This Women’s History Month, let’s fix VA for women veterans (The Hill)
Commentary: “Throughout the month of March Americans around the country honor courageous women who have made significant contributions to history. In honor of this year’s Women’s History Month, I’d like to reflect on our nation’s female military members as they make the transition to becoming veterans. As a former Army helicopter pilot, I served with female heroes who fought every day to keep America strong and safe. Unfortunately, these same battle-tested women have come home to face a Department of Veterans Affairs that puts its own needs above the veterans it serves. Last week 11 members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee submitted a bipartisan letter to the VA’s deputy inspector general calling for an investigation into the VA’s ability to handle the specific needs of the rising number of female veterans. I commend the HVAC for shedding light on this rapidly growing demographic in the veteran community and demanding the need to better identify their needs. … We could put the needs of the female veterans first by providing them with choice over their healthcare options. Why not simply let today’s brave women choose the doctor they want to see? They chose to put their lives on the line – they should be able to choose their doctor. It’s simple. It’s common sense. Sadly, this seemingly simple option has one thing standing in its way – the VA bureaucracy that is so reluctant to give veterans private sector options out of fear it will have to give up its monopoly on veterans’ health care.”
Once a homeless veteran, now she’s a student at Harvard University (The Huffington Post)
Alicia Watkins is a retired Air Force staff sergeant who proudly served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She risked her life for the freedom of others, survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, and watched her colleagues die. But it wasn’t any of her combat experiences that broke Watkins’ spirit; it was the fact that she retired from the military and found herself homeless. In 2010, Watkins’ allowed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to document her life as a homeless veteran. Her “kitchen” was a cardboard box of snacks and microwavable meals. Her bed was a car that she rented for $10 a day. Her restrooms were the toilets at various airport hotels. The 10-year veteran was struggling, but even during her low points, she believed that others were struggling more. At one point, Watkins did have housing, but she gave up her room to a homeless mother and her three kids. Since that emotional interview, a lot has changed for Watkins. After the show, Watkins moved in with a family friend. Though she no longer lives in a car, Watkins says that her many health issues have prevented her from being able to work. “I have traumatic brain injury, I have post-traumatic stress disorder, I have a spinal cord injury,” she says. “It’s a hard road. I would love to be able to work today. I have offers, I have people that are willing to help me, but they all have to take a backseat to my health. As much as I want to work, I have to acknowledge that I am a casualty of war.” With a secure roof over her head, Watkins decided to focus on her education and began applying to colleges. “I wanted to be able to care for wounded warriors, and so I decided to apply to Harvard University,” she says. “In 2012, I was accepted. My college expenses are paid by the G.I. Bill.” Watkins’ says that her personal life has really turned around as well. “I recently got engaged, on my birthday of all days,” she says, smiling. “It is amazing.”
Vietnam veteran gets dying wish to visit Pearl Harbor (The New York Times)
When a Vietnam veteran briefly stopped in Hawaii on his way home from war, he vowed to return one day to honor the people who perished during the attack on Pearl Harbor. With just less than two months to live, Joseph Hooker realized his longtime dream on Wednesday. The Marine Corps veteran, who has heart disease and cancer, traveled from his home in Essex, Maryland, to Honolulu to visit the site of the Japanese attack that pushed the United States into World War II. The Dream Foundation, which grants wishes for those who have life expectancies of a year or less, arranged for the journey. Hooker’s brother and sister-in-law, who are his caregivers, took turns pushing him in a wheelchair as they went on a private tour of the battleship USS Missouri. The Hawaii dream stems from a 20-minute stop in the islands in 1971 as Hooker headed home from Vietnam, Hooker said from his Waikiki hotel room Tuesday. He was let off the ship just long enough to make a phone call to his family and eat some ice cream. He promised to come back someday “to honor the men and women that gave their life at Pearl Harbor.” More than four decades later, Hooker visited the spot where Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri and got a rare peek inside the captain’s cabin. “I’ve never seen a battleship like this before,” he said. The Dream Foundation’s new program, Dreams for Veterans, made Hooker’s wish possible. In applying, Hooker wrote a letter saying that he longed to visit Pearl Harbor to “learn, touch and understand what happened there.”
Coast Guard in Va. to celebrate veteran’s 100 years (The Washington Post)
The Coast Guard is celebrating the 100th birthday of a World War II veteran who had an eventful career on the seas. The celebration Thursday in Portsmouth, Va., is for Linwood “Tick” Thumm. The Coast Guard says Thumm commanded an 83-foot cutter based out of Little Creek. He spent the first part of WWII escorting convoys from New Jersey to Cape Hatteras, N.C. Thumm and his crew were credited with a possible kill of a German U-boat. They were also commended for saving the lives of an oil tanker crew during a fire. Thumm’s crew used a net they fashioned from sheets and blankets to catch survivors as they jumped from the burning tanker.
Organization helps bury unclaimed remains of veterans (AZCentral.com)
Veterans voluntarily put their lives on the line in the name of freedom, yet some of them are not receiving the military burial they were promised. For a variety of reasons, the cremated remains of combat veterans are not being claimed by family members for burial. Instead, urns sit, sometimes for decades, collecting dust at funeral homes. “It’s sad to see so many veterans are left to sit in mortuaries across the country,” Brian Wood, a Canadian veteran, said. Thanks to the work of the non-profit organization, Missing in America Project, four Cottonwood, Ariz., veterans will finally be laid to rest. “Every one of these veterans signed on that dotted line, up to and including their life,” said Clyde Taylor, a northern Arizona coordinator for the Missing in America Project. “For them to be left sitting on a shelf, some of them over 50 years, is not right.” The Missing in America Project began in 2007. It successfully identified 10,897 veterans and interred 2,298 remains. Its work has also prompted a change in Arizona state laws to allow non-family members to take custody of the remains. “A lot of them don’t have any family,” Taylor said. “So, Missing in America Project stepped forward and got the laws changed so we can claim them as family.” The non-profit collects inventories of unclaimed remains from across the country and submits the information to a database linked to the Department of Veterans Affairs. If someone is identified as a veteran, the remains are turned over to the organization to coordinate a military burial with full honors.
Injured vets try something new — wheelchair lacrosse (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Eric Fife looked at blood seeping from his knuckles and grinned. The former 173rd Army Airborne rifleman had just spent two hours doing something he’d never done before — playing lacrosse. And he loved every minute of it. Fife plays wheelchair tennis and hand cycles, but lacrosse was something new. “It sounded fun and aggressive. There’s not a lot of wheelchair sports that are aggressive,” said Fife, 39, who suffered a T-10 spinal cord injury when a balcony on a military base collapsed. “I’m not good at basketball. So I got my pump on with lacrosse.” Fife turned up at the old gym on the Marquette University campus for the first practice of the Milwaukee Eagles wheelchair lacrosse team. Composed of 10 paralyzed veterans and able-bodied civilians, the team practices on the second and fourth Mondays of the month under the tutelage of Marquette lacrosse coach Joe Amplo and Marquette players. The team was formed after Paul Lehman, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America; Ken Lee, director of the spinal cord clinic at the Milwaukee VA hospital; and James Veltri, a Navy veteran who was injured 10 years ago, attended a wheelchair lacrosse clinic last year. “I fell in love with the sport,” said Lee, a retired Wisconsin Army National Guard colonel who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq. “The concept was good. It was something anyone could learn and do. Veterans and non-veterans could play it; able-bodied people could play it.”
Koreans thank war vets in Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery ceremony (The Dallas Morning News)
The local Korean community remembered the soldiers who fought in Korea in the 1950s at a small ceremony Wednesday morning at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. The event included a color guard presentation, a wreath placement and the singing of the U.S. and Korean national anthems. Hyun Kyung-dae, executive vice chairman of South Korea’s National Unification Advisory Council, attended. He stopped in Dallas for a dinner Tuesday for Korean War veterans and to speak at the cemetery. “You came to our rescue and saved us,” Hyun said at the ceremony. “We were in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth.” Ted Kim of the Korean Society of Dallas organized the visit. He wants to keep Korean history alive. He invited several Korean War Veterans Association members to both events. One group is working on a memorial to commemorate the Battle of the Chosin Resevoir, a noted campaign that prevented a Communist victory. The monument will be installed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia. Another group of Korean War veterans is working to promote the history of the war with a program called Tell America. These veterans go to schools to talk about the war. They are also working to change history books, which they say barely mention the war. At D-FW National Cemetery, there are four small Korean War memorials. Exact figures of Korean War veterans buried there are not known, according to cemetery officials. More than 36,000 Americans died during the war. “It was a bloody war,” said retired Lt. Gen. Richard Carey, a veteran of the Chosin campaign. “But we are proud to have been a small part of preserving freedom.”
Airman’s tintypes evoke ‘humanity’ of troops, veterans (Military Times)
Cast your gaze over aerial gunner Ed Drew’s photographs for just a few seconds and their intriguing and engaging duality becomes readily apparent. The images evoke the long-gone heyday of Civil War tintypes. But they actually depict crew members in Drew’s combat search and rescue unit while he was deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, in 2013. Now Drew is at work on his next tintype project that will focus on veterans, giving them a chance to “look in the mirror” — a reference to the fact that tintype photography creates a reverse “mirror image” of the subject in the frame. For Drew, the technique, responsible for some of the earliest photographic images in American history, is about making military members “less of a mystery” to the non-military world. The CSAR project “was more about showing the world that we’re more than just a bunch of soldiers in a war machine,” Drew recently told Military Times. Drew, who served six years in the active Air Force before transitioning into the Air National Guard, said his service amplifies his creative streak, even if his job sets strict ground rules. “It’s about the humanity of the individuals, in particular, the combat search-and-rescue mission, which has a small footprint in the grand scheme of the military,” he said of the project, which debuted in 2013. Drew, a staff sergeant now with the ANG’s 129th Rescue Squadron based at Moffett Field, California, is working with his local San Francisco VA to connect with veterans for his new project.
Three-war veteran honored to be part of military history (Military.com)
A young teenage boy, born and raised in a small, rural farm town in Tennessee, never imagined he would have the opportunity to travel the world. Enlisting in 1935, retired U.S. Army Maj. Virgil Ward, 96, served in three wars during his 30-year tenure in the military. He was involved in World War II in the 1940s, the Korean War in the 1950s and the start of the Vietnam War in 1965. He also survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. During the World War II era, it was not uncommon for young men to fabricate their age to join the military; however, Ward unintentionally enlisted in the military at age 15. “I thought I was 17 when I joined the service,” Ward said. “My dad always told me I was born in 1917, but when I received my birth certificate 10 years later, I found out the true year was 1919.” The age was never a hindrance, he said. He was more appreciative of the experiences the Army offered him and how far he had come. “The Army gave me everything, uniforms, three meals a day, a place to sleep, and at the end of the month they gave me a paycheck,” Ward said. “I made $26 every payday and [I] thought this was a wonderful thing to have and something good for me, and I wanted to stay with it.” In 1950, Ward was battlefield commissioned to a second lieutenant upon reporting to his duty station in Korea. Having survived three wars, Ward knows the meaning of service to country, selfless service, integrity and dedication. “Do the right thing the first time and go beyond what is asked of you, and you will get where you want to be. Stay focused and be honest,” said Ward. “Stay in the military, if you can. It’s the best retirement you will ever find.”