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Army Veteran Facing Deportation on Suicide Watch

Miguel Perez Jr

By Debbie Gregory.

Miguel Perez Jr. discovered the hard way that two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, a green card and PTSD are no shield from U.S. immigration laws.

Because of a 2010 felony drug conviction, Perez has been placed in a Kenosha, Wisconsin detention center, awaiting a possible deportation. Military service is no guarantee of citizenship, and although he has a green card, Perez never applied for citizenship, despite being eligible to.

Perez though he had become a U.S. citizen when he took the military’s oath to protect the nation, a misconception he discovered after he was released from prison and was called to immigration court. A native of Mexico, Perez hasn’t lived there since the age of 8.

Perez has been placed on a suicide watch as he has gone on a hunger strike to protest his situation.

“I’ve been talking to him for over a year now and I haven’t heard him sound like this,” said supporter Sara Walker. “He sounds anxious, depressed and confused.”

Perez has said that he fears deportation would do more than separate him from his family in the United States, including his two children who were both born here and are U.S. citizens. He thinks it could kill him.

In Mexico, he would not have access to substance abuse counseling or mental health resources to help him deal with his PTSD. He also fears being recruited by the drug cartels since he has combat experience.

According to his attorney, Chris Bergin, Perez served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, and he left the Army in 2004 with a general discharge after he was caught smoking marijuana on base.

“If you’re going to put your hand on your hearts every time at a game, you’re going to say thank you for your service and wear American flag lapel pins and you’re going to criticize football players for taking a knee during the national anthem, it seems that’s all superficial and false patriotism if you’re not caring about an actual military veteran,” said Bergin.

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.

American Airlines Settles Lawsuit with Army Veteran Over Service Dog

McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD, says flying the friendly skies with her service dog, Jake, has always been easy. McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

But that changed in 2015 when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented.

Now, American Airlines has settled a 2016 lawsuit filed by McCombs. Due to confidentiality, representatives for both sides declined to discuss the terms, though both said the case was resolved “to the satisfaction of all parties.”

During the trial, the veteran, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the court that Jake  was trained to distract her during panic attacks. On the day of the flight, an American Airlines representative treated her and Jake with disdain, according to her lawsuit.

“Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?” McCombs says an airline employee told her.

Airlines are trying to find a balance between allowing service animals, most often canines, and an array of other emotional support animals (ESAs), such as a kangaroo, a turkey, a duck, and recently, a peacock.

Traditionally, airlines require small animals to travel in cages under the seat of their owner, while large animals travel in the cargo bay. ESAs, however, are allowed to travel with the owner in the open, without the restriction of being caged.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 gives a broad definition for service animal — basically any animal individually trained to help a person with a disability, or any animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability, unless they are too large for the cabin, too disruptive, or a risk to the safety of others.

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 Veteran Shot By Police at Clinic Seeking Help for Mental Problems Faces Charges

negrete

By Debbie Gregory.

An Army veteran is recovering from a serious, but not life-threatening gunshot wound to the upper chest after he brandished a knife and was shot by police at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ clinics in White City, Oregon.

Gilbert “Matt” Negrete had sought help for paranoid delusions. He has been charged with attempted assault, unlawful use of a weapon, menacing and other crimes.

His father described the knife as a paring knife. “It’s a tiny little knife, but I’m sure to them it looked huge,” he said.

VA police had tried “less-lethal force options” to disarm Negrete before one of the officers fired.

Matt’s father, Gilbert, said he drove his son to the clinic in an attempt to get his son treatment for paranoid delusions that led him to believe he was being monitored and watched.

Days before the incident at the VA, police had arrested Negrete on charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and attempting to elude police. Prior to that, he was arrested for disorderly conduct following a September assault for punching a man in the nose who was trying to break up a bar fight.

Matt Negrete’s estranged wife, Alyss Maio, said that “he wasn’t like this before he deployed.” Her husband’s mental health problems first manifested after he returned from a 2009 Iraq tour and a 2011 Afghanistan tour with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, she said. He’d served as a helicopter electrician, diagnostician and technician before his honorable discharge, she said.

“Within 30 days of his coming home, it was very clear he had changed,” she said.

Negrete started drinking more and harbored “a lot of anger” he wouldn’t discuss, according to Maio, who has three children with him.

Maio said her husband’s problems ebbed and flowed after he was 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.

 

Two Veterans Among Victims in Las Vegas Shooting

vets killed

By Debbie Gregory.

It is unfathomable that members of the U.S. Military can return home from war zones, only to be injured or killed at a country music festival.

This situation must be especially hard to accept for their loved ones, who worried so much while they were overseas, and thought the worst of it was behind them.

The senseless massacre claimed the lives of U.S. Navy veteran Christopher Roybal and Army veteran Charles Hartfield.

Roybal, 28, of Corona, CA was in Las Vegas celebrating his birthday with mom, Debbie Allen, and some of his friends. He worked as a manager at a Crunch Fitness gym in Colorado, and would have turned 29 on Monday. Roybal enlisted in 2007, and served as a dog handler in Afghanistan. He was medically discharged in 2012 when he lost most of the hearing in his left ear as a result of his proximity to multiple explosions over the course of his military career.

Serving with the Nevada Army National Guard since 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Hartfield, 34, was an off-duty Las Vegas police officer. The former 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper served at Fort Bragg. Known as Charles or “ChuckyHart,” Hartfield was a youth football coach, husband, father of two and an author — he recently published a book titled “Memoirs of a Public Servant.”

“Sergeant First Class Charleston Hartfield was an All American Paratrooper for life and, as with all who wear the AA patch, he and his Family remain part of our legacy even in death,” said Maj. Sarah Henderson, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne, referring to the division’s nickname. “By all accounts he was a special human being, someone who carried the best virtues and characteristics from this Division with him beyond his service 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.

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.”

Combat Veteran with PTSD Sues Airline For Not Being Allowed to Fly With Service Dog

Lisa-McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD,  says flying the friendly skies with her service dog,  Jake, has always been easy.

But that changed a year ago, when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented. McCombs has decided to sue the airline.

McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

Her lawsuit alleges that while she waited to board her flight, an airline agent approached her and asked “in a condescending tone, ‘ummm, are you going to fly with that?’” the suit states.

For the next 48-hours, McCombs says she was repeatedly interrogated, stressed and humiliated, causing her mental health to suffer.

After missing her scheduled flight,  McCombs said that she was “verbally assaulted” by two agents who loudly demanded, in “rapid succession,” that she tell them the nature of her disability and explain how her service dog helps.

Their conduct implied that McCombs was falsifying her disability, the suit claims, adding that their tone was so harsh that strangers began scolding the agents and trying to comfort McCombs.

“I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess!” McCombs replied, according to the suit filed in federal court. “He’s my service dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of veterans of the war in Iraq.

According to the lawsuit, McCombs “was emotionally crushed and humiliated by the conduct of (American’s) agents, who discriminated against her because of her disability and publicly shamed her.”

The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and asks American Airlines to compensate McCombs for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment.

Army officials say McCombs enlisted in 2005 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the time she was honorably discharged, in 2009, she had reached the rank of captain, according to military records. McCombs received multiple awards for service, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

The Transportation Department requires that all U.S. airlines allow passengers to fly with their service animals in the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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.

Wounded Warrior Project Names Army Vet as New CEO

Michael Linnington

By Debbie Gregory.

Michael Linnington, the former head of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is leaving that position to take over as CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) on July 18th.

Linnington’s decorated 35-year military career included key command positions in three combat tours and senior leadership roles in the Department of Defense

Linnington became the leader of the POW/MIA mission, a military agency that searches for and identifies the remains of missing servicemen, just last year. Prior to Linnington’s involvement, the military’s efforts to find and identify missing remains have suffered from numerous problems. But in the short span of a year, the agency’s laboratories have nearly doubled the identifications of missing servicemen.

The Wounded Warrior Project has been in the news because of the lavish spending of its leadership. For example, in 2014, the non-profit flew some 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel. Employees bragged about flying in business class and receiving other first class amenities. The spending began to attract attention. Charity Watch, an independent monitoring group, gave Wounded Warrior Project a “D” rating in 2011 and has not given it a grade higher than C since.

Linnington, who wasn’t looking for a new job, recognized the opportunity at the Wounded Warrior Project to do “incredibly noble work.”

“I’m very proud of the things we’ve done at the DPAA over the past year but I was approached by a group that needed some leadership in caring for our wounded warriors. I’m a 35-year soldier. I brought soldiers to combat and welcomed many of them home that were grievously wounded,” Linnington said.

As permanent CEO of WWP, Linnington will oversee the organization’s day-to-day operations and set the strategic vision to guide the organization forward, ensuring that WWP’s programs and services benefit wounded warriors, caretakers and families who rely on the organization’s life-changing services.

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 Vet, 75, is Still Serving: Military Connection

vernon

By Debbie Gregory.

A 75 year old Illinois Army veteran is recovering from stab wounds after saving the lives of 16 children when a knife-wielding teen stormed an Illinois public library.

James Vernon, a retired Caterpillar technology worker and Army vet, has been released from the hospital following surgery to repair two slashed arteries in his hand and damage to a tendon in his finger.

Vernon was leading a chess club meeting when 19 year old Dustin Brown burst into the room, wielding a knife in each hand and threatening to murder the children.

Vernon said the two knives were hunting types, with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.

The children, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, took shelter under tables in the library’s conference room while Vernon stood in front of Brown. Vernon maneuvered himself between Brown and the conference room door, allowing the children to escape.

After all the children fled, the knife training Vernon learned in the Army five decades earlier kicked in. When Brown slashed from the right, Vernon instinctively blocked the blade with his left hand.

“I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” Vernon recalled. “First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous.”

Vernon was able to restrain Brown until a library employee removed the knives. Then the two together continued to restrain the attacker until police and paramedics arrived.

Brown, who at the time of the attack was free on bond awaiting prosecution on unrelated charges, was ordered held on $800,000 bond pending a court appearance on November 5th. He’s charged with attempted murder, armed violence, aggravated battery to a person over age 60, and burglary for entering the library with intent to commit a crime.

Vernon’s wife, Hanna, was proud of her husband’s heroic actions, but not surprised: “You need to take some responsibility for your community and your country.”

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 Connection: Iraq Vets To Get Relief: By Debbie Gregory

Chemical AgentsLate in October, the Defense Department announced that it will provide medical examinations and long-term health monitoring to service members who were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq.

Over the last several years, an increasing number of Iraq Veterans have come forward with health complaints as a result of exposure and inadequate treatment. To date, neither the Pentagon, nor any of the service branches have released a full list of chemical weapons recoveries and exposures.

A review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel found that the military did not follow its own healthcare protocol during the initial care of many patients, and did not establish a means for following the exposed patients’ health over time, as the guidelines required.

Medical officials from the Army said that in the early months of 2015, the military will begin conducting medical exams for soldiers exposed to chemical agents. It is estimated that approximately 25 members from the Army and the Navy have been affected by chemical agents due to their service in Iraq.

Previously, the events involving their exposure to the chemical agents had been kept under wraps. Nearly all of the incidents of exposure involved the discovery or demolition of stockpiles of rusted and corroded ordinance. Missiles and bombs, some utilizing mustard gas and other chemical agents, were hidden by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and found by U.S. forces. There was a fear that insurgent groups in Iraq would look for and discover more hidden stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The discovery and acknowledgement of the exposures may be late, but going forward, it will help these Veterans apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. By acknowledging the exposure, the Veterans will be able to link their current health problems to their service, making it easier to get approved for disability benefits and medical treatment.

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Military Connection: Iraq Vets To Get Relief: By Debbie Gregory