Navy Vet Loses Home, Thanks to Complaining Neighbors

tear down

By Debbie Gregory.

When Philip Williams traveled from Long Island to Florida for a knee replacement, he never could have anticipated the perfect storm that would claim all of his possessions.

The 69-year-old Navy veteran came back to an empty lot, where his lifelong home once stood.

Williams’ home had been demolished in the spring by town officials. He had spent six months recuperating from surgical complications in Fort Lauderdale. In the meantime, officials in the Town of Hempstead deemed his home unfit for habitation. Then they knocked it down.

“It’s just wrong on so many levels,” Williams said “My mortgage was up to date, my property taxes were up to date … everything was current and fine.”

Williams went to Florida last December so that a friend could help with his recovery. But he developed post-op infections that required him to have further surgery. He also had cardiac complications, and he was unable to return home until he was medically cleared to return home in August.

The house had first been brought to Hempstead officials’ attention when neighbors complained that the residence, built in the 1920s, was in disrepair and a blight on the neighborhood. Inspectors then determined the house was a ‘dilapidated dwelling’ and it was knocked down.

Williams, who had lived in the house from the age of six months old says he was never contacted.

“The town basically took everything from me,” said Williams, who is now staying with a friend in Florida. “The town does not have a right to take all of my property, all of my possessions.”

Now, everything Williams owns fits in two suitcases. He lost invaluable belongings, including his late wife’s engagement ring, photos of his six children growing up and a model train set he had since he was a child. He lost all of his clothing, a bicycle he’d just purchased, dishes, silverware and other housewares.

Williams has retained Attorney Bradley Siegel as he prepares to seek reimbursement for the house and all the lost belongings.

The town said in a statement that it “followed all proper procedure with regard to property owner notification.” But town officials refused to answer any other questions, citing pending litigation.

Do you think the Town of Hempstead did everything it could have to prevent this unfortunate incident?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Debt of Honor Pays Tribute to Disabled Veterans

debt of honor

By Debbie Gregory.

Disabled veterans hold a unique place in the history of the United States, and Debt of Honor is a powerful documentary by Ric Burns that tells their story.

The film relays the history of wounded veterans in all of our major wars. During the Revolutionary War era, half of those wounded died. Today, the statistics reflect that 8 out of 9 wounded will survive. Advances in field medicine have resulted in this huge increase in survival. But it also means that more service members are coming home disabled. Increased numbers of veterans are coming home with severe injuries, suffering from PTSD, TBI, burn injuries, and loss of limbs.

The documentary examines how governmental and societal attitudes towards disabled veterans have changed over time. Since we haven’t had a national draft since 1973, the armed services are made up of volunteers, the 1%, who put their lives on the line to defend the nation.

The documentary shares first-hand accounts of wounded warriors Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, Pvt. J.R. Martinez, Col. Gregory Gadson, to name just a few.

Those who return from war must have men and women waiting for them at home who will stand with them as they work to take back their lives. Young men and women who engaged in relentless combat in Iraq and Afghanistan were wounded by IEDs, roadside bombs, and ambushes.

Those with obvious physical wounds returned home to military hospitals and VA medical centers to begin the lifetime journey of rehabilitation. Many of those suffering from PTSD and TBI have gone undiagnosed and untreated.

Wounded World War II veterans visited wounded Korean War veterans. Wounded Korean War veterans visited wounded Vietnam veterans. As new wounded warriors arrived home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they face the same fears and concerns that veterans had returning from Europe, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam.

Today, with the United States fighting the longest war in its history, it has become imperative to create a bridge between civilians and soldiers, forging ties between those who serve and those they protect.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.



Marine General Tapped as Top Military Adviser

eric smith

By Debbie Gregory.

Although not yet officially announced, it appears that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has selected Brig. Gen. Eric M. Smith, to be his senior military adviser.

Smith, currently the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces South, is a one-star Marine Corps general who will be replacing Army Lt. Gen. Ronald A. Lewis, the Army three-star who was abruptly fired last month over allegations of an “improper relationship.”

The senior military adviser to the secretary of state is a highly influential military officer, the Pentagon chief’s top military aide, who provides the Defense Department’s civilian leader with key military advice on all matters of policy and strategy.

Carter abruptly fired Lewis on November 13th, and asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate allegations of misconduct.

Carter previously worked with Smith when Carter was the Defense Department’s deputy secretary of defense in 2013 and Smith was senior military adviser to that position.

Brigadier General Smith is from Plano, Texas and entered the Marine Corps in 1987 through the NROTC program at Texas A&M University. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines and participated in Operations Desert Shield / Desert Storm. Following a tour as an Officer Selection Officer, he attended the Amphibious Warfare School and then reported to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines for duty as Commanding Officer of Weapons and E Companies. During this tour he participated in Operation Assured Response in Monrovia, Liberia. After a tour as a Marine Officer Instructor at Texas A&M University, he attended the United States Army Command and General Staff Course. From 2001- 2003, he served as the Naval Section Chief at the U.S. Military Group in Caracas, Venezuela.

From 2003 until 2006, he served in the First Marine Division as the Division Operations Officer; Executive Officer of Regimental Combat Team 1; Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines; and Assistant Chief of Staff G3. During this time he completed two deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Subsequent assignments included Senior Aide to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Director of the Fires and Maneuver Integration Division at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. From 2009 until 2012 service included tours in the 2nd Marine Division as the Assistant Chief of Staff G3 and Commanding Officer of 8th Marine Regiment; completing a one year deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In June of 2012 he reported for duty as the Director of Capability Development, and in May of 2013 he was assigned as the Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He assumed duties as Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South on June 29, 2015.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.


Soldiers Discharged Due to PTSD/TBI


By Debbie Gregory.

A group of 12 senators called on the Army to investigate a recent report that the service discharged more than 22,000 soldiers who had post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury for alleged “misconduct” after they returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a result, they said, many of these soldiers will not receive crucial retirement benefits, health care benefits, and post-service employment eligibility that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge.

“I have long argued that the military needs to do a better job treating the invisible wounds of war, such as PTSD/TBI,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I believe that punishing servicemembers for misconduct without taking into account the mental health context that may have contributed to this behavior ignores the problem and could have long-term implications for the servicemembers’ care and treatment.”

When left untreated, PTSD can cause high alertness and increase adrenaline in the veterans, even in the most mundane situations. Experts say that feelings of self-guilt that may have been suppressed on the battlefield can explode into feelings of anger and rage that can force a person to isolate themselves from others. Such pain can eventually manifest into thoughts of suicide

Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said that the Army “is committed to a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, including those soldiers who may be separating from the service.”

Numerous military personnel who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars face financial and emotional burden because of extremely punitive sanctions informed by misdiagnoses of their mental health.

The senators said, “We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge servicemembers for minor misconduct — possibly related to mental health issues — than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Senators McCain and Graham Call for Troops to Battle IS


By Debbie Gregory.

Republicans Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called for an increase in military force in Iraq and Syria.

They want to see 10,000 troops in each country as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State (IS).

They are both critical of the president’s strategy in fighting IS, which relies on air strikes and modest support to local ground forces, and expressed that U.S. personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Both Russia and Iran have increased their military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against rebels in Syria’s four-and-a-half year civil war.

Graham said that if the U.S. leads a regional force to fight IS in Syria and removes Assad from power, it will find support from Arab leaders.

“We were talking to the now-King of Saudi Arabia (Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud) before he became king and he told John McCain, who he admires greatly, ‘You can have our army, you just gotta deal with Assad.’ The emir of Qatar said ‘I’ll pay for the operation,’ Graham said. “But they’re not going to just fight ISIL and let Damascus fall into the hands of the Iranians. Assad has to go.”

U.S. counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding Islamic State’s apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the West and its authoritarian Arab allies.

McCain said it would be possible but not easy to rally Arab allies to contribute to the proposed ground force in Syria.

“The question… is being asked all over the capitals of the West right now,” he said. “(Arab) countries for a long time have not seen what’s happening as a direct threat to them. Now I believe that they do.”

Graham said an increased American presence in Iraq would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as Special Forces.

Iraqi politicians have voiced opposition to an increase in U.S. forces.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veterans Racking Up Student Debt Despite G.I. Bill


GI Bill Students

By Debbie Gregory.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is by far the most comprehensive education benefits package since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. More than 1.4 million veterans and their family members who have received transferred benefits have used the bill for their veteran education.

But despite the generous benefits, many of those attending college for their veteran education are taking out substantial student loans and diving into debt.

Twenty-six percent of undergraduates receiving veteran education benefits, meant to financially cover four years of tuition at a public university, have nevertheless been made to take out student loans to finance their education and living expenses

The average loan was $7,400 — slightly more than for students who had never served in the military. But over the course of four years, this figure could easily grow to more than $25,000.

Veterans groups are concerned about borrowing by GI Bill users, who ideally should be able to graduate debt-free. The GI Bill theoretically covers four academic years of tuition at public colleges and universities, and has programs to cover the vast majority of expenses at many private institutions. Veterans also receive a monthly living allowance — averaging about $1,300, depending on where they live — to help cover expenses while they attend school.

Federal law prohibits colleges and the government from considering GI Bill benefits when determining financial aid. This allows veterans to take out low-interest education loans to use however they want. Some use the money to pay off other debts or educational expenses not covered under the GI Bill. Others use it for bills or to help support their families.

Additionally, beneficiaries at for-profit schools, which have been under fire for their high costs and low job-placement rates, are more likely to take out loans.

The actual benefit amount varies, based on an individual’s total length of service.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Marine Jan Kamphuis Excels as Air Traffic Controller


By Debbie Gregory.

The Marine Corps League awards the Sgt. Maj. Frederick B. Douglass award annually to a Marine who demonstrates superior qualities and actions during the performance of his or her duties in the aviation community.

Recommended by his leadership and approved by his commanding officer, Sgt. Jan Kamphuis is the most recent recipient of the prestigious award.

Kamphuis, an air traffic controller assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said his Marine Corps career began shortly after he graduated from Roanoke University.

In spite of the fact that he is the only member of his immediate family to serve in the armed forces, Kamphuis said that his family reacted positively to his decision.

An air traffic controller has a wide range of responsibilities, including the deployment, recovery and tracking of aircraft in various locations.

Kamphuis performs his duties primarily in an expeditionary capacity.

“It’s a pretty good job,” said Kamphuis. “It can get difficult at times, but it’s rewarding.”

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Timothy J. Layton, a fellow 26th MEU air traffic controller, said Kamphuis’ nomination and eventual selection for the award was partially due to his leadership of the sailors on his ship.

“When we disembark from a ship, we all work together as an integrated team to set up an airfield,” he said. “And Kamphuis has taken huge steps in preparing them to work with us and perform while we’re forward-positioned.”

Kamphuis has said his professional successes have influenced his plans for the future, and he plans to continue his career in the Marines.

“He’s never set a goal that he hasn’t accomplished,” Layton said. “He’s well-educated, capable and one of the best Marines I’ve worked with.”

Kamphuis said he still has his mind set on his current mission while deployed with the 26th MEU. “I want to do the best I can in my job, and I want to be the best Marine I can every single day,” he said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veterans Transition From Military Service to the Classroom


By Debbie Gregory.

Now in its third year, Teach for America’s Military Veterans Initiative, You Served For America, Now Teach For America continues to recruit, train and place veterans in the nation’s highest-need schools.

Close to 300 veterans have enlisted in the program as they’ve made the switch to civilian life. Program Director Eryn Monticure said that these veterans bring a set of life skills that make them among the most effective teachers in the Teach for America program,.

“Veterans know what it means to work towards a common goal, and that, in a mission, everyone has a role to play,” she said.

Additionally, Monticure said vets’ strong leadership skills, organizational ability and experience working in diverse settings mean they are prepared to adapt to their students’ life situations, which often go beyond the lesson plan.

“It’s a hefty job ahead of you,” she said. “It’s a mission — a goal to change kids’ lives.”

It’s also an objective that cuts to the core of national service.

Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, the program recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. The two-year teaching commitment comes with full salary and benefits, and opens a pathway into a career in education.

From 500 teachers in its first year, the program has grown today to 8,600 members teaching in 52 urban and rural regions across the country, as well as a 42,000-member alumni network actively engaged in education.

While veterans currently make up approximately one percent of the program, Monticure is determined to increase that percentage.

“In 2012 we began to see a significant growth in veterans’ applications, so we took a close look at that,” she said. “What we heard was that their desire to serve didn’t end with their military service.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.