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Deported Marine Veteran Comes Home in a Casket

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MCSalas

Deported Marine Veteran Comes Home in a Casket

By Debbie Gregory

Persian Gulf War veteran Lance Cpl. Enrique Salas put his life on the line for the country he called home since he was a six year old boy. How unfortunate for him that his adopted country was unsympathetic to his plight when he brought the after-effects of military service home with him.

Like many of his fellow service members, Salas was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he also struggled with drugs. But it wasn’t war, suicide or drugs that killed him; Salas died on April 12th at age 47, succumbing to complications stemming from injuries suffered in an auto accident.

In 2004, Salas was convicted for possession of a controlled substance for sale, an aggravated felony that made his deportation mandatory. He was deported to Mexico in 2006.

After the accident, Salas received an emergency humanitarian parole visa to cross the border to access better medical care at the University of California, San Diego. While waiting, he suffered the first if two heart attacks, the second while en-route to San Diego, where he was pronounced brain dead. Salas was buried with military honors in a Reedley cemetery beside his younger brother, another fallen Marine.

In 2002, Hector Barajas was deported after pleading guilty to felony charges resulting from issues with alcohol and drugs. He founded the Deported Veterans Support House, known as the Bunker, a shelter for former U.S. military servicemembers who find themselves in the same situation. Last year, Barajas received a pardon from Gov. Jerry Brown, and recently became a U.S. citizen. Barajas though that Salas was headed in that direction as well.

Salas met other deported veterans through the Deported Veterans Support House. Like many of them, Salas learned that had he applied for citizenship anytime prior to his conviction, he could have received U.S. citizenship through his military service. But he was never given that information.

Is Privatization of the VA an Option?

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MCPrivateVA

Is  Privatization of the VA an Option?

By Debbie Gregory

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been offering care since the World War II era, starting with the then-Veterans Administration’s Hometown Program that began in 1945. Now there is talk abounding that the VA is headed towards privatization. But exactly what is the definition of what privatization of the VA would be?

On the VA website, an article titled “Debunking the VA Privatization Myth” quotes House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe saying, “If we’re trying to privatize, we’re not doing a very good job,”…”We’ve gone from 250,000 employees in the VA in 2009 to 370,000 employees, and we’ve gone from a $93.5 billion budget to what the president’s asked this year is $198 billion. It sounds like we’ve been an utter failure if we’re trying to privatize.”

About $72 billion of VA’s budget this fiscal year goes to medical care, and the department has more than 1,200 medical facilities nationwide. But veterans groups contend that the increase has more to do with inflation and increased demands on the VA than anything else.

There is bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill to any type of privatization efforts.

During his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Dr. Ben Carson floated the idea of issuing health care vouchers to veterans, allowing them to choose where to have their care.This would be similar to the  Veterans Choice Program, one of several VA programs through which a Veteran can receive care from a community provider, paid for by VA.

For example, if a veteran needs an appointment for a specific type of care, and the VA cannot provide the care in a timely manner or the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to, then a veteran might be eligible for care through the Veterans Choice Program.

Veterans must receive prior authorization from the VA to receive care from a provider that is part of VA’s VCP network of community providers. The authorization is based on specific eligibility requirements and discussions with the veteran’s VA provider.

The battle over privatization will depend on how much medical care should go outside the department’s existing infrastructure, and what counts as too much reliance on the private sector.

Fallen Air Force Tech Sgt. Approved for Medal of Honor

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MCChapman

Fallen Air Force Tech Sgt. Approved for Medal of Honor

By Debbie Gregory

Air Force Technical Sgt. John “Chappy” Chapman is slated to receive the Medal of Honor, the first airman to receive the designation since the Vietnam War.

Chapman was alone in the thigh-deep snow of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan when scores of Al Qaeda fighters closed in on him. Drone footage revealed that Chapman launched a solo fight against the enemy after his unit had departed.

The Air Force combat controller and six members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were to helicopter-insert to direct air strikes and provide intelligence for conventional troops below them. But their intelligence was flawed, and instead of 200-300 lightly armed Al Qaeda fighters, they faced some 1,000 heavily armed fighters outfitted with heavy machine-guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery.

His citation reads, “From close range he exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds. His engagement and destruction of the first enemy position and advancement on the second position enabled his team to move to cover and break enemy contact.”

Unconscious, Chapman’s teammates believed that he had been killed in the firefight, but low-quality drone footage coupled with video feed from a C-130 showed Chapman alive up to an hour after his teammates left the area.

“It was really grainy. But there was still somebody up there fighting, and you could see that,” Kenny Longfritz, Chapman’s first sergeant at 24th STS, said of the Predator drone footage he viewed after the battle. There was no doubt in his mind, or among many others in the squadron, that it was John.

He would go on to kill more enemy fighters, engaging one al-Qaida fighter in hand-to-hand combat.

“As a daddy, he didn’t want to leave his babies,” his mother, Terry said. “But as a soldier, he wanted to go and serve his country and, as he said, ‘kick ass!’”

 

 

Tricare Could Costs Thousands for Troops to Keep

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MCTricare

Tricare Could Cost Thousands for Troops to Keep

By Debbie Gregory

As of January 1, 2018, Health Net Federal Services took over the TRICARE contract from United Healthcare for beneficiaries in the West region and former North region..

For those who had previously made TRICARE enrollment payments via an automated method of either electronic funds transfers (EFT) or recurring credit card (RCC) with United Healthcare, the arrangement did not transfer over to Health Net, requiring a new registration.

Beneficiaries who missed paying their monthly Tricare premium payments due to the swap must not only make up the months of missed payments, but they also have to pay one or two months in advance to reinstate coverage. Fixing the issue could cost them thousands of dollars out of pocket all at once.

Tricare officials said all beneficiaries using those plans should check to make sure their payment information is up to date, including those who updated it by late December as instructed in the November notices.

That’s because a separate Tricare system freeze over December caused an unknown number of updates made before the due date to be lost, officials said last month.

Officials with military support organizations that represent Tricare beneficiaries said the system needs to work to make sure no one is dropped.

That’s why they are trying to get the word out: if payment is not received before the last paid-through date, which in many cases was January 1st, coverage will be canceled within 150 days. That means thousands of Tricare users will be dropped from the coverage books by the end of May if the information is not updated.

The TRICARE West Region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas (areas of Western Texas only), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

 

 

The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

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MCLCBEasley

The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

By Debbie Gregory

Former Lance Corporal Brian Easley had fallen on hard times. The 33-year-old former Marine was barely getting by on a small monthly disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Back aches, a marriage and child in quick succession, his mother’s death and mental illness started a downward spiral that Easley couldn’t escape. The last thing he needed was an issue with his disability check, but that occurred when the check mysteriously failed to materialize.

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line and a trip to the VA’s Regional Benefits Office in Atlanta failed to resolve the issue.

Out of desperation, Easley entered a Wells Fargo bank and claimed he was carrying C-4 explosive. He took two employees hostage and alerted the authorities and the media. He had no intention of robbing the bank or hurting the hostages. His goal was to draw attention to his plight.

Diagnosed with PTSD and suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia, Easley was already on the edge. His monthly VA disability check came to $892. When July 1 2017 came and went, and the expected funds were not in the account, Easley began to panic.

That panic led the soft-spoken, shy veteran to snap.

While it turned out that his check had been garnished due to a tuition issue, he was suffering from a severe mental illness, one that should have been recognized by the VA and dealt with accordingly.

Many of the law enforcement officers who responded to the crisis at the bank were former military. Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register served on a mobile reconnaissance team in Afghanistan with the 20th Special Forces Group. Sgt. Andre Bates, the lead hostage negotiator, served in the Marine Corps, as did Joel Preston, the commander of the tactical team, and Officer Dennis Ponte, the sniper who eventually ended the situation when he took Easley’s life.

After a negotiated trade for one of the hostages was made, the logistics of the plan were being worked out. It was during that planning session that Officer Ponte made a fateful decision, and for reasons unknown, took his shot.

The contents of the backpack were a Bible, some papers, and a small machete, among other incidentals. No C-4. No surprise.

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