Friday, May 30, 2008

Political Science vs. Government – Did They Make Us Lose The Way?


Political Science vs. Government – Did They Make Us Lose The Way?
710 words

Harlingen, Texas, May 31, 2008: Back in those long ago days when I was
a college undergraduate, I selected a major. It was called
Government. Now this word distinction is important because in those
days our institutions of higher learning thought they were obligated
to teach about the art of governance. Today it is difficult to find a
major field of study listed as Government. Instead it has been
replaced by Political Science.

These two titles are now considered to be the same, but really have
markedly different meanings. As defined in Webster’s New Collegiate
Dictionary, the primary definition of Government or Governance is
“moral conduct or behavior, discretion, in the act or process of
governing”. Political Science, which has replaced that specific
college major, is defined as “a social science concerned chiefly with
the description and analysis of political and especially governmental

You can see the difference at a glance. Colleges and universities of
the past taught young students about how to conduct themselves morally
and with discretion while governing. Today these institutions teach
about the workings of governmental bodies and the politics of working
in such environments.

Just as the lessons on governance have vanished with the passage of
time, so has the morality and discretion taught in those now forgotten
classrooms. In place of those studies our students learn about the
“politics” of government, which is in reality learning about how to
win office and hold control of government. This is a very wrong-
headed approach to how the public arena should be viewed.
Because the virtues of public service have been diminished, people now
entering into these fields learn primarily from those who currently
hold positions of power. They learn “politics”, not “government”.
The difference can best be expressed in a current tongue-in-cheek
definition of the word. Politics (n.): 1. A multitude of special
interests masquerading as a contest of principles. 2. The conduct of
public affairs by public officials for private advantage and private

Because political science or politics is the rule, rather than the
exception, we have an unending collection of political jokes that
range from…”Our politicians are so crooked that when they die, we have
to screw them into the ground”, to “Question: How do you tell if a
politician is lying?
Answer: His lips are moving!”

Seldom does a week pass without us hearing about politicos who have
stolen from the public, lied to their constituents, cheated on their
families, committed sexual misconduct, distorted their record, padded
their resume, taken credit for good things they had no part in
advancing, put blame on the backs of others for their own failings,
accepted bribes or falsified records.

If they are not into committing any of the above, they are standing
around with a moist finger raised high to check which way the
political wind is blowing. This is done so frequently that most folks
think it is some form of political salute.

There are really very few office holders on the national scene that
can be considered as quality individuals who are dedicating their
lives to moral conduct and behavior, discretion and the art of
governance. In their place we have managed to substitute political
parties and political animals that find it next to impossible to be
honest with the public. Government is gone…. replaced by politics,
politics, politics…or win at any cost. It has turned us into a nation
that constantly votes for the least offensive of several very bad
choices…and we get bad officials as the result of our own actions.
Even staying home and not voting isn’t a good option, because then, we
are giving another vote to the other guy we don’t want to see in office.

Some people think we can blame political science, a preoccupation with
enhancing political parties and a failure to demand quality candidates
for the mess we have in today’s public arena. When the academics
stopped teaching government we lost all those great young minds that
dreamed of meaningful public service. We allowed our nation to become
a tool of the political elite…and America today is the big loser.

Semper Fidelis
Tom Segel

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OIF/OEF veterans get phone calls from VA

WASHINGTON (May 30, 2008) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
announced today it has completed making calls to veterans potentially
identified as being ill or injured from Operation Enduring Freedom and
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF-OIF), and will immediately begin targeting
over 500,000 OEF-OIF veterans who have been discharged from active duty
but have not contacted VA for health care.

"We promised to reach out to every OEF and OIF veteran to let them know
we are here for them -- and we are making real progress in doing so,"
said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

A contractor-operated "Combat Veteran Call Center" is making the initial
calls on behalf of VA. All potentially sick or injured veterans on VA's
list received an offer to appoint a care manager to work with them if
they do not have one already. VA care managers ensure veterans receive
appropriate care and know about their VA benefits.

In the new phase, beginning today, veterans who have not accessed health
care from VA will be called and informed of the benefits and services
available to them. Additionally, military personnel received
information about VA benefits when they left active duty, and the
Department had sent every veteran a letter with this information after
their discharge.

For five years after their discharge from the military, these combat
veterans have special access to VA health care, including screening for
signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. VA
personnel have been deployed to the military's major medical centers to
assist wounded service members and their families during the transition
to civilian lives.

"VA is focused on getting these veterans the help they need and
deserve," said Secretary Peake. "I expect these calls to make a real
difference in many veterans' lives."


When are they going to call the Vietnam Era veterans to make sure they know what programs are avialbale to help them and their families?

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Army suicides reported up again at 115 in 2007

Army suicides reported up again at 115 in 2007

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 29, 2008; 3:28 PM

WASHINGTON -- The number of Army suicides increased again last year, amid the most violent year yet in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An Army official said Thursday that 115 troops committed suicide in 2007, a nearly 13 percent increase over the previous year's 102. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a full report on the deaths wasn't being released until later Thursday.

About a quarter of the deaths occurred in Iraq.

The 115 confirmed deaths among active duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops that had been activated was a lower number than previously feared. Preliminary figures released in January showed as many as 121 troops might have killed themselves, but a number of the deaths were still being investigated then and have since been attributed to other causes, the officials said.

Suicides have been rising during the five-year-old war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

The 115 deaths last year and 102 in 2006 followed 85 in 2005 and 67 in 2004. The only Army records immediately available go back to 1990, and show no year with a higher number of suicides than 2007. The figure in 1990 was 102.

More U.S. troops also died overall in hostilities in 2007 than in any of the previous years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall violence increased in Afghanistan with a Taliban resurgence and overall deaths increased in Iraq, even as violence there declined in the second half of the year.

Increasing the strain on the force last year was the extension of deployments to 15 months from 12 months, a practice ending this year.

The increases in suicides come despite a host of efforts to improve the mental health of a force stressed by the long and repeated tours of duty.

The efforts include more training and education programs, such as suicide prevention programs and a program last year that taught all troops how to recognize mental health problems in themselves and their buddies. Officials also approved the hiring of more than 300 additional psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals and have so far hired 180 of them. They also have added more screening to measure the mental health of troops.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the deputy chief of staff for personnel, directed a complete review of the Army's suicide prevention program, according to the Army's Web site. He called for a campaign that would make use of the best available science, and would raise awareness of the problem.

"Since the beginning of the global war on terror, the Army has lost over 580 soldiers to suicide, an equivalent of an entire infantry battalion task force," the Army said in a suicide prevention guide to installations and units that was posted in mid-March on the site.

"This ranks as the fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses," it said. "Even more startling is that during this same period, 10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves or attempted suicide."

The numbers kept by the Army only show part of the picture because they don't include guard and reserve troops who have finished their active duty and returned home to their civilian jobs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks the number of suicides among those who have left the military. It says there have been 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the wars.

The true incidence of suicide among veterans is not known, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. Based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA estimates that 18 veterans a day _ or 6,500 a year _ take their own lives, but that number includes vets from all wars.

(This version CORRECTS the number of suicides to 115 instead of 108.)

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Veterans Employed At Regional V.A. Allege Discrimination

For previous story about this situation, click here...

Be sure to watch the video of this story at the link below.

Story here...

Story below:


Veterans Employed At Regional V.A. Allege Discrimination

COLUMBIA (WLTX) - From medical treatment to financial assistance, the Department of Veterans Affairs spends more than $1 billion a year in South Carolina to serve war veterans who live in our state, but some people whose job it is to help these heroes say the government is not looking out for them.

The V.A. Regional Office in Columbia employs more than 300 people to serve some 400,000 veterans in South Carolina. Leaders say the Regional V.A. office is a fair place to work-in fact, they've been recognized as being one of the top performing regional offices in the nation for several years running.

Despite those accolades, some current and past employees of the Regional V.A. Office in Columbia say for years, the office has discriminated on the basis of race and gender.

1st. Sergeant Vontella Fludd is a retired Army veteran. The Elgin mother of two returned from her second tour of duty in Iraq four years ago. In all, she spent more than twenty years as human relations coordinator for the military. A painting of her family done by an Iraqi citizens reminds her of her days in the service.

"It reminds me of what kept me in Iraq. Not only did God keep me, but thinking about my family gave me peace," Fludd said.

After retiring from active duty she wanted to remain in service to veterans, and Fludd applied for and was accepted to a lower-level position in the Claims Assistant Department at the Regional V.A. Office in Columbia.

"Because it was helping veterans, and I was in the field of H.R. helping soldiers, so I thought it would be a good job," Fludd said.

But Sgt. Fludd says less than a year into her job as a file clerk, her viewpoint changed. She says she overheard a supervisor make sexist remarks about a co-worker, and when she reported it, Fludd says her superiors turned against her.

"I felt that after that it was reprisal for me turning in a statement. That's when things began to happen," she said.

Fludd says she tried repeatedly to change jobs or move up in the department. A promotion certificate dated December of 2006 lists Fludd as the best qualified candidate for a financial accounts technician position. Yet a few weeks later, a memorandum from within the Regional V.A. indicated her certificate was not to be used, and someone else was selected.

Application after application, Fludd's two decades of experience in the same field did not earn her an advancement.

"Regardless of the position I applied for, even though I was qualified, I was not selected," Fludd said.

Physically and mentally exhausted, she finally gave up.

"The pressure, the stress got to be too much for me, so I had to resign," Fludd said.

Vontella Fludd is not the only person to claim discrimination at the Veteran's Affairs Regional Office.

The American Federation of Government Employees has compiled years of data they say cites discrimination within the agency.

"I believe you can not accuse anybody of anything unless you have some facts or documents or something to prove what you're saying," said Ronald Robinson.

Robinson is the union vice president. He's also worked for the V.A. for more than a decade. He also serves as a senior Veterans Service Representative for the V.A. When Robinson heard about Fludd's case, he began to dig into what happened.

"The more I investigated, the worse it got," Robinson said.

Here's an example of what he found:

Since 2001, twenty-four people have served or are serving as program support or file clerks (like Fludd). Of the six Caucasian employees, all received a transfer or promotion with higher pay. Of the seventeen African American (and one Asian) employee, just four made the same advancement.

Organizational charts obtained by News 19 show that eight claims assistant bridge positions were created in 2002, yet a year later, the positions were removed.

"You have to ask yourself, if you don't have these positions, who's doing the job?" Robinson asked.

Earlier this year, union members, employees and veterans picketed outside the Assembly St. headquarters, protesting unrealistic production standards and the resulting backlog in claims processing.

They argue that equal employment opportunity settlements are taking money out of the V.A.'s budget–money that could otherwise be spent on veterans.

Between 2005 and 2007, EEO judgments resulted in approximately $200,000 in settlements. A civil suit (later mediated) cost the V.A. another $321,000. The complainants in the suits alleged unequal pay, sex and race discrimination, and reprisal.

During the same time period, documents show the Regional V.A. Office director received a $50,000 bonus.

"How can we as Americans say that's a good investment on our tax dollars?" Robinson asked.

News 19 requested an interview with V.A. leaders about employee concerns. The request was denied by the Federal office, but a written statement was issued in response:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Columbia Regional Office takes great pride in serving our Nation's heroes and their dependents. To accomplish our mission, the regional office employs more than 300 employees, of whom over 60% are veterans themselves. This regional office is one of the top performing regional offices in the Nation thanks to our employees. The regional office received national recognition for its performance every year from 2002 to 2007.

Ensuring all employees have equal opportunity to compete for advancement in a workplace free from discrimination is, and will remain, a top priority at the Columbia Regional Office. A recent review of the current equal employment opportunity (EEO) issues raised at the Columbia VA Regional Office clearly indicates that these issues have been thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit. Additionally, an examination of personnel data indicates that during the tenure of the current Director, the Columbia Regional Office has increased the number of minorities that serve at all levels of employment. While the Columbia Regional Office has a diversified workforce that equitably represents the labor force and those we serve, VA management remains vigilant to ensure the principles of equal opportunity are upheld throughout the organization.

The statement continues:

No senior level management official, including the current RO Director, has been found liable of discrimination through any third party process. Settlement of a complaint is not an admission of wrong doing by any of the parties involved in the complaint.

A spokesperson added that EEO complaints are handled externally and that there is plenty of outside oversight for every internal decision made.

"We're not trying to paint a picture that nothing [good] happens at our V.A. That wouldn't be true. But we are saying there's a problem and we need to fix it," Robinson said.

After the two EEO settlements, two management officals at the V.A. resigned, and another received a reduced bonus and additional training.

The V.A. is unable to discuss Vontella Fludd's employment as a file clerk due to privacy laws, but officials did state that work or military experience may be selection factors for a position.

"[It's hard] for someone who's been in the military for twenty years and is used to working hard and having that discipline that the military gives you," Vontella said.

A stay-at-home mom now for the past seven months, Fludd says she's no longer angry; she just wants others to know what she went through. For now, her best memories of serving her country are of her duties abroad; not at home.

"You would think that a vet–someone who's been to Iraq twice–that you would get treated better. That once you came back, a 'Thank You,' and a 'Welcome Back.' But that was not the flavor in that building at all," Fludd said.

Vontella Fludd is not a member of the union, but those who are have written legislators at the State House, lawmakers in Washington, and all kinds of third-party entities hoping for someone to take up their concerns. A week and a half ago, the union received an answer. Over the next few days, facilitators will be meeting with employees to improve labor management relations and to ensure any future issues are addressed.

The directive comes at the request of the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org

This doesn't sound very encouraging to disabled veterans like me who have to deal with these people on Assembly Street and depend on them to make fair decisions on evidence and the use of "reasonable doubt" when they treat their own employees this way. Maybe getting my file out of 1801 Assembly street and into BVA in Washington DC is the only way I am going to get a "fair hearing". My claim has taken longer than the Iraq War, I filed my claim in November 2002 and just had a C&P exam 2 weeks ago, I am 100% for PTSD but they want to argue to cardiovascular issues either direct service connection or as secondary to my PTSD despite the Boscarino study the VA has been using to SC cardiovascular issues to PTSD for more than 2 years, at the BVA level. I guess they are hoping I will drop dead first

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Military Diagnosing More Post-Traumatic Stress

Military Diagnosing More Post-Traumatic Stress

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; Page A02

The number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) jumped nearly 50 percent in 2007 over the previous year, as more of them served lengthy and repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon data released yesterday show.

The increase brings the total number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with PTSD after serving in one of the two conflicts from 2003 to 2007 to nearly 40,000.

The vast majority of those diagnosed served in the Army, which had a total of 28,365 cases, including more than 10,000 last year alone. The Marine Corps had the second highest number, with 5,581 total and 2,114 last year. The Air Force and Navy had fewer than 1,000 cases each last year, according to the data from the Office of the Surgeon General on a chart released by the Army.

Military officials cautioned that the numbers represent only a small fraction of all service members who have PTSD because not included are those diagnosed by Department of Veterans Affairs workers or civilian caregivers, and those who avoid seeking care out of concern over stigma or damage to their careers.

"We're in our infancy right now of fully knowing what the extent of this is," Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, told defense reporters yesterday.

Service members with PTSD often feel constantly under threat, experience nightmares or intrusive thoughts in which they relive the horrors of losing comrades or being wounded in combat, and grow emotionally numb, causing their intimate relationships to suffer.

The military, like the country as a whole, faces a shortage of specialized health personnel to treat the growing ranks of troops with PTSD.

"As a nation . . . our mental health facilities and access to mental health providers is not adequate for the need right now," Schoomaker said. He said the Army is seeking to narrow the gap and has hired 180 of a planned 300 additional mental health specialists.

The incidence of PTSD grew last year as more U.S. troops were exposed to combat -- with force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan reaching more than 170,000 and 27,000, respectively. Also contributing were a lengthening of war zone rotations from 12 to 15 months and the rise in the number of troops serving repeated tours, which sharply increases the likelihood troops will experience symptoms of PTSD.

The military's ability to track the cases has also improved with the creation of an electronic medical-care record system in 2004, Schoomaker said.

As many as 30 percent of deployed soldiers suffer symptoms of PTSD, but the majority are expected to improve with early and appropriate treatment, he said.

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Foreclosures in Military Towns Surge at Four Times U.S. Rate

Foreclosures in Military Towns Surge at Four Times U.S. Rate

By Kathleen M. Howley

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Jeffrey VerSteegh, who repairs F-16 jets for the 132nd Fighter Wing, departed Des Moines, Iowa, in April for his third tour in Iraq. The father of four may lose his home when he returns.

The four-bedroom farmhouse he and his wife, Kathleen, own near the Iowa State Fairgrounds went into default in December after their monthly mortgage costs doubled to $1,100. Kathleen missed work because of breast cancer and they struggled to keep up the house payment, falling behind on other bills. Their bankruptcy was approved by the court a week after VerSteegh left for Iraq.

In the midst of the worst surge in mortgage defaults in seven decades, foreclosures in U.S. towns where soldiers live are increasing at a pace almost four times the national average, according to data compiled by research firm RealtyTrac Inc. in Irvine, California. As military families like the VerSteeghs signed up for the initial lower rates and easier terms of subprime mortgages, the number of people taking out Veterans Administration loans fell to the lowest in at least 12 years.

``We've never faced a situation like this, not in the Vietnam War, World War II, or the Korean War, where so many military are in danger of losing their homes,'' said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group started in 2002 by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. ``No one asked them for their credit score when we asked them to fight for us.''

Military Foreclosures

Foreclosure filings in 10 towns and cities within 10 miles of military facilities, including Norfolk, Virginia, home of the Navy's largest base, rose by an average 217 percent from January through April from a year earlier. Nationally, the rate was 59 percent in the same period, according to RealtyTrac, which tallies bank seizures, auctions and default notices.

The biggest surge was in Columbia, South Carolina, home to Fort Jackson, where the Army trains recruits for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Properties in some stage of foreclosure rose 492 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said. The second-biggest increase was 414 percent in Woodbridge, Virginia, next to the Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Foreclosure filings tripled in the cities surrounding Norfolk Naval Base and the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base near Oceanside, California, RealtyTrac said. Havelock, North Carolina, site of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, saw foreclosures more than double.

Weak Credit

Military families were targeted as customers during the boom in subprime lending because their frequent moves, overseas stints, and low pay meant they were more likely to have weak credit ratings, said Rudi Williams of the National Veterans Foundation in Los Angeles. In 2006, at the peak of U.S. subprime lending, the number of VA loans fell to barely a third the level of two years earlier, according to VA data.

VA loans totaled 135,000 last year, its fourth consecutive annual decline.

An Army or Marine Corps sergeant with four years of experience makes $27,000 a year, plus combat pay of $225 a month, according to the 2008 Military Authorization Act, which increased basic pay rates 3.5 percent from a year ago.

Soldiers authorized to live off-base also receive a housing allowance that this year starts at about $500 a month, 7.3 percent higher than in 2007, paid even when they are deployed. Counting the stipends, they still fall short of the 2007 median U.S. household income of $59,224 as measured by the National Association of Realtors in Chicago.

Legislative Effort

``Think about how much stress comes with a foreclosure, and then imagine you're walking the same tightrope while being employed in Baghdad,'' said Paul Rieckhoff, 33, the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and a former 1st lieutenant with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act protects soldiers and sailors from losing homes for nonpayment of mortgages only while on active duty and for 90 days after they return home. Members of Congress, including Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and Representative Bob Filner, a Democrat from California, are trying to extend that to a year, saying three months isn't enough.

Another flaw in the current law is it puts the burden on the soldiers, sailors or the families they left behind to come up with the paperwork and notify the bank, said Sullivan of the Washington Veterans' group. Unlike in other wars, members of the military often are able to telephone home or receive e-mails, creating a ``morale problem'' as they try to deal with foreclosure notices, he said.

VA Mortgages

``It's heartbreaking to see people struggling with a foreclosure while they or someone they love is in a war zone, or when they're trying to adjust after coming back from one,'' said Sullivan, a Cavalry Scout with the Army's 1st Armored Division during the 1991 Gulf War.

Lenders aren't required to keep records on the status of non-government loans to military members or veterans, said Mike Frueh, the VA's assistant director for loan management in Washington. Judging solely by data on VA mortgages, active military and veterans in the current housing slump are getting into trouble with their home loans at a pace only slightly above the civilian rate, he said.

The share of VA mortgages in foreclosure was 1.12 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with 0.96 percent for so-called prime borrowers with the highest credit scores, the Washington- based Mortgage Bankers Association said in a March 6 report.

`Stench of Death'

``My data comes from those that have VA loans, and we haven't seen, as I understand it, a big jump'' in foreclosures, said James Peake, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington, in a May 20 interview.

The increase may yet be coming: the share of VA loans with payments 30 days or more overdue was 6.49 percent in the fourth quarter, double the rate of 3.24 percent for prime borrowers. The share of VA mortgages more than 90 days overdue was 1.54 percent, also double the prime rate, according to the bankers' report.

Monique Kelly, a disabled Iraq War veteran, said she is on the verge of adding to those VA delinquency numbers. The former Army staff sergeant in the First Armored Division paid her May mortgage bill halfway through the month and said she won't be able to make June's payment for her house in Owings Mills, Maryland.

Kelly, designated disabled by the VA because of post- traumatic stress disorder, said she bought the property in January for $305,000 and had to spend $10,000 fixing structural problems that were not disclosed to her.

``We fought for our country, and now we have to fight to save our homes,'' said Kelly. ``After living with the stench of death in Iraq, it seems like we shouldn't have to face problems like this when we come back.''

Help for Veterans

The VA has nine regional loan centers in the U.S. that last year provided counseling for 85,000 veterans who had problems with government-backed mortgages, Frueh said. He said he contacted Kelly to see if he can help her.

Counselors also try to help veterans who fall behind on non- VA loans, he said, though they don't track the number of those cases.

``We will always try to intercede on a veteran's behalf,'' said Frueh. ``If they have a VA-guaranteed loan, we can do more for them.''

Military families or veterans refinancing a mortgage have limited resources for VA-backed loans, Frueh said. The government can only guarantee refinanced veteran loans up to $144,000, Frueh said. The median price of a U.S. home was $219,000 last year, according to the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.

`No Hope'

The law gives military personnel the right to have interest rates temporarily lowered to 6 percent on loans incurred prior to entering active service. To apply for protection, they have to send copies of their military orders to their mortgage servicing companies, even if they are on the front lines. The VerSteeghs in Iowa didn't know about that option, said Kathleen.

Before leaving for Iraq, the 43-year-old VerSteegh called the Bush Administration's Hope Now program created to help people facing foreclosure, his wife said.

``We got no hope from Hope,'' and no information about the potential interest-rate deduction, according to Kathleen VerSteegh.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., the servicer of the VerSteegh mortgage, removed the VerSteegh property from foreclosure in April after receiving a copy of the husband's active duty orders, said Debora Blume, a spokeswoman for the bank's mortgage unit, in an e-mailed statement. Kathleen VerSteegh, 42, said they weren't notified of the change. The mortgage had gone into foreclosure on Dec. 31, Wells Fargo said.

Refinancing Plans

Wells Fargo ``is working with Mrs. VerSteegh to reduce her monthly payment during this time of financial hardship,'' Blume said.

Like many U.S. borrowers who got adjustable mortgages, the VerSteeghs planned to refinance into a better loan before their initial rate of 6.45 percent, fixed for two years, reset in December 2006. U.S. home values began to decline about six months before their first adjustment.

The so-called margin, a fixed charge added to the loan's index to determine interest rate resets, is 5.25 percent, about double the typical margin for an adjustable mortgage. Their loan is indexed to Libor, the London Interbank Offer Rate.

``We refinanced so we could get new windows and do some work on the house,'' she said. ``We assumed we'd have no problem getting another loan, but then it blew up in our faces.''

Now they can't apply to refinance into a VA mortgage because they owe more on the house than it's worth and ``our credit is shot,'' said VerSteegh.

Bonus Army

The last time veterans lost homes to this extent was during the Great Depression, said Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense. The so-called Bonus Army of almost 20,000 World War I ex-soldiers marched on Washington in June 1932 to demand early payment of certificates granted for service.

U.S. infantry and cavalry regiments under the command of General Douglas MacArthur attacked their encampment with bayonets and sabers to disburse them.

VerSteegh, who gets to speak to her husband by telephone for 15 minutes once a week, said she tries to reassure him that everything on the home front is going well, even as she struggles with the threat of foreclosure and her health problems. She's eight weeks into a course of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and had a double mastectomy on March 14.

VerSteegh said she doesn't know exactly where her husband is, just that he's somewhere near Baghdad.

``I don't tell him the whole story, because he has to focus on his job,'' she said. ``The guys in his unit are depending on him.''

Foreclosure Filings Near Military Bases from January to
April, Compared With a Year Earlier:
Columbia, South Carolina: 492%
Woodbridge, Virginia: 414%
Triangle, Virginia: 363%
Oceanside, California: 182%
Norfolk, Virginia: 155%
Havelock, North Carolina: 133%
Carlsbad, California: 131%
Barstow, California: 120%
Columbus, Georgia: 102%
Twentynine Palms, California: 73%
U.S. Total: 59%


I am not real smart and it has a lot to do with the fact I am 100% P&T disabled with PTSD, I also draw a decent Social Security Disability check and I would not even imagine buying a house worth 305,000.00 dollars I don't care what the interest rate is, and mine is 6.5%, I live within my means, I don't try and keep up with the Jones or anyone else in the neighborhood. I have xxxxxx dollars coming in I can only spend this much, most people take this approach. I am sorry

"Monique Kelly, a disabled Iraq War veteran, said she is on the verge of adding to those VA delinquency numbers. The former Army staff sergeant in the First Armored Division paid her May mortgage bill halfway through the month and said she won't be able to make June's payment for her house in Owings Mills, Maryland.

Kelly, designated disabled by the VA because of post- traumatic stress disorder, said she bought the property in January for $305,000 and had to spend $10,000 fixing structural problems that were not disclosed to her.

``We fought for our country, and now we have to fight to save our homes,'' said Kelly. ``After living with the stench of death in Iraq, it seems like we shouldn't have to face problems like this when we come back.''

If she has already been discharged and rated by the VA and just bought this home in January 2008 and is already in trouble she just flat over bought more than she could afford, the nation does not owe her a way out of this problem, this is one of those live and learn situations. I need someone smarter than me to explain why her situation is special and demands extra care is it because she has PTSD or because she went to Iraq? I went to 2 wars and have been disagnosed with PTSD since 2003 and the VA and SSD take care of me and my family quite well, but I accepted the fact my last name is not Trump, Rockefeller, or Getty I think MS Kelly needs to grow up.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Statement from Hillary on Memorial Day

Statement from Hillary on Memorial Day
by Lindsay Levin5/26/2008 11:14:24 AMHillary:

Memorial Day is a solemn day for every American; a day to express our profound gratitude to the men and women who have given their lives in military service. A day to join in our thoughts and prayers with the families mourning loved ones. A day to cherish the freedoms and opportunities that so many have served, sacrificed, and died to defend.

On this Memorial Day, I’m reminded of the words of a poet and a veteran named Archibald MacLeish. He served in World War I and witnessed incredible service and sacrifice. Before the close of World War II, to commemorate those who had died, he wrote of the responsibility of all of us who survive them.

In his poem entitled “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak,” he reminds us that those we have lost: “have a silence that speaks for them at night…They say: We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done…They say: our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them…They say: we leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.”

How do we give these lives their meaning? I believe we must honor our service members by doing our best to serve the men and women who have served us. And I believe we must honor the lives we’ve lost by honoring the values for which they fought. That is our duty. And on this Memorial Day, let us recommit ourselves to fulfilling this sacred responsibility every single day.

The United States has the finest military on the planet because we have the best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen in the world. We owe them our support and resources while in-service and when they come home as our Veterans. We owe them a GI Bill of Rights that sees to their health care, housing, education and overall wellbeing. In many ways, everyday should be Memorial Day to honor and remember all they do for our nation, our communities and our families.

Our moral obligation is significant for the simple reason that the sacrifice of those who serve and have served in our military demonstrates a profound example of commitment and love for our nation. We must return to them all they have given and we must remember and honor those who gave their all, their lives, for our great nation.
Statement from Hillary on Memorial Day

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The old warriors are frail and stooped, and most

of their comrades in arms are dead.

For more about Filipino veterans, use the VA Watchdog search here...

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Filipino veterans still await benefits, respect


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The old warriors are frail and stooped, and most of their comrades in arms are dead.

But the Filipino veterans of World War II - all in their 80s and 90s - are still fighting to rectify a snub from six decades ago, when President Harry S. Truman went back on a congressional promise to make Filipino soldiers U.S. citizens with full military benefits.

Now, as Memorial Day approaches, the House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a bill giving the Filipino soldiers roughly the same benefits as U.S. veterans.

"We really need to do it now because we're losing 10 Filipino veterans a day," said Sarah Gonzalez, a daughter of a Filipino veteran who is helping the veterans lobby Congress. "They want justice before they die."

Of the 250,000 Filipino veterans of World War II, about 18,000 are still alive - 6,000 in the U.S. About 30,000 came here in the early 1990s after President George H.W. Bush signed a bill granting them instant citizenship.

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In the Philippines, they believed that citizenship meant that they could live out their years in pride on military pensions, said Leon Agda, 82, a former guerrilla who once narrowly escaped execution by the Japanese.

Instead, Agda and virtually all of his fellow veterans wound up on Supplemental Security Income, a welfare program for the elderly and the disabled.

"I shed my blood for liberty, democracy and America, and I ended up receiving this thing they call welfare," said Dominador Valdez, another former guerrilla. "We were dishonored."

Drafted in 1941

The veterans' quest for parity stems from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision in July 1941 to draft 140,000 soldiers of the Philippines, then an American colony. A year later, Congress passed a law allowing Filipino soldiers to become U.S. citizens with full military benefits.

But in 1946, after Filipino soldiers fought and died side-by-side with U.S. troops under the American flag, President Truman signed two bills denying them citizenship as well as most veterans' benefits. The bills were postwar cost-saving measures that Truman said he regretted.

Congress recently put a bill aimed at addressing the historical double-cross on its front-burner.

In late April, the Senate by a vote of 96-1 passed a veterans bill containing a Filipino parity provision after defeating a Republican-led amendment that would have eliminated from the bill pensions for 12,000 veterans in the Philippines who did not sustain combat-related injuries.

The bill would give the Filipino veterans a Veterans Administration pension of $900 a month if they live in the U.S., $300 plus VA health care if they live in the Philippines.

Some lawmakers say the equity bill stands a good chance of passing because the cost is relatively low.

And because the vets are dying so quickly, the costs should rapidly drop every year.

Push by Democrats

But Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, attributes Congress' renewed interest in the bill mostly to the Democratic takeover of Congress a year and a half ago.

That meant that key supporters of the bill took over committees that dispense veterans benefits.

Some lawmakers say the "equity bill" is the moral equivalent of the 1988 act signed by President Ronald Reagan giving an apology and compensation to Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War.

"We went back on our word to the Filipino veterans and shamed ourselves as a country and as a Congress," said Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat who was put into an internment camp as an infant. "It's really an outrage.

The parity provision for Filipino veterans is tucked into a broader bill improving housing and other benefits for all veterans.

The bill, SB1315 by Senate Democrat Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, has the full backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who has told Honda, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and other key supporters to round up 60 GOP votes to make sure the House vote is veto-proof.

The Bush administration has expressed concerns about the cost of the parity provisions, but the president has not said whether he would sign or veto the bill.

But supporters say it would cost no more than $30 million a year.

In the late 1990s, when a lot more World War II veterans were alive, the price tag was about $800 million annually.

A concerted push to pass a parity bill began about two decades ago. And supporters have had incremental successes - notably the 1990 law that made the Filipino veterans citizens. Other bills granted the veterans burial and VA benefits.

But the victories were bittersweet, reminding the veterans that they were "second-class veterans," Lachica said.

Rick Rocamora, a documentary photographer, was initially shocked by their war stories.

As a schoolboy in the Philippines he had heard more about Gen. Douglas MacArthur's "I shall return" promise after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor than about the heroism and sacrifices of his countrymen.

Victims of abuse

At citizenship ceremonies, Rocamora said, they waved the Stars and Stripes and sang "God Bless America."

They wrote home about how they had "finally made it," Rocamora said.

But they never wrote about the way they really lived.

Most of the veterans were jammed into small apartments in San Francisco's Tenderloin, Oakland's Fruitvale district and other gritty urban neighborhoods.

In 1993, Rocamora found one group of veterans in Richmond being abused by a Filipino-American businessman who put six or seven veterans in each bedroom in one of his properties.

One veteran was chained to a bedpost and fed dog food.

About 4,000 discouraged veterans returned to the Philippines. But others hoped they could bring at least some members of their families here.

But because they were on welfare, they were ineligible to sponsor relatives.

Getting a VA pension instead of SSI would make a huge difference to former guerrilla Avelino Elido, 86, and his wife, Juana, 84.

The couple, who live in an East San Jose senior complex, could sponsor their youngest son, a dentist, to emigrate here from the Philippines.

"We really need our son here to take care of us before we die," Juana Elido said.

Honda praises the veterans for their patience.

"I've never heard them say an angry word, but I can also sense them saying: 'When will you finally make this happen?'" Honda said.

"Still, they are proud, and they still wear their uniforms and medals. Their spirit has not diminished over time."


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org


As a veteran it disgusts me that Congress has not acted on this issue before this, I as a child remember my parents friends who served in the Philipinnes during WW2, some that survived the Bataan Death March, being POWs, and lived thru General MacArthur's "I Shall Return" they have nothing but pride at the soldiers of the Philipinnes that served next to them and as guerillas, President Truman and Congress royally screwed these veterans over and now in the limelight of their lives and just want a little dignity, some members of Congress claim that giving them 300 a month is to generous, excuse me, what about the past 60 years? They should give them the same 1000 a month they are going to give the Merchant that is fairness

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Improving the Presumptive Disability Decision-Making Process for Veterans

Improving the Presumptive Disability Decision-Making Process for Veterans

This is a link to a book written and published under the National Academies of Science, a major organization that investigates medical injuries to American military members.

This makes the argument for making more conditions considered for presumptive service connection (automatic) rather than making the veterans fight with the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA or VA) for months, years and in some cases decades before the medical claims are recognized, such as colon cancer and Agent Orange. I recommend reading it you can read it online for free or order it thru this link

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The Struggle of Injured Soldiers

The Struggle of Injured Soldiers

May 23, 2008
Army News Service|by Elizabeth M. Lorge
WASHINGTON - When Soldiers return from war with catastrophic injuries, one of their biggest worries is how their spouses and significant others will react.

Veterans and medical experts discussed romantic relationships during the Morehouse School of Medicine's "Wounded Troops and Partners: Supporting Intimate Relationships" conference here Wednesday.

"I instantly realized when I woke up and saw my wife there that I wouldn't have to go it alone. I was 22 years old. We had two young daughters. You think, 'wow, I'm different. Is my wife going to love me for who I am? Am I going to be accepted by my friends how I am?" retired Spc. B.J. Jackson of the Iowa National Guard said of waking up at Brooke Army Medical Center after he lost both legs and was severely burned by a land mine in Iraq.

He and his wife Abby spoke candidly about how it was a struggle at first for their relationship to return to normal as he healed.

Between his injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and various medications, her husband just didn't seem interested in her as a woman, Abby said, and all she wanted was her husband back. The hospital environment didn't encourage intimacy or privacy and Abby didn't know if she was even allowed to climb in her husband's bed to hold him.

Jackson's doctor wasn't much help either. When Abby asked about their physical relationship, or lack thereof, he said was it would come in time, but didn't offer any advice or suggestions.

Dr. Lance Goetz, a physician at the Dallas VA Spinal Cord Injury Center, said that as many as 50 to 60 percent of Soldiers returning with traumatic brain injuries have problems or concerns with regaining intimacy. Even minor brain injuries can have effects on physical and emotional relationships, he said. Various medications, pain and injuries, altered body image and lowered self-esteem can all lead to a lack of interest in intimacy, he said. So can a fear of rejection, leading Soldiers to push their spouses or significant others away.

"There's an automatic, almost, rejection for the Soldiers for themselves so they put off that rejection toward the spouse or girlfriend or significant other," said Abby. "They're not sure how to adapt to that themselves. 'Are you rejecting me because I'm rejecting myself? What exactly is going on?'

"I think a lot of young people get so wrapped up in it that they're like, 'Look there's nothing. I look good. I've got both my legs. I'm going to go get me a man. Forget you.' And I think that happens all too quickly and too often. You've got to look at the statistics and reality: very young people do think that way and they operate on that level and that's what ends up happening. And you're left with the Soldier who's in the bed by himself thinking 'great, that was what was going to happen.' So communication is the key."

Doctors and mental-health professionals, especially those employed by the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have a responsibility to help their patients to return to as many normal, everyday activities as possible, including healthy sexual activity, said Goetz, so they can't be afraid to address this topic and shouldn't wait for their patients to bring it up. "Shame on us if we don't," he said.

There are therapies, suggestions and medications doctors can prescribe to help Soldiers and their partners, he said, and most men with injuries can still father children.

The Jacksons did figure it out, and much to the amazement of members of Jackson's unit have added two sons to their family; but with assistance from medical professionals, they say their lives could have been a lot easier.

Intimacy helps keep couples together and experts agreed that a strong support system is essential in helping Soldiers recover, especially those with TBI and psychological disorders.

"It truly is your wife who gets you through it or your loved ones or your friends. My kids were a big part of my recovery," said Jackson, adding he feels terrible for single Soldiers who didn't have anyone to depend on. One friend asked him how he was supposed to meet women when he was missing a leg.

And when Soldiers receive that "Dear John" letter, they are at a far greater risk for suicide, so it is vital to help families and partners stay together, said Dr. Harold Wain, chief of the psychiatry consultation liaison service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors and mental-health experts, he continued, should do whatever possible to help Soldiers feel whole and human again-including letting their spouses sleep in their hospital beds.

The Army, then, also has to make sure couples have a strong foundation before deployments and emphasize the vows they made to stay together in sickness and in health, said Lt. Col. Peter Frederich, family ministries officer at the Office of the Chief of Chaplains.

The military also cannot dismiss topics because they're too hard or risky, concluded Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, M.D., special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for psychological health and traumatic brain injury and the director of the DOD Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. "We have the opportunity to talk about things that must be talked about."

© Copyright 2008 Army News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Semper Fi and SALUTE SGT Merlin German

'Miracle' Marine loses final battle

The Associated Press
The young Marine came back from the war, with his toughest fight ahead of him.
Merlin German waged that battle in the quiet of a Texas hospital, far from the dusty road in Iraq where a bomb exploded, leaving him with burns over 97% of his body.

No one expected him to survive.

But for more than three years, he would not surrender. He endured more than 100 surgeries and procedures. He learned to live with pain, to stare at a stranger's face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, to make others laugh.

He became known as the "Miracle Man."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: United States | Texas | Baghdad | New York Yankees | San Antonio | Marine | Ramadi | Iraq | Humvee | Red Bull | Lourdes | Ariel | Brooke Army Medical Center | Sgt. Merlin
But just when it seemed he would defy impossible odds, Sgt. Merlin German lost his last battle this spring — an unexpected final chapter in a story many imagined would have a happy ending.

"I think all of us had believed in some way, shape or form that he was invincible," says Lt. Col. Evan Renz, who was German's surgeon and his friend. "He had beaten so many other operations. ... It just reminded us, he, too, was human."

'I can do whatever I want'

It was near Ramadi, Iraq, on Feb. 21, 2005, that the roadside bomb detonated near German's Humvee, hurling him out of the turret and engulfing him in flames.

When Renz and other doctors at the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio first got word from Baghdad, they told his family he really didn't have a chance. The goal: Get him back to America so his loved ones could say goodbye.

But when German arrived four days later, doctors, amazed by how well he was doing, switched gears. "We were going to do everything known to science," Renz says. "He was showing us he can survive."

Doctors removed his burn wounds and covered him with artificial and cadaver skin. They also harvested small pieces of German's healthy skin, shipping them off to a lab where they were grown and sent back.

Doctors took skin from the few places he wasn't burned: the soles of his feet, the top of his head and small spots on his abdomen and left shoulder.

Once those areas healed, doctors repeated the task. Again and again.

"Sometimes I do think I can't do it," German said last year in an Associated Press interview. "Then I think: Why not? I can do whatever I want."

Renz witnessed his patient's good and bad days.

"Early on, he thought, 'This is ridiculous. Why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard?"' Renz recalls. "But every month or so, he'd say, 'I've licked it.' ... He was amazingly positive overall. ... He never complained. He'd just dig in and do it."

Slowly, his determination paid off. He made enormous progress.

From a ventilator to breathing on his own.

From communicating with his eyes or a nod to talking.

From being confined to a hospital isolation bed with his arms and legs suspended — so his skin grafts would take — to moving into his own house and sleeping in his own bed.

Sometimes his repeated surgeries laid him up for days and he'd lose ground in his rehabilitation. But he'd always rebound. Even when he was hurting, he'd return to therapy — as long as he had his morning Red Bull energy drink.

"I can't remember a time where he said, 'I can't do it. I'm not going to try,' " says Sgt. Shane Elder, a rehabilitation therapy assistant.

That despite the constant reminders that he'd never be the same. The physical fitness buff who could run miles and do dozens of push-ups struggled, at first, just to sit up on the edge of his bed. The one-time saxophone player had lost his fingers. The Marine with the lady-killer smile now had a raw, ripple-scarred face.

Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich recalls a day in 2006 when he stopped by German's room and noticed he was crying softly. Olbrich, who heads a Marine patient affairs team at Brooke, says he sat with him awhile and asked: "What are you scared of?' He said, 'I'm afraid there will never be a woman who loves me.' "

Olbrich says that was the lowest he ever saw German, but even then "he didn't give up. ... He was unstoppable."

His mother, Lourdes, remembers her son another way: "He was never really scared of anything."

That toughness, says his brother, Ariel, showed up even when they were kids growing up in New York. Playing football, Merlin would announce: "Give me the ball. Nobody can knock me down."

German's new 'family'

In nearly 17 months in the hospital, Merlin German's "family" grew.

From the start, his parents, Lourdes and Hemery, were with him. They relocated to Texas. His mother helped feed and dress her son; they prayed together three, four times a day.

"She said she would never leave his side," Ariel says. "She was his eyes, his ears, his feet, his everything."

But many at the hospital also came to embrace German.

Norma Guerra, a public affairs spokeswoman who has a son in Iraq, became known as German's "Texas mom."

She read him action-packed stories at his bedside and arranged to have a DVD player in his room so he could watch his favorite gangster movies.

She sewed him pillows embroidered with the Marine insignia. She helped him collect New York Yankees memorabilia and made sure he met every celebrity who stopped by — magician David Blaine became a friend, and President Bush visited.

"He was a huge part of me," says Guerra, who had German and his parents over for Thanksgiving. "I remember him standing there talking to my older sister like he knew her forever."

German liked to gently tease everyone about fashion — his sense of style, and their lack of it.

Guerra says he once joked: "I've been given a second chance. I think I was left here to teach all you people how to dress."

Even at Brooke, he color-coordinated his caps and sneakers.

"If something did not match, if your blue jeans were the wrong shade of blue, he would definitely let you know. He loved his clothes," recalls Staff Sgt. Victor Dominguez, a burn patient who says German also inspired him with his positive outlook.

German also was something of an entrepreneur. Back in high school, he attended his senior prom, not with a date but a giant bag of disposable cameras to make some quick cash from those who didn't have the foresight to bring their own.

At Brooke, he designed a T-shirt that he sometimes sold, sometimes gave away. On the front it read: "Got 3% chance of survival, what ya gonna do?" The back read, "A) Fight Through, b) Stay Strong, c) Overcome Because I Am a Warrior, d) All Of The Above." D is circled.

Every time he cleared a hurdle, the staff at Brooke cheered him on.

When he first began walking, Guerra says, word spread in the hospital corridors. "People would say, 'Did you know Merlin took his first step? Did you know he took 10 steps?' " she recalls.

German, in turn, was asked by hospital staff to motivate other burn patients when they were down or just not interested in therapy.

"I'd say, 'Hey, can you talk to this patient?' ... Merlin would come in ... and it was: Problem solved," says Elder, the therapist. "The thing about him was there wasn't anything in the burn world that he hadn't been through. Nobody could say to him, 'You don't understand."'

German understood, too, that burn patients deal with issues outside the hospital because of the way they look.

"When he saw a group of children in public, he was more concerned about what they might think," says Renz, his surgeon. "He would work to make them comfortable with him."

And kids adored him, including Elder's two young sons. German had a habit of buying them toys with the loudest, most obnoxious sounds — and presenting them with a mischievous smile.

He especially loved his nieces and nephews; the feelings were mutual. One niece remembered him on a website as being "real cool and funny" and advising her to "forget about having little boyfriends and buying hot phones" and instead, concentrate on her education.

But he was closest to his mother. When the hospital's Holiday Ball approached in 2006, German told Norma Guerra he wanted to surprise his mother by taking her for a twirl on the dance floor.

Guerra thought he was kidding. She knew it could be agony for him just to take a short walk or raise a scarred arm.

But she agreed to help, and they rehearsed for months, without his mother knowing. He chose a love song to be played for the dance: "Have I Told You Lately?" by Rod Stewart.

That night he donned his Marine dress blues and shiny black shoes — even though it hurt to wear them. When the time came, he took his mother in his arms and they glided across the dance floor.

Everyone stood and applauded. And everyone cried.

Clearly, it seemed, the courageous Marine was winning his long, hard battle.

"Some of the folks we lose — the fight to get better is too much," Elder says. "But Merlin always came back. He had been through so much, but it was automatic. ... Merlin will be fine tomorrow. He'll be back in the game. That's what we always thought."

'He was still trying to enjoy life'

Merlin German died after routine surgery to add skin under his lower lip.

He was already planning his next operations — on his wrists and elbows. But Renz also says with all the stress German's body had been subjected to in recent years, "it was probably an unfair expectation that you can keep doing this over and over again and not have any problems."

The cause of his death has not yet been determined.

"I may no more understand why he left us when he did than why he survived when he did," Renz says. "I don't think I was meant to know."

As people learned of his death last month, they flocked to his hospital room to pay their last respects: Doctors, nurses, therapists and others, many arriving from home, kept coming as Friday night faded into Saturday morning.

Merlin German was just 22.

He had so many dreams that will go unrealized: Becoming an FBI agent (he liked the way they dressed). Going to college. Starting a business. Even writing comedy.

But he did accomplish one major goal: He set up a foundation for burned children called "Merlin's Miracles," to raise money so these kids could enjoy life, whether it was getting an air conditioner for their home or taking a trip to Disney World, a place he loved.

On a sunny April afternoon, German was buried among the giant oaks and Spanish moss of Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. The chaplain remembered German as an indomitable Marine who never gave in to the enemy — or to his pain.

One by one, friends and family placed roses and carnations on his casket.

His parents put down the first flowers, then stepped aside for mourners. They were the last ones to leave his grave, his mother clutching a folded American flag.

Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen with parades, tributes and stories.

Sgt. Joe Gonzales, a Marine liaison at Brooke, has a favorite story about Merlin German.

It was the day he and German's mother were walking in the hospital hallway. German was ahead, wearing an iPod, seemingly oblivious to everyone else.

Suddenly, he did a sidestep.

For a second, Gonzales worried German was about to fall. But no.

"He just started dancing out of nowhere. His mom looked at me. She shook her head. There he was with a big old smile. Regardless of his situation, he was still trying to enjoy life."

This was a "special" man and a great Marine SALUTE

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Vietnam vet on post-traumatic stress disorder mission

Vietnam vet on post-traumatic stress disorder mission

VIETNAM VETERAN ON PTSD MISSION -- "I ain't called trouble

for nothing. I saw what happened in the past and I see too much

of it happening again. That's why I'm pushing like hell."

Veterans advocate Jim Alty of Dover served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1967-69: "I ain't called trouble for nothing." (photo by Rich Beauchesne)

For more about veterans and PTSD, use the VA Watchdog search here...

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Vietnam vet on post-traumatic stress disorder mission

Vietnam war veteran soldiers on

By Michael Mccord

On this Memorial Day weekend, Jim Alty is mad as hell and he's doing something about it. Then again, Alty has been mad for as long as he can remember. The Vietnam War veteran, who just celebrated his 74th birthday, has for the past 15 years dedicated much of his life and emotional energy to helping his fellow veterans.

The Dover resident with the salty language and determined demeanor admits he's not a perfect messenger. He's been dealing with anger and alcohol issues for decades and doesn't hesitate to let the powers that be (politicians, government officials, newspaper columnists) know that, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator," he will "be back" again and again to press his demands for more and better service for veterans who have slipped between the cracks — and more stories to spread the word about the invisible war veterans face every day.

"I ain't called trouble for nothing," said Alty, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam and retired from the Air Force in 1973. "I saw what happened in the past and I see too much of it happening again. That's why I'm pushing like hell."

Alty is consumed. He's consumed about the people he saw die in Vietnam (his bases were frequent targets of rocket and mortar attacks and his job in crash rescue was not for the faint of heart). He rattles off date connections during his lifetime and one includes Oct. 2, 1968, in which four young airmen died at the base where he had served. He keeps their names in his wallet.

He knows all about PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, because he has a 100 percent disability rating from the VA because of it. His house is full of newspaper and magazine clippings on veterans' issues. He drives fellow vets to counseling sessions or medical treatments to Manchester or the Boston area. He goes to regular formal and informal therapy groups and has created a veterans support group that brings together vets from World War II to Iraq to share their common experiences in and out of combat.

Alty's daily living nightmare is that he won't be able help a fellow veteran who's been ignored or misdiagnosed or doesn't know how to navigate the bureaucratic waters to get the services to which he is entitled.

"Government is not going to give you anything at all," Alty told me. "People don't know the resources, don't know that you can't get what you need right away. But what we can do is get started and keep pushing."

Alty knows in his angry gut what a recent RAND Corp. study reported: one in five returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan experiences PTSD or major depression (we are talking 300,000 and counting). He gets passionate talking about the rising rate of suicides among veterans who still face rejection in the warrior culture of the military for showing emotional scars of any type — and for newly released vets who are often cast adrift.

As Alty told me, all too often PTSD patients are often suicidal, and a misdiagnosis or the inability to get urgent care can prove deadly. The problem is so serious Congress passed a law called the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act last year, requiring the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to stem the rise of vet suicides.

If you really want to get Alty going, talk to him about the difficulties veterans face not only to get treatment, but also to get diagnosed. They are facing higher hurdles than normal, in part because the VA health-care system was not prepared for the onslaught. The pressures to deal with these serious issues has led to accusations of political interference (the Bush administration is notorious for its cowardice in sharing any bad news at all levels of the executive branch.

For example, according to new reports, internal VA studies have estimated 12,000 vet suicide attempts annually, while only publicly reporting 800).

It surprised no one when a psychologist at a VA center in Temple, Texas, sent out an e-mail to medical workers asking them to "refrain" from diagnosing veterans with PTSD (this document was made available, courtesy of Slate magazine). Due to the increase in "compensation-seeking veterans," the psychologist wrote, social workers and psychologists should consider ruling out PTSD and instead render a diagnosis of the less-serious "adjustment disorder."

This is no small matter financially for veterans, because according to the VA guidelines, PTSD "qualifies as a disability" entitling a veteran to an "improved pension." This bureaucratic guidance was offered in part, this manager wrote, because "we really don't ... have time to do the extensive testing that should be done" in order to diagnose PTSD.

That has been Alty's experience. Roadblock upon roadblock, but he's not angry with the people he personally meets on the front lines of veterans' health care at the VA or the DAV, the Disabled American Veterans organization.

"I give them the benefit of the doubt. Just like Vietnam, they just didn't see it coming," he told me.

He's less charitable about whom he calls the "yo-yo in the White House" (President Bush) that started the Iraq war and didn't have any plans for either post-war Iraq or the potential rise in VA health-care needs (the VA operates 155 medical centers and more than 1,400 treatment centers. In 2006, it provided health care to nearly 5.5 million veterans.)

"I get overwhelmed at times," Alty said. "My doctor tells me 'you gotta slow down,' and I do sometimes. But how can you stop when there's so much to do and so many to help?"

Such as one of the Iraq war vets he's helping who suffered a traumatic brain injury and other serious bodily carnage during the Iraq war when his vehicle was blown apart by a roadside bomb (the RAND report about traumatic brain injuries should be required for any politician or policymaker who talks about supporting the troops, but wants to do it on the cheap. It can't be done unless we condemn tens of thousands to a living hell.)

Alty told me he has become an informal mentor to the young family man who is suffering from PTSD and is helping him deal with the paperwork and coming to terms with the depth of depression.

"His wife, she said she understands more," Alty said about literature he shared with the couple.

Alty knows the difficulties of family life for veterans with serious readjustment issues. He burned through three marriages, and says he was a confused, uncommunicative and drink-laden partner at best.

"The important thing is to let them know they aren't crazy, that they have these feelings that don't have words and really bad nightmares," said Alty, who will celebrate his 17th year of sobriety today.

His passion now is focused on getting a PTSD center at the VA hospital in Manchester — or at least allowing veterans to use local civilian therapists and psychiatrists as is done in other parts of the country. He's constantly pushing elected officials such as Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Sens. John Sununu and Judd Gregg (he has their phone numbers on speed dial) to find out what they have done lately to help his fellow vets — and he has no tolerance for talk without action, and said he mobilizes vets to take political action when election day rolls around. He believes veterans are going to be more organized and potentially more unified for this election than ever before.

He calls me up to tell me about news he has just heard that the VA psychiatric ward in North Hampton, Mass., is now taking patients immediately who have suicidal symptoms, no small breakthrough in a struggle of a thousand small daily battles.

Jim Alty is part of an immense, largely unseen army of volunteers across the nation who fight the good fight for veterans every day and collectively bring stories and light to issues that frankly most Americans would rather not see or talk about.

"Are you going to spread the word that vets who feel like they might commit suicide don't have to wait to get treatment?" Alty asks me.

I am, Jim. I am.

Political columnist Michael McCord is the editorial page editor of Seacoast Sunday and the Portsmouth Herald. He can be reached at


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org


I understand Jim Alty all to well he sounds like me only 22 years older......

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Andy Rooney thinks out loud for Memorial Day

Andy Rooney on Memorial Day a few great thoughts

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hushing Up Crisis Of Suicide, Mental Scars

Hushing Up Crisis Of Suicide, Mental Scars
May 25, 2008

Dr. Ira Katz, chief of mental health services for the Department of Veterans Affairs, sent an e-mail to a VA colleague this past February that read:

"Shh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before somebody stumbles on it?"

Unfortunately for the government, somebody did "stumble" on it. Dr. Katz lied about the numbers before the House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs Committee, grossly understating the number of such suicide attempts. He testified that the number for all of 2007 was 790. He also neglected the Army's own "Suicide Event Report," which disclosed that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26 years!

CBS News did its own extensive research, finding that more than 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005 alone. That comes to slightly more than 17 suicides every day.

Most of the data was obtained by discovery in the case of Veterans for Common Sense v. Peake, now pending in U.S. District Court in California. Veterans for Common Sense has spent years seeking this information under the Freedom of Information Act as well as through discovery ancillary to its lawsuit.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of Veterans for Common Sense, and I have an application pending with the VA for an increase of my disability pension as a Purple Heart combat veteran of World War II.

The litigation against Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake is uncovering more than the familiar amalgam of government secrecy, cover-up and deception by still another federal agency.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is vital to the protection and support of our troops. This support has carried an implied exception, namely cost-cutting for veterans' health care after they have served their country.

The Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit has already demonstrated that the VA intentionally misled Congress and the public about the epidemic of veterans' suicides. Here are the facts squeezed out of the government to date:

• 120 veterans commit suicide every week.

• 1,000 veterans attempt suicide while in VA care every month.

• Nearly one in five service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (approximately 300,000) have post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or major depression.

• 19 percent of post-Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with possible traumatic brain injury, according to a Rand Corp. Study in April.

• A higher percentage of these veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than from any previous war because of "stop loss" or an involuntary extension of service in the military (58,300), multiple tours, greater prevalence of brain injuries, etc.

The Veterans for Common Sense case has already uncovered widespread breakdown of the VA's health care for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Rand Corp. study demonstrates that, in addition to the 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with PTSD, an additional 320,000 have sustained physical brain damage resulting from traumatic brain injury. A majority of these injured GIs are receiving no help from the Defense Department or the VA, which are more concerned with covering up such unpleasant facts than providing care and paying disability pensions.

The Rand Corp. study concludes:

"Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risk for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors — such as smoking, overeating and unsafe sex — and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality. ... These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend consequences of combat trauma across generations."

The Defense Department's Task Force on Mental Health has begun to recognize "daunting and growing" psychological problems among our troops. Nearly 40 percent of our soldiers, a third of our Marines, and half of the National Guard members are presenting with serious mental health issues.

The administration and Congress must come to grips with this grave and growing problem among our returning vets. The suicide rates, domestic violence and the strain on families need to be recognized, and timely health care provided. Proper screening and treatment are essential. Our returning troops are entitled to nothing less.

These are the real costs of President Bush's misbegotten and mismanaged wars. These are the costs that the administration seeks to hide while it attempts to make the test of patriotism the wearing of flag pins in our lapels!

It's what is underneath those flag pins that really matters. It is called compassion. It is real patriotism as opposed to the fraud of "Mission Accomplished" and promises of victory.

Emanuel Margolis is an attorney in Stamford, a former chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and an adjunct professor of First Amendment law at Quinnipiac Law School.

Hushing Up Crisis Of Suicide, Mental Scars

Please go to the web site and read the comments here is mine:

Many studies have determined more soldiers and veterans are going to die from suicide than will have been killed in action during these 2 wars. That speaks to the apathy in which this current veterans medical system treats mental illness. They have left unspent hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to mental health clinics, just because they could or would NOT hire the professionals needed.

It was not like this could not be forseen, this militaey knew they were going to have to redeploy these military members numerous times, then add stop loss so they can send them for one last additional tour before letting them leave the service. Then for additional insult they recalled many of them thru the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Vietnam showed them that one combat tour would leave about 15% with PTSD, multiplying the tours tells me youcan multiply the cases of PTSD, the military then went back to Personality discharges for combat veterans, they also sent soldiers to mental health, stabilized them on medication and sent them back to Iraq with a years worth of mood stabilizers, Zoloft, Valium, Klonopin, Buspar, and any other medications they could prescribe to "help" the soldiers return to duty. I would not want to be in a unit with a soldier loaded up on drugs, I would be putting them and myself in danger, I get in trouble here at home on my meds, and I am not walking around with a weapon with rounds, grenades or the capability to call in heavier weapons.

I know of what I speak, as I am 100% P&T disabled Army veteran from the Vietnam War era, Desert Storm and 15 years of Army service, I have PTSD and not all VA hospitals mental health clinics are created equal.

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