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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today announced publication of its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Response Report detailing its efforts to address the pandemic from early January through June 30.  The report results are a continuation of VA’s pledge to share best practices and lessons learned with other government agencies and the private health care system while the country fights COVID-19.  “As the nation’s largest integrated health care system, VA’s COVID-19 response has been robust and far-reaching. This includes 24 current and 75 completed Fourth Mission assignments involving more than 2,000 VA employees helping to support non-Veteran patients and non-VA health care systems,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This report reflects VA’s agility throughout the pandemic to adapt based on lessons learned in order to continue providing safe, quality health care to Veterans as we continue to battle the pandemic.”  The COVID-19 Response Report provides an extensive look at VA’s complex COVID-19 response, including the department’s planning and preparation ahead of the pandemic; the initial crisis response; key COVID-19 policies and directives; interactions and interdependencies with federal and state agencies; and adaptations to health care operations. It provides a forthright view of challenges and issues that VA needed to address in order to effectively respond to the pandemic, such as exchanging supplies, Personal Protective Equipment and deploying health care personnel across the enterprise to meet critical needs in certain areas.  The department implemented a wide range of actions to ensure the safety of its patients and employees while never closing its doors. As of November 6, VA has tested 879,457 Veterans and employees for COVID-19 and diagnosed 67,905 Veterans with COVID-19, 14,168 of whom were admitted to a VA medical center for care. VA has hired more than 59,095 new employees since March 29 in response to the surge in demand for care during the pandemic. In addition, VA moved many appointments to telehealth meetings to keep Veterans and employees safe and has seen a 1,525% increase in home or offsite telehealth visits.  As of June 29, VA participated in more than 90 and led 28 multiple-site COVID-19 research studies. Notably, VA participated in research on 3D-printed respirator masks and convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients, as well as other promising therapeutics, and laid the groundwork for participation in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.  The report was compiled through more than 90 interviews with health care leaders and stakeholders as well as a variety of documents and data pertaining to the Veterans Integrated Service Networks and health care enterprise. It cites conclusions, findings and recommendations across several categories, including recognition of the threat and planning; national and interagency coordination; emergency management and readiness; data and analytics; capacity, supply chain and testing; clinical operations; research; and moving forward.  VA expects to develop further reports to document the evolution of VA’s response to the pandemic and consider additional strategic follow-up actions informed by the ongoing experience.   A synopsis of VA’s COVID-19 Response Report and the full report are available on the VA website. VA also released its COVID-19 Response Plan in March and its Charting the Course Plan for how VA facilities would resume services temporarily halted by the crisis in May.
By Nikki Wentling/Stars and Stripes   The Department of Veterans Affairs is eliminating its in-house compensation and pension exam program and will outsource all of the exams, which are crucial to determining whether veterans are eligible for VA benefits. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said the plan was developed with no notice to Congress. She’s concerned the move could slow work to reduce a backlog of compensation and pension exams, commonly referred to as C&P exams, and she’s worried about the VA’s ability to oversee the contractors. Luria also criticized the department for cutting federal jobs during a pandemic. “For many veterans, thorough and accurate C&P examinations are crucial to securing service-connected benefits,” Luria wrote. “VA’s quiet decision to carry out a major reorganization of its C&P program without a plan to make key improvements, reduce backlog, or retain employees is unlikely to deliver the high-quality results we expect.” Luria leads the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, part of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. During a hearing she led last year, the VA said it would contract with more outside medical providers to perform C&P exams. Lawmakers were led to believe the contracted examiners merely supplemented the existing program, primarily to help rural veterans and those veterans facing long wait times, Luria said. Recently, however, VA staff told Luria’s office about the department’s plan to shutter the C&P program at the VA and contract with the private sector for 100% of the exams. “VA privately advised my staff of the decision after it was made, without a press release or communication to the affected veterans, advocates, or labor representatives,” Luria said. “Such a consequential decision should have been communicated directly to the chair and ranking member of this subcommittee and should not have moved forward during the turbulence of the pandemic.” The VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The change comes as the VA is working through a backlog of requests for exams. The department suspended the exams in April, as coronavirus cases grew across the United States. During that time, the backlog grew to about 350,000 requests. The VA resumed in-person exams in some locations May 28. As of mid-October, exams were being scheduled in all areas of the U.S. In all the new instructions about the resumed exams, the VA notes that a “VA contract medical examiner” would be in touch to schedule them. During a C&P exam, a health care provider examines a veteran to help determine whether his or her disabilities are connected to military service. The information gathered during the exam is used by the VA to make a decision on a veteran’s claim and to issue a disability rating. The rating determines how much monthly compensation the veteran is due. The VA has increasingly relied on contractors to perform the exams – spending nearly $6.8 billion on exam contracts in 2016. Recently, contractors were performing about 60% of exams, Luria’s letter states. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2018 that the department doesn’t track whether contractors are meeting quality and timeliness standards. The VA has not yet implemented the recommendations the GAO made in that report, Luria said. She’s worried that as the VA expands its use of contractors, the department lacks the ability to oversee them. “More than two years later, [the VA] has not fully implemented these recommendations it agreed were necessary for proper oversight,” Luria wrote to Wilkie. The “failure to implement these recommendations raises concerns about its ability to oversee contractors as they increase their workload from 60% of C&P examinations to nearly 100%.” Luria sent a list of questions to Wilkie, including how many C&P examiner jobs the VA would eliminate and whether those employees would be able to remain at the agency in some capacity. Luria also wants to know whether the VA has considered maintaining in-house exams for veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury – all conditions unique to veterans and that often call for specialists. She asked for responses by Nov. 16.
(VFW Magazine)   By Alan W. Dowd   A trio of B-1B bombers recently screamed over the East Siberian Sea, just beyond Russian territory. That followed on the heels of six B-52s rumbling across the airspace of all 30 NATO members. Dubbed “Allied Sky,” the single-day exercise served to demonstrated “the United States’ powerful commitment to NATO,” according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “Allied Sky” followed the deployment of three B-2s to Diego Garcia. The arrival of B-2s in Diego Garcia, in turn, followed the deployment of B-1Bs to Guam for training exercises with the Japanese air force and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group. The intended audiences in Russia and China certainly got the message. Equally certain: those audiences know that the youngest B-52 came off the assembly line in 1962, that America only has 20 B-2s, that the B-1B’s flight hours have been severely limited, and that America’s entire bomber fleet numbers just 158 planes. Dwindling down. As Air Force Magazine reports, 62 B-1Bs (developed in the late 1970s/early 1980s), 76 B-52s (developed in the 1950s) and 20 B-2s (developed in the 1980s) comprise America’s 158-plane bomber fleet (down from 411 bombers in 1990). The United States plans to field even fewer bombers next year (140), as the Air Force tries to shift resources into the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, which will not achieve initial operational capability until 2025. Those dwindling numbers and aging airframes wouldn’t be a concern if our enemies were beating their swords into plowshares. But with China on the rise, Russia on the march, the Middle East on fire, and our allies in Europe and the Pacific on edge, we know the very opposite to be true. In this environment, 158 bombers – let alone 140 -- aren’t nearly enough to deter our enemies and defend our interests. We sometimes forget that America’s aging and shrinking bomber fleet has been at war for more than 20 years – without a break. B-1Bs participated in Operation Desert Fox in Iraq (1998), Operation Allied Force in Serbia and Kosovo (1999), Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (2001-present) in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (2003-2011), Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya (2011) and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq/Syria (2014-present). B-1Bs also deployed to support the strike that eliminated ISIS leader Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria (2019). B-2s contributed to Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn and follow-on strikes against ISIS targets in Libya in 2017 that were technically in support of Inherent Resolve. B-52s, which have been flying combat missions since Vietnam, took part in Desert Fox, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve. B-52s also spearheaded Operation Desert Strike, which targeted Iraqi communications and command facilities (1996). America’s bombers conduct a huge share of the Air Force’s kinetic strikes. “During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces,” according to the Air Force. During Allied Force, six B-1Bs delivered “more than 20 percent of the total ordnance while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties,” the Air Force adds. RAND notes that the bomber force delivered 11,000 out of the more than 23,000 U.S. air-to-ground munitions dropped during Allied Force. In Allied Force, B-2s were “responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks” of the operation, according to an Air Force analysis. In Afghanistan, U.S. bombers accounted for 80 percent of the munitions dropped during the first two weeks of the operation, according to Mel Deaile, a professor at the Air Command and Staff College and a former B-2 pilot. Moreover, 46 nuclear-capable B-52s and B-2s are always on call as part of America’s nuclear-deterrent force. Nor can we forget that bombers are constantly deployed to conduct strategic-signaling operations, like those described in the introduction of this piece -- flights over the South China Sea, Arctic Circle, Taiwan Strait, South Korea, Australia and Ukraine; deployments to Guam and Alaska and Britain; visits to Diego Garcia and Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Building up. Add it all up, and America’s Air Force needs more bombers and newer bombers – soon. That explains why Air Force leaders are upping the projected bomber fleet to “just north” of 220 airframes, as Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, explained in an interview with National Defense magazine. To reach the 220-mark, the Air Force plans to procure 100 B-21s, while updating and retrofitting some of the existing fleet of B-1Bs and B-52s. The B-1Bs may end up carrying hypersonic weapons, according to the report. The plan is to retire the B2 (America’s sole radar-evading stealth bomber) in the 2030s. That means between now and 2025, when the B-21 comes online, just 12 percent of America’s bomber fleet will be able to penetrate and survive a near-peer enemy’s air defenses. Yet another cause for concern: only six B-1Bs were rated mission capable in late 2019. As the Air Force Almanac puts it, “today’s bombers are better” than their predecessors, but “so are adversaries’ air defenses. This is a security risk.” Indeed, China is building a dense, multilayered defensive bubble around its territory. The approaches to the PRC bristle with sensors and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and this kill zone is growing as the PRC emplaces SAMs and other anti-aircraft systems on its illegal islands in the South China Sea. Plus, the PRC is fielding an increasingly high-tech, power-projecting air force. The PRC deploys 2,800 combat aircraft, including 150 bombers. Beijing’s bomber fleet includes the H-6N (an upgraded derivative of a Russian bomber) and the soon-to-be-unveiled H-20 (a long-range stealth bomber similar to the B-2). Russia fields 125 bombers, with as many as another 40 on order, according to World Air Forces 2020. More worrisome, Russia has deployed its extended-range S400 air-defense system to Kaliningrad, Syria and likely Libya. And Russia’s S300 air-defense system has been deployed in Venezuela. These strategically positioned anti-air systems give Russia the ability to hold at risk aircraft flying through vast swaths of the eastern and southern Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and NATO airspace in Poland, the Baltics and the Baltic Sea. Mushrooming challenges. How and why did this happen? First, as the Lexington Institute explains, “When the Cold War ended, the Defense Department terminated production of the B-2 and ceased development of new bombers for the first time since the 1920s.” The consequence of this bomber-building holiday is a U.S. bomber fleet that’s too small and too old. Second, since Sept. 11, 2001, America’s military has largely focused on dismantling terrorist networks and clearing the spawning grounds of terrorism – and understandably so. However, this expended finite resources that otherwise would have been allocated toward new weapons systems designed to deter peer threats like China and Russia. Third, China and Russia have not been standing still. Instead, they have been investing resources into fielding 21st-century militaries. China has increased military spending by 126 percent the past decade -- and a staggering 572 percent since 1999. Russia has upped military spending by 176 percent since 2000. By way of comparison, U.S. defense spending has grown 54 percent since 2000. U.S. defense spending actually fell by 16 percent between 2011 and 2016, although it has ticked up the past four years. To deter Russia and China in what increasingly feels like Cold War 2.0, the United States needs to build more bombers and upgrade its existing bombers – and that means more defense spending. Given America’s mushrooming debt, that won’t be easy. Today’s defense budget is 3.1 percent of GDP, half what it was for much of Cold War 1.0.
The top row from left is Alfonso, David, Enrique, Ezequiel and Ismael. The bottom row from left is Israel, Marcos, Richard and Rudy. (VAntage Point) National Hispanic Heritage Month honors those who have positively influenced and enriched the U.S. and society. For the Fuentes family, that means celebrating the nine brothers who served in the military. Brothers Alfonso, David, Enrique, Ezequiel, Ismael, Marcos, Richard and Rudy all served in the Marine Corps, while Israel served in the Air Force. Hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas, the Fuentes parents had 16 children: nine sons and seven daughters. The parents worried about the children but supported their decisions to enlist. David was the first to enlist, joining the Marine Corps in 1957. According to his siblings, other students teased David in high school, calling him a “mama’s boy.” When one of David’s cousins—a Marine—came home on leave, he talked to David, who convinced him to join. That started a tradition that followed through all nine of the brothers. Most of the brothers have used VA over the years, including receiving health care at VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. Reasons for serving Each of the brothers had different reasons for serving. “My plans were to quit school and join the Marines to get away from home,” Ismael said. “A friend of mine told me he would do the same. We went to the Marine recruiting office one weekend and were told we were the two highest ranking officers in Navy Junior ROTC, graduate with honors and we will place you both in our 120-day delayed buddy program. We both graduated June 2, 1968, and were in San Diego June 3.” Another brother said his reason was to possibly spare his children from going to war. “I volunteered to go to Vietnam,” Richard said. “My thoughts for volunteering is that when I would have a family, I could tell my kids that I already went to war so they wouldn’t have to.” Echoing that sentiment, another brother said he served to possibly spare his brothers from going to war. “I did three years in Navy Junior ROTC because I always knew that I wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps and in case it came down that I had to go to war, then maybe my three younger brothers would be spared,” Rudy said. “That was the reason I enlisted, to protect my three younger brothers.” The youngest brother said he felt compelled to follow his brothers’ examples. “Being one of the youngest of nine brothers, I did not want to be the one to break tradition, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps and followed in my brothers’ footsteps,” Enrique said. About the brothers Alfonso served in the Marine Corps from 1973-1979 as an infantry rifleman. He served at a Reserve unit in his hometown of Corpus Christi. He also deployed to Rome for training. David didn’t get teased again after he came home on leave in his Marine Corps uniform. He worked on helicopter engines, assigned to the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California. David served from 1957 to 1960. He passed away June 15, 2011. Enrique served in the Marine Corps from June 1975-June 1979. Following training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, he served on embassy duty in both Naples, Italy, and Sicily from 1976-1978. He finished his time in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton. Ezequiel enlisted in the Marine Corps July 1, 1965, serving as an aircraft firefighter. He served in Yuma, Arizona, and Iwakuni, Japan. He honorably discharged from the Marine Corps June 30, 1969. Ismael served in the Marine Corps from June 1968 to June 1972. He served at MCB Camp Pendleton as a cook. After dislocating his shoulder, he transferred to the correctional services company. Israel enlisted in the Air Force in 1966, serving as a weapons mechanic on A-37s and a crew chief on B-58 bombers. He served at Bien Hoa Air Base from 1968-1969 during the Tet Offensive. He discharged in 1970. Marcos joined the Marine Corps under the delayed entry program Nov. 10, 1976—the service’s 201st birthday. He served from June 1977 to August 1982, serving at a motor pool unit in MCB Camp Pendleton and a Reservist with the 23rd Marine Regiment. Richard served in the Marine Corps from 1966-1970. He served with Marine Helicopter Squadron 463 in Vietnam from July 1968 to December 1969. He served in Danang and Quang Tri as a CH-53 Sea Stallion door gunner and as a maintainer on helicopter engines. Rudy served from January 1972 to February 1977 as military police, transport driver and weapons instructor. He volunteered five times to go to Vietnam, getting denied all five times. He assisted during the 1975 evacuation of Saigon.
American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford kicks off his 100 Miles for Hope challenge in support of The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation at Broyhill Walking Park in Lenoir, N.C., on Saturday, Aug. 1. Photo by Charles Mostoller/The American Legion     The American Legion   American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford is calling on Legion Family members and supporters to join his 100 Miles for Hope challenge and push the number of participants over the 5,000 mark. On Oct. 12, exactly 10 weeks after announcing the 100-day challenge, 4,313 people had registered to take the challenge. Participants can walk, cycle, run, ride a motorcycle or cover 100 miles any way they choose in the 100 days leading up to Veterans Day. “I can’t think of a better goal to have than 5,000 participants,” Oxford explained. “After all, 5K has two meanings — one the shorthand for the common 5-kilometer race or fun run. And secondly 5K, meaning 5,000.” More importantly, the commander noted, reaching the 5,000-participant threshold would drive even more donations to the Legion’s Veterans & Children Foundation (V&CF), which covers the costs of American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance grants for military and veteran families with children at home who are facing severe hardships, as well as funding to train American Legion service officers, who provide free representation to veterans applying for government benefits. “I have been so pleased to see this participation and read these amazing accomplishments by our members,” Oxford said. “And, of course, this campaign helps fund our foundation. That provides critical funding for our service officers and military families in need. That’s what it is all about. Continuing to serve while commiting to a healthy regimen of exercise.” To join the challenge, participants need to sign up at Emblem Sales. For a $30 registration fee, they will receive a slick tech shirt (available in men’s, women’s and children’s cuts), a sign to display and a certificate of accomplishment when they finish. Roughly 50 percent of the $30 fee will go toward V&CF after figuring in costs for the shirts, shipping, etc. The last call for registrants is Oct. 19, which will ensure delivery of shirts by Veterans Day. With roughly four weeks to go, there is still time to finish the 100 miles, especially if participants are riding bikes, using elliptical machines or getting on their motorcycles. There have been many inspiring and creative stories of members pursuing their goals from coast to coast. For example: • In California, Charlie Parker may be in a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop him. The Navy veteran is completing his 100 miles, one swimstroke at a time. • In South Dakota, Department Service Officer Courtney VanZanten was inspired to walk 100 miles, and got her children involved, too. The exercise not only benefitted her, but her line of work, thanks to donations going toward supporting service officers. • In Maryland, Michael Bush dusted off his kayak, encouraged other members of his post to participate and is paddling toward his century goal. It’s up to participants on how they achieve the 100-mile threshold. But when they do, they are encouraged to share their success on our Legiontown web page. And once the mission is complete, participants can download this flyer to celebrate their achievement. As the campaign winds down, American Legion posts are encouraged to create celebratory Veterans Day events for members while keeping local social distancing rules in mind. If your post is planning an event, let us know at magazine@legion.org Learn more about this initiative on the Legion website, www.legion.org/100miles and get started by registering at Emblem Sales.
Here is how you can Help A Hero in 2020 GEORGETOWN, Texas – Even in a pandemic, veterans are returning from active military duty to prepare for civilian careers that require them to return to school for additional education and training…often beyond what is covered financially by the GI Bill. To make educational expenses less of a burden on  service members, anyone can “Help A Hero” by getting a haircut at participating Sport Clips Haircuts now through December 5.   New for this seventh year of the Help A Hero scholarship program is a "text to donate" option. By texting "HERO" to 71777, donors can donate directly to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Foundation that administers the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” program. Also new, the Sport Clips Clean Certified promise that stores will offer updated, next-level cleanliness and safety precautions for clients who come in for a haircut and donate via the store's kiosk.   More than 1,750 military and student veterans have benefitted from Help A Hero Scholarships  through the nearly $8 million donated to date by Sport Clips Haircuts and its generous clients and product partners. These scholarships provide up to $5,000 of assistance per semester per family to help cover the cost of tuition and fees for service members and veterans in the rank of E-5 and below.   "Supporting our nation's military remains a priority for our veteran-founded business," says Edward Logan, president and CEO of Sport Clips. “Even though all of our stores were temporarily closed to meet state and local COVID-19 mandates, almost all Sport Clips locations are open again, stylists are working hard to make clients comfortable and excited to return to their normal haircut routine, and we are honored to once again support the Help A Hero program for those who have given so much for us. We're grateful to our franchisees, team members, and clients who faithfully support these important scholarships."   “Since the start of the pandemic, the VFW and its allies have worked tirelessly to guarantee our support programs remained operational,” said Hal Roesch II, VFW national commander. “The pandemic’s impact has been far reaching, especially for our military and veteran families, and this campaign helps to ensure we can continue to provide as many student veterans with scholarships as possible.”   Many Sport Clips locations will offer free haircuts on Veterans Day November 11 to service members and veterans with valid military identification, but it is important to check here for participating stores and store hours. Also on Veterans Day, the company donates an additional dollar for every haircare service to the scholarship program, which added $100,000 to the total raised last year. Help A Hero scholarships are awarded twice a year to help cover the cost of tuition and fees. Scholarship applications are currently being accepted through November 15 for the 2021 spring semester. Apply for a Help A Hero scholarship here today.
'Although I might appear happy and healthy on the outside, on the inside I was truly struggling' (VFW Magazine) Kerry D. Steuart enlisted in the U.S. Air Force with plans for a long military career. But things didn’t go as planned. He was medically discharged only eight years into what he thought would be decades of service. Soon after, the Gulf War veteran began battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to his physical challenges. “Although I might appear happy and healthy on the outside, on the inside I was truly struggling,” said Steuart, who is a member of VFW Post 4171 in Golden, Colorado. “I was struggling to find a purpose, an opportunity to serve. I was angry and bitter because I spent the next 20 years trying to find out the cause of my health symptoms and the VA was not very helpful. All this frustration and anger was taken out on my family, friends and colleagues.” Yoga, Tai Chi and biofeedback were suggested to Steuart during testing at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in New Jersey. His oldest daughter had encouraged him to pursue yoga as well, so he decided to give it a chance, and it changed his life. “I started my yoga journey with a practice of mindfulness and meditation, and what I discovered was that for the first time in a long time I felt calm and relaxed,” Steuart said. Over time, Steuart found yoga to be a key part of working through his struggles and he wanted to share his experience with others. He became a registered yoga teacher and has spent the past five years helping others go on their own journey of recovery. He’s particularly proud of his work with fellow veterans and Warriors’ Ascent, a nonprofit dedicated to helping service members and first responders find healing and support. “I have been blessed to work with Warriors’ Ascent which provides a week long opportunity to transform the participants' life at no cost,” said Steuart. In addition, Steuart founded Midtown Yoga KC, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, Missouri, to provide yoga, mindfulness, mediation, teacher training and wellness classes. Donations allow individuals to attend programs for free or at a reduced rate. He also created a YouTube channel to connect virtually with people in any location. While Steuart works with anyone and does corporate events, his focus is on veterans or others who’ve experienced trauma. “Working with veterans and essential personnel has allowed me an opportunity to have a purpose and serve a greater good, just like serving our country in the military,” Steuart said. “I have been told after each Academy of Healing that I saved someone’s life and their family, and before this program they had lost all hope.” Steuart knows there may be misconceptions about what yoga is or who can benefit. He hopes his story will inspire others to try it and find peace, acceptance and love. “Yoga does two things for us each and every day. First, it allows us to realize the things in our life that we are doing well and secondly, those things in our life that need work,” said Steuart. “Yoga is truly for everyone and it transforms our life from the inside out.”
(VFW Magazine) The road toward getting two men their decorations came after a five-year effort by immediate family and a surviving member of the platoon More than 50 years since a firefight killed one and led the other to singlehandedly save his 16-man platoon, Lynwood Thornton and Harold Jantz received their long-awaited decorations last year.  Thornton and Jantz of the Army’s 1st Platoon, Bravo Co., 3rd Bttn., 7th Inf., 199th Light Infantry Brigade, each received the Bronze Star during separate ceremonies in July 2019 for their heroics on Jan. 17, 1970, a day that cost Thornton his own life.  Signed and approved by then Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper on May 2, 2019, the road towards getting both men their decorations came after a five-year effort by immediate family and a surviving member of the platoon. It began in 2014, when Roger Soiset, a fellow member of the 1st Platoon, delved into getting Thornton decorated for his fatal sacrifice during an ambush by the Viet Cong in the Long Khanh province of Vietnam.  “Thornton should have gotten a Bronze Star at the time,” recalled Soiset, a VFW member of Post 5255 in Grayson, Georgia. “But when we eventually submitted a request, it was initially rejected because it wasn’t filled out right. Then it just kept getting rejected.” In 2018, however, Jantz’s sister and brother-in-law, a retired sergeant major in the Army, joined Soiset in trying to get both men the Bronze Star. “I had kind of given up on trying when Jantz’s sister’s husband got involved,” Soiset said. “He was very proficient in filling the forms out and getting the right people involved.” Paula and Tom Beckman first learned of Jantz’s heroics, which included rescuing the bodies of Thornton and James Thonen against orders to leave casualties behind, when he received a military statue and note from Soiset, whom they had met through Jantz at an Army reunion some years back. “I was only five when my brother was drafted, so I never knew all that had happened while he was there in Vietnam,” Paula added. “For 50 years he never spoke about his time in Vietnam.  So we took on this undertaking since Roger was trying to ensure that Thornton and my brother be put in for the Bronze Star with V device.” On Aug. 7, 2018, the Beckmans met with William Smith, a veteran’s affairs representative for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and provided documentation and written statements from surviving members who witnessed the firefight on Jan. 17, 1970. Both Jantz and Thornton were submitted for the Bronze Star with valor device, although Thornton’s was later downgraded to Bronze Star with no device when Sen. Graham sponsored them. After the joint approval on May 2, 2019, by Esper, both men received their separate ceremonies in July. Jantz’s Bronze Star with valor was issued in a private ceremony at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., presented by Sen. Graham himself on July 10, 2019. Receiving the recognition for his heroics on Jan. 17, 1970, is something Jantz, a life member of Post 2913 in Patchogue, New York, said he “can’t put into words,” although he added that, “it made me the man I am today, and I’d do it again.” Thornton’s ceremony happened in his hometown of Thomasville, Georgia, on July 26, 2019. Soiset, Jantz and three other members of the 1st Platoon joined Thornton’s family and more than 60 other guests at a Trinity Baptist Church to honor his heroic efforts during the Vietnam War. 
(VAntage Point) The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 gave VA an opportunity to consider new and previously submitted Blue Water Navy claims. Now, thanks to collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), VA and NARA are helping to determine ship locations and to digitize more than 1,800 vessels’ deck logs. The data contained in these ships’ deck logs is critical in determining qualifying ship locations in accordance with the law. For the first time, VA will have each of these ships mapped with precision, providing a comprehensive view of their locations. VA estimates that there are between 420,000 and 560,000 Vietnam-era Veterans who may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans. The law also extends benefits to survivors and dependents of those Veterans with confirmed service and whose claims would have been granted as a result of the new law. What Veterans need to know NARA’s and VA’s collaboration has already assisted in granting more than 22,524 claims since Jan. 1, 2020. The effort digitized more than 29 million images from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard deck logs. It has also provided data, such as ship name, date and coordinates to feed an internal claims-related technical processing system that identifies the vessels that may have traveled within the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam. This proactive approach ensures that Rating Veterans Service Representatives have the evidence needed to render a decision the first time a case is reviewed. This effort has resulted in faster service for Veterans and reduced the need for physical handling of archival records which preserves our nation’s historical documents. NARA is in the process of redacting the images to make them publicly accessible on the National Archive’s website. How to file a claim VA works with Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) and other partners to ensure Veterans and survivors are aware of the changes and know how to determine eligibility for disability compensation or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) when filing a claim. If Veterans, survivors or dependents have previously filed and were denied a claim, they can file a supplemental claim. VA encourages Veterans to work with an approved claims representative or VSO to determine if they qualify. To learn more, please visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp. Daniel Kuester and Meghan Badame contributed to this blog. Kuester is a Navy Veteran and a Public Affairs Specialist for VBA’s Office of Strategic Engagement. Badame is a Communications Specialist with VBA’s Media Relations team.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today completed the consolidation of various Army post cemeteries, an action first outlined in the department’s June 2018 Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.   VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) accepted the last Army post cemetery when it took over operations of the Fort McClellan Post Cemetery in Anniston, Alabama.   “Completion of the cemetery transfers highlights VA’s role in increasing efficiency and streamlining operations across the federal government. It also spotlights the strong partnership between VA and the Department of Defense,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The former Army post cemeteries join the VA’s 149 national cemeteries and the 4.9 million American Veterans, service members and their families honored in these national shrines.”  The plan directed the transfer of the perpetual care and operation of 10 Army post cemeteries and one prisoner of war cemetery located on former active Army installations.  The VA’s comprehensive reform plan was built upon Executive Order 13781, signed by President Trump in March 2017. To increase efficiency, limit mission overlap and maintain Veterans cemeteries at national shrine standards, the plan recommended the transfer of operations and maintenance of select military cemeteries to NCA. The consolidation alleviates duplicative mission requirements and increases burial options for Veterans and their dependents.  Fort McClellan was established in 1917 as a mobilization camp for National Guard troops in World War I and served as a major training base for troops during World War II, as well as an internment camp for more than 3,000 prisoners of war. After the war, it served as a training facility. The post was closed as part of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure round.  The Fort McClellan Post Cemetery was established in 1918 and contains the remains of 441 U.S. military personnel and civilians. The cemetery is closed to new interments, although it will accommodate requests for subsequent interments in existing gravesites for eligible family members. The Army also transferred to VA the Fort McClellan Enemy Prisoner of War Cemetery, which contains the remains of prisoners who died while in captivity during World War II. These cemeteries will be operated by Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, Alabama.  During the last 15 months, the following Army post cemeteries were transferred to the VA: Fort Lawton Post Cemetery (WA) in June 2019, Fort Missoula Post Cemetery (MT), October 2019, Fort Sheridan National Cemetery (IL) and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery (UT), December 2019, Vancouver Barracks National Cemetery (WA), March 2020, and Fort Worden Post Cemetery (WA), Fort Stevens National Cemetery (OR), Benicia Arsenal Post Cemetery (CA) and Fort Devens Post Cemetery (MA) earlier this month.  For more information about Fort McClellan Post Cemetery or Fort McClellan Enemy Prisoner of War Cemetery, contact Steven Weir-Santos, Cemetery Director, Alabama National Cemetery, at (205) 665-9039. For more information about the transfer of other Army cemeteries, contact NCA Public Affairs at (202) 632-8035. To make burial arrangements at a VA national cemetery, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117.