July 28 Veterans News

July 28 Veterans News

Veterans news updateHouse passes bill urging VA to change military sexual assault regs (The Hill)
The House passed legislation on Monday that calls on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to define military sexual assault as a service-connected cause of mental health disorders. Passed by voice vote, the bill directs the VA to report to Congress every year on the number of claims for disability compensation based on a mental health condition allegedly caused by military sexual trauma. The report would have to include the average number of days to process the claims and a description of the training provided to Veterans Benefits Administration employees who are processing the claims. “We owe it to our veterans who are subject to personal assaults during their military service to ensure that the VA expeditiously and accurately processes mental health claims for conditions related to [military sexual assault], such as depression, anxiety or PTSD,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). The measure is named after Ruth Moore, a veteran who was sexually assaulted while serving in the Navy. Moore reported the attacks, but the alleged perpetrator was never charged. She was later discharged from the Navy after being labeled as mentally ill. Moore challenged the VA’s decision to deny her disability benefits for more than 20 years until she was awarded the benefits in 2009. “There are thousands and thousands of Ruth Moores out there who have been fighting for benefits for years,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the author of the legislation. The House passed a similar bill by voice vote in 2013, but the Senate never considered it.

Augusta VA manager jailed for violating bond (The Augusta Chronicle)
A manager at the Charlie Nor­wood VA Medical Center in Augusta who faces federal charges in connection with veterans’ medical care was jailed Monday for violating bond. On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps revoked the $15,000 bond he set for Cathedral Hen­derson, 50, on July 17. According to court documents, Henderson violated bond by contacting a potential witness in the prosecution’s case, which alleges that he ordered staff to falsify the medical records of veterans in need of care not available at the VA hospital. Epps set an Aug. 17 date for a status hearing in the case. Henderson was named in an indictment July 8 that accuses him of 50 counts of making false statements. The crime is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. According to the indictment, after news broke in 2013 that veterans across the country had been unable to access necessary medical services, Henderson was the person responsible in Augusta for ensuring that all veterans awaiting approval for medical care outside the VA were properly handled. The undersecretary for health at the VA issued a memorandum to all VA medical centers to have every unresolved consult for outside medical care handled by May 1, 2014. Each case had to be investigated to determine whether services were provided, no longer needed or had been declined by the patient. According to the indictment, Hen­derson ordered employees to falsify medical records to show each case had been properly closed.

Florida to speed concealed weapons licenses to veterans (Florida Today)
Amid reports of armed citizens standing guard at military recruiting stations and recommendations on how best to protect military personnel, Florida officials announced today that they will expedite concealed weapons permits for active duty military and veterans. The move comes on the heels of the murder of five military members in Chattanooga, Tenn., earlier this month. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs said its goal is to issue licenses to qualified active military and veterans within 30 days, a third of the time allotted by law. “The men and women who serve and have served our country deserve all of the support we can provide,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said. “We are pleased to expedite active military members and veterans’ applications for a concealed weapon license, and our partnership with tax collectors throughout the state will make this process even more convenient.” Military and veterans must submit official military identification with their applications or a copy of service members’ current orders as proof of active duty status. Honorably discharged veterans should submit a copy of their DD 214 long form. A concealed weapons permit would allow a military member or veteran to carry such weapons outside of military installations in the state. The military has strict rules about who can carry weapons on bases and installations. Generally, only those with duties related to law enforcement, security and of guarding classified information or equipment are allowed to carry weapons. Richard Vreeland, an Army veteran of the Iraq war, said he believes that as long as a veteran meets the requirements and had and honorable discharge, they should get their applications expedited. “I think most of us would be for it,” he said. “For people like us it should be a no-brainer.”

Remains of Pearl Harbor victims exhumed for identification (Military Times)
The military on Monday exhumed more caskets containing the unidentified remains of USS Oklahoma crew members killed in the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred five coffins from four grave sites at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, where they have rested for decades. The work is part of an effort announced in April to account for up to 388 Oklahoma sailors and Marines still classified as missing. The cemetery and the military allowed media to observe a ceremony afterward during which flags were draped over the coffins. An honor guard and cemetery staff transported the coffins to trucks that carried the remains to a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Michael Linnington, a retired Army lieutenant general who currently leads the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, told reporters the lab in Hawaii will identify some remains using dental records. The remains will then be sent to another lab in Omaha for DNA analysis. He said family members of those missing are eager to have their fathers, grandfathers and uncles identified. “They want their loved ones home, and we’re happy to help them in that process,” Linnington said. The Oklahoma identification project involves disinterring 61 caskets at 45 grave sites at the Honolulu cemetery commonly known as Punchbowl. About 15 caskets have been exhumed. The Oklahoma capsized after being hit by torpedoes during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. Altogether, 429 sailors and Marines on board were killed. Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after.

Remains of 36 unidentified Marines from WWII battle return (Military Times)
The military and a private organization have brought home the remains of 36 Marines killed in one of World War II’s bloodiest battles. A group, History Flight, recovered the remains from the remote Pacific atoll of Tarawa, the Marine Corps said. A ceremony was held Sunday in Pearl Harbor to mark their return. History Flight has started identifying the remains, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will complete the effort, the Marines said. The Marines plan to return the remains to their families after they’ve been identified. More than 990 Marines and 30 sailors died during the three-day Battle of Tarawa in 1943. Japanese machine gun fire killed scores of Marines when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide during the U.S. amphibious assault. Americans who made it to the beach faced hand-to-hand combat. Only 17 of the 3,500 Japanese troops survived. Of 1,200 Korean slave laborers on the island, just 129 lived. The U.S. quickly buried the thousands of dead on the tiny atoll. But the graves were soon disturbed as the Navy urgently built a landing strip to prepare for an attack on the next Pacific island on their path to Tokyo. About 520 U.S. servicemen are still unaccounted for from the battle.

Veterans gather to remember ‘forgotten war’ (QCOnline.com)
Daniel Foulke, a Korean War veteran, remembered his unit watching the first prisoners of war coming back home. “It brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “They were in bad shape, some of those men.” He was one of at least 20 members of the Korean War Association Quad-Cities Chapter 168 at Monday’s 62nd wreath laying ceremony at the Arsenal, commemorating the armistice between North and South Korea. Mr. Foulke, first vice president of the chapter, said nearly all the returning POWs were stripped down to their undergarments because no one wanted  reminders of their time as prisoners in North Korea. “The whole road was covered in clothes, shoes, everything. The only thing they had on were shorts and panties,” he said. Often referred to as the “forgotten war,” the Korean War didn’t get as much attention as World War II, because it happened within five years of the previous war, it was considered a conflict and the  “American people were tired of war,” Mr. Foulke said. “We just hung our uniform up in the closet because nobody thanked you for what you did. Today, we are starting to get some thanks,” he said.

Former Sen. Bob Dole leading the fight for Ike — and WWII veterans (Tampa Bay Times)
Most Saturday mornings, former senator from Kansas Bob Dole greets fellow veterans at the southern entrance of the National World War II Memorial, shaking hands and posing for photos with a steady stream of visitors. Last week, between asking the vets where they’re from, where they served and how old they are, the former presidential candidate (“I’m 93,” boasted Bill Hovestadt. “I’m going to be 92 on Wednesday,” Dole replied), was lobbying for support of the beleaguered National Eisenhower Memorial. When tour buses carrying veterans from Texas pulled to the curb, volunteers helped the elderly men and women into wheelchairs and pushed them into the Memorial. As the vets passed, young uniformed soldiers, tourists pushing strollers and volunteers stood in the rain to cheer and applaud. Many called out, “Thank you for your service.” At the center was Dole, who worked the crowd like a candidate on a campaign trail. Dole led the effort to raise more than $170 million for the privately funded WWII memorial that opened in 2004. Now his mission is to get a memorial built for Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dole served under Ike in Italy, and he considers Eisenhower, a fellow Kansan, “one of the great Americans.” It’s a view, he believes, shared by many WWII vets. “It’s been 16 years. We’ve got to get it built,” he told Harold Shockley, 90, about the stalled memorial to the WWII general and 34th president. “He was our hero,” he said to Delbert Armstrong, 88. He repeated the statement to Norm Riggsby, 90, Smokey Brittingham, 89, and John Gumfory, 88. The Texas veterans represent a handful of the 855,000 men and women still living of the 16 million who served, Dole said. Almost 180,000 WWII vets die each year. “I want to get it built before all of us are gone,” Dole told Tino Rodriguez, 95, who signed Dole’s petition seeking support for the $142 million project. It will take all of Dole’s political skill to succeed. Authorized by Congress in 1999, the Eisenhower Memorial slogged through the federal regulatory process. Earlier this month, famed architect Frank Gehry’s modified design received final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission, weeks after another federal agency, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, gave its final approval.

Marines march in silkies to raise suicide awareness (Military Times)
Marines and veterans are trekking more than 13 miles along a California boardwalk to raise awareness about suicide prevention — and they’ll be wearing very little in the process. Medically retired Marine Capt. Danny Maher — who more commonly goes by his stage name Capt. Donny O’Malley — is combining some of the things Marines love most in his effort to bring awareness to a serious issue: humor and very short shorts known as silkies. The former infantry officer-turned-comedian is leading participants on a 22-kilometer road march on Saturday while they each carry 22 kilograms — nearly 50 pounds — of gear. The number of kilometers they’ll walk and the weight that they’ll carry represents the 22 service members who die from suicide each day. Maher and other participants will walk in little more than silkies and boots while carrying their packs. They’ll start at South Mission Beach Jetty in San Diego and will head about 13 and a half miles north to La Jolla Cove. “Imagine a pub crawl with all your Marine buddies wearing nothing but silkies and rucks on the most crowded and beautiful boardwalk in California. That’s what’s going on here,” the event’s Facebook page says. The road march is organized by a group Maher helped to found called Irreverent Warriors. They’re teaming with VETality Corp., another veteran support organization, in their mission to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress and suicide prevention.

More vets in farming is college’s goal (Military Times)
West Virginia University at Parkersburg is joining a statewide effort to bring more veterans into farming or a related agribusiness. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture says Parkersburg is the first college to participate in the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture project. Started in 2009, the program is aimed at helping veterans feed themselves and their neighbors. Since then, the program has grown to more than 100 West Virginia veterans, who are now farmers or involved in agribusiness. Veterans and Warriors is already partnering with beekeepers and educational farms. The idea behind the program is to ease the emotional stress of veterans through farming. WVU Parkersburg has an agricultural program leading to a one-year certificate or two-year associate degree.