News

Augusta, Maine – As the Project ARCH pilot program comes to an end next month, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald today announced that Veterans enrolled in the program will be able to continue receiving care closer to home. Taking advantage of options available under the Veterans Choice Program, such as the “unusual or excessive burden provision” and Provider Agreements, Veterans receiving care under Project ARCH will continue care without interruption when the pilot program ends August 7. “There is nothing more important to us than serving the Veterans who served our country,” said Secretary McDonald. “My commitment to those Veterans under Project ARCH is that we will do everything within our control to make sure they maintain continuity of care in their communities with the providers they know.” Project ARCH operates in Maine, Virginia, Kansas, Montana and Arizona. In anticipation of the program’s end, Project ARCH providers have been contacted and invited to continue to provide health care to Veterans under the Veterans Choice Program.   “VA appreciates the Veterans and community providers who participated in the program,” said Dr. Baligh Yehia, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care. “VA is employing lessons learned and best practices from the program as we work to build one consolidated program for community care – a program that delivers the best of both VA and the community.”      Veterans transitioning to the Veterans Choice Program are being contacted regarding their individual care.   ###  
  The precision and sporter champions approached the firing line for The American Legion’s 26th annual Junior 3-Position National Air Rifle Championship in first place with a combined 30-point lead over the next competitor in line. Both girls held their position to win their first Legion air rifle national titleS and set records in the process. Taylor Gibson of Salem, Ore., captured the precision title with an overall score of 2,476.7, and set the Legion’s national record for a precision final score of 104.7. And Emma Thompson of Freeport, Ill., captured the sporter title with an overall score of 2,365.1, and set the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Legion’s national record for sporter individual three-position score of 575-24x. Gibson and Thompson both received a $5,000 scholarship provide by the Legion and Sons of The American Legion. The top eight finalists in both the precision and sporter category shot 10 times in the standing position for the final round of the competition inside the USA Shooting Range at the Olympic Training Center Saturday morning. Thompson had a significant point lead over her competitors coming into the finals but that wasn’t the same for 15-year-old Gibson – there was only a four-point difference between the top precision shooters. With nerves peaking, Gibson mentally prepared by imagining she shot a 10 each time, which she did to maintain her first-place status going into the competition. “I was just going through the match in my head; I wanted to focus on the mental part because shooting is 90 percent mental,” Gibson said. “So (before the competition) I was standing without my rifle and going through each individual shot and my shot process; imagining shooting a 10 each time. I’ve never shot finals like that before, so it was really cool. That was definitely the best I’ve ever done.” Gibson realized at the ninth shot that she had a chance of claiming the precision title and “got teary eyed, I can do this,” she said. “I had never done anything this big before.” Gibson’s father, Rob, put a BB gun in her hands at the young age of 5, shooting bottle caps in their backyard, and realized she had a chance of going far with the sport. After a hiatus, Gibson picked up the sport two years ago with the Colonel Allison Junior Rifle Club. She initially said no to joining the club because she thought shooting was “boring.” But her father made her at least try it, and it only “took the one time,” Rob said. Gibson’s goal is to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and the Legion’s competition has given her the confidence in her shooting ability to achieve her dreams. “Coming here definitely made me realize you have to have confidence; I’ve always doubted myself,” Gibson said. “But I got here, I won, and I set a (personal record), and I never thought I could. I’ve gained a lot of confidence through this match.” For the 16-year-old Thompson, making it to the Legion’s national air rifle competition “has been a lot of hard work, and it’s a big milestone winning the (sporter) competition,” she said. “It’s a big reward for working so hard and pushing myself to get here.” Thompson joined her high school’s air rifle club with a friend and realized she had talent with shooting when she went to competitions as a freshman and sophomore in high school that only upper-class competitors were attending. She credits her success to her coach and team, and her determination and hard work. “Shooting take a lot of determination and hard work and a lot of practicing - just not giving up in practice,” she said. “Knowing to get to the better place in shooting or to progress you need to put in the hard work.” When asked what she thinks about 24 out of the 30 air rifle competitors being girls, Thompson said, “it means that anybody can do it. It’s not a single-gender sport. Whoever has the determination to practice and get to a good point, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, it doesn’t matter if you’re strong, it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short. It’s just all of what you have inside of you.” All 30 of the Legion’s air rifle competitors agree that the program creates a family environment, and you leave with new friends. It’s true for precision shooters Samantha Peterson of Ham Lake, Minn., and Kayla Gadeken of Seward, Neb., who were both top-eight finalists and will be roommates come this fall at the University of Nebraska and will compete on the air rifle team. “This competition shows you how supportive The American Legion is of shooting,” Peterson said. “You are connected to everybody who is out here. This match brings you closer to people.” Gadeken agreed. “You come out here, and you’re treated like superstars,” she said. “It’s just an honor to be here and shoot amongst the top shooters in The American Legion.” Final competition results and scores are: Precision: Taylor Gibson – Colonel Allison Junior Rifle Club of Salem, Ore.; 2,476.7 Sarah Osborn – Patriot Shooting Club of Hampton, Va.; 2,470.6 Elizabeth Lorentz – Hellgate Junior Civilian Shooters in Seeley Lake, Mont.; 2,469.2 Samantha Peterson – Minnesota Centershots in Ham Lake, Minn.; 2,468.3 Mark Amdahl - Eldorado High School MCJROTC in Albuquerque, N.M.; 2,466.5 Wyatt Openshaw – Seitzland Rifle Team in Parkton, Md.; 2,462.2 Andre Gross – Webster Junior Marksmen in Ontario, N.Y.; 2,461.3 Kayla Gadeken – 10X 4H Club in Seward, Neb.; 2,452.8 Sporter: Emma Thompson – Freeport High School NJROTC in Freeport, Ill.; 2,365.1 Gabrielle Phelps – Gulfport High School MCJROTC in Gulfport, Miss.; 2,341.8 Shauntae Daily – Dead Eye Shooters in Dix, Neb.; 2,320.8 Lexis Smith – Des Moines North MCJROTC in Iowa; 2,314 Lara Lewis – Lebanon High School JROTC in Lebanon, Ore.; 2,286.6 Jacie Hoenig – Zion Bention High School NJROTC in Winthrop Harbor, Ill.; 2285.4 Jonna Warnken – Mineral County 4H Shooting Sports in Superior, Mont.; 2,269 Jimmy Ellefson – Des Moines North MCJROTC in Iowa; 2,266.2 A $1,000 scholarship, provided by the Auxiliary, was also awarded to the second-place finisher in each category. Gibson and Thompson will attend The American Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati Aug. 26-30 and be honored alongside other Legion youth program champions.    By Cameran Richardson
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Zimbabwe's government says a surprise statement by the country's independence war veterans attacking President Robert Mugabe is traitorous and treasonous. In the government's first public response to the statement issued Thursday by Mugabe's traditionally loyal supporters, the ministry of war veterans said late Friday it was investigating the origins of the statement and that the authors should be held accountable. The government statement urged all war veterans to remain loyal to the 92-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power since the country won independence from white rule in 1980. The veterans' strongly worded statement, in which they called Mugabe dictatorial and said they will not campaign for him again, was their first significant break with the president, whom they have been quick to defend even with violence. Representatives of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association were not immediately available for comment Saturday. The surprise revolt by Mugabe's aging corps of loyalists came after nationwide anti-government protests organized via social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and alleged corruption. The veterans' group, whose members are in their 60s and older, blamed the southern African country's economic crisis on "bankrupt leadership," and it accused Mugabe of corruption: "This rot needs to be uprooted, and right now." Earlier this week, the world's oldest head of state responded to the recent anti-government protests, telling critics to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.   BY FARAI MUTSAKAASSOCIATED PRESS
The American Legion has extended the deadline for its women veterans survey until Aug. 18. The survey was created in order to make specific recommendations for congressional appropriations, Veterans Affairs programs and facilities, and to increase public awareness of issues facing women veterans. While the survey participation has been overwhelming with more than 1,900 women veterans from all over the country contributing, The American Legion wouldlike to extend the survey deadline to allow more women veterans' voices to be heard. All information from the survey is confidential and submitted anonymously. Women veterans can access the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ALwomenvets until July 18.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Former presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio - the latter by video link - are among those set to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Military leaders, members of Congress, actors, faith leaders and family members of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump are also set to speak in what the Republican National Committee calls "an unconventional lineup" that will challenge the status quo and press for Trump's agenda. Speaker highlights at the four-day convention, which begins Monday at the Quicken Loans Arena. --- MONDAY Theme: Make America Safe Again Headliners: Trump's wife, Melania; Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, U.S. Army; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. Others: Willie Robertson, star of "Duck Dynasty"; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Marcus Luttrell, retired U.S. Navy SEAL; Scott Baio, actor; Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, killed in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya; Mark "Oz" Geist, member of a security team that fought in Benghazi; John Tiegen, member of Benghazi security team and co-author of the book "13 Hours," an account of the attacks; Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis, siblings of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent whose shooting death revealed the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-smuggling operation; Antonio Sabato Jr., actor; Mary Ann Mendoza, Sabine Durden and Jamiel Shaw, immigration reform advocates; Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas; David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis.; Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.; Rachel Campos Duffy, LIBRE Initiative for Hispanic economic empowerment; Darryl Glenn, Senate candidate in Colorado; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Karen Vaughn, mother of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Jason Beardsley of Concerned Veterans for America. --- TUESDAY Theme: Make America Work Again Headliners: Tiffany Trump, candidate's daughter; Kerry Woolard, general manager, Trump Winery in Virginia; Donald Trump Jr.; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson; and actress Kimberlin Brown. Others: Sharon Day, co-chairwoman of Republican National Committee; Dana White, president, Ultimate Fighting Championship; Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge; former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Andy Wist, founder of Standard Waterproofing Co.; Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Chris Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action; golfer Natalie Gulbis; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. --- WEDNESDAY Theme: Make America First Again Headliners: Former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Eric Trump, son of the candidate; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump's pick to be vice president. Others: radio host Laura Ingraham; Phil Ruffin, businessman with interests in real estate, lodging, manufacturing and energy; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; retired astronaut Eileen Collins; Michelle Van Etten, small business owner; Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado Jr.; Darrell Scott, senior pastor and co-founder of New Spirit Revival Center Ministries, Cleveland; Harold Hamm, oil executive; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Lynne Patton, vice president, Eric Trump Foundation; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (by video); Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich. --- THURSDAY Theme: Make America One Again Headliners: Peter Thiel, co-founder PayPal; Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital; Ivanka Trump, daughter of the candidate; and Donald Trump, GOP nominee for president. Others: Brock Mealer, motivational speaker; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Dr. Lisa Shin, owner of Los Alamos Family Eyecare in New Mexico; RNC Chairman Reince Priebus; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and evangelical leader.
Leading veterans' groups are disturbed by the way veterans hired as prison guards are portrayed in the new season of the Netflix series, "Orange is the New Black." The veterans' groups say they take issue with the way the new guards disparage the inmates throughout season four of the drama that takes place in a women's prison and the way they talk about their combat experiences. The Veterans of Foreign Wars called the show "offensive." Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America said it will further stigmatize veterans, and Disabled American Veterans said the show is out of the touch with the reality of the veteran experience. Netflix didn't respond to multiple messages left Thursday and Friday seeking comment. In one scene in the finale, a guard tells another guard about innocent people he killed in Afghanistan. After spending so much time chasing bad guys, he said, "you get so mad, tired and bored" that you "just grab a farm kid" and make him juggle live grenades until one blows up. That's egregious, and just one way veterans are misrepresented, said Dan Clare, the national spokesman for DAV and an Iraq War veteran. The danger, Clare said, is that "Orange is the New Black" is a popular show airing at a time when many service members are returning home and looking for jobs. If the public has a negative perception of veterans, that will affect how they're able to transition back into civilian life, he said. VFW national commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. said the show's writers and producers chose to offend all veterans because they needed new villains. He spoke out Thursday, after a 27-year-old Air Force veteran, Tahlia Burton, wrote an opinion piece about the show for a military news and culture website, Task & Purpose. Burton describes herself as a "huge fan" of the show. After binge-watching the fourth season, released in June, she said she was appalled because veterans are shown as "bloodthirsty, heartless killers and sexists." She said she's not saying veterans deserve "hero status," but "don't portray us as a group of monsters." "'Orange is the New Black' had the opportunity to portray veterans in a way that shed light on an identity that's widely misunderstood," she wrote. "But instead, the show fed into the very worst stereotypes that we've been working so hard to overcome." At IAVA, policy officer Jonathan Schleifer said the show's producers are unfortunately telling stories that will further stigmatize a community that has been through so much. Biedrzycki said the "deranged veteran story line" must change and he asked for an apology. Burton, of New York City, said on Friday that she's torn about whether to watch future seasons, but likely will, in the hopes that the audience will be given a chance to empathize with the veterans, much like they have with nearly every other character in the show.   BY JENNIFER MCDERMOTT ASSOCIATED PRESS
Some 90 employers filled rooms at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Ill., on July 15 for a hiring event organized by The American Legion Department of Illinois. “We’ve been doing this (job fair) for three years, and this is the first time we’ve had 90 employers. Last year it was somewhere around 70,” said Gary Jenson, assistant adjutant for the Illinois department. “And this year we also have … over 260 jobs that are available right now. Now we just need the veterans to come in and apply for these jobs.” Held in conjunction with the department’s state convention, the hiring event was supported by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and Hero 2 Hired. “I’d like to say a special thanks to The American Legion, who puts this together and asks the partners to help so that we can supply an opportunity for the people looking for jobs, and to highlight the fact that you are looking for qualified candidates to keep our America strong,” Dolores Simon, IDES deputy director for business services, told employers at the start of the event. Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard, also thanked employers for taking their “valuable time” to find veterans and other job-seekers to fill jobs in their companies. “We’re starting to see a lot of veterans come through the transition assistance centers looking for jobs (due to military downsizing). Veterans are looking for jobs … they want to be utilized in a productive way,” Hayes said. While a later portion of the job fair was open to the general public, veterans were allowed in first to the free event. Jenson noted that veterans have a lot of qualifications and skills beyond those of a civilian job seeker. “A lot of our veterans are trained to work as a team, and they’re also trained to do individual work. The military equipment that they are sometimes in charge of is multi-million dollar equipment that really the civilians have no idea how to manage or operate,” Hayes said. He also noted that requirements of serving in the military—not calling in sick, getting to work on time—can make veterans more reliable employees than some civilians. Hayes echoed that to employers, telling them that veterans are “all mission-focused, so whatever you’re trying to achieve, you lay it out to them, they’re going to run to it.”   By Andy Proffet
SYDNEY (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden met with Australia's prime minister and other leaders on Tuesday, amid America's continued push to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Biden, who is in Australia as part of a tour of the Pacific, also met with troops aboard an Australian navy ship, where he shook hands with veterans of Middle East conflicts and thanked Australia for being a close military ally. Biden's visit comes five years after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. Marines would begin rotating through the Australian port city of Darwin as part of the U.S. military pivot to Asia. "Thank you for having America's back and we will always have your back," Biden told the troops gathered on the flight deck of the HMAS Adelaide. "We are a Pacific power, we are here to stay, and thank God we have you to lead us and to be with us." Later, Biden met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other government leaders, with Turnbull praising the vice president for his push to accelerate research efforts toward a cure for cancer. Earlier this week, Biden announced that the U.S. and Australia would share the genetic information of around 60,000 cancer patients to help researchers better understand what causes particular cancers. Biden has brought along three of his granddaughters on his trip Down Under, which he said was not initially part of the plan - until he remembered that one of the teens had long dreamed of visiting Australia. "She said to me four years ago when she was 14, 'You know, Pop, going to Australia's on my bucket list.' Fourteen years old - bucket list?" Biden said during his meeting with Turnbull. "So I said, 'Honey, I'm going to Australia, want to come?' She said, 'Yes!'" Biden flies to New Zealand on Wednesday.   BY KRISTEN GELINEAUASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Back-to-back attacks on police in Texas and Louisiana by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement. Veterans and active-duty troops started posting messages on social media almost immediately after the news broke last weekend that a masked ex-Marine had ambushed law enforcement along a busy highway, killing three officers - including a fellow former Marine. Seeing one Marine kill another Marine after both had returned home safely from the battlefield in Iraq has been especially painful for the military's smallest branch, which considers service life-long membership among a force that goes by the motto: "The Few. The Proud." "In the Marine community, we don't believe in 'ex-Marines'. However that is not the case when one decides to break the moral and ethical values we hold dear. The ex-Marine that opened fire on officers is everything we swear to protect our Nation from," Marine Cpl. Eric Trichel wrote on a Facebook page with about 25,000 mostly Marine members. In an email to The Associated Press, he emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of the Marine Corps. Many veterans fear the service records of the gunmen will feed a false perception that combat veterans are volatile and violent, turning back years of efforts to change such stereotypes. The Baton Rouge shooting came less than two weeks after five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush by an Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Gavin Long was based in San Diego with the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2010, according to military records. He was deployed in 2008 for about eight months to Iraq as a data network specialist. People in those jobs are technicians dealing with computers and generally do not see combat. One of his victims, 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, was a former Marine who enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and also served in Iraq in 2009. And the Dallas victims included a Navy veteran who did three tours in Iraq. It is not uncommon for military veterans to join police forces and vice versa. Both jobs offer a strong sense of teamwork and reliance on others in life-or-death situations - in platoons and out on patrol. Marines in particular carry an almost religious zeal for their branch of the military that they compare to an exclusive brotherhood. "Seeing the gunman in Baton Rouge brought a certain stinging embarrassment to something I hold very dear, being a United States Marine," said former Marine Staff Sgt. Chad M. Robichaux, who also worked as a law enforcement deputy for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, about an hour's drive from Baton Rouge. Robichaux said he was proud of the police victims who served in combat zones, so the shooting "tears you both ways." One of the slain Dallas officers was a military contractor who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. Robichaux was a Force Recon Marine - the Marine equivalent of a Navy SEAL - and said both gunmen seemed to effectively use the element of surprise in their attacks but that he has seen no evidence they were highly trained killers. There also is no evidence that has been made public suggesting either gunmen suffered from post-traumatic stress, said Robichaux, who runs the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs that helps veterans deal with the syndrome known as PTSD. But he said he wished he had met Long while both were posted in Southern California. "There's no excuse for what he did and I'm not sympathizing with him, but he was obviously hurting in some capacity and needed help," he said. "Somebody may have been able to show him a different way." The military prides itself on its race relations and its history of opening jobs to blacks long before other institutions. Troops often say their only color is "green." Marine veteran Elvin Carey, who is black, said he had no doubts both of the gunmen endured racism in and out of the military. Carey, 31, said he also confronted racism in the service, with tension easing in combat but racist comments resuming after he returned to the U.S. The decorated Marine sergeant said he was asked at his first job out of the military if he was a high school dropout and had been in a street gang. "I understand his frustration but I'm disgusted by what he did," the Iraq veteran said of Long. "Anywhere you go, for the rest of your life, every Marine is your brother so that's why I feel more ashamed of it."   BY JULIE WATSONASSOCIATED PRESS
A Korean War Memorial will be dedicated on Monday, Aug. 1, at the Presidio in San Francisco. The memorial will stand on high ground adjacent to the national cemetery facing west across the Pacific Ocean toward Korea. The spot was chosen because it was the embankment point for servicemembers who fought in the Korean War, and represented the end of the journey for those returning home. The dedication ceremony, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon, represents the conclusion of six years of planning, fundraising and other work. Among the scheduled speakers is Quentin Kopp, an Air Force veteran, retired California Superior Court judge and longtime member of The American Legion. “This memorial will stand as a fitting testament to the memory of the nearly two million servicemen and women from 21 countries who fought to protect South Korea’s freedom during the Korean War,” said Kopp, president of the board of the Korean War Memorial Foundation. “It will symbolize, for future generations, the sacred memory of those who went before, and the sacrifices they made for us and for freedom-loving people everywhere.”