Military News

Friday, April 01, 2011

VA Makes Progress to End Veteran Homelessness

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – They served their country in uniform -– many on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now that they’ve returned home and rejoined civilian life, an alarming number of veterans have found themselves on the streets and living under bridges.

The Veterans Affairs Department is making progress on its commitment to end homelessness among veterans, Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould told American Forces Press Service, striving to achieve that goal ahead of its original 2015 timetable.

“This is a big, bold goal,” Gould said of the pledge President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced in 2009.

“What I see there is the president and secretary willing to do something that rarely happens in government, which is to set a clear, measurable and time-phased goal -- zero homelessness by 2015 for our veterans -- and then apply the resources, the planning and the leadership to make that happen,” Gould said.

Shinseki has become even more forward-leaning on the issue, vowing to achieve those aims a year ahead of schedule.

“As the president has said, ‘We’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America,’” he told the Marine Corps League in February. “If you wonder what I will be working on for the next several years, this is it. We will end veteran homelessness in 2014.”

Also last month, Shinseki told the Disabled American Veterans that major progress has been made. The number of homeless veterans has dropped from about 195,000 six years ago to about 76,000, he reported. VA is working to bring that figure below 59,000 by the end of June 2012, and ultimately, to zero.

VA’s fiscal 2012 budget request includes $939 million – up more than $140 million from last year -- for programs to support this mission and build on progress made.

A comprehensive review is under way to identify vacant or underused buildings in VA’s inventory that could house homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, Shinseki told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month.

So far, VA has identified 94 sites that, once renovated with funds allocated by Congress, could add another 6,300 housing units through public-private ventures using VA’s enhanced-use lease authority, he reported. With this authority scheduled to lapse Dec. 31, Shinseki has urged Congress to provide the reauthorization needed for VA to continue increasing housing for homeless veterans and their families.

Meanwhile, the most flexible and responsive option remains the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program, Shinseki said. The program combines Housing Voice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services by VA.

Shinseki said it’s the only option currently available to provide housing for homeless veterans with families.

Gould, attending the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., earlier this week, recognized that homelessness is more than a housing issue and typically stems from health and mental-health problems.

“Homelessness is really a symptom and the end step in a long stage of deterioration,” he said, citing issues ranging from job loss or economic duress to lack of access to health care, relationship problems or chemical dependence.

“So we have invested a lot in improving access to the health care that prevents homelessness,” Gould said. He cited growth in VA’s Veterans Health Administration budget to provide more proactive, preventive mental health and psychological counseling, as well as other health care.

This care helps veterans tackle problems at their root and introduces them to the broad array of programs in place to help in preventing them from slipping into homelessness, he said. “Once they are [at VA], we have the tools and capabilities to be able to help them,” he said.

Gould personally has witnessed the homelessness problem. On a cold, wintery night in late January, he joined Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Barbara Poppe, walking the downtown streets of the nation’s capital as part of a national count of homeless persons and families.

“It was a striking experience,” Gould said of his opportunity to meet personally with homeless veterans during HUD’s national “Let’s Make Everybody Count!” campaign.

Equally striking, he said, is that when he asked a homeless man he met if he was a veteran, the man responded that he wasn’t –- “but I wish I were, because of all the great programs you have.”

Defense leaders have joined VA and the president in calling veteran homelessness a scourge on America that must be addressed.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been particularly outspoken on the issue, concerned that a new generation of combat veterans is slipping into the same situation plaguing too many of his Vietnam-era contemporaries.

Mullen said he’s troubled by the number of homeless veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan he has met during his visits to Veterans Affairs hospitals.

"And they are every bit as homeless and every bit as tragic as any homeless vet we've ever had,” Mullen told a Hudson Union Society group in April 2009. “We as a country should not allow that to happen.”

At a National Guard family program volunteer workshop last summer, Mullen shared the story of meeting a young homeless veteran in Los Angeles who had served in both operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Mullen said the veteran told him, “I gave a 100 percent; I’d just like 100 percent back.”

Working with their federal, state and local partners in both the public and private sectors, Gould said VA is committed to providing veterans exactly that.

“Veteran homelessness is not solved by VA alone, but with our HUD partners in federal government, our state governments’ veterans administrations and nongovernmental organizations and local governments,” he said. “It is everyone working together.”

Flags lowered to half-staff in Wisconsin Monday for Army Reserve Cpl. Justin D. Ross

Flags at Wisconsin National Guard armories, air bases and other facilities across the state will fly at half-staff Monday (April 4) in honor of Army Reserve Cpl. Justin D. Ross of Green Bay, Wis., who lost his life while serving his country in Afghanistan. The Guard will render these honors in accordance with an executive order issued by Gov. Scott Walker.

EXECUTIVE ORDER # 23 reads:

Relating to a Proclamation that the Flag of the United States and the Flag of the State of Wisconsin be Flown at Half-Staff as a Mark of Respect for Corporal Justin David Ross of the United States Army Reserve Who Lost His Life While Serving His Country During Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan

WHEREAS, on March 26, 2011, Corporal Justin David Ross, a member of 428th Engineer Company, 863rd Engineer Battalion, Wausau, Wisconsin, United States Army Reserve, died while serving his country in Afghanistan; and

WHEREAS, Corporal Justin David Ross provided faithful and honorable service to the people of the State of Wisconsin and the people of the United States; and

WHEREAS, the people of Wisconsin mourn the death of Corporal Justin David Ross; and

WHEREAS, a memorial service will be held for Corporal Justin David Ross on April 4, 2011;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, SCOTT WALKER, Governor of the State of Wisconsin, by the authority vested in me by Federal and State law, do hereby order that the flag of the United States and the flag of the State of Wisconsin shall be flown at half-staff at all buildings, grounds, and military installations of the State of Wisconsin equipped with such flags beginning at sunrise on Monday, April 4, 2011, and ending at sunset on that date.

All Wisconsin state government facilities are covered by the governor's order and a 2007 amendment to the U.S. Flag Code now requires all federal facilities in Wisconsin to comply. Other government agencies, businesses and private residences with flagpoles may also honor Cpl. Justin Ross by lowering their U.S. and Wisconsin state flags to half-staff during the daylight hours on April 4.

We all play a role in allowing — or stopping — sexual assault

By Capt. Kristin Boustany
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator

If your daughter had a one-in-four chance of being a victim of a violent robbery just because she went to college, do you think you would let her go?

Renowned speaker, sexual assault prevention advocate and military consultant Anne Munch asked our leaders this question at a recent senior leader conference.

Now consider that one in four women, in a survey of more than 6,000 students from 32 U.S. colleges and universities, were victims of rape or attempted rape.  

Safe Helpline
In a study that included 558 female veterans, 79 percent admitted sexual harassment while in the military; 54 percent experienced unwanted sexual contact and 30 percent experienced one or more rape or attempted rapes! 

In FY2010, military services received 3,158 reports of sexual assault. 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “The department has a no-tolerance policy toward sexual assault. This type of act not only does unconscionable harm to the victim; it destabilized the workplace and threatens national security.”

But how do we enforce this policy? By changing the culture in which we allow ourselves to operate in.

We can start by examining our beliefs and attitudes and how they influence our reaction to — and acceptance of — this senseless crime, and name the "Unnamed Conspirator," Anne explained.

Even though 99 percent of sexual assaults are committed by men, many of us have grown up believing that sexual assault is a woman's issue. Anne cited one study where 88 percent of men whose actions met the legal definition of rape were adamant that what they did was not rape. How has our society influenced those men into thinking that their behavior is acceptable? 

This is the work of the unnamed conspirator.

Some women have bought into the belief that if they invited their assailant over, or if they were drunk, or if they chose to go home with their assailant — but did not in any way give consent — then the assault is not rape because "it’s their own fault," and they don’t report.   How does our culture support victim blaming?

That is the voice of the unnamed conspirator.

Do we hold robbery victims accountable for being robbed because they own a nice house with expensive items inside? Would the police say, "Why did you keep your valuables in plain sight where anyone could see them? You're just asking to be robbed."

Fellow Soldiers and Airmen, this is unacceptable. We must create a climate where the unnamed conspirator will not thrive!  We must all be aware of the potential signs of a sexual assault and know how to intervene as an active bystander. 

Consider Anne’s analysis of her study about women’s risk of sexual assault within the military:

-A climate hostile to women (demeaning, reduced to body parts et cetera) increases the risk of rape six times
-Officers initiating or allowing sexually demeaning comments or gestures toward women increases the risk of rape five times
-Ranking officer or immediate supervisor behaviors were strongly associated with the frequency of rape

This information tells me that there is a direct link between our command climate and reducing this crime.

But our leaders can't fix this problem by themselves.  I encourage you to take that same stance at your armories, wings, in the field and even in social environments, and protect your battle buddies and wingmen.

As a woman in the military for nearly eleven years, and a mother, I truly believe that we have to start holding ourselves accountable for the sometimes lack of intervention in preventing this crime.  As a woman there is not a day that goes by that this crime does not cross my mind in some way shape or form.  Men, do you think about being raped every day or how to protect yourself?  We must change our culture from thinking this is a women’s issue to this is a “people” issue and know that as comrades we will intervene and foster a culture where sexism can’t thrive.  

Have you ever been at a club and notice that one of your battle buddy/wingman is really drunk? Not just buzzed — she can barely stand and is slurring her words? A guy you know asks her if she wants to go back to his place where it is quieter so that they can get to know each other. You believe he's a good guy so you're not worried, but you don't know what to do, so you do nothing. You reassure yourself by saying, “It’s really none of my business — they're both adults.”

Or is it time that we all make this our business?   What actions could you have taken to intervene?

We all play a role in allowing — or stopping — sexual assault

By Capt. Kristin Boustany
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator

If your daughter had a one-in-four chance of being a victim of a violent robbery just because she went to college, do you think you would let her go?

Renowned speaker, sexual assault prevention advocate and military consultant Anne Munch asked our leaders this question at a recent senior leader conference.

Now consider that one in four women, in a survey of more than 6,000 students from 32 U.S. colleges and universities, were victims of rape or attempted rape.  

Safe Helpline
In a study that included 558 female veterans, 79 percent admitted sexual harassment while in the military; 54 percent experienced unwanted sexual contact and 30 percent experienced one or more rape or attempted rapes! 

In FY2010, military services received 3,158 reports of sexual assault. 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “The department has a no-tolerance policy toward sexual assault. This type of act not only does unconscionable harm to the victim; it destabilized the workplace and threatens national security.”

But how do we enforce this policy? By changing the culture in which we allow ourselves to operate in.

We can start by examining our beliefs and attitudes and how they influence our reaction to — and acceptance of — this senseless crime, and name the "Unnamed Conspirator," Anne explained.

Even though 99 percent of sexual assaults are committed by men, many of us have grown up believing that sexual assault is a woman's issue. Anne cited one study where 88 percent of men whose actions met the legal definition of rape were adamant that what they did was not rape. How has our society influenced those men into thinking that their behavior is acceptable? 

This is the work of the unnamed conspirator.

Some women have bought into the belief that if they invited their assailant over, or if they were drunk, or if they chose to go home with their assailant — but did not in any way give consent — then the assault is not rape because "it’s their own fault," and they don’t report.   How does our culture support victim blaming?

That is the voice of the unnamed conspirator.

Do we hold robbery victims accountable for being robbed because they own a nice house with expensive items inside? Would the police say, "Why did you keep your valuables in plain sight where anyone could see them? You're just asking to be robbed."

Fellow Soldiers and Airmen, this is unacceptable. We must create a climate where the unnamed conspirator will not thrive!  We must all be aware of the potential signs of a sexual assault and know how to intervene as an active bystander. 

Consider Anne’s analysis of her study about women’s risk of sexual assault within the military:

-A climate hostile to women (demeaning, reduced to body parts et cetera) increases the risk of rape six times
-Officers initiating or allowing sexually demeaning comments or gestures toward women increases the risk of rape five times
-Ranking officer or immediate supervisor behaviors were strongly associated with the frequency of rape

This information tells me that there is a direct link between our command climate and reducing this crime.

But our leaders can't fix this problem by themselves.  I encourage you to take that same stance at your armories, wings, in the field and even in social environments, and protect your battle buddies and wingmen.

As a woman in the military for nearly eleven years, and a mother, I truly believe that we have to start holding ourselves accountable for the sometimes lack of intervention in preventing this crime.  As a woman there is not a day that goes by that this crime does not cross my mind in some way shape or form.  Men, do you think about being raped every day or how to protect yourself?  We must change our culture from thinking this is a women’s issue to this is a “people” issue and know that as comrades we will intervene and foster a culture where sexism can’t thrive.  

Have you ever been at a club and notice that one of your battle buddy/wingman is really drunk? Not just buzzed — she can barely stand and is slurring her words? A guy you know asks her if she wants to go back to his place where it is quieter so that they can get to know each other. You believe he's a good guy so you're not worried, but you don't know what to do, so you do nothing. You reassure yourself by saying, “It’s really none of my business — they're both adults.”

Or is it time that we all make this our business?   What actions could you have taken to intervene?

Family Matters Blog: Kids Serve Too

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2011 – Robert L. Gordon III is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. In this blog, Mr. Gordon thanks military children for their contributions, and highlights a few of the Defense Department programs available to support them.

By Robert L. Gordon III
Military Community and Family Policy
April 1, 2011

Military children continually amaze us as they rise to the challenges of military life. It’s a life of frequent moves, changing schools, leaving friends and making new friends.

During April, the Month of the Military Child, we applaud their character and maturity, and we acknowledge that kids serve too.

Our military community includes 1.8 million American children and youth under 18 years old. The Defense Department offers a wide range of programs and services to support military families and their kids. Just a few of the things we’re working on include:

-- Working with states to minimize school disruption for military children during transition and deployment. The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children provides common guidelines for participating states to follow in handling issues including initial enrollment age, records transfer, graduation requirements and much more. So far, 35 states have adopted the compact, covering 88 percent of students.

-- Increasing access to quality, affordable child care for military families. Today’s National Guard and Reserve forces mobilize and deploy at historic rates. Many military children -- of all branches and components -- live away from military installations, and even when they do live near to one, many locations are unable to meet the demand for care at military child development facilities. The DOD Child Care Expansion Initiative will help answer this growing need by ensuring their access to quality child care in the communities in which they reside.

-- The Department of Defense Education Activity launched an online preregistration application. Through the site, parents can preregister their children in a DOD school from anywhere in the world, and even while on the move from one installation to another.

-- A new, 365-page deployment guide is now available. This guide prepares families for deployment and has chapters dedicated to preparing children for deployment, helping them to cope with separation and the adjustment when the deployed parent comes home.
Additionally, installations around the world offer a huge range of activities for military kids at child care centers, youth centers, clubs and camps.

The professionals at these programs get vital support from volunteers. I see the enormous amount of good done by the hands and hearts of volunteers. Their selfless work changes lives and strengthens our nation.

During the Month of the Military Child, I also encourage you to consider volunteering at any of the many organizations dedicated to military kids. From the Boys and Girls Club of America, 4-H Youth Development and the Armed Services YMCA, these and many other organizations provide quality programs to military families and their children.

Have you volunteered with youth in your community? Where do you volunteer? What inspired you to get started? What experiences have you had? How would you inspire someone else to serve as a volunteer? We'd like you to share your stories on the Facebook wall of Serve.gov.

Is the organization you support listed on Serve.gov? This is a nationwide resource for finding volunteer opportunities in your community and creating your own. Listing the organization on this website allows other people to sign up and join you.

It’s hard to imagine a local t-ball league without volunteers. Who would prepare the field, coach the players or call the plays? Children are first in the mind of their parents, and during Month of the Military Child, we hope they become first in the minds of their communities as well.

There are many ways to serve, and many reasons. No matter your age or background, your education or interests, your experience or abilities, Serve.gov has a volunteer opportunity that's right for you.

DoD Spouses Hold Appreciation Luncheon for Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Vivian Blakely, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan (NNS) -- Department of Defense family members based at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi held a luncheon in appreciation for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) efforts in Operation Tomodachi April 1.

"The JMSDF have done so much for the people here that I wanted to do one little thing to help them" said Cherada Weaver, an NAF Atsugi spouse. "They're so appreciative of everything. It's just one nice thing I can do for them."

Through Ruthie Clearwater of the American Red Cross office and officials in the Host Nation Relations Office, the spouses residing on NAF Atsugi were able to organize the luncheon.

"The food drives are really to show our support as those left on base for our Sailors, our Marines and JMSDF," said Clearwater.

Lt. Taketsugu Matsumoto, officer in charge (OIC) of Multi-Purpose Helicopter Squadron (HM) 111 expressed his deep gratitude for the luncheon.

"Our situation is very severe but the United States helps us. That is very important. So thank you very much, deeply."

The luncheon was sponsored by the base American Red Cross office and NAF Atsugi's Spouses Association and attended by more than 200 JMSDF personnel.

Navy Exchange System Celebrates Its 65th Anniversary

By Kristine M. Sturkie, Navy Exchange Service Command Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- The Navy Exchange System (NEX) will celebrate its anniversary April 1 commemorating 65 years of working diligently to support Sailors and their families around the world.

"The Navy Exchange System has changed over the years, but the one thing that hasn't changed is our mission to serve our military service members and their families," said Rear Adm. (Sel) Glenn Robillard, Commander, Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM). "We are part of the Navy and proudly serve alongside our service members wherever we're needed. We have been an important benefit for the past 65 years and will continue to be for many years to come."

NEXs have come a long way since the days when bumboats sold their wares to Sailors aboard Naval vessels in the 1800s. Back then, Sailors had to depend on these unreliable boats to get their personal items while aboard ship. Unfortunately, goods sold by the bumboats were typically inferior and sold at very high prices. As an alternate to bumboats, many Navy ships operated canteens so that the money spent by the crew members stayed on the boat to improve the quality of the food served by the general mess. The first canteen opened on board USS INDIANA in 1896.

By 1909, the Naval Appropriations Act established the first official resale activity, the Ships Stores and Commissary Stores. The act allowed the Navy to procure and sell merchandise to Navy and Marine Corps officer and enlisted men and to civilian employees at naval stations outside the continental United States and Alaska. In 1925, the Ships Service was created to provide Navy crew members nearly any legal article of merchandise without the profit restrictions placed on the Ships Store. These Ships Services, however, had no foundation in law.

It became clear by 1942 that there was no need, or space, for two ships service type stores aboard Navy ships. A recommendation was made to the Chief of Naval Operations by the Supply Officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet to merge the two stores into one official ships store operation. The recommendation was accepted and by 1944, the Secretary of the Navy made the establishment of the merged stores mandatory on all ships that had a supply officer and permissive on all Naval activities.

Ships Service Stores ashore also began steps towards centralization in 1945 when a committee was formed to study the resale activities. The recommendation of the committee, headed by Capt. Wheelock H. Bingham, SC, USNR, was that all resale activities be operated like a large chain of retail stores and that a central office be established to oversee the operation of the Navy Resale System. The new central office for the Navy Ships Store Office was established in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 1, 1946. This office was later renamed NEXCOM and relocated to Virginia Beach, Va., in 1993.

Today, NEXCOM provides oversight for 102 NEX complexes with nearly 300 stores, as well as Navy Lodges, ship's stores and the Uniform Program Management Office. Worldwide, the Navy Exchange System employs over 14,000 associates, 27 percent of whom are military family members.

Wisconsin Guard members vie for Soldier of the Year honors

At 5 a.m. today [April 1], 15 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers began their day with push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run - the first three events in a grueling three-day span that will test their abilities in marksmanship, physical fitness, land navigation, Soldier task knowledge and military bearing. Each competitor's composure will also be tested through the weekend's long hours and demanding schedule.

Last year, Pfc. Randy Fendryk of Waukesha, Wis., won the annual Soldier of the Year competition, and Sgt. Cody Brueggen of Oconomowoc, Wis., won the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Fendryk, now an officer candidate, is a member of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery in Sussex, Wis., and will serve as a sponsor for a new competitor this year. Brueggen is a member of Detachment 1, 107th Maintenance Company in Sparta, Wis.

Fendryk advanced to the Army National Guard's best warrior Competition last August at the Warrior Training Center, Fort Benning, Ga. Two years ago, Spc. John Wiernasz of Detachment 1, 950th Engineer Company, also represented the Wisconsin Army National Guard at the National Guard's Best Warrior Competition.

The competition is not open to the public, but check out photos from each day of the competition at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wiguardpics/.

Competitors include: Sgt. Steven Dahl (Oconto), Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (Menomonie); Spc. Wayne Diedrich (Milwaukee), Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery (Racine); Sgt. John Eckert (St. Francis), Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery (Racine); Spc. Kimberly Gass (Wausau), 106th Engineer Detachment (Tomah); Spc. Alex Goehring (Dresser); 64th Rear Operations Center Support Detachment (Monroe); Sgt. Jessica Gray (Milwaukee), Detachment 1, Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion (Merrill); Staff Sgt. Charles Hensen (Lake Mills), Troop A, 1st Battalion, 105th Cavalry (Fort Atkinson); Staff Sgt. Jason Kirch (Prairie du Sac), 106th Engineer Detachment (Tomah); Spc. Shelby Reynolds (Stitzer), 229th Engineer Company (Prairie du Chien); Sgt. Jonathan Shufflebotham (Sheboygan); 1157th Transportation Company (Oshkosh); Sgt. Brandon Swanson (St. Croix Falls), Detachment 1, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (Chippewa Falls); Staff Sgt. Paul Vaillancourt (De Forest), Rear Detachment, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation (Madison); Staff Sgt. Benjamin Van Auken (Sparta), Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 426th Field Artillery Regiment (Fort McCoy); Staff Sgt. Jon Vandebogert (De Forest), Joint Force Headquarters (Madison); and Spc. Joseph Wong (Milwaukee), Troop A, 1st Battalion, 105th Cavalry (Fort Atkinson).