Every 3rd Saturday in May is Armed Forces Day: For those that may not have taken the time to think about the sacrifices, we call your attention to the following commentary. It's a time to reflect on freedom, and those who defend it. America is blessed to have true heroes among us. Our nation’s birth and survival has fallen upon the shoulders of patriotic men and women who have put everything on the line to keep our country free. Our servicemen and women recognize that only at great cost can the concept of liberty and justice become a reality, and only with great sacrifice can freedom prevail. Armed Forces Day was created in 1949 to honor those who wear the uniform of our nation. It is an opportunity to express our gratitude to selfless patriots who raise their right hands when most don’t. It’s a day to recognize our proud soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, and thank them for protecting the freedoms we cherish. It is also a chance to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation. Army 1st Lt. Robert Wolfe, security force platoon leader for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah in Afghanistan, provides rooftop security in February 2013. Armed Forces Day is an opportunity to think about the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women.(Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/Navy) In his 1950 proclamation, President Harry S. Truman called on all Americans to mark Armed Forces Day by recognizing “the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty characteristic of the armed forces in the carrying out of their missions.” Those of us who have worn the uniform understand all too well the struggles and sacrifices that military service requires, and what a great responsibility it is. From defending our country in times of peril to helping on the home front in times of peace, being a steadfast protector of our great nation is truly the highest honor. As veterans, we’ve seen firsthand the costly price of freedom. Our members know the commitment and determination it takes to protect this great nation, and to help bring peace and prosperity across the globe. Deployed to all corners of the Earth, our armed forces continue to selflessly leave their families and loved ones behind to go wherever and whenever needed ― without hesitation. Armed Forces Day is a time for all Americans to reflect on the freedoms we have today, and to think about the brave service members who for centuries have provided our country with the very security which makes those freedoms possible. Through the years, it has been the powerful force of our military men and women tenaciously defending and preserving our way of life who have defined what it means to be courageous ― and today we thank our military for everything they have and continue to do. America is blessed to have true heroes among us. This op-ed was written by VFW National Commander Keith Harman and appears in Miltiary.com
U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) held a press conference May 22 to discuss the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, also called the VA MISSION Act. The senators were joined by veteran service organization (VSO) leaders before members of the media in the SVAC room of the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C. “What we’ve done on this committee, with Democrats and Republicans alike, we’re taking the best ideas of both sides,” said Isakson in his opening remarks about the bipartisan legislation. Isakson thanked the VSOs saying, “We stand on your shoulders in this committee. You are not ornaments or fixtures in this committee, you are the heart of this committee.” Tester urged the Senate to pass the “bold, bipartisan compromise” by Memorial Day to send veterans a message that “thank you” is not enough for those who put their lives on the line for this nation. Louis Celli, American Legion executive director of Government and Veterans Affairs in the Legion's Washington, D.C., office, spoke at the press conference to voice the Legion’s support of the VA MISSION Act. “This is quite an accomplishment and we’re very proud of it,” he said. “And that’s why 38 VSOs signed letters to support this legislation.” The VA operates seven different programs to administer community care and each has different eligibility standards, methods of access, cover different areas of care, and have different payment methods for practitioners. This leaves veterans, providers and even the VA frustrated by the inadequacies under the current system. “Congress built all of these different programs to serve veterans in different capacities and now it’s time for Congress to fix that and put it all under one umbrella,” Celli said. “The Senate needs to pass this legislation this week and The American Legion calls on the Senate to do just that.” The proposed legislation includes provisions to consolidate community care programs into a single, streamlined service; provides sufficient funding to fund the program through the next year; expands comprehensive assistance; strengthens ability to recruit, hire and retain quality medical personnel; and reforms the VA’s health-care infrastructure. The MISSION Act passed favorably last week through the House of Representatives and the Senate is expected to vote on the legislation this week. "The VA is the gate keeper,” Celli said. “So the VA needs to make sure all decisions that are made are made in the best interests of the veteran.”
Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2018 occurs on Monday, May 28. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season. EARLY OBSERVANCES OF MEMORIAL DAY The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. Did You Know? Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo—which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. DECORATION DAY On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. MEMORIAL DAY TRADITIONS Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Americans also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. On a less somber note, many people take weekend trips or throw parties and barbecues on the holiday, perhaps because it unofficially marks the beginning of summer.
According to the website Veteran News Report, an estimated 7.8 percent of the U.S. population will experience Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. How to treat PTSD depends on the patient as well as the type of trauma experienced, but effective treatments for PTSD established by a therapist can alleviate PTSD symptoms that are both minor and severe. PTSD is developed after an individual witnesses or experiences a life-threatening event, whether short or prolonged, such as combat, natural disasters, car accidents and sexual assault. According to studies 60% of men and 50% of women experience a traumatic event at least once in their lives. PTSD can develop and affect anyone and is not a sign of weakness or inability to “get over” traumatic events. According to the National Center for PTSD of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Approximately 7 or 8 of every 100 people (7-8% of the U.S. population) will experience PTSD at some point in their lives Approximately eight million adults experience PTSD during a given year and is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma Approximately 10 of every 100 women (10%) develop PTSD at some point in their lives compared with 4 of every 100 men (4%) Treating PTSD is the only option that will alleviate symptoms for a person with either minor or severe symptoms. What Determines Who PTSD Can Affect? There are many different factors that play into how PTSD affects certain people, even though it is a common psychological malady. Main factors include: The length of the trauma If an individual is injured during/because of the trauma Specific types of traumas have a higher percentage of PTSD victims (combat/sexual assault) Source: commons.wikimedia.org Although there are certain guidelines for diagnosing an individual with PTSD, there is no definitive diagnostic procedure that determines who develops PTSD and why. Personal factors can also play into who develops PTSD. These factors include: Age Previous life experience with trauma Gender In addition, the events immediately after a person experiences trauma can play a large role in how that person copes with the trauma. Excessive stress immediately after can increase chances of developing PTSD greatly, and intensive social and familial support can prevent this from happening. Symptoms of PTSD Traumatic events, despite what the circumstances, can have lasting effects on those that witness or experience them. Whether it’s from a tour in Iraq or a horrific car accident, PTSD can develop in anyone. PTSD symptoms vary from patient to patient, however general symptoms include: Upsetting memories (flashbacks) Feeling constantly on edge Trouble sleeping Daily duties/activities are now difficult to manage/complete Social Familial Professional Symptoms of PTSD and their severity depend wholly on the event experienced and the patient. Over time symptoms of PTSD have been proven to fade, however, if they don’t or if they are persistent, researching a therapist and getting on a PTSD treatment plan is paramount if recovery is a goal. PTSD can be persistent and fluctuate. Due to the complicated nature of PTSD and how it affects patients differently, symptoms can either creep up after a long stretch of time after the event or come and go at a whim, making establishing a firm and comprehensive PTSD treatment plan with a qualified therapist paramount. A person that could have PTSD may experience symptoms immediately after a trauma, or they can have symptoms months or even years after the trauma has taken place. If symptoms persist longer than four weeks, cause you great distress or interfere with your basic home or work life, considering PTSD treatment options should be high on your priority list. The Four Types of Symptoms There are four main groupings of PTSD symptoms and not every person that has PTSD experiences all of them. Reliving the Event (re-experiencing) Bad memories Nightmares/night terrors Flashbacks Avoiding Situations Reminiscent of Event Avoid situations to prevent triggers Avoid talking or thinking of the event whatsoever Source: flickr.com Developing Additional Negative Thoughts/Feelings Increased development of negative thoughts of yourself or others Feelings of guilt or shame about trauma Activities once enjoyed you now avoid A heightened sense of paranoia and belief that the world is dangerous; no one can be trusted Numbness Devoid of happiness Hyperarousal Jitteriness Constant environmental canvassing Anticipation of danger Trouble concentrating Sleeping difficulties Sudden anger Extreme irritability Easily startled Unhealthy/addictive behavior in Alcohol Drugs Reckless behavior Additional yet common symptoms of PTSD that should be noted and relayed to a qualified therapist are: Feelings of hopelessness and despair Depression Anxiety Chronic pain Employment issues Relationship issues/divorce Source: hemphealer.wordpress.com Treating PTSD can alleviate most, if not all, PTSD symptoms over time. How to treat PTSD effectively should be discussed between yourself and a qualified therapist. Effective PTSD treatment has been proven to rid PTSD symptoms from individuals completely, and successful recovery is completely dependent upon researching all PTSD treatment options to find the one that suits you or your loved one best. Treating PTSD There are many different PTSD treatment options that qualified therapists and institutions offer people suffering from PTSD. There are two main types of PTSD treatment options for people. Combinations of therapies are also widely used since each patient requires different treatment. PTSD Psychotherapy Psychotherapy is the scientific way to say counseling or “talk therapy.” This type of therapy requires meeting with a therapist. There are different processes for administering psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be the most effective therapy method for treating PTSD symptoms. The two types of CBT therapy are: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Prolonged Exposure (PE) CPT is a PTSD treatment plan where a qualified therapist teaches an individual new skills to understand how the traumatic event changed or altered their thoughts or feelings regarding the trauma. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel about it, in turn taking control of the symptoms of PTSD. PE is a method of treating PTSD where a patient is asked to talk repeatedly about their trauma until the memories that once greatly debilitated a patient no longer bear any weight. This gives the patient control over their trauma, where now the feelings and thoughts once provoked by the symptoms of PTSD are now fully controlled by the patient. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a PTSD treatment plan option where sounds or movement from a qualified therapist are focused on while a patient speaks about their trauma. The exercise aids your brain when working through the trauma. Group therapy, inpatient therapy treatment facilities and other more “social” forms of PTSD treatment also exist to cater to the specific needs of everyone suffering from PTSD. Mental disorders are unique to those they affect, and PTSD is no different. Medications for PTSD Source: airforcemedicine.af.mil Medications administered by a professional have also been proven to be helpful when combating PTSD symptoms. Medications should always be thoroughly researched, and prescriptions should be given by a qualified professional to avoid adverse reactions or negative impacts of a PTSD treatment plan involving medications. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are two medications used for depression that has shown to be hugely helpful when curbing PTSD symptoms. Prazosin is another medication that has been successful during the recoveries of patients with PTSD. This medication also specifically concentrates on decreasing the amount of nightmares a patient experience related to the trauma. Per the National Center for PTSD of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: IMPORTANT: Benzodiazepines and atypical antipsychotics should generally be avoided for PTSD treatment because they do not treat the core PTSD symptoms and can be addictive. Recovering from PTSD There is currently no cure for PTSD, however, like most mental disorders symptoms can be greatly reduced with effective treatments for PTSD administered and monitored by a qualified professional. Symptoms can be reduced to a degree where an individual can be restored to function normally during their lives. Finding a professional therapist that can offer you the therapies that work best for you and your PTSD is extremely important when taking steps to treating PTSD. Working with a healthcare professional that not only works in mental health but PTSD treatment specifically can greatly increase your chances of taking control of your trauma. Keeping PTSD Symptoms at Bay PTSD treatment options typically only last for a specific duration, so how do you effectively keep PTSD symptoms at bay without a constant regimen of psychotherapy? There are many steps you can take yourself to ensure you keep control over your trauma: Connect with friends and family: Isolation can only make the feeling of being alone worse and keeping your friends and family close, no matter how awkward or wrong it might feel, will curb PTSD symptoms. Relaxation: Take deep breaths, take moments to appreciate your environment or meditate. Exercise: Exercising isn’t just good for the body, but it is hugely beneficial to mind fitness which can greatly curb PTSD symptoms. Sleep: Ensuring you’re getting the appropriate amount of sleep nightly will help you keep PTSD symptoms away. Know Yourself: Keep a diary, journal or notepad with your daily goals, thoughts or feelings to keep your brain on track Know that excessive drugs and alcohol will only make things worse: Too much of anything is bad for you, especially excessive drugs/alcohol when you’re already in a fragile state of mind. Help others: Reach out into your community and see where you can help, or connect with your neighbors to aid in daily tasks. Participating in activities that get you out of your head will help alleviate PTSD symptoms. There are numerous different PTSD treatment options. Research is a tool that you can use to start your investigation of the perfect PTSD treatment plan for you. Websites like betterhelp.com aide patients trying to locate the perfect therapist for their PTSD needs. Connecting with the perfect professional is the beginning to overcoming PTSD and getting back to living your life, free from the bonds of bad memories or traumatic feelings. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/treatment http://www.ptsdunited.org/ptsd-statistics-2/ Source: Veteran News Report
In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a look at how some military moms dealt with separations from family during long deployments. Parents who have had to leave their children for an extended period of time can attest to the difficulties the absence can cause. Those serving in the military know this all too well. And those with no spouse with whom their children can stay during deployments find themselves in an even worse situation. This Mother’s Day, the VFW pays tribute to moms who have sacrificed by leaving their children behind for overseas deployments. Here’s a look at some of those mothers, and in their own words, how deploying overseas affected them and their children. Name: Shera TerryOverseas service: Doha, Qatar (Al Udeid Air Base)Dates: January to August 2016 Unit: Naval and Amphibious Liaison Element of the Combined Air Operations Center RaTE: Chief Petty OfficerVFW Membership: Post 8787 in Austin, Texas My son, Ryan, was still in preschool. He stayed with his Papa and Gma. My family really stepped up to help. Not once did he miss a day of school. Once he graduated from preschool, he went to spend the summer with his dad, stepmom and stepsisters in Colorado. By the time I came home, his 14-year-old stepsister, Nina, had him reading beyond a kindergarten level. I was able to take him to school on the first day of kindergarten and that meant the world to us both. This was the first time I had deployed after becoming a mom. One day, I just started crying out of the blue in the mobilization shop. It helped to form a support system with other parents. I was able to speak to Ryan via video once a week on Sundays. It gave us both something to look forward to. In my absence, Ryan was such a trooper. Never once did he cry when we would talk over video phone. However, when he tackled me at the airport, he instantly started crying. Now when I go drill, even though I come home every night, he doesn’t like it. He is excited that I plan to retire soon and will tell everyone he meets, “This is my mom. She is in the Navy, but she is about to retire!” I think he’s ready. Name: Donna HersheyOverseas service: Afghanistan Dates: June-December 2002 Unit: 339th Combat Support HospitalRank: Lieutenant ColonelVFW Membership: Post 5752 in Mount Joy, Pa. (where she serves as quartermaster) My spouse, Scott, cared for our two children. By 2002, both my parents and my in-laws were deceased so Scott was on his own with the kids. He is a better cook than I am, so that wasn’t a worry. The women I worked with at my civilian job were supportive as well and helped Scott get the kids to their extracurricular events. There was no cell service, and landlines were limited, but I worked to call home once a week, Sunday afternoon my time, early Sunday morning at home. The reason for this was so my husband could update the folks at church. The Sunday calls were very therapeutic for the kids, my husband and me. Our daughter, Laura, was 14 and our son, Scott, was 12 when I deployed, so they were old enough to understand what was going on and what I was doing. Some days were tougher than others. There was no Skype or Facebook, so I wrote a lot of letters. My daughter sent me cards every day, many very touching. My son had to be reminded every once in a while, but he came through. They were proud of what I was doing and my service. In the grand scheme of things, I think they did very well and have grown to be wonderful young adults. Name: Ann Marie TorresOverseas service: Camp Stryker, Baghdad, Iraq Dates: 2009-2010 Unit: 812th Quartermaster, U.S. Army ReserveRank: SpecialistVFW Membership: Post 2375 in Kingsville, Texas (where she is a service officer) Unfortunately, I was divorced right before I joined. I was a single parent to four children. My ex-husband was not able to care for our children at that time. My 19-year-old daughter, Brigette, was a teen mother to a 3-year-old at the time. She said, “Mom, I don’t want us to split up, so I can take care of all of us.” My daughter did an excellent job taking care of her siblings and holding down the fort. Sometimes, I saw she did a better job than I ever did. My 16-year-old, Brittney, graduated in the top 10 percent of her class, and my boys were also A/B honor roll students while they were under her care. One day we were on Skype and our camp was mortared and everything went down. I couldn’t call back until everything was cleared. My children had initially heard the sirens so they were scared. My 6-year-old cried himself to sleep. After that, my daughter and I had decided it was best if I didn’t call all the time, and we settled on a couple of times out of the month. I don’t know how I made it through my deployment somewhat sane, missing my kids. Detaching myself with work was how I dealt with the emotional aspect of being away from my children. Brigette told me that my youngest son, Roman, would cry every night before bed, but watching a bedtime story DVD I had made through the USO helped him through it. The transition home was difficult for me, but we held on together and made it through, even though the road was tough. Name: Iris GreeneOverseas service: United Arab Emirates Date: 2011-2012 Unit: 3rd Bn., 4th Air Defense Artillery Regt., 108th Air Defense artillery BrigadeRank: Specialist I was separated from my husband at the time of my deployment. We had three kids together: 10, 8 and 4. They were in California while I lived in North Carolina. My R&R was changed, and I let my family know exactly when I would be there to pick up the kids. When the kids got into the car, my oldest looked at me and said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you came to get us out of there. Please don’t make us go back.” There are things that will echo through your mind over and over when you’re deployed. This is one of those things that still, years later, crushes me on the inside. The older two kids told me about being hit with telephone books, being left on the side of the road, living without lights or hot water. So many terrible things I learned. I filed for emergency custody. My chain of command was keeping in contact with me through email and phone calls every so often. The biggest concern they had was that I had to come back, and I had to get a family care plan in place if I did get custody. The judge granted me emergency custody. My sister didn’t have enough space, and my grandma couldn’t take care of them for 10 months. My ex-husband’s parents agreed to pick the kids up from my sister’s house a week after I went back overseas. The dreadful day came. I had to leave my kids. My middle child crumpled to the floor in tears. It was the worst sight I had ever seen. I didn’t know what to do. It would be another 10 months before I saw them again. Back overseas was very difficult. I did my job, cried and smoked more cigarettes than was necessary. I made some great friends while deployed. I can say that even though we went through all of the stress in the beginning, it was a great thing in the end. My kids have some amazing people in their lives. The saying usually goes, “It takes a village to raise kids.” I say, it takes the Army and a few [members of the] Air Force to raise kids. Name: Rebecca GomingerOverseas service: Jebel Ali, United Arab Emerites Dates: August 2011-June 2012 Unit: Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 8Rate: Petty Officer 2nd Class My spouse cared for the girls, with much help from my sister, family and friends who live near us and my parents. The youngest was the one who needed the most assistance, but with my oldest’s medical issues (she is in a nursing home), he had to deal with decisions on that, too. I tried to speak with my youngest daughter at least once a week, but she did not want to speak to me. She later said she was very angry I was gone and left her. I sent the girls and my niece and nephew several postcards of Dubai. It was difficult seeing children my daughters’ ages running around happy, particularly children who looked similar to them. My roommate was a mother, too, so we discussed our children and issues with our spouses to keep each other sane. My youngest daughter traveled with my husband to visit me while I was training. He wanted to ride the Amtrak. We had a nice visit. When he returned home, he wanted to make a scrapbook for me of my deployment. He could not find the train tickets to include. He also lost money his mother had sent him for Christmas. When I returned home from overseas, I looked under my daughter’s crib. There was a water bottle, a train ticket, trail mix, a diaper and the money. She said she wanted to find me and was hoping these things would help her find me in Dubai. She was 2. Name: Annette WhittenbergerOverseas service: Iraq and AfghanistanDate: 2005-2006 and 2008-2009 Unit: 589th CSB, 212th Fires Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; 3rd Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.Rank: Captain (2005) and major (2008)VFW Membership: Post 3619 in Deridder, La. The first time I deployed, my mother moved from California to Fort Hood, Texas, so that both my husband and I could deploy. She was the primary giver at that time. I was able to speak with my children any time I wanted to as long as I was not on a mission. I knew that they were going to be OK, but I also felt guilty leaving them. I knew that I had to take care of my soldiers and make sure that we all came back home together. Being able to speak with the kids anytime I wanted was something I was very grateful for, as I know many were not able to do that. My children missed me and constantly asked when I was coming home both times I deployed. My mom often had a difficult time because of that. I knew that after the second deployment, I would try my best not to leave again because it did leave an impression on my children. They needed me around, and I tried to make sure that I made that happen. I know that many of my peers left more times than that, so I try not to complain.
An Illinois VFW member arranges proper military funerals as one aspect in his quest to serve the homeless Jack Picciolo has been working for nearly a decade to help homeless veterans receive proper burials. That work, along with other projects in his Illinois community, earned the Vietnam veteran the Illinois Veterans’ Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Award. For Picciolo, the recognition meant more because of who it came from. “It was from veterans — from groups that I work with, peers, veterans groups, not just a general award from the city or the state,” said Picciolo, who was drafted in 1964 and spent the last eight months of his two years of service in Vietnam as a specialist 4 with the 2nd Bn., 17th FA. Every veteran, according to Picciolo, deserves to be buried with military honors. “We have a national cemetery right in our backyard,” said Picciolo, a member of VFW Post 5788 in Lockport, Ill., about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. “Why couldn’t we arrange to act as family and get these guys their military honors?” Picciolo said the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., roughly 15 miles south of Lockport, had a policy of quarterly burials. “I was basically the only person there,” Picciolo said. “There was just no participation by any groups anywhere. I decided right then I’d start advertising [and] working with the memorial squad.” The cemetery instituted its all-volunteer memorial squad in 2003 to help with military honors. “When requested, a detail consisting of at least two uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s branch of service provide folding and presentation of the U.S. flag and can also play ‘Taps,’ either by a high-quality recording or a bugler,” according to the National Cemetery Administration. In his efforts, Picciolo aimed to involve VFW and American Legion Posts. Patriot Guard riders now are participating as well. In 2007, Picciolo said, he began working with the Chicago Homeless Sandwich Run after hearing about it from Illinois VFW Homeless Chairman Paul Bezazian at the state convention. The run was started by Marine Corps veteran Jim Proffitt in 1989. A few years ago, Picciolo brought that effort to his own county. “It was very eye-opening,” Picciolo said. “We had a truck and sandwiches and food and everything … Maybe four or five out of 10 [homeless that we spoke to] could be a vet. Then we started finding out the problems they had.” Their concerns included lack of employment and medical problems. So Picciolo and others started connecting veterans with the VA. Picciolo also said most of the veterans “just wanted someone to talk to.” Even though he was “just a draftee for two years,” Picciolo said being there for other veterans to talk to “really opens them up.” One veteran Picciolo and Proffitt assisted in the Chicago area was Harold Lewis, a resident at a men’s hotel. When Lewis died, Proffitt was contacted about providing Lewis a proper burial at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. “We’ve buried probably some 80 more homeless vets since then,” Picciolo said. Those efforts have been the most impactful for Picciolo. “[It’s nice] to provide a veteran with a last salute and some kind of going off … It really helps me to work on something like that, to make it possible and do as many as we can,” Picciolo said. Picciolo also served as Post 5788 commander from 2013 to 2015 and has been a member of the Will County (Ill.) Veterans Affairs Commission for three years.
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship for 2018 is awarding $744,436 in financial aid to 41 children of the fallen and disabled. The announcement was made by the Americanism Commission on May 10, to the National Executive Committee (NEC) during the organization's Spring Meetings in Indianapolis. The Legacy Scholarship is available for children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or post-9/11 veterans who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. Recipients of the needs-based scholarship can receive up to $20,000 for six years for the expense of graduate or post-graduate tuition, books, room and board, meal plans and other supplies needed to achieve a higher education. The grant amount each scholarship recipient receives is based on his or her financial need after all federal and state aid is exhausted. Recipients will have a year to use the grant and may reapply to the scholarship up to six times. Starting in 2017, The American Legion expanded eligibility and aid amount for the Legacy Scholarship following the NEC's passing of Resolution 1 during the 2016 Spring Meetings. In 2017, $671,892 was awarded to 55 children of the fallen and disabled. Read testimonials here. The number of scholarships awarded and the amount of financial aid granted to each awardee (this includes returning applicants) will be determined on donations to the scholarship fund and one's financial needs. The American Legion Riders have been the most dedicated fundraiser and supporter of the Legacy Scholarship through their annual Legacy Run. The Run has raised more than $1 million for the Legacy Scholarship Fund for the past three years. For more information about the Legacy Scholarship or to make a donation to the Legacy Scholarship Fund, visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.
The VFW and Ace collaborate to distribute 1 million American flags nationwide this Memorial Day KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the true spirit of Memorial Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) is collaborating with Ace Hardware to honor veterans by pledging to give out 1 million American-made flags nationwide. On Saturday, May 26, consumers are encouraged to visit participating Ace stores to receive a free 8” x 12” American flag*, while a second flag is donated to a local VFW Post to be used for marking and honoring veteran graves this Memorial Day. “We are thrilled to continue our long-standing history of honoring veterans by supporting VFW Posts and local communities this Memorial Day,” said John Surane, Executive Vice President for Ace Hardware. “The sacrifices that these men and women have made for their country is something that should be recognized every day, and we at Ace want to make this Memorial Day even more meaningful. We applaud the VFW for the incredible support they’ve provided veterans nationwide for nearly 119 years and are grateful to be able to work together with our loyal customers and show our support this Memorial Day.” “Working alongside Ace to support our veterans is a natural fit – their stores are located in communities across the country, just like our local Posts,” said VFW National Commander Keith Harman. “We are grateful to receive this donation from Ace Hardware and their consumers, and we look forward to honoring our veterans in a big way this Memorial Day.” The 1 million American flag giveaway aligns with Ace Hardware’s long history of supporting veterans nationwide. Ace’s very name is a commemoration of the “Flying Aces,” the courageous fighter pilots from the First World War. Ace’s patriotism continues through the support of its veteran retailers, and the sincere appreciation for all the veterans and active-duty military who work in Ace stores, distribution centers and its corporate offices. *Flags will be available in participating Ace stores, while quantities last. In-store only. Limit one 8” x 12” flag per customer. No purchase necessary. About Ace HardwareFor more than 90 years, Ace Hardware has been known as the place with the helpful hardware folks in thousands of neighborhoods across America, providing customers with a more personal kind of helpful. With more than 5,000 hardware stores locally owned and operated across the globe, Ace is the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world. Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., Ace and its subsidiaries operate an expansive network of distribution centers in the U.S. and also have distribution capabilities in Ningbo, China; Colon, Panama; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Its retailers' stores are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and approximately 55 countries. For more information on Ace, visit acehardware.com or the company newsroom at newsroom.acehardware.com.
‘The VA is in turmoil again’. For years, the US Department of Veterans Affairs had been roiled by mishaps, setbacks and controversies. But recently, several veterans and their family members told CNN, they believed the department was finally improving. What Veterans Affairs needs to fix its deeper issues. The most obvious problem at the Veterans Affairs Department is that it doesn’t have a secretary. But that leadership vacuum only compounds the deeper issues the VA has spent years trying to overcome. Medicating in Wartime: The Cannabis Legacy of Vietnam Veterans. April 30th marks the 43rd anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of the War in Vietnam. About three million Vietnamese, and more than 58,000 Americans, were killed during the war. Durbin says VA would pay 65 percent for new Veterans Home facilities. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he is pleased to see progress being made to protect Illinois Veterans Home residents against outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, but he believes new facilities are needed to prevent future problems. Michigan Students Unveil Inventions for Veterans. College students have created devices they say will improve the quality of life for disabled veterans and others with impairments. Called on Veterans’ grass-roots movement shares health benefits of marijuana. To get away from the memories of war in Afghanistan — the violence, the unexpected danger, the rush of adrenaline and the hypervigilance that can come with post-traumatic stress disorder — Aaron Newsom started gardening. Veterans Affairs In Limbo After Jackson Withdraws As Nominee. The collapse of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s nomination to lead the Veterans Affairs Department leaves the VA rudderless, and awaiting its fourth secretary in four years. OH veterans concerned over possible privatization of the VA. Army veteran Keith Stevens spent a year in Vietnam and retired from the military as a Specialist. Veterans Fight To Get Rare Form Of Cancer Covered By VA. It took decades for the Veterans Administration to acknowledge the connection between Agent Orange and the illnesses of hundreds of Vietnam veterans. Now some vets are fighting to get help for another deadly killer that they believe is connected to their years of service. Mid-South veterans are turning to horses for healing. Southern Reins Equine Therapy in Collierville is working to teach our veterans how to cope.
Veterans and veteran groups have concerns over who the next VA secretary will be. The frustration has people worried. Here's a breakdown of some of the potential replacements, as reported in Stars and Stripes. WASHINGTON — Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a White House physician, withdrew Thursday from consideration as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaving the big question: Who’s next? Though President Donald Trump is notoriously difficult to predict, here are some possible contenders. Jeff Miller Jeff Miller’s name has been floated as a potential VA secretary nominee since Trump became president, and it emerged again Thursday quickly after Jackson withdrew. Miller, 58, a former Republican representative from Florida, retired from Congress in 2016 after eight terms. He was chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for six years during former President Barack Obama’s administration, and in that role became known as a harsh critic of the VA who despised wrongdoing by the agency’s employees. Miller’s portrait now hangs in the committee room – the site of numerous tense exchanges between him and former VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Trump is seriously considering Miller for the job of VA secretary, multiple news outlets reported Thursday, citing a senior White House official. He already has one strong tie to the department – his former spokesman, Curt Cashour, is the VA press secretary. Robert Wilkie At an event arranged by the Wounded Warrior Project on Thursday, Trump praised Robert Wilkie, whom he tapped in March to lead the VA until the Senate confirms a permanent secretary. Wilkie, 55, came to the VA from the Pentagon, where he worked as undersecretary of personnel and readiness. There were initially doubts about whether Trump had the authority to appoint Wilkie as acting secretary, bypassing VA Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman, who was next in the chain-of-command. But critics appear to have retreated on the issue. Wilkie walked into an agency reeling from the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin and the chaos and infighting that led up to it. “Wilkie has stabilized things at the central office,” said Garry Augustine, director of Disabled American Veterans. Joe Chenelly, director of AMVETS, initially called on Trump to remove Wilkie amid the confusion about whether Wilkie should legally be running the agency. In an apparent turnaround Thursday, Chenelly said: “We like Wilkie.” “We’re happy Wilkie has kept Bowman on,” he said. “If it’s going to be Wilkie, then nominate Wilkie.” It’s possible Trump could decide to make him the nominee. If he does, it creates the new question of who would take over Wilkie’s duties at the Defense Department. Pete Hegseth Like Miller, Pete Hegseth was a contender for VA secretary when Trump was making his first selection. Hegseth, 37, is an Iraq War veteran, a weekend co-host on Fox & Friends, and the former CEO of the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, part of the Koch brothers’ political network. CVA has gained influence and access since Trump took office, and the president has reportedly taken Hegseth’s opinion on VA matters into consideration. The Washington Post reported last month that Trump called Hegseth during a meeting with Shulkin to ask his input on legislation that would reform how the VA handles private-sector medical care. Hegseth addressed the possibility of his nomination Thursday on Fox News. “If the president asks me to serve, great. But he hasn’t until this point, so we’ll see,” he said. A woman? In a public statement Thursday, Chenelly implored the White House to include women in its search for the next nominee. Since the VA became a Cabinet-level department in 1989, there have been nine secretaries and four acting secretaries, none of whom were women. “It’s important that he considers women in this position,” Chenelly said. “There are really good candidates out there who are women.” According to the latest VA data, women veterans comprise almost 10 percent of the veteran population in the United States, and that number is growing. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shed light on cultural barriers keeping women veterans from accessing the VA, including that they’re often mistaken for spouses or cat-called in waiting rooms. Last year, the veterans community saw a rise of women veterans into leadership positions – two of the largest veterans service organizations are now led by women. During Trump’s transition into the presidency, at least one woman was under consideration for job of VA secretary – Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.