First, an ancient tape surfaced, then a letter that had been locked away for 40 years. Finally the full picture of Marine Sgt. Kenneth Altazan's bravery on a harrowing day in Vietnam began to emerge. But it would be six years before the retired farmer got the call from a major at the Pentagon. “He said, ‘I assume you’ve gotten our letter by now,’” Altazan recalled in a phone interview with Stars and Stripes. “I said, ‘No sir, I haven’t got your letter.’ And he said, ‘Let me be the first one to congratulate you — your Silver Star has been upgraded to the Navy Cross.’” Altazan, of Baton Rouge, La., was being recognized for pulling injured Marines off a battlefield in Quang Nam province under intense fire and bringing them to the CH-46 helicopter where he served as crew chief. The Navy Cross is the highest honor bestowed on Marines and seamen by the Navy, second only to the Medal of Honor. He received the award Tuesday. On May 9, 1969, Altazan was serving with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 “Purple Foxes” when they were dispatched to what they knew would be a hazardous mission: 10 wounded Marines spread over several rice paddies were under heavy fire and needed to be evacuated. “With complete disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Altazan boldly leaped from his helicopter, ran to the side of the wounded man, lifted him to his shoulders, and fearlessly moved back across the fire-swept terrain toward his CH-46, all the while assisting another evacuee across the perilous open area,” according to Altazan’s original citation. But the narrative in the original citation, remarkable as it was, understated Altazan’s actions. Altazan had actually left the helicopter multiple times despite the danger. At one point the wounded man he was carrying was shot, sending Altazan sprawling and severely injuring his knee. He not only got up and took the man to the chopper but continued to pick up the injured despite being in excruciating pain.  “I learned in boot camp to react — you don’t think, you react,” he said. The full story came out after a chance meeting at a reunion of his Vietnam comrades brought one of Altazan’s friends in contact with the surveillance plane pilot who was monitoring the battle from 1,500 feet above. After being accused in an earlier friendly fire incident, the pilot had started recording the audio of all of his missions. He still had the tape of the battle and provided it to Altazan. Then, the Navy corpsman aboard Altazan’s helicopter remembered a letter he had written his wife right after the battle detailing the entire mission, complete with maps. She had saved all of his war correspondence, and the corpsman got in touch with another old squad mate of Altazan’s. Once the Pentagon had all of the new evidence, it took six years before they approved the upgrade. Altazan was in the Marine Corps for four years before returning to Louisiana. He said he struggled with his experiences after returning from Vietnam, bouncing from job to job before finding his calling as a crawfish farmer. Now 69, Altazan has since retired. At a ceremony Tuesday in Baton Rouge, he was awarded the Navy Cross in front of his wife, children, grandchildren and more than 100 well-wishers, including some of his old squad mates. “It was truly a humbling experience,” he said. Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes
Many Vietnam veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and are eligible for benefits for illnesses believed to stem from the herbicide. But other Vietnam veterans aren't eligible. Below is a great article about how this happens. The men and women who served in the Vietnam War are used to being treated differently than other veterans, but even within their ranks, some are treated better than others. While many Vietnam veterans automatically are granted benefits for cancer, diabetes and other sicknesses because they are presumed to stem from exposure to Agent Orange, others don't get that consideration. Keith Trexler of Whitehall Township is one of them. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer about five years ago. If he had been among the ground troops or those patrolling inland waterways, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would have considered his cancer to be "service-connected" due to the likelihood he came in contact with Agent Orange, an herbicide sprayed to kill vegetation the enemy used for cover.  Because Trexler served in the Navy on the waters offshore, the VA doesn't presume he was exposed. He's what the VA considers to be a "blue water" veteran. To qualify for benefits for his cancer and other ailments, he must prove to the VA he came in contact with Agent Orange, something that's not easy to do. Read Full Story here
OSHKOSH, Wis. (Stars & Stripes & Tribune News Service) — Tansi's journey to Mike Henningsen's side is an unusual one that includes a stint behind bars. Tansi doesn't know she lives in a prison, all she knows is the kind embrace and loving care of men who committed crimes and are now training her to become a disabled Vietnam veteran's companion. The black Labrador retriever is being trained to pick up items dropped by her soon-to-be owner Mike Henningsen and help him remove socks from his prosthetic leg. She's one of several dogs Oshkosh Correctional Institution inmates are training to work as guide dogs for blind people and as service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and other ailments. "We have a high interest in inmates giving back to the community," said Warden Judy Smith. "The benefits for the institution and inmates have probably had more of an effect than we expected. We have inmates who haven't seen a dog in 20 years." Read full story here
By Valerie Sweeten, Jobs Correspondent Military veterans are some of the best trained personnel, with skills able to translate to nearly any workplace. Companies in all industries are recruiting veterans, while military organizations and resources are hosting job fairs, assisting with resumes and translating skill sets. Some of the most popular jobs for vets include engineer, information technology professional, police officer, project manager, math/science teacher, entrepreneur, mechanic, sales representative and civilian public service. The Occupational Safety Councils of America (OSCA) is a safety council that is providing training dislocated workers, especially veterans, and transitioning service members through grants and community partnerships in an effort to help them transition into employment in the construction and petrochemical industries. Qualities that make veterans appealing are wide and varied, especially when it comes to safety and continued production at plants. "Veterans address two issues for employers," said Lydia E. Chavez-Garcia, business development, OSCA. "The first is the decline in standard basic soft skills in the human resource pool. For example, coming to work regularly, showing up on time and ability to follow directions. The second issue is positions in this industry require working in adverse environments such as extreme heights and weather conditions, confined spaces and dealing with hazardous conditions. Veterans have experienced these types of conditions and are cognizant of how to adapt during these types of environments." Connecting with veterans is important to OSCA, with its job recruiters being veterans themselves. By having this in place, OSCA can better understand how to transfer those military skills to industry and how to review and translate a DD 214 (or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), for other positions held that may be relevant to what they're trying to fill. "Nearly all of our staff members are veterans and all of our staff are immersed in the local/national military and veteran community. We collaborate and attend veteran resource events, job fairs, and our local military installations," Chavez-Garcia said. Margaret Moellenberndt, human resources supervisor with Fluor, said it is actively recruiting both in the craft and staff sectors. The range of skill sets presented by the military is what makes them attractive as employees. "The work Fluor does both in our offices and on our projects requires our employees to give 100 percent. They have to be able to turn out strong, quality work," Moellenberndt said. Opportunities are available in many of the global home offices and project sites around the world. These can range from carpenters to electricians, welders, craft supervision, contracts/project managers, engineers, health, safety and environmental professionals and quality specialists. "Construction is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation," Moellenberndt said. "Military personnel bring an exceptional skill set to the employer. They are dedicated, pay close attention to detail and are accustomed to doing great work under tight deadlines. Our projects can also be in remote locations, something with which a veteran may have experience." It also has developed a skills crosswalk on the website that matches military skills with open positions. Its outreach extends to military-specific job fairs including the Hiring Our Heroes events and work with transition offices regarding various opportunities. Federal help In addition, the Internal Revenue Service is lending a hand with offering the newly expanded tax credit for companies hiring veterans. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 is able to provide an expanded Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for businesses hiring unemployed eligible veterans. This is the first time the tax credit is also available to certain tax-exempt organizations. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit offers incentives up to $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans. The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit is able to double the existing WOTC up to $9,600 for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.   For job fairs, vets can go to  
As reported on After almost two years of waiting, staffers at the Veterans Affairs Department's watchdog office may finally be getting a new boss. On Friday, President Obama nominated attorney Michael Missal to take over as VA’s inspector general. Missal previously worked as a senior counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and has worked on a number of federal and congressional investigations. In a statement to USA Today, a White House official said Missal was tapped for the post in part because of his “proven record of expertly leading prominent, sensitive, and extensive investigations.” Attention on the work of the VA IG office has intensified over the last year, since the department was overwhelmed in spring 2014 by accusations of records manipulation and widespread mismanagement at its regional offices. Several prominent lawmakers questioned whether IG investigators had done enough to make public signs of problems in department operations, and whether staffers were too close to the VA employees they were charged with investigating. Officials in the inspector general’s office have consistently denied those charges, but often had to do so without a top leader guiding those efforts. The former permanent inspector general, George Opfer, retired in December 2013. In June, the longtime acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, retired as well. Since then, lawmakers and outside critics repeatedly have petitioned the White House to name a replacement, noting the numerous questions still surrounding VA’s operations and policies. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of a group of senators who wrote to Obama on the issue twice this summer, issued a statement calling the nomination “long overdue” and noting that “we need a permanent IG for the VA to provide stable leadership and oversight of the agency.” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, echoed those concerns. “Whistleblowers deserve a fair shake from the OIG, and I hope this nominee will usher in a new era of openness, transparency and accountability for veterans,” Johnson said in a statement. Neither senator specifically endorsed Missal for the post, but promised to give his credentials a thorough review in weeks to come. No timetable has been set for a confirmation vote.
From Veteran News Now Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide. They hold themselves to a higher standard, both in the products they deliver and in the way they conduct themselves throughout the entire customer experience. Because, after all, they are in the business of securing a great deal more than just their place in the market. The mission is to be at the forefront of technology and innovation, delivering superior capability in tandem with maximized cost efficiency. The security solutions they provide help secure freedoms for the nation as well as those of our allies. Squarely meeting obligations, fiscally and technologically, isn’t just a business goal, but a moral imperative. To that end, as Northrop evolves as a company, the responsibility they feel for their country and the citizens and troops they help support grows with them. ​ Northrop employs thousands of veterans worldwide and is committed to hiring and assisting military-experienced candidates and employees. Veterans bring a unique set of skills to their company, and have a first-hand appreciation for their business, products, and services. They value the training and leadership development that candidates gain from their military service and experience. Click Here To View And Apply To All Of Northrop Grumman’s Available Job Opportunities!
By National Commander Michael D. Helm The government rationale for the latest round of defense cuts is sequestration. I prefer to call it abdication. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, politicians often accused one another of having a “pre-9/11 mentality.” Yet now, with the Executive Branch controlled by the Democrats and the Legislative Branch controlled by the Republicans, we are cutting our military to pre-World War II levels. As the national commander of The American Legion, I have been visiting U.S. military bases around the globe. Just last month a three-star general asked me ‘what’s it going to take for people to wake-up, Paris burning?’ And this was before ISIS inspired terrorist attacks in three continents on a single day. In addition to ISIS and al Qaeda, nations such as Russia, North Korea, Iran and China have all engaged in provocative and threatening acts. In fact, the Washington Times reported that China recently test-fired a new submarine-launched missile with the capability of inflicting nuclear strikes against all 50 states. Lest you think that China is simply an economic threat, consider that its state run newspaper published in 2013 that a nuclear JL-2 missile strike on the western United States would kill 5 million to 12 million people. The American Legion is committed to keeping America safe. A strong national defense is one of the pillars upon which our organization was founded. Yet, the 2016 defense budget is projected to be 31 percent less than it was in 2010. The Army plans to cut an additional 40,000 troops. These cuts are irresponsible and they are dangerous. Unless Congress spares the military from another sequestration round, annual training will again be slashed. While we cannot definitively blame sequestration for the deaths of servicemembers, I cannot help but recall a military investigation that revealed that a 2013 training accident at a Nevada mortar range was caused by human error and inadequate training. It cost 7 U.S. Marines their lives and wounded several others. Then there are the personnel costs associated with these budget cuts. While a strong argument can be made that a military draft would lighten the burden from the less than one percent of the brave Americans who are already defending our freedom, a strong all-volunteer force would be more cost-effective. Yet military members are noticing the chipping away of their pay and benefits that has been occurring at an alarming rate over the years. In 2009, a Military Times survey indicated that 91 percent of military members rated their quality of life as “good” or “excellent.” In 2014, only 56 percent felt that way. Moreover, 70 percent now predict that the quality of life for servicemembers will decline. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said that the military must make the services attractive to young people. He has plenty of work to do. In order to make military service a viable option to this tech-savvy generation, he can begin by shelving a recommendation of The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission which would eventually eliminate the current pension system for those who make a career of the military. While it has become fashionable to compare private sector 401-k plans to what our military retirees receive, let’s dispel the myth that the pension system is somehow overly generous. Unlike private sector careerists, those who spend 20 years or more in the military have been required to change duty stations every two or three years, frequently separate from their families, risk life and limb in combat zones, rigorously train in brutal conditions, uproot their children from schools and friends, interrupt careers of their working spouses, and subject themselves to a military justice system that can imprison them for disrespecting their boss. If you compensate military service in the same manner as the private sector, don’t be surprised when the best and brightest choose the private sector. Just as importantly, we should not allow our national and elected leaders to pit personnel costs and benefits against weapons modernization and training. We can and must do both. We owe it to every man and woman in uniform that we will never send them in harm’s way without the resources to win. Our nation deserves it and our Constitution requires it. - See more at:
Some 250 veterans from throughout the region attended Stand Down 2015 last Friday in Lowell, calling attention to the issue of homelessness among veterans and providing supplies and services to the veterans . The event was hosted by the City of Lowell, the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill and the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (the Bedford VA). Stand Downs are collaborative events held nationally, coordinated between the VA and community-based homeless service providers, said Robert Cook, public affairs officer for the Bedford VA. The Stand Down began with a ceremony on the steps of Lowell Memorial Auditorium, featuring the University of Massachusetts ROTC color guard and the Lowell High School Singers performing the National Anthem. Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliot commended the Bedford VA, city officials and the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center for hosting the Stand Down in Lowell, and encouraged the nation to make veterans its highest priority. “We should want to serve our veterans after they have done so much for us,” Elliot said. Bedford VA Hospital Director Christine Croteau reminded those in attendance that homeless and at-risk veterans do not fit any stereotype and are often the people we would least suspect of being affected by those issues. “Stand Down represents one of many ways Bedford VA wants to serve our veterans better than they have ever been served before,” said Croteau. John Ratka, executive director of the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center of Haverhill, and his staff greeted veterans at registration, provided breakfast and lunch and organized and distributed donations of clothing and supplies. They also supplied supportive services for veterans and families through case management on site. Veterans also received shelter referrals, health screenings and VA and Social Security benefits counseling. Bedford VA buses later transported interested veterans to the Bedford VA campus to participate in specialized workshops and to camp overnight, followed by breakfast to start Day 2 of the Stand Down.  
SPARTANBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) - A convoy of military vehicles and veterans will travel through the Upstate on Wednesday and Thursday on a coast-to-coast tour. The tour is part of the Spirit of ’45 celebration, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the 95th anniversary of the U.S. Army's 1920 Transcontinental Motor Convoy route. Eighty military vehicles and a bus load of veterans will cross into South Carolina Wednesday morning and travel through the state along U.S. 29. The Military Vehicle Preservation Association vehicles are following the same route as the 1920 convoy. The convoy will stop for lunch at the WestGate Mall around noon. Spartanburg police will escort the vehicles through the city. Local veterans groups will also provide escorts and line the highway to show their support as the convoy passes through communities across Spartanburg, Greenville and Anderson Counties. Greer officials said all crossroads will be blocked off as the convoy passes through that city around 2 p.m. The convoy will stop for the night in Anderson and then continue along U.S. 29 into Georgia on Thursday. The cross country trip, dubbed “America’s Longest Veteran’s Day Parade” began in Virginia on Sept. 19 and will end in San Diego, CA on Oct. 18. Click here to read more about the Spirit of ’45 celebration, the coast-to-coast convoy, and the stops the group will be making along their journey.  
BRAZIL, Ind. (Sept. 23, 2015)-- Adam Jay Perkins II, 8, has a birthday request that might be a little different than wishes of other boys his age. The Van Buren Elementary second grader is asking all of his friends to skip the presents and give a gift to veterans. "My mom asked me if I wanted to do a charity and I said, 'Yes,'" he said. "She said, 'Do you want to do Disabled American Veterans?' I said, 'Yes, my dad's a veteran.'" His father, Adam Jay Perkins, is a disabled veteran who served in the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Not only do the Perkins' share the same name, but nearly the same birthday. The father was born on September 11 and the son on September 10. Outside of his friends and family, Adam is extending the invitation to everyone to donate to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization. DAV is a veterans advocacy and assistance group dedicated to empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. "We accomplish this by ensuring that veterans and their families can access the full range of benefits available to them; fighting for the interests of America's injured heroes on Capitol Hill; and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life," DAV's website states. If you'd like to help fulfill his wish, checks or money orders can be sent to: DAV, 2439 W 16th St, Indianapolis, IN 46222. Please note in the memo line on check or money order, "Adam Jay Perkins II," so that he is recognized for the donation. To learn more click here.