November 30 Veterans News

November 30 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateIraq war vet identified as victim in Planned Parenthood shooting (KKTV-Colorado Springs)
KKTV 11 News has confirmed with family members that Iraq War Veteran Ke’Arre M. Stewart was one of the three people killed in the shootings near the Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs on Friday. Stewart’s sister said he was outside the clinic talking on his cell phone outside because he didn’t have any service. That’s when he was shot. She says he ran back inside and warned everyone about the shooter and told them to get down. She said he called 911 before he died. Stewart’s family told 11 News that he served one tour in Iraq before retiring. Stewart’s wife said all the family wants right now is justice for Stewart. “I was crushed, it was unreal. Almost half a million people here and it happened to be my brother out of all these people,” said Leyonte Chandler, Stewart’s brother. Chandler followed his big brother to Colorado after Ke’Arre Stewart was stationed at Fort Carson in 2013. “When he got back to Colorado Springs, he wanted to go ahead and retire. He loved this city and he wanted to stay,” said Chandler. While in the Springs, Stewart reunited with his Army buddy, Tony Fisher. They spent Thanksgiving together, the day before he was murdered. “We ate dinner and y’know had a nice fellowship telling old Army stories kind of like Army people do,” said Fisher. Just a day later, everything would change when Stewart was shot and killed outside of the Planned Parenthood Office. “As a soldier, when you leave war that’s when you’re supposed to quit losing soldiers. Y’know your buddies and stuff. You get old and fat and retire and talk about grand kinds eventually, but he was 29-years-old,” said Fisher. “The guy didn’t know [Ke’Arre], and he didn’t know the guy. I forgive him though,” said Chandler. Stewart’s wife said he leaves behind his children, two daughters, 11 and six years old.

Tomah VA Medical Center launches 100-day improvement plan (Military Times)
The Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has adopted another plan to improve patient care at the troubled facility. The release of the 100-day plan on Friday came almost 11 months after reports surfaced that veterans at the center were prescribed excessive doses of opioid pain-killers and that employees who spoke out faced retaliation from top officials, the La Crosse Tribune reported Saturday. The plan, which follows a 30-day plan announced in May, outlines steps for improving access to care, employee engagement and restoring trust. Among other things, it calls for recruitment of psychiatric staff, employee forums and listening sessions, and opening an employee wellness center. Over the past year, citing staff shortages, the Tomah VA has closed an inpatient psychiatric unit, halted psychiatric admissions to a residential treatment center and permanently cut urgent care hours. The new plan calls for possibly extended hours at some satellite outpatient clinics but no restoration of urgent care hours. VA spokesman Matthew Gowan said the priority is to hire enough psychiatric providers to staff the hospital’s 11-bed inpatient unit. “That’s our number one thing . to get that thing re-opened,” Gowan said. Several Tomah VA officials — including its former director, Mario Desanctis, and its former chief of staff, David Houlihan — have been fired since the problems emerged.

Town demolishes veteran’s house while he has surgery (USA Today)
When a U.S. Navy veteran traveled from Long Island to Florida for a knee replacement, his house was the last thing on his mind. But now his memory of it is all he can think about. Philip Williams’ home was demolished in the spring by town officials while he spent about six months recuperating from surgical complications in Fort Lauderdale. Back in New York, officials in the Town of Hempstead deemed his modest two-story home unfit for habitation and knocked it down. The 69-year-old has now waged a legal battle against the suburban New York town. He wants reimbursement — for the house and all the belongings inside. “I’m angry and I’m upset. It’s just wrong on so many levels,” he said “My mortgage was up to date, my property taxes were up to date … everything was current and fine.” Williams went to Florida in December 2014 for the procedure, so a friend could help with his recovery. But he developed infections that forced further surgery and heart complications, leaving him hospitalized until doctors deemed him medically able to return home in August. When Williams pulled up to what should have been a two-story cream-colored cottage with a red door in West Hempstead, there was just an empty lot. “My first thought was there was a fire or something,” Williams said. But there was no fire. According to town officials, neighbors had been complaining the house was in disrepair and a blight on the community. Hempstead officials, responding to those complaints, sent inspectors and determined the house was a “dilapidated dwelling” unfit for habitation. So they knocked it down. “The house was in terrible condition for a long time,” next door neighbor Keylin Escobar said. “Nobody really lived in the house; the house was abandoned. Everyone who came over to visit, people always say, ‘What’s going on with this house?'”

Finally, a venture capital fund for women, minorities, and veterans (Fortune)
While startups have a multitude of venture funding options in this economy – minorities, women and veterans (MW&V) have been largely left out. Great companies founded by this group include: Fed Ex (Frederick Smith, veteran), TRX® training tools (Randy Hetrick, veteran), Cisco, (Sandra ‘Sandy’ Lerner, co-founder) and World Wide Technology  (David L. Steward, founder). With venture funding options for MW&V remaining stubbornly low, a San Diego based company, Founders First Capital Partners (FFCP) recently announced the launch of an ambitious new program that focuses on assisting business owners in underrepresented and underfunded demographics. “We target business founders from underrepresented, underfunded groups; women, veterans and ethnic minorities,” says FFCP founding partner Kim Folsom. “These businesses are independent, privately held companies headquartered in the United States and have revenues of $250K to $2M, and are seeking growth capital to expand and grow their businesses.”

Tulsi Gabbard, a vet and rising Democratic star, makes mark on party by defying it (The New York Times)
Between the chilly temperatures and the pace of the push-ups, there was plenty to complain about after eight lawmakers straggled into the park behind the Longworth House Office Building for their regular 6:30 a.m. workout. While the others in the group griped and groaned on a recent Tuesday, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, 34, her Hindu prayer beads wrapped around a wrist for her daily yoga meditation, said little. “Tulsi, you hearing a lot of whining?” asked Representative Markwayne Mullin, a burly Oklahoma Republican and former professional mixed martial arts fighter who leads the workouts, mocking the complaints of her companions. “I’m feeling like whining,” she replied between push-ups. Ms. Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, has a reputation among her colleagues for being a composed, contemplative presence in a chamber more prone to reaction than reflection. But lately she has started to shed that persona. Since the deadly attacks in Paris, she has become a high-profile critic of President Obama’s policies in Syria by amplifying her argument that President Bashar al-Assad should stay in power to avoid elevating the Islamic State and by introducing legislation to defund American efforts to overthrow him. Shortly after voting with House Republicans this month to drastically tighten screening procedures for Syrian refugees — in defiance of Mr. Obama’s veto threat — Ms. Gabbard traveled to Paris. From there, she made the case for focusing on defeating the Islamic State in her fourth national television interview of the week. “My responsibility is to the people of Hawaii and the American people to stand up and fight for what is right and what is in the best interest of our country,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “That has nothing to do with party politics.”  Ms. Gabbard, who served two combat tours in the Middle East and holds the rank of major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, has also called for the United States to suspend its visa waiver program with European countries until the intelligence community can catch up with the influx of Syrian refugees, an economically risky proposition.

Legionnaires disease bacteria found in Minneapolis VA hospital water (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Veterans Affairs officials say they’ve detected the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease in water samples at the Minneapolis hospital. The Star Tribune reports that no illnesses have been reported. Officials at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis said routine testing on Nov. 19 found the bacteria in 5 of 40 water samples. The hospital has fitted faucets and shower heads with filters and is flushing the water system. Legionnaires’ disease was first identified in 1976 after an outbreak at the American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Outbreaks reported in New York City and western Illinois killed more than 20 people and sickened hundreds more this summer. KARE-TV first reported the bacteria detection at the VA hospital.

Does veterans counseling count as ‘disaster relief’? (
The American Red Cross and the Minnesota Department of Corrections have a fundamental disagreement over the definition of “disaster.” And it all comes down to one person: Shelley Koski. Koski is one of the few certified American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteers in the country. She’s also a clinical therapist with the Corrections Department at Moose Lake. A 1994 state law allows state employees to take up to 15 days a year with pay to provide Red Cross disaster services. Koski has provided her services after hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, among other natural disasters. She’s now involved in counseling returning veterans and their families through Red Cross workshops. When she sought approval from her bosses to use a portion of the 15-day allotment for a workshop, the department said no; counseling veterans does not qualify as disaster relief. Her union has gone to bat for her, pointing out that she is the only state employee that this applies to. It has agreed to stipulate that allowing her would set no precedent. Corrections has not budged. In a recent session on depression in Peoria, Ill., she talked a homeless vet out of committing suicide. “If you can save one life, to me that qualifies as disaster relief,” she said.

Wake Forest law students start clinic to help veterans (Winston-Salem Journal)
When military veterans return home from duty, they can find civilian life disorienting and difficult to navigate. “The most confusing days are the first day in the Army and the first day out of the Army,” said Josh Harper, a former U.S. Army captain and a third-year law student at Wake Forest University. Harper was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months, mostly in 2012, and served as a military intelligence officer from September 2008 to June 2013. Harper said when you’re in the military, you have a chain of command you can turn to when you have to deal with issues. That doesn’t necessarily exist in the same way in civilian life, he said. And for veterans who are dealing with routine legal issues, that can pose a challenge, he said. That’s where the new Veterans Legal Clinic, associated with Wake Forest University School of Law, comes in. The legal clinic was officially launched this fall, said Steve Virgil, a professor at the school. Virgil is the executive director of the law school’s experiential education programs. The clinic serves North Carolina military personnel, including active-duty service members, reservists, veterans and non-affiliated veterans. It deals with a number of issues, including employment law, consumer protection and landlord/tenant issues. Another area, said Chris Alderman, a third-year law student, is discharge upgrades. According to Alderman and Harper, the military didn’t recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder during the Vietnam War, and as a result, many veterans were not discharged honorably. Harper cited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics that estimate between 11 percent to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD. Vietnam veterans suffer PTSD at a higher rate, he said. Veterans who weren’t discharged honorably have problems getting jobs or benefits, he said. The clinic helps those veterans get discharge upgrades.

Marine vet collecting for Toys for Tots forced to stand outside Ohio Walmart (WKYC-Cleveland)
Controversy is brewing in Medina, Ohio, after a local Marine veteran was forced to stand outside of a Walmart this weekend as he collected money for Toys for Tots. It was rainy and cold, but despite the weather, the store manager said he had to stand outside. Now, people are outraged that he wasn’t allowed inside of the store. When someone took a picture of the veteran and posted it to social media, the post went viral within hours. The post read, “He can bleed and die but not stand inside.” The controversy started as a conversation between a Walmart store manager and a couple of veterans. The vets were collecting money for Toys for Tots and the VFW. They said they asked to go inside, but the Walmart store manager said it’s against the company’s solicitation policy to allow them inside. The vets were then asked to stay outside of the store. The temperatures were in the low 40’s. “Every business has their corporate policies, but every policy has an exception,” said John Harkness, who was collecting money for Toys for Tots. “And I think veterans standing outside, there should be made exceptions for them.” “It was so cold that your knees don’t want to bend when you try to walk, and when you get home, even a hot shower doesn’t not warm you. It took wrapping up in an electric blanket to try and defrost that night,” said Lynn Harkness, Toys for Tots coordinator. We spoke to the Walmart manager who says the vets were allowed in the store in past years due to a previous manager making that decision. She says she was just following the rules. “The wind was just blasting me and I was freezing like crazy. I was even fortunate, a young lady bought me a blanket which was nice,” said U.S. Navy vet Dan Macik. He also stood outside while collecting for his local VFW.

Former Navy officer finds a way to help veterans (The Wall Street Journal)
After a 30-year career in the U.S. Navy and 10 more years working for a defense contractor, Ed Nicholson had one main goal when he retired in 2004: do lots of fly fishing. “I planned to relax in the great outdoors doing my favorite hobby,” Mr. Nicholson says. But just weeks after he retired, Mr. Nicholson was diagnosed with prostate cancer and ended up undergoing surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His time in the hospital changed the course of not just his life, but also the lives of thousands of veterans. “I was feeling sorry for myself and then looked around and saw so many young people with devastating injuries, people in their 20s with missing limbs, deep psychological problems and other terrible wounds,” Mr. Nicholson says. “I had to do something to help them.” Though he wasn’t sure exactly what help he could offer, an idea hit him as he was walking the hospital grounds. There he saw a lawn perfect for a bit of fly casting, and soon began inviting patients to cast with him there a few mornings a week. “Sharing my passion for fishing was just an easy thing to do,” says Mr. Nicholson. “Many soldiers come from rural backgrounds, and I knew being out in nature would be soothing to them.” Soon, lots of injured servicemen and women were joining Mr. Nicholson down on the lawn. Even after he recovered, Mr. Nicholson kept going back to Walter Reed to offer fly-casting lessons to patients, and began taking them on day trips to nearby lakes and streams. “It just sort of snowballed from there, and somehow I ended up starting a nonprofit,” he says. That organization, officially founded in 2007, is called Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. and has six full-time employees, more than 2,500 volunteers and an annual budget of $3 million, all generated through fundraising. Some 4,000 to 6,000 disabled veterans across the U.S. participate in the group’s fishing excursions and fly-tying events each year. The group works with other fishing groups, the Veterans Affairs Department and military hospitals to offer its program in all 50 states.

National Marine Corps Museum plans massive expansion (Marine Corps Times)
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is launching a seven-year $100-million project to document the service’s history from the end of fighting in Vietnam to this generation’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. To do so, its facility on the outskirts of Marine Corps Base Quantico will nearly double in size, growing from 112,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet by 2020. The expansion will come in stages and feature the addition of an IMAX-style movie theater, refurbished aircraft and combat vehicles along with a host of new exhibits. Construction of the new wing is scheduled to begin in 2015, museum staff say. By 2017, they expect to open the theater and a military art gallery. The following year, two permanent galleries are scheduled to open covering Marine history from the 1980s to the present. A gallery showcasing key events between conflicts is set to open in 2020 along with rotating exhibit space. Exhibits will cover Marine missions in Panama and Grenada, the deadly barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon; operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield; and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new wing also will house a host of authentic artifacts used during this period, including a refurbished F/A-18 fighter jet, an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter, an M60A1 tank, an MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle, drones and more. Visitors will be able to watch combat artists draw and paint in the studio, feel the concussion of grenade blasts in immersion galleries and view a 30-minute feature-quality film about Marine Corps history and culture.