the warriors of the “Greatest Generation”, please do so while a few of them and their Widows still live.

The class action law suit was won and lost because of politics and the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case. Why? More politics and the refusal of Congress to honor the suggestions of the Appellate Court.

Facts are available on how our Government swindled the warriors of the Greatest Generation and are refusing even to care for their Widows. To find out how, log on to http://mrgrg-ms.org/brief00.html

For more back-ground, log on to http://mrgrg-ms.org [http://mrgrg-ms.org]. If the real story is not included in the history of the U.S. Military, only more lies will be told and the perpetrators of “The Greatest Swindle” will have won again.

Robert C. Thompson
Proud Retired Military Veteran Since 1968
7574 Kelsey Dr., Panama City, Florida 32404
(850) 871-2715



STATES WHERE VETERANS LIVE

Have you ever wondered which states have the most number of veterans residing there? Since many of them are retired, one might think the temperate climes would claim the prize. California, Florida and Texas lead the pack, but many northern states have heavy vet populations

California – 2,746,700
Florida – 1,685,800
Texas – 1,598,500
New York – 1,485,100
Pennsylvania – 1,328,700
Ohio – 1,160,50
Illinois – 1,038,50 0
Michigan – 926,800
New Jersey – 713,700
North Carolina – 697,900
Virginia – 691,500
Washington – 619,900
Georgia – 672,600
Indiana – 580,200
Massachusetts – 573,000
Missouri – 572,000
Maryland – 519,400
Tennessee – 507,000
Wisconsin – 495,900
Minnesota – 450,900
Arizona – 451,500
Alabama – 417,500
Colorado – 374,200
South Carolina – 373,200
Oregon – 364,400
Louisiana – 362,000
Kentucky – 359,600
Oklahoma – 336,400
Connecticut – 327,300
Iowa – 283,100
Kansas – 254.500
Arkansas – 254,200
Mississippi – 228,600
West Virginia – 194,100
Nevada – 185,800
New Mexico – 168,400
Nebraska – 162,800
Maine – 151,500
Utah – 133,600
NewHampshire – 133,000
Hawaii – 114,100
Idaho – 109,400
Rhode Island – 105,900
Delaware – 77,000
South Dakota – 72,300
Alaska – 63,800
Vermont – 61,400
North Dakota – 57,000
DistrictColumbia – 47,900
Wyoming – 45,400
Montana – 2,300


TAKING A DIM VIEW OF CHU’S IDEAS

BETTER TO SCRAP NEEDLESS WEAPONS
THAN NEGLECT PROMISES TO VETERANS

By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, 2-9-05. Forwarded by Jean D. Beard

WASHINGTON - The undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, David Chu, stuck his head in a hornet's nest recently when he commented in an interview that the growth of military retiree and veteran's benefits in recent years was hampering America's ability to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chu, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, was reported as saying “Congress has gone too far in expanding military retiree benefits and starting to crowd out two things: first, our ability to reward the person who is bearing the burden right now in Iraq or Afghanistan … and second ,we are undercutting our ability to finance the new gear that is going to make that military person successful five, 10, 15 years from now.”

The military retirees, almost all of whom are veterans of one, two or even three of America's wars, are taking a very dim view of Chu's idea that their benefits are hampering America's ability to fight current and future wars.

“I wonder if Mr. Chu ever considered how hard it was at Normandy, in the jungles of the South Pacific, or the freezing battlefields of Korea as he sits in his office and denigrates these old warriors seeking benefits they earned,” retired Army Col. Harry Riley of Crestview, Fla., wrote in an angry e-mail.

The national commander of the American Legion, Thomas P. Cadmus, wrote the Wall Street Journal his own hot letter: “I resent the implication that veterans are nothing more than greedy pigs feeding off the government trough,” Cadmus wrote. “His remarks … are a slap in the face to every veteran who took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies.”

Another retired Army colonel, William F. Sullivan of Normandy Park, Wash., also wrote a letter to the newspaper. “Retirement benefits, health care and pension were a carrot on the stick to compensate for moving my household 23 times in 22 years of marriage; being separated from my family for four years; having my daughters attend three high schools; having my son attend 11 schools in 12 years; and owning one house for three weeks and another for nine months before having to sell them at a loss because of changes in orders.”

We need to be living up to our promises to the people who wore the nation's uniforms for 20 or 30 years, whose families bore the strain of frequent transfers and moves and long, long absences of their breadwinner serving in one or another combat zone. They were promised lifelong health care and a decent pension for faithful service.

That Congress has, over the last four years, begun keeping some of those promises is not something members of Congress should be ashamed of. Nor is it something the veterans should be ashamed of.

Better we “waste” $28 billion on keeping our promises to veterans, retirees, military widows and orphans than blow it on misguided weapons and hardware systems.

Better we do the honorable thing for the first time in living memory and begin spending enough money to ensure that there will be beds available in our Veterans Administration hospitals for the new disabled veterans from today's wars, while continuing to provide health care for the aging veterans of our past wars.

The Pentagon has suggested cutting $40 billion in outdated Navy and Air Force weapons procurement programs over six years. It could easily whack much more and get rid of programs that fund and build weapons for wars we will never fight, or wars we have already won.

That kind of money would build us an Army strong enough to do all the jobs David Chu's bosses find for soldiers to do. It would fund decent benefits for some decent and honorable American military veterans. It would modernize the VA's hospitals and staff them with good medical help.

About the author: In addition to being the senior military correspondent for for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Joseph L. Galloway was the co-author of the national best-seller We Were Soldiers Once … and Young. Readers may e-mail him at jgalloway@krwashington.com [mailto:jgalloway@krwashington.com].



TIME RUNNING OUT FOR SOME SURVIVORS

From Joyce Wessel Raezer, Director, Government Relations, National Military Family Association. Forwarded by BGen Bob Clements

Deadline approaches for some re-married survivors to apply for benefits. Time is running out for certain surviving spouses of deceased veterans to apply for re-instatement of VA survivor benefits.

Last year, President Bush signed Public Law 108-183, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, which restores entitlement to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and related home loan and education benefits for surviving spouses who remarry on or after their 57th birthdays.

VA officials and military associations are concerned that surviving spouses may not be aware of this change in law, or may overlook this benefit if their subsequent marriages have not ended. Generally, VA pays DIC to the surviving spouses of military service members who die while on active duty, and to surviving spouses of veterans whose death resulted from service-related causes.

The basic monthly rate for 2004 was $967. It is increased if the surviving spouse has dependents, is housebound, or meets criteria common to those who need a home aide. There are additional payments for dependent children. Parents who were dependent upon the service member's income also may qualify for DIC.

Under previous law, surviving spouses who remarried were not eligible for DIC unless their marriages ended. At that time they could apply for reinstatement of benefits. Under the new law, surviving spouses who remarried after age 57 and before December 16, 2003, have only one year from the date the new law was enacted (December 16, 2003) to apply for restoration of benefits. If VA receives the application later than December 15, 2004, restoration of DIC must be denied.

The one-year application period does not apply to other surviving spouses whose remarriage on or after attaining age 57 followed enactment of the law.

For more information on restoration of DIC, call VA's toll free number at 1-800-827-1000 or visit the nearest VA regional office. Office locations can be found in the blue pages of local telephone directories. More information on benefits and services is available at VA's Internet Web site http://www.va.gov [http://www.va.gov] .



TEACHING BLINDED VETERANS TO COPE

By CDR Byron D. Varner, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Miracles happen as a matter of course here at the Blind Rehabilitation Center, Tucson, AZ, where staff members of this world-leading state-of-the-arts facility go about their daily business of improving the mental outlook and physical ability of newly blinded veterans. It is obvious they love their work.

These transformations of perspective quickly become a positive change in the lives and well-being of the “students” as they learn they can perform many functions they may have thought impossible.

Most of them have lost or are losing their sight because of accidents, various eye diseases or degeneration. Talking with a number of these men and women of varying age and physical infirmities was a heartwarming experience.

Their upbeat attitude and high praise for this facility and its dedicated staff of professionals was a recurring theme. They made no derogatory comments about anything, not even about the food — which is rare for a former serviceman! But according to Executive Director Jim Hennessey, “There is no reason anyone should leave here with a complaint.”

Too often, the only news one hears about VA hospitals is an occasional story about how bad things are — which is sometimes misrepresented in fact, but widely believed nonetheless. If there is anything bad about this particular facility, it certainly isn't evidenced by the veterans undergoing this training.

The first thing one notes upon entering the building is its vibrant interior colors — bright and cheery, with special color markings on the floors and walls. The decor is not only attractive, but serves as landmarks for those students who can detect light and color. Most blind people have that ability to some degree. As they walk along the passageways practicing the use of a white guide stick, the color changes help them discern their exact location on any given floor of the building. They can find various class or work rooms without assistance.

Equally striking is the friendly and helpful attitude of the people who work here. Some of the staff members are themselves blind veterans, but the casual observer might not realize it watching them go about their business with little or no physical aid. They are outstanding examples of what the Center teaches its students — self confidence, belief in one's ability, and how to lead near normal lives, including completion of higher education, after losing their vision.

Typical of these is Robert Moreno, a former Army Sergeant who was blinded when his Jeep overturned during night field maneuvers. He was 23 years old at the time and thought his whole world had ended with the accident. But, completing the blind rehabilitation program at Palo Alto, CA, changed all that. Now, in addition to holding a responsible job as Outreach and Recreation Coordinator at the Center, he has completed his bachelor degree and is working his masters and a Law Degree.

One of Robert's favorite pastimes is jogging, which he encourages incoming students to do and accompanies them as their tethered guide in the beginning stages. If you think that is safe and easy, blindfold yourself and try it! He is also a computer buff at work and at home, something he learned through the blind rehabilitation program. “I 'see' more now than I did before I lost my sight,” he marveled.

What kind of recreation would you select for a blind person? At the Center there seems to be few limits in their quest for normalcy in students' activities. They take them to such places as the golf driving range, bowling alley, horseback riding, fish fries, movies, plays, local areas of interest, shopping, restaurants, arts and crafts shows, bingo, and some have even competed in marathon runs for local charities.

Paul Hanley, a retired Air Force officer in his 70s from San Antonio, talked about the program during his session of weaving a chair seat, stopping occasionally for approval or further instructions by a staffer. “This place is wonderful,” he said warmly. “At first, I thought doing something like handweaving this chair bottom as kind of silly, but now I realize I needed to learn patience and tactual control — improving my sense of feel.

“These people are so good and deserve every accolade you can give them. We each have our own private room here and are provided food, medical care and lots of love during our stay.”

Newly blinded veterans have many concerns, ranging from employment, financial matters, health care needs, loss of independence, etc. The inability to drive their car, for example, is a major negative impact that requires dependency on others and limits their freedom. Being unable to read newspapers, correspondence, bills or magazines, or even complete simple forms is a frustrating experience, as is not doing simple repair jobs, using tools, equipment and many other things they once took for granted.

In one-on-one sessions, the Center staff trains them to become independent through the following programs:

LOW VISION OPTOMETRY

After careful examination and evaluation of each patient, low vision specialists work closely with each one to help them gain a better understanding of their eye problems and teach them how to effectively use their remaining vision. Those with usable vision receive aids such as lights, prescription glasses and sun glasses, a monocular to read street signs, a lighted magnifying glass, a TV-like monitor to enlarge printed matter and other such devices, as needed.

ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

Students learn how to use their remaining senses in combination with protective techniques and devices to safely move about in familiar and non-familiar settings. Typical travel situations are trips to restaurants and stores, crossing streets at signal lights, reading street signs, using public transportation, etc.

MANUAL SKILLS

This program evaluates and helps develop independence and confidence through hand skills and work activities. Completing tasks in leather work, copper tooling, weaving and wood products improve follow-through work habits, problem solving and motor skills.

LIVING SKILLS

Developing new techniques and skills to adapt daily living tasks for ease and self-sufficiency meets the assessed needs of each individual. Students who reach certain levels learning to type receive a free typewriter. Other aids such as talking watches and talking computers are beneficial to some.

Instructors in kitchen classrooms teach students how to cook or microwave simple meals for themselves, safely use stoves, dishwashers and other appliances, perform cleanup chores and other household tasks that lessen their dependency on others. Personal grooming and record keeping are also included.


The training time requires about six weeks, depending on the needs of each veteran. Thus, they enter and complete the training at staggered intervals, with an average of 36 students enrolled at any given time.

Their common bond of sightlessness and service connection is a ready nucleus for new friendships that often go beyond the time spent at the Center. The spirit of camaraderie and competition serves to stimulate and challenge each other to greater achievement, or at least to try new things they know others are accomplishing.

All potential students for blind rehabilitation must apply through their local region to complete the qualifying paperwork and arrange entrance dates. The waiting list is expanding as word spreads about the good works of the Center.

Other Blind Rehabilitation Centers or Clinics are located at Palo Alto, Cal., West Haven, Conn., Augusta, Ga., Hines, Ill., Waco, Tex., Tacoma, Wash., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This VA Medical Center, in its beautiful Spanish architecture, is located at 3601 Sixth Street in Tucson. That setting was considered remote from downtown in the 1930s, when it was built as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium. It became a VA Hospital sometime after WWII and today is surrounded by the sprawling development of the rapidly expanding city.

In addition to the regular courses the Center also conducts a Computer Access Training program for blind veterans who have a practical need for a computer in their educational pursuits, in their job or in their community service. Eligibility for this program is determined by VIST (Visual Impairment Service Teams) at the veteran's home region.

RICHARD HOUSER is a 36-year-old artist from Colorado. He creates masterful wood carvings, painted in vivid colors, which he gave to fellow students and instructors as a memento of time together. He will use this computer training to assist him in his Durango art studio work.

Richard attributes his loss of sight to excess scope intensity or radiation while serving as an Air Force radar operator. His comments about the Center were, “The instructors are great and everyone seems to really care about you.”

His sense of humor and general good nature was evident during his repartee with fellow student JOHN McDOWELL. Their running commentary was reminiscent of the “Odd Couple.” John is from Waco and is twice Richard's age. He serves as a Director for the Blind Veterans Association, Washington, D. C.

Sightless for some time, he entered the computer course to help him better perform his Association work, which includes writing a newsletter.

Special equipment, such as scanners that read text and provide an audio readout in several languages and magnifiers that enlarge the size of letters on the monitor screen, make computers a wonderful tool for the visually impaired. The VA also provides similar equipment to the veteran for permanent use after he leaves the Center.

At some point in the training period, family members are invited for a special orientation to learn what their loved ones are being taught, to realize the importance of the student's independence and continuance of the new-found skills in the future.

Family members are counseled about when and how to assist the veterans when they return home. They are urged not to coddle them and to insist they do things for themselves as much as possible.

Would you believe these veterans are learning how to use shop tools such as lathes, bandsaws, jigsaws, sanders, routers, awls, and other such machinery and tools of the shop? “Yes, people say it is too dangerous,” answers Director Jim Hennessey, “but life itself is dangerous for these people and we feel the risk is worth it. We want them to learn to do the same things they did or would have learned when they had their sight. Those who want it like it, and do it extremely well.”

Jim is too modest to extol his accomplishments, but several members of his staff say he is America's most outstanding executive in blind rehabilitation. Consequently, this Center is setting the trend for the VA and the world in this field.

One of Hennessey's continuing concerns is VA budget cuts, a problem that faces all VA facilities in the downsizing of the Defense Department. He worries that because his facility has a higher cost factor per patient than other types of veteran care, it is a likely candidate for cuts.

Unlike the active military, however, the WWII and Korean War veteran population is growing and aging to the critical point where low vision and blindness sets in, and the need for blind rehabilitation increases. The VA is unique in providing this type of training and those who can't get it will become a burden to their families or the public.

The positive effects of how this program improves the lives of its blind veterans and their families would seem to more than justify the expense involved. Keeping Apace hopes the cost-cutters in Washington D. C. wont be “blind” to this fact.

A good case in point is what this program has done for MIKE SOMSAN, the youngest veteran undergoing the training at the time of this visit.

On Easter Sunday 1995, Mike became the victim of a drive-by shotgun shooting in Austin, Texas. This Ft. Hood soldier had just been promoted to Captain and looked forward to an Army Career until fate intervened and totally changed his life.

Four months and eight operations later, Mike knew he was totally blind. His left eye had no vision at all and there was only a slight sensitivity to light in his right eye.

Here are Mike Somsan's thoughts about it from our Keeping Apace interview:

KA: “How did you feel when you first realized you were blind?”

Mike: “I was filled with rage, followed by deep resentment. Then I fell into a depressed state, wallowing in self-pity. I threw things over the fence, screamed and hollered and got in the corner and cried a lot. I ran the gamut of emotions.”

KA: “How did you manage to conquer these feelings?”

Mike: “I finally realized, hey, it's not the end of the world. I didn't die from the gunshot wounds and I surely could have, so I acknowledged my gratitude for that. I was thankful that I had lived for 25 years as a sighted person knowing color, form, dawns, sunsets, all the natural beauties of the world, what my family and my fiancee Lisa looks like. It wasn't as if I had been born this way. When I realized all this, I felt I was pretty fortunate despite my sudden blindness. That was the turning point.”

KA: “What about your parents and Lisa?

Mike: “They've all been very strong, loving and supportive, which helped me overcome the self-pity and made me appreciate what I'm starting out with in my quest to return to normalcy. One doesn't appreciate what he has until he loses it — even simple things we hardly give thought to in sighted life.”

KA: “What do you think is the general public's attitude about blind people?”

Mike: “A lot of people seem to think our handicap is God's punishment for some wrongdoing, or that He singles us out for His purpose. If we accept this, it only adds to the burden of the sudden handicap thrust upon us. Others must think if we're blind, we must be deaf, too. Lisa and I were in a store and I asked a clerk several questions, but she kept answering to Lisa, not to me. I suppose the most common misconception is that we are helpless.”

KA: “What is the most important thing you feel you need to accomplish here?”

Mike: “To regain my independence and my self respect. The latter is not so difficult as the former. I am basically still the same person I was before the shooting occurred and I'll work to be accepted as that same man — not as a blind man. The beauty of this program is that we get a lot of tough love and that's what we need to learn to do for ourselves and be as independent as possible when we leave here.”

KA: “Is this training all you thought it would be?”

Mike: “Yes, and more! These people here deserve all the credit in the world. They are doing an outstanding job. It certainly has given me a new lease on life!”

KA: “Well, you're fortunate in one respect. With your tax-free 100% disability retirement, you won't have the financial burden some of your friends here have had.”

Mike: “That is true, but I'd give it back in a minute to regain my eyesight.”

KA: “What is your educational background and do you have any definite plans for the future at this time?”

Mike: “I received my ROTC commission after attending both Cornell University and University of Hawaii, with a degree in Business and Hospital Administration. I plan to seek a Law Degree after I get settled.”

KA: “Do you come from a military family?”

Mike: “Yes, my father graduated from West Point and was career Army.”

KA: “What about computers?”

Mike: “I used computers before I lost my sight and will complete the Computer Access Training here as well. With my previous knowledge it should be easier for me than for some.”

KA: “Yesterday morning, you were standing at a lathe in the woodworking shop with Lisa at your side and the instructor was explaining this program to her. Isn't a lathe a bit risky for you?”

Mike: “Yes, it may seem so, but its all a part of becoming a normal person, and, like I said, I want to be as normal as possible.”

KA: “How does Lisa feel about all this?”

KA: “She was apprehensive about everything at first, but she is coming around. She told me, 'One good thing about it is that you'll always remember me looking young, and never know what I look like as Igrow older.' I think she's beginning to get the hang of it!”

KA: “During the regular weekly group meeting, you were urging others to enter the local charity run. Are you a jogger?”

Mike: “Yeah, I am and thanks to my man Robert Moreno, I'm returning to my old form pretty fast. He tethered me to him and taught me how a blind person can run safely. It was a bit daring at first, but I love it. We have a lot in common and he has been an inspiration to me.”

KA: “You seem to have a great sense of humor and a positive attitude. These should be beneficial to your mental health and quick recovery.”

Mike: “Yes, I'm a happy person by nature and I think seeing the funny side of serious situations helps one get through them easier. It works for me!”



UNCOMMON POW

By Bob Hieronymus, 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Randolph Air Force Base TX (AFPN) — Most stories about American POWs tell of the experiences of military personnel captured during combat overseas.

A little-known tale of a teenage girl, now a grandmother in San Antonio, is also among the accounts deserving acknowledgement.

Liz Lautzenhiser Irvine has scrapbooks full of original documents and mementos of her three years of imprisonment in the Philippines. Her parents had been American school teachers there for almost 20 years when the war broke out. Ms. Irvine was born there, and was a 14-year-old high-school freshman in Manila in December 1941.

Within a 24-hour period, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Guam, Midway and the Philippines. After pulling his forces back to Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island on Dec. 24, Gen. Douglas MacArthur declared Manila an “open city,” hoping to preserve it as a designated neutral location. But three days later, the Japanese army occupied the city and immediately seized the campus of Santo Thomas University to use as a prison for “interned enemy nationals.”

“The Santo Thomas Internment Camp, or STIC as we called it, occupied the entire 60-acre campus of the 300-year-old university,” Ms. Irvine said. “The Dominican teachers there had built a concrete wall around it to make the campus a quiet place for study, but the Japanese saw it as an ideal prison.”

At one time there had been 6,000 students attending classes, but very quickly it became home for 4,000 prisoners including Ms. Irvine. “There were people from a dozen nations there,” she said, “some of whom just happened to be in the Philippines when the war broke out.”

Seventy-seven U.S. Army and Navy nurses were also prisoners in the camp.

For the first two years, civilians from the Japanese government ran the camp and living conditions were cramped but not harsh, Ms. Irvine said. Food was not plentiful, but the prisoners could buy fresh vegetables from Philippine vendors who were allowed inside the camp.

“The camp commander authorized us the equivalent of 35 cents per day per person, so we had two meals a day — watery rice, hard-tack bread made with rice flour and some kind of vegetables. Occasionally there was meat, too,” she said.

Ms. Irvine explained how her grandmother, Nancy Belle Norton, and other elderly foreign nationals were not imprisoned at first because of their age. Luckily, she was allowed to bring food and supplies to the camp.

After the war, President Harry Truman awarded Ms. Norton the Medal of Freedom for her courageous work on behalf of so many prisoners.

The former prisoner said they were allowed to have their own camp organization. “We had our senior officials who dealt directly with the Japanese commander,” she said. “There were several camp committees, including sanitation, recreation, health, religion, entertainment and education. Because he had experience in school administration, my Dad was a member of the education committee.”

“My dad convinced the Japanese to let us collect textbooks from what was left of schools in the city” she said. “We learned to write very small to conserve paper. We also had tests and even report cards. I still have some of mine in my scrapbooks. By the time we were liberated, I had completed my high-school work.”

In 1944, operation of STIC was taken over by the Japanese army and conditions became much worse, Ms. Irvine recalled. The Allies were advancing across the South Pacific, and the war was not going well for the Japanese. Food rations in the camp were cut down to about 1,000 calories a day. People were dying almost daily from various tropical diseases, often compounded by malnutrition. By early 1945, rations were reduced again to about 600 calories per day.

“They were so faithful serving in the camp hospital,” Ms. Irvine said. “They included a dietician who tried to monitor the food situation and make demands for specific medicines to help the sick.”

She recounted a time when three men escaped from the camp but were quickly caught. “The camp commander forced our senior officials to watch as the escapees were executed as a warning to the rest not to try any more escapes. By the time we were liberated, a total of 10 men had been executed.”

The prisoners were able to keep up with news about the war because some imprisoned engineers managed to get enough components smuggled in to build a radio receiver. It had to be taken apart every day and hidden in various places so the Japanese soldiers could not find it even though they searched for it repeatedly.

She remembered the best news as being when an American liaison plane flew low overhead and dropped a cryptic message to alert us that the U.S. Army was close by.

When General MacArthur's troops made their first landing on the island of Luzon on Jan. 9, 1945, about 100 miles north of Manila, he ordered them to make a dash to liberate the camp at Santo Tomas. He was concerned the Japanese might harm the prisoners there. A small element of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division was the first to reach the camp, smashing their tanks through the front gates on February 3.

Ms. Irvine recalled the excitement of seeing American Soldiers as they quickly set up their artillery to defend the camp, which was their most forward position. Artillery barrages and sniper fire continued for a month in Manila before the Japanese forces were finally defeated.

She remembered climbing up in a bombed-out building not far from the camp with a friend and watching artillery shells arcing through the air between the opposing forces. But the former POW's fondest memory was being liberated.

“The best part of being freed by the Army was having all that good Army food,” she said. The camp had only about three days' supply of food left when the Americans finally arrived. “We stuffed ourselves on C-rations that they brought in by the truckload,” she said. “In just a few weeks, I regained the weight I had lost.”

Carefully turning the pages in one of her scrapbooks, the former POW pointed to a picture of an American flag hanging from the front balcony of the main camp building. A Life magazine cameraman took it the day after the camp was liberated. “I was just over here to the left of where the cameraman was,” she said. The excitement still shows in her voice as she talks about that day.

Ms. Irvine and her mother were repatriated to the United States a year after they were liberated, but her father stayed on for another year to help the Philippine government rebuild its school system. Ms. Irvine went to Whitman College in Washington state the next year, where she met her husband, Walt Irvine. They were married in 1949 and raised four children.

(Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)



UPDATE: AGENT ORANGE LAWSUITS

Source: Associated Press article 18 Aug 2006 and Arizona Department of Veterans' Services message of 23 Aug 2006
Forwarded by YNCS Don Harribine, USN (Ret)

Veterans who patrolled the waters off Vietnam can now claim disability benefits for exposure to Agent Orange under an appeals court ruling that opens the door for thousands of servicemen to seek medical coverage. The ruling was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in the case of Haas v. VADC-Nicholson by a former sailor who served on an ammunition ship during the Vietnam War but never stepped foot on land.

The court’s order, issued 16 AUG, reverses the Veterans Affairs Department’s denial of benefits for Jonathan L. Haas, who blamed his diabetes, nerve damage and loss of eyesight on exposure to Agent Orange. Haas, represented by the National Veterans Legal Services (NVLS) argued that clouds of the toxic defoliate, which the U.S. sprayed on Vietnamese jungles, drifted out to sea, engulfing his ship and landing on his skin. Veterans officials said that to qualify for coverage, Haas was required to have docked in Vietnam and come ashore.

The three-judge panel said regulations governing the benefits were unclear. The court said it made no sense for veterans who patrolled Vietnam’s inland waterways and those simply passing through the country to receive medical coverage while those serving at sea do not. “Veterans serving on vessels in close proximity to land would have the same risk of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange as veterans serving on adjacent land, or an even greater risk than that borne by those veterans who may have visited and set foot on the land of the Republic of Vietnam only briefly,” Judge William A. Moorman wrote.

The Court did not actually award a disability to Haas, but sent his case back to the Board for that determination. If the Board rules in his favor, the Court directed that his other Agent Orange-related medical conditions also must be compensated. The Veterans Affairs Department said recently that it was reviewing the opinion and was not sure how many veterans would be affected or how much the added coverage would cost.

This VCAA decision could eventually expand to cover more veterans than the decision appears to now cover. During Vietnam was a short time frame where military service within the Theater of Operations within the Vietnam War justified the Vietnam Service Medal.

This included waters off the coast {so called brown water}, deep waters for air operations {so called blue water operations}, Thailand based Operations for USAF and other types of operations which included loading the Agent Orange aircraft. Most Vietnam combat veterans receive some medical benefits, but if their illnesses are related to their service, they could receive full coverage and their families might be eligible for benefits.

David Houppert, director of veteran’s benefits for the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the ruling could allow thousands of veterans to seek coverage for service-related illnesses. Most are Navy veterans, he said, but some Marines and Army veterans could be affected. Houppert said his group was encouraging these veterans to seek coverage quickly because the ruling left it up to government officials whether to change federal regulations in a way that could deny coverage.

Vets can refer to THIS SITE [http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide/#bm04 ] to review what benefits for which they could be eligible.

As of 20 AUG the VADC-legal office had not filed a request for a stay order pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Board of Veterans' Appeals is sitting at the Phoenix VARO. The senior judge has agreed to contact his office in Washington DC to get current guidance on implementation of this decision. The VCAA ruling over turned a BVA decision on Haas.

If the VADC-Sec Nicholson's office does not appeal, they have no choice but to grant service connected for Agent Orange Presumptive Disabilities with military service within the theater of Vietnam war for those with the Vietnam Service Medal. This decision will mean a potential liability of millions of dollars to the VA Medical budget and VA Administrative budget. Potential claims from the wives of already deceased Vietnam veterans could also mean considerable liability.

This helps explain why the VADC has been slow to provide positive guidance about this VCAA decision. Haas is now the law of the land and therefore VA must abide by it. However, it is possible that VA may amend their regulations in such a way that it is adverse to veterans who otherwise would have benefited from the court’s decision. Service organizations are recommending that other veterans like Mr. Haas, who served offshore but did not set foot in Vietnam, and who suffer from diseases or conditions that they believe to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange should consider filing a claim for disability.

Members who have had such claims denied may wish to re-file based on the Court's decision. Veterans are encouraged to seek the advice and assistance of an experienced veterans' service organization before proceeding.



VA DATA COMPROMISED

Forwarded by p38bob

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of VA policies.

This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.

Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records nor any financial information.

The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen. This employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the VA Inspector General's office, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter.

Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents. It is possible that they remain unaware of the information which they possess or of how to make use of it. However, out of an abundance of caution,the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform our veterans.

Read full story HERE [http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml ].



VA SECRETARY EXPLAINS BOLD INITIATIVES

By Sgt 1st Class Doug Sample, USA. AFPS

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2003 — Secretary Anthony Principi made bold claims today on underway initiatives to transform the second largest federal department in the nation, promising veterans and America that the “Veterans Affairs will not be found wanting.”

Speaking before the National Press Club here, Principi said when President Bush named him to the helm of the VA three years ago, “He directed me to take whatever steps were necessary to improve VA's health care and our benefits-delivery systems.”

For example, to ensure that veterans receive prompt decisions on their disability claims, he said the VA has revamped its system to eliminate the ordeal of waiting “year after year” for a decision on their claims.

“Last year our inventory for what we call rating-related claims — claims for disability compensation, pension for a wartime veteran, low income, a death gratuity — peaked at 432,000,” he said. “The department averaged 60,000 more new or reopened claims every month, and we were able to get the number of cases in our inventory down to 253,000.”

In addition, the VA claims representatives now visit with newly wounded service members in the hospital, informing them of their benefits, such as disability compensation; vocational rehabilitation, if they choose to go back to school, for which they are eligible. “And we have social workers in the military hospitals helping newly wounded soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen plan a future course of treatment for their injuries in VA hospitals when they get back home,” Principi noted.

“If these heroes are discharged from the service because of their disabilities, we will link them and their medical records up with the VA medical center closest to their home that will continue to provide them with the care after their discharge.”

VA has set up teams of claims representatives and social workers serving Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.; and all key DoD processing points for seriously injured troops.

Principi said that each medical center and benefits office has points of contact to work with service members and veterans from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He said “many are enrolled in the VA system even before they are discharged from the military.

“We have trained tens of thousands of our hospital employees to treat the anticipated health needs of this new cohort of veterans,” he added. “Two new research centers for the study of war-related illnesses and injuries will also be established, and the department has developed new clinical practice guidelines to assist VA physicians and nurses in restoring veterans to their highest possible levels of functioning.”

“Men and women who sacrifice limbs in freedom's cause will be well served by the world's best robotic and prosthetic laboratories,” he emphasized. “The VA wants to eliminate the puzzling questioning that often accompanies the claim filing process.”

“When a wounded or injured veteran from Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom contacts VA for care, our question cannot be, 'Are you still on active duty? Do you have your discharge papers?' I simply do not want to hear those kinds of questions. The only question that should be asked of any man or woman on active duty is, 'How can we help you now? We'll sort out the paperwork later.'”

“We know that young veterans who are injured or become ill in combat have never dealt with VA before, and that they likely don't understand our procedures or know the benefits available to them.”

Other initiatives he included were the VA regional offices calling seriously wounded veterans to help them with their disability claims. The offices will aid veterans with grants to adapt homes and cars to their disabilities. Offices will also assist with applications for home and education loans, vocational rehabilitation, or life insurance benefits, he noted.

“Many disabled veterans are eligible for vocational rehabilitation that will help them learn a new trade, a new vocation, send them back to school, pay for all of their tuition and a monthly stipend,” Principi said.

He also stated that service members will receive service-connected disability compensation more quickly than in the past. VA has established benefits-delivery-at-discharge programs at 136 military installations around the country. “This will make it more convenient for separating service members to receive the benefits they've earned,” he said.

Another move by the department is to assign VA rating specialists and VA physicians to military bases, where a service member can literally walk across the street from his or her barracks or duty assignment, file a claim for disability compensation, see a physician, and have their claim decided even before receiving their DD 214 discharge papers.

“They do not have to wait until after they're discharged,” he said. “They can actually get this all done before they leave active duty. That's the kind of service that they have earned and that we must provide to them.”

But, Principi also cited overwhelming growth in just about all areas of the VA healthcare system. He noted that this year VA will treat 1 million more veterans than it did in 2000, that veterans will make 50 million outpatient visits to one of its facilities, up from 40 million from 2000. The VA has also seen an increase in the number of prescriptions filled per year from 86 million to 108 million, he said. And the expected enrollment for VA health care will grow to 7.1 million veterans this year, up from 4.8 million in 2000, “2.3 million more than just a short time ago.”

“In 1998, the VA was only treating about 2.9 million veterans. This year, we're about 5 million veterans. Still, the department and the 226,000 employees hold the power and bear the responsibility to transform the words of countless Veterans Day speeches into the benefits and services all veterans have earned while in service to our great country.”

Principi told reporters that he and his wife were both Vietnam War vets, and that two of his sons served in Iraq. He said he cares “very deeply and very personally about every man and woman who returns to our shores from combat.”

“I want to assure every service member returning from the war against terrorism that VA will be there for them when they return to civilian life.”



VETERANS AFFAIRS WEBSITES - OTHER NATIONS

HOW DO THEY COMPARE?
Forwarded by Floyd Sears. MRGRG-MSA
A pass-along from Robert Sawallesh, pentagonmaverick@aol.com

Service members of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States have fought side by side in several wars. How do the veterans' benefits vary from country to country?

Are the web sites for the five government veterans affairs agencies user friendly? Which of the below web sites do you think is the best?:

Australia: CLICK HERE [http://www.dva.gov.au ].

Canada - Veterans’ Affairs: CLICK HERE [http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca ].

New Zealand Government: CLICK HERE [http://www.veteransaffairs.mil.nz/ ].
Note: You may have to click on “A-Z Government” >> “V” >> “Veterans” Affairs New Zealand >> URL at “web.”

UK - Veterans Agency: CLICK HERE [http://www.veteransagency.mod.uk ].

USA - Veterans Affairs: CLICK HERE [http://www.va.gov ].

First thought: Would the US Congress review veterans' benefits from other countries to justify decreasing US Veterans' benefits? Second thought: Would the US Congress review veterans' benefits from other countries to justify increasing US veterans' benefits?

Note: In reviewing the five veterans' agencies web sites and you want to convert their currency to US dollars CLICK HERE [http://www.xe.com/ucc ].



VETERANS DAY 2004

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Veterans Day - one of the most celebrated of U.S. national holidays. With the War Against Terrorism continuing for the unforeseeable future, along with the end of a bitter political campaign for the presidency, Veterans Day 2004 is especially a defining moment in our nation’s history.

Here is a special message on this day from Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

This Veterans Day, we pause to honor and thank our veterans, past and present - those who have served and those who are serving today around the world, advancing freedom and the cause of liberty.

Since the colonial Minutemen first stood shoulder-to-shoulder, countless Americans have answered our nation's call to serve and defend liberty. They are true heroes. In the past century alone, they fixed bayonets at the Battle of the Marne, they stormed the beaches at Normandy and Omaha, assaulted Heartbreak Ridge, patrolled the la Drang Valley and stared down our adversaries on the plains of Europe. They stood as shining examples of ordinary citizens doing the extraordinary to defend a grateful nation.

Like those who wore the uniform before them, today's armed forces continue this proud legacy. At this very moment, American service men and women - active and Reserve - from every walk of life and from every ethnic, religious and racial background, serve in harm's way. From the mountains in Afghanistan to the sands of Iraq, from the jungles of Colombia to the shores of the Philippines, they are giving hope to millions that liberty, justice and a lasting peace are within their reach.

Today, the proud men and women of our armed forces are once again engaged in a global struggle against those who threaten our way of life. At every turn, they demonstrate our firm resolve and serve notice to terrorists that we will succeed. We are proud of their commitment, dedication and accomplishments.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and I thank our veterans for their selfless service and for ensuring the continued security of our nation.

May God bless you and God bless America.

The VA has an excellent web site for this special day which you will find at http://www1.va.gov/vetsday/ [http://www1.va.gov/vetsday/].



VETERANS RECORDS ONLINE

Military veterans and the next of kin of deceased former military members may now use a new online military personnel records system to request documents. Other individuals with a need for documents must still complete the Standard Form 180 which can be downloaded from the online web site.

NPRC designed the web-based application to provide better service on these requests by eliminating the records center's mailroom processing time. Also, because the requester will be asked to supply all information essential for NPRC to process the request, delays that normally occur when NPRC has to ask veterans for additional information will be minimized.

Veterans and next of kin may access this application at: http://www.archives.gov/research_room/vetrecs/index.html [http://www.archives.gov/research_room/vetrecs/index.html]



VETERANS SALUTING

From MOAA Magazine on the Web

A group of veterans believes the national anthem provides a good opportunity to give veterans the recognition they deserve. They propose that veterans — covered or uncovered — salute when the national anthem, honors, or taps are played, rather than place their hands over their hearts as civilians do.

If you would like to participate in a poll on this subject, click on HERE [http://www.moaa.org/salute ].

For more information, contact Maj. Gen. Vernon B. Lewis, USA-Ret., via this E-Mail LINK [mailto:milprivbl@aol.com ].



VETRANS IGNOBLE FLEA MARKET

By Jug Varner

Maybe its just me, but I was totally offended by the trappings of tents and souvenirs hawkers when I last visited the beautiful Vietnam Memorial near the Lincoln Monument .

Granted, the sale of this merchandise supposedly goes to Vietnam Veterans groups - the percentage of which may be suspect - but that is not a good enough reason to turn it into the likes of a flea market. To my mind it adds a “commercial” stigma and junky appearance that demeans the dignity and solemnity of a monument to those who died for our country.

First of all, I can't believe that the National Park Service would condone this, even under the guise of “free speech,” let alone issue a continuing “public gathering” permit to allow this eyesore to exist. Surely there are other areas in the immediate vicinity but away from these memorials where such groups can set up their wares, pass out their pamphlets, march, protest and demonstrate if they must, rather than in the midst of two of the most revered spots in the capital city. And why are they still protesting anyw
ay? I thought building the memorial settled that.

Secondly, I should think those who fought not only in the war, but for recognition of their sacrifices, would above all else want to preserve the esthetic quality of this memorial.

During this visit to Washington, I was honored to meet and talk with Frederick E. Hart, the sculptor who created the Three Soldiers statue at the Vietnam Memorial. Learning about the long and painstaking thought and effort he put into this beautiful work of art made be doubly appreciate what has been done there to remember those who served in that unpopular conflict. I hate to see it eroded.

Speaking of erosion, our capital city and its unrivaled architecture, statuary and broad streets, was always considered our nation's shining star. Now, street people, winos, graffiti and other elements are tarnishing it beyond belief. Those who live and work there may have learned to ignore it, instead of doing something about it, but we who live elsewhere are aghast at the gradual erosion of Pierre L'Enfant's grand design.



VUMS

By Jug Varner

Until just a few weeks ago I had never heard of VUMS — but now I know that more than 1700 veterans across the nation are VUMS, the majority of whom are active participants. Officials say others out there are eligible to join, but may not be aware of this unique organization's existence.

Veterans of Underage Military Service is the national organization of veterans who served in some branch of military service before their 17th birthday (17 for boys; 20 for girls). Thousands of these underage kids enlisted before, during, and after WW II, as well later wars — although in lesser numbers. All lied about their age or used other devious means, and most got by with it — but there is no way to know the actual total, nor how many were killed in action. Whatever that total might have been, their number is dwindling today at the same percentage rate as other aging veterans.

Not all divulged their secret, even after the government granted amnesty and restoration of veterans' rights lost to those found to be illegally enlisted. Some may not even have known about the amnesty. Many still do not know about VUMS. Those who do are very enthusiastic about this unexpected avenue to new friends and camaraderie only those who served in war can appreciate.


The photo above shows Bob (seated) at the Barnes&Noble autograph
party to promote DAMON. His faithful friends and fellow-VUMS came to
support him on the occasion and purchase his book. Standing (left to
right): Army Paratrooper veteran Lew Elliott, and Navy surface warfare
veterans Ike Hargraves and John Laws.
Recently I met four VUMS (now my own new friends) living in my area, and I was intrigued by their stories. Our meeting resulted when I got acquainted with Navy veteran Bob Quinn. He and his wife live “up the road a piece” — as they say in Texas - at the lake community April Sound. Bob is author of the book, Damon. I read it, thoroughly enjoyed it, and wrote a review for this month's issue of Keeping APAce, as well as one for the Barnes&Noble website.

Typical VUMS, Ike and Bob were 16 and Lew and John were 15 when they joined. Unlike most teens of today, however, those boys were mature for their young years, having learned discipline and responsibility during the hard times of the Great Depression that preceded the war. All worked, either on farms or at odd jobs, to help support their families. The experience enabled each of them to cope with adverse circumstances – an ideal quality in warfare.

VUMS Monuments


The Texas Chapter VUMS dedicated this monument (top photo at right) at the VA National Cemetery in Houston, August 1, 2001. Its inscription reads: “We are the few, proudly we served. We gave up our childhood for the privilege of serving in every war since the Revolution. We served on land, on the sea, beneath the sea, and in the air. In the trenches, in foxholes, in POW camps and in MIA groups. Some of us may have marched in the ranks of the unknown dead.”

This monument (bottom photo at right), is located on the Walk of Honor at the Dallas-Fort Worth VA National Cemetery. The Texas Chapter dedicated it on October 28, 2000, “To underage veterans of all services.” Also inscribed are the words of the highest ranked VUMS, Admiral J. M. “Mike” Boorda, deceased: “You don't have to be very old to grow up fast.” Boorda joined at age 16 and served as an enlisted man for six years before the Navy sent him to OCS. He eventually became Chief of Naval Operations, the only one in history to rise from seaman to admiral.

The City of Momence, Illinois, dedicated a monument a native son monument to Admiral Boorda on November 11, 2000 and, although it was not sponsored by VUMS, it had its support and many members attending the moving ceremony. There may be other VUMS monuments around the nation, as well.

For more detailed information about VUMS, visit their website [http://www.oldvums.com/].



WHAT OLD VETERANS UNDERSTAND

By Dr. M. Sidney Wallace, November 11, 2005
SOURCE [http://www.bulletinboards.com/view.cfm?comcode=gulf1msw ]. Forwarded by p38bob.

Last week I was honored to have lunch with a friend who had served in the United States Army during World War II. My friend is well over eighty years of age, yet in his mind he still remembers vividly his tours of duty defending his nation and home.

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to give a young sailor a ride to his barracks. This young man has yet to enter into his twenties and has very few memories to look back on.

I have had many occasions to speak with veterans of Korea and Viet Nam. These men and women, like the other two, have nothing but respect for their country and an everlasting love for the “American Way of Life.”

In my conversations with all of these veterans you could hear a thread that goes through them all. That thread is love of the “American Way of Life.” Some came from the back woods of rural Alabama. Some came from the swamps of Louisiana. Some came from the high deserts of Idaho. Some came from the ghettos of New York City and some came from wheat fields of Kansas. Some were black, some were white, some were Hispanic, and some were Asian. No matter what their backgrounds, they all said they were Americans and that the “American way of Life” was what they believed in. Each individual had freely offered his life to give the “American Way of Life” for their children.

We are now at a crossroad in history. The “American Way of Life” is under very serious attack from two forces. One group, radical Muslins fanatics, wants to return the world to the dark ages. They see anything modern as evil. They not only want to stop the hands of time, but they want to destroy anyone that uses anything but a sundial to measure time. Even though this group makes things that go boom in the dark, they are the weaker of the two attackers.

The other groups of attackers are the radical pacifists that are willing to sacrifice everything in life for a few more minutes of “perceived peace.” They call anyone wanting to stand up for the “American Way of Life” murderers and war mongers. This group is the more dangerous of the two. They masquerade behind all sorts of disguises and have learned to use the national media to provide them liberal time to try and convince others that life is too valuable to be wasted on freedom. Unfortunately some of these fools are now members of our elected government and leaders of the Democrat Party.

On this Veterans Day, I am proud to be acquainted with my military veteran friends that have no reservations and a clear understanding of what it means to defend the “American Way of Life.”

Who do you stand with - the soldier, sailor, airmen, and Marine offering their lives for America, or the silk panty wearing politicians in Washington DC.?



WHEELCHAIR VETS SEEK ULTIMATE DIGNITY

By CDR Byron D. Varner U.S. Navy (RET)

Downtown Seattle was the host city for almost 600 disabled veterans and their families in early July. They came from 44 states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain to compete in National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Sponsored by the VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, it is a unique sporting event that gives its participants an opportunity to regain self-esteem through athletic accomplishments they once considered impossible. As one contestant described it, “You're a winner here by just showing up!”

There are some women contestants, but the majority are male, and every branch of the service is represented. Those with combat experience include service in WWII and every U.S. conflict since that time.

About 44% are paraplegics (lost use of two limbs) and 32% are quadriplegics (lost use of all limbs). Others are amputees, have Multiple Sclerosis, or have other brain injuries or disease. All have permanent neuromuscular-skeletal disability.

Despite these cold statistics, the fire in their belly to compete takes on Olympic proportions in their hearts and minds, however, and in many respects their participation in these events is more heroic than the physically whole athlete in the Olympics — considering what these veterans have to overcome.

While air guns, archery, billiards, bowling, slalom (an obstacle course), swimming, table tennis, track and weightlifting are non-contact sports, others such as basketball, quad rugby and road races are fiercely competitive and can get quite physical. These guys may be in wheelchairs, but they give no quarter in the heat of battle, crashing into each other in an all-out effort to win.

Track events include 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, and 5000-meter races. Field events include club throw, shot put, discus and javelin. Exhibition events include tennis, softball, sailing and sea kayaking. In each event, participants compete against those with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age, and gender.

There is a touching story in every unsung hero competing in these games, and I wish I could have met all of them. The following vignettes of those I did interview offers a brief insight into some of their struggles to accept the reality of their disabilities:

ROBERT (PAT) SAPP was in Vietnam with a Marine Corps reconnaissance group in 1970. During a jump, enemy fire blew out his parachute and he fell about 300 feet to permanent injury.

He spent two years in Bethesda Navy Hospital, scared, angry and hopeless. After returning home, he got into alcohol and drugs, cultivating no friendships of any kind.

However, he got a lot of encouragement to hang in there and make the best of a bad situation, from a quadriplegic patient, Oliver Andrian, of Ohio, who was in much worse shape than he. Then one day Pat saw a veteran with no arms or legs eating food from a plate like an animal, and he suddenly realized how much better-off he was than that poor guy, and vowed never to give up hope.

“When you learn to accept your disability, you begin to look at everything as a challenge instead of an impossibility,” Pat told me. “You have to overcome prejudice and barriers of every kind,” he added, saying, “You might knock us down but you can't take our spirit!”

This is his 12th year to compete in the Games, and although his basketball team didn't place high, Pat won four individual gold medals — one for the slalom, and three for swimming the 50-yard butterfly, 100-yard breast stroke and 100-yard freestyle. He works out year-round to keep physically and mentally fit in Bend, Ore., where he teaches the disabled, including young children, how to ski. This gives him both pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment.

Pat taught his paraplegic fiancee, Tricia Prince, how to ski. They met during previous wheelchair games, and plan to marry soon..

TRICIA PRICE, of Rockwall, TX, is one of four sibling Army “brats” who joined that service when they became of age. She spent two years in Germany during active service, but was injured after returning to civilian life several years later.

Thrown from a horse on a Texas ranch in 1992, she was taken to the VA Hospital in Dallas for treatment and rehabilitation.

Tricia spent a year or more in denial before she turned her life around. That instance came while watching a TV news story of a man, wife and three children who lost all their possessions in a house fire, barely escaping with their lives.

The man was on his knees giving thanks to God. His adoring wife and children turned toward him with obvious love and admiration as he answered reporters queries about everything they had lost. “I have lost nothing,” he replied. “Those are only material things. My family was saved and that's all that matters to me.”

Since then, she has volunteered many hours as a health care advocate at the Dallas VA, helping other disabled persons, and has participated in various events at these games. This year, she won two gold medals, one bowling and the other weightlifting. At the Creative Arts competition in Pennsylvania last year, she received a gold medal for choreographing wheelchair jitterbug dancing.

Following the crippling accident, Tricia's husband divorced her, leaving three small sons, now ages 10, 12, and 19. I asked her what they thought about the upcoming marriage. In her perky, upbeat manner, she answered, “They love him! In fact, the youngest one thinks Pat is the answer to his prayers and that it is merely a stroke of luck that I happen to love Pat too! He will be a wonderful, understanding and helpful father who will teach them good things, morally and physically, as well as be a much-needed friend and guiding hand.”

NEIL COOPER, age 27, married, with two small children, is one of 11 participants from Great Britain. He was injured in 1989 playing rugby while on active duty. He spent two years in the hospital and was released from the Army in 1993, with a small pension. His interest in sports helped him accept his disability.

“We have nothing comparable to the VA or PVA in our country,” Neil said. “They are marvelous organizations, and the atmosphere at these games and the friendliness and cooperation of the Americans here is a lovely thing to behold. I'm glad to be a part of it.” He competed in bowling, discus throw, javelin throw and shot-put events, winning a bronze medal in shot-put and finished high in the others.

EDWARD F. KEATING, 29, of Mentor, OH, was in training at Camp Pendleton, CA, 1988, when another Marine accidentally shot him in the head. Keating was in a coma for 21 days, “awaking as a vegetable” (as he put it) in San Diego's Balboa Naval Hospital.

His trauma, depression and recovery was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, Moments of Truth: The Eddie Keating Story, starring Ken Howard as his father, Blair Brown as his mother, and Cameron Bancroft as Eddie.

From complete immobility, he has regained the use of his upper body and, today with the help of functional electrical stimulation, his leg muscles respond enough to practice walking. Although still almost totally dependent on a wheelchair. He vows that, “Someday I will walk.”

Like his father, he chose the Marine Corps as his service and is still very much a Marine in his spit and polish attitude and great self discipline.

He has competed in the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter races and 5K road event during the past seven Games, winning medals each time. “1995 was my best year, with four gold and one silver,” he said.

When this year's competition ended, he had equaled those 1995 wins, with a silver in the 5K road race and gold in the other events.

MICHAEL TANDEY, Louisville, KY, entered the competition this year for the first time, at age 39. He competes in the novice class in basketball, billiards, bowling and weightlifting. Although he won no medals at the games, he enthusiastically told his new friends, “Wait 'til next year!”

This former S/SGT was in an auto collision while serving at the Army Training Center, Ft. Irwin, CA, in 1982. Ten days later, he awoke as a paraplegic, realizing for the first time in his life what a blessing it is to be able to walk. Overcoming resentment and self pity was no easy task, but with the help of others he succeeded.

At Hines VA Center in Chicago, he learned how to operate a car again, how to cook and take care of himself, and properly use a wheelchair. Another first-time realization was how inaccessible curbs, building interiors and public places are to those in wheelchairs.

For the past four years, Michael has been employed in the VA Claims Division. Today, he is an upbeat, outgoing person with a beautiful smile for everyone he sees.

JAMES V. DRAPPEAUX, of Indianapolis, was a Marine in Vietnam, but his injury came as a civilian in Los Angeles, when he walked in on a robbery in progress and was shot in the back.

Jim spent nine months at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach, wallowing in self pity. Afterwards his alcohol, drug abuse, and low self esteem caused his wife to divorce him and take their daughter away.

One day while decorating some wheelchairs in a VFW-sponsored event for some young MS patients, a ten-year old named Tommy told him how much he appreciated this “nicest present he had ever received.” Something about that sincere gratitude, by someone whose life was measured in months instead of years, stirred Jim's emotions.

At that point Jim vowed, “If this kid can live his short life expectancy with gratitude and hope, I ought to be able to pull myself out of this mental gutter!” And he did.

He quit drugs and alcohol on his own and as he says, “cleaned up my act,” before eventually marrying his current wife.

After becoming interested in the wheelchair games, Jim developed that special “can do” spirit that seems so infectious among these athletes. Each is heartened by the accomplishments of others and realizes the possibilities to overcome limitations, even if in small degrees, through the physical and mental therapeutic value of sports.

Jim competes in billiards, discus, javelin and shot-put, and although he won no medals this year, he placed high in these events. He is the same one who told me, “You're a winner here by just showing up!”