The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

AMVETS joins President Obama to kick off "White House to the Lighthouse" bike ride

Yesterday afternoon, AMVETS was on hand at the White House as President Barack Obama kicked off Wounded Warrior Project's White House to the Light House bike ride.

Started in 2005, the annual ride takes participants on a 65 mile trek from Washington, D.C., to Annapolis, Md., to demonstrate the strength and resolve of our nation's wounded troops, and to build camaraderie.

The President, along with Defense Secretary Roberts Gates, VA Secretary Erik Shinseki, and Assistant VA Secretary Tammy Duckworth, sent the riders off with inspiring words about their sacrifices, their resolve, and the nation's gratitude for their service and inspiration.

The riders will cover the 65 miles over the next three days raising awareness of the challenges facing our returning heroes, as well as raising funds to assist wounded warriors.

(Photos: Top: Onlookers greet riders from Wounded Warrior Project in the annual White House to the Lighthouse ride, as they depart from the south lawn of the White House on Thursday, April 30, 2009. Bottom: President Obama addresses the riders prior to kicking off the ride, alongside secretaries Gates and Shinseki, and Assistant Secretary Duckworth. Photos by Jay Agg.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS to testify before Senate VA Committee

This morning, AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley will tesify before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, presenting AMVETS' stance on a host of key veterans' bills.

To view video from the hearing, Click Here.

To read Kelley's written testimony, Click Here.

During today's hearing Kelley voiced AMVETS support for several major pieces of legislation, including the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act (S. 263), which would update USERRA regulations, giving veterans sound recourse against employers who seek to take advantage of Natinoal Guard and Reserve employees.

Kelley also voiced AMVETS' support for a bill introduced by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act (S. 315), which would authorize funding for extensive VA outreach programs that would leverage different levels of government and non-profit organizations, such as VSOs, in informing veterans of their entitlements.

Kelly said the issue was personal in nature to him.

"I returned from Iraq a little more than two years ago and as recently as last week, I received a phone call from one of the twelve people I deployed with asking, 'where do I go, who do I see, what do I qualify for?'" Kelley said. "This is very imporatant."

During the hearing, Sanders recalled a 2003 VA memo that called on staff to cease reaching out to veterans. Sanders acknowledged that the VA has come a long way since 2003, but he wants to ensure that no veterans fall through the cracks.

"If [veterans] don't know what they're entitled to, that's simply not fair," he said.

Mark-up for each of the bills discussed during today's hearing will take place on May 21, 2009. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates on these critical bills in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

(Photo: AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley (bottom, second from the left) testifies before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs this morning in the Derksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Photo by Ryan Gallucci)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due...

This morning, AMVETS Legislative Aide Christina Roof came across a Rutgers University press release published on an online veterans' forum, which highlighted the university's efforts to support New Jersey student-veterans.

Here is the official release.

Unfortunately, the release seems to take credit for the hard work of Rutgers' student-veterans who have fought tooth-and-nail for every inkling of support that the university and Rutgers President Richard McCormick now seem eager to offer.

“As the State University of New Jersey, we want to make sure that we are ready to assist these men and women who so honorably served our nation,” said President Richard L. McCormick.

Oh really? Over the last two years student-veterans at the Rutgers-Camden campus have put in all of the leg work to convince the university that its student-veterans were being treated inequitably.

Veterans For Education, which American Veteran has highlighted on multiple occasions, built up support within the student body and within the community, ultimately forcing President McCormick's hand on veterans' issues. All along the way, V4E faced active resistance from campus administration until they had mustered enough grassroots support to facilitate change. Now the university cannot give credit where credit is due.

V4E and its leaders John Cosby, William Brown, and Bryan Adams, have worked tirelessly with state and federal legislators to allow New Jersey's state colleges and universities to accept military credits as Servicemembers' Opportunity Colleges.

Only after an exhaustive public awareness campaign and letters from legislators at all levels of government did Rutgers and President McCormick decide to act.

Fortunately, news sources such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New Jersey Star-Ledger have acknowledged the hard work of V4E in pushing for Rutgers' support to its veterans.

Thankfully, the climate for American student-veterans seems to be improving thanks to the hard work of veterans such as V4E and hundreds of Student Veterans of America (SVA) groups across the country.

Students are also starting to receive the administrative and faculty support that they will need to succeed thanks to the hard work of educators like John Schupp, the founder of Cleveland State's SERV program, which AMVETS and SVA proudly support.

AMVETS and American Veteran will continue to follow the developments of student-veterans' services at college campuses nationwide to ensure that veterans transition smoothly into campus life.

(Photo: V4E student-veterans from Rutgers Camden discuss Servicemembers Opportunity College credits with New Jersey Governor John Corzine. Photo courtesy of Veterans For Education.)

Women in Service: Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught

For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, one of the most-decorated female service members in American history and the visionary behind the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.

Raised in Scottland, Ill., Vaught decided to join the Air Force, seeking opportunities to lead. Her distinguished career took her around the world in a variety of command roles. In 1966, Vaught was the first woman to deploy with an operational unit as part of the Strategic Air Command bombardment wing to Guam, and later became one of the only non-nurses deployed to Vietnam.

After President Lyndon Johnson signed a law permitting women to serve at the flag and general officer level, Vaught was the first woman in the military's comptroller field to receive the distinction.

Prior to her retirement from the Air Force in 1985, Vaught commanded the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in North Chicago, Ill., where her unit was the first commanded by a female officer to receive the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the nation's highest peacetime award for a military unit.

Through the course of her distinguished military career Vaught received such notable awards as the Defense and Air Force Distinguished Service medals, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

However, Vaught continued to serve her fellow veterans and her country once she left the military. Throughout the 1990s, Vaught campaigned for a national memorial honoring America's female service members, a vision that came to fruition with the opening of the Women's Memorial, the only national memorial honoring all of our nation's military women, on Oct. 18, 1997.

Today, Vaught is recognized as one of the chief advocates and leaders for America's female service members through her work as president of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, the organization responsible for building and now maintaining and operating the memorial.

Today, the memorial stands as a testament to the contributions more than 2.5 million American military women have made to our nation's storied military history. The memorial and its expansive education facilities house a gallery dedicated to the service of America's military women dating back to the American Revolution, as well as a Hall of Honor and registry chronicling the experiences of thousands of individual female veterans, past and present. Artifacts, photos and exhibits are maintained by the foundation to preserve the legacy of our female veterans and inspire generations to come.

Thousands of veterans and their loved ones visit the memorial each year. In 2007, the memorial celebrated its 10th anniversary with a series of events around the nation's Capitol, including a gala, reunion, an anniversary ceremony, and memorial services. An all-female color guard from AMVETS Post 1912 in Farmington, N.M., presented the nation's colors for the candlelight march from the Lincoln Memorial, across the Potomac River, to the Service of Remembrance on the memorial's plaza. To view a DoD photo essay from the 10th anniversary, Click Here.

Vaught continues to muster public support for the Women's Memorial, honoring the sacrifices and valor of America's female service members. She continues to speak nationally on her work and the work of American military women, bringing female veterans' contributions and their unique needs and concerns to the forefront of the national discourse.

(Photos: Top: In March 2009, retired Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught takes First Lady Michelle Obama on a tour of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial during an event honoring Women's History Month and military families. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian. Middle: in 1968, then-Air Force Maj. Wilma L. Vaught poses for a photo while serving with Military Assistance Command in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of retired Brig. Gen. Vaught. Bottom: Gen. Vaught greets her fellow female veterans at the dedication of the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 18, 1997. Department of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Renee L. Sitler. All photos are property of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation and have been furnished solely for use on the American Veteran Online blog.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

The spring issue of American Veteran magazine has shipped. It is currently available online, and it should hit mailboxes by the end of the week.

Please take a look and let us know what you think.

This week at American Veteran Online, we will follow AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley to Capitol Hill for testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on a host of pending bills.

This morning, American Veteran also accompanied Kelley and John Schupp, director of Cleveland State's SERV program, to CNN's Washington Bureau to discuss veterans' education. Check back with American Veteran Online to see when the CNN segment will air.

American Veteran will continue our Women in Service series this week with the long-awaited Brig. Gen. Vaught piece. A major thank you goes out to the staff at the National Women's Memorial for providing us with a wealth of information on Gen. Vaught's military career and her work with WIMSA.

We will also launch a new segment this week called Battle Stripes, which will highlight some of the most historic military units and chronicle their combat experiences. If you have any suggestions of features down the road for either our Women in Service or Battle Stripes series, please let us know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

G.I. Bill Update: VA outlines key dates for implementation

This afternoon, AMVETS took part in on a conference call with the VA and the nation's leading veterans' organizations for an update on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The VA outlined key dates for veterans interested in enrolling in the new program and also important information for beneficiaries and dependents.

The key dates outlined on a the call are:

May 1, 2009: VA will begin to accept submissions for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (Chapter 33). Students will then receive a certificate of eligibility outlining the specific benefits for which they qualify. Students must then present this to the school they plan to attend.

July 6, 2009: VA will begin to accept enrollment figures from schools.

Aug. 3, 2009: First payments will be made for tuition and fees to schools. Veterans will receive an award letter, outlining specific figures on tuition, fees, monthly living stipend, books, and supplies. Veterans will also receive payment for books and supplies.

Sept. 1, 2009: Veterans will receive their first living stipend payment. This will likely be a partial payment based on the number of days the veteran is enrolled in the month of August. Subsequent payments will be made on the first of each month for which the veteran is enrolled.

Veterans who wish to take advantage of Chapter 33, but have not finished using their original Chapter 30 benefits, will only be eligible for the specific number of months remaining on the original eligibility. However, if all of the veteran's prior benefit has been used, they will be eligible for another 12 months of Chapter 33.

If a veteran wishes to transfer their benefits to multiple dependents, each dependent will receive a portion of the tuition and fees allowance based on the VA's corollary for Chapter 33. However, each dependent will receive the full housing and subsistence allowance, keeping with the intent of the original legislation.

Check back with in the coming days for more developments on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. American Veteran online will contine to monitor the VA's implementation process leading up to Chapter 33's launch in August. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to post on this blog, or contact AMVETS National Headquarters.

Sen. Bob Casey, Reps. Artur Davis and John Boccieri discuss USERRA overhaul

Earlier this month, Alabama Congressman Artur Davis and Ohio Congressman John Boccieri introduced a new bill that would overhaul the current Uniformed Servicemembers Employment & Re-employment Rights Act called the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act (SAJA, H.R. 1474).

The new law would close critical loopholes for members of the National Guard and Reserve who are unfairly discriminated against by employers. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced a companion SAJA bill in the Senate.

On Thursday, Casey, Davis, and Boccieri fielded questions from reporters across the country to explain SAJA and its potential benefits for our citizen-soldiers.

Boccieri worked to pass a similar bill while he served in the Ohio Legislature, which allowed Ohio's reserve forces to hold companies who sought to circumvent USERRA accountable for their actions.

During the call, Boccieri said that under the current law, troops can only take legal action within the federal court system--a process that can take upwards of four years to complete. Unfortunately, most are unwilling to see the process through.

"When faced with pursuing a case or putting food on the table, most people will choose the latter," said Boccieri. "They'll just walk away."

In Ohio, troops who wish to file USERRA complaints now can bring suit in the state court system on an accelerated docket. The new federal bill would present the same oppotunity for citizen-soldiers nationwide.

According to a 2006 Pentagon report, more than 11,000 troops return from combat to find that their civilian job is no longer available. More than 22,000 do not receive the pay or benefits they are entitled to through USERRA. Davis also said that countless others may not be reporting their employment issues.

During the call, Casey said that veterans have the fewest discrimination protections under current laws. He hopes that SAJA will "give USERRA teeth" when businesses shirk their legal and moral obligations.

SAJA has been referred to committee in the House, and AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley is scheduled to testify in support of the Senate bill next week. Check back regularly with American Veteran online for more details, and if you have a USERRA story you would like to share, please comment below.

(Note: Rep. John Boccieri is a Major in the Air Force Reserve and a life member of AMVETS Post 44 in Youngstown, Ohio. To learn more about Boccieri, check out the Spring issue of American Veteran magazine. Photo: Rep. Boccieri sits down with American Veteran magazine in his office on Capitol Hill in February. Photo by Jay Agg.)

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS testifies on VA contracting and veterans' small businesses

This afternoon, AMVETS' Christina Roof testified before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Roof's testimony focused on contracts and contract policy as it relates to veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).

To read Roof's remarks, Click Here.

To view video from the hearing, Click Here.

(Photo: AMVETS Legislative Aide Christina Roof testifies before the VA subcommittee. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

UPDATE: Tammy Duckworth confirmed by Senate

Late last night, the Senate confirmed Tammy Duckworth as the new assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Duckworth, a wounded warrior who has fought for improved benefits and care since returning from Iraq, recently received AMVETS' presitigious Silver Helmet Award as 2009 Public Servant of the Year.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously approved her nomination.

AMVETS looks forward to working with Duckworth and the VA in the coming years to ensure that veterans receieve the proper care and recognition they have earned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Shinseki v. Sanders: Supreme Court rules in favor of VA

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the burden of proof for harm in the VA claims process should fall upon the veteran, rather than the VA. This decision could present further hurdles for veterans who seek compensation for service-connected health care conditions down the road.

The particular cases for which the Supreme Court granted certiorari involved claims appeals from WWII veteran Woodrow F. Sanders and Cold War-era veteran Patricia Simmons, asking "Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that when the [VA] fails to provide statutorily required notice to benefits claimants, the VA should bear the burden of showing that such an error was not prejudicial."

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the Supreme Court's opinion, noted that the Federal Circuit court's criteria for a harmless VA error placed "unreasonable evidentiary burdens on the VA." Breyer went on to note that the decision does not simply shift the burden of proof to the detriment of the veteran, but rather may put the veteran in an advantageous position in the appeals process by presenting the opportunity to demonstrate actual harm, rather than relying on the VA's assessment.

However, Justice David Souter's dissenting opinion refuted Breyer's claims that the burden was unreasonable, contesting that the VA has a unique statutory obligation to assist the veteran throughout the claims process. Souter suggested that three criteria could easily be adopted by the VA to help demonstrate harmless errors.

The full opinion from DocStoc has been embedded below:

Shinseki v. Sanders, 07-1209 - Get more Legal Forms

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Update: VA to accept applications May 1

This afternoon, Rick Maze from Military Times reported that the VA will begin accepting Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits applications as early as May 1, through the VA's G.I. Bill Web site.

Though critical details, such as dependent transferability, must still be worked out, AMVETS is encouraged that the VA is taking the necessary steps to ensure that student-veterans receive timely and accurate benefits when the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill rolls out in August.

According to Military Times and recent VA estimates, nearly half a million post-9/11-era veterans are expected to take advantage of their new G.I. Bill benefits starting this fall. Since the new G.I. Bill is based on a complicated corollary of time in service, geographic location, and individual school costs, the VA has identified potential issues in the benefits distribution process. By allowing veterans to start the process on May 1, the VA hopes to iron out any delivery issues so that veterans receive their correct G.I. Bill payments by August 1.

AMVETS has kept a close eye on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill process, taking part in regular conference calls with the VA and testifying on potential issues. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for more details as implementation of the new G.I. Bill draws closer.

Maryland AMVETS recognize Sgt. Shaft

On Saturday, April 4, AMVETS Department of Maryland honored Washington Times columnist and blinded veterans' advocate John Fales with its prestigious PNC A. Leo Anderson Memorial Free State Award of Excellence.

Fales, better know by his pen name "Sgt. Shaft," accepted the award during a special ceremony at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City, Md. AVMETS National Commander John C. Hapner and National Executive Director Jim King were on hand to congratulate Fales on receiving AMVETS Department of Maryland's highest award.

Fales, a native of Silver Spring, Md., served in the U.S. Marine Corps for tours in Vietnam and Beirut before losing his eye sight while on active duty. Fales became a vocal advocate for wounded and disabled veterans, and in 1985 founded the Blinded American Veterans Foundation, one of the nation's leading advocates for sensory-disabled veterans.

Today, Fales is an award-winning advice columnist with the Washington Times, and his work has been syndicated in a variety of print and online media across the country, including one of the nation's leading online military forums,

AMVETS Department of Maryland Commander Michael P. Mahoney presented Fales with the award. Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs and State Adjutant General James Adkins also said a few words on the contributions of Fales to the veterans' community.

(Photo: AMVETS Department of Maryland Commander Michael P. Mahoney presents Fales with the PNC A. Leo Anderson Memorial Free State Award of Excellence, while master of ceremonies and AMVETS Life Member Clarence Bacon looks on. Photo courtesy of AMVETS Department of Maryland.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

The latest issue of American Veteran magazine has been sent out for production. Be on the lookout in your mailboxes within the next couple of weeks.

This week at American Veteran, we follow AMVETS legislative department to Capitol Hill for testimony on veterans' employment and veteran-owned businesses.

We will also follow developments in planning for this summer's symposium for 21st century veterans, taking place at the National Convention in New Orleans.

We will also continue our Women in Service series with our entry slated for last week, retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Wilma Vaught.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Army report suggests military over-diagnoses TBI

Yesterday, the Associated Press highlighted a new report published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, claiming that the military has over-diagnosed Traumatic Brain Injuries.

The report was compiled by Charles Hoge, director of psychiatry and neuroscience at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Carl Castro, a psychologist with U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command, and Herb Goldberg, an Army communications specialist from Walter Reed.

Both Hoge and Castro believe that the VA should characterize many mild head injuries simply as concussions, rather than brain injuries. Hoge contests that the latter diagnosis implies that the condition is permanent, forcing the military and VA to provide additional benefits and care for those who are diagnosed.

According to a recent RAND Corporation study, nearly 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered some kind of brain injury, whether mild or severe, and relatively few receive adequate treatment. Though this report points out that many of these injuries may not have permanent consequences, it is dangerous to suggest that the Army and VA should not diagnose brain injuries.

We've seen in recent months that even head injuries initially labelled as "mild" can have serious, long-lasting, and potentially life thretening effects. It would be a disservice to our veterans to "low ball" their diagnoses in the interests of saving money, as the report suggests.

We applaud the VA for pointing out that they continue to work with veterans to properly identify and diagnose brain injuries, and we hope that this trend continues, in light of the new Army report.

Over the years, veterans have sought the council of AMVETS service officers, hoping to receive the benefits and care for their war-time injuries. Enought hurdles already exist for our veterans, we don't need physicians second guessing diagnoses and downplaying the severity of head injuries.

Sadly, this new report seems to echo grumblings from the traditionally liberal news sources such as Salon, purporting that the military is encouraging doctors to underdiagnose PTSD as lesser maladies such as anxiety or personality disorders. The invisible wounds of war can often be the most serious, and it is the duty of our military medical system to ensure that troops are properly cared for once they return home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Homeland Security report irks veterans' community

On April 7, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on potential threats from right-wing extremist groups within the United States. The report, which is similar to an earlier DHS report on left-wing extremist groups, pointed out a variety of potential threats across a broad range of fractious groups. However, one section of the report deals specifically with vulnerabilities within the growing population of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

While many in the blogosphere have chosen to shoot from the hip on this issue, I'd like to take the opportunity to explain exactly what DHS was trying to convey.

On page seven of the report, DHS outlined that disgruntled veterans could be vulnerable to exploitation from right-wing extremist groups--something that the veterans community should be gravely concerned about.

Veterans are only mentioned in this report because right-wing extremist groups have made a concerted effort to recruit us, tailoring their messages and their brand specifically to appeal to our needs and concerns. DHS has documented that these groups will try to exploit our highly-trained, highly-skilled veterans, since we offer a skill set valuable to anyone who seeks to disrupt the peace. This report serves as a warning that we all should heed: Don't be suckered in by hate groups or extremist ideologies, left or right.

Personally, I think it should be the duty of veterans' organizations such as AMVETS to nip the efforts of extremist groups in the bud by continuing to do what we do best: Honor the service of all our veterans, instill a sense of pride in our nation and our communities, and ensure that every American who serves this nation honorably receives the care and benefits they have earned.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

AMVETS National Commander to visit American Huey 369

Tomorrow afternoon, AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner will visit with a unique Indiana non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the memory of Bell's Huey helicopters. American Huey 369, a 501 (c)(3) out of Peru, Ind., will host Hapner for a tour of their facilities and a possible ride on one of their restored helicopters, should conditions permit.

Named after the tail number of their first salvaged aircraft, American Huey 369 has worked for years to preserve the Huey as a symbolic gesture to America's veterans--particularly from the Vietnam era--who remember the Huey as a symbol of hope on the battlefield.

American Huey 369 founded Johnnie Walker says the distinctive sound of the Huey's supersonic blades often signified imminent rescue or resupply for troops pinned down deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Since American Huey 369 was founded, they have managed to purchase two surplus Huey helicopters, numbers 369 and 803, restoring each to flight status through the work of an extensive volunteer network.

The organization, which now boasts a membership of more than 1,000, offers annual rides on the Hueys in exchange for volunteer work in support of the organization's mission.

Each year, American Huey 369 takes part in dozens of military and veterans' support events across Indiana and the upper Midwest, such as visits from the roving Vietnam Memorial Wall.

American Huey 369 is constantly looking to expand its reach and showcase its programs on the national stage. If you are interested in becoming involved with American Huey 369, visit their Web page,

(Media: Top: Huey 369 is guided in for a landing during an event in 2008. Middle: Volunteers work on Huey 803 at the organization's hanger in 2009. Bottom: Huey 369 hovers over the roving Vietnam Memorial Wall during a Fourth of July weekend veterans' memorial celebration in Auburn, Ind. Video: American Huey 369 call-to-action video. All media courtesy of American Huey 369, used with permission.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Magazine Update: San Diego Padres, "Team of the Military," open 2009 campaign

The spring 2008 issue of "American Veteran" highlighted Cooper Brannan, a young Marine pitching in the San Diego Padres organization.

Cooper just entered his third year with the team, continuing an improbable foray into professional baseball. Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres organization has marched into the 2009 campaign upholding their reputation as the "Team of the Military" in one of the nation's largest military towns.

The Padres' season of military support kicked off on Wednesday night with Military Opening Night, when the Padres took on division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park. Padres prospect Walter Silva made his major league debut as part of the Padres' tradition, donning the team's desert camouflage jersey. To view the gallery from the game, Click Here.

Prior to the game, the Padres honored local military personnel while Vice Adm. Sam Locklear, commander U.S. Third Fleet, and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Kelley, Third Fleet staff, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Throughout the season, the Padres will continue to demonstrate their support to the military through a variety of community outreach programs, orchestrated by the team's Military Affairs director, retired Navy Capt. Jack Ensch.

Since 1995, Ensch has made it his personal mission to ensure that the Padres embrace the San Diego military community, offering unparalleled access and support to all who wear the uniform in Southern California. Ensch, a Vietnam veteran and former P.O.W., understands why it is important for the public to support those who serve.

In addition to regular ticket discounts and the special refund program for deployed personnel, the Padres will continue to offer on-field reenlistment ceremonies and military group outings.

In 2009, the Padres will introduce the Host Our Heroes Program, where companies and individuals can show their appreciation to the military community by hosting service members and their families for Padres home games.

The Padres cornerstone military program, Marine Recruit Sundays, will return for 13 Sundays in the regular season. During Sunday home games, the Padres will wear their camouflage uniforms and host the graduating class from San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. In 2001, AMVETS National Communications Director Jay Agg was one of the Marine recruits honored by the Padres.

Aside from this array of in-stadium programs for the military community, the Padres will continue to work extensively with the military units and installations around San Diego. In the past, the Padres have worked closely with U.S. Third Fleet to ensure that sailors could watch games while underway. The team has also arranged player visits to military medical facilities, appearances at military events around the community, and visible contributions to San Diego Fleet Week.

As the season rolls on, check in regularly with American Veteran online to see how the Padres and Capt. Ensch continue to demonstrate their support to those who have served.

To view the Padres' official military programs Web page, Click Here.

(Photos: San Diego Padres Military Opening Night at PETCO Park. Photos courtesy of the San Diego Padres.)

This Week at American Veteran

This week, American Veteran Online will follow National Commander John C. Hapner on his visit to the Department of Indiana and the American Huey 369 organization, which is dedicated to preserving the memory of one of this nation's most recognizable military support aircraft.

We will also continue our Women in Service series, highlighting retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, one of the most decorated female service members in U.S. history, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, and one of the visionaries behind the National Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

We will also continue to follow the developments in planning for this summer's 21st Century Veterans Symposium, and provide updates on implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Check back regularly throughout the week for updates.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Women in Service: Army/Air Force Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil

For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight U.S. Army Air Corps Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil, the most-decorated female veteran of WWII.

Keil served as a flight nurse during WWII and Korea, taking part in more than 400 combat casualty evacuation missions. According to her family, Keil was involved in the evacuation of more than 10,000 wounded American service members in some of the most pivotal battles of WWII and Korea. For her work, she was awarded 19 medals and ribbons, including four Air Medals and two Presidential Unit Citations.

Prior to joining the war effort, Kiel joined the nursing program at San Francisco's St. Mary's Hospital. She then served as a flight attendent for United Airlines until a passenger inspired her to volunteer for the military.

According to her Tidings obituary, following her death in July 2005, Keil's presence on casevac missions "represented home" for the wounded soldiers she would transport. Keil's daughter, Adrianne Whitmore, recalled that her mother would always keep up her personal appearance, regardless of the harsh conditions, to enstill a sense of hope in her patients.

Years later, Keil continued to recieve mail from wounded service members who recalled her bedside manner, as they were taken off the battlefield.

Keil's experiences with the 801st Medical Evacuation Squadron in Korea inspired the 1953 film "Flight Nurse." Keil is currently interned at Riverside National Cemetery in California.

(Photos: Top: U.S. Air Force photo of then-Lt. Lillian Kinkela of the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. Released. Bottom: U.S. Air Force photo of Keil alongside her plane. Released.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

White House announces unified electronic health records for all service members

President Obama, alongside VA Secretary Erik Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, announced a new unified electronic health and service record system for all service members during a press conference at the White House this afternoon. AMVETS and leaders from the nation's top veterans' service organizations were on hand for the landmark announcement.

AMVETS and the veterans' community applauded the Administration's decision to implement a new electronic system, which will help close the gap in care many veterans experience between leaving the military and entering the VA health system.

The President said that the records would follow troops throughout their lives from the moment they enter service in the U.S. military and into the VA system.

AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley said AMVETS has been calling for a unified health record for DoD and VA for more than a decade.

"Historically, the onus for enrolling the VA system has fallen on the service member one they come off active duty," Kelley said. "Now, troops' medical records will automatically make it into the VA, ensuring the most times and sufficient health care for all veterans."

The President, who returned from a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday afternoon, also praised America's service members for their sacrifices and promised to deliver "the care they were promised and the benefits they deserve."

Obama also addressed the issues of homelessness, education and mental health during his press conference, saying that the proposed VA budget will include new programs to help alleviate the transitional stressors on many of our nation's vets.

As these stories develop, check in with American Veteran Online for more details. And as always, please let us know what you think.

To read President Obama's remarks, Click Here.

(Video: White House video of President Obama's speech introducing the new e-records for military service. Video is part of the public domain.)

AMVETS at the White House this morning

AMVETS Executive Director Jim King will be at the White House this morning for a special announcement on veterans' health care from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and VA Secretary Erik Shinseki.

Check back with American Veteran Online for updates throughout the day.

(Photo: President Obama meets with leaders from the nation's top veterans' service organizations at the White House in March, including AMVETS Executive Director Jim King. Photo courtesy of the White House.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dispelling student-veterans' stereotypes: Penn State's teaching aide

This video was featured on the Penn State Web site for Counseling & Psychological Services to address "Worrisome Student Behaviors." The link on the Web page was removed last month, but it was preserved on YouTube by the PSU College Republicans, who brought the issue of student-veteran stereotypes to the forefront. A special thanks goes to the director of Cleveland State's SERV program, John Schupp, who brought the video to our attention.

When asked about the questionable nature of the video, Penn State quickly responded to American Veteran's query. Dr. Dennis Heitzmann, Director of Counseling & Psychological Services acknowledged that the video, "may be viewed at worst as unfairly stereotyping members of this important [veterans] constituency." He went on to say in an E-mail that, "...upon realizing the unintended impact on some and the potential impact on others, we immediately removed the video from our website."

Since AMVETS has taken up the cause of veterans' education, the organization has heard from student-veterans across the country about the stigma and stereotypes they often encounter when returning to academia.

Of these stereotypes that AMVETS commonly hears, the Penn State video seemed to reinforce just about all of them: Anger, intimidation, bad attitude, arrogance, academic ineptitude, poor language skills, inability to adapt, self-righteousness, and so on. It appears that stereotypes of the angry veteran have permeated some of the supposed "best and brightest" that our college campuses have hired to mold our nation's youth.

An interesting side-note. I recently was a student-veteran, finishing my degree. From my experience, student-veterans are motivated, hard-working, and outspoken leaders among their peers--usually the type of student a professor would enjoy having in their classroom.

The SERV program at Cleveland State has demonstrated that student-veterans, like any underserved population on a college campus, will succeed in a system that recognizes and addresses their legitimate transitional issues. Programs are in place on college campuses nationwide that address the unique needs of inner-city students, minority students, disabled students, GLBT students, and so on. I've never seen an instructional video on how facutly members should "deal with" these students--that would be an abhorrent gesture--but it seems acceptable when "putting up with" student-veterans.

Thankfully, Student Veterans of America (SVA) has also fought to dispel this stigma through the work of its chapters on college campuses nationwide, and they recently adopted the SERV model as a "best practices" to meet the needs of student-veterans. The VA also recognized the merits of SERV, and I've included their video here:

Studies show that when student-veterans are given the opportunity to succeed, they will often exceed expectations, and Penn State acknowledged that the university values its relationship with student-veterans on their campuses across Pennsylvania.

"The student counseling service has helped scores of veteran students to resolve their unique challenges," Heitzmann said. "We would not want to jeopardize those relationships in any way, particularly in view of the many services we believe we have yet to offer this important student constituency."

AMVETS was encouraged by the swift and thoughtful response from Penn State and Dr. Heitzmann. AMVETS and American Veteran Magazine will continue to work with our partners within the veterans' community, like SERV and SVA, to uphold the honorable reputation of our student-veterans.

Let us know how you feel about this issue by posting your comments below.


(Media: Top: Penn State video about "Worrisome Student Behavior" embedded from the PSU College Republicans' YouTube page. Bottom: Video from the VA's "American Veteran" series highlighting the SERV program from Cleveland State University.)

Obama visits with troops in Iraq

During his recent international tour, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to troops serving on the front lines in Iraq. This visit marks the first time Obama has met with troops in the combat zone since taking office in January.

Obama took the opportunity to praise America's fighting men and women for their accomplishments in the conflict--specifically ousting Saddam Hussein, reducing fractious violence, and holding multiple national elections. Obama stressed responsibility in his approach to drawing down the U.S. presence in Iraq, to which he received a round of applause for the troops.

Obama then had a long sit-down at Camp Victory with U.S. commanders to assess the situationon the ground. Obama also met with key Iraqi leaders during his visit and called for increased cooperation among Iraqi factions to help ease the transition of U.S. troops out of the country.

The Washington Post reported that Obama's visit was met warmly by the Iraqi public and American troops alike.

(Media, Top: President Obama receives a fist-jab as he greets troops at Camp Victory in Iraq, White House photo by Pete Sousa. Middle: Video of Obama's speech to troops at Camp Victory, praising their accomplishments throughout the war in Iraq. Public video from the White House. Bottom: Obama pins an Army Sergeant with his Purple Heart medal during an awards ceremony at Camp Victory. White House photo by Pete Sousa. All White House media materials are part of the Creative Commons within the public domain.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Logo Unveiled for 21st Century Veterans Symposium

This morning, AMVETS National Headquarters unveiled the logo for this summer's symposium on the needs of 21st Century Veterans, which will take place during the 65th annual AMVETS National Convention in New Orleans this August. Details of this summer's meeting are still being hammered out as headquarters continues to muster support for the event.

In the coming weeks, distinguished subject-matter experts and leaders will receive their invitations, as departments ramp up their recruitment efforts for participants.

The 2009 AMVETS Symposium for 21st Century Veterans will be a follow-on to AMVETS' 2006 National Symposium on the Needs of Young Veterans. The 2009 symposium will address dozens of the issues raised in 2006, identifying problems-solved and shortcomings. Symposium participants will also discuss new issues that may have arisen over the last three years, compiling a new report to guide the work of AMVETS in meeting the needs of our latest generation of combat veterans.

As convention draws closer, more information will be available online. In the meantime, check in with American Veteran Online for updates on the symposium.

To view the report from AMVETS' 2006 National Symposium on the Needs of Young Veterans, Click Here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow developments at National rolling up to this summer's symposium for young veterans.

Congress is in recess for the next two weeks, but the legislative department remains hard at work preparing for a vigorous spring session.

American Veteran Online will keep you up to date on AMVETS' proposal to fund last summer's provision from the Higher Ed bill, which will commission veterans' "centers of excellence" on college campuses nationwide. Last week, Congress approved a base budget for FY2010, leaving AMVETS some room to include this $10 million provision with the support of Texas Congressman Ruben Hinojosa.

We continue to look for content to kick off our "Keeping Posted Online" series, and we will continue to update the "Women in Service" series, highlighting Lillian Kinkella Keil, the most-decorated female service member of WWII.

We are also in the final stages of layout for the next print issue of American Veteran Magazine. Be on the lookout in your mailboxes and online over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Women in Service: Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally

For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally, America's first female combat pilot and the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron.

The U.S. military lifted the ban on women flying in combat 1991 and McSally was among the first female selectees to attend fighter training school. McSally graduated from the program in 1993 and was given her first combat assignment in 1995 with an operational A-10 Thunderbolt II squadron in Kuwait.

During her tour, McSally flew combat patrols over Iraq to enforce the no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch. In 2000, she returned to the Middle East with another operational squadron stationed in Riyhad, Saudi Arabia fulfilling the same enforcement role.

In 2004, McSally broke another benchmark for female aviators when she assumed command of the 354th Fighter Squadron for a combat deployment to Afghanistan. In a recent interview with Air University, McSally recalled her most memorable moments in Afghanistan, providing close air support for troops on the ground, and engaging the enemy.

According to Air University, McSally's unit flew nearly 2,000 sorties and compiled more than 7,000 combat flight hours during their tour in Afghanistan. For their accomplishments on the tour, McSally and her unit received the Air Force Association's David C. Shilling Award for "best aerospace contribution to national defense."

McSally is a native of Warwick, R.I. and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. She continues to serve in the U.S. Air Force and expects to pin on Colonel later this month. She is currently a student at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and her name is currently on the list for Air Force Group Command.

(Photo: McSally stands for a photo alongside her A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I usually don't agree with the ACLU, but...

The Associated Press reported today that the ACLU has filed suit in Michigan on behalf of Lewis Lowden and his late wife Jean, who were pulled over and arrested while driving in the funeral procession for Army Cpl. Todd Motley in 2007. Lowden was cited for violating Michigan's law prohibiting funeral protests for a sign in his car's window which criticized then-President George W. Bush.

The ACLU is concerned that the current Michigan law is written in a way that gives authorities a blank check to arrest anyone who makes a statement that could be construed as controversial in and around funeral proceedings. To view the Michigan law, as it is written today, Click Here.

In 2006, the law was passed with bipartisan support to restrict the protests of that "church" in Kansas (I refuse to name them on this blog). You know, the "church" that's now notorious for picketing troops' funerals around the country, claiming that their deaths were punishment for American tolerance of homosexuality; the "church" that has given the Patriot Guard Riders, AMVETS Riders, and patriotic Americans across the country something to protect.

According to the AP, lawmakers who helped to draft the bill did not foresee an issue such as the Lowden case. The law was passed with noble intentions, but the ACLU claims the language is too broad, and can lead to authoritarian abuse, which seems to be the case with the Lowdens.

For a little background on the Lowden story, Lewis and Jean were long-time family friends of Motley. In fact, they helped with his home schooling and frequently took him on fishing and camping trips as a boy. Lowden was well known around town for the political signs he would hang in his vehicle, and when he arrived for the funeral, no one objected.

As the funeral procession passed through town, the Lowdens were pulled over and arrested on the spot. The city eventually dropped criminal charges at the request of the Motley family.

When I first came across this story, I thought it was going to be another whiny ACLU case, but I was encouraged to see that even those responsible for drafting the law are eager to hear the courts' decision on how to properly enforce a reasonable standard.

The decision on whether a political statement connotes a "disturbing or disruptive effect" on a funeral should rest solely with the grieving family. To me, it seems absurd that the police could determine what such families would take offense to--especially in this case, where the offenders were IN the funeral procession!

But don't take my word for it. Read this story for yourself, and let us know what you think.


(Photo: A member of the Patriot Guard Riders stands on guard at the funeral of Army Sgt. John Styles, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli, released.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tammy Duckworth, Scott Gould Hearing Update


AMVETS Civil Servant of the Year Tammy Duckworth testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs this morning as part of the confirmation process for Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.

W. Scott Gould also testified this morning, as he seeks confirmation as Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

To read Duckworth's opening statement, Click Here.

To read Gould's opening statement, Click Here.

Army Ten-Miler registration opens TODAY

Registration for the 25th annual Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., opened this morning and the field of 30,000 runners is likely to fill quickly. To register, Click Here.

The race takes place on Sunday, October 4, 2009, and members from AMVETS National Headquarters have already started signing up.

If you're going to be in the DC Metro area, join us! It's a great opportunity to see the Nation's Capitol in a new way, and to run alongside our nation's heroes and our nation's leaders.

It should be a good time, and we hope to see you there.


(Photo: Runners pass by the Capitol during the 2003 Army Ten-Miler. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Charity Barrett, released.)