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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against the Navy for Unfair Discharges

Tyson Manker

By Debbie Gregory.

A marine veteran has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Navy, alleging that post-traumatic stress disorder and other traumatic mental health issues were the reason he and veterans like him received less than honorable discharges.

Due to these “bad paper” discharges, the veterans have been denied VA benefits and other support.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Connecticut by Tyson Manker, seeks class-action status for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans.

“The American public needs to know that hundreds of thousands of military veterans with service-connected PTSD and [traumatic brain injuries] are being denied support and VA resources because of an unfair discharge status,” said Manker.

The plaintiffs are being counseled by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

“In 2017, the Army and Air Force Discharge Review Boards granted approximately 51 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD, while the NDRB [Naval Discharge Review Board] granted a mere 16 percent of applications during the same period,” said Samantha Peltz, a law student intern in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “The disparity is staggering.”

Manker is joined in the lawsuit by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, a Connecticut-based organization whose members include marines and other veterans with less-than-honorable discharges.

In a statement released by the plaintiffs, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said  that the unfair discharge status is “based on antiquated policies that fail to recognize invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress.”

“Systemic failures of the military departments have led to widespread legal rights violations of our most vulnerable men and women in uniform, myself included. It is a national disgrace,” Manker said. “By taking this action with the courts we intend to restore the rule of law along with honor for thousands of patriots who were treated so poorly by the nation they served.”

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 Veteran Works to Rebuild His Life

chavez

By Debbie Gregory.

Following his honorable discharge from the military, a former Marine was convicted of a crime and deported to Mexico.

At 19 years old, Marco Antonio Chavez enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for four years. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant.

In 1998, Chavez was convicted of animal cruelty and served 10 months in prison. An immigration judge considered his conviction an aggravated felony, which led to his deportation in 2002.

Chavez is believed to be one of hundreds of U.S. veterans who have served in the armed forces but were later deported after getting into trouble. He had the misconception that because of his service, he was automatically a U.S. citizen.

He moved with his family to Mexico, and his wife, who does not speak Spanish, commuted across the border for work. Eventually his family moved to Iowa, leaving him in Mexico.

Chavez was able to return home to the United States after California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him and an immigration judge ruled to restore his U.S. residency.

Chavez was invited by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) to be her guest at the 2018 State of the Union address.

Politics aside, Chavez has a clear message: “Veterans should not be getting deported. Anybody picking up a firearm to defend this country shouldn’t be deported.”

It’s been a tough road back for Chavez as he works to rebuild his life. He and his wife have divorced, and he is working to re-establish his relationship with his children.

“It’s like coming out of high school with nothing,” he said. “I’ve got to start over. That’s kind of what it’s like. I am getting another start, but a late one.”

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.

$2.3 Million Settlement in Marine Veteran’s Death

jason and heather

By Debbie Gregory.

Former Marine Jason Simcakoski was 35 when he died in 2014 at the Tomah VA facility. His death uncovered a reality of overprescribed opioid painkillers at the facility.

From 2006 to 2014, Simcakoski had been treated for a variety of conditions. He was admitted to the Tomah VA’s psychiatric unit on Aug. 10, 2014. Less than three weeks later, he was found unresponsive. It took 10 minutes for life-saving CPR to begin, but by then, it was too late.

An autopsy revealed that Simcakoski died from mixed-drug toxicity.

The government reached a $2.3 million settlement with Simcakoski’s survivors , namely his widow Heather and daughter Anaya.

Simcakoski’s death led to the passage of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, a law aimed at improving the way opioid medications are used in treating veterans, improving patient advocacy by the VA Secretary, and expanding the availability of complementary and integrative health.

An inspector general’s report in 2015 found that Tomah VA doctors commonly over-prescribed opioid painkillers, earning the facility the nickname “Candy Land.” Tomah VA’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was fired and permanently surrendered his medical license.

Simcakoski was never advised of the risks associated with the medications he was given.  Additionally, the delays in the start of CPR and the lack of medication at the Tomah VA to reverse drug overdoses contributed to his death.

Heather Simcakoski, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, says there was a point when she didn’t know it was possible to move forward. But now she is ready to dedicate a significant amount of her time to the new project she and daughter Anaya are getting ready to launch that will give back to veterans and their families.

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.

Thirty-one Marathons in as Many Days for Marine Veteran Double-amputee

rob jones

By Debbie Gregory.

Running one marathon is difficult. Running one marathon after losing both legs is extremely difficult. So what would you say of a double amputee running 31 marathons in 31 days? An impossible task?

Well, Iraq and Afghanistan Marine combat veteran and double-amputee Rob Jones would disagree with you there. The 32-year-old Jones is running the equivalent of 31 marathons in 31 days on two prosthetic limbs to raise money for veterans’ charities.

Jones lost both legs above the knee in 2010, four months in to his second deployment, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his feet in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

“When a veteran comes home and they’re wounded, whether psychologically or mentally or physically, that doesn’t mean they’re now disabled, broken, or incapable of contributing to society,” Jones said.

Seven years after losing his legs, Jones’s “31 in 31” kicked off on October 12th in Hyde Park, London.

“I’m trying to be an example of a veteran who’s had a traumatic experience overseas and I came back and I found my new way of helping society, staying in the fight, and contributing to my family and to America,” Jones said.

Jones was medically retired in December 2011 and was outfitted with a pair of bionic knees and prosthetics legs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he relearned how to walk. As part of his physical rehabilitation, he took up rowing. Then cycling. Now running.

Jones hopes to raise up to $1 million for three charities he credits with aiding him in his recovery: Semper Fi Fund, Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, and Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation.

Jones finishes his run at the National Mall in Washington on Veterans Day.

If you would like to support this hero’s journey, visit http://www.robjonesjourney.com/

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.

Las Vegas Veteran Hero Gifted New Truck

taylor winston

By Debbie Gregory.

Hero is a word that gets tossed around a lot. By definition, a hero is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities. Heroic deeds are often performed by members of the military, veterans and first responders. The events at the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert shooting saw no shortage of heroic actions that saves hundreds of lives.

Marine veteran Taylor Winston was one of those heroes. Winston commandeered a utility truck he found with the keys in it, and over the course of two trips, ferried some 30 people to the hospital. The only reason he didn’t make a third trip was because emergency crews were on scene at that point. “I think a lot of my training in the military helped me in the situation,” Winston said.  And he brushed off the title of “hero,” as heroes often do.

Heroes never spring into action for reward or notoriety. But sometimes, that’s exactly what they get.

And thanks to B5 Motors, a Gilbert, Arizona car dealership, Winston has a new truck of his own.

B5 Motors launched a social media campaign to find Winston.

“Most of us would have ran and never came back,” said Shane Beus, owner of B5 Motors “His military training allowed him to think in a split second what to do.”

On Monday, October 9th, in an act of unbelievable good corporate citizenship, the dealership posted a Facebook Live video showing Winston driving away from B5 Motors in his new, silver truck.

“My message is that I hope people will recognize the heroism in him and others and become selfless,” Beus said. “It’s kinda what America is about, helping others.”

And it has been reported that Winston will be selling his current vehicle and donating the proceeds to victims of the shooting.

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.

WWII Vet Continues to Defend the Flag

banks

By Debbie Gregory.

A 92-year-old World War II veteran was injured by a vandal as he protecting the American flag outside his home.

But this story has a happy ending.

Following the incident in which Howard Banks was pushed to the ground, resulting in several bumps, bruises, and a twisted knee, he received a visit from fellow Marine veterans from Honor Flight Austin, who offered him a free trip to Washington, D.C. to see the National World War II Memorial.

The vandal who was either trying to steal or destroy the American flag and the Marine Corps flag on display ran off while neighbors rushed in to help the veteran, who was left legally blind by a flare on Iwo Jima.

Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that honors America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. They transport these heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.

Top priority is given to the senior veterans, World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

“This guy is living history,” said Honor Flight Austin Director Kory Ryan. “He’s a national treasure. People should be lined up on his porch to talk to him, not ripping his flags down.”

“I think we all had that same feeling, that the flag was our identity. We were Americans,” said Banks. “The fact that I’m getting older, and the less I can do… at least I can still do that.”

Banks’s daughter, friends and neighbors will be keeping an eye on him so that they can help him maintain his monument to the country he served and the Marine Corps, without putting himself in harm’s way.

MilitaryConnection.com is honored to work with Honor Flight Network, as well as numerous other wonderful non-profits that serve military, veterans and their families.

We salute veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

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.

Elderly Marine Veteran Allegedly Held Captive for Years

tool

By Debbie Gregory.

In a story almost too tragic and inhumane to tell, 86 year old U.S. Marine veteran David McClellan was apparently held hostage for four years and abused by his captor.

It is alleged that 35-year-old Perry Coniglio has held McClellan prisoner so that he could cash the senior’s Social Security and pension checks, and collect his food stamps.

McClellan was the perfect prey, as he had a lot of money, no known friends or relatives, and he was in an advanced stage of dementia.

“The guy who was arrested who lived next door, he was giving him just one bowl of cereal a day, he would stick him back in the room with a stick, wasn’t bathing him, the old guy would just be walking around here naked, just terrible,” according to one neighbor.

Medics took McClellan to a local hospital to make sure he is physically OK. Orange County’s Adult Protective Services is working with the local police department and will assist in finding the veteran a new residence

Police recovered illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia from Coniglio’s room.

Town of Highlands police arrested Coniglio and charged him with unlawful imprisonment, grand larceny, criminal possession of a weapon, endangering an incompetent person, menacing and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Detective Joseph Cornetta of the Town of Highlands Police Department said Coniglio used “brute force and intimidation” to get the elderly and mentally diminished veteran to cooperate.

As was expected, calls for brute punishment have been flooding the media. So, too have been calls for the investigation of anyone else that may have been complicit in this heinous crime.

In order to prevent this type of elder abuse from happening, we need to be the eyes and ears for those who are most vulnerable.

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 Veteran’s Heroic Actions Saved Lives in Orlando Attack

imran

By Debbie Gregory.

Hero is a word that gets tossed around a lot. By definition, a hero is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities.

As the first shots of the mass shooting in Orlando were fired, Pulse bouncer Imran Yousuf’s first instinct was to escape. But he wasn’t just thinking of himself; he wanted to get as many people out of harm’s way as he could. He knew that on the other side of a group of panicked people was a door that would lead them to safety. But someone had to unlatch it.

“I’m screaming ‘Open the door! Open the door!’” Yousuf said. “And no one is moving because they are scared.”

“There was only one choice — either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take the chance, and I jumped over to open that latch and we got everyone that we could out of there.”

Yousuf managed to open the backdoor that led out into the street, evacuating more than 60 people. After he got them out, he began carrying the injured to ambulances outside.

In total, the former Marine of Indian descent saved between 60 and 70 of the clubs patrons.

Imran’s brother, Ameer, had recently moved down to Orlando from Schenectady to be with his brother and other family members.

“This was so unexpected but because of my brother’s training in the Marine Corps, he was prepared and used strategies from that to do everything he did,” said Ameer Yousuf.

Imran Yousuf joined the Marine Corps right after graduating from Niskayuna High School in 2010. He served as an engineer equipment electrical systems technician in the Marine Corps from June 2010 to May 2016, according to service officials. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. He was last assigned to 3rd Marine Logistics Group.

“Because of his training, he knew to remove his security shirt and how to think as quickly as he did,” said Ameer Yousuf.

According to Ameer, his brother only regrets that he couldn’t save more people.

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.

The War Horse Features First-Hand Accounts of Wars

warhorse1

By Debbie Gregory.

Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, a medically retired sergeant-turned-journalist, wants to ensure that the war stories of his generation are told. To that end, Brennan is launching The War Horse, an independent non-profit journalism site dedicated to chronicling the stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plan for stage one of The War Horse’s development, which launches on January 18th, is:

  • Launch Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, website, and initiate media coverage campaign.
  • Begin using tax-deductible donations to enter into contracts with freelance journalists and interns, and begin hiring processes for office staff.
  • Continue submitting grant applications, developing business strategy, pursuing sponsorships and donations, and finding volunteers.

Brennan is uniquely qualified to tell those stories. Besides his near nine years of service in the Marine Corps and being wounded when a rocket- propelled grenade detonated next to him, he has reported on the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs as a civilian. He began freelancing for The New York Times blog, At War while he was still in uniform, documenting medical appointments for his TBI and PTSD, his combat memories, and even his suicide attempt in 2013. He later matriculated as a Stabile Fellow from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Brennan believes the War Horse will ultimately be a collaboration of staff and freelance journalists, producing quality stories through “bulletproof reporting.” He defines the site as a news outlet and community where all people—military, civilian, pro-war, and anti-war—can express their thoughts about and experiences with war and have them matter.

His Kickstarter campaign goal is at least $50,000, which will fund the first four fully multimedia long-form stories and assist with grant-writing and development that will allow the website and newsroom to grow. In addition to the works of investigative journalism and feature stories, the site will host The Echoes Project, a compilation of profiles for all US personnel killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. The project will also allow those who knew the fallen service members to share stories, images, and written memories about them.

To learn more about the War Horse, visit http://www.thewarhorse.org/. Follow them on Facebook (hyperlink: www.facebook.com/thewarhorsenews) and Twitter (hyperlink: www.twitter.com/@shareyourwar)

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.