VA to Recognize Tribal Organizations as Veteran Representatives

native vets

By Debbie Gregory.

On July 20, 2016, the VA issued a proposed rule to amend part 14 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, to provide for the recognition of tribal organizations that are established and funded by tribal governments. The amendment would allow representatives of the organizations to assist Native American veterans and their families in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of their VA benefit claims.

Native Americans serve in the military among the highest rate, per capita, compared to other groups.

For more than a year, the VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) have worked together to implement this rule change.

“This rule is a positive step forward for Indian Country and VA,” said Reyn Leno, Vietnam Veteran and chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.  “For decades, tribes with accredited facilities have been able to provide quality services to our Native American Veterans and Veterans alike. The piece that was missing was the ability to provide assistance on VA benefit claims. This rule recognizes the unique relationship our tribes have with our federal government and Veterans in some of our most rural communities. No Veteran should have to drive hundreds of miles to receive care they could be eligible to receive next door at a tribal facility. The ability to credential tribal employees as VSOs will also help to further extend services to Native Veterans in a culturally appropriate manner. I applaud the rule and VA for their due diligence on this matter.”

Receiving VA accreditation is not an easy process, as the VA must ensure that all accredited VSOs can provide long-term, quality representation.  As such, tribal organizations must meet the same stringent requirements as national and state VSOs. OTGR can assist with tribal applications before they are sent to OGC, which makes the final approval.

The VA invites all interested tribal organizations to consider beginning the process of becoming a VSO. For more information, visit

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.

Lawmaker Won’t Give Up on Medal of Honor for Fallen Marine


By Debbie Gregory.


Rep. Duncan Hunter (Rep. CA) is hoping that the fourth time’s the charm for fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

The lawmaker, a veteran Marine officer, sent a letter petitioning Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to review Peralta’s nomination for the Medal of Honor — a nomination that three previous defense secretaries have opted not to approve.

Peralta was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.  “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away,” the citation read.

Peralta had been wounded by a bullet ricochet to the back of the head immediately before his death, and some investigators have questioned whether he could have been conscious and able to grab the grenade after sustaining that wound.

Peralta’s desire to become a Marine was sparked shortly after he moved to California as a teenager. A native of Mexico, he had moved from Tijuana to San Diego after his mother grew concerned that he could get swept up in gang violence.

Peralta, an undocumented immigrant during his first years in San Diego, enlisted the day his green card arrived in the mail in 2000.

Hunter’s letter came just days after the Navy took ownership of the USS Rafael Peralta, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer named in honor of the fallen Marine.

Eyewitness accounts remain a sticky point in the Peralta case. Hunter notes that three Marines who were there in Fallujah during the firefight credit the sergeant with saving their lives.

A Marine colonel assigned to investigate the facts wrote in a Nov. 17, 2005, report that he was convinced that the Marines who testified to Peralta’s actions “gave an honest account.” He also found that Peralta was “probably” shot by friendly fire and listed both the gunshot and shrapnel wounds from the grenade as the cause of death.

“Jim Mattis can now make the right decision on this after others have failed to do that,” said Hunter.

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.

Navy-Marine Fighter Fleet In Need of Major Fix

death spiral

By Debbie Gregory.

The Navy-Marine fighter fleet is in a “death spiral” and the only long-term fix is to buy new jets faster, both F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

For many years, the F/A-18 Hornet has been the Navy’s front-line combat jet, taking off from aircraft carriers around the world, enforcing no-fly zones and carrying out strikes.

But more than 60 percent of the Navy’s jets are currently out of service. That number is even worse for the Marine Corps, with some 74 percent of its F-18s not ready for combat operations. Overused, under-maintained, and not replaced, the aircraft are simply wearing out.

The number of planes that are not ready for combat has gotten “very bad,” said one Hill staffer. “If there’s a big war, it’s a serious problem.”

“There will always be a portion of the fleet that will be out of reporting due to mods (modifications), depot maintenance, and other categories, but I think the historical norm is about a third,” said another Hill staff. “Bottom line is the strike fighter situation is bad. I would say very bad.”

The roots of today’s crisis trace back to the 1970s, when the Navy and Marines decided their new F-18 Hornets didn’t need the traditional protections against corrosion. They were wrong.

The next fateful decision came in the 1990s, amidst the post-Cold War drawdown, when the Navy decided to buy fewer of the upgraded F/A-18E/F Super Hornets than planned and the Marine Corps decided not to buy them at all. The post-Cold War peace didn’t last. The demand for aircraft over Iraq and Afghanistan was so intense that the services didn’t give the planes enough time in maintenance depots.

But as the need for maintenance grew, the budget for it got cut — particularly after the Budget Control Act passed in 2011. Decreased funding, personnel cuts, and fewer spare parts have had a tremendous impact on the F-18 fleet’s readiness. If it takes longer to get parts, planes are going to be down longer.  If you have fewer mechanics, it takes longer to fix everything.

“Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He added, “While we are still able to put our first team on the field, our bench is largely depleted.”

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.

Hollywood & Veterans Join Forces On Panel


By Debbie Gregory.

Recently the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) hosted a panel discussion of how veterans entering the film and TV industry can help bridge the military-civilian gap in society.

Prominent actors, executive producers and industry executives gathered at Paramount Studios, joined by some 300 military veterans who are both in and entering the film industry. Many of the veterans in the room were aspiring actors, writers, and directors.

The military-civilian divide is well documented, as 84 percent of post-9/11 veterans believe that the American public has no understanding of the challenges facing this generation of veterans and military families.  More than almost any other story-telling medium, the television and film industry can play a powerful and enduring role in shaping the cultural narrative that will come to define this group of veterans, and tell the stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans.

The panel of experts included Contessa Brewer (moderator), Syracuse University alum and NBC reporter, actor and veteran J.R. Martinez, NCIS Executive Producer Scott Williams, and David Gale, CEO of We Are The Mighty and former President of MTV Films.

The panel also encouraged the veterans to seek out other mediums, including YouTube, webisodes, documentaries, and Snapchat.

Scott Williams shared that the NCIS crew has around 100 veterans working as grips, camera operators, and in construction.

Wounded warrior, motivational speaker and Dancing With the Stars winner J.R. Martinez, who got his acting break playing Brot Monroe on All My Children, explained it’s important to get past the uniform and see the human being. “A veteran is more than a veteran. A veteran is a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. There are dangers in stereotyping; we need to understand who they are as a person.”

Another theme is how Hollywood needs to change how it thinks of military veterans.  “Right now veterans are used as advisors on specific projects,” said Gale.

The IVMF endeavors to advance the post-service lives of America’s veterans and their families. IVMF’s professional staff delivers unique and innovative programs in career, vocations, and entrepreneurship education and training to post 9/11 veterans and active duty military spouses, as well as tailored programs to veterans of all eras.

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.


Navy Successfully Tests Missile Interceptor System

150727-N-ZK021-002 PEARL HARBOR (July 27, 2015) The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) departs Joint Base Pearl-Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled underway. John Paul Jones replaced USS Lake Erie (CG 70) in Hawaii as the nation's ballistic missile defense test ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

By Debbie Gregory.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Japan Ministry of Defense and sailors aboard the USS John Paul Jones successfully conducted a flight test, resulting in the first intercept of a ballistic missile target using the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA off the west coast of Hawaii.

A medium-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. John Paul Jones detected and tracked the target missile with its onboard AN/SPY-1D(V) radar using the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system. Upon acquiring and tracking the target, the ship launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile which intercepted the target.

“Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” said MDA Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and U.S. government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”

The interceptor, designed to shoot down medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, is compatible with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System onboard many Navy ships, several of which are based in Japan.

Ship-based missile interceptors are part of U.S. defense plans in the event of an attack on the U.S. or its allies by North Korea, which has continued to develop its ballistic-missile program despite United Nations sanctions.

As recently as February 12th, North Korea test fired a medium long-range ballistic missile under the supervision of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, KCNA.

Kim was present at the site and personally gave the order for the launch, which was the first missile test by Pyongyang since President Trump took office.

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.

Band of Brothers Veteran Dies


Edward Tipper, one of the last remaining members of the famous “Band of Brothers” paratroopers, has died at the age of 95.

Tipper leaves behind a legacy as both a famous soldier and career teacher. He received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his service during World War II and D-Day. In 2011, the French government bestowed on him the French Legion of Honor medal, the country’s highest honor.

Tipper and his fellow brothers-in-arms were made famous by the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” which told the story of the 101st Airborne Division’s Easy Company during World War II, from their first jump into German-occupied France on D-Day all the way to the end of the fight in the European theater.

Tipper was born in a working class Detroit neighborhood in 1921 and volunteered as a paratrooper shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He participated in the combat jump on Normandy on June 6, 1944, and the subsequent fight for the French town of Carentan. Tipper was hit by a mortar shell while clearing a house in the town, which cost him two broken legs and his right eye.

His daughter, Kerry Tipper, recalled that her father never gave in to his injuries, defying doctor’s warnings on what he could and could not do. Doctors gave him a list of activities he couldn’t do, such as driving and sports requiring depth perception. But for Edward Tipper, that became a checklist.

Tipper began his teaching career in Iowa, eventually returning to Colorado to teach English and literature. He also ran drama programs in Jefferson County, west of Denver.

After retirement in 1979, Edward Tipper began traveling and three years later he met and married his wife, Rosalina, in Costa Rica.

“We didn’t talk about the war,” Kerry wrote on Facebook. “His greatest sense of pride and accomplishment came from being a loving son to his mother. It came from his near 30 years of teaching. From his years traveling the world. And finally, from the 34 years he gave to his small, but adoring family.”

“So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years and really six days starting on D-Day,” said Kerry. “Teaching was 30 years.”

The family will have a private burial this month at Fort Logan with full military honors. A public ceremony will be held June 1 in Lakewood. Those interested in attending are asked to send an e-mail [email protected].

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.

Travel Packing Tips

packing 1

You’ve booked your vacation rental, scheduled transportation and made a plan for the pets – now comes the toughest part: deciding what to pack! We all know that our first instinct can be to bring our entire closet, but realistically who wants to lug around all those bags (or pay those baggage fees)? Don’t worry; Armed Forces Vacation Club is here to help! We’ve created a list of packing tips to help you be a world-class packer.

Have a game plan

Begin by laying out everything you want to bring before packing it in your suitcase. Take inventory of what you’ve picked out, and see if there are any unnecessary items. Sometimes 11 pairs of socks for a week may be too much! Pick your favorites and call it a day. Try to resist the urge to pack extras that you know you won’t use.

Roll, don’t fold (and use packing aids!)

Many avid travelers agree that rolling your clothes instead of folding them can help increase the amount of clothing that fits in your bag. New to rolling? No problem! A quick internet search will provide many tutorials and videos to help you learn. Another helpful tip to use your suitcase space efficiently is to use packing aids such as stuff sacks and packing cubes.

Keep it classic

Another tried and true tip is to pack versatile clothing that can take you through your day – from a casual morning exploring to a nice evening out. For example, pack a top that can be dressed down with a pair of shorts during the day, and dressed up with a nice pair of pants for dinner. A special tip for shoes – plan to wear your heaviest/bulkiest pair to travel and pack the others. This will help save space in your bag, but still allow you to bring them along!

Plan some extra space

If possible, leave a little extra space in your bag for the inevitable souvenirs. There is nothing worse than discovering on the last day of vacation that you need to purchase an extra bag for the way home to fit everything!

Looking for more packing tips? Check out AFVC’s Vacation Packing Tips article and more in the Vacation Planning Resource Center.

P.S. Don’t forget that Armed Forces Vacation Club offers free membership for all active duty, guard, reserve and retired members of the Armed Forces, as well as civilian employees of the DOD. Join today!

DoD Expands Online Exchange Shopping Eligibility

shop exchange

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 16 million honorably discharged military veterans will soon be able to make purchases from online military exchanges, under a recently announced Department of Defense policy change.

Slated to begin appropriately November 11, Veterans Day, the move is a way to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families, as well as strengthening the exchanges through the Department of Defense’s increased online presence, competitive prices and selections, and bargaining power with vendors when millions of additional customers are added.

Although veterans will not be able to buy uniforms, alcohol or tobacco products, the rest of the Exchange Services’ inventory, including clothing, appliances, jewelry, etc. will be available. The Exchange also carries high-end name branded merchandise

Brick-and-mortar military exchanges on bases or posts are already open to many veterans who live near them, as well as their dependents and surviving spouses. But the new policy will benefit those who don’t live near a base or who may not have the means to get to the base store.

Months of preparation are needed to make e-shopping portals more robust and to allow the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) time to create software for verifying veterans’ status using Department of Veterans Affairs records.

“As a nation, we are grateful for the contributions of our service members. Offering this lifetime online benefit is one small, tangible way the nation can say ‘Thank you’ to those who served with honor,” said Peter Levine, acting under-secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

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

Jobless Rate Rises for Post 9/11 Veterans in January


By Debbie Gregory.

In 2011, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a program giving employers tax credits to encourage veteran employment. Other programs also have encouraged companies and government agencies to hire veterans.

In spite of those efforts, the unemployment rate for the youngest generation of veterans jumped to 6.3 percent in January, the fourth time in the last seven months that group’s figure has been substantially higher than the overall veteran rate.

The figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reflect the last month of President Barack Obama’s time in office, represent about 211,000 Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans looking for work. That’s almost 46 percent of the total of all U.S. veterans filing for unemployment benefits in January.

Young veterans, the ones between the ages of 18 and 34, face challenges in the employment marketplace that non-veterans never have to face and that older veterans have already overcome.

In many cases, it is hard to translate the work that was done in the service to a civilian equivalence. There are also few calls for riflemen, artillery spotters, missile technicians and many other military positions.

The January 2017 veteran unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, compared to the non-veteran rate of 5.0 percent. In December, the Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans’ rate was 5.7 percent.

With additional training and responsibility, the unemployment rate of young veterans should be lower than the rest of the population. That’s why the higher number of unemployed younger veterans does raise concerns.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics officials estimate that nearly 9.8 million veterans are in the U.S. workforce today, with roughly 32 percent of them having served in the military after 2001.

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.


Mil Vet Employees at Starbucks Respond to Call for Boycott

starbucks hiring

By Debbie Gregory.

President Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries prompted Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to announce that the company would hire 10,000 refugees in the 75 countries where it does business, with the effort starting in the United States.

The announcement prompted a backlash on social media with several people using the hashtag BoycottStarbucks to urge customers to stay away from its stores. Some users also posted screenshots of them deleting the company’s app on their phones.

But veterans who work at Starbucks have something to say to those insisting the coffee company should hire veterans instead of refugees: “Check your facts, Starbucks is already there.”

Members of the Starbucks Armed Forces Network wrote, “We respect honest debate and the freedom of expression. Many of us served to protect that very right. Some of our brothers and sisters died protecting it,” in its message. “But to those who would suggest Starbucks is not committed to hiring veterans, we are here to say: check your facts, Starbucks is already there.”

Starbucks Armed Forces Network was founded in 2007 to bring partners who served in the military together to bond over their shared experiences, to provide guidance for newly hired partners transitioning from military to civilian life and to create a veteran-friendly workforce.

In 2013, Starbucks made a pledge to hire 10,000 veterans and veteran spouses by 2018. The company has hired 8,800 U.S. veterans and military spouses already as part of its pledge, and said it would reach its veteran hiring target earlier than expected and would continue hiring more.

CEO Schultz and his wife, Sheri, have visited military bases, used their personal wealth to help with plans for service members coming back from active duty, established military family stores at more than 30 bases around the country and encouraged Starbucks senior leaders to visit military bases.

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.