Three Brothers Graduating From West Point

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By Debbie Gregory.

For the first time in more than 30 years, three brothers will be graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at the same time.

It was four years ago that brothers Noah, Sumner and Cole Ogrydziak entered West Point as cadets. On May 27th, the Texas natives will be graduating with the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2017.

Oldest brother Noah is 23, and twins Cole and Sumner are 21.

While they were in different regiments at the school, they always tried to make time for each other.

“Usually on the weekends we’ll buy a pizza at Grant Hall over there and we’ll watch a movie together. Just hang out,” Cole said.

Their mother, Kristine, served in the Coast Guard for 10 years, and their father, Randal, is a Coast Guard captain who is retiring next month after 38 years of service. Following the graduation ceremony, the family will take part in the traditional “pinning ceremony.” Dad Randal will exercise his privilege as a commissioned officer to personally give his sons their oaths and place bars on each of their boys’ shoulders as they become second lieutenants.

“He’ll be our first salute, too,” Sumner said. “And I couldn’t be more happy.”

Both of their grandfathers were also in the military. The three Ogrydziak brothers received presidential appointments, which are available for children of career military personnel.

Noah will be in the Signal Corps , Sumner is headed to South Korea, assigned to the Army engineers, and Cole is headed to a medical school to become a doctor.

This will be the first time three siblings graduated West Point together since 1985, when Rose, Anne and John Forrester became officers at the same time.

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.

Troop Surge in Afghanistan?

troop surge

By Debbie Gregory.

Officials have said that some 3,000 to 5,000 extra troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be deployed to Afghanistan. Their mission? To stop the Taliban. But instead of hoping to beat the Taliban on the battlefield, the aim would be to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The Pentagon has previously announced plans to expand U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by at least several thousand additional troops, but that number will depend on how many troops NATO partners are willing to commit.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with those partners at the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25th.

There are currently 8,400 American boots on the ground deployed to Afghanistan. NATO partners contribute 4,900 more.

Special Operations troops are waging a direct campaign against the Islamic State’s local affiliate, known as ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K) but the bulk of the forces are focused on training and advising Afghan troops.

However, a raid that took place on April 27th killed Sheikh Abdul Hasib, the emir of ISIS-K, as well as other leading ISIS-K members and 35 ISIS-K fighters

“This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017,” said General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “This is the second ISIS-K emir we have killed in nine months, along with dozens of their leaders and hundreds of their fighters. For more than two years, ISIS-K has waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people, especially those in southern Nangarhar.”

Gen. Nicholson has been pushing for increased troop levels since February, but his request took a back seat to a broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for NATO to contribute more troops.

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Does New Healthcare Bill Take Away Tax Credits from 7 Million Veterans?

americanhealthcareact

By Debbie Gregory.

Democratic senators have reached across the aisle to urge Republican senators to protect veterans’ access to healthcare in their health care replacement bill, expressing fears that the House-passed proposal could be particularly dangerous for veterans.

“We have known for months that the GOP healthcare bill could strip roughly 7 million veterans of eligibility for healthcare tax credit assistance,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, (D-CA).  “Despite warnings from our veterans service organizations, and pleas from veterans across the country, President Trump and Speaker Ryan have recklessly forged ahead despite the consequences,” stated Brownley. She continued, “While I am deeply concerned about many aspects of this bill, the rush to put politics ahead of people, and the impact it could have on our veterans as a consequence, is simply shameful.”

As the Senate creates its own version of the American Health Care Act, advocates claim the U.S. House of Representatives’ version hurts veterans by barring veterans eligible for care from the Veterans Affairs Department from receiving tax credits to buy insurance on the individual markets, reducing federal support for Medicaid and effectively ending Medicaid expansion.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America publicly opposed the bill. The group is particularly concerned about the end of a 6-percentage-point match enhancement for Community First Choice, which pays for home health aides for people with spinal cord injuries, dementia, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and more.

“If they’re non-service connected, they’re not going to have access to a state veterans’ home,” said Susan Prokop, senior associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Many veterans joined a Twitter campaign opposing the bill, using the hashtag #IAmAPreexistingCondition. Many said they were especially concerned about post-traumatic stress disorder being classified as a pre-existing condition, a change that would make their health care more expensive.

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.

Ecstasy (MDMA) Moving Through FDA Approval Process for PTSD

mdma

By Debbie Gregory.

The active ingredient in the drug ecstasy, MDMA, is set to be studied in large-scale clinical trial as a treatment for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the use of MDMA, better known as the illegal drug ecstasy (or Molly) in the treatment PTSD.

Researchers at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California presented the results from trials involving the treatment of 107 people diagnosed with PTSD. The FDA has recommended that the researchers move forward with the next phase of the trials, the final stage before potential approval of the drug.

About 8% of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

“The results I’ve seen so far with MDMA are so much better than anything I’ve seen so far,” said Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina, and a principle investigator in the MDMA trials.

As early as the 1990s, scientists showed that MDMA was reasonably safe when taken a few times in a controlled setting. The FDA permitted researchers to move forward with clinical trials exploring the drug as a treatment for PTSD.

Researchers believe that MDMA reduces the fear response and triggers the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that induce a feeling of well-being.

“MDMA provides a sweet spot where therapeutic change can happen,” says Mithoefer. “It affects neural networks so that people’s experiences are not hijacked by fear.”

Researchers hope to expand the enrollment of up to 300 people with PTSD to participate in the upcoming phase III trials.

The researchers will spend this year training therapists from 14 clinics across North America and Israel to deliver the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

The non-profit organization that is sponsoring the trials, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is also sponsoring trials studying MDMA’s effects on social anxiety in adults with autism.

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.

JASTA Poses No Threat to U.S. Military and Veterans

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By Terry Strada

Saudi Arabia is spending more than $1.3 million monthly on a massive lobbying and public relations campaign to spread misinformation about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) to dupe Congress into gutting the law before it has a chance to work. Saudi agents have grotesquely distorted JASTA, but none of their lies is more offensive than their claim that JASTA puts American troops at risk.

These false claims are inimical to U.S. interests, and the Saudi-led campaign to promote them should be considered an act of aggression towards America.  The fact is that JASTA does nothing to put U.S. troops at risk, nor does it drastically change our sovereign immunity law.  It provides a modest exception to the limited sovereign immunity of foreign states where Americans are injured in the U.S. due to an act of international terrorism caused by the tortious act of a foreign state, and it expressly preserves foreign state immunity where the claim might be for an omission or act that constitutes mere negligence. In other words, JASTA is extremely narrow.

The Saudi-funded distortion would have you believe that other nations will enact “reciprocal” laws that target our troops, but JASTA’s terms are clear. JASTA has nothing to do with the immunity of individuals – neither officials, troops, nor other individuals.  It is about foreign countries.  It has nothing to do with any nations’ military actions, applying only to “international terrorism” and specifically excluding “acts of war” – both being terms carefully defined in preexisting federal law.

The U.S. generally – and certainly not our armed forces – has nothing to fear from other nations enacting JASTA laws.  The Saudi lobbyists are surely aware that, for years, official U.S. policy has been to negotiate and apply Status of Forces Agreements to protect U.S. personnel from claims in foreign courts. Since World War II, the U.S. has used these agreements to protect our troops stationed abroad from the risk of foreign litigation – a risk our nation has dealt with effectively for decades and that has nothing to do with JASTA.  Nothing in JASTA will have any impact on their enforceability.

This outrageous Saudi-created claim is even more offensive because a primary threat our troops face is the global spread of violent Islamist extremism. And the Saudis, themselves, have long supported the corrupted ideology that fueled the September 11 hijackers and still inspires terrorists worldwide, including ISIS. Our troops are not at risk because terrorism victims are holding foreign nations to account for supporting terrorists. They are at risk because they fight to protect us against a violent fanaticism that has long found its home in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Those who were injured and died on 9/11 deserve better than to see Congress cowed by distortions from foreign agents of the very nation so heavily responsible for this phenomenon.

JASTA is good for America, including those serving in our armed forces. Congress has been wise to ignore the Saudi distortion campaign, and it will be even wiser to allow JASTA to work as intended.

 

Terry Strada is a mother, 9/11 Widow, Special Interest Advocate and National Chair for 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism – “the 9/11 families”.  In this role, Terry serves as liaison between the 9/11 families and the U.S. Congress.  From her home in New Jersey, Terry travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, House and Senate leadership offices, as well as the Legislative Directors who are responsible for national security and terrorism legislation.

Saudis Paid U.S. veterans to Lobby Against JASTA

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Military Veterans were paid thousands and thousands of dollars for hotel costs and travel expenses by Saudi Arabia. Their mission? Lobby Congress against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA),  a law allowing the families of victims from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to sue the Saudi government.

The Qorvis MSLGroup, a Washington-based lobbying and public relations firm that represents Saudi Arabia, was said to have hired some 70 lobbyists to thwart the legislation. While JASTA didn’t mention any specific countries, 15 of the 19 hijackers that acted on 9/11 were Saudi, and supporters generally acknowledged that it was aimed at Saudi Arabia.

In their defense, many of the veterans who were recruited by lobbyists didn’t know the Saudi government was paying for the trips. The veterans were asked to don their medals and try to sway lawmakers in D.C., warning them of the possible unintended consequences of the law, saying other countries could use the law to sue U.S. diplomats, members of the military or U.S. companies.

Veterans lobbying against JASTA weren’t given any literature to distribute to members of Congress they were calling on. “Leave-behind” material is considered essential in any lobbying campaign.

Last September, Congress voted to override a presidential veto to give victims’ families the right to sue foreign nations found to have supported a terrorist attack.

To date, some opponents of JASTA still refuse to divulge exactly who they paid and how much they were paid. The chief lobbyist for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said it encouraged its subcontractors to be as transparent as possible.

Despite a legal requirement for lobbyists to immediately reveal payments from foreign governments, there have been no consequences for campaigners who failed to notify the Justice Department over Saudi Arabia’s role only months after they received funds.

Saudi Arabia’s rulers have long denied funding extremists.

While foreign lobbying is perfectly legal, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is not. FARA required that written communications in support of lobbying and public relations work on behalf of a foreign government carry a “conspicuous statement” notifying the audience that the material was prepared on behalf of a foreign government.

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.

Chelsea Manning Freed After 7 Years in Prison

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By Debbie Gregory.

Transgender Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of passing sensitive government documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has released from the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Manning, who was previously known as Bradley Manning before gender transitioning in prison, was convicted in 2013 of  Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

Before leaving office, Manning’s 35-year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, who said that seven years in federal custody was enough for her crimes.

Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has acknowledged leaking the materials, saying she did so because she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military’s disregard of the effects of war on civilians.

The leaks did reveal some of the nation’s most-sensitive secrets and endangered information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of those people move to protect their safety.

Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.

Manning announced after her conviction that she is a woman. She was approved for gender reassignment surgery. The assurances from the Army that she could have the procedure came two months after Manning tried to commit suicide, and after a hunger strike that lasted four days, according to the ACLU.

Army officials said Manning will remain on active duty, but will be on unpaid leave while she pursues an appeal of her court-martial conviction. That means she will be eligible for benefits, including health care and commissary privileges.

Manning hopes to continue hormone therapy, and may pursue gender reassignment if doctors continue to recommend it, according to Chase Strangio, Manning’s attorney.

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.

Post 9/11 Caregiver Support Services

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By Debbie Gregory.

Caring for a family member or close friend is one of the most important and complicated roles you’ll play. Family Caregivers provide crucial support in caring for Veterans. The “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,” benefits the caregivers of post-9/11 Veterans who sustained or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty.

These caregivers may qualify for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance to Family Caregivers. Veterans eligible for this program must be in need of personal care services because of an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living and/or need supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or injury.

The qualified veteran can appoint one primary caregiver and up to two back-up

Supports available to Primary Caregivers are:

  • A monthly financial payment based on the level of care required. Many caregivers are forced to give up their regular jobs in order to provide care to the veteran.
  • Education and training, including the required Caregiver Core Curriculum. Reimbursement for travel, lodging and meals is also covered when attending the required Caregiver Core Curriculum training. The same is also covered when accompanying the veteran to his/her healthcare appointments.
  • Monitoring to ensure the Veteran’s well-being and quality of personal care services provided by the Caregiver.
  • Access to CHAMPVA health care insurance if the caregiver is not already entitled to care or services under another health care plan. The caregiver may have had health insurance through an employer that was forfeited when he/she gave up employment to become a caregiver.  Also, a wide variety of health issues can arise from being a primary caregiver. Studies have shown that when caregivers were compared to equal non-caregivers, they were found to have a 15% lower level of antibody response and a 23% higher level of stress hormones in their bodies.
  • Mental health services and counseling to meet the unique needs of the caregiver. Caregivers often suffer from depression, resentment and stress. This does not include inpatient care or medication.
  • Respite care of at least 30 days per year.

If you think you fit the criteria for these services, click here for an application. You will be asked to answer a few questions to determine eligibility.

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.

Purple Heart Faker Got VA Benefits & House

blackstone

By Debbie Gregory.

An attack of appendicitis while serving in the military doesn’t earn you any benefits or accolades. So, in a case of stolen valor, former Marine Brandon Blackstone used another Marine’s combat story to get years of disability benefits and a free house.

In 2004, Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms, CA. So did Casey Owens. Both men deployed to Iraq.

Casey was critically injured and lost his legs when his Humvee hit an anti-tank mine. He committed suicide in 2014 after a decade of suffering from numerous surgeries, brain injury and severe pain.

Although he may have actually witnessed the event, Blackstone wasn’t ever injured in Iraq. But he was evacuated with appendicitis. Owens’ Marine buddies say they believe Blackstone took key details of Owens’ combat injury and made them his own so he could bilk the government and charities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a rare prosecution, Blackstone has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and he will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.

Blackstone claimed he had a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after “his” Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.

After receiving a 100% disability rating, Blackstone began receiving disability benefits from the VA, which he received for nine years. Claiming to have a Purple Heart, Blackstone was also awarded free house from the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

Blackstone immersed himself in the veteran community. But that proved to be his undoing when other 7/1 Marines exposed him as a fraud.

Blackstone pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

Justin Sparks, Blackstone’s defense lawyer, disagreed that Blackstone was stealing Casey Owens’ story, and claimed that his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq, just not in combat. He also said that a higher-ranking Marine “informally” awarded Blackstone a Purple Heart medal, but it wasn’t an official award.

“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”

At the end of the day, what Blackstone did was disgraceful.

Army Veteran and “GI Joe” Creator Dies at 84

GI Joe

By Debbie Gregory.

Army veteran Stanley Weston, the man who conceived the “GI Joe” doll died on May 1st at the age of 84.

The toy hit stores around the same time that American troops began flowing into Vietnam, and it became a bestseller.

Weston did his homework for his concept toy, voraciously reading about and consuming all the information he could on warfare and the military.  He also purchased everything he could on each branch of the military.

He then presented his “outfitted action figure” idea to fellow Korean War veteran Donald Levine at a Rhode Island toy company that later became Hasbro.   Levine is credited with creating and naming “GI Joe” and getting it to market.  “GI Joe” did not have a sworn enemy or mission.

Unfortunately, Weston never reaped financial rewards from his creation.   He had agreed to sell his concept, “outfitted action figures” to the toy company for $100,000.   He then watched as his concept grew into a $100 million dollar success story.  Weston would have been better off taking a royalty on each toy.

Hasbro became a leading toy manufacturer mostly due to the popularity of their top sellers, GI Joe and Monopoly.

Stanley Weston was born in New York City on April 1, 1933.  He attended New York University.   He then joined the Army at the end of the Korean War.

Weston returned to New York, married, and completed his master’s degree at New York University. He then joined the emerging licensing and merchandising industry.  Weston represented iconic pop culture figures like Twiggy and Soupy Sales.  He formed his own company called Leisure Concepts and also represented “Charlie’s Angels” along with its star, Farrah Fawcett.  He also represented the World Wrestling Federation, Nintendo and the Major League Baseball Players Association.  His products represented the likeness of every baseball player in both the National and American leagues.

Many years later, Stanley Weston filed a lawsuit against Hasbro.  He claimed that he and the toy company had signed an agreement that the rights to “GI Joe” would revert to Weston and his heirs in 2020, but there was no copy of this agreement.   Last year, the lawsuit was settled by Weston’s daughter, Cindy.

Weston is survived by his brother, his daughter Cindy, sons Steve and Brad, and five grandchildren.

Decades later, millions of children are still playing with “GI Joe.”