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may/june 2009

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : 2009 VVA Candidate Statements | Family Reunion | Last Train To Coatesville | Stayin' Alive | Memorial List | President's Report | Letters | Government Affairs | Women Veterans Committee Report | Elections Committee Report | Membership Affairs Committee Report | Homeless Veterans Committee Report | AVVA Report | Veterans Benefits Report | Veterans Incarcerated Report | TAPS | VA Voluntary Service Report | Convention Resolutions Committee Report | Credentials Committee Report | Books In Review | Membership Notes | Locator | Reunions

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alan Cook for his service over the last six years. While we will miss him, I know that his wife Cindy and their sons will be glad to have him back. Meanwhile we welcome Larry Frazee to the team.

When we took office four years ago we realized that there was a need for a number of administrative changes. It is just surprising how long it has taken to get some of them done.

Some of the earliest changes have been great successes. Carol Engle our Director of Information Technology, has improved our ability to communicate to our membership and the world. The VVA Veteran under Mike Keating has undergone a magnificent transformation. The advertising revenue for both of them has increased significantly thanks to Public Affairs Chair Keith King and his friends at Fox Associates.

The transformation of our product sales program has had a significant impact on our finances. This program was begun to supply our members, Chapters and State Councils with VVA items. Unfortunately, this program lost money for years. In 2008 we became acquainted with a wonderful, veteran-owned business, Medals of America, who has taken over this program at no cost to us. We just received our first residual check, putting us in the red for the first time.

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“It’s work, for sure,” said Dave Simmons, VVA’s West Virginia State Council President and host of the April 16-19 Region 3 Conference in Charleston. “But it’s about family; it’s really a big family reunion.”

On Friday, April 17, the conference was gaveled into session. A banner declaring it the George C. Duggins Conference was unveiled by Simmons and Region 3 Director Bruce Whitaker. A letter from Duggins’ widow, Blanche, expressed her pride and gratitude for the honor bestowed on her husband, VVA’s president from 1997-2001, and her regrets at being unable to attend due to the birth of a grandchild.

The preceding day, an All-Veterans Parade had marched down Charleston’s Court Street in front of the Conference hotel. Organized by Huntington Chapter 949’s Ron Wroblewski, Joe Wilson, and Dave Graham, the parade featured ten of VVA’s eleven West Virginia chapters, most of the other state VSOs, one of the state’s oldest veterans, and the crack St. Albans Marine Corps JROTC.

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When Marsha Four arrived at the 18th Surgical Hospital in Quang Tri as an Army nurse in July of 1969, she bought an M-16 rifle. Nurses weren’t issued weapons, but there was no way she was going to be in a war zone without a way to protect herself. “One of the nurses was leaving and she sold me her M-16, two magazines, and her refrigerator,” Four recalled. “I paid her twenty dollars, I think. I kept the rifle in my hooch.”

Now she’s program director for Homeless Veterans Services with the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center (PVMSEC)—a 501C (3) non-profit agency that exclusively serves veterans in need. She oversees the largest program in the country funded by the VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem Grant Program designed specifically to help homeless women veterans, along with a model transitional housing program for men.

Four and the other advocates for homeless veterans are facing new challenges as the newest generation of veterans and a growing number of middle-aged and elderly homeless veterans from Vietnam and other wars threaten to overwhelm the systems set up to help them.

One of the most chilling statistics for homeless veterans is that the percentage of women in the homeless veteran population is rising while the overall number of homeless veterans is decreasing. To understand the women behind the statistics, I visited the Mary E. Walker House (named after the Army doctor who served as a battlefield surgeon during the Civil War, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor), which opened in 2005. It’s located on the grounds of the sprawling VA Medical Center in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, an hour’s train ride from Philadelphia.

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As the formation of forty-two T-shirt and blue jean clad veterans came to attention, the late afternoon sun reflected golden flares off the flag’s red, white, and blue as the colors were struck. Behind them was a recently operable Vietnam-era armored personnel carrier, now sitting in place as the first permanent monument to veterans on the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) grounds.

The formation was simultaneously proud and pensive, but the veterans’ collective countenance gave nothing away. The olive green war machine was their doing and this spring Sunday afternoon marked the monument’s official dedication. It was donated to the Camp F Veterans Incarcerated club on Veterans Day 2008 by Warden Burl Cain, a former Louisiana Army National Guardsman who has a deep respect for the military service rendered by the men under his care and control.

“We care about all of our veterans, but our Vietnam veterans are pretty special,” Cain said. “The Camp-F VETS have done a lot to help their community. This Vietnam Veterans Memorial is for them. They have earned it, and I want them to work on it and turn it into a beautiful place.

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Each Memorial Day we honor our fallen dead from every branch of service and every war in which we have bravely fought. As members of Vietnam Veterans of America who have committed never to leave one of our own behind, we commemorate our fellow VVA members who have died.

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