(The American Legion) By Alan W. Dowd As a new commander in chief prepares to take the reins, the world can expect both change and continuity in the overlapping areas of foreign policy and national security – perhaps more continuity than many observers are predicting. Unlike the president he served under and the president he succeeds, President-elect Joe Biden, owing to his many years of public service, has a lengthy track record on defense and diplomacy. That record and the foreign-policy vision statement he recently shared offer clues as to what lies ahead. ORDER Biden notes that since the end of World War II the United States has “played a leading role in writing the rules, forging the agreements, and animating the institutions that guide relations among nations, and advance collective security and prosperity.” If America fails to play that role, he warns, “(e)ither someone else will take the United States’ place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values, or no one will, and chaos will ensue. Either way, that’s not good for America.” This is Biden’s way of describing the liberal international order Americans began building from the rubble of World War II – an international system based on democratic governance, broadly accepted norms of behavior, liberal (freedom-oriented) political and economic institutions, and stable nation-states capable of promoting good order within and around their borders. This liberal international order has served U.S. interests, but it doesn’t run on auto-pilot. It depends on responsible powers deterring aggressive states and serving as a last line of defense against the enemies of civilization. Toward that end, Biden vows this year to “host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world,” “forge a common agenda” and “strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us around the world.” This plan to convene a Summit for Democracy suggests both a renewed commitment to America’s role defending the liberal international order and perhaps a recognition that liberal democracies shouldn’t expect much help from the United Nations, which is crippled by dictatorships. Perhaps the Summit for Democracy will even open the way toward creation of an Alliance of Democracies that could bypass the mischief and roadblocks created by the U.N. Security Council’s despotic members. It’s an idea that has been gaining bipartisan support at home and high-profile support abroad for more than a decade. ALLIES Biden has signaled his plans to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which key allies Britain, France and Germany support. He wants to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. And he wants to work more closely with allies in Europe and Asia. NATO tops that list for Biden. “NATO is at the very heart of the United States’ national security,” Biden has said, describing the transatlantic alliance as “the single most important military alliance in the history of the world.” Although President Donald Trump’s comments about NATO were often critical, he wasn’t the first U.S. official to criticize the contributions of certain allies. Dating at least to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Washington has been increasingly open and blunt about its frustrations with NATO. Steered by the early spadework of Defense Secretary James Mattis, the Trump administration tripled the Obama administration’s funding levels for the European Deterrence Initiative; reactivated the Navy’s Second Fleet (which was deactivated in 2011, after defending the Atlantic and supporting NATO throughout the Cold War); reestablished the Army’s Germany-based V Corps (which was deactivated in 2012, after decades defending Europe); authorized construction of and/or upgrades to bases in Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Latvia and Estonia; agreed to add Montenegro and North Macedonia to the NATO fold; and laid the groundwork for the permanent basing of 5,500 troops in Poland. All of this came in response to Russia’s actions. Vladimir Putin doubled military spending between 2005 and 2018; has added 600 new warplanes, 840 helicopters and 2,300 drones to his arsenal; and produced a number of new offensive weapon systems. Putin’s Russia has invaded and dismembered NATO aspirants Georgia and Ukraine, annexed parts of Ukraine, occupied parts of Georgia, gained a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean (courtesy of Syria), conducted provocative tests of antisatellite systems, waged a crippling cyberwar against NATO member Estonia, violated the INF Treaty, armed Taliban forces waging war against NATO personnel operating under U.N. mandate, and unleashed his intelligence agencies to conduct strategic-influence operations against the U.S. and allied countries. Whether spurred by Moscow’s actions or Washington’s criticisms – probably a little of both – NATO nations have finally gotten serious about the common defense: In 2015, only three NATO members met the alliance-wide goal of investing 2 percent of GDP in defense. Today, 10 have reached the 2-percent mark. By 2024, 20 will meet that standard. NATO’s European and Canadian members have added 131,000 troops to their ranks and $130 billion in fresh defense spending since 2016. These tools and resources – the refurbished bases, the resurrected Navy and Army units, the increased investment in deterrent assets, the renewed commitment within NATO to military spending – will help the Biden team deter Putin. CHINA Biden vows to “get tough with China.” Given what has transpired the past four years, “stay tough” may be more accurate. Spurred by Beijing’s criminal mishandling of COVID-19, the Trump administration dealt with China firmly – criticizing Beijing’s irresponsible actions throughout the pandemic, increasing the number and tempo of freedom-of-navigation deployments in the Indo-Pacific, elevating the Taiwan relationship through high-level visits and increased arms shipments, beefing up defense commitments in the Indo-Pacific, and building new security and economic partnerships. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team launched a free-world 5G partnership. This effort positions allied nations to pool technological resources, build on shared values, and harness interoperability to forge a Clean 5G Network. Likewise, the State Department’s nascent Economic Prosperity Network (EPN) has brought together partners committed to “respect for rule of law, respect for property of all kinds, respect for sovereignty of nations and respect for basic human rights” to build uncompromised supply chains. The Quad security dialogue has been revived in recent years, as the United States, Australia, India and Japan widen and deepen cooperation on military exercises, training, basing, procurement, intelligence-sharing, supply-chain resilience, and pandemic recovery. And outgoing Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite has laid the groundwork for a reactivated 1st Fleet, which will relieve pressure on the 7th Fleet and secure a large swath of the Indian Ocean. Again, these tools and resources will help Biden and his team navigate what increasingly looks like Cold War 2.0. Following the trail blazed with the Quad, EPN and Clean 5G Path, Biden plans to harness “the economic might of democracies” to meet the China challenge. Biden recognizes that America needs all the help it can get confronting the Beijing behemoth, arguing that we must “build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” China, it pays to recall, is a country of 1.3 billion. Its GDP is $14.1 trillion. Its annual military expenditure is $260 billion (mushrooming 572 percent since 1999). It has a 2-million-man military, a 350-ship navy, and an intense focus on dominating its neighborhood. Although America boasts a $21.4-trillion GDP and $738-billion defense budget, it has a billion fewer people than China, just 1.3 million active-duty troops, a 296-ship Navy, a defense budget that’s plateauing, and security commitments that are diffused and dispersed. However, the U.S. combined with democratic partners in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Indo-Pacific enfolds some 2.8 billion people, 71 percent of global GDP, 65 percent of global defense spending, more than 7 million men under arms, and what former JCS Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen called “a thousand-ship navy.” DEFENSE Still, it stands to reason that the United States – the wealthiest, largest, most powerful, most technologically advanced nation in the free world – will need to provide much of the muscle in this multinational effort to deter and contain Beijing. Underscoring this reality, Biden wants to move “60 percent of our sea power to that area of the world, to let the Chinese understand that they're not going to go any further.” That makes sense. But that and other aspects of Cold War 2.0 will require ongoing investments in defense. Biden vows to make “the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of this century.” The past four years have seen Washington dig out of the deep hole created by sequestration, giving Biden a solid base for meeting this century’s security challenges. But with COVID-19 recovery costs soaring, one wonders if the Biden administration will be able to sustain needed investments in defense. “It took us years to get into this situation,” as Mattis warned during his stint leading the Pentagon. “It will require years of stable budgets and increased funding to get out of it.” INTERVENTION “It is past time to end the forever wars, which have cost the United States untold blood and treasure,” Biden says of the war on terror and its consequent nation-building missions. “We should bring the vast majority of our troops home from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our mission as defeating al-Qaida and the Islamic State.” On a related note, Biden has made clear that he will use military force “only to defend our vital interests.” This is very similar to what his predecessor said about the post-9/11 campaign of campaigns: “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump argued. “My rules of engagement are pretty simple: If we are going to intervene in a conflict, it had better pose a direct threat to our interest.” The record shows that in the past four years, Washington dialed back the tempo and number of military interventions that had characterized the previous quarter-century – and cut troop levels in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “The argument that we just have to do something when bad people do bad things isn’t good enough,” Biden says. “It’s not a good enough reason for American intervention and to put our sons’ and daughters’ lives on the line.” He speaks quite literally in this regard. As a military dad, Biden has seen and felt the costs of military intervention in ways most presidents never do. That perspective will surely shape his approach to foreign policy and national security.
(Veterans of Foreign Wars) January 14, 2021 Continuing to serve isn’t always easy, yet it’s what Myers feels compelled to do “I have always believed that we were put on earth to serve and share our blessings with others,” said David Myers, a Life member of VFW Post 3031 in Rogers, Arkansas. Myers put that into action by serving in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. Even while answering the call of duty during Operation Desert Storm and as part of the Space Shuttle Support Team, he wanted to help anywhere he could. He volunteered at the post office every Christmas he was overseas to ensure mail and packages were out. He found ways to be involved with his three daughters’ school, softball team and scouting. In 1995, Myers’ efforts were honored with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. But everything came to a sudden stop when he retired from the Air Force, and he realized he faced an uphill battle to continue working and serving others. Finding a job proved more difficult than anticipated, so Myers went back to school and earned a degree in business administration and management information systems. He discovered a second career with Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas, and eventually landed his current job as data systems manager for the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. With each new location and skillset, Myers found more opportunities to help his community. Since 2003, he has served in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and was deputy commander for cadet programs for six years. In Arkansas, he served with Wreaths Across America at Fayetteville National Cemetery. Now in Oklahoma City, Myers organizes veteran activities through his church and teaches history and genealogy at a health and wellness center. “I enjoy working with kids who are CAP cadets because I am constantly impressed with their innate abilities and unceasing potential to achieve,” Myers said. “Seeing these young people grow in strength and confidence each year is amazing. The Wreaths Across America program allowed me to include them in an event that honors our veterans past and present. Teaching seniors how to research their family’s past, and how our personal timelines and historical timelines intersect, is wonderful when I see them light up as they find a connection.” Myers is proud of his work mentoring CAP cadets. Several have gone on to serve in the military and email him to stay in touch or ask questions about leadership and service. His time teaching history and genealogy became more meaningful during the pandemic as it allowed him to be there for a fellow veteran. “During 2020, with COVID-19 being front and center, all classes at the wellness center were cancelled until July. After that, it’s been a struggle to have anyone come,” said Myers. “But I had this one gentleman, a retired Marine who is disabled, and he’s been there every single class. Right now, it’s more like we just have conversations. He comes in each week with questions and we go through them one on one.” Continuing to serve isn’t always easy, yet it’s what Myers feels compelled to do. He wants more people, particularly veterans, to know they can keep moving forward in life and making a positive difference. “I am classified as 100 percent disabled and I suppose I could have used that as a reason for not staying involved, but that has never been my style,” Myers said. “If I had something to impart to other veterans it would be this: We all have it within us to be successful and reach our goals by removing fear from the equation, because fear will always tell you that you can’t. But you can do anything with faith, hope and great support from the family and those around you.”
The American Legion American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford called on President Trump to order the lowering of U.S. flags at the White House and all federal buildings in honor of a Capitol police officer who was killed in Wednesday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Brian Sicknick was an Iraq war veteran and an American hero,” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford said. “I was pleased to learn that the U.S. Capitol lowered the flag above it on Friday. The governor of New Jersey also ordered the lowering of flags in Mr. Sicknick’s home state. Mr. President, do the right thing and lower the flags that are under your authority to half-staff in honor of this hero who gave his life defending the house of the people.”
(VAntage Point) On Jan. 1, 2020, the Blue Water Navy (BWN) Vietnam Veterans Act went into law, supporting Veterans who may be eligible for benefits based on presumption of herbicide exposure. One year later, VA reflects on its progress. Granting benefits As of Nov. 30, 2020, VA has processed 39,061 of 75,205 claims received. Of those, 27,366 were granted – awarding more than $724 million in retroactive benefits. The most common granted claims included medical conditions diabetes, malignant growth of the lung, coronary bypass surgery, malignant growths of genitourinary system and coronary artery disease. In addition, the law provides benefits for children born with certain health conditions whose parent was a Veteran with verified herbicide exposure while serving in Thailand. Eligibility The law affects Veterans who served on vessels operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, as defined in Public Law 116-23 . Veterans, their dependents, and survivors who meet this criteria can apply for these approved benefits. Veterans – and survivors of deceased Veterans – who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Sept. 1, 1967, to Aug. 31, 1971, can apply for benefits. Increasing accessibility To help implement the law, VA collaborated with the National Archives and Records Administration to digitize all Navy and Coast Guard deck logs for ships with known Vietnam service. Digitization of the Navy deck logs was completed in December 2019; Coast Guard deck logs were completed in September 2020. As part of the agreement, VA provided digital images of the deck logs to NARA to make them digitally available in the National Archives Catalog. Veterans may contact firstname.lastname@example.org if the deck log they are seeking is not available in the National Archives Catalog. Learn more about Agent Orange exposure and VA disability compensation or call 800-827-1000 for more information.
(American Legion) On Dec. 20, 2019, the U.S. Space Force – the newest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces – was officially instituted with the signing of legislation by President Donald Trump. On the occasion of the Space Force’s birthday, here are some facts the intervening year may have buried. 1. The Space Force previously existed within the Air Force since 1982, as the Air Force Space Command. (mentalfloss.com) 2. The first official member of the Space Force to be sworn in is its most senior officer: Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. Raymond. (mentalfloss.com) 3. The branch’s motto is Semper Supra – “always above.” (mentalfloss.com) 4. The initial uniforms are “utilizing current Army/Air Force uniforms, saving costs of designing/producing a new one," according to a Space Force source. "Members will look like their joint counterparts they'll be working with, on the ground." (cnet.com) 5. The Air Force Academy's class of 2020 included 86 graduates set to become the Space Force’s first company-grade officers. (cnet.com) 6. On Sept. 15, 2020, a virtual mass swearing-in was held for about 2,400 troops transferring into the Space Force from locations around the world. (militarybenefits.info) 7. On Dec. 10, 2020, the first seven people to enlist directly in the Space Force graduated from basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. (af.mil) 8. It took no special action for Space Force members to become eligible to join The American Legion, as the organization’s charter only indicates active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. 9. The Space Force flag was unveiled at the White House in May 2020; by October, Alpharetta American Legion Post 201 in Georgia had obtained one and was flying it above their post home. (legiontown.org) Photo Credit: U.S. Space Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Mistrot, 324th Training Squadron military training instructor, stands in front of his flight during a graduation ceremony on Dec. 10, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Seven members of the graduating class are the first Space Force trainees to graduate. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
(American Legion) By Steven B. Brooks As the rains stopped and the sun came out on Dec. 11, vehicle after vehicle pulled up to a table and canopy stationed outside of Choices Coordinating Care Solutions on the northeast side of Indianapolis. Out of each vehicle either came children, adults or both – to collect what was an early Christmas, courtesy of American Legion Riders Chapter 341 in Cicero, Ind. For the second straight year ALR Chapter 341 provided Christmas presents for area foster children. A year ago it was 31 children; this year 33 children found themselves on the receiving end of Chapter 341’s generosity, ranging from ages 2-19. In the midst of a pandemic in a year full of uncertainty, sacrifice and loss, Choices Foster Care Director Reba James said Chapter 341’s gesture provided both joy and relief. “I think people are shocked and amazed and so appreciative knowing that all of our kids are totally taken care of for Christmas,” James said. “Especially during COVID, and with all the different families that are in need … it’s been hard to cover everyone. To have this happen for our families so we don’t have to worry about them is just amazing. We are so thankful, and our foster parents are thankful.” James and her staff solicited individual wish lists from each of the children; Chapter 341 spent $100 per child. In 2019, the children were able to open the presents inside while American Legion Post 341 Legion Family members watched, but COVID-19 moved this year’s effort to a drive-thru outside of Choices’ facility. A table was set up so that the children could open their presents while the Legion Riders – all clad in masks – could see the reactions their effort generated. “It’s a blast,” Chapter 341 Director Jody Brown said. “When we come here to give the gifts out and see the expressions on the kids’ faces, the smiles, and knowing we’re helping to support the parents by helping them with their foster children, it’s great.” Past Chapter 341 Director Dave Baughman said a fundraising ride brought in more than $5,000 to fund this year’s gift giveaway and get started on what will be a similar effort in 2021. “It’s very rewarding,” Baughman said of the effort. “These kids were in situations that I can only imagine. Being able to help those kids and the foster parents is a no-brainer.” In addition to shopping for all the presents, Chapter 341 Riders get together to wrap all the presents. “We’ll have 25 to 35 of our Legion Riders all in there trying to wrap Christmas presents,” he said. “Most of us don’t know what we’re doing. It’s just a lot of fun.” James said this year’s donation from Chapter 341 has been especially timely. “We’ve had some really crisis kinds of situations happen with our families,” she said. “Just recently, one of the families that was going to be coming today, the foster father was in an accident and was killed. I was emailing back and forth with the foster mom last night, and she’s not in any position to go get Christmas for the kids. She is so appreciative of this, knowing the kids are going to be getting these gifts and she doesn’t have to worry about that. “We’ve had foster parents (who contracted COVID-19), we’ve had foster parents who have lost their jobs. This year, more than ever, it’s especially meaningful because of everything everyone’s been through.” Brown also realized the importance of continuing the effort this year. “Some of these parents may have lost jobs. They’ve lost income,” he said. “We were able to rally some of our folks to raise enough money to help them out." Chapter 341 was started six years ago and has made a name for itself through its support for various causes, including The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors, a local victim of a school shooting, and the daughter of a disabled veteran in need of a service dog. Brown, whose tenure of chapter director ends this month, said being a part of Chapter 341 “is amazing. I put this chapter together six years ago … with nine guys. Now we’re up to about 70 members. And not to sound cliché, but we’re so much like a family. It’s just been exciting. And I think we’ve raised in excess of $80,000 in the six years we’ve been chartered. I’m just very proud of our group and what we’re able to accomplish. Our guys have big hearts, and they’re eager to help.”
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced a preliminary plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccinations it will implement once the Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for a vaccine. VA has worked in close coordination with the Centers and Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Operation Warp Speed to plan for COVID-19 vaccination of VA staff and Veterans. VA will first provide vaccinations to front-line VA health care workers and Veterans residing in long-term care units in 37 of its medical centers across the country. The centers, listed below, were chosen for their ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures. Health care workers will be among the first to receive vaccinations because they are at high risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19 to other staff members and patients, and their health is critical to ensuring the continued care of Veterans. Veterans in VA’s long-term care facilities will be the first patient group to be vaccinated. As vaccine supplies increase, additional Veterans will receive vaccinations based on factors such as age, existing health problems and other considerations that increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. VA anticipates a limited vaccine supply immediately after FDA’s approval, but expects more supplies to be available in short order. “VA is well prepared and positioned to begin COVID-19 vaccinations,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our ultimate goal is to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.” The 37 VA sites chosen for initial distribution of the vaccine will closely monitor patients and staff for side effects and log this information in its vaccine monitoring and tracking system. This is the same system VA uses to monitor reactions to all vaccines, including those for the flu and shingles. VA will report directly to the CDC data on all vaccine doses administered by VA. The department will also provide general, public updates on the number of people who receive the vaccination at these sites, similar to how VA posts COVID-19 testing figures. The 37 VA sites are spread throughout the country and include: Birmingham (AL) VA Health Care System Phoenix (AZ) VA Health Care System West Los Angeles (CA) VA Health Care System Palo Alto (CA) VA Health Care System Eastern Colorado (CO) VA Health Care System Connecticut (West Haven Campus) VA Health Care System Washington DC VA Health Care System Orlando (FL) VA Health Care System Augusta (GA) VA Health Care System Edward J. Hines Jr. VA Hospital (IL) Lexington (KY) VA Health Care System Southeast Louisiana (New Orleans) VA Health Care System Maryland (Baltimore) VA Health Care System Bedford (MA) VA Health Care System Ann Arbor (MI) VA Health Care System Minneapolis (MN) VA Health Care System Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital (Columbia MO) St. Louis (MO) VA Health Care System Omaha (NE) VA Health Care System Southern Nevada (North Las Vegas) VA Health Care System Raymond G. Murphy (NM) VA Health Care System New York Harbor (Brooklyn) VA Health Care System Western New York (Buffalo) VA Health Care System Durham (NC) VA Health Care System Cleveland (OH) VA Health Care System Oklahoma City (OK) VA Health Care System Portland (OR) VA Health Care System Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center (Philadelphia PA) Pittsburgh (PA) VA Health Care System Caribbean (Puerto Rico) VA Health Care System Memphis (TN) VA Health Care System Dallas (TX) VA Medical Center Michael E. DeBakey VA Health Care System (Houston TX) Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital (San Antonio TX) Richmond (VA) VA Health Care System Puget Sound (WA) VA Health Care System Milwaukee (WI) VA Health Care System Veterans seeking additional information should visit the VA Coronavirus Vaccine FAQs webpage, contact their care team, or visit their facility website.
(VAntage Point) VA’s Privacy Service and the United States Postal Inspection Service – the law enforcement and crime prevention arm of the Postal Service – recently established a two-year agreement continuing their partnership to provide Veterans and their dependents important information on avoiding scams and protecting their personal information. This partnership supports the postal inspection service’s national anti-fraud campaign, “Operation Protect Veterans. This initiative alerts Veterans about scams targeting them and their families. It also supports VA’s More Than a Number campaign, an identity protection program that provides information to educate Veterans and their beneficiaries on protecting themselves from identity theft. Scams targeting Veterans range from the subtle to the audacious and may include: Benefits buyout offers: Scammers take advantage of Veterans’ needs by offering a quick, upfront buyout of future disability or pension payments at a fraction of the value. VA phishing scamming: Posing as VA employees, fraudsters call Veterans to “phish” for Social Security numbers and personal financial information, which they use to access bank accounts or open fake credit card accounts. Bogus employment offers: When posting fake job descriptions to collect personal information from Veterans’ job applications, scammers often also charge an employment fee. Fake charitable-giving requests: Often using plausible branding techniques, scammers make fraudulent claims about collecting charitable donations that do not actually benefit Veterans or wounded service members. Fraudulent records promotions: Scammers try to charge Veterans fees to access military records or government forms – information that is available for free through the National Archives (for military records) and VA.gov for local VA offices (for forms). With their continued partnership, VA Privacy Service and USPIS share a common goal: educating Veterans and their families on simple precautions they can take to protect their identity. Whether it’s mail fraud, bank fraud, or some other type of scheme, both the United States Postal Inspection Service and VA want to help Veterans and their dependents avoid becoming victims.
(VAntage Point) Community leaders across southern New England met virtually to form stronger relationships to prevent Veteran suicides in their region and to discuss outreach strategies for Veterans who are struggling. Embracing VA’s #BeThere campaign, VA New England Healthcare System recently hosted an online conference called “#BeThere for Service Members, Veterans and Families: Strengthening Our Communities.” Among the more than 250 attendees were librarians, gun shop owners, educators, social workers, medical professionals, directors of Veteran services and leaders of the faith-based community. VA speakers reminded the group that you do not have to be a mental health professional to save a life and that suicide prevention is a total team effort. “We know that VA can’t do this alone,” said Ryan Lilly, VA New England Healthcare System director, in remarks to open the conference. “It’s really going to take every entity, every individual, and every organization that interacts with Veterans on a routine basis to help us get there.” Suicide prevention important with today’s stress This year, participants noted that today’s restrictions have added stress to Veterans already feeling the weight of readjustment to civilian life from deployments and economic challenges. An important part of preventing suicide – particularly during a pandemic – is reaching out. While the public often focuses on the number of younger Veterans who commit suicide, participants reviewed statistics that show the suicide rate for elderly Veterans is higher than that of non-Veterans of the same age. Presenters discussed strategies for how communities can connect with Veterans using technology and to find creative ways to reach out and provide support. There are things every person can do every day, like calling a friend or checking in with a neighbor. Such simple practices are particularly strong preventive factors for suicide during the pandemic because they help people feel less alone, said several speakers. Fears associated with the coronavirus have intensified PTSD, overall anxiety and depression as well as suicidal thoughts for many Veterans. Many Veterans also feel that they should be able to solve a crisis in their life on their own and therefore are often reluctant to seek help. Medal of Honor Veteran: We all have a role “We all have a role in getting people to understand that they don’t have to solve this on their own,” said Ryan Pitts, a former Army soldier from Lowell, Mass., the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan. Pitts said the community can make a difference in reaching out so that Veterans never feel alone. David W. Schafer, VA New England director of Mental Health, stopped the conference and waited until each participant added the number to the Veterans Crisis Line as a contact on their smartphones. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Veterans in crisis or those who are concerned can then press 1 to reach help. Since most Veteran suicides occur among Veterans who have not used VA health care or VA mental health, community partnerships are critically important in reaching Veterans who may not be receiving care from VA. The Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Community Engagement has focused its attention on creating such partnerships. Building stronger community partnerships A positive outcome from the conference is building stronger relationships among such partners in New England. Of the 17 Veterans who each day take their own life, 11 have not accessed VA health care. Another strategy VA New England is using is “postvention,” which builds upon prevention efforts by providing support to those impacted by suicide loss. Training for VA New England clinicians was scheduled the day before the community conference to discuss resources and support for anyone touched by suicide. “We’re the touch points for many Veterans who are struggling,” said Schafer. He also noted the importance of each VA clinician using the “strengthening the tool kit” and in finding ways to heal and deal with the personal and professional impacts of suicide loss. To learn more about VA’s community partnerships to prevent Veteran suicides or to inquire about starting a partnership, visit www.va.gov/healthpartnerships.
The package arrived at the VFW Regional Benefits Office in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 18. It was a bulky package with no return name or address, only a letter explaining what to do with a smaller box inside. The longhand letter began with — “This was found in my deceased mother-in-law’s estate from her second marriage. Appreciate if you can find relatives of this brave young man and return it to them” — and concluded with a thank you from “Liz.” Stacey Boren, who received the package that day, read the letter and proceeded to open the smaller box. Thanks to the efforts of Stacy Boren, the Purple Heart of 1st Lt. John L. Carmody was returned to the family. Boren, who works at the VFW office inside the VA Regional Office in Phoenix, received the Purple Heart along with a request to get it to the rightful heirs. After much research, Boren was put in touch with Carmody’s niece, who now has the medal. What Boren found inside was a pristine Purple Heart medal engraved with the name of 1st Lt. John L. Carmody, along with a Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by Harry S. Truman on behalf of Carmody. “When I opened it and saw the presentation case and then the Purple Heart, I got goose-bumps,” said Boren, an administrative assistant at the VFW Regional Benefits Office. “After reading the note that accompanied it, it became our mission to get it back to the rightful owners.” The medal was addressed to an Edna M. Carmody by the War Department, and it came accompanied with an enclosed note from Robert P. Patterson, the Secretary of War between September 1945 and July 1947. “The search for 1st Lt. Carmody’s relatives began that very afternoon,” Boren said. “And within a couple of hours, we had found obituaries for 1st Lt. Carmody and his sister, Joan Hirth, on findagrave.com.” Boren used findagrave.com to message the grave managers, passing along contact information in order to reach surviving family members of 1st Lt. Carmody. “When I didn’t hear anything towards the end of the day, I started searching for relatives that were listed in Joan Hirth’s obituary,” Boren said. “While discussing my frustration with my boss, Ken Deist, he suggested I call the cemetery where both brother and sister are buried.” Boren’s search led her to Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery in Hillside, Ill., where 1st Lt. Carmody and his sister, Joan, were buried. She contacted a representative over the phone and was asked to fax a letter explaining the situation. “He told me he would forward the contact request to the family,” Boren said. “So again, I waited. For the next 15 days, I constantly checked our voicemail and email for any communication from one of the family members.” On the early morning hours of Sept. 10, Boren finally received a call from a Marybeth Kelly, who introduced herself as 1st Lt. Carmody’s niece. “She informed me that she would be thrilled to care for her uncle’s medal. She stated her mother, Joan, would have loved to have had it,” Boren said. “I was just relieved that such a special award was going to a loving home.”