Archives for 2011
December 21, 2011
VA Launches Facebook Pages for All 152 Medical Centers
Strategy Enables Returning Vets to Engage with VA at the Local Level
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that all of its 152 medical centers are now actively represented on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site.
“This event marks an important milestone in the overall effort to transform how VA communicates with Veterans and provide them the health care and benefits they have earned,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Veterans and their families told us from the beginning that they want to engage and they want relevant information delivered at the local level. By leveraging Facebook, the Department continues to expand access to VA, and embrace transparency and two-way conversation.”
The process that began with a single Veterans Health Administration Facebook page in 2008 has now produced over 150 Facebook pages, 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page, and the VAntage Point blog. Additionally, in June 2011, VA produced a Department-wide social media policy that provides guidelines for communicating with Veterans online. The overarching strategy is designed to help break down long-perceived barriers between the Department and its stakeholders.
“Veterans of all eras are depending on us to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Brandon Friedman, VA’s director of online communications, and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “With more troops returning home, we also have a responsibility to connect with the thousands of Servicemembers who have been—and will be—entering our system. They’re using social media, so that’s where we need to be. Facebook helps us do that.”
“We are very pleased to have pioneered social media in VA, and now our VA medical centers across the nation are all engaged,” said Dr. Robert Petzel, under secretary for health. “We are committed to helping Veterans understand their benefits and receive the health care their service has earned them.”
VA clinicians can’t discuss the specific health concerns of individual Veterans on Facebook, but that doesn’t prevent staff from monitoring VA’s sites closely each day—and providing helpful information to Veterans when they can. In the last year, for instance, VA’s Crisis Line counselors have successfully intervened on Facebook in cases where Veterans have suggested suicidal thoughts or presented with other emotional crises.
“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected and we are excited to see government agencies using our service to better to connect with citizens, provide information, and deliver services,” said Don Faul, Facebook’s vice president of online operations, a former U.S. Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “We want to do all we can to support Veterans, so we’re pleased to see the Department of Veterans Affairs using Facebook connect with Veterans in an authentic and engaging way.”
VA currently has over 345,000 combined Facebook subscribers (or, “fans”). The Department’s main Facebook page has over 154,000 fans and its medical centers have a combined subscribership of over 69,000. The Department plans to continue expanding its Facebook presence while also focusing on bringing Twitter to every VA medical center as well.
For more information, please visit the sites below:
· Directory of All VA Social Media Sites:
· VA Facebook Page Directory:
# # #
December 29, 2011
Rules Liberalized for Veterans with Undiagnosed Illnesses
Application Window Extended for Five Years
WASHINGTON – Veterans of the Persian Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses have an additional five years to qualify for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Not all the wounds of war are fully understood,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, Veterans are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.”
A recent change in VA regulations affects Veterans of the conflict in Southwest Asia. Many have attributed a range of undiagnosed or poorly understood medical problems to their military services. Chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations are among the possible causes.
At issue is the eligibility of Veterans to claim VA disability compensation based upon those undiagnosed illnesses, and the ability of survivors to qualify for VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
Under long-standing VA rules, any undiagnosed illnesses used to establish eligibility for VA benefits must become apparent by Dec. 31, 2011. The new change pushes the date back to Dec. 31, 2016.
Veterans or survivors who believe they qualify for these benefits should contact VA at 1-800-827-1000.
Further information about undiagnosed illnesses is available online at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar and www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp
# # #
Buffalo Soldier Isaac Rice’s story is an historically correct epic of love, hatred, and redemption. It unfolds amid the violence of the American Civil War, Indian Wars, Reconstruction, and spillover bloodshed from a Mexican Revolution. Isaacis beset by utterly unforgettable characters – a Confederate guerilla, a Union cavalryman, a black female activist inMississippi’s Constitutional Convention, a Mescalero Apache warrior, and a Mexican nurse. Along with tragedy, they bring history and humor into Isaac’s life.
Faces of the 92nd in Italy
In 1992, responding to pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, the US Army commissioned a study to ascertain why no African-American soldiers had earned any of the 457 Medals of Honor awarded during World War II. It examined the records of those earning the Distinguished Service Cross and as a result, seven African-Americans received the Medal of Honor, including Lieutenants Baker and Fox from the 92nd Infantry Division for action in Italy.
“America has a conscience, and it’s clearing its conscience, thank God.” Lt. Vernon J. Baker, Company C, 370 Regiment, 92nd Infantry at his Medal ceremony.
President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to Lt. Vernon Baker on January 13, 1997. Lt. Baker was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and was orphaned when he four. He was raised by his grandparents. When he tried to enlist in the Army the first time, in 1941, he was turned away, the recruiter stating “We don’t have any quotas for you people.” He tried again three weeks later with a different recruiter and was accepted. He died at his home in Idaho in 2010 at age 90. The Official Citation for his Act of Valor* describes his actions: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty in action on 5 and 6 April 1945, Lieutenant Baker advanced at the head of his weapons platoon, along with Company C’s three rifle platoons, toward their objective; Castle Aghinolfi—a German mountain strong point on the high ground just east of the coastal highway above Pietrasanta in Versilia.
Moving more rapidly than the rest of the company, Lieutenant Baker and about 25 men reached the south side of a draw some 250 yards from the castle within two hours. In reconnoitering for a suitable position to set up a machine gun, Lieutenant Baker observed two cylindrical objects pointing out of a slit in a mount at the edge of a hill. Crawling up and under the opening, he stuck his M-1 into the slit and emptied the clip, killing the observation post’s two occupants. Moving to another position in the same area, Lieutenant Baker stumbled upon a well-camouflaged machine gun nest, the crew of which was eating breakfast. He shot and killed both enemy soldiers.
After Captain John F. Runyon, Company C’s Commander, joined the group, a German soldier appeared from the draw and hurled a grenade which failed to explode. Lieutenant Baker shot the enemy twice as he tried to flee. Lt. Baker then went into the draw alone. There he blasted the concealed entrance to another dugout with a hand grenade, shot a German soldier who emerged after the explosion, tossed another grenade into the dugout and entered firing his submachine gun, killing two more Germans. As Lt. Baker climbed back out of the draw, enemy machine gun and mortar fire began to inflict heavy casualties on the group of 25 US soldiers, killing or wounding about two-thirds of them.
The reinforcements they expected did not arrive, and Capt. Runyon ordered a withdrawal in two groups. Lieutenant Baker volunteered to cover the withdrawal of the first group, which consisted of mostly walking wounded, and to remain to assist in the evacuation of the more seriously wounded. During the second group’s withdrawal, Lieutenant Baker, supported by covering fire from one of his platoon members, destroyed two machine gun position (previously bypassed during the assault) with hand grenades. In all, Lieutenant Baker accounted for nine dead enemy soldiers, elimination of three machine gun positions, an observation post, and a dugout. On the following night, Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.” _____________________________________________________________________________
“That will be right on you. I can’t do that.” the artillery officer shouted. “Fire it!” Fox yelled back.Lieutenant John Fox calling in the artillery fire that would kill him. December 26, 1944.
Solace learned of the World War II battles in her adopted town, and learned of the help the villagers’ received from the American soldiers that served here. She gathered the villagers’ memories of the battle that began on Christmas Day, 1944. One day near her home, she came upon the stone that remembered John Fox, and so began her research to learn why there was no other memorial honoring the brave soldiers the villagers remembered. In the days before the internet was public_htmled, it wasn’t easy.
Ms. Wales’ efforts at researching the story on the US side had met a dead end at the Pentagon. Finally, in 1994, she found the 92nd Infantry veteran’s group. They were able to put her in touch with the Artillery officer, Otis Zachery, one of Fox’s closest friends, and she was able to fill in important parts of the story. Fox’s widow, Arlene, and his daughter, Sandra, and the 92nd veteran’s group, organized the pressure to recognize the soldiers who fought at Sommocolonia – especially since more of the story was now available. On January 13, 1997, First Lieutenant John R. Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1943, although it was a sacrifice, Ivan Houston had not doubted that he would join the Army and fight for his country. Although he was in the midst of getting his college education at his father’s alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, he signed up. His father had fought in World War I and his great grandfather had fought in the Civil War. But no young man of 19 would be sufficiently world-wise to be ready for the experiences he faced. His world in Southern California had not prepared him for the segregated and racist institution he would find in the Army. His track and field experience hadn’t sufficiently prepared him for the 100+ degree temperatures and the forced marches in an Arizona training camp. Attending a fully integrated Berkeley was not much use to him as the only college man in a segregated barracks where many could not read.
Mr. Houston entered the combat zone in August, 1944, as part of the 370th Regimental Combat Team, stationed at Cascina on the southern bank of the Arno. The German / Italian Fascist forces lay to the north. The next nine months are a long series of attacks and counterattacks and troop movements as the Allies try to overcome the German forces arrayed along and in front of the Gothic line. Beginning the war as a battalion clerk, Ivan was in position to see and record his unit’s action. After the Arno came action in the Garfagna, then Versilia, and then back to the Garfagna.
As the war in Italy neared an end, Ivan tells of how his unit raced up the Garfagna and entered the Magra River valley near Casola. The units outran their support, but also surprised the German forces. Quickly taking Aulla, and then Terrarossa, they liberated Pontremoli on April 26, 1945.
The assistence of partisans, partigiani, is a background throughout the action. Every US unit was assisted by local interpreters, and partisans advised constantly on local conditions and helped coordinate and participated in attacks. For the final push to Pontremoli, over 1,000 partigiani helped clear the mountain areas.
In reading Mr. Houston’s book, one reads of the daily considerations of this topsy-turvey world. It is part of America, but distant from the one we know. The world is at war, and giant institutions thrash awkwardly with the consequences, creating a kaleidoscope of changing reality.
Gradually, the reader begins to admire the qualities that allowed Ivan to endure and survive and succeed. He is always amiable. He always gives respect, and is very slow to judge people. He is diligent in his duties, and he is a patriot. Finally we understand, he is America, he is the dutiful common man without which nothing works. If there are not countless soldiers like Mr. Houston, there are no Generals, there are no Medals of Honor, and there is no democracy
Mr. Houston survived the war, though he was wounded by shrapnel and received a Purple Heart, and he suffered a loss of hearing from the artillery concussion. But his life resumed, and he succeeded. He returned to Berkeley and received his degree in 1948. He’s been married to Philippa for over 60 years and they have three children. He was the CEO of one of the largest African-American owned businesses in the US. He served on numerous Boards of Directors, including Kaiser Aluminum and Metromedia, and gave back to his community, including as Chairman of the Los Angeles Urban League. He deserves to stand proud, and we salute him. We agree with Bruno Tintori and the Italian people’s opinion of the 92nd Infantry, as expressed at the end of ‘Black Warriors’…
“Bruno Tintori’s expression of gratitude for what the Buffalo Soldiers had done for Italy, fighting in the rugged North Apennine mountains and freeing them from the yoke of Fascism and Nazism, will always be remembered. To the Italians we were first class. To the Italians we were heroes.”
SFGate Excellent article about Lt. Fox, the 92nd, and Solace Wales .
Early in 1943, Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini are near the apex of their powers. In the same year, Will, a lumberjack and amateur baseball player, and Dena, a beautiful and head-strong co-ed, fall in love.
While a world war rages, their dreams are threatened, first by Dena’s mother’s classism. Dena’s mother declares Will is “not good enough” for her daughter and orders Dena to stop seeing him. Dena vows never to give up her love for Will and won’t have anything to do with the suitor, a young teacher, her mother chooses for her.
Meanwhile, a group of powerful North Carolina businessmen have designs to exploit Will’s extraordinary baseball skills for their financial gain. The carefully laid baseball business scheme fails when the Ku Klux Klan attacks Will’s family. Dena and Will are forced to separate as he flees for his life. As he departs, Dena provides Will with writings of Langston Hughes, whose poems and columns become central to Will’s determination to survive all hardships and reunite with Dena. Will finds refuge in the US Army’s 366th Infantry Regiment and the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division fighting Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Italy.