Veterans News Blog

Vets Issues

Monthly Archives: March 2010

Vietnam War Pilot Buried

30 March 2010
Nearly four decades after his plane was shot down over Laos, the remains of Major Curtis Daniel Miller were laid to rest Monday in his home state of Texas.


Akaka Legislation Passes Senate

Military healthcare programs not protected yet

Washington D.C., March 26, 2010 — The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is saluting the U.S. Senate today for passing S. 3162 to explicitly recognize all Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare programs as meeting the minimum essential coverage standards of the new national healthcare law.

S. 3162 was introduced Wednesday by Senate VA Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). The Bill now goes to the House of Representatives for action.

In separate legislation, S. 3148 was introduced by Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Jim Webb (D-Va.) as a companion bill to H.R. 4887, which was introduced by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and approved last Saturday by a vote of 403-0. It would protect all military Tricare programs, as well as non-appropriated fund health plans. The VFW wants the Senate to vote on S. 3148 when it reconvenes after its upcoming two week recess.

“National healthcare will help many veterans who are currently not receiving DOD or VA care,” said Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis., “but missing from the original legislation was language that would clearly protect all military Tricare and VA healthcare programs. We hope that the healthcare programs provided by the nation's two largest federal departments will soon be protected as meeting the minimum essential coverage standards of the new law. America’s veterans, service members and families need to be assured that the VFW is committed to ensuring these vital programs are secured for them and that we will continue to advocate tirelessly on their behalf until the job is done.”

What prompted additional congressional action was not what the new healthcare bill provided, but what it did not. Buried in four lines of text in a 2,400-page document was recognition for only Tricare for Life and veterans’ healthcare programs just under chapter 17, of Title 38, as being accepted as minimum essential coverage under the new law. There was no mention of other Tricare programs or other Title 38 recipients, for instance — dependents, widows or children.

“Bill language is important because it becomes the law of the land,” said Tradewell. “I am extremely proud of Senator Akaka for his efforts and getting his bill passed, and for the efforts of Senator Webb, as well as Congressman Skelton for comprehending that the military Tricare program is too important not to include.”

"America's veterans, military and their families deserve strong champions in Congress like Akaka, Webb and Skelton, plus Senate VA Committee ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.), House VA Committee ranking member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).

US Trains With ROK

26 March 2010
The U.S. and the Republic of Korea recently completed the ”Key Resolve/Foal Eagle 2010” training exercise.

Medal of Honor Day

25 March 2010

Today is National Medal of Honor Day and the award was recently given, posthumously, to a native of Hawaii, Private First Class Anthony Kahoohanohano.

VFW Apologizes for Harsh Accusation New national healthcare law still requires fixing

Washington D.C.,  March 25, 2010 The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. issued a written apology to the president and congressional Democratic leadership today for suggesting that the lack of explicit language to protect military and veterans’ healthcare programs was an act of betraying America’s veterans.


“I apologized for using too harsh of a word,” said Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis.  “I also wanted to assure them that the VFW is well aware and most appreciative of their strong support of America’s veterans, servicemembers and their families. 


“But I did not apologize for our strong advocacy on the issue,” he said. 


“The new national healthcare bill signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday is flawed, not because of what it provides, but because of what it does not protect — all the healthcare programs provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.”


Tradewell said a problem was recognized in the bill late last week by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who introduced legislation to specifically protect all military Tricare programs, as well as nonappropriated fund health plans.  His bill passed Saturday by a vote of 403-0, but its introduction and passage raised a serious question: What else was missing from the national healthcare bill?


Buried on page 333 of a 2,400-page document were four lines of text that only recognized Tricare for Life and veterans’ healthcare programs under chapter 17, Title 38, as being accepted as minimum essential coverage under the new law.  No specific language to protect other Tricare programs or other Title 38 recipients — dependents, widows or children — could be found.


“We know why the House had to pass the Senate version intact, but bill language is important because it becomes the law of the land,” said Tradewell.  “The VFW could not sit idly by and watch legislation get passed that did not protect all the healthcare programs provided by the nation's two largest federal departments.  We have constituents, too, and they look to us to watch their backs on Capitol Hill.”


The VFW is now working with members of Congress from both parties to submit amendments or legislation to fix the new national healthcare law, and applauds the corrective actions taken by Skelton as well as those of Reps. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.).


“All DOD and VA healthcare programs should have been written into the original bill, and the VFW will never apologize for trying to influence legislative language that does not protect those hard earned healthcare programs,” said Tradewell. 


“We have never been against national healthcare, but we do take issue with any legislation that does not honor the promises made to America’s veterans, servicemembers and their families.  We look forward to working with the White House and Congress to fix this problem immediately.”

U-2 Spy Plane Evades the Day of Retirement

The U-2 spy plane, the high-flying aircraft that was often at the heart of cold war suspense, is enjoying an encore.

Four years ago, the Pentagon was ready to start retiring the plane, which took its first test flight in 1955. But Congress blocked that, saying the plane was still useful.

And so it is. Because of updates in the use of its powerful sensors, it has become the most sought-after spy craft in a very different war in Afghanistan.

As it shifts from hunting for nuclear missiles to detecting roadside bombs, it is outshining even the unmanned drones in gathering a rich array of intelligence used to fight the Taliban.

All this is a remarkable change from the U-2’s early days as a player in United States-Soviet espionage. Built to find Soviet missiles, it became famous when Francis Gary Powers was shot down in one while streaking across the Soviet Union in 1960, and again when another U-2 took the photographs that set off the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Newer versions of the plane have gathered intelligence in every war since then and still monitor countries like North Korea.

Now the U-2 and its pilots, once isolated in their spacesuits at 70,000 feet, are in direct radio contact with the troops in Afghanistan. And instead of following a rote path, they are now shifted frequently in midflight to scout roads for convoys and aid soldiers in firefights.

In some ways, the U-2, which flew its first mission in 1956, is like an updated version of an Etch A Sketch in an era of high-tech computer games.

“It’s like after all the years it’s flown, the U-2 is in its prime again,” said Lt. Col. Jason M. Brown, who commands an intelligence squadron that plans the missions and analyzes much of the data. “It can do things that nothing else can do.”

One of those things, improbably enough, is that even from 13 miles up its sensors can detect small disturbances in the dirt, providing a new way to find makeshift mines that kill many soldiers.

In the weeks leading up to the recent offensive in Marja, military officials said, several of the 32 remaining U-2s found nearly 150 possible mines in roads and helicopter landing areas, enabling the Marines to blow them up before approaching the town.

Marine officers say they relied on photographs from the U-2’s old film cameras, which take panoramic images at such a high resolution they can see insurgent footpaths, while the U-2’s newer digital cameras beamed back frequent updates on 25 spots where the Marines thought they could be vulnerable.

In addition, the U-2’s altitude, once a defense against antiaircraft missiles, enables it to scoop up signals from insurgent phone conversations that mountains would otherwise block.

As a result, Colonel Brown said, the U-2 is often able to collect information that suggests where to send the Predator and Reaper drones, which take video and also fire missiles. He said the most reliable intelligence comes when the U-2s and the drones are all concentrated over the same area, as is increasingly the case.

The U-2, a black jet with long, narrow wings to help it slip through the thin air, cuts an impressive figure as it rises rapidly into the sky. It flies at twice the height of a commercial jet, affording pilots views of such things as the earth’s curvature.

But the plane, nicknamed the Dragon Lady, is difficult to fly, and missions are grueling and dangerous. The U-2s used in Afghanistan and Iraq commute each day from a base near the Persian Gulf, and the trip can last nine to 12 hours. Pilots eat meals squeezed through tubes and wear spacesuits because their blood would literally boil if they had to eject unprotected at such a high altitude.

As the number of flights increases, some of the plane’s 60 pilots have suffered from the same disorienting illness, known as the bends, that afflicts deep-sea divers who ascend too quickly.

Relaxing recently in their clubhouse at Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento, Calif., the U-2’s home base, several pilots said the most common problems are sharp joint pain or a temporary fogginess.

But in 2006, a U-2 pilot almost crashed after drifting in and out of consciousness during a flight over Afghanistan. The pilot, Kevin Henry, now a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said in an interview that he felt as if he were drunk, and he suffered some brain damage. At one point, he said, he came within five feet of smashing into the ground before miraculously finding a runway.

As a safety measure, U-2 pilots start breathing pure oxygen an hour before takeoff to reduce the nitrogen in their bodies and cut the risk of decompression sickness. Mr. Henry, who now instructs pilots on safety, thinks problems with his helmet seal kept him from breathing enough pure oxygen before his flight.

Lt. Col. Kelly N. West, the chief of aerospace medicine at Beale, said one other pilot had also been disqualified from flying the U-2. Since 2002, six pilots have transferred out on their own after suffering decompression illnesses.

Still, most of the pilots remain undeterred, and the Air Force is taking more precautions. Holding an oxygen mask to his nose, one pilot, Maj. Eric M. Shontz, hopped on an elliptical machine for 10 minutes before a practice flight at Beale to help dispel the nitrogen faster. Several assistants then made sure he stayed connected to an oxygen machine as they sealed his spacesuit and drove him to the plane.

Major Shontz and other U-2 pilots say the planes gradually became more integrated in the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But since the flights over Afghanistan began to surge in early 2009, the U-2s have become a much more fluid part of the daily battle plan.

Major Shontz said he was on the radio late last year with an officer as a rocket-propelled grenade exploded. “You could hear his voice talking faster and faster, and he’s telling me that he needs air support,” Major Shontz recalled. He said that a minute after he relayed the message, an A-10 gunship was sent to help.

Brig. Gen. H.D. Polumbo Jr., a top policy official with the Air Force, said recent decisions to give intelligence analysts more flexibility in figuring out how to use the U-2 each day had added to its revival.

Over beers at the clubhouse, decorated with scrolls honoring the heroes of their small fraternity, other U-2 pilots say they know their aircraft’s reprieve will last only so long.

And the U-2’s replacement sits right across the base — the Global Hawk, a remote-controlled drone that flies almost as high as the U-2 and typically stays aloft for 24 hours or more. The first few Global Hawks have been taking intelligence photos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But a larger model that could also intercept communications has been delayed, and the Air Force is studying how to add sensors that can detect roadside bombs to other planes. So officials say it will most likely be 2013 at the earliest before the U-2 is phased into retirement.

“We’ve needed to be nimble to stay relevant,” said Doug P. McMahon, a major who has flown the U-2 for three years. “But eventually it’s bound to end.”

Rep. Israel Resolution Honoring Cold War Veterans Passes in the House of Representatives

Sunday March 21, 2010,12&itemid=820

Washington, DC– On Sunday, Rep. Steve Israel’s (D – Huntington) resolution honoring Cold War Veterans (H.Res.900) passed in the House of Representatives. The resolution supports the goals and ideals of a Cold War Veterans Recognition Day to honor the sacrifices and contributions made by members of the Armed Forces during the Cold War.

“Our Cold War Veterans answered President Kennedy’s call as we embarked on a path full of hazards. They maintained and defended missile silos and checkpoints. They served on remote B-52 bomber bases and storm-tossed Navy ships. And when they returned, there were no parades, no public thanks, they went quietly into their jobs,” said Rep. Israel. “Today we say thank you to our Cold War Veterans who kept the world safe, who kept the peace, who saved the world from an unimaginable nuclear catastrophe.”

Rep. Israel has been an advocate for veterans, securing more than $3.4 million in back payments for Long Island veterans, supporting improvements for veterans health care and other veterans benefits, and introducing legislation to help homeless veterans.

Rep. Israel serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. He previously served on the House Armed Services Committee.

H Res. 900 in its Final Form

We were extremely disappointed that they removed the reference to a specific day, but in the end, we weren’t willing to give up on a 50% solution, just because we weren’t getting the 100% solution. We felt in this case that something was better than nothing.


What this resolution does get the veterans is Congressional recognition for the sacrifices made by them during the Cold War, and this now serves as a stepping stone to further legislation that will actually be a specified day on the calendar.

This is just a small incremental step to the final solution. That’s the way Congress works…. It’s a very rare thing when we can get huge revolutionary things done in one go. We have to compromise to get a small step in the right direction, and make more compromises further down the road to get further. In order to get the remaining 434 members to vote for it, the committee told us we would have to strip the reference to May 1. The good thing is, it was a unanimous vote. There is clearly support for this, in its current form, so hopefully in the future, we can get an exact day specified.

Page 1

H. Res. 900
In the House of Representatives, U. S.,

March 21, 2010.
Whereas the Cold War involved hundreds of military exercises
and operations that occurred between September 2, 1945,
and December 26, 1991;
Whereas millions of Americans valiantly stood watch as mem-
bers of the Armed Forces during the Cold War; and
Whereas many Americans sacrificed their lives during the
Cold War in the cause of defeating communism and pro-
moting world peace and stability: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) honors the sacrifices and contributions made by
members of the Armed Forces during the Cold War; and
(2) encourages the people of the United States to
participate in local and national activities honoring the
sacrifices and contributions of those individuals.

Secretary Shinseki Announces $3.3 Million for New Orleans Contract Will Prepare Site for New Facility

WASHINGTON (March 22, 2010) – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.
Shinseki has announced the award of a $3.3 million contract by the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for pre-construction services for
VA's new medical center in New Orleans.

"This contract brings VA's health care system closer to the Veterans of
New Orleans and the Gulf Coast," said Secretary Shinseki. "The contract
is proof of VA's commitment to Louisiana's Veterans, to provide them
with 21st century, Veteran-centric care."

This is the first of several contracts to provide a new state-of-the-art
VA medical center consisting of an inpatient hospital, outpatient
clinic, diagnostic and treatment facility, rehabilitation facility,
administrative space and research laboratories.

The contract also calls for a 2,000-car parking garage, energy plant,
utilities, road and lighting.  The new VA medical center will be located
on Canal Street in the mid-city section of New Orleans.

Last year, VA spent nearly $1.5 billion in Louisiana on behalf of the
state's 312,000 Veterans.  VA operates medical centers in Alexandria and
Shreveport, plus outpatient clinics and Vet Centers across the state and
three national cemeteries.

Latest From Congressman Israel’s Office on H. Res. 900

It passed…

Democrats: 252 yea, 0 nay

Republicans: 177 yea, 0 nay

Total: 429 yea, 0 nay