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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

BE OUTRAGED: Gold Star Father Ordered to Pay Court Fees

Yesterday, media outlets around Baltimore reported that Gold Star Father Albert Snyder of York, Pa., would be ordered to pay court fees for the radical Kansas pastor who pickets military funerals. The fees are related to Snyder's ongoing lawsuit against the notorious church, which we refuse to name on this blog.

Snyder's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006. His funeral was protested by the hateful fanatics, who held up signs laced with anti-homosexual rhetoric, tying American military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to America's tolerance for gays.

Snyder decided to take action to reclaim his son's dignity and sued the pastor. Initially, Snyder was awarded $17 million, but the lower court's decision was overturned. Now, upon further appeal, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari on the case. However, in the interim, Snyder has been ordered to pay more than $16,000 in associated court costs for the picketers.

This afternoon, Snyder said he will refuse to pay the court-ordered fees.

Personally, I hope the Supreme Court rules that this hateful church cannot impede on the First Amendment rights of the Snyder family and other military families, who have the right to freely practice their religious beliefs, which should include dignified funeral proceedings.

Though groups like the ACLU have supported the protester's First Amendment claim to free speech, similar protections must be afforded to private family matters, such as funerals. In my opinion, the intent of the First Amendment was to ensure the free flow of information in an effort to maintain transparency in government. I cannot believe that the framers intended it to be used to bully private citizens, as this hateful clan has done for years.

In response to the outlandish protests, motorcycle riders such as the Patriot Guard Riders and AMVETS Riders have mobilized around the country alongside police, firefighters and other public servants to protect Gold Star Families from the vile messages.

Officially, AMVETS believes that all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty deserve nothing but the utmost respect from a grateful nation. Gold Star Families have earned the right to bury their sons and daughters with dignity.

The Snyder family has been receiving donations from around the country to help defer the potential court costs, and on Fox News last night, commentator Bill O'Reilly offered to pay Snyder's legal expenses, should the court system fail him and his son.

Thank you for stepping up to the plate, Bill, but let's hope it never has to come to that.


(Image: Gold Star Service Banner, which signifies a family member who has fallen in combat. Public domain.)

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Women in Service: Marine Corps Lioness Program

Once Iraq transformed from kinetic combat operations into a stabilization effort in 2005, Iraqis quickly noticed an easy way to subvert checkpoints by using Iraqi females as suicide bombers and smugglers, exploiting American compassion to Iraqi cultural norms.

In an effort to counteract this exploitation of Iraqi women, while preserving cultural ideals that prohibit men from touching Iraqi women, American military leaders took a bold step, attaching female volunteer troops to combat units.

The U.S. Marine Corps was one of the first to formally implement its "Lioness Program," where female Marines could join combat troops at checkpoints and conduct outreach operations with Iraqi women. Initially, the primary mission of Lioness Marines was to search females looking to cross these checkpoints, but the mission has evolved over the years to include Civil Affairs-type operations and cultural outreach efforts.

From the program's inception, female volunteers quickly emerged from all different military occupational specialties looking to participate in the program.

In order to prepare volunteers for their cursory combat role, each female Marine was put through a week of special training in different weapons systems, language and cultural norms, Marine Corps Martial Arts Program tactics, and combat lifesaving techniques.

The Lioness Program--though not officially considered a "combat" role, considering it is constituted as a brigade-sized elementl--was the first time that female American troops served in the same capacity as their infantry and combat arms MOS counterparts.

The program has been credited with improving cultural relations in Iraq and was just expanded to Afghanistan this month.

Led by Marine 2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer, the Afghan version of the Marine Lioness Program conducted its first mission as part of a cordon-and-search in support the recent Operation Pathfinder alongside 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

In a recent interview with CENTCOM Public Affairs, Shaffer acknowledged that the Afghan version of the program varied greatly from its Iraqi counterpart, given the cultural differences, but that it remained a necessary conduit to reaching out to Afghan women and children.

“We also do not know much about the daily life of Afghan women,” Shaffer said. “This provides us not only the opportunity to learn about the women, but also to build and maintain faith and trust of the Afghan women.”

Military leaders have acknowledged how critical programs like the Marine Corps Lioness program have become to U.S. combat operations, with similar programs online in both the Army and Marine Corps, and expansion into both major theaters of operation.

Now in its fifth year, Lioness continues to raise the bar for females who wish to serve on the front lines.

(Photos: Top: Marine Cpl. Jacqueline Parker, a supply warehouse NCO, conducts AK-47 shooting drills during Lioness Program training in Iraq. Photo by Lance Cpl. Jessica Aranda, released. Bottom: Marine Cpl. Jennifer San Martin searches a women crossing a checkpoint in Haditha City, Iraq in March 2008. Photo by Cpl. Shawn Coolman, released.)

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Monday, March 29, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran we will follow AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin to Albert Lea, Minn., where Miskulin will present the 2010 AMVETS Congressional Silver Helmet award to Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) in his home district.

The presentation will take place at 10 a.m. at AMVETS Post No. 47, co-located at the Albert Lea American Legion Post No. 56.

This week, AMVETS Deputy National Legislative Director Christina Roof will participate in a series of meetings with Congressional staffers during the members' district work period, following up on the recent Capitol Hill visits alongside Paws With A Cause, educating on the benefits of assistance dogs for wounded veterans.

Roof will also participate in this week's meeting at the Department of Labor, where veterans' leaders will join Administration leaders to discuss progress on the federal Veterans' Employment Initiative.

As part of our Women in Service series for Women's History Month, we will highlight the Marine Corps Lioness Brigades--female units in Iraq who serve alongside male combat units.

As always, we're eager to hear from our readers, so please post your comments, and if you have anything you would like to share for our "Keeping Posted" feature on the blog and in the magazine, please let us know.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring NEC Floor Highlights: Camp Hope, Boy Scouts of America Partnerships Recognized

Last weekend, AMVETS leaders from around the country convened on the Hilton Washington Dulles for the spring meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee.

Amid the reports from each department across AMVETS' six regional districts, AMVETS hosted a variety of guests on the floor of the NEC, including AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary Humanitarian Award winner William "Mike" White and AMVETS National Spokesman Dana Bowman.

White, the founder of the wounded warrior retreat Camp Hope, took the time to thank AMVETS, AMVETS Riders and the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary for their support to his vision of Camp Hope, which was established in 2007 in memory of his son, Marine Pfc. Christopher Neal White, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Joining White and Ladies Auxiliary National President Patty Piening on the podium was Army Capt. Joseph Bogart, who was legally blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Bogart recounted his visit to Camp Hope and the sense of peace that his visit brought back to his day-to-day life. In spite of his injuries, Bogart was able to remain on active duty and serve a second tour in Iraq.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin also presented the first AMVETS/Boy Scouts of America Youth Outreach award to California AMVET Jim Blank in recognition of his sustained commitment to his scouts. The new award can be awarded to volunteer scout leaders who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to AMVETS' mission of support to expanding Boy Scouts of America, or BSA, programs.

AMVETS National Spokesman Dana Bowman also took the time to thank AMVETS for its support over the last six months and discussed upcoming appearances, where he plans to jump in the AMVETS parachute. Bowman even joked that Cmdr. Miskulin still needed to join Bowman on a tandem jump before this summer's national convention.

AMVETS National Executive Committee meets three times each year to discuss general business of the organization. At the spring meeting, each AMVETS department also announced their state conventions, which will take place over the next three months.

Photos: Top: AMVETS NEC representatives deliver their reports on the floor of the spring NEC meeting. Middle: Army Capt. Joseph Bogart shares his Camp Hope experience with the floor of the NEC, while AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary National President Patty Piening and Camp Hope founder William White look on. Middle: Jim Blank poses for a photo with Cmdr. Miskulin and AMVETS Department of California Commander John Byrum after receiving the first AMVETS/BSA Youth Outreach Award. Bottom: Dana Bowman jokes with Cmdr. Miskulin about a potential upcoming tandem jump with the new AMVETS parachute. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sons of AMVETS Make Their Mark on Capitol Hill

Last week, Congressional offices on Capitol Hill were inundated with men in blue blazers and gray garrison caps, as Sons of AMVETS from around the country converged on Washington, D.C., for their annual legislative visits.

More than 70 Sons, joined by members of AMVETS and the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, took to Capitol Hill for more than 120 appointments and more than 50 additional impromptu meetings with Senators, Congressmen, and staff, including newly-elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

This year, the Sons of AMVETS were armed with hundreds of copies of the AMVETS 2010 Legislative Priorities book, explaining AMVETS' top legislative goals to key decision-makers.

Founded in Vermillion, Ohio in 1972, Sons of AMVETS is a national organization comprised of male descendants of American military men and women. The organization is dedicated to supporting the mission of AMVETS, which includes advocating for improved veterans' care and benefits.

Along with the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary and Junior AMVETS, Sons of AMVETS help to ensure that the voices of military families are also heard when discussing veterans' issues on a national level.

The 2010 Sons of AMVETS Capitol Hill visit was the organization's most successful program to date, with Sons conducting more than 170 meetings in four days.

(Photos: Top: Sons of AMVETS National Commander David Spencer, center, speaks with Sen. Scott Brown during last week's Hill visits. Photo by Karen Spencer. Bottom: Sons of AMVETS pose for a photo with AMVETS members Kevin Stone, bottom center, and Luis Montalvan, right, during last week's Sons of AMVETS Hill visits. Stone and Montalvan were also on Capitol Hill alongside AMVETS partner non-profit Paws With A Cause for educational meetings with legislators on the benefits of assistance dogs for wounded veterans . Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS to Testify on VA's STAR Program

This afternoon, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley will appear before the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs to discuss VA's Systematic Technical Accuracy Review program, or STAR.

To view live video from the 2 p.m. hearing, Click Here.

While Kelley applauds VA's recent efforts to improve STAR, the next critical issue is what VA does with the data it collects. AMVETS suggests enhancing STAR to allow regional offices to easily identify error trends in claims-processing, encouraging the Veterans Benefits Administration, or VBA, to strive for accuracy in claims-processing, rather than timeliness, and VA's Office of the Inspector General must conduct periodic review of STAR to ensure a reasonable margin of error in the program's findings.

American Veteran will follow today's hearing. Check back later this afternoon for updates.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

VA Announces New Presumptions for Gulf War/Afghan Service

Late last week, VA announced it will establish new presumptive service-connected conditions for veterans who served in the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan, making it easier for veterans to receive care and compensation.

According to a VA statement, the new presumptions will include long-term health effects associated with nine conditions: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella burnetti (Q fever), malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis, and the West Nile virus.

VA decided to expand the presumptions based on recommendations from the VA Gulf War Veterans Illness Task Force based on a 2006 study from the National Academy of Sciences outlining the long-term health effects of diseases found to disproportionately affect Gulf War veterans.

Similar to VA's recent expansion of Agent Orange presumptions for Vietnam-era veterans, a veteran seeking care and compensation for the new conditions must only have a diagnosis for a listed disease and proof of service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan. Presumptions eliminate the burden of proof for veterans who usually must compile evidence indicating that a condition is service-connected.

“We recognize the frustrations that many Gulf War and Afghanistan veterans and their families experience on a daily basis as they look for answers to health questions, and seek benefits from VA,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in an official statement on the new presumptions.

VA is expected to publish its final regulation on the new presumptions once the 60-day comment period has ended. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates on the new presumptions, as implementation of the new policy draws closer.

(Photo: Soldiers from the 5162nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment pose for a photo with their Stinger portable missile during Operation Desert Shield. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Corkran, released.)

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Women in Service: Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm

In 1973, the first woman was promoted to the rank of major general, establishing a new standard for female service members in the U.S. military. However, this promotion was only the latest in a series of ground-breaking accomplishments for the Air Force's first female general officer, Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm.

Holm joined the U.S. Army in 1942 to support the WWII war effort and served as a truck driver throughout the conflict. After two years at Louis & Clark University, Holm was recalled to active duty, where she transferred into the Air Force and deployed to Germany, where she served as War Plans Officer for the 85th Air Depot Wing during the Berlin Airlift.

In 1952, she was the first woman to attend the Air Command and Staff College. She would later complete her bachelor's degree at Louis & Clark University in 1956.

Throughout her time in the Air Force, Holm's merits and authority were consistently challenged by male leadership in a fledgling military service that sought to purge females from its ranks. However, according to the Washington Post, Holm's tact and strategic savvy from years of service at the Pentagon allowed her to successfully challenge paradigms within the Air Force ranks.

As director of the Women in the Air Force, or WAF, Holm fought for women to serve on overseas duty assignments and other traditionally-male missions, and more than doubled the total size of the female force. Holm's leadership paved the way for today's female veterans, who have served with valor on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan and serve with parity alongside male counterparts across most military job fields.

Though she nearly retired out of frustration in 1971, top brass had taken notice of Holm's work, promoting her to the first female general officer in the Air Force. In 1973, she pinned on her second star as a major general, making her the highest ranking female in the U.S. military at the time.

During her final years in uniform, Holm fought successfully to expand military benefits to female service members, allowing their male spouses comparable access to dependent services and care. She retired in 1975 after more than 30 years of ground-breaking service, shortly after the Air Force announced it would train female pilots.

The Air Force and its related associations have recognized Holm's contributions on many occasions, including a lifetime achievement award from the Air Force Association and the establishment of the Jeanne M. Holm Officer Accessions and Citizen Development Center at Air University.

During her time in the military, Holm's accomplishments earned her the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.

Holm died on Feb. 15, 2010 from complications from heart disease at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md.

(Photos: Top: Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm shortly after her promotion in 1973. U.S. Air Force photo, released. Bottom: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Emilia Martin, right, teaches Airmen the proper way to salute during Officer Training School at the Jeanne M. Holm Officer Accessions and Citizen Development Center. U.S. Air Force photo by Jamie Pitcher, released.)

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This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will share highlights from the 56th annual Silver Helmet Awards, which took place on Saturday, March 20 at the Hilton Washington Dulles in Herndon, Va. We will also post highlights from the floor of the spring meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee.

The Sons of AMVETS were also out in force on Capitol Hill last week, meeting with more than 100 legislators and staff, outlining AMVETS' legislative agenda for 2010. We will bring you highlights.

On Saturday, AMVETS, the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary and the Sons of AMVETS honored seven champions of veterans' service with the highest awards each organization can give. Here is a list of this year's recipients:

AMVETS 2010 Silver Helmet Awards:
  • Rehabilitation - Joseph Mornini
  • Civil Servant - William Montague
  • Americanism - Joseph Gentile (on behalf of Gloucester Township Elementary Schoo)
  • AMVET of the Year - Glen Maurer
  • Congressional - Tim Walz
AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary:
  • 2010 Humanitarian Award - William White
Sons of AMVETS
  • Inaugural Award - PNC Joseph Piening
  • Inaugural Award - PNC John Lorec
This week, American Veteran will also continue our "Women in Service" series, highlighting women's contributions to American military history in honor of Women's History Month. Our first installment this week will highlight Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, the first female general officer in the U.S. Air Force and the first female in the U.S. military to earn her second star.

Later this week, we will highlight a noteworthy female AMVETS member. We have some ideas on who we would like to highlight, but if you have a suggestion, please send me details via email,

American Veteran will also be on Capitol Hill this week where the House Committee on Veterans Affairs will hear testimony on VA's Systematic Technical Accuracy Review, or STAR, program, which evaluated VA's effectiveness in processing accurate benefits claims. The committee will also host a legislative hearing on Thursday, where 10 bills will be up for discussion.

AMVETS Deputy National Legislative Director Christina Roof will also be back on Capitol Hill, following up on last week's meetings with legislators on assistance dogs for wounded veterans. We will keep you posted on any developments.

As always, we're eager to hear what's going on within the AMVETS community, so please feel free to send us any stories you have from AMVETS posts and departments around the country.

(Photo: AMVETS ice sculpture at the 56th annual Silver Helmet Awards Banquet. Photo by Jay Agg.)

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

AMVETS' Statement on Health Care Reform

Below is the statement issued by AMVETS tonight on proposed health care reform and protections for VA and military health care programs:

AMVETS Applauds Skelton Bill to Protect Military Health Care

LANHAM, Md., March 21, 2010--AMVETS leaders applauded the passing of H.R. 4887, introduced by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), that will protect specific health care benefits of military veterans, members of the Armed Forces and their families.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Raymond Kelly said Sunday that AMVETS leaders have always understood the intent of H.R. 3590: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and believed it would not compromise the health care benefits of American Veterans.

“AMVETS continues to share the opinion of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and other VA and Department of Defense leaders that health care reform legislation does not threaten the veterans’ community,” said Kelley. “The successful passing of Rep. Skelton’s legislation only solidifies our belief and erases any and all doubt of potential harm.”

Kelly said AMVETS will continue to monitor the debate to ensure the Senate version of H.R. 4887 also passes.

AMVETS leaders will continue to follow the health care debate, as the House of Representatives plans to vote on the health care reform bill tonight.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

AMVETS, Paws With A Cause Take the Hill (Part 2)

Yesterday, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause took to Capitol Hill for the second day of education and advocacy meetings with legislators discussing assistance dogs for wounded veterans.

Veterans Kevin Stone and Luis Montalvan, accompanied by AMVETS' Christina Roof and Paws With A Cause's Deb Davis, met with key veterans' advocates Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), John Hall (D-N.Y.) , and John Carter (R-Texas). The group also had in-depth meetings with chief council for the minority staff on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the offices of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Much like day one, the group sought to explain the benefits of service dogs for wounded veterans in an effort to inspire Congress to pressure VA on clarifying programs already available and to continue moving on pending legislation. Two of the current bills before Congress were introduced by Klein and Hall, each of whom had deep personal knowledge of the issue and expressed a willingness to continue working toward viable federal programs.

Carter, a staunch veterans' advocate who helped to draft critical veterans' caregiver legislation, was eager to learn about assistance dogs and their potential benefits.

During the morning's meetings with Senate staff members, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause were able to explain the potential economic benefits of assistance dogs by demonstrating that increased independence for wounded veterans means fewer veterans remaining on Social Security Disability Insurance, with the ability to contribute to the American workforce.

AMVETS and Paws With A Cause walked away from Capitol Hill confident that they caught the attention of key legislators, but they also left with a renewed mission purpose.

"We have to keep the momentum," said Davis after the meetings. "I didn't know there would be so much support, but we need to bring back numbers and demonstrate the actual value."

Roof said AMVETS has legislative proposals that she plans to present to each member Paws With A Cause and AMVETS met with on Tuesday and Wednesday.

American Veteran will continue to follow this story, as AMVETS and Paws With A Cause push for responsible federal programs offering assistance dogs to wounded veterans.

(Photos: Top: Kevin Stone explains to Rep. Ron Klein how his assistance dog, Mambo, allowed him to successfully compete on the U.S. Paralympic team, winning bronze in Athens and setting American records in Beijing. Middle: Rep. John Hall gets acquainted with Mambo, as Stone and Luis Montalvan explain the benefits of their assistance dogs. Bottom: Montalvan explains to Rep. John Carter how his assistance dog, Tuesday, allowed him to refocus on his graduate studies at Columbia University. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS Commander to Testify

AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin testified before a special joint session of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs on Capitol Hill this morning in Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, outlining AMVETS' legislative agenda for 2010.

Below are additional photos from this morning's special hearing before a joint session of the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs. For details from this morning's hearing, Click Here. To view video from this morning's hearing, Click Here.

(Hundreds of AMVETS in Washington for this weekend's national executive committee meeting and Silver Helmet Awards packed into Dirksen room G-50 for this morning's hearing.)

(Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) thanks each of the veterans organizations on this morning's panel for their continued dedication to improving veterans' services, while Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) looks on.)

(Cmdr. Miskulin reads his prepared remarks during this morning's hearing, highlighting the persistent VA claims backlog and the invisible wounds of war.)

(Top photo: Cmdr. Miskulin delivers his remarks, as members of the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs look on during this morning's special joint session. All photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AMVETS, Paws With A Cause Take to Capitol Hill

This morning, AMVETS and partner non-profit Paws With A Cause took to Capitol Hill, advocating for assistance dogs for wounded veterans.

AMVETS Luis Montalvan, an Iraq veteran who now attends graduate school at Columbia University, and Kevin Stone, an Army Ranger who is now a medal-winning U.S. Paralympian, brought their service dogs, Tuesday and Mambo, around the halls of the U.S. Capitol and the Congressional office buildings for the first of a two-day education and advocacy blitz.

Montalvan and Stone credit their assistance dogs with helping them to not only lead normal lives, but to excel in areas where they otherwise may have not. Both veterans credit their dogs with providing critical day-to-day task support and emotional support, allowing each of them to focus on living their lives to the fullest.

In today's meetings, Stone coined the phrase "Motivational Prosthetics of Freedom," when discussing assistance dogs. Like any other prosthetic limb or device, Stone says assistance dogs fill the gap left by whatever disability a veteran may be experiencing, such as the tasks Stone was limited to accomplishing while confined to a wheelchair.

AMVETS Deputy National Legislative Director Christina Roof and Paws With A Cause National Marketing Manager Deb Davis joined the veterans, helping to explain shortfalls in current policy toward assistance dogs and pushing to close loopholes and improve access for veterans who could benefit from new programs.

The major points driving AMVETS' and Paws With A Cause's work over the next couple of days are:

- Statues and policies must be clear to veterans and implemented throughout the VA system with a clear point of contact. The current language found in Title 38 of the U.S. Code is too vague, failing to identify what VA's actual responsibilities should be.

-When drafting responsible assistance dog placement and training legislation for veterans, a standard must be established based on proven assistance dog industry standards and practices exemplified by Assistance Dogs International, or ADI, and the International Guide Dog Federation, or IGDF. The bills currently before Congress are too vague and misuse certain industry terms interchangeably, such as guide dog, service dog, therapy dog, and assistance dog, making policy nearly impossible to properly implement.

-Decisive action must be taken in the short term, since thousands of veterans could potentially benefit from any new program, and AMVETS and Paws With A Cause are happy to work with legislators to make this happen. Though VA may have concerns over cost, the return on investment from veterans who take advantage of assistance dogs would have far-reaching effects as veterans re-enter the work force and live up to their full potential.

Today, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause met with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), staff from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and key staff from the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

CNN also followed AMVETS and Paws With A Cause later in the day, taking the time to speak with Hagan on the issue for a potential story on Montalvan, Stone and veterans' assistance dogs. American Veteran Online will keep you posted on details.

Tomorrow, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause will meet with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), the architects of pending legislation, Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), and key council for other relevant committees.

Check back tomorrow with American Veteran for more updates.

(Photos: Top: Kevin Stone speaks with Sen. Kay Hagan, while a CNN photojournalist composes his shot. Bottom: Luis Montalvan rewards Tuesday for his good behavior on Speaker Pelosi's balcony on the U.S. Capitol. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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HBO Welcomes WWII Veterans to Washington

On Sunday night, HBO kicked off its 10-part miniseries, "The Pacific," chronicling the experiences of four Marines who served in the Pacific campaign of WWII.

In honor of the premiere, HBO hosted hundreds of veterans of the Pacific campaign in the nation's capitol last Thursday for an Honor Flight visit to the National WWII Memorial and a special preview screening of the new show.

Producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were on hand at the National WWII Memorial to meet with veterans, alongside VA Assistant Secretary W. Scott Gould, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and two the actors from the upcoming miniseries, James Badge Dale and Joe Mazzello.

Each of the guests delivered remarks on why the miniseries was important to them and thanked the assembled veterans for their valorous service in the nation's hours of need. Spielberg, Hanks, Gould and Dole then laid a wreath by the Pacific reflecting pool at the memorial.

After the ceremony, Spielberg, Hands, Dale and Mazzello took the time to meet with many of the veterans, posing for photos.

The actors and Secretary Gould also took a few moments to answer questions from American Veteran magazine. In the spring issue, we will highlight "The Pacific" miniseries, which runs on HBO until mid-May.

(Photos: Top: Spielberg, Hanks, Dole and Gould lay a wreath by the Pacific reflecting pool at the National WWII Memorial. Middle: Spielberg, Dale, Mazzello and Hanks pose for a photo with veterans after the morning's ceremony. Middle: Secretary Gould delivers his remarks during the morning's ceremony, honoring Pacific campaign veterans. Bottom: Sen. Dole delivers her remarks, as hundreds of Pacific campaign veterans look on. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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Monday, March 15, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week is one of the most significant weeks of the year for AMVETS, its subordinate organizations, and its partners. Leading up to Thursday's testimony of AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin before a special session of the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs, AMVETS and its partners will take to Capitol Hill, pushing for improved care and services for veterans and their loved ones. American Veteran will be on hand for all of this week's events, providing photos and coverage on this blog.

Starting tomorrow, AMVETS and partner non-profit Paws With A Cause will kick off a two-day push around the nation's capitol, promoting responsible assistance dog legislation for wounded veterans. Two AMVETS members, Luis Montalvan and Kevin Stone, will join leaders from AMVETS and Paws on a series of Capitol Hill visits with top legislators and staff, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.). The group will also visit with staff at the White House to discuss how the Obama Administration could help advocate for the cause.

On Thursday, members of AMVETS, AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, and Sons of AMVETS will join Cmdr. Miskulin for his special testimony at 9:30 a.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. After the testimony, members of the AMVETS family will take to the halls of the House and Senate office buildings to meet with legislators to explain critical veterans' issues first-hand and to provide copies of the AMVETS 2010 Legislative Agenda.

Meanwhile, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley will participate in the House Veterans Affairs Committee summit on the VA claims backlog--AMVETS' top legislative priority for 2010.

On Thursday night, AMVETS will also present Congressman Tim Walz (D-Minn.) with the AMVETS Congressional Silver Helmet Award in recognition of Walz's decades of service as a command sergeant major in the Minnesota Army National Guard and his continued service as a vocal veterans' advocate in Congress.

Finally, AMVETS will gather over the weekend in Herndon, Va., for the spring meeting of the AMVETS National Executive Committee, tending to the business of the organization, before honoring the final four recipients of the 2010 AMVETS Silver Helmet Awards during the 56th annual Silver Helmet Awards banquet at the Hilton Washington Dulles in Herndon.

Check back regularly with American Veteran for updates as this busy week unfolds.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

One in Five Young Vets Unemployed

This morning, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest figures on unemployment, showing that 21.1 percent of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans cannot find work. To read the bureau's release, Click Here.

AMVETS leaders were saddened by the announcement, but cited reintegration and transitional shortcomings, along with legislative loopholes as key contributors to the disturbing figures.

"Young veterans are less attractive to employers compared to their civilian counterparts who simply have more experience in the civilian work force," said AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "This is why AMVETS continues to advocate for improved transition programs from the military, such as TAPS, providing young vets skills like resume-building, allowing them to compete."

The latest bureau statistics do not include student-veterans, since student-veterans are not considered part of the work force. To Kelley, this only reinforces why Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits must be expanded to include non-degree job training costs, such as certificate and apprenticeship programs.

"College is not for everyone, so it's not enough to tell young veterans to go back to school if they can't find work," he said. "It's a tremendous disservice to withhold comparable opportunities to non-college bound veterans who just want to be competitive in the work force."

Reintegration and education are two of AMVETS' top legislative priorities for 2010 and AMVETS will continue to testify before Congress, proposing legislative changes to provide young veterans with the skills necessary to compete in the civilian work force.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS Testifies on VA's Center of Veteran Enterprise

This afternoon, AMVETS Deputy National Legislative Director Christina Roof appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development to discuss the VA's Center for Veteran Enterprise, or CVE, which handles vetting and certification for veteran-owned and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

To view a Web cast of this morning's hearing, Click Here.

Roof has been a leading voice before Congress on veterans' small businesses, commonly referred to as VOSBs and SDVOSBs, calling attention to critical oversight issues within VA.

In this morning's hearing, Roof applauded VA's efforts to address oversight issues in recent months, but cited several issues within VA's newly-established guidelines for VOSBs ownership and operation.

Roof said that the current verification process focuses solely on ownership, still leaving the door open for fraud, and that the new guideline that veterans can only register one VOSB stifles entrepreneurship.

Roof also reiterated the call from the Independent Budget partners for all federal agencies to use VA's VIP program as its sole source to verify veterans' status for small business owners.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Congress Honors Women Airforce Service Pilots with Congressional Gold Medal

This morning, Congress honored more than 200 WWII-era Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, during a special ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, presenting the women the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.

House leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were on hand to properly recognize the service of more than 2,000 total WASP pilots, alongside renowned American journalist and WWII documentarian Tom Brokaw and the first female Air Force Thunderbirds pilot, Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowshki.

In her remarks, Pelosi acknowledged that the honor was long overdue and entirely too late for many of the women who had volunteered to serve as WASPs, but that those who had gathered this morning for one of the U.S. Capitol's largest events in history continue to serve as an inspiration to subsequent generations of female service members and civic leaders.

"We are all your daughters," said Pelosi. "You taught us how to fly."

AMVETS was on hand for the historic occasion and veteran Deannie Parrish, who trained gunners during WWII, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her fellow WASPs.

Until this morning's ceremony, the WASPs were a little-known outfit that played a critical role in mobilizing American air forces during WWII.

As early as 1941, a vocal group of female civilian pilots recognized the need for a stateside auxiliary unit and lobbied heavily for the U.S. military to form a women's air corps whose mission would be to relieve male military pilots needed for combat duty.

After initial push-back from the U.S. Army Air Corps, the women were granted permission to start an auxiliary ferrying squadron and a training detachment, later merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.

Duties of the WASPs would include ferrying new U.S. war planes from factories around the United States to duty stations, assisting in training exercises, and even testing some of the latest technology, including the first jet-powered American aircraft. During their time in service, 38 WASPs made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

However, as a condition of their service in the WASPs, female pilots were not acknowledged as members of the military, which meant that they were not entitled to military and veterans' benefits, or military honors, should they be killed in action. Many of the WASPs were even forced to foot the bill for transportation, lodging and uniforms to participate in the program.

WASPs fought for decades for proper recognition from the U.S. military, but were unable to gain their rightful place in history until the classified records of their service were unsealed in 1977. That year, the WASPs were finally granted the same rights and privileges as their male WWII veteran counterparts.

This morning's ceremony was especially timely, considering March is Women's History Month. Throughout the month of March, AMVETS and American Veteran will be highlighting women's contributions to American military history and critical female veterans' issues.

Equity in women veterans' care is one of AMVETS' top legislative priorities for 2010.

If you want to share a story with us in honor of Women's History Month, please contact the AMVETS National Communications Department.

(Photos: Top: WASP Deannie Parrish accepts the Congressional Gold Medal during this morning's ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: WASPs Frances Green, Marget "Peg" Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their ship, Pistol Packin' Mama, at Lockbourne Army Air Field in Ohio during WWII. U.S. Air Force photo, released.)

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Microsoft Launches Initiative to Assist Veterans in the Workforce

Yesterday, Microsoft officially announced its new Elevating America's Veterans Initiative to assist veterans with developing the necessary technology skills to compete in today's job market.

Building upon the successful Elevate America program, Microsoft will bring together a coalition of public, private and non-profit organizations to provide veterans and their family members with the requisite skills and resources to succeed in the civilian work force.

“Our servicemen and women are amazing leaders, but to be able to compete in the tough job market when they return from duty, many of them need access to technology training,” said Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of Microsoft Global Corporate Affairs, who announced the initiative at yesterday’s National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) forum in Washington. “We are bringing together organizations and companies that can combine their competencies and resources with ours to make the greatest possible impact to help veterans and their spouses.”

Passman went on to say that every sector of the economy should be open to veterans and that Microsoft hopes to leverage existing infrastructures within the veterans' community, such as veterans' service organizations, to ensure that Microsoft resources reach those looking to compete in today's job market.

As part of the initiative, Microsoft will contribute $2 million in cash and up to $6 million in software over the next two years to assist members of the military and military spouses looking to reintegrate into the civilian work force.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, was the first veterans' group to officially partner with Microsoft on the day of the launch. Microsoft is also looking for other eligible veterans' service organizations, work force agencies, community colleges, and other non-profits to ensure access to these resources for veterans from coast to coast.

"Microsoft wants to use all of the tools at our disposal to bring forth the skilled individuals from today's veterans' community," said Bill Kamela, Microsoft's senior director for education and workforce law and corporate affairs.

Microsoft has acknowledged that veterans bring to bear skills that many employers seek, yet the unemployment situation remains dire for those transitioning from today's military.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, more than 180,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are currently unemployed and total veterans' unemployment far eclipses the nations' already-daunting civilian unemployment figures.

AMVETS leaders have spoken out on the veterans' unemployment crisis, calling on Congress to develop better reintegration programs for today's transitioning service members and pushing Congress to pass the landmark Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in 2008, offering unprecedented educational opportunities to today's veterans.

In 2010, two of AMVETS' top legislative priorities include reintegration and education, with AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof currently sitting on the advisory board for the Federal Government Veterans' Employment Initiative with the Department of Labor.

AMVETS has also launched new programs on the local and national levels to address job training and education ranging from AMVETS partnership with Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran, to the AMVETS Department of Ohio pilots Ohio Vets CAN and AMVETS Career Centers.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley applauded yesterday's Microsoft announcement.

"This is a critical step by Microsoft that will help veterans and their spouses launch viable 21st century careers--not just find jobs," said Kelley. "The Elevate America's Veterans Initiative is about making real connections and providing real resources to help our veterans excel, which is why we hope Microsoft will explore any and all resources to reach today's transitioning vets."

(Image: Microsoft's Pamela Passman announces the Elevate America's Veterans Initiative at yesterday's NAWB forum in Washington. Photo courtesy of Merritt Group and Microsoft.)

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Monday, March 8, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will cover a series of hearings in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs ranging from the structure of the 21st century VA to progress on VA's Center for Veteran Enterprise.

We will also continue to follow VA's efforts to recoup Post-9/11 G.I. Bill emergency check payments from student-veterans. AMVETS has heard from numerous student-veterans who have received notice, but are yet to receive back pay for the fall. AMVETS is also concerned about the lines of communication with VA, whose repayment hotline has been busy for the last week. Check back for updates as this story develops.

Over the weekend, AMVETS leaders gathered in Stevens Point, Mich., to honor AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin for his testimonial dinner. The annual tradition takes place in the national commander's home town shortly before the commander is scheduled to testify before the special joint session of the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs.

Cmdr. Miskulin is scheduled to testify next Thursday, March 18, at 9:30 a.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. This year, Miskulin's testimony will coincide with a series of events on Capitol Hill and around the region, as AMVETS, its subordinate organizations and its partners make their presence felt on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, March 16, AMVETS will join Paws With A Cause to push for responsible veterans' service dog legislation through a series of meetings with Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration. On Thursday, following Cmdr. Miskulin's testimony, AMVETS and Sons of AMVETS members will visit with dozens of legislators, as well, outlining AMVETS' legislative agenda for 2010, which was published on Veterans Day.

Thursday concludes when AMVETS honors Congressman Tim Walz (D-Minn.) with the 2010 Congressional Silver Helmet award.

On March 19, AMVETS leaders will gather at the Hilton Washington Dulles for the spring meeting of the National Executive Committee and the 56th annual Silver Helmet Awards banquet. American Veteran will be on hand covering the event on this blog.

This week, AMVETS leaders will also acknowledge Women in Military History Month, kicking off on American Veteran Online with more stories of heroism and valor among America's storied female service members.

American Veteran is also eager to highlight noteworthy female AMVETS members as part of our "Women in Service" series.

As always, we're eager to hear from you and eager to post any content from AMVETS posts and departments around the country.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

AMVETS Discusses "Hurt Locker" on MSNBC

Yesterday, MSNBC discussed the recent veterans' backlash against rampant inaccuracies in the critically-acclaimed film "Hurt Locker," which is nominated for nine Academy Awards this weekend.

I had the opportunity to discuss with MSNBC's David Schuster in Washington.

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