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Reopening Of VA Hospitals May Endanger Nurses

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Nurses warn of needless sickness and death if Veterans Affairs hospitals reopen without enough personal protective equipment.

The VA employs 342,000 workers, more than a fifth of the government's civilian workforce. If nurses and other healthcare workers contract COVID-19, the coronavirus will spread to others, including veterans.

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How ‘Pirates’ Caused Supply Delays That Led To VA Deaths

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Before embarking on a 36-hour tour through an underground of contractors and middlemen trying to make a buck on the nation's desperate need for masks, entrepreneur Robert Stewart Jr. offered an unusual caveat.

“I'm talking with you against the advice of my attorney," the man in the shiny gray suit, an American Flag button with the word “VETERAN" pinned to his blazer, said as we boarded a private jet Saturday from the executive wing at Dulles International Airport.

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Respecting Vets Means More Than Clapping

When a soldier goes off to fight, we say, “We’re praying for you.” When a soldier passes in uniform we gush, “Thank you for your service.” When a soldier is brought out on a football field, we whoop and cheer loudly.

But when a soldier dealing with post-combat issues needs a place to go, and that place needs to be built, and that building is in our backyard, suddenly, we’re not so welcoming.

For years, the Michigan Veterans Foundation had a facility in the Cass Corridor area of Detroit. The center provided meals, guidance, treatment and a welcome embrace for veterans dealing with everything from post-traumatic stress to homelessness. No one objected because, let’s face it, the Cass Corridor was hardly valued real estate. Truth is, that’s why many of our social services outlets were located there.

Recently, that has changed. A new hockey arena and a new Wayne State University business school made the Veterans Foundation site — and others nearby — desirable. An offer was made and, rather than fight the tide, the foundation accepted. It sold the building.

And began searching for a new home.

And, suddenly, the cheering stopped.

“Opposition was expressed,” explained Tyrone Chatman, executive director of the Michigan Veterans Foundation, when speaking about the site in Detroit’s Woodbridge District that the veterans group purchased, with plans of building a new center. “They thought it wasn’t a good fit.”

The property currently is an empty lot. And buildings nearby are mostly empty. You would think some activity — any activity — would be welcome.

But numerous residents objected, writing letters to the Detroit Planning Commission and speaking out during community meetings. They were often careful to say how much they supported veterans — don’t we always? — but then said the site was used for walking dogs or jogging and, besides, maybe a more fitting business could go there. You know, the kind that might increase property values.

Chatman, a Vietnam vet, took this hard. He remembered how returning soldiers in his day were spat upon by their countrymen. He thought we were past that.

“It kind of bothers us that it’s OK for men and women to give themselves to this great nation and fight our wars,” Chatman said, “but it’s not OK for us to live near you?”

Sadly, that’s the case. And it’s not the first time it has happened. When those same soldiers we enthusiastically send to fight our wars return with physical or mental issues, we’d privately prefer that they stay out of view.

Which renders us hypocrites.

I have known Chatman and the Michigan veterans group for a while. S.A.Y. Detroit, a charity I helped create, built a state-of-the art kitchen in the Cass Corridor facility. When I visit, the place is spotless. The clients are respectful. Military decorum is followed. You can tell many veterans still cling to their service as a buoy in troubled waters.

There are no wandering vagrants, no leering or dirty language. Nothing that would diminish a neighborhood. The building itself is neat, clean and attractive. The new building’s design is even more impressive, a single-story pentagon with a courtyard in its center.

“We thought the community would be delighted to support it,” Chatman said.

Instead, many objected to its look, while more likely being concerned about its clientele. The center, with a kitchen, gym, guidance center and just over 100 beds, hopes to serve about 1,600 veterans each year.

“It’s not always pretty, when you see men and women that are confined to wheelchairs, canes, walkers, amputees,” Chatman said. “It just seems to me there ought to be a debt of gratitude saying, ‘Hey, guys, you’re our nation’s defenders. You’ve earned the right to live wherever you want.'” Fortunately, by a city meeting Thursday, such an attitude had taken over. According to Chatman, a female veteran spoke movingly of how she was helped. It helped. The plans were tentatively approved, and vocal opposition was minor.

“The vote was to move forward,” Chatman said. “It’s a new day.”

It shouldn’t have to be. The day we send a soldier off to fight should be the same kind of day when he or she returns. If we don’t shun them when we want their sacrifice, we can’t shun them when they need our help.

I’m glad the Woodbridge District has overcome its objections. We’ll be better when there are no objections in the first place.


Photo: The U.S. Army via Flickr

A ‘Family Hero’ Of Vietnam War Will Be Remembered At Military Cemetery

By Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Monteen Purdie cut the strings off an apron, then starched and ironed them before delicately placing them inside a card for her son.

Almost half a century later, Linda Smith reminded her mother of the gift she gave to Robert in 1967 as he headed to basic training for the Marines — as a boy became a man leaving a mother for war.

“I don’t think he got how symbolic that was,” Smith, who was 26 when her brother enlisted, said tearfully.

On Memorial Day, Purdie will visit the grave of her son — whom most everyone called David — at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. It will be her 100th birthday.

He was killed in action Aug. 23, 1968 in Vietnam. Marines will join her family at David’s headstone, where they will play taps and present Purdie with a U.S. flag.

“We were blessed to have David,” Purdie said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of U.S. combat troops being sent to fight in Vietnam. About 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam, and more than 58,000 of them lost their lives during the war, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rex Kern, director of the Los Angeles National Cemetery, will open the cemetery’s Memorial Day ceremony with a speech about the importance of honoring Vietnam War veterans.

“These young men and women were thrust into a situation where they were thousands of miles away from home … watching their buddies getting killed and then to come home and have the American public reject them like they did was a real slap in the face,” Kern said. “I think it’s a long time coming that we honor our Vietnam veterans.”

Smith still remembers the pride etched on David’s face when he announced at a family dinner that he’d enlisted. Those closest to him knew it wasn’t a spontaneous decision.

His childhood friend Bill Wentz said the two had a strong desire to serve. David was one of the first in their group of friends to join the military.

“We thought it was our duty to defend the homeland,” Wentz said. “Dave was very gung-ho. … We were all proud of him.”

David’s enlistment came as a shock to his mother. She wasn’t ready to let him go. David, the third of her five children, was 20.

“I thought, David is so young, he hasn’t lived here long enough,” Purdie said. “I didn’t want him to go off to Vietnam. I didn’t want anybody shooting at my son.”

She rested her hand against her cheek, remembering the short stubble of David’s beard as he kissed her goodbye before boarding his flight to Vietnam with chocolate chip cookies she had baked just for him.

Purdie sent dozens of letters to David. He wrote back, telling her about Vietnam and joking about rats as large as cats. He told her he wasn’t on the front lines, that he was safe.

One day late in August she came home to find a Marine standing in the family room. Her sister held back sobs as she told Purdie that he was there to deliver news about David.

“Oh, good, you know David,” Purdie told the Marine. “Can you tell me about David?”

“And he said, ‘Ma’am, David won’t be coming home. He was killed in Vietnam,'” she recalled.

Letters came, from childhood friends, from men who served with him in Vietnam. One told her that David had given his life trying to save another man.

More than 1,000 people turned out for David’s service.

So many years later, Purdie said she still remembers how her son would turn serious every time he wore his uniform, all business. A Marine.

Wearing a red, white and blue scarf knotted around her neck, Purdie spoke in a low voice roughened by age. She mused about the years of her son’s life that were missed — the woman he never got to fall in love with, the children he never got to raise.

Losing him, Purdie told her daughter, left her with a “hurt that never goes away.”

The family has kept a framed drawing of David, surrounded by honors including a Purple Heart, and a book of memories they put together after his death, including letters and pictures from his time in Vietnam.

“He’s our family’s hero,” said Laura Smith, David’s niece. “Grief is generational, grief lives. He died, but we live with it. There’s a void in your heart that never gets filled.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Monteen Purdie, 99, sits in front of her granddaughter’s house in Orange, Calif., on May 6, 2015. As a parent who lost a son in the Vietnam War, she is now the oldest living “Gold Star Mother.” On Memorial Day, Purdie and her family will visit the grave of Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Purdie at the Los Angeles National Cemetery — the same day she will turn 100. (Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/TNS)