Lucy Coffey’s dream of visiting Washington, D.C. came true this weekend. The 108-year-old San Antonio, Texas native arrived with an Honor Flight from Austin Friday night. Her goal was to see the memorials dedicated to her generation’s service and sacrifice during World War II one last time.
As a rising junior at the United States Military Academy at West Point, I was immensely honored and excited to cover Lucy’s visit to D.C. After all, we future generations of soldiers learn the most about the military by hearing the stories of our Veterans.
It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon when I met Lucy at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. She arrived with family members and an entourage of volunteers from the Bexar County Veterans Service Office who assisted her every move. A stroke she suffered about a year ago limited her mobility and the oxygen tube she used hindered her ability to speak, but she still gave me an enthusiastic nod when I asked if she was enjoying her visit.
She was quickly moved into the memorial, where the fragile yet energetic Veteran attended a private tour and a small ceremony and received tokens of appreciation from members of the Women’s Memorial Foundation. As I looked over the different sections of the memorial, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for a woman to be in the service during her time.
Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts was surrounded by fellow paratroopers from 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 173rd Airborne during a media roundtable held at the Pentagon on Tuesday. The former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. answered questions about being presented the country’s highest military award by President Obama the day before and his plans for the future, but he mostly wanted to talk about the men he fought next to in the Battle of Wanat.
Ryan Pitts walks out of the West Wing at the White House in Washington, District of Columbia. (REYNALDO LEAL/U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
The men keep in contact with each other and try to meet up a few times a year. The group even compared the White House ceremony to a family reunion and it seems that was Pitts’ intent all along.
Pitts said his biggest surprise the entire week was that he wasn’t nervous during the ceremony. “I owe it all to the guys,” he said.
While selfless service and humility is not an uncommon trait for the individuals awarded the Medal of Honor, the speed in which Ryan diverts the attention is. For the July 21 ceremony at the White House, Pitts insisted that all of the gold star families from his unit be present. He called them himself saying, “This medal isn’t mine; your loved ones brought us home.”
Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson today told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the Department of Veterans Affairs has taken action on the four recommendations made in the Interim Report of the Office of Inspector General for the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The final report of the IG has not been published.
Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson
“We have taken actions on all of the recommendations in the Inspector General’s interim report on Phoenix which was released in May,” Gibson said. “The Inspector General confirmed we have systemic issues when it comes to patient scheduling and access, and we are working to address this serious issue. We have identified Veterans on wait lists at Phoenix, including those identified by the IG in their interim report, and have reached out to immediately begin scheduling appointments. We have reviewed wait lists nationwide, including the New Enrollee Appointment Request (NEAR) list, and not only are we reaching out to contact those Veterans to get them into clinics, but we have posted the information online so Veterans can review our progress.
Acting Secretary Gibson visited the VA health care system in Phoenix on June 5 as the first of his 13 medical center visits in the past seven weeks.
Below is the text of Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) four interim recommendations, along with the actions VA has taken to implement each:
It’s getting easier to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Why? Because researchers have learned so much about the importance of regularly protecting our skin.
Even using sunscreen is now more commonplace than using “suntan lotion.”
Several studies link skin cancer to overexposure to the sun, and support the need to regularly protect our skin. Now, more and more people opt for sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. What’s more, researchers are telling us that sun exposure may be linked to eye problems, a weakened immune system, age spots, wrinkles and other skin issues. Read More
Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on Tuesday, July 22. This is the 115th National VFW convention and hosts hundreds of Veterans from all over the country.
Watch his remarks in the video above or read the text of his remarks below.
When I left the Army, it felt like I was leaving behind a part of myself. It’s a feeling that many Veterans experience as they transition from military to civilian life. Thankfully, VA was there to point me in the right direction and keep me on track with GI Bill benefits and health care at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center.
The transition can be tough for anyone, but even more so for those who have suffered a traumatic injury, life-changing illness or disease. Let me start by saying this: there is no single road map for recovery. Your best recovery may come from various angles and various methods. The sooner you embrace that idea, the quicker you may recover.
Another equally important point is that your recovery requires your involvement. It won’t just happen to you. And for those of you who are ready for a challenge, ready to fully engage your rehabilitation and move forward with your life, I’ve got something for you.
VA recently announced the availability of up to $8 million in grant funding to provide adaptive sports opportunities for disabled Veterans in their communities. The details of this new program were laid out in the Federal Register, July 1, 2014, and can be viewed under the “Grant Program” tab: http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/. The deadline for submitting grant proposals is Aug. 11, 2014.
Thanking a Veteran means something different to everyone. Some express their gratitude with a simple “Thank You” or a handshake. Others may volunteer at their local Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Not many show their appreciation by swimming across one of the Great Lakes.
Norman Stark is a soon-to-be high school senior who lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. The seventeen-year-old runs cross country, plays lacrosse and competes in triathlons, but has focused on swimming for the past ten months.
“Last May, I had a dream where I couldn’t wake up but I was continuously swimming. I went downstairs and told my Mom that I wanted to swim across Lake Erie. She thought I was insane,” he said.
Norman is the fifth oldest of eight children in the Stark family. It’s safe to say that Norman’s mother Beata has heard it all.
“When he first told us about his dream we said forget about it, but now he has taught us that anything is possible,” Beata said.
Norman didn’t waste any time. He immediately called his mentor, Josh Heynes, who also happens to hold the record for the fastest swim across the 24.3 mile course across the lake. Josh started training Norman in August.
For even the most organized people, unexpected health concerns can turn their life upside down. For those who find themselves in the role of the family caregiver caring for our nation’s Veterans, support is available from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Debra knows. Her son, a young Marine, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. With a spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, he would need 24/7 health care. After getting the news, Debra took a deep breath, grieved the loss of who her son had been, then accepted and loved who he had become. Read More
An estimated 62,000 Surviving Spouses Benefit from Regulation Changes
New burial regulations effective today will now allow VA to automatically pay the maximum amount allowable under law to most eligible surviving spouses more quickly and efficiently, without the need for a written application.
Under former regulations, VA paid burial benefits on a reimbursement basis, which required survivors to submit receipts for relatively small one-time payments that VA generally paid at the maximum amount permitted by law.
“VA is committed to improving the speed and ease of delivery of monetary burial benefits to Veterans’ survivors during their time of need,” said Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. “The recent changes allow VA to help these survivors bear the cost of funerals by changing regulations to get them the benefits more quickly.”
Read the full press release here.
For more information on monetary burial benefits, visit http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp.