Metro-East News

Vet groups uniting to oppose privatized care, defend VA

The nation’s leading veteran services organizations are rallying behind the Department of Veterans Affairs and its beleaguered health-care system, touting the experience of staff, the breadth of services and its holistic approach to care delivery that they argue the private sector cannot match, according to the Pensacola (Fla.) News-Journal.

The VSOs are warning of politicians and groups with agendas that constantly criticize VA health care, refuse to acknowledge reforms and thus advance a camouflaged campaign to dismantle VA health care. They also say it is time to better educate their own members on actions being taken to improve to the health care system that millions of veterans rely upon.

The rally of vet groups is taking shape informally for now. It’s no coincidence that it occurs amid a presidential campaign, and with the congressionally chartered Commission on Care days away from releasing its report on modernizing veterans’ health services over the next 20 years.

***

In one of the most hopeful signs yet in the war against the Islamic State, Iraqi commanders said Sunday that they had completely retaken the city of Fallujah after a month-long battle, depriving Islamic State militants of a symbolic stronghold just an hour’s drive from the capital, according to the Washington Post.

There was a celebratory mood in the city as pickup trucks ferried around cheering members of the security forces, who unloaded volleys of bullets into the air in jubilation. While the city appeared to be under their control, commanders conceded that militants could be hiding out.

The Sunni city 45 miles west of Baghdad was the first in Iraq or Syria to be captured by the Islamic State, about 21 / 2 years ago. Fallujah was a quagmire for U.S. service members during the Iraq War, so there were expectations that it could be a bloody and drawn-out fight this time, too. But the Iraqi military made quick progress after breaking through defense lines outside the city earlier this month.

The loss of Fallujah deals a significant blow to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, which has been steadily shrinking as Iraqi forces have advanced with the help of airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition. Even before the Fallujah operation, the militant group had lost an estimated 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq.

***

Navy Department officials are urging the thousands of sailors and Marines forced out of the military because of their sexuality in previous decades to come forward and appeal their discharge — in a step to restore benefits and right a historical wrong.

The Navy Times is reporting that the Board for Correction of Naval Records can overturn a wide range of records, from counseling letters to detachments for cause, but recently they have been putting the word out to veterans who were separated because of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — and its previous across-the-board ban — that they can have their discharges upgraded and their reenlistment codes or reason codes changed to reflect a post-DADT world.

“If you were discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ come in,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a June 8 speech at a Pentagon event for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. “The Board of Corrections for Naval Records will take a look at changing that discharge characterization … If you have colleagues that were discharged under that, ask them to come in — if it’s under the regulations, get that discharge characterization changed.”

***

Less than 8 percent of veterans expelled from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy have applied to upgrade their discharges to honorable, or strip references to their sexual orientation from their record, according to the Associated Press.

In the nearly five years since the repeal of the policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, fewer than 1,000 people (out of the more than 13,000 people who were expelled) have sought corrections, according to data the military provided to The Associated Press.

Many veterans simply don’t know it’s an option, said Scott Thompson, executive director of the Board for Correction of Naval Records. The boards have always existed without a lot of internal or external advertisement, he said.

Veterans and the veterans’ advocates agreed there’s a lack of awareness but cited reasons why veterans wouldn’t correct their record. They may be in jobs where they aren’t affected by what the record says. Going to the board could open up old wounds. Or they may feel it’s not worth the effort, or don’t know where to start.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

  Comments