May 11 Veterans News

May 11 Veterans News


Sen. Joni Ernst, Iraq War vet, part of Trump VP speculation (ArmyTimes)
The first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate has some high-profile support in the hottest political guessing game of the moment: Who will be Donald Trump’s running mate? Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, received the endorsement of her state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, on Monday, with Branstad telling reporters he hoped to make Ernst’s case personally to Trump before July’s Republican convention in Cleveland. “I think that if you want to put together an ideal profile of somebody who would be a great vice presidential candidate, she would be helpful to Republicans in Iowa, as well,” Branstad said, according to the Des Moines Register. The governor said he’s reached out to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other top Trump team members to speak on behalf of Ernst, who retired from the Iowa National Guard as a lieutenant colonel in November. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 nominee, called Ernst a “tremendous” choice during a CNN interview after a reporter brought her up as a possible vice presidential nominee. McCain also mentioned House Speaker Paul Ryan, who seconded 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, as a strong choice, before adding, “I’m not sure he would want to do that again.” The speculation surrounding Ernst, who served as a company commander in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, resembles that surrounding more than a dozen Republican politicians who could join a Trump ticket. Some familiar faces have taken themselves out of consideration — Sen. Marco Rubio ruled himself out, and McCain joked to CNN that he wasn’t interested, claiming “no education in the second kick of a mule.” But a variety of lawmakers (Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn), governors (Christie, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Suzanna Martinez) and others (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin) have joined Ernst on one or more lists of potential Trump running mates. Ernst told Politico she was “focusing on Iowa right now” but did not take herself out of the VP sweepstakes. … Ernst appeared with Rubio in Iowa in the early stages of the GOP presidential nomination campaign, but did not expressly endorse her fellow senator. The Iowan would not be the first Iraq War vet in Congress enlisted by the Trump campaign: In March, the prospective GOP nominee tapped California Rep. Duncan Hunter, one of the first elected U.S. officials to endorse Trump, to assist with legislative outreach efforts. Hunter deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a Marine and has been active in multiple military issues during his time in the House.

Student veterans advocate for two bills now in Congress (USA Today)
When Kristofer Goldsmith was 18 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent a year in Iraqi combat zones. Now in his 30s, he’s a veteran and political science major at Columbia University. And, as of last month, Goldsmith is homeless after emptying his bank account trying to pay for college. $35,000 in debt, he’s couch surfing to complete his education, although he’s only in his second year. Because of Goldsmith’s general discharge, which he was given in 2007 for missing his flight to Baghdad after a suicide attempt the night before, he can’t invoke the G.I. Bill to fund Columbia, so he’s stuck with the check for a degree that’s nowhere near finished. Goldsmith falls into a category shared by approximately 13% of veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges from the armed forces, a significant number of whom cite Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries or military sexual trauma as the trigger for the misconduct that led to their separation from their unit. In the military, there are five types of discharges: honorable, general, other-than-honorable, bad conduct and dishonorable. According to Goldsmith, as soon as a service member is given a discharge from any of the four less-than-honorable categories based on an accusation of “misconduct” from a superior officer, he starts losing his benefits, like healthcare from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and financial support for higher education. To receive a general or other-than-honorable discharge, there is no need for a court martial; the U.S. military takes the single testimony of a superior officer as proof that one of his troops has misbehaved. Misconduct can take a wide range of forms, and Goldsmith said a service member could get written up for something as benign as not being clean-shaven, or reporting late for duty. However, for some, their alleged misconduct is linked to mental illnesses incurred during combat, and their less-than-honorable discharges are a direct product of injuries sustained while in the service. To counter the effects of less-than-honorable discharges based on mental health issues, Goldsmith founded High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a group of primarily veterans-turned-students from Columbia, Yale and Georgetown launched in January 2016. Together, they’re fighting to prevent veterans from falling into vulnerable situations like homelessness and drug abuse by lobbying for the Fairness for Veterans Act and the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, two bills that try to help less-than-honorably discharged veterans to still live healthily with appropriate support from the government. The Fairness for Veterans Act ensures that veterans who are less-than-honorably discharged because of misconduct linked to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries, or military sexual trauma are given fair trials when they appeal their discharges through the Department of Defense so they can receive benefits like healthcare and education funding, while the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act provides all veterans who have not committed a federal-level felony with urgent mental healthcare from the V.A. In March 2016, the bills were introduced to the House of Representatives by Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman and a list of bi-partisan co-sponsors. The Fairness for Veterans Act especially has gotten the attention of Congress, with 17 co-sponsors, and High Ground hopes to see it added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act over the next few weeks. … The New York Times reports that over 300,000 veterans have been given less-than-honorable discharges since 2001 and, according to NPR, up to 22,000 Army veterans have been separated from their units because of misconduct linked to combat-based mental illnesses since 2009. … For Goldsmith, who has unsuccessfully appealed his discharge three times to the Department of Defense after being diagnosed with PTSD two months after leaving the Army, the Fairness for Veterans Act strikes a personal chord. But members of High Ground Veterans Advocacy aren’t just catering to their own agendas. They’re trying to raise awareness for issues that have affected their communities, and to “amplify our own voices instead of waiting on these giant veteran service organizations to advocate on our behalf,” Goldsmith says. “There are a lot of guys who have been suffering from symptoms, and it’s ruined their lives,” he continues. “I’m, in a way, lucky to have been one of the first ones to have my PTSD ruin my life because I’ve been in the process of recovery for a long time now, and I’m able to help my friends go through it.”

Commentary: Helping working disabled veterans get the care they need (HuffPost Politics)
Rep. John K. Delaney: America’s disabled veterans answered our country’s call and when their time in uniform is done, our country must stand with them. One of the key issues all veterans face is making the transition to a civilian career, and for veterans who need extra medical attention this can be even more difficult. Last week, I filed bipartisan legislation with my colleague Congressman Chris Gibson to expedite protected medical leave eligibility for disabled veterans. Congressman Gibson served in the Army for 24 years and completed four combat tours in Iraq, and I’m proud to work with him on this critical issue. Our bill, The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, has a straightforward goal that the American people overwhelmingly support: helping working disabled veterans receive health care and provide for their families. Under current law, disabled veterans — as well as all other workers at businesses with over 50 employees — become eligible for job-protected unpaid medical leave only after they have been employed for a year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Given that disabled veterans often have additional health care needs, this can make working difficult. This problem was brought to my attention by a constituent, who shared his story with my office. As we did more research and spoke with veterans advocates, it became clear this was a major problem across the state and nationwide. While many employers do the right thing and provide flexible schedules for disabled veterans, I felt that it was important to provide all disabled veterans with a solution that would help them have access to medical leave. Here’s how our bill works: we accelerate the eligibility process for disabled veterans. Under the Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, disabled veterans will no longer have to wait a year to be guaranteed the time off they need. Instead, veterans with a disability rating of 30-50% will be able to take medical leave after eight months on the job and veterans with a disability rating of over 50% can do so after six months. I think this is the right thing to do, striking a proper balance. The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association and the Military Veterans Advocacy. In crafting this legislation we worked closely with veterans groups and received their input on how to improve the bill. I am humbled and honored to have their support. When these organizations speak, Congress should listen. More broadly, when you speak with Maryland veterans you understand that they deserve better service from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The wait times are too long, it’s still too difficult to navigate the bureaucracy and it can be needlessly difficult to have claims resolved. This is a national scandal and every lever of the federal government should be used to improve service at the VA, from legislative reforms, additional funding and holding poor managers accountable. The American people are both united and angry on this point and have demanded better. There are many truly dedicated VA staff that are trying to do the right thing and serve veterans, but systemic failures are hurting their ability to do their job. We have to solve this problem. In addition to supporting VA reform and The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, I am also working to make sure that the federal budget reflects our national values and supports worthy veterans initiatives. This year I have led the effort to increase funding for the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit that provides free lodging near military and VA hospitals for military families. Since 1991 over 250,000 families have benefited from Fisher House, which offers apartment-style family-friendly lodging. Each of the last four years I have fought for Fisher House, because I believe no veteran’s family should have to choose between being together at the hospital and paying their bills. After two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need is growing and Fisher House would like to build new facilities around the country, so that they can help more families. To date, over 30 Members of Congress have signed on to cosponsor The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, and I will continue to work to build support for this effort in the House. Despite all the dysfunction in Washington, I believe that when it comes to helping veterans and keeping our fundamental promises as a country, we can come together and do the right thing.

Millions of dollars raised by Trump for veterans still unaccounted for (Washington Free Beacon)
CNN reported Tuesday that it is not clear where more than $3 million that Donald Trump raised for veterans wound up. Donald Trump skipped a televised debate before the Iowa Caucus to hold a campaign rally. The rally included a fundraiser that was supposedly for veterans. The fundraiser netted $6 million, according to Trump. “Remember back when Fox had the debate and he skipped it because he said he would raise money for vets? Raised over $6 million, vowed to donate it to various groups. There was questions then and there are questions now about where that money went,” CNN host Chris Cuomo said. CNN reporter Drew Griffin interviewed Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and asked about how the money was distributed. “A lot of promises from the Trump campaign about where this money went but not a lot of answers and it just shouldn’t be that hard. Number one, in the big scheme of things, it is not that much money and the accounting is not that difficult to do,” Griffin said. “Independently, we’ve tried to go around the Trump campaign and asked these veterans groups what kind of money they got or were promised. Very few of them, though, Chris have been willing to talk to us at all, let alone confirm what they got.” Only half of the money, or $2.9 million, has been distributed, according to the Trump campaign. “So here is what we have in terms of accounting for the $6 million, all according to the Trump campaign as of their last accounting. $2.9 million has been distributed, according to Trump’s campaign, to 27 different veterans groups, a million of those dollars were donated personally by Donald Trump himself but that leaves $3.1 million, or roughly half of the money, yet to be accounted for. Despite those promises, we still don’t have an accounting,” Griffin said. Cuomo asked Griffin if Trump should get the benefit of the doubt. “What could unaccounted for mean? Could it mean that people pledged, and then didn’t put up? Does it mean money was distributed, they’re just not sure where?” Cuomo asked. “Is there any good explanation?” “I don’t see a good explanation. We should say that money has been distributed and veterans groups that would talk to us were very appreciative of the money that was donated to them,” Griffin said. “But we’ve got $6 million, half of it accounted for, half of it not. We’ve been asking for four months now from this campaign where did it go. “We asked this of charities all across the nation.  As you know, Chris, it’s not hard to do. So we’re just asking again. Trump campaign, please tell us where the money is, where it’s going.”

Veteran developing app to help others with PTSD (WHSV)
A veteran in the Valley is trying to help other veterans with post traumatic stress disorder through a smartphone app. Justin Vames was in the army for five years and is now creating an app called “Never Alone.” It will bring veterans together who are suffering from PTSD by matching them together by location. Recently, the “#22Kills push up challenge” has drawn attention to the statistic that 22 veterans are killed by suicide daily. Vames is a developer for Apple and a Staunton native. He says the idea for the app came from a problem that was all too real for him. “When I have PTSD, I used the VA crisis line, and they really didn’t help. I was on the phone with them for thirty minutes on hold, and that’s when the idea kind of started,” Vames said. In February, federal investigators were looking into veterans being put on hold or sent to voicemail when calling the VA suicide hotline. It’s an issue Vames hopes his app can solve. The app is still in the beginning stages and it will take about six months to fully complete. Vames says a patent can cost at lease $5,000, so he has a Kickstarter campaign and a GoFundMe page for the project.

Marine veteran wins 7 medals at Invictus Games (MarineCorpsTimes)
Retired Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder was on the verge of a key promotion in the Marines Corps on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks struck and eventually left her without a leg. But she has come back from that setback to thrive on another stage, winning seven medals through Tuesday in two days of Paralympic events ranging from rowing to shot-put at the international Invictus Games founded by Britain’s Prince Harry for wounded members of armed services. “It was amazing,” Rudder said in an interview Tuesday. “It shows that just because I’m an amputee doesn’t mean I can’t go out and put my heart and soul on the track or any event that I do.” Rudder, awaiting her promotion ceremony, was unscathed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and able to help others to safety, but two days later she was not so lucky. When she returned to the defense complex to help remove remains of victims, her left ankle got stuck in a concrete barrier and was crushed. The injury, which required five reconstructive surgeries, eventually led to her left leg being amputated two years ago. “The pain was debilitating,” Rudder said. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” After struggling to deal with the loss of a limb, Rudder found a way to turn despair into triumph through sports. She became a part of the military’s Wounded Warrior program, which paved the way for Rudder to compete in the Invictus Games, held this year at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando following an opening ceremony Sunday evening. By Tuesday, Rudder already had won seven medals for Team USA, taking home the first gold medal of the games on Monday when she finished first in the lightweight powerlifting competition. She also won gold in the one-minute indoor rowing competition. On Tuesday, Rudder won gold in the discus and 100 meters, and also took home silver medals in four-minute indoor rowing, shot-put and 200 meters dash for a two-day total of seven medals. Excelling at the Invictus Games, which includes nearly 400 wounded and sick service members from 14 countries around the world, allows Rudder to prove that her injury won’t limit what she can accomplish. That was precisely Prince Harry’s goal when he started the Invictus Games a year ago. “I served along with soldiers from all over the world,” Prince Harry said at the opening ceremony. “I saw the sacrifices they and their families made to serve their nations. I learned about the importance of team work and camaraderie in the way that only military service can teach you.” Rudder, who won nine medals in last year’s Warrior Games, said it was amazing to see competitors with so many different kinds of injuries. “I might be missing a leg but there are people out there missing two and three limbs or are paralyzed from the waist down or chest down. They are my inspiration,” she said. “Me just having one leg missing, I’m able to look at them and say, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ ”

Volunteers rebuild Navy Veteran’s burned down home (Fox4 News)
Before a friend helped him find the trailer, Hearne was homeless and sleeping in his truck. An electrical fire destroyed his Southeast Dallas home three years ago. “It’s been a little rough, but it’s okay that’s the way life is,” he said. The home that burned down belonged to his mother and Hearne grew up there with his own children. Now volunteers are rebuilding it from the ground up. “The first time we showed up to take a look at the house, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get involved and work on a project that was so extensive,” said Texas Reconstruction Manager Will Anderson. “As soon as we met Al we knew that we were going to get involved and build him a house.” They put in a new roof, dry wall, plumbing, and electrical. The volunteers spent the weekend painting inside. “Your home is everything, right? That’s true for everyone and you have a real pride and sense of dignity with your home,” explained Jo Phillips, the logistics coordinator for non-profit Rebuilding Together and an AmeriCorps Volunteer. The rebuild is part of a Rebuilding Together project called Homes for Heroes. Local businesses like ADT Security are volunteering to help build homes for veterans. Hearne served in the navy in the 70s and now works for the VA hospital. “We are trying to keep people in their homes that they already have instead of building new ones,” Phillips said. They added a bathroom and another bedroom to Hearne’s home and soon it will house four generations. “It will be my mom, it’ll be my grandkids, daughter, son in law, it will be us– it will be the family,” Hearne said. Hearne has been helping the volunteers with the rebuild along the way. The home he grew up in, he said, is now even better than before. “It was a little bitty small house, little bitty rooms, one bathroom, all my family and stuff. Now it’s like pow!” he said. “They added another bathroom, added another room, I’ve got this big kitchen, because it was a little bitty kitchen!” As Hearne looked at the yellow house, or Kingdom Gold as he prefers he’s still in shock. “It’s like ‘Al, this is really happening.’ ‘No it’s not! Yes it is!'” he laughed. As for that humble trailer sitting out front, the veteran said he’s keeping that too. “’Ok y’all we’re going fishing and we’re going to take this trailer with us!’” he laughed. “We’re not going to give it up.” The home should be ready for move in by Father’s Day.

Veterans give back by connecting with nature (King5)
Getting down to the root of all the Himalayan blackberry bushes that lined the hill was hard work. Every once in a while Henry Revelez would pull out his inhaler, breathe deeply and start shoveling again. “They’re not going to come up by themselves,” he said as he looked around at more than a dozen couples working together at Sturtevant Ravine in Seattle. “This is probably the biggest outdoors things I’ve done in the last 4 years because of my health issues.” Revelez spent 16 years in the military. Part of that service was a deployment to Iraq. He is medically retired now and struggles with respiratory issues. “If I’m doing this, it’s more than I was doing before,” Revelez said as he tried to dig up another root. “If I’m breathing, it’s always a good day. It’s always good.” Revelez and other veterans volunteered their time Tuesday as a service to help clear this part of the ravine. Eventually restoration specialists with the King Conservation District will plant to make the forest more natural again. “It makes me feel like I have purpose,” Revelez said. ““When you get out of the military, life is different.” Chauncey Foster, Restoration Coordinator with the King Conservation District, works with a total of 300 volunteers in different areas who help keep the Seattle area’s important lands viable. About ten percent are veterans. As part of a broader project since March, the King Conservation District, Growing Veterans and Seattle Tilth have also worked together to help veterans connect to the earth by teaching them about wetlands and growing food organically in the city. One of the goals is to not only use it as a therapeutic tool to get outside but get people interested in the field considering the average age of a farmer in King County is 58. “Whether it’s a hobby or if it’s a job or if it’s a healthy device to get out and talk to people,” Foster said.