Veterans Transplant Coverage Act Will Save Lives

transplant

By Debbie Gregory.

The House has passed the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide organ transplants to veterans from a live donor, regardless of whether or not that donor is a veteran.

Introduced by Texas Congressman John Carter, the bipartisan legislation guarantees that no veteran is denied transplant coverage.

“No Veteran should be denied a life-saving procedure due to bureaucratic red tape under the VA Choice Program,” said Rep. Carter. Current VA policy has excluded non-Veteran live donations from coverage under the VA Choice Program.

The Veterans Transplant Coverage Act also allows veterans to receive transplant operations at any VA or non-VA facility convenient for them.

The legislation has been supported by the American Legion, AMVETS, Got Your 6, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, among others.

Rep. Carter represents Texas District 31, which includes Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored military installation. He serves as Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, co-chairman of the Congressional Army Caucus, is on the Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

The bill was co-sponsored by Michael McCaul, R-TX 10th; Doug LaMalfa, R-CA; Ted Poe, R-TX 2nd; Elise Stefanik, R-NY 21st; and Sanford Bishop Jr., D-GA 2n.

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

Marine General Sentenced to 21 Days for Contempt

baker

By Debbie Gregory.

Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker has been sentenced to 21 days confinement and a $1,000 fine for contempt by Air Force Col. Vance Spath, the USS Cole case judge. The death-penalty case is against suspected USS Cole attacker Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.

Baker, who had been in charge of the war court defense team representing Nashiri, was found guilty of contempt for sanctioning the defense team’s resignation. Baker, a 28-year career officer, is now the second-highest-ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps.

Nashiri is accused of plotting al-Qaida’s 2000 suicide bombing of the warship off Aden, Yemen, which took the lives of 17 U.S. sailors and injured dozens more.

Attorneys Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears quit the case due to a secret ethics dilemma. They had significant reason to believe the U.S. government was listening to their communications with Nashiri, a violation of attorney/client privilege.

Spath rejected Baker’s decision, saying that only Spath has the power to excuse an attorney of record in his court. Spath ordered the attorneys to come to Guantanamo to litigate. They refused.

“Based on the advice of my lawyers, their analysis of the law and our analysis of the circumstances we’d be facing in Virginia, we made the decision that we would not go,” Kammen said.

The ACLU has called Baker’s confinement “unlawful and an outrage” and said the Spath’s decision needs to reversed and Baker released.

Baker has become an outspoken critic of the military-federal justice system set up after 9/11.

“Put simply, the military commissions in their current state are a farce,” Baker said. “Instead of being a beacon for the rule of law, the Guantánamo Bay military commissions have been characterized by delay, government misconduct and incompetence, and even more delay.”

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.

Pay Raise in 2018 for the Troops

2018 pay raise

By Debbie Gregory.

House-Senate conferees have announced a deal on a massive defense bill, which will result in a pay raise of 2.4 percent for servicemembers. The $700 billion plan will also cover retention pay and bonuses, increasing troop size, repairs to the two Navy ships recently involved in deadly crashes, fund new ships and aircraft, and authorize new spending on missile defense.

The proposed pay raise would be the biggest increase for the military since 2010. The plan has already cleared several hurdles and now faces a vote before both chambers. After that comes the challenge of how to fund the plan.

Conferees rejected senators’ call to cut housing allowances for dual service couples with children. Under the Senate plan, one member no longer would have been eligible for Basic Allowance for Housing at the higher “with dependents” rate.

Married military members will both continue to receive BAH, with one spouse receiving the “without dependents” BAH rate, while the higher-ranking spouse receives the “with dependents” rate.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and leader of House Republican conferees, said all conferees had “the welfare of service members foremost in our minds. Some of that is pay and benefits but also, (considering) recent naval accidents and air accidents, it’s making sure they have equipment that works.”

Conferees did accept the Senate’s approval of a DoD plan to raise prescription drug fees, while encouraging greater use of generic drugs, on-base pharmacies and mail order pharmacy services. Survivors of members who die on active duty and retired disabled servicemembers would be exempt from the drug copay increases.
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.

Millions in Settlements Paid to Problem Employees by VA

Togus

By Debbie Gregory.

You wouldn’t think doctors, nurses, and other medical workers would be classified as “problem employees.” But many former medical professional employees have cost the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over $6 million.

A recent investigation has uncovered that the VA, the nation’s largest employer of healthcare workers, has concealed the mistakes and misdeeds of its staff for years.

Examples include a VA radiologist who had misread dozens of CT scans at a VA hospital in Washington State, and a podiatrist who had 88 cases where mistakes that harmed veterans at the Togus hospital in Maine were made.

Citing inadequate performance, hundreds of VA employees were fired or forced into early retirement. But they fought back in the legal arena.

In just those two years, 230 settlement deals were made to pacify problem employees. These settlements were withheld from the public. In some of those cases, the employees receiving the settlements were whistle-blowers, or were wronged by the VA. But in the remaining cases, the employees were the problem.

Because the settlements were reached in secret, there is no official word as to why the VA determined that the employees should be fired or forced to resign.

According to the VA website, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs wants to demonstrate accountability and transparency regarding settlements with employees. To that end, on July 7, 2017, Secretary Shulkin announced that he is requiring approval by a senior official of any monetary settlement with an employee over the amount of $5,000.

Any settlement above this amount will require the personal approval of the Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary or equivalent senior-level official within the organization in which the dispute occurs.

“We’re changing to a culture of accountability at VA, and this is an important step in that direction,” Shulkin said.

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

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Slain In Texas Church Shooting

corrigan

By Debbie Gregory.

Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Corrigan was killed when former airman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire in a Sutherland Springs church on November 5th.

Corrigan and his wife, high school sweetheart Shani, were two of the 26 parishioners murdered while attending church services. They had joined First Baptist Church in 2015.

No strangers to tragedy, the couple lost their son, Forrest Corrigan, in November of last year. At the service for Forrest, Pastor Frank Pomeroy asked God to give comfort in a time of death, trial and confusion. He told the assembled parishioners, “… it’s friends and family coming together through the help of the lord, the strength of the lord, that those that are left behind can continue on.”

Little did the pastor know that one year later, the friends and families of so many parishioners would need to come together to mourn this unbelievable loss of life.

Chief Master Sgt. Corrigan represented everything we expect from our military servicemembers:  a loving and devoted husband and father as well as an exceptional officer who treated his fellow airmen like family.

Debra Bentley, Corrigan’s supervisor at WellMed Medical Management, where he began after retiring from the Air Force, said “He was incredibly bonded to his family, his community and service to his community.”

Lisa Schmidt, a WellMed vice president, said of Corrigan, “The two most important things to Bob were his unwavering faith and his family. He always put others first without hesitation.” She added, “He and Shani were a compassionate couple who cared deeply for others.”

The couple is survived by two sons, both on active-duty. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this horrible, senseless act of violence.

We are also hoping for a full recovery for the injured.

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

Marine Colonel Arrested In Massive Prostitution Sting

scott

By Debbie Gregory.

Marine Colonel Kevin Scott was among the 300 individuals arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in a prostitution sting.

Scott, 51, allegedly approached an undercover detective on October 14th and offered to pay for sex. He was among 277 people charged in the sting.

On temporary duty to U.S. Central Command when he was arrested, Scott works in the joint force directorate of the Joint Staff in Suffolk, Virginia. He has served in the Marine Corps since 1984.

The sting involved undercover officers posing as prostitutes and customers, and the posting of fake ads and profiles on social media sites.

Scott was charged with a misdemeanor count for soliciting a prostitute and was released on $500 bail.

The pre-Halloween sting, called “Operation No Tricks, No Treats” demonstrates that the sheriff’s office has slightly skewed sense of humor.

Scott rented a car and drove to the location where he met the undercover detective. Sheriff Grady Judd of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had the unfortunate job of calling the government to say, “Hey would you like to come get your leased car ’cause your colonel is on the way to the county jail.” That’s right, Scott used a government credit card to pay for the car rental!

The scandal is the most recent in a string of incidents involving high-ranking officers. But Scott did try to keep his Marine status out of the scandal.

“He said he was retired and he was no longer in the Marine Corps,” according to Sheriff Judd. “That’s not true.”

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.

Federal Judge Rules DOD can’t Block Immigrant Recruits’ Citizenship Applications

mavni 1

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle has ordered the Department of Defense not to block fast-tracked citizenship applications for some 2,000 foreign-born U.S. Army Reserve soldiers.

Foreign-born military recruits who possessed skills urgently needed in U.S. military operations were promised a quicker route to citizenship in their enlistment contracts.

The federal judge also said that the members of the military in an on-going lawsuit will more than likely be able to prove that the crackdown on immigrant recruits were “arbitrary and capricious.”

Huvelle said the DoD action threatens a delay for soldiers’ citizenship applications by years, upends their lives, blocks their careers and potentially exposes them to deportation.

“Plaintiffs live in constant fear that they will lose their work or student visas, or be discharged, deported, and subject to harsh punishment in their country of origin for joining a foreign military,” Huvelle wrote.

The judge decided to grant provision class-action status to some of the affected soldiers. The lead plaintiffs are Mahlon Kirwa, Santhosh Meenhallimath and Ashok Viswanathan.

At issue is a program in which the Pentagon approved requests for an “N-426” form, certifying the active-duty or Selected Reserve status of qualified enlistees in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. The MAVNI program has allowed recruits with critically needed skills, such as certain health care professionals and experts in certain languages to apply for citizenship when they begin training if they agreed to eight years of military service.

What was previously a quick application process at enlistment recently ended when the Pentagon began requiring additional screening of program participants.

Huvelle said the delays were “not justified by any national security concerns” because U.S. immigration authorities are holding all applications pending completion of military screening.

Citizenship can be revoked if recruits are not honorably discharged.

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.

Ms. Veteran America: More than a Beauty Contest

Lyndsey Guiterrez

By Debbie Gregory.

The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage, and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women also serve their families as mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.

Women have been serving in the military as early as the Revolutionary War, and their roles have evolved from cooks and nurses to current combat roles. The woman named Ms. Veteran America is also a role model, teaching and empowering young women and girls to support, inspire and lift-up one another.

The role that female veterans play is often overshadowed, and the Ms. Veteran America competition is more of a movement than a pageant, working to change that narrative, while addressing the issue of homelessness among female veterans.

“I don’t think there are stereotypes as much as being afraid of what women can accomplish…we’ve had three 3-star generals, we’ve had women that have completed the Army ranger course so at this point I don’t know what a stereotype is,” said Jas Boothe, a U.S. Army Veteran and founder of the Ms. Veteran America competition.

Twenty-five finalists representing each service branch as well as National Guard and Reserve Units compete in evening gowns, talent, and a push-up competition.

“We definitely need to work on legislation and how we treat female service members, we need to take a look at their unique needs, we need to get the perspective of women,” said Lindsay Gutierrez, the current Ms. Veteran America.

To date, the competition has raised more than $330,000 dollars and provided more than 12,000 days of transitional housing for over 3,600 women veterans and their children.

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.

Beware of Buying & Selling Online or with Apps – Military Couple Shot

frederick

By Debbie Gregory.

Nowadays, there’s no shortage of ways to buy and sell goods without stepping foot into a store. But this also carries an inherent risk, as a military couple in Portsmouth, VA recently found out the hard way.

Twenty-year-old sailor Frederick and his four-months-pregnant wife, Emily, were meeting up with a person they had connected with on app OfferUp to purchase a cell phone. The location was supposedly where the seller was babysitting. When they arrived, their car was surrounded by a group of six low-life thugs, one of which opened fire on the couple.

Frederick was shot through his arm, chest, and temple, causing permanent vision loss in his left eye. Emily was hit in the chest, just missing her heart, but sparing injury to their unborn child. She does, however, have a collapsed lung.

Although the couple had $300 in cash, they were not robbed. It is believed that the shooting was part of a gang initiation.

Frederick managed to start driving the car away, but due to limited vision from his injuries, he crashed into a car a few houses away. Emily drove the rest of the way to a nearby convenience store, where police were summoned.

After the shooting, the Portsmouth Police announced a new designated safe location for people to meet when they are buying or selling items. The family says they were told by police that there have been several incidents reported from people using the OfferUp app, but it could have just as easily been Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc.

Only the couple’s first names are being used for safety reasons.

If you can help this young couple face the long road to recovery, please visit their GoFundMe page at: www.gofundme.com/fredrick-and-emily-fund.

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.

Family of Marine Recruit who Died at Parris Island Sues for $100 Million

siddiqui

By Debbie Gregory.

The parents of a former Marine recruit who died at Parris Island after a three-story fall have filed a $100 million lawsuit against the federal government.

Ghazala Siddiqui and Masood Siddiqui claim their son, Raheel,  was “assaulted, hazed and discriminated against because of his Muslim faith, and died after allegedly being abused.

The lawsuit claims the Marines “fostered a culture of abuse and hazing” at the training base at Parris Island, S.C.that led to the death of the 20-year-old in March, 2016.

The Marines have maintained that Siddiqui’s death was a suicide, a conclusion that his family has rejected, along with suggestions that Siddiqui was somehow not prepared for the rigors of Parris Island.

Siddiqui, in his second week on the island, was reported to have been trying to request permission to go to medical for a sore throat on the day of his death. He was refused medical attention, instead being forced to run laps in his barracks. When he collapsed on the floor, his drill instructor allegedly slapped him. That is when Siddiqui allegedly ran through a door in the barracks and leaped over an exterior stairwell, falling three stories.

Siddiqui succumbed to his injuries at Medical University of South Carolina Hospital several hours later. His parents have maintained that their son, as both a faithful Muslim and son, was morally incapable of purposely killing himself. In Islam, suicide is a mortal sin.  They also claim that Siddiqui never had any mental health issues or threatened suicide. He had spent months training with his recruiter before boot camp in order to succeed.

Making him seem weak or unprepared, the family and their lawyer argue, shifts blame away from where it belongs: with the Marines.

Following Siddiqui’s death, the Marine Corps instituted a zero-tolerance policy for abusing and hazing recruits.

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.