Friday, May 25, 2012

As We Celebrate Memorial Day

This weekend many of us will join with friends and love ones to honor our brave men and women in uniform.

Since our nation’s founding, many have given their lives in service to our flag and our country.  On Memorial Day we pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Having served our nation in a time of war, we join with all Americans in thanking our troops and all other veterans and military families for their service and commitment to our great country.

We wish all a very Happy Memorial Day to you and to your family.  Remember that we wouldn't be the land of the free if we weren't the home of the brave.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

VVA Seeks President’s Help to Study Dow’s Dioxin Corn Seed

Vietnam Veterans of America Press Release | May 23, 2012 

The following is the text of a letter sent earlier today by John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), to President Barack Obama.

“Your obvious concern and efforts on behalf of the health and well-being of America’s veterans and military families, and the overall health of our nation, are very much appreciated by Vietnam Veterans of America. This is why VVA seeks your immediate assistance in staying the deregulation of Dow Agro science’s much ballyhooed 2,4-D-resistant corn seed until an environmental impact study can be conducted and its subsequent results evaluated by scientists who are not affiliated with Dow Agro science.

“To date, no fewer than seven environmental statutes bear on the registration and deregulation of this crop, bred to withstand high levels of herbicides, including 2,4-D, technically known as a chlorinated phenoxy acid in ester form, which comprised what was commonly called Agent Orange, known for the orange stripe around the 55-gallon drums in which this insidious defoliant was stored and shipped during the Vietnam War.

Although there is a lot that science has learned about the effects of dioxin on the human organism, there is still a lot that science has yet to learn. We do know, for instance, the dioxin builds up in the soft fatty tissue, where it remains for years and can do considerable damage. Now, Dow and Monsanto wish to release genetically modified corn that has increased resistance to 2,4-D. What will this mean to Vietnam vets, who have already been exposed to this chemical through our military service? To our progeny? We believe there has been little serious epidemiological investigation by the VA or the CDC or the NIH into this very real issue. To add insult to potential injury, Dow’s naming of this weed-control method “Enlist” is, unintended or not, a slap at all Vietnam veterans.

 “The USDA did perform an environmental assessment on this seed and concluded that its deregulation would have no “significant” impact on the environment. We disagree. We submitted formal comments regarding this issue in a letter on April 27, 2012, to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Given what we know, we have major concerns about the effects on biodiversity, human health, cumulative environmental impacts, and the security of the world’s food supply.      

“The increased use of 2,4-D could significantly harm the economic interests of farmers who grow broadleaf crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, and grapes, which are damaged by 2,4-D. The potential for cross-pollination and destruction of other varieties of corn and other crops has not been seriously addressed in the environmental assessment, although it is a factor in whether or not this corn is a plant pest and can itself be considered a noxious weed because of its impacts on other plant species. Dow has also acknowledged that its ultimate goal for its new variety of corn is to eventually seize the market. Should this come to pass, USDA fails to address how increased use of Dow’s product could then impact human health.

“Democracy and free markets cannot exist without an informed citizenry. We have not been provided with enough information to make intelligent decisions regarding the protection of other plants, human health, and the security of the world’s food supply if Dow’s petition moves forward. USDA’s APHIS program has prepared an environmental assessment that raises more questions than it answers, and raises concerns of significant impacts to the future of our crops, our world food supply, and our natural environment. NEPA and the CEQ require an environmental impact statement be prepared under 40 C.F.R. § 1508. We are not calling for a complete ban of this new product at this time. We are simply not willing to be lied to or withheld information from again. Vietnam veterans were lied to about our exposure to chemicals which claimed many lives long after our troops left Southeast Asia.

“Mr. President, at the time when we honor veterans who have laid the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom, we ask that you honor the public trust and continue to regulate Dow’s product until the USDA performs a proper environmental impact statement on this major federal action and opens the process to appropriate public involvement.

“We thank you for all you have done for veterans and our families, and for active-duty troops and their families.”
Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation’s only congressionally chartered veteran’s service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA's founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Accessing VA & DoD Information is Getting Easier

May 21, 2012 by Rob Reynolds

It’s great to see how access is changing since the end of my service with the 82ndAirborne Division and U.S. Army Special Forces when a parachute accident ended my military career. Ever since then, I’ve had to learn how to navigate VA. While I now work for VA, I’m still just like many of you. When I got out of the service, I didn’t have a clue about VA or how to navigate the system. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows a bit about the concept of “hurry up and wait.” My experience as a service-connected disabled Veteran trying to access benefits was no different. But I’m here to tell you, I believe VA is changing and while it is not perfect, we’re stepping up to give you the service and support that you have earned and deserve.

For years now I’ve listened to my fellow Veterans, service members and their families talk about VA and ask, “Why can’t the process be easier and less cumbersome?” or, “When is VA going to modernize and improve customer service?” People want better, easier and faster access to services and benefits.  Yet as much as I’ve heard some people complain, I’ve also met a ton of folks who still don’t know anything about VA and the benefits they are entitled to. There are more than 22 million Veterans in the US and yet only 8 million currently use VA in some form. We know that 73 percent of Veterans who do use VA want to connect via online, but many still don’t know about what online resources the VA offers.

VA has been working hard as part of our Veterans Relationship Management (VRM) initiative to fundamentally transform your access to VA benefits and services.  A big part of this effort is the eBenefits web portal.  eBenefits is a joint VA & DoD initiative that gives Veterans, service members and their family members free, 24/7 access to more than 41 VA & DoD-related self-service features, with more coming each quarter. eBenefits is the single online source for lifelong access to VA & DoD benefits information. More than 1.4 million users are now registered on eBenefits, but we need to ensure all of our fellow veterans are registered.

Now I realize eBenefits is not perfect, but I also know firsthand that the access and capabilities now being provided didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. There are also a lot of dedicated folks working hard every day many that are also fellow Veterans and Disabled Veterans to try and give us what we need and have been asking for.

I know the biggest complaint we still get is about how hard it is to find out about the status of your claims. You should know that nine thousand people are checking their claims status every month on eBenefits. Are you one of them? Do you know that with eBenefits you can submit your benefits claim electronically, monitor VA benefits payments, view scheduled VA appointments, get a civil service preference letter for federal hiring and much more?

I know that many Vets and transitioning service members are looking for jobs and soon you’ll be able to search for jobs within the VA, receive employment counseling, and apply for VA Compensation Benefits using a wizard style tool. We’ve also just launched a new feature to streamline the eBenefits registration process and make verifying your identity easier.  You can now obtain your premium account all on-line using the registration wizard, which means you no longer have to visit a VA Regional Office or call the 1-800 number that is hard to get through and why I like the on-line ability with additional features getting delivered every quarter.  We’re constantly listening to your feedback to improve the site and give you more of what you want and need.

Now yes, I work for VA, but this isn’t just about doing my job. For those that know me, I live it every day. I want to make sure you don’t have to go through the same things I did all those years ago.  eBenefits is the easier way to connect with VA & DoD, and once you register, you have an account for life.  Go to the eBenefits home page, check it out and register for your free, personalized eBenefits account today. I’m registered and I hope you will take the time to register as well.  I need your help in making sure our fellow comrades are aware, so please pass the word.

Rob Reynolds is service-connected disabled Veteran and the Director of Benefits Assistance Service at the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 2012 Newsletter

The May Newsletter is going out today in emails, and tomorrow in the U.S. Mail.  If you haven't got your copy yet and would like to read it now, click this link.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. More about the Veterans Crisis Line.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Extra Social Security Dollars for Military Service

Since 1957, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active duty for training), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has also been covered by Social Security.

Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for your military service from 1957 through 2001 can be credited to your record for Social Security purposes. These extra earnings credits may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit, according to the Social Security Administration.

Special extra earnings credits are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training. Special extra earnings credits are not granted for inactive duty training.

If your active military service occurred

  • From 1957 through 1967, the extra credits are added to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
  • From 1968 through 2001, you do not need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record. 
  • After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service. 

You are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay for active duty military service earnings between 1957 and 1977.

From 1978 through 2001, for every $300 in active duty basic pay, you are credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to a maximum of $1,200 a year. If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, and didn't complete at least 24 months of active duty or your full tour, you may not be able to receive the additional earnings. Check with Social Security for details.

Congress ended this benefit as of January 1, 2002.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Corps of Engineers

Continental Congress authority for a "Chief Engineer for the Army" dates from June 16, 1775. A corps of Engineers for the United States was authorized by the Congress on March 11, 1779.

The Corps of Engineers, as it is known today, came into being on March 16, 1802, when President Jefferson was authorized by Congress to "organize and establish a Corps of Engineers. President Thomas Jefferson played a key role in getting passage of the 1802 legislation. The new Academy was part of his plan to reform the Army and educate a new class of officers who supported his own democratic principles. It also reflected his desire for an Academy not merely military in nature, but designed to produce soldiers also schooled in mathematics and science to serve the Nation in peacetime. Accordingly, he selected Colonel Jonathan Williams - more scientist than professional soldier - as Chief Engineer and the Academy’s first superintendent.

A Corps of Topographical Engineers, authorized on July 4, 1838, was merged with the Corps of Engineers on March 1863.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Wall

There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010.

The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 36 years since the last casualties.

The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth , Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, who was killed on Sept. 7, 1965.

  • There are 3 sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.
  • There are 31 sets of brothers are on the Wall ... thus, 31sets of parents lost 2 of their sons.
  • 39,996 young men whose names are on the Wall were just 22 or younger.
  • 8,283 of those young soldiers were just 19 years old.
  • The largest age group, 33,103, were 18 years old.
  • 12  of those young soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old.
  • 5  of those young soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old.
  • One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was 15 years old.
  • 997 of those young soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam ..
  • 1,448 of those young soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam ..
  • 54 of those young soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia. I wonder why so many from one school.
  • 8 Women are on the Wall. Nursing the wounded.
  • 244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War—153 of them are on the Wall.
  • Beallsville, Ohio with a population of 475 lost 6 of her sons.
  • West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation. There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.
  • The Marines of Morenci - They led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. And in the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci's mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966. Only 3 returned home.
  • The Buddies of Midvale - LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez, Tom Gonzales were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ball field. And they all went to Vietnam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed. LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
  • The most casualty deaths for a single day was on January 31, 1968 — 245 deaths.
  • The most casualty deaths for a single month was May 1968 — 2,415 casualties were incurred.

For most Americans who read this they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 2012 Newsletter Sent

Our newsletter was sent out to 367 guys who'd given us their email address, but 41 bounced back.  So, if you haven't received a copy of our newsletter in your inbox in the past couple of days, you can view the newsletter here.

Fallen Engineers Memorial Unveiled

One of the highest priorities of the Army Engineer Association (AEA) is to recognize all Army engineers who have given their lives in the defense of the United States of America.  Equally important is to recognize those engineers who received wounds in combat resulting in the award of the Purple Heart.  AEA is accepting donations for the maintenance of the Memorial Wall for Fallen Engineers unveiled at the Sapper Grove at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri — home of the Army Engineer Regiment — during the ENFORCE 2011 conference.  Click here to learn more about the Memorial Wall.

If you'll be driving to our next reunion in Branson, MO, the memorial isn't all that far away.  You might want to take some time to stop by and pay your respects.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Request from Vietnam Vets Memorial Fund

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund National Call for Photos is a campaign to collect a photograph for each of the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are inscribed on the Memorial in Washington, DC. Collected pictures will be used in the Education Center at The Wall and can also be found on The Virtual Wall at www.VVMF.ORG. There are 2,663 names on The Wall from Michigan. 2,662 men and 1 woman. To date, they have located photos of more than half of them. Half however, is not enough. Every single name on The Wall deserves to be honored. Every single service member who gave their life deserves to be seen, and to have future generations see them as more than just a name on The Wall.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is requesting your assistance with this project. Ways that you can spread the word include:

  • Coverage in local media
  •  Publicity in community newsletters and/or websites
  •  Notifying your local veterans groups
  • Encouraging citizens to contact the VVMF to share photos and stories of those they knew who gave their lives in Vietnam. 

 Please contact Lisa Lark, Michigan Call for Photos Coordinator at 313-410-8477 or by email at LisaLark@VVMF.ORG for further information.