'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.
VA COMPLETES TRANSFER OF U.S. ARMY CEMETERIES AS PART OF GOVERNMENT REFORM AND REORGANIZATION EFFORT
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.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that VA is allowing home mortgage loan deferments for Veterans who have experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 national emergency. In Executive Order 13924 President Trump directed federal agencies to rescind, modify, waive, or provide exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery. Many Veterans have taken advantage of the loan forbearance program provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under the Act, borrowers who have federally-backed loans can receive forbearance of their monthly home loan payments, for up to 360 days. Forbearance does not mean forgiveness. As Veterans exit their CARES Act forbearance periods, they must work with their mortgage company to determine when to repay the missed amounts. To protect against predatory lending, VA regulations generally prohibit a large, lump-sum balloon payment from being included in the loan. However, temporarily waiving the regulation in these limited circumstances means Veterans have additional options when resuming regular monthly payments after a CARES Act forbearance — without penalty, additional interest, or late fees. “A loan deferment can work like a reset button to help alleviate economic burdens some Veterans may be experiencing,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Providing loan deferment as an option could be the one thing standing between financial normalcy and foreclosure.” VA cannot require mortgage companies to offer loan deferments. Veterans who want to know whether loan deferment is an option should consult their mortgage company directly. Learn more about VA’s deferment options.
By Rose Thayer/Stars and Stripes Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is one step closer to receiving a posthumous Medal of Honor after the House passed a bill Tuesday night that waives the federally mandated time limit for presenting him the nation’s highest award for valor. The bill was filed following an Aug. 24 letter from Defense Secretary Mark Esper stating he believes Cashe should receive an upgrade from his Silver Star to the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq in 2005. “Alwyn’s a hero in the purest and most profound sense. What he did on that Iraq battlefield really takes your breath away,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said Tuesday during a conference call. She said she has been working with Kasinal Cashe White, the soldier’s sister, to honor him. Murphy introduced the bill, H.R. 8276, to waive a federal law that generally requires a Medal of Honor to be awarded within five years of the actions that gave rise to the award, a requirement that Congress regularly waives. She introduced the bill alongside Reps. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, who are both veterans. The House approved the bill by unanimous consent. “With unanimous passage of our bill by the House today, we are one step closer to ensuring that Alwyn Cashe receives the Medal of Honor he earned,” Murphy said. “I am grateful that so many Americans are learning of and being inspired by SFC Cashe’s heroic actions, which are so extraordinary they nearly defy description.” Cashe was 35 years old when he died Nov. 5, 2005, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio from injuries sustained Oct. 17. While deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division to Samarra, Iraq, Cashe was riding in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over a roadside bomb that exploded and the vehicle was quickly engulfed in flames. Cashe was relatively unharmed, but drenched in fuel, according to his Silver Star award citation. He then made numerous trips to and from the burning vehicle to extract his fellow soldiers, even while his own clothing continued to catch fire. He suffered second- and third-degree burns on more than 72% of his body. His actions saved the lives of six soldiers. “It’s not every day you read an extraordinary story like Alwyn Cashe’s,” Waltz said in a statement. “His bravery in the face of danger has inspired so many already – and this is a significant step forward to properly recognize him for his heroism. I’m incredibly proud to see the House of Representatives come together in favor of this legislation to award him the Medal of Honor. Now we need our colleagues in the Senate to pass our bill.” Cashe was born in Sanford, Fla., and raised in Oviedo, both of which are located in Murphy’s congressional district. He is buried in Sanford. After reading his story, Murphy connected in with Kasinal Cashe White to rename a post office in Oviedo in Cashe’s honor in 2018. Since then, she has continued to work with White to upgrade his award to a Medal of Honor. White told reporters Tuesday that upgrading her brother’s medal has been her passion and Murphy has “moved mountains” in the bureaucratic process. Murphy, Crenshaw and Waltz wrote a letter to Esper in October 2019 urging him consider upgrading the award. Last month, Esper wrote back and agreed. However, he said a waiver from Congress was first necessary. “Once legislation is enacted authorizing the president of the United States to award, if he so chooses, the Medal of Honor to SFC Cashe, I will provide my endorsement to the president,” Esper wrote. With Murphy’s bill through the House, it now must clear the Senate, where she fears it may not come up for a vote, despite strong bipartisan support. As a backup plan, the congresswoman added language to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 that would waive the time limit for Cashe’s award. “What’s undeniable is that Alwyn Cashe is an American hero who did incredibly brave things and who deserves the Medal of Honor,” Murphy said. “One way or the other, we’re going to get this done.”
Join us on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. ET to learn what to do during the COVID-19 pandemic KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are hosting an interactive Facebook Live event to highlight resources available to help veterans facing homelessness to secure safe and stable housing. Join us on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. ET to hear from experts on VA programs and services to meet the needs of veterans and their families. The event will feature the following speakers from the Homeless Programs Office: John Kuhn, National Director, Supportive Services for Veteran Families National Program Office Eileen Devine, National Director, Health Care for Homeless Veterans National Program Office Jeffrey Quarles, Director, Grant and Per Diem National Program Office During the discussion with the VFW’s director of communications and public affairs, Terrence Hayes, they will explain how veterans can get the support they need and deserve during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can participate right before the event by having your questions ready, as we will dedicate time for Q&A. Learn more about the event and be sure to log on at 3 p.m. ET on Sept. 23!
Army veteran dedicates himself to helping others who struggle with mental health September 21, 2020 As a platoon sergeant in the U.S. Army with 20 years of service, David Sousa knew how to watch out for and help the men and women around him when they faced struggles. He didn’t expect to lose a friend and find that he needed help too. “A good friend of mine committed suicide in March 2013 and it triggered some major emotions with me. I had a hard time dealing with my own struggles, and I made several attempts at suicide,” said Sousa. “I went to a military training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, providing a skilled intervention and developing a safety plan to keep someone alive. ASIST opened my eyes to seek out therapy for myself.” Sousa, who lives in Sparks, Nevada, started a journey that led him to dedicate himself to helping other service members and veterans who struggle with mental health. An important early step was getting connected to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health Office of Suicide Prevention as he began working through his PTSD. “We started a group dealing with the rise in veteran suicides and developed some courses of action,” Sousa said. “In 2014, I was appointed by then-Governor Brian Sandoval to the Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Council. We worked on landmark legislation in the state mandating that anyone with a health care license must get training for suicide prevention.” Sousa retired from the Army in 2015 after more than two decades. Highly decorated for his honorable service, his experiences ranged from humanitarian missions in Kenya and Somalia to combat and security missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seeing so much while on active duty gives him empathy and motivation as he looks for ways to help veterans. One meaningful resource for Sousa is “The Spartan Pledge,” which resonated with him as he met and corresponded with Boone Cutler, creator of the pledge and a fellow veteran. “The pledge is, ‘I will not take my life by my own hand without talking to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.’ It’s powerful,” said Sousa. The pledge to stay connected and find a mission in life is valuable to Sousa, and he’s proud of making it a part of events with the VFW and a VA hospital. Sousa is a member of Post 3396 and the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Representative at the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System in Reno. He’s a past Post, District and Department commander and has served on the VFW National Legislative Committee. Currently, Sousa also is involved with several groups that host outdoor walks, hikes and bicycle rides for veterans. It’s become another good way to ensure service members find connection and activities to stay healthy physically and mentally. He’s committed to serving their loved ones as well. “I assist with and create programs for service members, veterans and their families to receive valuable training and to build camaraderie in our communities,” Sousa said. “I also help people in my community that are suffering from suicide to get them what they need. That could be people in need of immediate assistance that have thoughts of suicide as well as being there for families if they’ve lost someone to suicide to help them with resources and community support.” Sousa knows his new mission is vital, and he plans to keep serving as long as he’s needed.
(The American Legion) Around 82,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other conflicts. Friday, Sept. 18, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, when Americans are asked to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by the military men and women who are imprisoned or unaccounted for as a result of their military service. As part of the day of recognition, held each year on the third Friday of September, Americans and businesses should also fly their POW/MIA flags, which commemorate U.S. servicemembers who are recognized prisoners of war (POWs) or are missing in action (MIA). In observance of the day, rallies and ceremonies are also held throughout the nation to honor those U.S. servicemembers who have yet to return home, and the families they've left behind without closure as to the fate of their loved ones. American Legion Family members are encouraged to share how they observe POW/MIA Recognition Day by posting stories on the popular Legiontown website, www.legiontown.org. The American Legion remains committed to achieving a full accounting of all U.S. servicemembers from all war eras who are either imprisoned or listed as missing in action. As part of this commitment, the Legion encourages a return of living POWs, repatriation of the remains of the fallen from war zones abroad, or a determination through convincing evidence that neither is possible, as noted in Resolution 22 from the 99th National Convention. The following is a suggested POW/MIA Remembrance Service to be used at American Legion meetings, banquets, luncheons or memorial gatherings in conjunction with the POW/MIA flag draped over an empty chair. The service can be adopted or modified appropriately. Members should remove their caps during this service. Those who have served, and those currently serving in the uniformed services of the United States, are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice. We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured and may still be enduring the agonies of pain, deprivation and imprisonment. Before we begin our activities, we pause to recognize our POWs and MIAs. We call your attention to this small table which occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POWs and MIAs. We call them comrades. They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them, and to bear witness to their continued absence. The table is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors. The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their Country’s call to arms. The single rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep faith, while awaiting their return. The red ribbon on the vase represents an unyielding determination for a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us. A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait. The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time. The chair is empty. They are NOT here. The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation. The American flag reminds us that many of them may never return - and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom. Let us pray to the Supreme Commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks. Let us remember - and never forget their sacrifice. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.
WASHINGTON — The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today 42 states and one U.S. territory signed the PREVENTS state proclamation pledging their prioritization of suicide prevention for Veterans and all citizens in their jurisdictions. Each state pledging promises to promote and amplify the REACH public health campaign that encourages everyone to reach out to those who are vulnerable and to reach out when they themselves are in need of help. As part of the implementation of the president’s roadmap, the PREVENTS Office is meeting with state and community leaders in all 50 states and territories to ensure best practices for suicide prevention are identified and applied, efforts are coordinated within the state and federal government and the public health messages are promoted before the initiative concludes in March 2022. “With the commitment of our nation’s governors, this undertaking has moved beyond an idea to reality — as it is only viable when governors enlist the full authority and backing of their state to combat this crisis,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “September is National Suicide Prevention Month and through the outpouring of support echoed by governors issuing state proclamations, their efforts assist with meeting the requirements of the president’s White House Task Force for PREVENTS, which provides the nation with an essential, collaborative forum to address this national crisis through local and state-focused solutions to help us end Veteran suicide. To engage all 50 states and five U.S. territories, the PREVENTS office developed a state proclamation for governors codifying their full commitment to preventing suicide in their states, with a special focus on Veterans and other high-risk populations, such as Native Americans, first responders, individuals age 10-34 for whom suicide is the second leading cause of death, people living in rural communities and LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, the office is working with key community leaders — including Veterans Service Organizations, Military Service Organizations, business leaders, academic institutions and faith-based communities. To date, PREVENTS has held in-person visits in Arizona, California, Florida, Tennessee and Texas, and virtual visits in Indiana and Oklahoma. “Collaborating with state and community leaders to advance the mission of suicide prevention for Veterans and all Americans is imperative,” said PREVENTS Executive Director Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. “As we move forward to change the culture around mental health in general and suicide in particular, we will continue to elevate and amplify the great work our states are already doing as we leverage lessons learned and best practices to accelerate our efforts to heal families and save lives.” PREVENTS was established by Executive Order 13861, March 5, 2019. The Roadmap, released by President Trump June 17, emphasizes the critical role of states and local communities in suicide prevention. PREVENTS is charged with creating an all of government and all of nation approach to preventing suicide among the nation’s Veterans and all Americans through a national public health campaign, enhanced community integration, prioritized research activities and implementation strategies that emphasize improved overall health and well-being.