Court Deals Major Blow to Burn Pit Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus has dismissed a major lawsuit against defense contractor KBR, filed by veterans and their family members over burn pit operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that plaintiffs allege caused chronic and sometimes deadly respiratory diseases and cancer.

The judge ruled that KBR could not be held liable for a military decision to use burn pits for waste disposal. Burn pits produced billowing toxic smoke night and day.

The plaintiffs charged that KBR, a government contractor and former Halliburton subsidiary, operated the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan irresponsibly, running them in locations near U.S. troops’ living quarters and work spaces, and burning items that were not intended for the pits, including paint, batteries, computers, fuel, plastic water bottles and human medical waste.

National Guard veteran Amie Muller succumbed to pancreatic cancer earlier this year. She believed it was a result of deployments to Iraq and exposure to burn pits.

Burn pits produced billowing toxic smoke night and day at an air base in northern Iraq. After returning to Minnesota, she began experiencing health problems usually not seen in a woman of age.  Muller was thirty-six and died nine months after being diagnosed with Stage III pancreatic cancer.

In addition to cancer, plaintiffs say they suffer from a range of diseases resulting from exposure: respiratory illnesses such as life-threatening constrictive bronchiolitis, gastrointestinal disorders, and neurological problems

Susan Burke, a Baltimore-based attorney who represents the plaintiffs, will file an appeal to the 4th Circuit.

The litigation, which consolidates cases across the country, contains 63 complaints, including 44 national class action suits.

Titus said in his decision that he had no doubt that “many of (plaintiffs) have been harmed, at least, by some extent by the use of open burn pits or by the water they drank in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

But, he wrote, “The decision to use the burn pits was not made by the contractors but rather than by the military.”

A spokeswoman for KBR released a statement saying, “KBR believes the court made the correct decision, and we are pleased that this legacy case is one step closer to final resolution.”

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.

Air Force Reviewing Petition to Restore Rank of Vietnam-Era General

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A controversial Air Force case dating back to 1972 is stirring up  debate over whether to posthumously restore the honor and ranks to Maj. Gen John D. Lavelle, who was demoted and fired over alleged unauthorized airstrikes over North Vietnam.

In 2010, Pentagon officials petitioned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to restore Lavelle’s rank. The panel — mainly Senators John McCain and Carl Levin — rejected it due to “inconsistencies” in information provided at the time.

Former Air Force officer Dr. Mark Clodfelter has spearheaded bringing Lavelle’s case back before the Air Force.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he was thrown under the bus,” said Clodfelter.

The case centers on then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen John D. Ryan firing the four-star Lavelle for “allegedly conducting unauthorized airstrikes against North Vietnam and ordering the falsification of mission reports,” according to Clodfelter’s research.

When officials agreed to halt Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968, the agreement stipulated that in exchange for stopping the bombing, the North Vietnamese would not attempt to shoot down American reconnaissance aircraft surveilling the area.

But when tensions flared up again, armed U.S. Air Force and Navy fighters began escorting the recon aircraft in the surface-to-air missile laden area for safe measure.

Between 1971 and 1972, firings on U.S. aircraft increased tenfold, and Lavelle grew increasingly concerned how best to proceed.

In February 1972, Lavelle took pre-planned actions — which investigators say violated any interpretation of the rules of engagement.

It was found that Lavelle had conducted “28 unauthorized missions, consisting of 147 sorties, during a four-month span in which Seventh Air Force flew between 25,000 and 40,000 total sorties,” Clodfelter wrote.

Lavelle chose an “early retirement” and settled for the Senate’s decision to demote him two ranks.

Lavelle died in July 10, 1979.

Clodfelter added the effort is about “righting a wrong, an injustice that’s now existed for almost 45 years.”

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has agreed to review the case before an official recommendation is made. If approved, the petition would head to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis before potential White House approval and a future Senate committee vote.

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.

Report Finds Young Veterans More Successful Than Their Civilian Peers

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By Debbie Gregory.

There has been a lot of discussion about why veterans are great employees, why the companies who hire veterans are more successful, and why they also make great entrepreneurs. Now a new study released by The Graduate Center at the City University of New York Young has found the young veterans are faring better in life than their civilian counterparts.

The study found that post-Sept. 11 era veterans are better educated, better paid and better off than many of their civilian peers.

“The data indicate that between 2005 and 2015 employment, income, and educational attainment rates were consistently higher, and poverty rates consistently lower, than general nationwide rates” for these veterans.

Despite a national recession during that period, Iraq and Afghanistan war-era veterans showed a near-constant employment rate of about 78 percent, significantly above the 70 percent of the total civilian population.

The median household income for post-Sept. 11 veterans was nearly $74,000 a year in 2005, and the non-veteran average was approximately $67,000. In 2015 the difference was even more pronounced, with the veteran average reaching $80,000, while the non-veterans rate only rose to $68,000.

Some 12 percent of young adults in the U.S. failed to graduate from high school, but only 3 percent of veterans failed to graduate. And when it comes to earning a college degree, 47 percent of young veterans earned a college degree compared to 37 percent of their civilian peers.

“Often, service in the armed forces can be viewed as a ‘dead end’ path reserved for those with fewer options,” the report stated. “But as this report suggests, it can also be packaged as a statistically proven path to higher income, educational attainment, and quality of life.”

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.

Broadway Musical “Bandstand” About Real Struggles of War

bandstand

By Debbie Gregory.

For more than three months, Broadway’s  Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre has been home to Bandstand the story of what happened to some of the Greatest Generation after they came home from war.

In Cleveland, Ohio, Private First Class and singer/songwriter Donny Novitski tries to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart.

When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, Donny enlists four fellow veterans, each an astonishing musician, to start a band and enter the competition. Together, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

Donnie also meets Julia Trojan, the widow of his best friend who died in the war in a friendly-fire incident. The emotions of the show’s characters run from grief over the loss of fellow soldiers to survivor’s guilt for being able to come home while others didn’t; and nostalgia for their pre-war lives and dreams.

Showrunners Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, along with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, used song and dance to portray the real struggles that soldiers face when they leave the battlefield.

To make sure they were being authentic, Oberacker and Taylor reached out to Got Your 6, which unites nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to empower veterans and certifies that portrayals of veterans in pop culture are accurate.

Through their association with Got Your 6, Oberacker and Taylor were able to introduce the entire cast to veterans whose stories helped inform the actors on how best to portray a former service member or a Gold Star wife.

“At the end of the day, our show is about taking an adversity, whether it’s having been in a war, or getting cancer, or losing a loved one, or whatever it may be …. and turning it into the very thing that gives your life a purpose,” Oberacker said. “The way they learn how to take this adversity and give their life purpose is by telling the truth.”

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.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Forever GI Bill

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By Debbie Gregory.

The “Forever GI Bill,” a sweeping expansion of GI Bill education benefits, is on its way to the Oval Office.

Passed by both houses of Congress, the bill will increase veteran’s benefits by more than $3 billion over the next decade.

One important change, reserved for those who become eligible after January 1, 2018, is the removal of the 15-year limit on using their GI Bill benefits, which offers them more flexibility.

Additionally, the Forever GI Bill boosts education assistance for National Guard and Reserve troops, Purple Heart recipients and for the dependents of fallen troops.

Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) and 12304(b) are now eligible. Previously, only reservists called to active duty by presidential order as a result of a national emergency were eligible. This applies to all reservists mobilized after Aug. 1, 2009, but reservists can receive payment only for classes that start after Aug. 1, 2018.

Reservists who were receiving REAP payments may now be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, there are less than 4,000 people eligible for this benefit.

Purple Heart recipients will get the full GI Bill amount, regardless of how long they served on active duty.

For veterans who were caught up in the collapse of for-profit schools Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, the legislation would fully restore their GI Bill education benefits.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag, and the expansion will be paid for by reducing the increases in housing allowances paid under the GI Bill to new beneficiaries. As of January 1, 2018, the GI Bill housing allowance will decrease an average of $100 a month. Active-duty BAH is also affected, decreasing each year by 1 percent every year from 2015 to 2019,  so that by 2020, BAH will only cover 95 percent of a military member’s housing cost.

The housing allowance for GI Bill students will now be based on the campus location where classes are attended, not necessarily the main campus.

Effective August 1, 2018, Dependent’s Education Assistance (DEA) monthly payments will increase by about 50 percent, but the maximum number of months that a dependent can get DEA decreases from 45 to 36.

Also effective August 1, 2018, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs are eligible for the “Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship” which will pay veterans up to $30,000 if they have used up all their GI Bill benefits and have at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours credit toward a STEM degree. It also will pay those who already have a STEM degree and are working on a teaching certification.

The High Technology Pilot Program, scheduled to start in the spring of 2019, covers the full cost of high technology training offered by a company versus a school.

MilitaryConnection.com has a comprehensive education area, and we invite you to check out the numerous education resources at https://militaryconnection.com/education.

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.

NASA Looking to Hire Earth Defender- For a Six-Figure Salary

nasa

By Debbie Gregory.

No, this is not a headline ripped from the tabloids…

NASA has a job opening for “planetary protection officer.” But if you want the job, you’d better hurry-applications are only being accepted through August 14th.

Your job duties will include defending Earth from alien contamination and helping Earth avoid contaminating the alien worlds we’re trying to explore. That’s a simplified way of saying you would be promoting the responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explored environments, and Earth.

As the planetary protection officer, you can expect a compensation packet from $124,406 to $187,000 a year, plus benefits.

The position was created after the U.S. ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Oh, and as NASA’s planetary protection officer, you will have the opportunity to travel to space centers around the world and analyze planet-bound robots. You will also help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce contamination risks.

So, at this point you may be wondering what qualifications a successful candidate would need to possess to get the gig.

The candidate must have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, plus have “advanced knowledge” of planetary protection and all it entails.

You would also need to have “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance.”

You would also need to have “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”

And last, but not least, you should have an advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics.

The job comes with a “secret” security clearance, so noncitizens aren’t technically eligible. But they probably aren’t the only ones who don’t qualify!

To apply to the NASA Planetary Protection Position go to USAJOBS.gov.

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.

Free Tickets for Vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veteran Tickets Foundation (VetTix) is a national 501(c) 3 nonprofit founded by veterans dedicated to support and honor the U.S. military community, veterans and their families.

Since 2008, Vet Tix has provided veterans, service members, caregivers and the family members of those killed in action with more than three million free tickets to major sports games, concerts and a diverse mix of other ticketed events. And because they’re a non-profit, individual ticket holders and businesses can receive tax deductions for their donated tickets.

So, if you’re looking for some fun things to do before summer is officially over, check out Veteran Tickets Foundation.

Here are some of the events remaining for August:

August 15: Phoenix, Arizona: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Houston Astros – MLB

August 16: Washington, DC: Washington Mystics vs. Los Angeles Sparks – WNBA

August 16: Portland, Maine: Goo Goo Dolls’ Long Way Home Summer Tour with Phillip Phillips

August 18: Rochester, New York: Nitro Circus Live

August 19: San Diego, California: Fleet Science Center

August 24: Evansville, Indiana: An Evening with Olivia Newton

August 23: Anaheim, California: Los Angeles Angels vs. Texas Rangers – MLB

August 24: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers – MLB

August 31: Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals – MLB

To become a Vet Tixer and request tickets to these and hundreds of other events, visit VetTix.org to create a free account. Once you’ve verified your military service, you can review hundreds of upcoming events across the country. Other than a very small delivery fee, all the tickets are free! If you have tickets to donate, click 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.

D’Youville Veteran Student Michelle Greene Rides for a Cause

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You could call Technical Sergeant Michelle Greene a bit of an overachiever.

The  27-year-old has already completed nine years of military service, while taking on a full time course load to complete her undergraduate degree in Exercise and Sports Science at D’Youville College, a Veteran School Salute awardee and Yellow Ribbon Program Participant.

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A natural at athletics, Greene took up road biking four years ago, and it quickly became her favorite hobby. So when you love to ride, and you have a generous spirit, what better to do then combine the two and ride for a cause?

“Simply put, I want to do this ride for those who can’t,” said Greene.

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Greene connected with Mission 22, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and enlists support to end veteran suicide in America. She has volunteered to complete a 22 day bike trek traveling from Buffalo, NY to Keesler AFB, Mississippi during the month of September, 2017.

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“If by me riding 1250 miles on my bike can help even one soul overcome the mental battle or depression and thoughts of suicide I would do it 100 times over,” Greene said.

On top of her studies and military service, Greene also volunteers at a local gym as a trainer, specializing in teen and young adult athletic development.

“I myself have known many people who have struggled with PTSD, depression, and a never ending mental battle with the outcome often times leading to suicide,” Greene shared. “I want people, vets and civilians alike, to become aware of the resources out there to help. I want them to know they are not alone in this mentally crippling battle and that there is help, there is a light, and there is a chance to become healed from the stressors military life puts on not only the member, but their family, friends, and cohorts.”

Greene’s long term plan is to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

It’s time to replace the words, “Thank you for your service” with an action that demonstrates the sentiment. If you would like to support Michelle Greene’s great cause, you can do so by either purchasing a shirt or through a direct donation.

Marine Veteran Restoring Helicopter He Flew During Vietnam

H34 helicopter

By Debbie Gregory.

Bob Fritzler, now 82, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years. In Vietnam, he flew a Sikorsky H-34 helicopter during Operation SHUFLY, a Marine helicopter operation that primarily ferried troops in Vietnam between 1962 and 1965.

In 1962, Fritzler was a Marine aviator flying a H-34 Choctaw helicopter to support the South Vietnamese military as they battled the Viet Cong forces. At first he operated down south below Saigon then his unit relocated up to the DaNang area.

Today, his mission is to restore the H-34 that sits on his property in a large garage. His eventual goal is to have it in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C

The Keenesburg, CO resident paid homage to the helicopter, saying it was a huge game changer for the Marines. Pilots could now drop soldiers off anywhere instead of relying on ships.

Fritzler came by the big bird after attending a Marine reunion where he met Gerald Hail, who restored old planes back to flyable conditions. Hail invited Fritzler out to fly, and that’s where Fritzler noticed his H-34, the one he had flown eight combat missions in.

Even though most of the paint was gone and Fritzler’s old squadron number had been painted over with a different squadron’s number, he still recognized the helicopter as the one he flew.

“I had a real love affair with it,” Fritzler said.

Hail agreed to transfer the helicopter to Fritzler as long as Fritzler was willing to put in the work to fix it up.

Fritzler’s restoration project has already taken him a few years, but it’s a lengthy process. He has purchased two other helicopters for parts.

Even though his flying days are over, this may be the next best thing.

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.

App Creators Hope to Help Veterans through Peer Support

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By Debbie Gregory.

Community support is often the most powerful tool for overcoming the psychological injuries of war and military service. Objective Zero, an app that should be launching later this summer intends to do just that by connecting veterans experiencing mental distress with other veterans who can talk them through it.

The name Objective Zero is a reflection of the sentiment that VA Under Secretary for Health, David J. Shulkin said in a statement: “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero.”

Objective Zero grew from a six hour phone conversation between Army soldier Chris Mercado and his buddy, Justin Miller. A few months after leaving the Army, Miller was considering suicide. Living in constant pain, jobless, and unable to sleep because of his terrible nightmares, Justin had reached the lowest point in his life. The conversation became an article that was published in 2015 on Medium.com. Mercado’s Georgetown classmates formed a team that researched the issue of veteran suicide and began designing the app.

It would act as a conversation platform between veterans, but also direct users to other resources and services they could pursue on their own.

Through the app, a veteran in distress can open the program, select voice, video, or text, and broadcast what Mercado calls a “distress signal” to those veterans signed up as ambassadors.

“It’s kind of like texting 10 people at the same time, saying you need help,” Mercado says.

Joining Objective Zero in their goal is Headspace, a popular subscription-based meditation app, which is offering its services at no cost to veterans registered through Objective Zero, as well as Comeback Yoga, which will make their videos available through the app.

“What we found is by increasing social connectedness among veterans, providing access to resources, and improving access to care, we can lower suicide rates,” said Mercado.

The Objective Zero team will be coordinating with the VA to help get veterans registered on the app once it’s available later in the summer.

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.