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At Ease!

A blog about veterans affairs

Service dogs no joke

Rich Liebson

In his first piece of legislation as U.S. Senator from Minnesota, former comedian Al Franken is asking congress to create a pilot program to provide service dogs for injured veterans.

I’ve written about these amazing dogs before and have seen first hand how they can help wounded soldiers, amputees and those who are paralized cope with both the physical demands of every day living and provide emotional comfort.

Read this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to find out more about Franken’s proposal and the story behind it.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 at 1:58 pm |
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Cold Warriors could get tax break

Rich Liebson

Miss New York State Alyse Zwick and state Assemblywoman Amy Paulin will meet with southern Westchester veterans on Monday (July 20) to urge Gov. Paterson to sign a bill that would increase property tax exemptions for Cold War veterans and extend the property tax break to Cold Warriors who live in co-operative apartment buildings.

The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Eastchester VFW post located at 433 White Plains Road.

Also on hand will be County Legislators Vito Pinto and Jim Maisano, both veterans and sponsors of the bill in Westchester.

In a press release, Paulin said she sponsored the bill and pushed it through in Albany because “all veterans who give their time to our country, both in times of war and times of peace, are at risk for harm and should be afforded equal treatment and benefits.”

Click here to read the bill on the state assembly website.

Zwick, a Westchester native, is a dedicated activist for veterans issues and spokesperson for the United Veterans Council, will be competing for the Miss America title in January.

“I’m delighted to be back home supporting veterans issues,” she said. “As Miss New York, my agenda is entirely directed toward the interests of our nation’s veterans. I urge Governor Paterson to sign this bill.”

The bill was sent to the governor on July 13. He has 10 days to sign it into law.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Friday, July 17th, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
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Female vets face VA privacy problems

Rich Liebson

I joined the Army in 1976 – the first year of the “all volunteer” military following the end of the draft. A lot of women did too, in record numbers, and it quickly became obvious that changes had to be made.

Back then, sexist remarks and worse were pretty common and NCOs tended to spend more time chuckling about complaints than doing anything about them.

A generation later, while the military’s treatment of female service members has certainly improved, women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to encounter unequal and sometimes degrading situations at VA hospitals, according to a government audit released this week.

Click here to read the Associated Press report on the audit. The story quotes Patricia Hayes, chief consultant of the veterans strategic health care group at the VA, who said that the avency recognizes the care given to women isn’t as good as what’s offered to men, but it’s made changes and will continue to do so.

The story also notes that the VA provided health care to 281,000 women veterans in 2008, a 13 percent increase from 2006. The number of female veterans is expected to increase by 17 percent over the next 20 years.

Hayes said that changes underway “will build the system that will provide care equal to the health care needs of all America’s veterans, regardless of gender.” Hayes said.
Let’s hope so.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
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First ‘Nam casualties remembered

Rich Liebson

Fifty years ago this week, U.S. Army Maj. Dale Buis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand were in the mess hall watching a movie when “terrorists” attacked their compound in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, killing them both and making them the first casualties in what became the Vietnam War.

“It was a minor incident in a faraway place,” Stanley Karnow told the Associated Press.

Karnow was Time magazine’s chief Asian correspondent at the time, making is first trip to Saigon. He heard about the attack and wrote a small story.

Buis and Ovnand were remembered in a ceremony yesterday at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. You can read the entire AP report here.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that these two guys would be the first in a memorial to 50,000-some others,” Karnow said.

Few did. May they, and all who followed them, rest in peace.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
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More female homeless veterans

Rich Liebson

The number of homeless female U.S. veterans has doubled during the last decade, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

Our friends at the VA told the newspaper that as more women serve in combat zones, the share of female veterans who end up homeless, while still relatively small at an estimated 6,500, has nearly doubled. Many have the added burden of being single mothers.

Click here to read the entire story.

Homelessness among veterans has been an issue in this country for decades. Makes you wonder what the government in general and the VA in particular are doing about it, other than reporting the numbers.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
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Father’s Day

Rich Liebson

Yesterday was Father’s Day and I had a great time with my two kids. I started thinking about my dad, who died of agent orange related cancer at the age of 47 and missed the rewards of being a good father.

He only lived long enough to see two of his five kids graduate from high school and didn’t see any of us graduate from college. He never got to see that all of us somehow managed to to become productive adults – no criminals or ne’er do wells among us. He never got to see or dote on any of his now six grandchildren either.

Dad, an Air Force “lifer,” was away a lot when we were growing up – year-long trips to Vietnam and Thailand and six-month “temporary” assignments to Spain, England, Africa, and on and on. We always missed him. As a father myself now, I realize how much he probably missed us too.

Nonetheless, Dad, and we, were luckier than many others. No matter where he went, how long he went for, or how dangerous it was, he always came home. Many of those who serve their country never do.

I remember a few friends who lost their dads in Vietnam. When the blue staff car with the general’s star insignia rolled into base housing, we kids knew that it wasn’t coming to deliver good news. We all used to run home to make sure it wasn’t coming to our house. Most times, the family moved off the base pretty quickly after notification was made. We usually never got a chance to say goodbye to them, or find out what happened to them.

I was reminded of that today by this story that appeared in the Stars & Stripes. In what has become a tradition at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., relatives and friends of the fallen left messages and placed 2,000 roses at the Wall for Father’s Day. For some reason, it made me feel sad and glad at the same time. Sad, because it brought back a few painful memories about what for the most part was a great life growing up as a “military brat,” and glad, because it’s good to see that four decades later, the dads who never made it home are still in our collective hearts.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 3:01 pm |
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The VA doesn’t hurry up; you wait

Rich Liebson

You put in your claim with the VA and you wait. After a while, you start to wonder if anyone is dealing with it of if it’s just sitting on a desk or buried in a file somewhere.

Chances are, you’re right.

The Associated Press is reporting that Department of Veterans Affairs will soon have a backlog of 1 million claims waiting to be processed, despite hiring an army (pun intended) of people over the past two years to handle them.

You can read the entire report here. Sounds like they need to get some drill sergeant types in there to get the processors motivated.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Friday, June 19th, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
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Veterans Appreciation Day

Rich Liebson

Yonkers will give thanks those who served on Saturday (June 20) at its 4th Annual Veterans Appreciation Day event to be held at Murray’s Skating Rink, 348 Tuckahoe Road.

The program, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will include food, entertainment, and fun. It’s free, with tickets available by calling local veterans posts or the Yonkers Veterans Services office at 914-377-6700.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Thursday, June 18th, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
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Cemetery honoring “soldiers’ best friends”

Rich Liebson

The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery hosts its annual War Dog Memorial Celebration on Sunday (June 14) with ceremonies to remember the service and sacrifices of thousands of military canines.

The event, open to the public, begins at 1 p.m. when a wreath will be laid at the War Dog Memorial erected in 1923 as a tribute to the 7,000 four-legged veterans that served in World War I.

Also being remembered are all pets that have served humanity, including Seeing Eye dogs, therapy dogs and police and fire dogs.

Iraq veteran Tracy Wolak, a volunteer with the Yonkers Animal Shelter, will discuss the impact the current economy is having on animal shelters nationwide.

The cemetery, located at 75 North Central Park Ave. is a designated Westchester County landmark. For more information click here to see their website.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Friday, June 12th, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
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Girl Scouts sending a taste of home

Rich Liebson

Thousands of samoas, tagalongs, thin mints and other Girl Scout cookies are heading into harm’s way, courtesy of Girl Scouts from throughout Westchester and Putnam.

On Saturday (June 13), hundreds of area scouts will be sending more than 42,000 boxes of the tasty treats to service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 8th annual “Operation Cookie Drop.”

The girls will bring the cookies, donated by local communities,  to the state armory in Valhalla. Soldiers from Fort Dix will be on hand to load them onto three tractor-trailers and take them to the base. From there, they’ll be flown overseas and delivered to troops in the field.

I don’t know if they’ll get a merit badge for their effort, but I’m sure the scouts will make a lot of sweet-toothed GIs very happy.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Wednesday, June 10th, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
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Congrats to Harrison VFW

Rich Liebson

The Curtis Seaman Reed VFW Post 3047 celebrates its 75th anniversary Wednesday (June 10) at it’s 7 p.m. meeting.

The post, named after the first Harrison casualty of World War I, was formed June 12, 1934 and includes members who werved in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The post has been active in raising money to buy calling cards for service men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s a hearty congratulations on your anniversary. Thanks for your service, and keep up the good work.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 9:44 am |
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“Golden Age” vets competing in Alabama

Rich Liebson

More than 700 military veterans, including 40 who served in World War II, are competing in the 23rd National Veterans Golden Age Games, being held in Birmingham, Al.

The games, open to vets who are 55 or older and receive care from VA hospitals, give participants a chance to compete in ambulatory, visually-impaired and wheelchair divisions, according to their ages. Events include swimming, bicycling, bowling, croquet, air rifle, golf, shuffleboard, horseshoes, discus and shot-put.

“The Golden Age Games continue to grow every year, and the athletes who participate are testimony that the spirit of competition, camaraderie and commitment to an actively invigorating lifestyle,” Marilyn Iverson, director of the Veterans Canteen Service, said in a VA press release.  “This spirit not only helps to prevent illness, it strengthens the hearts and rejuvenates the soul.”

Te read more about the games and see a video of the competition, click this link at the VA website.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 at 3:33 pm |
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Little help!

Rich Liebson

I know I’ve been VERY lax in blogging, and I apologise. No excuses. I promise to do better. I need a little help. I’m hoping to write a story for this weekend on the 65th anniverary of the D-Day invasion of France. I’ve done the story several times in the past, and have a list of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam residents who fought on D-Day. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to reach any of them and I’m afraid most have passed away.

If you know anyone from our coverage area who was involved in D-Day and might be willing to be interviewed and photographed sometime this week, please let me know. You can post a message here, e-mail me at rliebson@lohud.com or call me at 914-694-3534 and leave a message. I’d really appreciate it.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Monday, June 1st, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
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Solemn homecoming

Rich Liebson

For the first time in 18 years, the media on Sunday night was permitted to cover the solemn ceremony marking the return of a fallen service member from the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base.

Associated Press writer Randall Chase reported that “After receiving permission from family members, the military opened Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to the media Sunday night for the return of the body of Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Va.

The 30-year-old airman was killed April 4 near Helmand province, Afghanistan, when he was hit with an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense said.”

Although there has been some debate over the merits of allowing press coverage of the return of flag-draped caskets, I think it shows not only the human cost of war, but the dignity and respect shown to the fallen.

My Vietnam veteran father would have disagreed. He always hated seeing images of the coffins being taken off of planes that seemed to be a staple of media reports back then. He said that it was a private event and that no civilians, other than family, should be allowed.

I’d be curious to hear what you think. Click here to see the AP report, which includes video of the ceremony.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Monday, April 6th, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
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Vets invited to “College for a Day”

Rich Liebson

Monroe College in New Rochelle is inviting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as older vets  interested in going back to school to its “College for a Day” event on Saturday.

From 1 to 4 p.m. prospective students can get a taste of college life by sitting in on classes from various degree programs taught by Monroe professors.

The college will have staff members on hand who are well-versed in VA educational benefits to help you if you are interested in enrolling. There will also be plenty of information on other financial aid possibilities.

The event is free. If your interested, or want more information, call Judith Redlener at 914-740-6876.

Posted by Rich Liebson on Thursday, March 19th, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
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