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Lawmaker Accused of Embellishing Military Service

Lawmaker Accused of Embellishing Military Service

Lawmaker Accused of Embellishing Military Service

By Debbie Gregory

Rep. Mike Ritze (R-OK) has been removed from the rolls of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and asked not to use the organization in his biography or literature.

The legislator has been accused of wearing military service decorations that he didn’t earn, including a Purple Heart, by two of his House colleagues — Reps. Kevin McDugle and Josh West.

“I ask that you remove any reference to being a member, honorary or otherwise, from your bio or any other document which suggests that you are a member of DAV,” wrote J. Marc Burgess, DAV’s National Adjutant ,  in a letter to Ritze dated May 7th.

Ritze claimed he was awarded an honorary membership in the group, but Burgess said the group’s constitution prohibits honorary memberships. He went on to say that it was unfortunate that members of the DAV chapter that gave Ritze the membership were not aware of the policies.

At issue was the DAV cover (hat) with a Purple Heart insignia worn by Ritze, implying that he was a member of DAV and had been awarded the medal only given to those who were wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military.

An osteopathic doctor, Ritze joined the Oklahoma National Guard in 1977 and later transferred to the U.S. Army Medical Corps Reserve. from the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Ritze has faced criticism recently from two of his Republican colleagues, Reps. Kevin McDugle and Josh West, both combat veterans, who accused him of wearing military decorations he hasn’t earned, including a Purple Heart.

McDugle served eight years with the U.S. Marines, serving with an infantry unit, special forces unit and airborne forward observer unit, and was also a drill instructor.

West, who served nine years in the Army, was awarded a Purple Heart from a firefight in Iraq in 2003 where he was shot in both legs and the stomach and sustained a traumatic brain injury.

“In my mind, anyone who served in the military is a hero,” McDugle said. “There is no reason to embellish your service in the military.”

Veteran Convicted of Stolen Valor and Scamming More than $700K

Darryll

By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a sad fact, but fraud involving the veteran community is on the rise.

In just a 6-month period last year, the VA’s Office of Inspector General reported that it recovered $2.9 million in restitution, fines and penalties relating to fraud.

But in a “this-one-takes-the-cake” case, standout fraudster Darryl Wright, a former Idaho National Guardsman, scammed more than $700,000 in benefits. His deception further included supposed injuries that resulted in Wright being awarded the Army’s Combat Action Badge and a Purple Heart.

“Darryl Lee Wright built an entire myth system on these two awards, relying on them to obtain every possible benefit that might be available to a wounded veteran,” assistant U.S. attorneys David Reese Jennings and Gregory Gruber wrote in a sentencing memo.

Wright represented that he was so severely disabled by PTSD symptoms that he spent two-to-five days a week in bed, in a fetal position; he had a caregiver, a house cleaner, and yard worker; he could not prepare his own meals; he could not take public transportation or be in crowds; he could walk only fifty meters; and his attention span was only five to ten seconds.”

So imagine how shocking it was to catch Wright doing yard work, playing in a recreational basketball league and coaching a high school team. He was also a member of an emergency response team that responded to fires and conducted searches and rescues in Snoqualmie, Washington. He had a “sport” membership at a local country club. Wright was also a board member for a hospital foundation and ran unsuccessfully for political office.

Stolen valor is just plain disgusting. It siphons vital benefits from veterans who truly need it.Wright hurt the heroes who fully deserve recognition, respect, and honor.

“I made several poor decisions that adversely affected my family,” Wright said in a statement sent to the Snoqualmie Valley Record.

Wright was sentenced to three years in prison and stripped of his medals.

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.

Former Forest Ranger Ordered to Pay Judgement to Disabled Vet

general_court_07

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera has ordered a former U.S. Forest Service ranger to pay nearly $600,000 to a disabled Army veteran and another camper for violating their civil rights by using excessive force during their 2014 arrests at the Juan Tomas campground in the mountains east of Albuquerque.

Former U.S. Forest Service Ranger David Chavez confronted Adam Griego, who served in the Army during two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fellow camper Elijah Haukereid, advising them that the road to the campground was closed and that Griego would have to hike into the area to retrieve his belongings.

Griego found another route to rejoin his friends, which apparently angered Chavez, who handcuffed Griego and slammed his face into the hood of Chavez’s truck, and his head into the door frame of the truck.

Griego was forced to remain in the backseat of the truck for several hours without water despite the heat. Once Griego was secured, Chavez focused on Haukereid, who was recording his friend’s arrest on his cellphone.

Chavez slapped the phone out of Haukereid’s hand and threatened him with a taser. When Haukereid questioned Chavez’s order to get on the ground, Chavez commanded his dog to attack Haukereid.

Griego, a Purple Heart recipient, is 100 percent disabled veteran and suffers from both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Herrera awarded Griego $450,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after finding that the beating he suffered made his combat injuries worse. Haukereid was awarded $140,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Although the judgement is directed at Chavez, normally his former employer would have to pay the judgment for his actions.

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.

After 50 Years, Dog Tags of Vietnam MIA Returned To Family

kibbey

By Debbie Gregory.

Rescuing a downed American pilot behind enemy lines in Vietnam proved to be Air Force Capt. Richard “Dick” Kibbey’s first and last mission. His HH-3E helicopter was shot down, and Kibbey was listed as missing in action after the crash.

His wife, Mary Ann Kibbey, never gave up hope that her husband would come home.

Her vigil ended when she died in 1979, still wondering about the fate of her husband.

The couple’s children finally got some closure when Kibbey’s dog tags were returned after being discovered by a Vietnamese farmer near the crash site. They were presented to the family by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey during a ceremony at Patrick Air Force Base.  Kibbey was also posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for valor in combat.

For the Kibbey children, brothers Rick, Dave, John and sister Terry, the discovery of the dog tags has rekindled hope that their father’s remains will be found and returned home. The children hope to eventually reunite their parents by interring them side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Families like the Kibbeys represent American endurance and pride,” said Air Force Col. Kurt Matthews. “Throughout our history, military families have served as the warriors of the home front, sacrificing much.”

Mary Ann maintained a large collection of magazines, hoping that her missing husband could read them and catch up on world events after returning from captivity.

“It always kind of touched me that she was trying to keep him up to date,” John Kibbey said.

Col. Matthews also said that it was appropriate that the ceremony was held at Patrick Air Force Base, home to the 920th Rescue Wing, which is a combat search-and-rescue unit.

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.

New Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

It looks like big changes may be on the horizon for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The “forever” GI Bill, officially titled the “Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017″ looks to be a broad, permanent bill of rights for student veterans and their families. And it has a pretty good chance of passing through Congress.

Named for Harry W. Colmery, the past American Legion national commander who hand-wrote the original GI Bill in 1944, the proposal contains reforms to benefit Purple Heart recipients, reservists, veterans’ surviving dependents, and victims of for-profit school closures.

If the bill, introduced on July 13th  by House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman and Republican Rep. Phil Roe, is passed by Congress, it will affect veterans who become GI Bill-eligible after January 1, 2018.

Major changes would include:

  • The elimination of the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on veteran education benefits
  • A permanent change to the program’s name- just “GI Bill”
  • The guarantee of full veteran benefits for ALL Purple Heart recipients
  • Help for victims of predatory for-profit schools
  • Assistance for survivors and dependents by extending Yellow Ribbon eligibility to those survivors
  • Changing housing allowances for student veterans to the same BAH as similarly situated active-duty service members

The Student Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Got Your Six, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors assisted in putting the bill together and readying it for approval.

“This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

What do you think?

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.

Veterans Groups Agree on Four GI Bill Changes

GI Bill (1)

By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, thirty-five veteran groups banded together and stalled a congressional hearing.

The groups were in the U.S. Capital to weigh in on changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  They want change and to close some loopholes.

While they agree on more than they disagree on, the area of disagreement concerns whether or not to charge new enlistees for their GI Bill benefit.
The areas of agreement include:

  • There should be a fix to a Pentagon deployment authorization that is unfairly preventing thousands of Reservists and Guardsmen from earning GI Bill benefits. About 4,700 Reservists and Guardsmen who deployed under Title 10, Section 12304b have been restricted from accumulating education benefits.
  • Also in agreement among veteran groups is a measure to bring the mobilization authority up to par with active-duty entitlements
  • Expanding eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to surviving spouses and children of servicemembers killed in the line of duty. The program allows veterans to attend schools or enroll in programs that cost more than the GI Bill tuition cap.
  • Expanding full GI Bill benefits to all Purple Heart recipients. Currently, a veteran must be medically retired from the military or have 36 months of active-duty service to qualify.  There are approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients who aren’t eligible for full education benefits.  If you’ve been wounded on the battlefield, you’ve met the service requirement.
  • Assisting student veterans whose schools close. Last year, for-profit ITT Technical Institute closed its doors, and thousands of veterans who attended the campuses were unable to recover lost education benefits. The situation has also happened with other for-profit schools that have closed.

The major issue that these groups cannot reach consensus on which has divided veteran groups is the Post 9/11 GI Bill expansion and funding it.   It has been recommended by some of the veteran groups that new enlistees would pay $2,400 over a two year period to opt into this benefit.

Some Veteran groups have described this as “a tax on troops”.

There will be further discussions between veteran groups on whether to charge servicemembers for the GI Bill.

Tell us what you think and check out the multitude of educational information on our site militaryconnection.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.

Purple Heart Faker Got VA Benefits & House

blackstone

By Debbie Gregory.

An attack of appendicitis while serving in the military doesn’t earn you any benefits or accolades. So, in a case of stolen valor, former Marine Brandon Blackstone used another Marine’s combat story to get years of disability benefits and a free house.

In 2004, Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms, CA. So did Casey Owens. Both men deployed to Iraq.

Casey was critically injured and lost his legs when his Humvee hit an anti-tank mine. He committed suicide in 2014 after a decade of suffering from numerous surgeries, brain injury and severe pain.

Although he may have actually witnessed the event, Blackstone wasn’t ever injured in Iraq. But he was evacuated with appendicitis. Owens’ Marine buddies say they believe Blackstone took key details of Owens’ combat injury and made them his own so he could bilk the government and charities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a rare prosecution, Blackstone has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and he will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.

Blackstone claimed he had a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after “his” Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.

After receiving a 100% disability rating, Blackstone began receiving disability benefits from the VA, which he received for nine years. Claiming to have a Purple Heart, Blackstone was also awarded free house from the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

Blackstone immersed himself in the veteran community. But that proved to be his undoing when other 7/1 Marines exposed him as a fraud.

Blackstone pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

Justin Sparks, Blackstone’s defense lawyer, disagreed that Blackstone was stealing Casey Owens’ story, and claimed that his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq, just not in combat. He also said that a higher-ranking Marine “informally” awarded Blackstone a Purple Heart medal, but it wasn’t an official award.

“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”

At the end of the day, what Blackstone did was disgraceful.

Purple Hearts Awarded to Marines Injured in March Attack

four marines

By Debbie Gregory.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently visited a firebase in Iraq to award Purple Hearts to four Marines injured in a March rocket attack carried out by the Islamic State group.

“In all the years, I have not awarded anybody a Purple Heart on the ground where they received the Purple Heart,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Dunford, who served as Marine Corps commandant before taking on the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted to show his support and get a firsthand look at what the Marines at the base are doing.

The Marines were injured in an attack that claimed the life of Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin have been awarded the Purple Heart.

Cardin’s death is the second combat death since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. The March 19th attack by Islamic State group militants occurred when a rocket attack was fired upon a coalition on a small fire base in northern Iraq. The Marines were part of the Camp Lejeune-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which deployed from Norfolk Naval Station as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in October.

Dunford did not take any media with him when he presented the Purple Hearts. He said afterwards that he did not want anone to get the impression that he was looking for a “photo op.”

Marines have repelled at least one attack by ISIS militants since Cardin was killed.

“Two enemy [fighters were] killed in that operation, the rest ran away in fear,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said on March 21.

The ISIS rocket expert believed responsible for the March 19 attack on the base was killed in an April 3 drone strike.

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.

Awards and Accolades for Train Heroes: Military Connection

Awards and Accolades for Train Heroes

By Debbie Gregory.

When the Air Force sought to honor Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone for his heroic actions in stopping a terrorist gunman on a French train this summer, the options were limited.

Since the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones, Stone was not eligible for traditional valor medals like the Bronze Star or Silver Star. Those medals are limited to formal combat zones or military operations against a specified enemy.

The Air Force opted to give Stone an Airman’s Medal, an honor that technically ranks above the Bronze Star in the military’s official medals “order of precedence.”

President Obama met with Stone, U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, who also participated in the takedown of gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani. The president said the three young Americans represented “the very best of America and the American character.”

The White House visit was just one of the accolades the service members received Thursday. In addition to his Airman’s Medal, Stone was also awarded a Purple Heart at a Pentagon ceremony. Skarlatos is receiving the Soldier’s medal, and Sadler is getting a civilian award. Stone will reportedly be promoted two ranks, bypassing the level of senior airman to reach staff sergeant.

The three friends have already been awarded France’s highest decoration, the Legion D’honneur, for their heroism. They were also honored with a parade on September 11th in Sacramento.

In an interesting turn of events, Skarlatos has teamed up with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold to compete on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. He danced a foxtrot to Afrojack’s “Ten Feet Tall” with partner Arnold, receiving rave reviews. In less than a month, the 22-year-old’s dancing inexperience seems to have been eradicated, along with his anonymity.

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: Victims of Ft. Hood Shooting Receive Benefits

Purple Heart

By Debbie Gregory.

November 5, 2009 is a day that will always live in the memory of anyone who was based at Fort Hood. That fateful Thursday, former Maj. Nidal Hasan entered his workplace, the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, and opened fire on its occupants. Hasan was convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder for the thirteen lives lost that day, and a further 32 counts of attempted murder for the 32 people wounded in the attack.

The victims of the shooting, named the deadliest attack on a U.S. military installation, were awarded the Purple Heart on April 10th.  Now the Army is providing all possible benefits to the victims.

The announcement came from Army Secretary John McHugh, who said, “I intend to ensure that the soldiers receiving the Purple Heart under the expanded criteria also receive all other related benefits for which they are eligible.”

McHugh has ordered the payment of hostile fire pay for those Purple Heart recipients “killed, injured, or wounded” in the attack, as well as combat-related special compensation for retired soldiers whose disability is attributable to an injury for which they were awarded the Purple Heart.

“After making the determination that the victims of the Fort Hood attack are now eligible for the Purple Heart, it seems only right and fair that these soldiers also receive the benefits it traditionally entails,” McHugh said. “That’s why I directed an expedited process to make certain that happens.”

After a years-long battle by the victims and their families in the aftermath of the shooting, McHugh and Congress made a decision to change the medal’s eligibility criteria.

“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria has prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” McHugh said in a statement at the time.

The change in critera and eligibility wasn’t only mandated for those involved in the Fort Hood attack. The change  has allowed Pvt. William Long and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula to each be awarded the Purple Heart. Pvt Long was killed and Pvt. Ezeagwula was severely wounded when Abdulhakim Muhammad opened fire on a Little Rock, Arkansas recruiting station, where the soldiers were standing outside. The two were part of a recruiting program called “hometown recruiting assistance,” under which soldiers tell their stories to potential recruits.

Muhammad was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Army is continuing to look into whether there are other soldiers previously determined to be ineligible for the Purple Heart who may now qualify under the expanded criteria.

“Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe here is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal,” McHugh said.

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Military Connection: Victims of Ft. Hood Shooting Receive Benefits: By Debbie Gregory