Kerry Fights for Blinded Vets

CONTACT:  DC Press Office, (202) 224-4159

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today introduced legislation that will allow blinded veterans in Massachusetts to keep their entire pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA.)  Massachusetts offers a $2000 annual payment to permanently blind veterans, but the VA currently subtracts that annuity from their federal pension checks, denying blinded veterans their full and rightful benefits.  Senator Kerry’s Veteran’s Pensions Protection Act will end that practice, providing veterans the full benefits they’ve earned.  “These veterans have given more for their country than most of us could ever imagine. It defies common sense and common decency to think that red tape would be allowed to deny them the benefits and care they’ve earned,” said Sen. Kerry.   “The Blinded Veterans Association’s entire membership appreciates Senator Kerry’s strong interest and leadership on many veterans’ issues, and especially his introduction of this legislation to have state annuities provided to disabled blind veterans being removed as income from veterans pensions,” said Tom Zampieri, Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association.   read more


Travis County looking to set up court for veterans

By Jeremy Schwartz
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In hopes of helping veterans suffering from mental illness and substance abuse, Travis County authorities are looking at creating a special veterans court docket, which would channel those charged with certain crimes into treatment and social services rather than incarceration.  A handful of such courts have been created across the country since 2008, as officials respond to growing numbers of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many as 30 percent are thought to suffer from illnesses ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury to major depression. Too many, officials say, turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, often leading to entanglements with the criminal justice system.  Last month, Harris County set up a veterans court pilot project, and Tarrant County last week decided to accept a $200,000 grant from Gov. Rick Perry’s office to hire staffers to manage a veterans court there. The Texas Legislature passed a law this year allowing counties to create veterans courts.  Travis County officials say not enough is being done locally to identify veterans in need of mental health treatment.  “Obtaining a criminal conviction or serving jail time … will not resolve the problems underlying the offense,” said Travis County Constable Maria Canchola. “Intervention for our veterans is essential.”  The possible creation of a local veterans court was hailed by veterans groups as a vital step. “Treatment is far more effective and far less expensive,” said Paul Sullivan, head of the Austin-based group Veterans for Common Sense.  Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said a team of prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges will need to work out several details before a veterans court becomes reality, including determining which offenses would be eligible and what services would be offered. Officials will also need to identify funding for the court.  “But there’s a great deal of momentum to move forward with this,” Escamilla said, adding that the court would probably begin handling misdemeanor cases but could take on felony cases.  He said the court would be modeled on the county’s mental health court, which handles offenders suffering from mental health problems in hopes of preventing repeat offenses. The nation’s first veterans court began in January 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y., where veterans are typically ordered to undergo counseling, find work and stop using drugs or alcohol instead of being sentenced to jail or prison time.

Army helps vets with `invisible wounds’ — brain injuries, PTSD — find jobs; employers hesitate

Associated Press
11/17/09 4:30 PM EST

SAN ANTONIO — Richard Martin keeps a rearview mirror on his desk to prevent co-workers from startling him in his cubicle. The walls are papered with sticky notes to help him remember things, and he wears noise-canceling headphones to keep his easily distracted mind focused.  Martin, an Army veteran who was nearly blown up on three occasions in Iraq, once feared that post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury would keep him from holding down a civilian job, despite years of corporate experience and an MBA.  “Here I am with this background and I’m having problems with my memory,” said Martin, a 48-year-old engineer and former National Guard major who now works for Northrop Grumman, helping to devise ways to thwart remote-detonated bombs.  The defense contractor recruited him through its hiring program for severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The company consulted occupational nurses on how to help him do his job without becoming overly nervous when someone, say, drops a heavy object. Martin figured out other tricks, like the headphones, on his own. But Martin is one of the lucky ones.  Army officials say many new veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injuries struggle to find and keep a civilian job. Advocates say many employers don’t know how to accommodate veterans with these “invisible wounds” and worry that they cannot do the job and might even “go postal” someday.  “There is a stigma attached to the invisible wounds, and it’s largely borne out of ignorance,” said David Autry, a spokesman for Disabled American Veterans. “There’s a fear that somebody will go off the deep end.”  The Army’s Wounded Warrior Program, which helps veterans adjust to civilian life, has been reaching out to employers to educate them and encourage them to hire former soldiers with invisible wounds.  It conducts briefings to brace potential employers for soldiers who might not be able to work regular hours or might startle too easily, suffer outbursts or require time off for counseling.  About 90 severely wounded veterans have found work with the help of the Wounded Warrior Program since it began offering job assistance last year, though the Army does not break that down by injury type.

VFW Urges Russia to Reopen Archives to POW/MIA Researchers

WASHINGTON, October 28, 2009 — The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. recently returned from a 12-day trip to Europe to urge the Russian government to revitalize the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, and to meet with American servicemembers stationed in Italy to discuss how VFW can better serve them and their families. In Moscow, Thomas J. Tradewell Sr. met with members from both houses of the Russian Federation’s parliament, as well as the leadership of two prominent veterans’ organizations. His message was for them to urge their government back to the Joint Commission. He said an exchange of diplomatic notes in July was a positive step forward, but Russia has yet to act. “The diplomatic note was viewed as a sign that they would quickly revive their end of the Joint Commission,” said Tradewell, a Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis., “but Russia has yet to appoint a new co-chairman, and U.S. researchers are still barred from their central military archives, which hampers research efforts and further diminishes the hopes of American families everywhere. “The Russian government needs to do what they said they would do,” he said.

A Mix of Victories and Defeats in New Defense Act

Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:32pm EDT

WASHINGTON–(Business Wire)–  The leader of The American Legion, the nation`s largest veterans service organization, says he feels a mixture of pleasure and disappointment at the contents of the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Act. The measure was signed into law today by President Obama and witnessed by Peter S. Gaytan, Executive Director of the Legion`s Washington, D.C. headquarters. “One of the four pillars upon which The American Legion was founded is national security,” said the organization`s national commander, Clarence E. Hill. “So, among our major concerns are the maintenance of a strong national defense and the provision of a favorable quality of life for military families. “With regard to national defense — from The American Legion`s point of view — the new Defense Authorization Act contains some good news in that it authorizes an extra 30-thousand troops for the U.S. Army,” continued Hill. “Though the increase is not as much as we would like, it does, in fact, double the number in the administration`s original budget request. We thank Congress for that. The new act also contains a 3.4-percent pay raise for active duty, National Guard and Reserve members. This exceeds the President`s budget request by half a percent. We thank members of Congress for that, as well. The new act also prevents, at least for the coming year, any increase in TRICARE military health insurance co-payments for inpatient care and mandates a long list of initiatives to protect absentee voting rights for military personnel and their families. These are all good things.

IAVA and Rock Band O.A.R. Launch Ambitious Outreach Campaign

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NEW YORK – Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Everfine/Atlantic recording group O.A.R., announced the launch of an ambitious outreach campaign entitled “Open Up Your Arms.” Working together, IAVA and O.A.R. have created a campaign that will engage and mobilize Americans by asking them to pledge their support to our nation’s men and women in uniform. The campaign has a goal of 11,111 online signatures by Veteran’s Day on November 11th.  “As the war in Afghanistan enters its eighth year, we are reminded more than ever of the tremendous sacrifices that troops, veterans, and their families have made and continue to make for our country. Every American has an obligation to support these men and women, and they can begin by joining the ‘Open up Your Arms’ Campaign,” said IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff. “O.A.R. is an engaged band that really cares about our community. We appreciate their outstanding leadership and dedicated service.”

Out of the Darkness

At last, more military sexual trauma victims are speaking up and getting help.

 BY KEN OLSEN : Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mickiela Montoya’s male coworker confronted her as she walked across the pitch-black compound. It was 2005, and she had just finished an exhausting 12-hour shift at Camp Speicher’s supply warehouse. “He said, ‘You know, if I was to rape you right now, no one could hear you scream,’” Montoya remembers. “Then he asked, ‘What would you do?’” Montoya knew she had no way of summoning help – the night was filled with the rumble of diesel generators powering the U.S. Army base 90 miles northwest of Baghdad. So the 19-year-old National Guard specialist from Los Angeles bluffed. “I would stab you,” she told the soldier threatening her. He didn’t quite believe her, she says, and questioned if she actually had a knife. Montoya didn’t blink or give him any clue she was intimidated. Finally, he backed away. After that night, Montoya never went anywhere without a knife. She practiced pulling it quickly in case anyone tried to jump her. “I will never know if he was serious,” Montoya says. “I didn’t want to find out.” She eventually transferred to one of the base’s most dangerous places: guarding a checkpoint on the main highway. There, she wouldn’t have to work alongside the man who had confronted her. “It was really scary,” she says of night-guard duty at the checkpoint. “The crazy thing is, I did feel safer there.”