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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Commemoration of the 59th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

On Friday, June 27, 2012, AMVETS attended the commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the  Korean War armistice. The ceremony took place at the amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral James Winnefeld, the Honorable Park, Sung Choon, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of Republic of Korea, and James Ferris, President of the Korean War Veterans Association, presented a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the more than 50,000 U.S. service members who died during the Korean War.

Panetta was the keynote speaker at the event that served as a reminder of the events that occurred throughout the Korean War during 1950-1953. The first test of the United Nations, 16 nations provided combat troops to fight in the Korean War and five countries provided medical units. Often known as the “Forgotten War,” the Korean War is nestled between the greatest generation of World War II and the controversial Vietnam War. While many neglect the events of the Korean War, the veterans of Korea do not forget the battles of Pork Chop Hill, Bloody Ridge, Chosin Reservoir and Massacre Valle.

“Those fights became synonymous in our lexicon with the heroic sacrifice and the grim determination of the American fighting man,” remarked Panetta. “Thanks to the service and sacrifice of our veterans six decades ago…South Korea is a trusted ally, an economic power, a democracy and a provider of security in the Asia-Pacific region, and in other parts of the world.”

Many Korean War veterans and active duty service members from all branches attended the ceremony. “It is important to recognize the sacrifices of all veterans,” said AMVETS National Commander Gary L. Fry. “Today, we remember the overlooked strength and bravery of our Korean War veterans.” Several active duty service members were dressed in full combat gear reminiscent of the clothing worn by soldiers, Marines, and airmen during the Korean War, prompting many veterans to share their stories and memories.

During the ceremony, a moment of silence occurred to remember the 7,900 personnel who are still missing in action from the Korean War. Panetta reaffirmed the Department of Defense’s commitment to retrieving these personnel, and explained how Korean War veterans have influenced the current generation of service members.

 “Some 60 years ago, a generation of Americans stepped forward to defend those in need of protection and to safeguard this great county,” Panetta ended his speech. “American is indebted to them—to you, for your service and your sacrifice…America will never forget you.” 

(Photos: Top: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses a crowd of Korean War veterans. Seated behind him, left to right: Ambassador Choi, Young-Jin, Republic of Korea; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki; Honorable Park, Sung Choon, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Republic of Korea; and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Admiral James Winnefeld. Middle: An active duty Marine greets veterans as they leave the ceremony. Bottom: Veterans during the ceremony. Photos by Brittany Barry)

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

AMVETS Attends Joint Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing

By: Diane Zumatto, AMVETS National Legislative Director

History was made on Capitol Hill yesterday, July 25, 2012, when both Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified together at a Joint Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.   The hearing, which had very good congressional attendance, was entitled, ‘Back from the Battlefield: DoD and VA Collaboration to Assist Service Members Returning to Civilian Life’ and was standing room only, in fact, yours truly was one of only seven members of the public who managed to get a seat in the actual hearing room.
Overall, the message put out by both secretaries was positive and there was a definite emphasis on their new working relationship, which they hope will lead to an integrated military and veteran support system. 
“This hearing comes at a very important time for our nation and for collaboration between our two departments,” Panetta told legislators.  In speaking about our newest veterans he said,  “They have fought and died to protect this country, and we need to fight to protect them.”
While Secretary Panetta acknowledged the new and improved working relationship between the two largest bureaucracies within the federal government, he also admitted that much more needs to be done.
Secretary Panetta closed his testimony by acknowledging that what our veterans need is a seamless support system, “so they can put their lives back together, pursue their goals, give back to their communities, and strengthen our nation in new ways.”
Secretary Shinseki opened his remarks by listing VA’s five priority areas:
1.  The new and improved version of the T.A.P. Program, the Transition GPS Program, which was announced the President on July 23, 2012;
2.  The development of a single, integrated disability evaluation system to help speed up the disability claims processing system;
3.  The development of electronic health records  to assist in a seamless transition between DoD and VA health care systems.  The Secretary’s target date for completion is currently 2017;
4.  Mental and behavioral health issues continue to be high priority concerns for both the DoD and VA.  Secretary Shinseki indicated that their departments are planning an across-the-services review of PTS and TBI injury identification and treatment.  The review is expected to be completed in 18 months.
5.  The departments are working jointly on the issue of military suicide prevention, including promoting a culture which is not prejudicial against anyone seeking any form of mental health assistance, improving access to both mental and behavioral health care, emphasizing mental fitness, as well as working with internal and external partners to better understand the issue of suicide.
(Photo: Panetta and Shinseki speaking at a Joint Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on July 25, 2012. DoD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)  

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

AMVETS Helps Veterans With VA Claims

VA backlog has continued to be a problem as veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are filing more claims. In mid-June, VA had 870,000 pending cases; 66 percent, or 574,200 cases, had been pending for more than 125 days. In June 2011, VA was processing 836,000 claims with 59 percent pending for more than 125 days. These statistics show that VA is not improving the waiting time for claims and leaves veterans frustrated.

AMVETS is here to help! We currently have 53 national service officers in the field, who are trained in all aspects of veterans’ benefits and are aware of the changes in policies, procedures and entitlements. Our service officers are stationed at VA Regional Offices and Medical Centers, and provide services at no cost to the veteran.

On July 17, 2012, an article written by Hope Hodge discussed VA’s backlog and further criticized veterans service organizations for not addressing the needs of younger veterans who are filing claims. The article can be seen here:

“Their [veterans service organizations] job is to represent the veterans, and they ought to be clear and aggressive about whether they think this generation of veterans is getting the care they need in the way they need it, in a timely and convenient manner,” comments Newt Gingrich in Hodge’s article.

AMVETS main mission is to represent and serve veterans, and through our national service officers we help veterans break through the mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy of the VA claims process. Veterans need an advocate within VA and we fill this position with pride and determination to process claims as efficiently as possible.

In 2011, AMVETS NSOs filed 89,929 claims for benefits. A further breakdown of these claims shows that AMVETS helped with: 67,307 compensation claims; 11,021 were reopened claims; 3,449 pension claims; 1,666 death claims; and 6,486 education claims. When comparing claims from the first and second quarter of 2012 with the same time period in 2011, it is clear that AMVETS continues to make progress on behalf of veterans.

Type of Claim Action
(1 & 2 Quarter)
(1 & 2 Quarter)
Compensation Claims
Reopened Claims
Pension Claims
Ratings Reviewed

Looking at the figures above, it is obvious that AMVETS has increased the amount of money we recover for veterans over the past year, as well as the number of compensation claims we processed so far this year. AMVETS is actively working to ensure that veterans receive the benefits they deserve and are entitled to. While the backlog of VA claims seems intimidating and certainly needs to be eliminated, AMVETS continues to work with VA, yet focuses on its first priority: veterans.

To locate your nearest AMVETS National Service Officer, visit

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

PSA Uses Sgt. Gary Stein As Example

Marine Sgt. Gary Stein served his country for nine years, and then was released from the Marine Corps with an other-than-honorable discharge because of his refusal to relent in his political speech on Facebook. Stein used the social media outlet to berate President Obama and continued to do so even after his command asked him to curtail the comments. Stein is now outraged about the Marine’s new public-service announcement concerning social media.

Using Stein’s case as a prime example, the PSA talks about the career risks involved using social media to criticize policies made by the President and others in the service member’s chain of command. Stein disapproves of this campaign, stating that the Marine Corps should not try to curtail speech that represents themselves and not their branch of service.

Especially during an election year, the Marine Corps outlines specific guidelines on how service members should conduct themselves in political environments. According to Marine Corps Order 5370.7B, an active duty Marine may make monetary contribution to a campaign and attend partisan and nonpartisan meetings or rallies while out of uniform. The Marine Corps allows political activity, as long as the individual distances themselves from the Corps, often a difficult task when many individuals live on base and discuss politics with friends (other Marines).

The Marine Corps did not inform Stein of the PSA, even though he is currently in the process of appealing his discharge. The PSA was first published on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s website, but has since been taken down. 

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The Invisible War"

The military community exists as a close-knit group of individuals who share experiences of camaraderie, loss, and battle. Currently, 1.85 million of these service members are women. Women have broken new ground on the battlefield and at home, making careers in the military. “The Invisible War,” a new documentary directed by Kirby Dick, investigates the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. Surprisingly, the rate of sexual assault within the military is approximately double of that in the civilian world, and in the last decade there have been hundreds of thousands of rape occurrences.

At the center of the film, there are interviews with rape survivors, women who wanted to serve their country and ended up being abandoned after they suffered sexual trauma. Kori Cioca, a former U.S. Coast Guard seaman, recounts how she was beaten and raped by her supervisor. Suffering from PTSD and anxiety, as well as living with a irreparably fractured jaw, she continues to have nightmares about the attack. Filing disability claims with VA, she has been denied coverage for jaw surgery, but several benefactors have stepped forward to finance her surgery. Ariana Klay, a former Marine officer, was stationed at Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C., where a senior officer and his friend raped her. “The Invisible War” contains a handful of these stories, and all of them end the same. None of the perpetrators were convicted or punished for the crime of rape, and in most of these stories the women were charged with adultery and unacceptable conduct.
It is hard to not be shocked and angry when listening to the way these victims were treated. However, rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force, while in the military the victim must use their chain of command. Only 20 percent of service members report sexual assault, leaving 80 percent of cases unreported. This is not surprising since 25 percent of servicewomen must report the instance to the individual who committed the rape. Also, 1 percent of men in the military, nearly 20,000 individuals, are sexually assaulted. The statistics are astounding and the film achieves its purpose of shocking the audience with emotional stories and opinions of experts and elected officials. "The Invisible War" focuses on changing procedures to ensure any woman will be taken seriously when reporting sexual assault. Members of the civilian world can connect with the film's message as one cannot help but think that the women on the screen could be a wife, daughter, sister, or friend. Certainly not an anti-military film, “The Invisible War” showcases a deficiency in the way these crimes are handled and demands changes be made. Two days after viewing the emotional and powerful film, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta directed military commanders to turn over all sexual assault investigations to a higher-ranking colonel.

(Photos: Top: Kori Cioca, US Coast Guard, and husband Rob in an emotional interview. Middle: Ariana Klay in Marine Dress blues. Bottom: Marine Lt. Elle Helmar at the Vietnam War Memorial. Photos courtesy of Cinedigm/Docurama Films.)

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