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Monthly Archives: June 2008

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Book honors veterans

JOSEPH LAW–jlaw@uvsj.com

REXBURG – Two southeast Idaho men have worked together on a book about military veterans that they hope will be both an inspiring tribute and a memorial. “Welcome Home,” by Stewart Portela and Sam Walton, recounts stories of veterans from the Vietnam War period up through today’s combat against terrorism.

Portela, of Firth, is a science teacher at Firth High School who also teaches a course on military history.

Walton, of Blackfoot, is a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who was a member of the division’s parachute team, the Screaming Eagles.

The book will be available next week, and the authors have several book signings planned.

The book features stories of veterans from towns and cities all over southern Idaho, including some from the upper valley and Teton Basin.

Walton said the veterans they have talked to for the book are modest about their service.

“One veteran leads to another,” Walton said. “They’d say: ‘I’m not a hero, but you should talk to this guy, because he is (a hero), and the next one would tell us the same thing.”

The new book has the stories of 94 veterans and centers on their homecoming perspective and military history.

It also memorializes several who did not return.

“I wish every student up and down the valley would read this book because it would give them a sense of appreciation for what these veterans have done,” Portela said. “The book is not a book about ‘blood and guts,’ but about the veterans themselves.”

The book joins two previous books by Portela, “Heroes Among Us,” and “Footsteps in the Sand.”

The first of those books has stories about veterans from World War II and the Korean War and the second book returns to the World War II period.

Two basic themes tie the stories in “Welcome Home” together.

The authors note that Vietnam veterans received little appreciation when they returned home.

Portela and Walton state that today it is the Vietnam veterans who are welcoming home and aiding the young veterans of today.

“It is inspiring to see these veterans of 50 to 60 years of age, some still wearing uniforms and medals, shaking hands and hugging these young veterans upon their return from overseas deployment,” Portela wrote in an e-mail.

The book includes accounts of forward air controllers who went outside their lines to call in air strikes and recent soldiers’ challenges in dealing with improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.

There are also stories of veterans of the Cold War, the first Gulf War, and those who served in submarines and missile silos.

“What I hope everyone gets from this book is the number of veterans we have all around us and what they have done for us,” Walton said. “I hope if you read this book, that someday you may bump into one of these veterans and be able to shake their hand and tell them thank you.”

Portela wrote: “‘Where do we find such men?’ That’s the closing line in the movie, ‘The Bridges of Toko-ri,’ made from the novel of the same name by James Michener. A senior naval officer says it in wonder at the self-sacrificial heroism of several naval aviators, killed while fighting in rice paddies of Korea after their aircraft went down. In all of my interviews with the men and women who have served our nation, I have often asked myself this question, ‘Where do we find such people?’ I am in awe of what our veterans have done for our country and the cause of freedom. What makes this question so relevant is that many of these veterans served and sacrificed, then came home to an ungrateful nation.”

For more information, call 346-6675.

Dear VoteVets.org Supporter,

Yesterday, I represented VoteVets.org at a press conference with leaders in the Senate, before the body passed the bipartisan GI Bill for the 21st Century. It was an honor to be there, but I wasn’t just representing my fellow veterans, I was representing each and every one of you.
30,000 petition signatures. Tens of thousands of letters to Capitol Hill. Thousands and thousands of letters to the editor. Donations that allowed us to air national TV ads on the bill. That’s what you did to help pass this bill, in the name of VoteVets.org, and that’s why I was invited to stand with Senators as the bill was brought up for consideration.
More importantly, your work made passage of the bill a reality.

Now, the bill will go to the President’s desk, and he has signaled he will sign it. It wasn’t so long ago that the President had threatened to veto the legislation, with Senators like John McCain backing him up on that decision. The President’s reversal can also be attributed to just how much you worked to pass this bill. The President and those in his party know that there could be nothing more unpopular than vetoing increased education benefits for those who serve in war, in a time of war.

That’s why I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. What you have done is make the American dream possible for so many of us. Many of us who couldn’t afford college will now be able to. We’ll go on to become doctors and lawyers and teachers, and have the chance to raise families in the American middle class. It was a promise made to us by Franklin Roosevelt, and your work has restored that promise.
You are truly patriots, in every sense of the word.

Sincerely,
Brian McGough
Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran
VoteVets.org

VFW SAYS ‘THANK YOU!’ FOR NEW GI BILL

Congress Delivers for America’s Newest Greatest Generation


WASHINGTON (June 26, 2008) – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is saluting Congress for the overwhelming passage of a new GI Bill for the 21st Century. The bill, S. 22, the “Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act,” was attached to the war funding supplemental that the House passed June 19 and the Senate is predicted to approve this evening. President Bush is expected to quickly sign it into law.

“This is a tremendous victory for America’s veterans, military, and their families,” exclaimed VFW national commander George Lisicki, a Vietnam combat veteran from Carteret, N.J., “and we have Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia to thank for his rock-steady determination to get this bill passed.”

S. 22 captured the VFW’s immediate attention when Webb introduced it on his first day in office, Jan. 4, 2007. His bill – which increases college assistance for veterans – was overshadowed last year by increased calls to end the war in Iraq and the administration’s sudden announcement to surge 30,000 additional troops into Iraq. But Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy under the Reagan Administration and a Marine Corps infantry officer who received the Navy Cross for heroism during the Vietnam War, pressed on, fortified by the challenge to get his bill heard.

He worked for more than a year to build a coalition of allies, not only within his own Democratic Party, but from across the aisle and within the House. These allies include 57 other Senate cosponsors, to include five fellow GI Bill beneficiaries: Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel (R-NE), World War II and Korean War veteran John Warner (R-VA), and World War II veterans Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI).

S. 22’s companion bill in the House, H.R. 5740, was introduced by Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) and Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), and it garnered 302 bipartisan cosponsors, to include Korean War veteran Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Sam Johnson (R-TX), a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for nearly seven years.

Webb intended S. 22 to mirror the original World War II GI Bill, which is widely regarded as one of the most significant pieces of legislation enacted in the last century, and one the VFW played a leading role to shape and bring to fruition in 1944. Almost half of the 16 million men and women who served in World War II took advantage of the education benefit. They became the scientists, scholars, politicians and captains of industry who were directly responsible for the tremendous era of growth and prosperity the nation enjoyed during the latter half of the 20th century. Those GI Bill recipients also returned to federal coffers $7 for every $1 dollar spent on their education in the form of higher taxes paid on the higher wages earned.

In 2002, the VFW was at the forefront to work with then-House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) to increase Montgomery GI Bill benefits by 49 percent. And now, 64 years after the original World War II GI Bill was signed, the VFW is again leading all veterans’ service organizations to ensure that America’s newest Greatest Generation is rewarded with a new GI Bill for the 21st Century.

S. 22 will pay the highest in-state public tuition rate, and provide for books, fees, and a living stipend. It eliminates the $1,200 enrollment fee, extends the use-or-lose benefit requirement from 10 to 15 years, and greatly enhances the amount paid to Guard and Reserve members. The new GI Bill automatically adjusts itself as tuitions increase, and provides a dollar-for-dollar tuition match for private colleges and universities who choose to participate in the program. A new provision added to the bill allows reenlisting servicemembers to transfer their educational benefit to their spouse and/or children. The transferability provision – which is endorsed by the Defense Department – was proposed by Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an Air Force Reserve colonel, and John McCain (R-AZ), a Vietnam veteran who was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years.

Since 1997, the VFW has been lobbying Congress to update the 20-year-old peacetime Montgomery GI Bill with 21st century tuition realities. The VFW did this by testifying at more than 40 congressional committee hearings, through hundreds of VFW Legislative Committee member visits to every House and Senate office in Washington and within their home states, and through the grassroots lobbying effort of 2.3 million VFW and Auxiliary members at 8,300 VFW Posts nationwide.

“The Montgomery GI Bill was good, peacetime legislation, but it only paid about 70 percent of the average cost of today’s public tuitions, and barely 30 percent at private schools,” said the VFW’s national commander. “That’s just not a good enough incentive for someone to join a military that’s been at war for almost seven years, and it definitely wasn’t good enough to compete against public and private employers who also want to recruit America’s best and brightest.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, almost 400,000 veterans have received secondary education degrees since Sept. 11, 2001. Lisicki said more degrees would have been earned if veterans were not forced to choose between college – and risking financial debt – or getting a job to support their families.

“The passage of S. 22 will go far to eliminate that difficult decision,” stressed Lisicki, who said the new GI Bill will benefit 2.2 million men and women serving in uniform today, and 1.6 million more who have separated or retired since 9/11.

“The VFW salutes Senator Webb and every cosponsor in the Senate and House for sticking to their principles to do what’s right for a military that has done everything asked of them, and we thank President Bush for his impending signature to reward our military for their faithful service,” said Lisicki. “The VFW is proud to once again play a key role in the development and passage of a new GI Bill, because this is a win-win for America.”

VA Launches Expansion in Veterans Health Facilities
Peake: 44 New Clinics Bring Care Closer to Home

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2008) – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B.
Peake today announced plans to create 44 new community-based outpatient
clinics to bring the world-class health care of the Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) closer to home for veterans in 21 states.

“VA continues to make access to care easier through an expanding
outpatient system focused not only on primary treatment but also
prevention of disease, early detection, and health promotion,” Peake
said.

The new clinics, scheduled to be activated over the next 15 months, will
increase VA’s network of independent and community-based clinics to 782,
an increase of more than 100 in five years.

This growth in community clinics has helped VA meet veterans’
expectations for prompt, quality service, with 98 percent of veterans
seen within 30 days in all types of VA primary care facilities
throughout the country.

In addition to on-site primary care staff, today’s modern outpatient
clinics frequently feature state-of-the-art telehealth systems
permitting veterans to maintain regular contact with doctors in
specialties from cardiac care to mental health at regional VA hospitals
linked for video consultations, coupled with telemetry of health data or
images.

A highly acclaimed national health records system allows practitioners
at even remote clinics to review patient records stored at VA facilities
anywhere in the country.

VA’s 21 regional networks develop applications for new clinics in
consideration of reducing the distance veterans travel to their nearest
VA hospital or clinic, as well as local demand, existing hospital,
clinic workload and other factors.

A listing of the newly approved clinics is attached.

VA’s Planned Sites for New Outpatient Clinics

Alabama (2) — Marshall County, Wiregrass

Alaska — Matanuska-Susitna Borough area

Arkansas (2) — Ozark, White County

California — East Bay-Alameda County area

Florida — Summerfield

Georgia (4) — Baldwin County, Coweta County, Glynn County, Liberty
County

Indiana (2) — Miami County, Morgan County

Iowa — Wapello County

Louisiana (5) — Lake Charles, Leesville, Natchitoches, St. Mary Parish,
Washington Parish

Maine — Lewiston-Auburn area

Minnesota (2) — Douglas County, Northwest Metro

Missouri — Franklin County

New Mexico — Rio Rancho

North Carolina (2) — Robeson County, Rutherford County

North Dakota — Grand Forks County

Ohio — Gallia County

Oklahoma (4) — Altus, Craig County, Enid, Jay

Tennessee (3) — Giles County, Maury County, McMinn County

Texas (5) — Katy, Lake Jackson, Richmond, Tomball, El Paso County

Virginia (3) — Augusta County, Emporia, Wytheville

West Virginia — Greenbrier County

A fun Website to check out

http://militarysignatures.com/

This is a update on UK Veterans fight for a National Defence Medal.

The Forgotten Many Who Served With Honour
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In 2006 the Government of the day instituted Veterans Day to be on the 27th of June, and annually thereafter. The Defence Secretary on the MoD website writes; “ We firmly believe that we owe our veterans- wherever they served in peacetime or a conflict, whether overseas or in the UK- a debt of gratitude. All have contributed; all have made sacrifices; all have helped to lay the foundations of the prosperous society we enjoy today.”

We believed, that at long last, we the ‘forgotten many’ were being recognised when the Secretary of State for Defence said; “Today is the first ever Veterans Day, it offers a unique chance to honour and express our gratitude to all those who have served our country as members of the British Armed Forces. There are many thousands of veterans among us, we should be proud of them.”

We commenced our campaign for a National Defence Medal in September 2007 feeling let down by the politicians’ rhetoric and lack of real resolve for proper recognition.

The Government has presented veterans with the vaunted Veterans Badge and have lauded the success of this form of recognition from city to village. The campaigners for the National Defence Medal believe that this was a step in the right direction. However the badge is designed for informal every day wear and is not suitable for any formal military occasion. We believe that a National Defence Medal in line with the Australian Defence Medal would be much better, though the MOD have said they do not feel any obligation to follow.

Veterans, regular, short service and national service who served with the BAOR, occupied Korea after the armistice and in other theatres worldwide throughout the cold war, remain unrecognised, unlike our NATO allies. Indeed the December 2007 edition of the Soldier Magazine in the letter column discussing medals indicated that 75% of the readership believed National Service should have been recognised with a medal. We believe that the plethora of commemorative medals or ‘bling’ is as a direct result of an unstructured and unfair medals policy.

We hope that as a visitor to our website you will understand the genuine sense of grievance held by service personnel who served their country with honour and fidelity yet have nothing to show for it. As you will ascertain there is considerable political support and some letters are extremely emotive.

Our campaign response is quite simple and addressed directly both to the current CDS and Secretary of State for Defence; “ Gentlemen, rectify this situation forthwith. Do not merely utter platitudes.”

26 Million Veterans a Force to be Reckoned With


Mr. Coulter nails it in this article We still have strength in numbers. We need to keep together and let our voices be heard loud and clear and most importantly together: AMVETS, VFW, ALG, DAV and all 300 plus VSO’s out there should meet once a year to flex our political muscle and to build and maintain a agenda annually.


All for one one for all.

By Bruce Coulter

Tue Jun 24, 2008,

Belmont, Mass. –

I had the pleasure of visiting with veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ regional convention at the Burlington Marriot Hotel a couple of weeks ago.

One thing that struck me was the sight of so many gray-haired men and women in attendance. Not that I’m even remotely close to 30, let alone 20, mind you. No one will ever accuse me of ageism.

But the key word in VFW is veteran. There are approximately 26 million veterans in this country and a large portion of them, primarily World War II and Korean War veterans, are dying at unprecedented rates. The figures vary to some degree, but it’s estimated between 1,800 and 2,000 veterans are dying each day across the nation.

I saw very few VFW members who might have been under 50. That’s been problematic for a number of years for most veterans’ organizations. Younger veterans are either not joining these groups, or are non-participating members. Full disclosure: I’m a non-active member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the American Legion.

A couple of years ago, I attended a monthly DAV meeting in Leominster. During the first 30 minutes, the chapter president discussed, in a wooden, monotone tone, what the group did the previous month, and then proceeded to spend another 30 minutes discussing what would happen over the course of the next month. By the time he finished, I was ready to shoot myself.

Mind you, it’s not a reflection on the members in terms of effort. The men sitting there that evening were the same ones raising money for community events or charitable organizations month after month. Many of them volunteer with no thought of personal gain, but rather, simply to help the communities they call home.

But the meeting lacked the sense of camaraderie that is typically infectious among veterans. Some veterans’ groups have a building they can call their own. They have BBQ’s, picnics, or sit around the bar, enjoying a cold brew and swapping stories, sad and funny.

Roland Gendron, a “Frozen Chosin” Korean War veteran who was presiding over his last convention as state commander, believes younger veterans are more interested in getting settled into their own lives. Those who have joined, he noted, did so because they were offered the first year’s membership for free.

Still, he holds no grudges against younger veterans, explaining he wasn’t an active member after initially joining the VFW in 1955.

“I was involved with family events, plus coaching baseball and football,” adding he became more involved once his children were grown.

Of this generation of veterans, Gendron noted they’re hungry for a piece of Americana. They want to get married, have kids and get a good job.
“A small percentage of new members stay active,” he said.
Who can argue with that reasoning?

However, because there are 26 million veterans, leaders of veterans’ groups understand there’s strength in numbers, particularly when it comes to lobbying state and federal lawmakers.
Gendron recognizes that basic fact.
“We have to have a large membership to lobby Congress,” he said.

And the efforts of organizations, such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart and others have paid off handsomely for veterans.

Some retired veterans can now collect disability compensation and their retirement pensions now. For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs offset compensation on a dollar-for-dollar basis, effectively taxing retired disabled veterans at a rate of 100 percent.

Veterans are also receiving more in terms of federal dollars for health care than they have in years, although many lawmakers, including Congressman Bob Filner, D-Calif. and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, think the $94 billion request by President George Bush for fiscal 2009 still isn’t enough. Filner and Akaka are chairmen of the House and Senate veterans committees

Hey, we all want a piece of the pie. Some just prefer a little whipped cream on top. And we veterans have the numbers to back it up. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Bruce Coulter is the editor of the Burlington Union, a sister newspaper of the Belmont Citizen-Herald. He also a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at Burlington@cnc.com.

Food, diesel and coal arrived during the operation




Berlin Airlift veterans are to gather at a Shropshire museum to mark the 60th anniversary of the operation.

About 40 members of the British Berlin Airlift Association will meet members of the public at the RAF museum at Cosford on Wednesday.

West Berlin was cut off by Soviet troops and British and US aircraft flew in food, diesel and coal in nearly 300,000 flights over 11 months.

Sixty five British, Germans and Americans aircrew died in crashes.

The Soviet leader Stalin had hoped to force the city’s citizens to accept Communist government.

But the operation continued until the blockade was lifted almost a year later.

Crews were faced with a number of obstruction tactics such as radio jamming, shining searchlights designed to temporarily blind pilots and drifting barrage balloons.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/england/shropshire/7470675.stm

Published: 2008/06/24 08:39:44 GMT

Former US POWs Continue Efforts for Compensation from Iraq
By Dan Robinson
Capitol Hill
18 June 2008

Robinson report – Download (MP3) audio clip
Robinson report – Listen (MP3) audio clip

Americans held by Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 testified to Congress Tuesday about their efforts to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and punitive damages from the Iraqi government. VOA’s Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The legal history may be complex, but the underlying emotions are not. Americans subjected to torture and other mistreatment while in the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime want to be compensated for their suffering.

George Charchalis, who is retired from the U.S. Navy, was in Kuwait at the time of Iraq’s invasion in 1990.

“What I had feared most came to pass. The Iraqi soldiers kicked down the door and struck me in the face with a rifle butt, knocking me down to the ground and kicking me in the stomach,” he said.

He is among 17 Americans held by Iraq during the Gulf War who have sought compensation from the present-day government in Baghdad.

Under a more than decade-old law, foreign nations on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, as Iraq used to be, are liable for damages for torture or the killing or hostage taking of U.S. citizens. And international law holds that successor regimes can be held liable.

Ambassador John Norton Moore was co-counsel in a 2002 case against Iraq in which a U.S. judge awarded former POWs $959 million.

“The word of the Congress and the nation is clear,” he said. “Those who torture Americans will be held accountable. There is no if, and or but attached to those pledges.”

But after the U.S. invaded Iraq, efforts to collect from frozen Iraqi assets were blocked by the Bush administration, which cited a need to protect Iraqi reconstruction funds.

In a 2005 ruling, the Supreme Court declined to accept an appeal from the group, effectively overturning the nearly billion-dollar federal court award.

A provision in defense legislation approved by Congress in 2007 would have allowed the lawsuit to proceed. But President Bush, again citing threats to Iraqi reconstruction funds, used a procedural tactic to veto the measure.

Democratic Representative Steve Cohen chaired the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“The president has not satisfactorily explained why these fundamental [legal] principles should be disregarded here, nor has he satisfactorily explained why all of Iraq’s assets must be shielded, even while it is reaping billions upon billions of dollars from its oil fields, and while it is readily paying off pre-war commercial debts to foreign corporations totaling $4.4 million,” he said.

U.S. Navy Captain Larry Slade was among the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit.

“My fellow POWs and I, who brought this historic case, were tortured by Iraq through brutal beatings, starvation, electric shock, whipping, burning, mock executions, threatened dismemberment, threats to our families, subjection to bombing, and breaking of bones and eardrums,” he said.

Slade says former POW claims are also supported by unanimous congressional resolutions condemning Iraqi abuses and Saddam Hussein’s use of detainees as human shields, as well as a February 2002 executive order by President Bush holding states, organizations and individuals responsible for treating U.S. personnel humanely.

“These courageous POWs and their family members, whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude, have struggled now for six years in their efforts to hold their torturers accountable, said Ambassador John Morton Moore. “Surely six years in their efforts to support the rule of law, as volunteers for their country, is enough.

Continuing to block compensation efforts, adds Moore, means future generations of American POW’s will face a greater likelihood of being tortured.

Attorney Daniel Wolf asserts the Bush administration has blocked compensation to prevent the issue from harming bilateral negotiations with Iraq over two agreements on future relations, and the status of U.S. forces.

“The irony could not be greater,” he said. “Having once had their physical selves held hostage by the Iraqi government to extort concessions from the United States, Iraq’s former American victims are now having their claims held hostage by their own government so that it can extract concessions from Iraq.”

Wolf accuses the State Department of, in his words, looking for a convenient opportunity to abandon (the claims) forever.

Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley says there could be some hope in a legal compromise he has proposed.

Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley (file photo)

“The alternative that I am proposing would eliminate any fears of a flood of expensive lawsuits, because it specifies the plaintiffs against Iraq, and offers relative modest amounts [despite] the judgment that is already on the books for the POW-torture victims,” he said. “The total amount that Iraq would have to pay under this compromise agreement would be approximately $415 million.”

Braley says this contrasts with billions of dollars the U.S. is spending in Iraq, adding that his proposal would permit former POW’s to be compensated, while eliminating Iraqi government concerns.

At the same time, legislation the lawmaker is sponsoring would remove authority President Bush received from Congress under which he could waive provisions regarding Iraq on the basis of national security.