Pennsylvania BSF Meets with Shinseki and Sestak

SestakPlease welcome guest blogger, BSF, Veterans Co-Coordinator, Jim White.

There are over 6,000 Penna guard members returning home from long tours in the Middle East.  Today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, BSF had the opportunity to discuss the health care available to our Active Duty, Pa. National Guard and Reserve members with the Secretary of the VA., General Shinseki, and Congressman Joe Sestak.

It’s clear to this advocate their dedication to these matters are most important.   Gen. Shinseki asked BSF to send him a copy of BSF’s national survey of military families to review with his committees. And I will send it out to his office and Congressman Sestak’s office today.

ShinsekiRep. Sestak’s office handled over 2,000 cases this year alone from family members of military service members, three times the national average. Both Rep. Sestak and Gen. Shinseki leaders are in tune with the needs of family members and both want to hear from us. I believe this as both looked me direct in the eyes and made it a point to let me know I should connect with them if BSF ever needs assistance in Pennsylvania, or across the nation.

Jim WhiteBSF family also assisted with the second annual veterans transition stand down this past Saturday. Assisting over 200 plus transitions of veterans, Guard and Reserves. Pictured is the wing commander and Sr. Jag officer at the 911 air wing outside Pittsburgh who volunteered on this 90 degree day. Already today I got call from the Base MWR officer wanting to know how they can help with our Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces in Western Pa.

Building bridges, and sharing the pride of service in the BSF traditions in Pa.,

I remain, VR. Jim white-BSF-Pittsburgh, Pa.

Service Dogs for Veterans

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Oprah’s show last Thursday highlighted the Puppies Behind Bars’ Dog Tags Program. I first became aware of this awesome program when Sen. Al Fraken (D-MN) introduced his first piece of legislation in the Senate seeking to fund a program providing service dogs to veterans.

Sen. Franken joined with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) to introduce the Service Dogs for Veterans Act. Sen. Isakson saw firsthand what the love and comfort of a companion animal can do for someone suffering. Before his mother, Julia, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1998, one of the few things that brought her noticeable joy was her interaction with service dogs at an Alzheimer’s facility where she spent her last years. Their bill was rolled into the Department of Defense Authorization Bill, which was passed by the Senate.

I’m crazy about dogs, and I think that their power to heal and comfort is unsurpassed. I never really considered the impact of companion animals on our wounded warriors until I read Jay Kopelman’s book From Baghdad to America: Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava. Kopelman, a Marine veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, writes about his transition back to civilian life with help from Lava, who is not an “official” service dog. Needless to say, I cried like a baby nearly the entire time reading his story. Luckily, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare airport when I picked up his book and reading it while flying on a large jet, so it’s not like anyone saw me.

When Sen. Franken introduced his bill, I started doing some more research on service dogs for veterans, and I came across this Time article and this Wall Street Journal article. The WSJ article told the story of Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and now suffers from severe PTSD and other war-related ailments. Capt. Montalvan was the inspiration behind Sen. Franken’s proposed legislation, and he is also the proud recipient of Tuesday, one of dogs from Puppies Behind Bars’ Dog Tags program.

PhotobucketPhoto by Leslie Granda-Hill

You can watch his story here and read his first person account here.

Besides tugging on my heartstrings for my love of dogs and our military, I am most impressed by the recognition of these charitable organizations and Sen. Franken’s bill of the disabling effects of PTSD and other mental health disorders as a result of war. Our minds are such powerful organs, and when they are damaged, they too need to be treated and given time to heal. Unfortunately, the damage is not visible like the loss of a limb, but the pain and suffering is just as real.

Other charitable organizations are doing great work by providing service dogs to our wounded warriors, including NEADS Canines for Combat Veterans, Freedom Service Dogs, Inc., America’s VetDogs, and Patriot Paws Service Dogs. If you know of any others, please let us know!

Our day at the Beyond Tribute Press Event


On Thursday, May 21st, my husband Charles and I attended the Beyond Tribute Press Event. We were among many dignitaries, including Gen. (Ret.) Wesley Clark and Dr. Jill Biden. The room was filled with veterans and military service organizations that included Blue Star Families, MOAA, American Women Veterans, U. S. Vets, the McCormack Foundation, and others. The program was supposed to commence at 12 noon, but due to all of the excitement in the room, along with the networking, it began a little behind time at about 12:30pm. What a great event!

Beyond Tribute is a not-for-profit organization that has brought together leaders from business, the arts, veterans and civic groups, and ordinary citizens to change how they celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day by transforming holiday sales promotions into fundraising entities that actually help our wounded veterans and their families. Their mission is to “redefine our Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays by engaging the American business community and its customers in a national campaign that will raise charitable dollars to benefit those who are struggling with the wounds of war, including the invisible wounds: PTSD, traumatic brain injury and combat-induced anxiety and depression. Funds raised go directly to top rated charities that help veterans in need throughout the USA.”

Actor and director Bob Balaban emceed the event and gave introductions to the speakers.
The speakers were Gold Star Mothers of America President Georgie Carter Krell, who was very personable (and took a liking to Charles), General (Ret.) Wesley Clark, Carmella LaSpada from the White House Commission on Remembrance (www.remember.gov), and finally, me and my husband. We spoke on our experiences of his two deployments and subsequent combat injuries, his three years at Walter Reed and our involvement with the scandal, and I mentioned Blue Star families. We received a standing ovation!

Please see the following news article for more information about how you can get involved with Beyond Tribute at , and go to the Beyond Tribute website at http://www.beyondtribute.org to sign the pledge.

Go Beyond Tribute for Veterans

This moving email is circulating the internet right now and I wanted to share it with everyone.  Particularly since it involves BSF members Pamela Stokes Eggleston and her husband Charles.  Beyond Tribute is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to making Memorial Day and Veterans Day about more than just shopping.  It’s about teaching Americans to see the days for what they are and to give back to the community even if shopping is involved.

From: Sgt. Charles Eggleston (Ret.) and Pamela Stokes Eggleston
Subject: Go Beyond Tribute for Veterans

Each Memorial Day and Veterans Day, many of us take time to recognize the sacrifices of those men and women who have served in uniform. But around the country, these solemn holidays often end up meaning little more than a chance to buy things on sale.

As a veteran injured in the war in Iraq, I find this so disheartening, as does my family.

Our Story

Charles:

I recently retired from the U.S. Army. I was an active Army soldier, served two tours in Iraq, and was a Warrior in Transition (WIT) at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), where I’ve received treatment for the past three years. I received several duty related injuries during both tours in Iraq, most recently in Mosul, Iraq in 2005. I am a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. The other six soldiers in my unit didn’t make it; and I know just how blessed I am to be here today.

Pamela:

During Charles’ tours, I gained weight and I couldn’t sleep. Although I tried to stay busy working, caring for the house and gardening, I constantly worried about Charles. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army did not have a comprehensive outreach program in place to help me or to reach out to the thousands of spouses, families, and friends left behind to deal with long deployments. When my husband returned to Iraq from his R&R (rest and relaxation), I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest.

Shortly after Charles returned to Iraq, he was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast.  Charles suffered from PTSD and had a mild to moderate TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).  I quickly became Charles’ caregiver.  I didn’t have any experience with these invisible wounds of war and had no support from the Army.  I quickly learned what I needed to know through the internet and in searching out other military families to get us through the tough times.

Due to the trials and tribulations that Walter Reed put my husband through, he has become an advocate for his fellow soldiers, utilizing his time, listening to the call of his heart, and fostering his strong desire to help his wounded comrades in any way possible. We had to fight for so much during Charles’ three-year tenure at Walter Reed, including the right to be respected and the right to receive fair and adequate medical ratings and benefits. I became an unwitting advocate for my husband, writing numerous letters to Congressmen and Senators. We helped bring the many problems at Walter Reed to light.

Charles:

Pamela and I are now both advocates for the military and its families.  It galls us that stores treat the military as simply an advertising hook to get people into stores for Memorial Day sales.  It’s time for those stores to give something back to the military.

There are many veterans and military organizations that are truly vested in helping military families and veterans.  Organizations like the Wounded Warriors Project and other veterans service organizations are vital to filling the gaps in caring for soldiers and their families, particularly when a soldier returns wounded and cannot work for extended periods of time. The burden for this, and many of our military families, is unfair and unjust.  This is where Beyond Tribute can help.

Beyond Tribute

Pamela and I recently became involved with a non-partisan, non-profit group called Beyond Tribute that’s mobilizing people around Memorial Day to convince stores to donate a portion of their holiday weekend proceeds to medical treatment for veterans.  By Veterans Day, we hope to be able to raise significant money for veterans in need from the very businesses that usually capitalize on these solemn holidays.

But before businesses will sign on, they need to see that people are committed to truly honoring former service members. Sign the Memorial Day pledge to shop at Beyond Tribute businesses today and together we can do a lot of good for some people who really need it, starting with this Memorial Day:

http://BeyondTribute.org

As an active duty soldier, I believed in my service.  I was doing the right thing, regardless of political maneuvering back home.  I was serving my fellow soldiers. I was serving America.  I was trying to make a difference.

By signing the pledge to shop at Beyond Tribute businesses on weekends honoring veterans, you’re doing more than committing to making a difference. You’re also showing businesses that their customers will reward them if they do the right thing. Sign the pledge now:

http://BeyondTribute.org

Anyone who has served, or has a loved one who’s served, knows how important this help is.

That’s why people like Walter Cronkite, General Wesley Clark, philanthropist Jerome Kohlberg, and Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City’s Samantha) have joined Beyond Tribute with me and Pamela and pledged to do their shopping at participating businesses, too.

Join us in signing the pledge to do your Veterans Day shopping at Beyond Tribute businesses. Then ask your friends and family to do it, too:

http://BeyondTribute.org

The troops we honor are real people, many of whom have very real injuries. This is something we can all do that will really help them.

Thank you for your support,

Charles and Pamela Eggleston

Pledge Title:   PLEDGE TO GO BEYOND TRIBUTE FOR VETERANS

Body:  Memorial Day and Veterans Day should be about more than honoring veterans, they should be about helping those who have sacrificed their health and well-being in the line of duty.

I pledge to support services for veterans suffering wounds of war by shopping at Beyond Tribute businesses over Veterans Day weekend.

Fields:
[First Name] [Last Name]
[email] [zip]

*** In the interests of full disclosure:  I am a paid new media consultant for Beyond Tribute.  I’m not paid that much, but hey, it’s a nonprofit and a great cause that I believe in.  Steph

Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009

healthcare-symbolSenator Patty Murray, (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced bi-partisan legislation to prepare the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years.

According to her office’s press release the bill, named the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009, will, “address unique needs of women veterans, provide improved care for Military Sexual Trauma, and explore the effects service in Iraq and Afghanistan has had on female veterans.”

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is the lead co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Women have stepped up to serve at unprecedented levels,” said Senator Murray. “Which means the VA is now faced with unprecedented challenges in caring for them as they return home. This bill addresses the unique challenges women face by providing specialized care for the visible and invisible wounds of war. As more women begin to transition home, and step back into lives as mothers, wives, and citizens, the VA must be there for them.”

Dave Gorman, Executive Director of Disable American Veterans (DAV) said, “While significant progress has been made in recent years to remove institutional barriers that often discourage women veterans from seeking assistance at VA facilities, more needs to be done.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (D-AK), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Among other things, the legislation will:

· Require the VA to implement a program to train, educate, and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with sexual trauma

· Require the VA Secretary to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the barriers women are facing in accessing care at the VA.

· Authorize a report to Congress on the effects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the physical, mental, and reproductive health of women who have served there.

· Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care services at the VA.

· Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides readjustment counseling to women veterans in group retreat settings.

For Detailed Information on the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009 visit: http://murray.senate.gov/veterans/women-vets-2009.pdf

UPDATE – Veterans concerns were heard

The President has decided to abandon the controversial proposal to require veterans to use third party health insurance to pay for injuries or illness that are service related.  This was announced yesterday by Speaker Pelosi before a meeting with various veterans groups.  The Speaker was notified by the President calling from Air Force One.  The new budget proposed by the President has garnered praise from these veterans groups due to the increase in funds for the VA, but the plan to require the use of third party health insurance plans did not.    There were many phone calls to congress, emails, letters to the White House – and they were heard and acted on.  As the daughter, mother , mother in law of veterans, and the wife of a future vet, I for one am excited that the voices of members of the military family were heard.

Duties That Are Best Shared – Go Read It!

In the Washington Post last week, Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine Corps reservist, shared a wonderful essay on the divide between the civilian and military worlds.  He writes eloquently about how military veterans (and their families) no longer have the sort of shared cultural and generational experiences like the World War II and even Vietnam generations did.  He reminds us:

As the British general Sir William Butler warned a century ago, “A nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.”

Bogdanos goes on to say:

Without greater understanding between the military and civilian worlds or, better, a return to a synthesis of the two, we risk a future without all of us working toward the same ends — whatever society decides those ends should be. And we risk misusing military force because of misunderstandings about what it can and can’t do or, once used, its being prematurely withdrawn because of unrealistic expectations. The solution is an educated citizenry that understands its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — understands that we are you.

Go read it.

One of the founders of Blue Star Families, Kathy Roth-Douquet, has a similar message in her book AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service – and How It Hurts Our Country, written with Frank Schaefer.  Our civilian leadership is truly hindered by its lack of experience with the military and its failure to understand military service.

The message that Bogdanos and Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer preach is the whole point behind Blue Star Families.  Our goal is to support military families by bridging that gap.  If you haven’t been to our new website to join and to take our military families survey, please do so.

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