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Honor Flights and HR 975

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First up this month is a plug for the Sandpoint High School’s Honor Flight Club. They are trying to raise money to donate to Honor Flight—the program that pays the fare and lodging for WWII vets to go to Washington, DC and visit the World War II Memorial built in their honor. On Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20 the club will be showing the award winning documentary, “Honor Flight” at the SHS auditorium. The first showing for the general public will at 7 pm on Friday the 19th with a follow-up showing at 2 pm on Saturday the 20th. Tickets can be purchased online at honorflightatsandpoint.eventbrite.com or at the door before the showing. The cost for adults is $12. Veterans of all conflicts will receive a free ticket, but should still go online to register.
Students can purchase tickets to a special showing at 1 pm on Friday for $5 and will be excused from their late period classes. Tickets for this showing can be purchased at the bookkeeper’s office of Sandpoint High School.

Anything and everything that can be done for this group of veterans should be done. We are losing this generation of heroes at the rate of about 740 per day (in 2011). As they age, the numbers get smaller. My generation and following generations owe most, if not all, of the freedoms we enjoy to them. It was, in my opinion, the last ‘good’ war. WWII determined that democracy for all was better than tyranny by a few. These men and women probably don’t see it that way. They simply did what needed to be done. I highly recommend that everyone make an effort to see this movie and support this worthy project.

Now, some items of import to the veterans’ community that have come to my attention recently. Between February 26 and March 6 the VFW, DAV and VVA National Commanders all testified before Congress [videos and transcripts of these testimonies can be found online and should be viewed or read by every veteran regardless of membership] and laid out their goals for legislative action in the 113th Congress. One big theme common to all three presentations was the demand to eliminate the huge backlog of claims at the VA. Our government must do all that it can to eradicate this backlog and provide the services that these veterans were promised and have earned.

Not to be outdone, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America held a ‘Storm the Hill’ event on the Capital steps on March 21 calling for Presidential and Congressional leadership to end the VA disability backlog and to support Representative Walz’s bill (D-MN)—H.R. 975—to force the DOD to review and correct improper personality discharges for more than 31,000 veterans and ensure that those suffering from PTSD get the mental health care they need and the benefits they were promised.

The IAVA is also insisting that a Presidential Commission be created. This commission would be empowered to look into what needs to be done at both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to end these backlogs. It appears that much of the problem has been created because Defense and the VA don’t necessarily play well together. It seems that when a service member is discharged, their records—service and medical—go into DOD storage. To use a stock phrase from a certain cable news network, “some people say” these records (or a copy) should go to the VA too.
Having this information on hand at the VA would greatly reduce the paperwork needed from the veteran. How, you ask? Most of the paperwork that the VA requests is to substantiate that the veteran making the claim really was serving where he said he was serving at the time of the incident connected to the claim.

In other words, the VA operates under the premise that you are the one that has to prove you were harmed. It is a classic use of the Napoleonic Code, where one is “guilty until proven innocent.” If the service member’s records were shared with the VA at time of discharge, the VA would have much of the substantiation on file when the claim was made. Of course, this runs counter to any bureaucracy, where efficiency is a dirty word and proof is measured in pounds of paper in file drawers.

A great many of these unresolved issues are based on claims resulting from service during the Viet Nam conflict. As those veterans aged, many complex illnesses emerged that can be directly attributed to that service. Some of these issues are also common to more recent conflicts; things such as exposure to hazardous materials found in so-called ‘Burn Pits’ that were common throughout Southeast Asia in the 60s and 70s and the Middle East over the past three decades. I find it totally unconscionable that our government has not found the political will or even the backbone to rectify wrongs that are over forty years old and adjudicate these claims.

Nationwide, every two years, the voters keep sending essentially the same people back to Congress. An overwhelming 90 percent of House members running for re-election regained their seats. They come from both sides of the aisle but the ones that have been doing the most damage recently predominantly come from the Far Right edge of the GOP. These marginal politicians are continually in full campaign mode, appealing to their base from one even-numbered year to the next even-numbered year. Once they get back to Washington, their votes are cast in line with those groups that financed their election and not at all for the majority of their constituents. This leaves the actual business of governance in almost total gridlock. What we desperately need is for both parties to find common ground somewhere in the middle.

I am tentatively optimistic that something may get done on correcting this stain on the nation’s honor when I look at the 113th Congress’ freshman class. Alliances appear to be forming that cross party lines amongst these representatives. Many of these freshmen have a military background and can see the need to work together to get things done for veterans of all eras. We can but hope and pray that this comes true.

Until next month, hang in there and hope that we can save ourselves from our elected and appointed representatives.


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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

veterans, Sandpoint High School, Honor Flights, HR 975, Storm the Hill

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