NOVS Blog

NOVS Veterans Legislative Summit

clock January 10, 2011 14:18 by author Caleb Cage

This last weekend, we hosted our Veterans Legislative Summit at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nevada. The purpose of this Summit was to bring together Nevada legislators, veterans, and veteran advocates to discuss proposed veterans-related legislation and prepare for the 2011 Legislative Session.  I am proud to say that it worked.  Nearly every seat in the house was full.  We had great turnout from our veterans service organizations, our public officials, and from the local media.  State Treasurer Kate Marshall keynoted the opening ceremonies, where she spoke briefly about shared sacrifice and hinted at a new program for military families initiated by her office.  It was great to have her there.

As mentioned, there was a large presence from the press there.  You can watch the video from KTVN here, read about in the Reno Gazette-Journal here, and see the Sparks Tribune’s reporting on it here.  Also, you can view our photos of the event here. 

A special thank you to everyone who came out this Saturday for this important event.  We will be ready for this legislative session thanks to your support.

 

 



Disabled American Veterans Chapter # 1 will be holding back-to-back town hall meetings on Monday, October 18, 2010

clock October 18, 2010 23:12 by author Caleb Cage

Just got the word that the DAV Chapter 1 will be hosting a series of town hall meetings tonight (October 18, 2010) regarding veterans issues.

Representatives from Senator Reid, Sharron Angle, Brian Sandoval, and Rory Reid's campaigns have been invited. 

The event will be held at the American Legion at 730 4th Street, Sparks, NV, which is behind the Post Office on 4th and Prater.  The schedule for the event is below: 

1)  6 to 7 PM for US Senate Candidates or their representatives
2)  7:00 to 7:30 PM will be a break for refreshments, provided by DAV, and an opportunity for individuals to speak one-on-one with the candidates or their representatives
3)  7:30 to 8:30 PM for Nevada Governor Candidates or their representatives
4)  8:30 to 9:30 there will be additional time for the veterans to have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with the candidates or their representatives

Anyone interested in veterans issues is invited.



POW-MIA speech

clock April 29, 2008 21:41 by author Admin

Ladies, gentlemen, veterans, and distinguished guests. I am always concerned I will overlook someone deserving recognition, forgive me if I have done so today. Most certainly, all here deserve recognition.

Today, we pause to honor the service and sacrifice of American veterans whose enduring faith in country, family and comrades in arms gave them a rare courage that continues to inspire our nation.

Winston Churchill, the great World War Two leader of the English people, knew a thing or two about courage. He personified the courage of his people as they defended their beleaguered island during the early years of the war. He valued courage above all else:
“Courage is the first of human qualities,” he said, “because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

It is courage that moves our veterans to serve in harm’s way for a cause much greater than their individual wants and fears. It is courage that guides them on the field of battle. It is courage that enables them to endure the mistreatment and isolation of incarceration by the enemy and it is courage that keeps their families strong and supportive in their absence, no matter how long.

It is that special courage we honor today on POW/MIA Recognition Day.

Today, we renew our pledge to former POWs, MIAs and their families. Our nation has pledged not to rest until we can give a full accounting of every American missing in action. Today, we remember them in our thoughts and prayers, wherever they are or wherever they have fallen.

President Ronald Reagan committed our nation to this mission when he spoke to the families of those missing in action in 1985.He declared, “We write no last chapters. We close no books. We put away no final memories.”

Just last month, President George W. Bush reiterated that commitment with these words: “My administration will also continue to work to locate the men and women in uniform whose fate is still undetermined: our prisoners of war and personnel missing in action. We will not forget these brave Americans. We must not rest until we’ve accounted for every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman and Marine. And we will always honor their courage.”

The brave men and women who serve today – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or in other theaters of the war on terrorism—can do so with a full confidence that if they are captured, become missing or fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. However long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.

And as we seek the fates of those missing in action, we must not forget our former prisoners of war.

It was April 9, 1942 -- the first day of the American surrender on Bataan, in the Philippines. Already, Staff Sergeant Al Bland sensed the depravity and brutality he would experience over the next three and a half years. The Americans were standing tall at noon, as ordered by their commanders. Bland and the other members of his Army Air Force unit stood in the formation, awaiting the arrival of their Japanese captors.

Six hours later, the Japanese arrived. An officer drove up in his staff car and began to look over the defeated Americans. In the background, a truck precariously navigated the road to the assembly point. As the truck came closer, Bland heard the chug of the engine, then -- suddenly -- the crack of colliding vehicles. The truck had stopped behind the Japanese staff car, but not soon enough.

Without mercy, the officer berated the driver, a Japanese soldier. Then, while Bland and the other Americans watched in horror, the officer pulled out his pistol and shot the soldier dead.

At that moment, Bland tells us, he began to realize just how inhumane one human being could be to another. Now, his gut feeling of dread had been born out by terrifying, tangible reality. But the terror was about to get worse.

Within the next couple of hours, Bland witnessed six other murders. Americans were either beheaded or shot for no other reason than having Japanese items in their possession. If a Japanese soldier wanted a ring from an American, he would try to force it off. If it didn't come off easily, the soldier would simply cut off the troublesome finger. Some fingers were cut from corpses; some were cut from live Americans.

Then, in an endless fight against fatigue and thirst, the captive Americans walked the infamous Death March of Bataan. On they walked, day after torturous day. To survive, Bland sprinted to nearby wells to fill his canteen. He was lucky. Many other Americans were shot or bayoneted for doing the same.

If a prisoner passed out, the guards gave one kick to revive him. If that failed, they shot him. Bland and another soldier carried an officer for four days until they arrived at one of the half dozen camps they would occupy until the war's end. Yet through it all, Bland says, the most miserable day was the first, when the realization sank in that he had lost his freedom. "In America, people take freedom for granted," he says. "But when you lose your freedom, you've got nothing."

Another former prisoner of war had similar sentiments, Captain Steve Long says, “Freedom begins with a choice. That is a choice to live free of shackles of any nature, real or imagined. Life is precious and it is each person’s responsibility to attain self-fulfillment.”

Unfortunately, Steve Long didn’t have that choice. While flying a mission over Laos in February 1969 Captain Long awoke falling towards earth after being ejected from his plane. Unable to deploy his parachute in time, he broke his femur upon
impact. Once captured he began what he calls his “four years of inactive type service” in North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese began by trying him before a kangaroo court. After being convicted of air piracy, he was sentenced “to live forever in a cave.” For five months, forever passed as he sat alone in the dark bowels of a cave with a cast on his leg. Tom Risch was assigned to the Captain Long’s home base. He and his fellow soldiers were tasked with the difficult duty of
rescuing and recovering those shot down. They were successful in finding and rescuing Captain Long’s crewmember, but were deeply troubled when they were unsuccessful in rescuing Captain Long. And despite their best hopes for positive news, Risch and many others including Captain Long’s wife began to lose hope.

Without giving those Marines in the audience too many strokes of their ego, I think we should reference their motto, “Semper Fidelis” – Always Faithful. It is not conveyed lightly among Marines and remains a very part of their being. More than most Americans, the families of POWs and MIAs from wars past know firsthand the meaning and sanctity of Semper Fidelis. They know of tireless work, faded dreams and frustration, and they know of the meaning of small victories . . . and most distinctly, about sacrifice. One such hero is with us today. Ms. Doreen Portch is the daughter of Air Force Sergeant Ken Holland. Declared missing in action in 1968, she maintains the hope and dream to finally close the most trying chapter of her life. She shows us the way and maintains the spirit and commitment of Semper Fidelis.

But remaining optimistic and faithful is a difficult challenge for the family and others left behind. Because of the nature of our operations in Laos, Captain Long’s capture was not officially recognized by the Air Force. He was never listed as a prisoner of war. The North Vietnamese knew this and transferred him to eight different camps in North Vietnam. It was only in the final months of the war where he was joined at the Hanoi Hilton with other American prisoners who learned of his fate.

It was these fellow prisoners who told U.S. authorities of his imprisonment, and only after threatening to bomb North Vietnam was Captain Long finally released. One of the last American soldiers to be returned after 49 months of captivity. Forty-nine months. Just imagine what you would have missed in the last forty-nine months. The Boston Red Socks finally winning the World Series. The election of President Bush and the death of President Reagan. The invasion of Iraq. The Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Now recall what has happened to you personally in the past forty nine months. The birth of a child and marriage of a brother. Loss of your mother or . . . . It seems like a lifetime, but in the blink of an eye, they ripped it from a hero. I’ll tell you Captain Long returned to find a letter from his wife in his military file. She had divorced him. “She was young,” he said, “She pressed on with her life.”

Whether the uncertainty lasted for thirty days, 49 months, or 30 years, the former POWs, their families and friends have had to live life with a silent badge of courage few know. Over 200 live in Nevada with this silent mark and almost 30,000 former POWs are alive today. And today, we can’t forget those 10 Nevadans who remain missing in Southeast Asia; we must not forget the 88,000 Americans missing from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cold War. Alive or dead, at home or away they must not be forgotten.

Al Bland returned to Maryland forever carrying the nightmares and story of his time in Bataan. Tom Risch, the soldier tasked to recover those missing in action came home to serve the veterans of Ohio as a service officer. He would not learn Captain Steve Long returned, served a full career in the Air Force and today is finishing serving six years as Deputy Director of the Nevada Office of Veteran Services.

But it was god’s grace that put Tom Risch in a banquet with Captain Steve Long last May. Once Captain Long was introduced and his story was told, Tom realized the reality of the dream, the fulfillment of the wish that some day he would know the ultimate fate of Captain Steve Long. The tears, hugs, and soul searching grasp between the two men could barely hide the dreams, nightmares and thoughts that each held behind their aged faces.

We can't make him forget his time. And we can't relieve him of his troubled sleep. But we can keep them in our thoughts and prayers. They should never have to seal the pain in their heart or secretly cry. In his book, “Character is Destiny,” Senator John McCain, one of our most recognized former POWs, links the courage and resolve of the POW in a manner each of us should adopt:

I served with men of extraordinary character, honorable men, strong, principled, wise, compassionate, and loving men. For several years we were tortured by our captors. Some of us were beaten terribly, and worse. Some were killed. Sometimes we were tortured for information that could be used to help our enemy fight the war, and sometimes for information they could use against other prisoners. Most often, they tortured us to compel us to make statements criticizing our country and the cause we had been asked to serve. Many times, they would briefly suspend the torture and try to persuade us to make the statement by promising that no one would hear what we said or know we had sacrificed our integrity.

Just say it, and we will spare you any more pain they promised, and no one, no one will know. But the men I had the honor of serving with always had the same response. I will know. I will know. Today, let us leave here with that thought. I will know the sacrifices made by those unwilling captives and missing countrymen who fought for freedom with a lion’s heart and felt the worst of war. I will know the pain suffered by the families and children of those who haven’t come home. Most importantly I will know we shall not rest until the last brave warrior is recovered and recognized for paying the ultimate price for our country and our freedoms. I will know. I will know.



POW/MIA Remembrance Day 2007

clock September 21, 2007 02:02 by author Admin

POW/MIA Remembrance Day 2007

September 21, 2007

Carson City, NV

Their sacrifice . . . our freedom. As we gather here to recognize Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Day or POW/MIA Day,
we have been asked to focus on the theme: their sacrifice . . . our freedom.

Sacrifice and freedom . . . two words, two thoughts we throw about so flippantly. And yet two words with a totally different meeting for the friends and families of the nearly eighty-two thousand Americans listed as Missing in Action or Prisoner of War since World War I. Today we gather to make sure we never fail to recognize their sacrifices, that of those who have not yet come home, and those of their families.

In the fall of 1968, Saturday Evening Post writer Joan Didion met a World War II veteran at the 101st Airborne Association Annual Convention in Las Vegas. Rather than tell stories of his time in the 101st Airborne in World War II, Didion recounts, “He reached into his coat pocket and brought out a newspaper clipping, preserved in clear plastic, a story about his son: where he had gone to school, the report that he was missing, and before he put it in his pocket again, he looked at it a long while, smoothed out an imagined crease, and studied the fragment of newsprint as if it held some answer. ”

Governor O’Callahan met this same World War II veteran several years later and was so inspired by the story . . . the story of the sacrifices made by a young Army sergeant, his family, and dozens like him, he planted the Freedom Tree, a tree dedicated to Sgt. Skip Skivington and all of Nevada’s MIAs and POWs. And for the next 37 years, Bill Skivington, that World War II hero who lost his son, would return to the Freedom Tree and hang an ornament as Christmas approached. A symbolic reminder of the sacrifices of all those who the tree represented and the families of those MIAs. Thirty-eight years later, I met a very aged Bill Skivington as we moved the Freedom Tree from its original location to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. And as we moved and rededicated the tree, it seemed only fitting our nation had discovered and was moving the remains of Sgt. Skip Skivington’ from a bunker in the jungles of Vietnam to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.

For every day Bill Skivington paused to look at the newspaper article he carefully carried in his pocket, we as a nation doggedly pursued finding Sgt. Skivington. And each year the parents of Sgt. Skivington marked with a decoration on the Freedom Tree, our nation completed another year of missions to the jungles of Vietnam to search for the remains of our American heroes. The survivors of that horrible day when Sgt. Skivington’s team was overrun expected nothing less than a full accounting of their fallen comrades.

Likewise nearly forty years later, those that wear the uniform today anticipate the same. George Washington said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country." I would propose this thought pervades even more deeply when it comes to how doggedly we pursue final accounting of our MIAs and POWs.

For it is in these heroic legends, whether gloriously portrayed in movies, meticulously recorded on television, or inspirationally documented in a variety of stories and books every American learns loyalty and the creed, “ I will not leave my comrade. ”

It began while playing war games with your buddy in the back yard. Your best friend may have been captured by the girls next door, but you weren’t going to let him languish there. And as these young boys and girls aged, this loyalty was tested with true blood, sweat, and tears in the jungles of Laos, under the blazing heat of Bataan, high in the mountains of Afghanistan, and amidst the farmhouses and ditches of Iraq.

During the early invasion of Iraq in 2003, Chief Warrant Officer David Williams and his co-pilot were shot down in Karbala. Captured after hours of evasion, Williams recounts, “All I could think about was my little girl and my little boy. I didn’t want them to grow up remembering me from a picture. ” After enduring days of torture, he was placed with other Americans. As senior officer, he became responsible for everyone. “ I reminded them every day to remember Americans are looking for us. ” Williams wife Michelle, also an Army pilot, realized upon seeing video footage of Iraqis dancing around, an Apache helicopter her husband had been shot down. No official confirmation, no report, it was just her instinct. She soldiered on ” that day at work until finally the chaplain and colonel came by to formally tell her. She doesn’t remember what was said, “I just heard it was Dave, and began to cry.”

However, in spite of her fears, she remained optimistic. Optimistic that the United States would not rest until they found Williams. That night, their two-year old son Jason saw his dad’s face plastered on the television. “Mommy, it’s DaDa, ” he cried.

Their sacrifice . . . our freedom.

Williams said he never considered the fact his group would not be rescued. He said this knowledge helped him lead the other soldiers and help everyone survive the torture they endured at the hands of the Iraqis. That unwavering knowledge Williams held came from our history; it came from the efforts we as a nation invest in accounting for those from previous wars and conflicts. As we look back to the estimated 73,291 young men still missing from World War II, the 6,541 missing from Korea, and the 125 missing from the Cold War, we realize the daunting task our military and our country have undergone in accounting for our fallen heroes. Many of the families and friends of these young men and women and many of the witnesses to their stories have passed with little resolution. Even some of the details concerning the 1,787 Americans still missing from Vietnam are being overrun by the jungles and ravages of nature and time. But like many of those MIAs who sacrificed until their dying breath we shall not give up.

And unlike any other country in this world, the United States has made this solemn pledge. We shall not forget. And so today we pause to remember. Their sacrifice . . . our freedom. For without the sacrifices of the American patriot, his family, her spirit, we could not enjoy our freedoms. May god bless those who made these sacrifices and forever grant us the freedoms we so dearly cherish.



Did You Know (DYK)?

clock April 18, 2007 01:02 by author Admin

According to VA Undersecretary Cooper's testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on March 7, 2007:

In FY2006, VA produced over 774,000 disability determinations.

. . . answered over 6.6 million phone calls

. . . conducted over a million interviews

. . . briefed over 390,000 service members

. . . conducted over 65,000 hours of outreach to military members, former POWs, homeless, minority, and women veterans.

Disability backlog . . .

. . .increased every year since 2000.

. . . 578,773 in FY2000 to 806,832 in FY2006.  A 38% increase

. . . 54 percent of them are reopening of old claims.

Over 1.4 million active-duty service members, members of the National Guard, and reservists have been deployed in the Global War on Terror.  Over 685,000 have returned and been discharged.

The number of veterans receiving compensation has increased by almost 400,000 since 2000 (2.3 million to 2.7 million veterans).

Over 54,000 military retirees receive Combat-Related Special Compensation.

There were 2 million military retirees at the end of FY2006.  Over 40% receive VA benefits.

From FY2000 to FY2006, the number of veterans receiving compensation for PTSD has increased from 130,000 to 270,000.

Over 11percent of disability determinations are appealed.  Up from 7 percent in 2000.  There are more than 130,000 appeals no pending in regional offices and the Appeals Management Center.  There are over 30,000 appeals pending before the Board of Veterans' Appeals.



About the Author

Kat Miller is the Director for the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.

Colonel (U.S. Army, Retired) Katherine Miller was raised in Reno and served 34 years in the United States Army.  Starting as an enlisted soldier, she culminated her military service with assignments as a military police brigade commander serving in the United States and in Afghanistan; and as the Commander of the Department of Defense’s largest correctional organization.

After retiring she taught college at the University of Maryland and the University of Nevada, Reno. She served as the Deputy Director for the Nevada Department of Veterans Services prior to accepting appointment as the Director.

Her education includes a Master’s of Science Degree from the U.S. Army War College and a Master’s of Public Administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago

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