Soldier Presented With Helmet That Saved His Life


By Debbie Gregory.

Staff Sgt. Frankie Hernandez might not be around today were it not for his Army-issued advanced combat helmet.

In 2012, Hernandez, a platoon sergeant with the 668th Engineer Company of the Orangeburg, New York Army Reserves was on his 22nd mission in Afghanistan when an enemy bullet struck the top of his head. Hernandez was driving an up-armored D7 bulldozer in Afghanistan during an operation to build a road that would serve a U.S. Army infantry unit.  His unit stopped to determine the best route of approach.

“Two infantry captains were leading the way,” he said. “I dismounted my dozer; we were looking at the map. And all of the sudden, we heard like a loud noise coming from the engine compartment of the bulldozer. The captain that was on my right asked me what it was,” Hernandez said. “As I turned to answer — I don’t remember what I was going to say to him — I felt the impact on my helmet, and on my head.” The noise turned out to be an enemy bullet hitting the bulldozer’s engine block.

“As I turned to answer … I felt the impact on my helmet; I was kind of numb,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know what had happened, so I told the captain I think I got hit.”

A second enemy bullet struck the top of Hernandez’s Advanced Combat Helmet.

Now, four year later, Army equipment officials from Program Executive Office Soldier have given Hernandez the life-saving helmet.

Hernandez said he was thankful to all the soldiers in his platoon that day.

“For a split second … it felt like I was alone and all of the sudden, I had backup out of everywhere, they came and they had my back. And that was such a relief,” he said.

Hernandez received the Purple Heart in July of 2012 for the wounds he received that day.

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Senate Overrides Presidential Veto on Anti-Terrorism Bill


By Debbie Gregory.

In the first successful override of a presidential veto since Obama took office, the House and Senate voted to reject President Obama’s veto of legislation allowing lawsuits against foreign sponsors of terrorism. This was Obama’s 12th veto of his presidency.

S.2040/H.R.3815, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, was vetoed because it was thought that the bill would infringe on the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. The legislation creates an exception for sovereign immunity granted in U.S. courts to foreign governments that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism.

Survivors and families member of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have longed pushed for the ability to sue Saudi Arabia for damages. They believe the country played a role in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, though Saudi Arabia has formally denied any association.

The House voted 348-77, well above the two-thirds majority needed. The final vote tally in the Senate was 97-1. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast the lone dissenting vote. Even Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill voted to override his veto.

Obama stated that although he thinks overriding his veto was a mistake, he understood why Congress voted the way it did.

Congress spent nearly seven years evaluating every aspect of JASTA to carefully refine its text and policies. The resulting legislation ensures that the rights of American citizens are prioritized above Saudi interests, allowing victims to hold foreign governments accountable in U.S. courts for furthering terrorism against Americans.

The measure essentially creates an exception to sovereign immunity, the doctrine that holds one country can’t be sued in another country’s courts. It allows plaintiffs to sue other nations in U.S. federal courts for monetary damages in cases of injury, death or property damage caused by acts of international terrorism in the United States.

The president warned the law could be “devastating” to the U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence communities.

“The United States relies on principles of immunity to prevent foreign litigants and foreign courts from second-guessing our counter-terrorism operations and other actions that we take every day,” he wrote.

Although the 9/11 commission did not find any proof of Saudi government involvement, the families still want to examine any possible links not yet uncovered. The legislation provides the green light for them to move forward.

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Inside the Navy’s Corpsman Cheating Scandal


By Debbie Gregory.

For the second time in three years, the Navy has broken a major school exam cheating ring at the San Diego Surface Warfare Medical Institute, resulting in 31 students being booted from the program.

An additional 13 students have been recommended for separation from the Navy.

An internal command investigation was launched last February after a student whistleblower came forward with cell phone photos showing what appeared to be a test, answer key and handwritten cheat sheet of technical assistance visit.

The investigation revealed four separate schemes by student corpsmen to violate the school’s honor code with various cheating techniques

In the wake of the findings, the school officer-in-charge and senior enlisted leader were removed from their posts. Navy Medicine Education and Training Command found they had failed to keep testing materials safe and had not worked to counteract or mitigate an environment that fostered pervasive cheating.

“We take seriously our commitment to provide the best care possible to those entrusted to us, and hold all our staff, including our corpsmen, to the highest standards,” said Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, Navy Surgeon General and Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. “Falling short of those standards will swiftly result in the highest attention of senior leadership and quick, decisive, definitive action to ensure fidelity and confidence in the Navy Medicine team and the care we provide. We will not entrust the lives of others to those who cheat,” he added.

Larry Coffey, a spokesman for Navy Medicine Education and Training Command said, “All of our instructors and leaders have been formally briefed on the new standards for safeguarding testing material. We have an amazing bright engaged staff of instructors and leaders and they have taken on these new standards and are resetting expectations.”

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Could Online Exchange Shopping Soon Be Available to All Veterans?


By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board has unanimously voted to recommend that military exchange services open online discount shopping to 19 million honorably discharged veterans.

The plan, which could begin at the end of next year, would extend shopping discounts to most American veterans.

Not only would the plan reward those who have served by giving them a 20 percent savings over commercial department stores, but it would also increase exchange revenues to offset recent declines.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work is expected to give final approval to the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit within the next 2-3 months.

The military relies on the revenue from the exchanges to fund its Morale, Welfare and Recreational activities. Because of budget restrictions, some services have had to use exchange dividends for more basic needs rather than “frills.”

Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Thomas C. Shull has led the effort to expand online shopping. By adding veterans to the online patron base, exchange services expect total annual online sales to jump from $250 million to $1 billion in less than four years.

The commissary shopping benefit isn’t involved, so there won’t be any dilution to that benefit, or any increase in crowding or product availability. Military retirees, 100-percent disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients would still be the only veterans allowed to shop in base exchanges.

Exchanges are eyeing a “soft launch” of the expanded online benefit to segments of veterans by mid-2017, to gauge demand and test system capabilities including the process to verify veteran status. A full launch with much fanfare and promotion is expected by Veterans Day in November 2017.

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House Passes New VA Accountability Legislation


By Debbie Gregory.

H R 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016, passed in the House on September 14, 2016 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill was introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)

The legislation provides for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes. It changes how the Veterans Affairs Department disciplines and fires its employees and senior executives.

The Obama administration said it’s pleased to see VA’s appeals proposal appear in the legislation, and it supports those specific provisions.

The bill establishes an additional whistle blower complaint process, which includes suspension and removal actions against supervisory employees who commit prohibited personnel actions against a whistle blower.

Additionally, the bill also includes a long-awaited and often lauded proposal to reform the veterans appeals process. The legislation incorporates the VA’s proposal for appeals reform, which the department developed this spring with several veterans service organizations.

The Obama administration said it’s pleased to see VA’s appeals proposal appear in the legislation, and it supports those specific provisions.

The bill has received criticism from some federal employee unions and organizations.

“This legislation is not about improving how we treat and care for our veterans,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox in a statement. “It’s a partisan effort to allow favoritism and cronyism to govern the VA by turning VA employees, and ultimately every federal worker, into an at-will employee who can be fired at any time with little to no recourse.”

To see how your representative voted, go to

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Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance Providing Free Medical Marijuana to CA Vets

santa cruz

By Debbie Gregory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called U.S. abuse of prescription narcotics the worst drug addiction epidemic in the country’s history. To mitigate this problem, a strong case has been made for medical marijuana as an alternative.

“Plants, not pills,” said Aaron Newsom, co-founder and vice president of Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. The group’s goal is to provide qualified California military veterans with top quality lab tested medical cannabis grown by fellow veterans, as well as providing a community and support network for veterans.

On the first and third Monday of each month, the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance meets behind the VFW building in Live Oak to dispense small brown bags containing an alternative pain reliever to an army of veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.

Newsom, who served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2008, and fellow co-founder Jason Sweatt, are not just leaders in the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, they also use the medicine to treat their own combat-inflicted PTSD.

“What veterans need, what everyone needs, is alternatives to prescription medications. Not just narcotics, but also the wide range of antidepressants and their negative side effects,” Newsom said.

The Veterans Alliance has developed a unique business model, where they grow the marijuana, donate a percentage of the yield to medical card-holding members for free and then sell the remainder to general medical cannabis dispensaries.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, a principal investigator at the Department of Veterans Affair’s Substance and Anxiety Intervention Laboratory in Menlo Park, and his team have donated their time and resources to perform a six-month study of members of the Veterans Alliance to analyze the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD symptoms

“We’re using written questionnaires to assess their PTSD and sleep over time. We’re also having the marijuana that the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance distributes tested by SC Labs,” Bonn-Miller said.

To join the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, you must be a military veteran, California resident and have a state medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor. For more information, visit

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Critics Want Congress to Block DoD’s Freedom of Information Act Proposal


By Debbie Gregory.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that allows access to information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

Now, Congress has been asked by a number of organizations to block new changes to the FOIA requested by the Defense Department, saying that approving them would allow the Pentagon to “excuse itself from the hard fought and necessary reforms.”

Before Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, federal agencies were veiled in secrecy. Information was nearly impossible to get.

The proposal would give the Pentagon the ability to withhold information about unclassified tactics, techniques and procedures used by the Armed Forces.

A letter released by the Project On Government Oversight argues that the proposal is so broad “it could allow DoD to withhold almost any unclassified document at all related to Defense Department operations and could be used to justify concealing just about any material DoD creates.”

Those who advocate for transparency have called for the Pentagon to improve its adherence to FOIA.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform acknowledges that it is common for government agencies to use delay tactics to withhold information after a FOIA request has been filed, including sending letters in which an agency asks if a requester is still interested in information sought and says a request will be closed if the agency does not receive a response within days.

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.

Army Announces Long-Anticipated MWR Program Cuts


By Debbie Gregory.

Soldiers and their families around the world will soon see the results of budget cuts in morale, welfare and recreation programs, including closures of some facilities, reduced operating hours and increased fees.

After years of warnings that major cuts were coming, officials with the Army’s Installation Management Command announced that the day has finally arrived.

“The bottom line is in fiscal year ’17, beginning in October, we’re going to have a little less money to put into our family Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs than we have in previous years,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, head of Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM), which oversees family programs.

Army budget shortfalls have been covered through non-appropriated fund accounts, which are filled by sales and exchange dividends. Officials are implementing a $105 million cut — about 23 percent — in taxpayer funding for MWR for fiscal 2017, which starts October 1.

Child care centers and child and youth services programs are safe from cuts, but almost everything else is fair game.

To help garrison commanders and senior decide what to cut, the command has sent out a program priorities list known as the “bin chart,” officials said.

The chart lists programs in order of importance.  Moderate and low priority programs, such as arts and crafts programs and spouse employment readiness services, are most at risk.

Programs at rural posts, such as Fort Greely, Alaska, and Fort Irwin, California, will be spared from the cut sheet because they are remote and isolated; there are no alternatives off the installation.

Dahl said he is asking commanders to use their knowledge about their own communities to guide which programs to reduce or eliminate.

“Which programs are most important? Which programs are least important? How can they mitigate it? Do they want to go with flexible hours? Do they want to integrate volunteers? Do they want to sustain these programs that are most important to the community by closing once a day or perhaps charging a fee or an additional fee,” he said.

As for the other service branches, Marine Corps spokeswoman Heather Hagan said that service doesn’t plan any reductions in MWR at this time, but they routinely assess MWR programs and services.

Navy officials don’t anticipate additional cuts to MWR programs in 2017, but they have been making adjustments and cuts to programs, eliminating most arts and crafts centers, auto skills centers and wood hobby shops, except in remote locations.

Information was not available from Air Force officials about whether their installations are facing impending cuts in MWR or family programs.

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 with Mental Health Challenges Now Eligible for Veterinary Service Dog Program


By Debbie Gregory.

Mobility service dogs are now available for Veterans with mental disorders that prevent them from leaving their homes or moving around.  And the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced a pilot program to cover veterinary health benefits for the service dogs.
To be eligible for the veterinary health benefit, the service dog must be trained by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) in accordance with VA regulations.

These dogs are distinguished from pets and comfort animals because they are specially trained to help their owners perform tasks such as getting out of bed, going outside to shop, or going to social functions.

While the VA already covers veterinary care for service dogs that assist blind or deaf veterans and those with mobility restrictions caused by a physical disability, this is the first time the benefit is being extended to veterans whose primary diagnosis is a mental health disorder.

Dr. Harold Kudler, Chief Medical Consultant for the Veterans Health Administration, said many mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder can limit a sufferer’s mobility.

The VA veterinary service benefit includes the cost of travel to get the dog and veterinary care and equipment such as harnesses or backpacks for the animal, comprehensive wellness and sick care (annual visits for preventive care, maintenance care, immunizations, dental cleanings, screenings, etc.), urgent/emergent care, prescription medications, and care for illnesses or disorders when treatment enables the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.

The veteran is responsible for the costs of food, over-the-counter medications, grooming, boarding and any other dog-related expenses.

Additional information about the VA’s service dog program can be found here.

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.

Military Approves Chelsea Manning’s Gender Reassignment Surgery


By Debbie Gregory.

Chelsea Manning, the Army soldier who was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, will receive gender transition surgery while in prison, her attorney announced.

Manning went on a hunger strike in protest of the Army’s treatment of her gender dysphoria, which she ended after receiving approval for male-to-female transition surgery. Prior to the hunger strike, Manning attempted suicide in her cell. She could face additional charges related to that attempt.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense in 2014 over its refusal to treat Manning’s gender dysphoria. Cost for the transition surgery is around $50,000 and will be paid for by the Department of Defense.

Born as Bradley Edward Manning, the 28-year-old announced after her espionage conviction that she identifies as a woman. She enlisted in the Army in September, 2007, hoping to gain a college education through the G.I. Bill, and perhaps to study for a PhD in physics. She also hoped joining such a masculine environment would resolve her gender identity disorder.

Manning began basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in October, 2007. Standing approximately 5 ft 2 in and weighing just over 100 pounds, Manning was allegedly bullied, and in the opinion of another soldier, was having a breakdown.

According to Manning, she soon realized that she was neither physically nor mentally prepared for the military. Six weeks after enlisting, she was sent to the discharge unit.

The decision to discharge her was revoked, and she started basic training again in January, 2008. After graduating, she moved to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in order to attend Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 35F, intelligence analyst, receiving a TS/SCI security clearance (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information).

In January, 2010, Manning, downloaded 491,000 classified documents that later became known as the Iraq War logs. Manning first offered the files to The Washington Post and The New York Times. When neither publication accepted, Manning passed the files to WikiLeaks.

Manning pleaded guilty, and is currently serving a 35-year sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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.