Archive for December, 2009

Mother wants to be buried with her son!

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

091225_Denise_Anderson

By ANDREW MIGA Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) – Denise Anderson lost her only son in the Iraq war. She’s determined not to lose her fight to be buried with him in a national veterans cemetery.

Army Spc. Corey Shea died Nov. 12, 2008, in Mosul, with one about a month left on his tour of duty in Iraq. He was buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, about 50 miles from his hometown of Mansfield, Mass.

A grieving Anderson, 42, soon hit an obstacle in her quest to be buried in the same plot with her son. That chance is offered only to the spouses or children of dead veterans; Corey Shea was 21, single and childless.

The Veterans Affairs Department grants waivers and has approved four similar requests from dead soldiers’ parents since 2005.

Anderson also sought a waiver. But under the VA’s policy, she has to die first to get one, a limbo that Anderson finds tough to live with.

“It was the most devastating blow that I could ever get,” Anderson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I just miss him so much. Just being with him will give me some sort of peace.”

“Every day I wake up and I look at his pictures and I cry,” she said. “It doesn’t get any easier. Maybe down the road I will be able to deal with it a little bit better, but right now it’s not easy.”

VA spokeswoman Laurie Tranter said Anderson’s waiver request was not granted because it was made “in advance of her time of need, which is VA’s policy for all such waiver requests.” Tranter noted, however, that just in case, Corey Shea’s remains “were placed at a sufficient depth to accommodate her future burial.”

Anderson doesn’t understand why her request can’t be granted now. She is challenging the VA’s burial policy with support from her congressman, Rep. Barney Frank, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

“The disproportion between what this country owes her and what she is asking is just as large as can be,” Frank said.

The two lawmakers are pushing the Corey Shea Act, a bill that would allow burial privileges for biological or adoptive parents of dead veterans who are buried in any of the 130 cemeteries run by the VA’s National Cemetery Administration. The legislation does not apply to burials at Arlington National Cemetery, which is maintained by the Army.

Under the bill, parents would be allowed burial space if their deceased veteran sons and daughters had no living spouses or minor children, and if there is available space at the gravesite. The veteran in question also must have been killed in battle or in preparation for battle.

Frank’s measure passed the House as part of a broader bill. Kerry is optimistic about the measure’s prospects in the Senate.

“No mothers or fathers of a fallen soldier should have to worry about their child being buried alone,” Kerry said. “I think Corey Shea would be unbelievably proud of his mother for her determined efforts to honor his memory and ease the burden for other parents who have experienced unbearable loss.”

The response from veteran’s advocacy groups has been mixed.

Ruth Stonesifer, national president of American Gold Star Mothers, said most members of her group support the bill. She said she’s heard of about a dozen parents who want to be buried with their children in national cemeteries.

AMVETS, however, said the measure would set a bad precedent for the veterans benefits system.

“Certainly we empathize with our Gold Star families,” said AMVETS spokesman Jay Agg. “In this particular case, we really have to fall on the side on protecting the integrity of the veterans benefits system. The position of AMVETS is that the benefits are for service members and their eligible dependents.”

Groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s largest organization of combat veterans, the American Legion and the National Military Family Association said they’ve not taken a position on the measure.

The VA initially had concerns that broadening eligibility for burials would mean fewer gravesites available for veterans. They noted that more than two people could qualify for burial as the parents in cases involving a combination of birth parents, adoptive parents, step parents or foster parents.

“We believe that preserving sufficient burial space for veterans should take priority over burial eligibility for others, and the original bill was very broad,” Tranter said.

To address those concerns, the bill was amended so only biological or adoptive parents could qualify.

Anderson said she’s determined to see the bill become law.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to ask to be buried with my son.”

Anderson said she was a single mom until Corey was about 8 and that they were especially close. She recalled working 60 hours a week to support them.

“He always had a smile on his face,” she said. “He had the biggest heart whatsoever. He’d do anything for anybody.”

Now, she’s embarrassed about having to challenge the VA for a chance to maintain, in death, the bond she and her son enjoyed in life.

“He was my heart and soul,” Anderson said. “It was like losing a twin. That’s how I feel. And it is just really important to me that I be alongside him. I want to spend my eternity with him.”

The Senate bill is S. 2096.

The House bill is H.R. 3949

Taliban attacks California Guard soldiers

Monday, December 21st, 2009

TalibanArmy Spec. Kathy Tanson, 20, of Corning in Northern California, helped repel a double ambush. (Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. troops fight off two groups of militants on a treacherous mountain road in eastern Afghanistan while returning from an agricultural mission in rural villages.

December 20, 2009 | 9:03 a.m.
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Reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates – A California Army National Guard group was attacked Saturday by a “complex double ambush” from Taliban fighters along a treacherous mountain road in eastern Afghanistan while the unit was returning from helping farmers in isolated villages, the Army reported today.

The Californians’ slow-moving six-vehicle convoy was attacked by two groups of Taliban militants firing medium machine guns and AK-47s. Most of the vehicles were hit and one was slightly disabled with a flattened tire and a bullet hole in the windshield, the Army said.

The Guard soldiers, from the 40th Infantry Division, returned fire at the groups, one in a cave in the mountain, the other hiding across the Kunar River. The U.S. estimates that 15 to 20 Taliban fighters were engaged in the ambush.

Spc. Kathy Tanson, the only woman among the soldiers, raked one of the ambush sites with fire from a 50-caliber machine gun mounted atop one of the U.S. vehicles.

There were no reported injuries among the California group. Infantry soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, were quickly ordered into the area and engaged in an hourlong fight with the militants, again with no U.S. casualties, the Army reported. Artillery and aircraft also pounded the Taliban positions.

The California group is part of a Pentagon agribusiness development program to win support from rural villagers by helping them improve the yield of their crops and the health of their livestock.

The troops had gone to the village of Naray in Kunar province to hold an inoculation program for more than 400 cattle, goats, donkeys and sheep. To get to the site, their convoy had to venture along a winding, boulder-strewn 60-mile road, which follows the wide, fast-moving river.

The road is littered with three dozen wrecks of civilian convoys destroyed by Taliban attacks in recent months or by drivers’ inability to negotiate sharp turns. Kunar has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting between U.S. troops and the Taliban — including one attack on an outpost that killed eight soldiers.

The livestock vaccination visit occurred Thursday and the attack came Saturday as the troops were returning to their home at Forward Operating Base Wright.

Tanson, 20, from Corning in Northern California, volunteered to be part of the unit because of her expertise in farming techniques and managing livestock. All 64 members of the team are volunteers.

Lt. Robert Parry, spokesman for the California unit, who was in the convoy, said the attack will not deter the agribusiness development team from venturing to other villages to help with irrigation, crop rotation and livestock management.

“It’s our intent to go where we’re needed,” Parry said by cellphone. “This is not the first time we’ve been shot at. This goes with the territory. We have a soft mission in a hard area.”

tony.perry@latimes.com
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Disabled/Retirees Action Alert

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

USDR Action Alert

Let’s Make Sure that VA and DOD Health Care are Excluded from HR 3590
Amendment Required to Exclude from Reform

I am deeply concerned about the health care bill, H.R. 3590, that is being considered by the Senate. I am most alarmed there is no provision that expressly protects Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense health-care which fulfills President Obama’s promise last August that neither program would “be affected by our efforts at broader health-care reform.”

Unless TRICARE, TRICARE for Life, and VA health care programs are exempted from a proposed excise tax, veterans and military retirees face the very real prospect of paying a new tax on so-called “Cadillac” health care plans, which TRICARE and VA health-care could easily be considered. As has been pointed out by a number of federal employee labor unions, such a tax would “have a discriminatory impact on plans that cover older workers and retirees …” Such excise tax could result in a tax increase of as much as 1.4 percent on veterans and military retirees and our widows, many of whom are retired on fixed incomes with no way to offset that additional tax other than by cutting back elsewhere in their family budgets.

VA and TRICARE health-care programs are hard earned benefits – earned through sacrifice and service and promised by a grateful nation that understands that taking care of veterans and military retirees is a cost of defending our nation. Not only would taking away these benefits break a promise made to those who served our nation in the Uniformed Services, it would threaten the viability of the all-volunteer force because it breaks faith with those who serve based in part on the promises that were made to them when they enlisted.

I urge you to immediately seek an amendment to H.R. 3590 to make it clear that nothing in the act shall interfere with VA or DOD existing authorities and that VA and DOD health care programs (TRICARE and TRICARE for Life) are excluded from any excise tax on health care programs.

If H.R. 3950 is not amended then I urge you to vote AGAINST this legislation when it comes to the floor for a vote.

Wreaths Across America

Friday, December 11th, 2009

From Arlington to Across America
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Ronald Reagan – 40th United States President (1911 – 2004)

The 18th annual Wreaths Across America program, will lay more than 151,000 wreaths on headstones of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 400 state and national cemeteries nationwide, and 24 cemeteries on foreign soil on Dec. 12.
Wreaths Across America was formed as an extension of the Arlington Wreath Project. The Arlington Wreath program was started by Morrill Worcester (Worcester Wreath) in 1992 with the donation and laying of 5000 Christmas wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. This became an annual journey for Mr. Worcester.

Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Mr. Worcester conceived the idea of sending 7 wreaths (one for each branch of the military as well as POW/MIA). In 2006 with the help of the CAP and other civic organizations, over 150 locations held wreath laying ceremonies simultaneously.
By 2008 over 300 locations held wreath laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. Over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans graves. Over 60,000 volunteers participated.

WAA reached out to thousands of children with the message of Remember, Honor and Teach. The importance of honoring each fallen serviceman as an individual is stressed.

The wreath laying is now held annually on the second Saturday of December. December 13, 2008 was unanimously voted by the US Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day”. Wreaths Across America would not be successful without the help of the volunteers, many active organizations and the generosity of the trucking industry.
We collectively thank our military and their families for “Our Freedom”!

Medal of Honor Vet will fly “Old Glory” forever

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Having won fight to keep 21-foot flagpole at his home, Medal of Honor vet thanks supporters
From Associated Press
December 09, 2009 8:00 PM EST

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A 90-year-old Medal of Honor winner says he plans to fly Old Glory “without interference” for the rest of his life, now that his homeowners’ association has dropped a demand to take down a 21-foot flagpole in his front yard.
Retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot read a statement Wednesday thanking people nationwide who backed his efforts to fly the American flag at his home.
Barfoot’s comments came a day after the Sussex Square homeowners’ association dropped threats of legal action. He had erected the flagpole in September, despite being denied permission to do so because it violated the neighborhood’s aesthetic guidelines.
Barfoot received the Medal of Honor after standing up to three German tanks with a bazooka during World War II.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A 90-year-old Medal of Honor winner can keep his 21-foot flagpole in his front yard after a homeowner’s association dropped its request to remove it, a spokesman for Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said Tuesday.
The Sussex Square homeowners’ association likewise has agreed to drop threats to take legal action against retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot, Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said.
The association had threatened to take Barfoot to court if he failed to remove the pole from his suburban Richmond home by Friday. It had said the pole violated the neighborhood’s aesthetic guidelines.
Neither Barfoot’s daughter, Margaret Nicholls, nor homeowners’ president Glenn Wilson immediately returned telephone messages.
Dropping the issue effectively ends a request that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday called “silly.”
Warner and Sen. Jim Webb, both Virginia Democrats, had rallied behind Barfoot, a World War II veteran.
In a letter last week, Webb urged the association to “consider the exceptional nature of Col. Barfoot’s service when considering his pride and determination in honoring our flag.”
Barfoot’s fight also has lit up veterans bulletin boards and blog sites supporting him.
Barfoot won the Medal of Honor for actions while his platoon was under German assault near Carano, Italy, in May 1944. He was credited with standing up to three German tanks with a bazooka and stopping their advance.
He also won the Purple Heart and other decorations, and served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring from the service in 1974.

Kahler family funeral held in Burlingame

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

By Lauren Seabrook
The town of Burlingame remembers the Kahler family Saturday morning. Friends and loved ones of Karen, Emily and Lauren Kahler gathered at The Federated Church of Burlingame Saturday to say goodbye. Police say the three women were shot to death by a family member on Thanksgiving weekend.

Members of the Boozefighter Motorcycle Club were outside the church to block protestors from the mourning family. Greg Klingbeil “Kegger” of the Boozefighter Motorcycle Club says, “we heard the Phelps were coming down and they’re going to picket the girls that were killed here in Burlingame and we find that just completely wrong and we can’t have that so we’re going to come down and block out the Phelps and show them what we stand for and that we’re behind the families.”

James “Kraig” Kahler is accused of killing his estranged wife, her mother and their two daughters. He’s being charged with capital murder. The Missouri family was in town visiting their grandmother for Thanksgiving.

Note: “Kegger” and some of the Boozefighters from this chapter met us in Topeka along with all the Boozefighters that accompanied us from Oregon thru the nation to Arlington.

I commend them and thank them for standing up and being counted. Everyone, especially the innocent need protection in their time of grief.

Wreaths Across America Program to Adorn 151,000 Veteran Graves

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

WreathsMorrill Worcester, center, with Andrea Shea King at Arlington National Cemetery in December 2007.
Friday, December 04, 2009
By Joshua Rhett Miller

For Morrill Worcester, this time of year is all about remembering the heroes who died protecting the United States, one wreath at a time.

Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, will be escorted on Sunday by Maine State Police, volunteers, veterans and Patriot Guard Riders for the 18th annual Wreaths Across America program, which will lay more than 151,000 20-inch wreaths on headstones of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 400 state and national cemeteries nationwide, and 24 cemeteries on foreign soil on Dec. 12.

What began as one man’s way to honor veterans with 5,000 wreaths in 1992 has blossomed into a national nonprofit organization with more than 100,000 wreaths sponsored by individuals, businesses and community groups from Maine to Alaska.

Worcester’s family-run business will donate more than 25,000 wreaths, with another 16,000 supplied by Wal-Mart, including decorations for a “mile of memories” display at New York City’s Battery Park to honor 9/11 victims and veterans from New York, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas, and the site of the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania.

“It really should be awesome when they’re all laid out,” Worcester said of the wreaths commemorating the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “It’s really going to be nice and I’m very proud to see it blossom the way it has.”

Worcester’s caravan of wreath-stuffed trucks will leave Sunday from Harrington, Maine, and make 20-plus stops en route to Virginia, including visits to schools, town squares, veteran hospitals, Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts and a memorial for Gen. George Patton in Hamilton, Mass., where the military hero once lived.

“When we leave Harrington and go to Arlington, it literally is a parade from one end to the other,” Worcester told FoxNews.com. “It’s just incredible how many people are now involved.”

Worcester, 59, said just 12 people were part of the program in 1992, when 16,000 wreaths were laid at grave sites in Arlington. Now, more than 32 trucking companies volunteer their services for the cause and the U.S. Senate voted last year to make the second Saturday in December National Wreaths Across America Day.

“That’s how much it’s grown,” Worcester said. “It’s been heartwarming to say the least, it really has. I think it’s helped a lot of people, really.”

Worcester said he’s inspired by dozens of YouTube videos of wreath-laying ceremonies across the country, including events from Houston to Richmond, Va., to Keokuk, Iowa.

Andrea Shea King, who participated in the program in 2007, said the program was the highlight of her holiday season.

“It was absolutely the most meaningful thing that I’ve done and it brough home to me the enormity of the sacrifice our servicemen and women have made,” King told FoxNews.com. “It says something good about a country that remembers its fallen at Christmas time.”

For Vietnam War veterans, injustice follows injury

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

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For Vietnam War veterans, injustice follows injury
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Second in a series: Vietnam vets wait years and fight skeptical agency to get disability

By Tim Jones
Tribune reporter

December 6 2009

Jack Cooley delivered his final argument in a long, distinguished legal career from a hospital bed.

The complete article can be viewed at:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/agentorange/chi-agent-orange2-dec06,0,2356181.story

Visit chicagotribune.com at http://www.chicagotribune.com

Handling of Unclaimed Remains in MA

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

DEVAL L. PATRICK
Governor
TIMOTHY P. MURRAY
Lieutenant Governor
December 02, 2009 – For immediate release:
Patrick-Murray Administration Announces Agreement on Handling of Unclaimed Remains of Veterans
BOSTON — The Patrick-Murray Administration today announced that the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) has entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association (MFDA) and the Missing in America Project (MIAP) to inter unclaimed cremated remains of eligible veterans, their spouses and dependents. Under the agreement, unclaimed cremated remains that have been identified as an eligible veteran or an eligible family member of a veteran will be interred at one of the two Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemeteries.
“Every man and woman who has worn the uniform of our armed services deserves the privilege to receive proper military funeral honors,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Working together, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, and the Missing in America Project will ensure that no Massachusetts veteran is left behind and that each of them will receive the distinct honors they have earned.”
Under current Massachusetts Law, funeral home directors seeking to inter the unclaimed remains of a veteran are required to notify the Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, to schedule an interment. However, in the past, identification of veteran status and transportation issues have, in certain cases, made this process difficult. Under today’s agreement, DVS, MFDA and MIAP will coordinate resources to ensure that these veterans are provided a proper military internment.
“Massachusetts remains committed to its tradition of providing and caring for our Veterans. We have worked hard to assure that Veterans are properly honored and cared for, and with this collaboration we will continue this tradition offering them respect, honor, and perpetual care,” said Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services.
“Massachusetts has a long and proud history of honoring veterans both living and deceased. The Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemeteries, which are located in Agawam and Winchendon, offer all Massachusetts veterans a solemn, dignified and appropriate place of rest; and also provides a setting of honor and dignity befitting their service to our nation,” said Secretary of Veterans’ Services Tom Kelley. “The Department is pleased to enter into this unique agreement, which ensures that unclaimed cremated remains of veterans are interred with full military honors and that the veterans’ spouse and eligible dependents also receive burial rights in one of these locations.”
“Veterans in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and across the country have sacrificed and served our country with honor. This outstanding agreement will ensure our commitment to honor theses heroes and their families. Our veterans deserve to rest in peace in a place fitting to their valor and dignity,” said Representative Harold P. Naughton, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans’ and Federal Affairs.
“This is a valuable continuation of Massachusetts’ tradition of honoring the service of veterans,” said Senator Kenneth Donnelly, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans’ and Federal Affairs. “I thank the Department of Veterans Services, the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, and the Missing in America Project for making this a priority, so that we can extend one final dignity to our brave men and women.”
The Missing in America Project is a registered non-profit organization whose goal is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. The MIAP maintains a national network of individuals who work with local Funeral Homes, State, and National Agencies to ensure that, from now on, the cremated remains of any unclaimed veteran will be identified, claimed and interred in a timely manner. Under this agreement, MIAP will help assist in the research and transportation of remains to Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemeteries.
“The Missing in America Project proudly enters into an agreement with the Massachusetts Funeral Directors and the Department Of Veterans Services to insure the proper internment of the remains of our unclaimed veterans, their spouses, and eligible children in our state and national cemeteries,” said Don MacNeill, MIAP’s State Operations Coordinator for Massachusetts and New England. “Coming from Native American decent, I believe that no soul is at peace till it is at rest. Together I believe we can accomplish this great task.”
The MFDA is the recognized voice and resource for information, expertise and opinion on issues affecting the funeral service profession. “We believe that by working in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services and the Missing in America Project we have successfully developed a system to provide our members with a dignified and suitable way to allow for the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans’ and their family members to be laid to rest, said Margaret Nolan, Executive Director of the MFDA. “Our primary concern is always the respectful and dignified treatment of all those we serve both living and dead.”
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Former Police Officer sentenced for Falsely claiming Silver Star Military Decoration

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CA-United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that ERIC GENE PIOTROWSKI, 41, of Elk Grove, was sentenced this morning by United States Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows to 12 months probation and 200 hours of community service for falsely claiming that he was awarded a Silver Star Military decoration during Operation Desert Storm.

(Media-Newswire.com) – SACRAMENTO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that ERIC GENE PIOTROWSKI, 41, of Elk Grove, was sentenced this morning by United States Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows to 12 months probation and 200 hours of community service for falsely claiming that he was awarded a Silver Star Military decoration during Operation Desert Storm. He pleaded guilty on September 15, 2009. Under the Stolen Valor Act, which was enacted in late 2006, it is a misdemeanor offense to wear military medals that were not in fact awarded, or to falsely claim to have been awarded such medals.

This case was investigated by the FBI and the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Rodriguez, who prosecuted the case, PIOTROWSKI falsely claimed that he was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry and intrepidity in action against hostile forces in Operation Desert Storm. The Silver Star is the third highest decoration awarded by the U.S. Military. He falsely claimed that in 1991 during an Iraqi counterattack in Operation Desert Storm “he exposed himself to direct enemy fire while providing suppressive fires to cover an antitank team, which was maneuvering to destroy an Iraqi T-62 tank.”

In fact, PIOTROWSKI did not see military action in Operation Desert Storm, and he purchased the Silver Star Citation and medal via the Internet. Under false pretenses, on December 1, 2007, PIOTROWSKI was formally recognized for the Silver Star by the Undersecretary for the California Department of Veteran Affairs. During the time PIOTROWSKI made his false claim of valor, he was employed by the California Exposition Center Police Department.

In imposing the 200-hour community service to be performed at a Veteran’s Hospital or similar facility for United States Veterans, Judge Hollows stated that such service was an opportunity for PIOTROWSKI to learn from his mistakes. He was ordered to abdicate his peace officer’s certification from the state of California and is under a lifetime prohibition from law enforcement employment for lack of good moral character.