Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 5-25-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Obama Says America Has Not Always Shown Veterans Respect.  
2. Military Family That Lost Son In Iraq Reflects On Memorial Day.  
3. Army Captain Who Lost Leg In Iraq Now Involved With Wounded Warrior Project.  
4. Vietnam Veteran Founded "Vets Journey Home" To Welcome Returning Troops.  
5. Veterans Who Lost Limbs Participate In 90-Mile Relay Race.  
6. Some WWII Veterans Are Just Coming To Terms With Their PTSD.  
7. Vietnam Veteran With "Other Than Honorable" Discharge Seeking VA Care.  
8. 148,000 Veterans’ Names Read Aloud At Riverside National Cemetery.  
9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Memory Program Honors Those Whose Name Are Not On The Wall.  
10.     Maryland Governor Hosts D-Day Event.

     1.      Obama Says America Has Not Always Shown Veterans Respect.   The AP (5/23) reports President Obama "saluted veterans and urged his countrymen to do the same this Memorial Day weekend, saying the nation has not always paid them proper respect. In his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Obama said people can honor veterans by sending a letter or care package to troops overseas, volunteering at health clinics or taking supplies to a homeless veterans center." The President "said it could also mean something as simple as saying ‘thank you’ to a veteran walking by on the street."
      This AP story is carried by more than 300 newspapers and websites, including the Arizona Daily Star, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Denver Post, Detroit Free Press, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Kansas City Star, Las Vegas Sun, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Raleigh News and Observer, Salt Lake Tribune, San Diego Union Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and Seattle Times.
      The Washington Post (5/24, Wilson, 652K) reports Obama used his address "to urge Americans to find ways of thanking troops serving overseas and veterans who have returned home" and "also highlighted the ways that his administration is trying to do the same." Obama said, "Our fighting men and women — and the military families who love them — embody what is best in America. We have a responsibility to serve all of them as well as they serve all of us. And yet all too often in recent years and decades, we, as a nation, have failed to live up to that responsibility. We have failed to give them the support they need or pay them the respect they deserve." AFP (5/23) and Voice of America (5/23, Klein) also report on the President’s address.
      Obama Touts VA Funding Increase.   CNN (5/24) notes that the White House "recently proposed a significant budget increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including an 11 percent hike in fiscal year 2010 — Obama says that’s the largest single-year funding increase for the agency in three decades. The president’s budget also calls for a $25 billion increase in funding for the VA over the next five years. ‘It’s a commitment that will help us provide our veterans with the support and benefits they have earned, and expand quality health care to a half million more veterans,’ Obama said. The federal government is establishing a new system for updating medical records of servicemen and women which, Obama has said, will ‘cut through red tape’ and allow new veterans to start receiving their benefits more quickly."
      The Hill (5/23, Jacobs) reports Obama "went on to say that he is expanding the Department of Veterans Affairs with the ‘largest single-year funding increase in three decades.’ To help pay for it, Obama said he signed legislation last week to eliminate inefficiencies in defense projects that he believes will save taxpayers ‘tens of billions of dollars.’" The Politico (5/23, Henderson) reports Obama said "his administration is laying ‘a new foundation’ of support for servicemen and women" that includes increased VA funding, "a streamlined defense department, and a ‘Post-9/11 GI Bill that will offer them the same opportunity to live out their dreams that was afforded our greatest generation.’"

2.      Military Family That Lost Son In Iraq Reflects On Memorial Day.   The Sioux Falls Argus Leader (5/24, Kirschenmann) reports, "The Wagner family of Alexandria feels a special connection to Memorial Day. After all, many family members have served in the military, and several generations are veterans. And three years ago this month, South Dakota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Greg Wagner died in Iraq. He was 35. For his big brother Dan, that sacrifice alone makes Memorial Day an important time to reflect. Taking time to remember his brother and honor other fallen soldiers can help heal loved ones, too, therapists say. When the Guard’s 147th Charlie Battery convoy Greg Wagner was leading through Baghdad was struck by a rocket, he became No. 22 of South Dakota’s now 27 war deaths since May 2003 . The number is 29 if two additional casualties who had ties to the state but are not on the official military list are counted. ‘There always is a big contingency of Wagners at this tiny Memorial Day service,’ says Dan Wagner, 53, a respiratory therapy supervisor for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Medical Center in Sioux Falls."

3.      Army Captain Who Lost Leg In Iraq Now Involved With Wounded Warrior Project.   The Gainesville Sun (5/24, Curry) reports, "Jonathan Pruden can’t run. He can swim, play basketball and bike long distances – but he can’t run. Since 2005, the retired U.S. Army captain has lived without his right leg. It was amputated below the knee two years after Pruden was a victim of a roadside bombing in Iraq. He wears a prosthetic leg now. The near-fatal attack led to years of multiple surgeries, physical rehabilitation and lots of stress. As an injured soldier, the system was overwhelming. Pruden struggled with the complexity of the medical and benefits process. He was ‘stymied’ by the number of forms he had to fill out and phone calls he had to make. Pruden thought there had to be a way for other wounded soldiers not to experience the same frustrations he did. The fall after Pruden left Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he found out about the Wounded Warrior Project. The non-profit organization helps wounded members of the military cope with their injuries, navigate the government benefits system and transition back to civilian life. He immediately got involved, and now he’s the area outreach coordinator for WWP, headquartered in Jacksonville."

4.      Vietnam Veteran Founded "Vets Journey Home" To Welcome Returning Troops.   The Frederick News-Post (5/24, Guynn) reports, "A homecoming of honor is what Gene McMahon wants to give veterans through the Vets Journey Home program. McMahon, a Vietnam veteran, knows the struggles veterans face when they return home from war. He founded Vets Journey Home to give emotional healing to veterans or anyone who has experienced the trauma of war. Vets Journey Home is held in cities around the country and at Gaia Healing Center, near Mount Airy, where McMahon and his wife, Dr. Marianne Rothschild, are ‘stewards’ of the land. There is no cost for veterans to attend the program here, but volunteer staff are asked, but not required, to pay $50 each to participate, to help cover costs and make it possible for veterans to attend at no cost."

5.      Veterans Who Lost Limbs Participate In 90-Mile Relay Race.   The Bellingham Herald (5/24) reports, "As chief physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., lieutenant colonel Kerrie Golden understands how empowering a finish line can be. On a daily basis the Mount Baker High School and Western Washington University graduate sees the confidence that comes from physical achievement while working with injured soldiers who have experienced traumatic injuries. On Sunday, May 24, at Whatcom County’s annual Ski to Sea relay race, Golden’s goal as captain of Missing Parts in Action – a team made up almost entirely of injured members of the U.S. military – will be to help her team cross another finish line and in doing so hopefully continue their mental and physical rehabilitation. The 90-mile, seven-leg relay race starts at 8 a.m. from the Mt. Baker Ski Area and wraps up at Marine Park in Fairhaven later in the afternoon. Missing Parts in Action will be competing in the competitive open division. … Among those competing on Missing Parts in Action is Staff Sergeant Michael Kacer from Scranton, Pa. The 26-year-old suffered an amputated left arm and internal injuries nearly a year ago in a rocket explosion while serving in Afghanistan."

6.      Some WWII Veterans Are Just Coming To Terms With Their PTSD.   The Grand Rapids Press (5/24, Wynn) reports, "In a phenomenon that may foreshadow the future for many American U.S. troops now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans of older wars are being diagnosed decades after combat with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, which was not recognized as a diagnosis until 1980, has stalked, then seized its sufferers as long as a half-century after their wartime experience. For one such veteran, Jack Walbridge, the syndrome hit with particular force, waking him in the middle of the night. He smelled cordite, an explosive used in artillery shells. And it thrust Walbridge back into a battle he spent most of his life trying to forget. Images of dead American troops at a crossroads in Belgium, killed by their own artillery, floated back. … The 84-year-old Gaines Township resident later found his way to help. Now he sits in group therapy twice a month with other older veterans, releasing memories he locked away even from those closest to him."

7.      Vietnam Veteran With "Other Than Honorable" Discharge Seeking VA Care.   The Coos Bay World (5/24) reports, "When Stacy McLain volunteered to go to Vietnam, he was a teenager – a 17-year-old eager to serve his country. ‘I wanted to do the right thing,’ he said. Two years later, he returned to his country a man – and a different person. The 56-year-old’s family had a history of military service. His father and mother served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His brother was in the National Guard and another built equipment for the military. McLain’s mother, Betty Meister, 86, said she was proud of her son’s sense of service and encouraged him to go. But now, she’s fighting a battle against the military to get him mental health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. … He wanted to go to the action – to Vietnam. The Army granted his wish, making him a helicopter door gunner. He covered troops as they dropped into or pulled out of action zones. McLain returned fire at whoever shot at his aircraft. Sometimes he didn’t know whom he killed, whether they were soldiers or civilians. They were nameless, faceless, and McLain agonizes, blameless. ‘You don’t always see what you are hitting,’ he said. ‘I guess that is the bigger part of my nightmare.’ … McLain returned to Ft. Hood, Texas, to await release from service. Without combat missions, McLain was left to think and dream. He couldn’t cope

with the nightmares and constant thoughts of what he had done as a soldier. He ran from the Army. McLain was gone from January 1972 until August 1972, when he turned himself in. Facing a decision between court-martial and a quick, but ‘under conditions other than honorable’ discharge, McLain opted to be released. He has since been diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. McLain and his mother maintain he went AWOL because of the service-related mental illness, yet the less-than-honorable brand that resulted has prevented him from getting treatment through Veterans Affairs."

8.      148,000 Veterans’ Names Read Aloud At Riverside National Cemetery.   In addition, the AP (5/24, Flaccus) and New York Times (5/24, A20, Cathcart, 1.06M) have stories on the reading of the names of all 148,000 military veterans and soldiers buried at California’s Riverside National Cemetery, which the Times calls "the first such unbroken roll call at any national veterans cemetery in the country." It will take 10 days in all.

9.      Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Memory Program Honors Those Whose Name Are Not On The Wall.   The Jackson Sun (5/24) reports Vietnam veteran Lloyd Smith "was 59 when he died in September 2007 after battling illness since he returned from Vietnam in January 1970. … So when Marie heard about the In Memory program, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, she applied to have her husband’s name added to the list. A part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the program honors those who died as a result of the Vietnam War but whose deaths do not fit the criteria to be added to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. The Vietnam Memorial Wall has 58,260 names of service members who died of wounds suffered in combat zones, a criteria set by the Department of Defense. Established in 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of The Wall, promoting healing and educating about the effects of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund requires proof of service and a death certificate with a cause of death for a name to be recognized as part of In Memory. But it is not a government recognition that the person died as a result of his service in Vietnam, said Holly Rotondi, vice president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund."

10.    Maryland Governor Hosts D-Day Event.   The Baltimore Sun (5/24, Smitherman) reports on "ceremonies with Gov. Martin O’Malley today at the Government House in Annapolis, commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coastline. O’Malley also plans to travel to France next month with representatives from the 29th Division, the only National Guard unit that landed on D-Day. … The 29th Division Association, a veterans group, has coordinated a trip to Normandy every five years that previous governors, including Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and William Donald Schaefer, have attended. This year, it has planned ceremonies at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the National Guard monument to D-Day veterans."


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