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New VA Online Wizard Aims to Upgrade Your Discharge

va vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online wizard that will assist veterans who are seeking to upgrade their military discharges.

By going to the VA’s Vets.gov benefits website, participants go through a series of questions that guides them, step by step, through the upgrade process based on their individual situation.

This is an especially good tool for veterans who are trying to correct or upgrade “bad paper” discharges. Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

All branches of the military consider a strong case for a discharge upgrade if applicants can show their discharge was connected to any of these categories:

Mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Sexual assault or harassment during military service

Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)

By answering a series of questions, users get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If their application goes through and the discharge is upgraded, these veterans will become eligible for the VA benefits they earned during their period of service.

If a previous upgrade application was denied, users can apply again, especially if the application is significantly different from the original. For example, the applicant may have additional evidence that wasn’t available during the original application was processed, or the Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges. (DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.)

The wizard will also assist those who require an updated DD214 or DD215 to reflect an upgrade.

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.

Ninety-one Year-old Gay Veteran Seeks Honorable Discharge Status

Spires

By Debbie Gregory.

Long before “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” H. Edward Spires served as a chaplain’s assistant in the Air Force.

When his supervisors discovered Spires was gay, they interrogated him, threatened him, and ordered him to see a psychiatrist. Ultimately, they gave him an “undesirable” discharge and showed him the door.

Now the frail 91 year-old, assisted by a group of lawyers at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, is seeking to upgrade his discharge status to honorable, allowing Spires to have a funeral with military honors.

Spires’ husband, David Rosenberg, spoke on his spouse’s behalf.

“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable.”

The couple has been together for nearly six decades, marrying in 2009.

Spires recently suffered a bout of pneumonia and spent three weeks in the hospital. His declining health adds an undertone of urgency to the legal mission.

Spires joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946, at the age of 20. After completing basic training, he was assigned to be a chaplain’s assistant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Within 18 months, he reached the rank of sergeant.

Spires built a large group of civilian friends in San Antonio, many of whom were gay. But there were ominous signs: In October of 1947, the commander called a meeting to “clean up the base of homosexuals,” the lawsuit states.

According to Spires, shortly after a 1947 off-base Halloween party, he was summoned to the judge advocate’s office and asked if he was a “homosexual.” When Spires did not initially answer, the master sergeant threatened to throw him into the stockade.

As word of his interrogation spread across the base, he was taunted and verbally abused by his fellow soldiers. Only his direct supervisor, Father Major John Habitz, stood up for him.

“We hope the Air Force will remedy this injustice promptly,” said Erin Baldwin, a law student intern who is working on Spires’ case. “By granting Mr. Spires justice, the Air Force will finally send a message to Mr. Spires and to all veterans who received undesirable discharges for homosexuality, despite their faithful service to our country, that the honor of their service does not depend upon their sexual orientation.”

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.

CA Governor Appoints New CALVET Secretary: Military Connection

vito

By Debbie Gregory.

On September 18th, California Governor Jerry Brown announced the appointment of the new secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). Colonel Vito Imbasciani, a 69-year-old Los Angeles urologic surgeon and Kaiser Permanente executive, is poised to fill the position left vacant by the previous acting secretary, Debbie Endsley.

Endsley was appointed acting secretary of CalVet in January, 2015. Endsley had replaced Peter J. Gravett upon his retirement.

Colonel Imbasciani is president-elect of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, and a member of the California Medical Association Board of Trustees and the California Association of Physician Groups Board of Directors. He has also served as the director of government relations at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group since 2004.

He was the state surgeon for the California Army National Guard from 2006 to 2014, and also served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1986 to 2014.

Colonel Imbasciani earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Vermont. In addition, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy and a Master of Arts degree in musicology from Cornell University. He also speaks multiple languages, including Spanish, French, German and Italian.

A long time LGBT supporter, Colonel Imbasciani served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but he was always working as an activist to repeal the policy. He badgered the staff of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “to stand up to the generals who didn’t want any part of ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” He also approached every member of Congress on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, through their staff members, “giving them my story and sort of tantalizing them with the willingness to appear before Congress under my constitutional right as a solider to redress grievances. And to let them know the difficulties of being a gay man in uniform and the terrible loss of talent and the terrible expense that the military has to go through in replacing these highly qualified [experts].”

Colonel Imbasciani’s appointment to the position requires confirmation by the state Senate.

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.

Openly Gay Civilian Advisor Named Secretary of the Army: Military Connection

Secretary of the Army

By Debbie Gregory.

If confirmed by the Senate, the first openly gay US Army secretary, Eric Fanning, could help lead America’s corps of fighting men and women into uncharted territory, on many fronts.

President Obama is nominating Eric K. Fanning, a close civilian adviser to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, to be the secretary of the Army, an appointment that would make him the first openly gay secretary of a military branch.

The president said Mr. Fanning brings “many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership” to the role. “I am grateful for his commitment to our men and women in uniform, and I am confident he will help lead America’s soldiers with distinction,” he said.

As a civilian, Mr. Fanning has been the acting under secretary of the Army as the current secretary, John McHugh, prepares to leave his post. Mr. Fanning’s Defense Department jobs have spanned the services: He has served as Air Force undersecretary, deputy under secretary of the Navy and deputy chief management officer of the Navy.

Former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Doug Wilson, praised Mr. Fanning.

“Eric Fanning is one of the most qualified individuals to hold any senior position having to do with defense,” Mr. Wilson said. “The fact that he is openly gay and has been nominated for his position is just evidence of the degree to which Americans can accept sexual orientation as part of an individual, and not something that completely defines an individual.”

Mr. Fanning will help guide the country’s largest military service as it undertakes a sweeping integration of gay soldiers. While the Pentagon lifted a prohibition on openly gay service members in 2011, the culture remains resistant, to an extent, to open integration of gay soldiers into the ranks, as well as the promotion of women into combat roles. Some gay service members say they experience harassment and discrimination.

Phil Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said, “The Army cares whether you can shoot straight, not whether you are straight.”

A graduate of Dartmouth, Fanning’s appointment was widely expected.

 

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.