President Donald Trump on Thursday lauded the heroism of American and Allied service members who participated in the D-Day invasion that changed the fortunes of World War II, saying they “are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live.”
Trump joined other world leaders at Normandy American Cemetery in France to honor those who died and participated in the battle.
The president described the 130,000 service members who fought as the “citizens of free and independent nations, united by their duty to their compatriots and to millions yet unborn.”
Trump also sought to assure allies skittish about relying on the U.S. under his tenure, saying: “To all of our friends and partners — our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable.”
He said the abundance of courage showed by D-Day participants came from an abundance of faith.
“The exceptional might came from an exceptional spirit,” Trump said.
Trump was joined by French President Emmanuel Macron, who told American D-Day veterans that “France doesn’t forget” what they sacrificed for his country’s liberty from Nazi Germany.
“We know what we owe to you veterans: our freedom,” Macron said. “On behalf of my nation, I just want to say, thank you.”
Trump, who participated in D-Day commemoration in Portsmouth, England, on Wednesday, said in France that America’s veterans are the pride of the U.S. He shared the personal stories of several American D-Day veterans with the audience. Many veterans wore military uniforms bedecked with medals.
Following the program and gun salute, Trump, Macron and their wives walked to an overlook above Omaha Beach, the scene of the bloodiest fighting. They stood silently as a bugler played “Taps” and surveyed a map of the invasion. They also watched as fighter jets and other aircraft, including some that left trails of red, white and blue smoke, flew overhead. At the cemetery, Melania Trump placed a bouquet of white flowers at the base of a cross-shaped headstone.
Trump and Macron were traveling separately to Caen, France, for a meeting and lunch before Trump returns to his golf course in Ireland.
At the ceremony, Trump said Americans are drawn to the shores of Normandy “as though it were a part of our very soul.” He noted that many of the men who lost their lives here were fathers who would never meet their infant sons and daughters because they had a job to do.
“They came in wave after wave without question, without hesitation and without complaint,” Trump said.
The cemetery contains grave markers for more than 9,300 American servicemen. Trump noted that each marker has been adopted by a French family and that people come from all over France to “look after our boys.”
“They kneel, they cry, they pray, they place flowers and they never forget,” Trump said. “Today America embraces the French people and thanks you for honoring our beloved war dead.”
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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World leaders will gather in solemn assembly next week above the sandy beaches of Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the world-changing D-Day invasion of France. It’s typically a heartfelt tribute to alliance and sacrifice and a unified vow for enduring unity, outweighing any national or political skirmish of the moment.
That’s what has some U.S. veterans and others worried about President Donald Trump’s attendance. The president has shown a repeated willingness to inject nationalistic rhetoric and political partisanship into moments once aimed at unity. For Trump, there is no water’s edge for politics, no veneer of nonpartisanship around military or national security matters.
The president, who did not serve in the military before becoming commander in chief, has feuded with Gold Star families, blasted political opponents on foreign soil, and mocked Sen. John McCain, a prisoner of war, for being captured by the enemy. Trump’s antipathy for the late senator was so well known that the White House this week requested that the Navy keep the USS McCain out of the president’s line of sight during a recent trip to Japan, so as not to rile the president.
It’s a pattern that is set to get more scrutiny in coming days, as Trump heads overseas for the D-Day memorial where he will be joined at the service by, among others, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat whom he has called “crazy Nancy” and warned not to try to impeach him.
“It’s unfortunate we have to be even concerned that this historic commemoration will be overly politicized, but this is the command climate he’s created and the reality we have,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and former head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We have to send our president. You go with the president we’ve got, and this is the president we’ve got. So we’re rightfully holding our breath for an event like this.”
More than 9,000 Americans died in the D-Day operation that marked a turning point in World War II, beginning the Allied push to drive the Nazis out of France and eventually Europe. On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, rows of white crosses and the Stars of David stretch as far as the eye can see — markers of sacrifices.
The president missed the other significant military commemoration of his term.
In November, also in France, Trump scuttled plans to honor the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. The White House said the president’s helicopter could not make it to the site because of bad weather. It did not explain why Trump could not make the 50-mile drive. His absence set off howls from many veterans.
Trump blamed the Secret Service and the next day went to a different cemetery outside Paris.
In recent days, he visited Arlington National Cemetery and spent Memorial Day on a naval ship in Japan.
“You are the ones keep going and striving, and keeping America safe, and strong, and proud, and free,” Trump said during the visit. He also wished everyone a “Happy Memorial Day,” a greeting some find off-key for a holiday dedicated to honoring dead servicemembers.
Ahead of the trip, the White House told the U.S. Navy to keep the warship rededicated in honor of Sen. McCain out of sight of the president. The president denied knowing about the request but said the gesture was “well-meaning” because he was no fan of McCain, a prisoner of war whom Trump once mocked by saying he preferred soldiers who “weren’t captured.”
Trump also sided with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un over criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden. Some veteran groups were pleased that Trump was attending the D-Day commemoration but urged him to leave the political broadsides at home.
“In situations like these, it’s best for President Trump to focus on his positive vision for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and advocating for a more restrained foreign policy,” said Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser for the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.
Plenty of previous presidents have embraced the military, identifying themselves with its power and patriotism. But Trump’s relationship with the armed forces — and the families of individual soldiers — has at times been uniquely fraught.
As a candidate, he feuded with the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq, and as president clashed with the mother of Sgt. La David Johnson, who died in Niger. Though Trump has been a boisterous cheerleader for the Pentagon, he is part of a recent trend of commanders-in-chief who did not serve in the military. He received a deferment that allowed him to not serve in Vietnam War due to bone spurs, but has been unable to remember in which foot, leading to accusations of draft dodging, including this week from 2020 rivals.
“You have somebody who thinks it’s all right to let somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled in order to do it,” said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who served as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “That is an assault on the honor of this country.”
And while a number of veterans groups have applauded Trump’s efforts to improve mental and physical health care to former officers, many of those same organizations sharply criticized Trump’s recent consideration to pardon several American military members accused of war crimes, including headline-grabbing cases of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive.
“It is mind-blowing that these are the persons this administration is considering for pardons,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an associate director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, one of several veterans’ groups that oppose the pardons.
Trump considered issuing the pardons for Memorial Day but later said he may wait for some trials to conclude. But his international trips have repeatedly been interrupted by distractions back home, and many around him fear that even a solemn World War II observance may not be enough to prevent the president from tweeting an attack at special counsel Robert Mueller or escalating tensions with his hosts, outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May or French president Emmanuel Macron.
Additional reporting by AP’s Hope Yen and Emily Swanson in Washington.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire
President Donald Trump brought his enduring fiction about hurricane aid for Puerto Rico to a rally crowd in Florida on Wednesday.
Pledging unstinting support for more hurricane recovery money for Floridians, he vastly exaggerated how much Puerto Rico has received.
Trump laced his speech in Panama City Beach with a recitation of falsehoods that never quit, touching on veterans’ health care, the economy, visas and more. A sampling:
TRUMP: “We gave to Puerto Rico $91 billion” — and that’s more, he said, than any U.S. state or entity has received for hurricane aid.
THE FACTS: His number is wrong, as is his assertion that the U.S. territory has set some record for federal disaster aid. Congress has so far distributed only about $11 billion for Puerto Rico, not $91 billion.
He’s stuck to his figure for some time. The White House has said the estimate includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements that could span decades, along with $41 billion approved.
That $50 billion in additional money is speculative. It is based on Puerto Rico’s eligibility for federal emergency disaster funds for years ahead, involving calamities that haven’t happened.
That money would require future appropriations by Congress.
Even if correct, $91 billion would not be the most ever provided for hurricane rebuilding efforts. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost the U.S government more than $120 billion — the bulk of it going to Louisiana.
TRUMP, boasting that his economic record has delivered the “highest income ever in history for the different groups — highest income.”
THE FACTS: Not so. He did not achieve the best income numbers for all the racial groups. Both African Americans and Asian Americans had higher income prior to the Trump administration.
The median income last year for a black household was $40,258, according to the Census Bureau. That’s below a 2000 peak of $42,348 and also statistically no better than 2016, President Barack Obama’s last year in office.
Many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, in Obama’s first term, as the primary explanation for recent hiring and income gains. More important, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening even as unemployment rates have come down.
As for Asian Americans, the median income for a typical household last year was $81,331. It was $83,182 in 2016.
TRUMP, claiming countries are taking advantage of the U.S. diversity visa lottery program: “They’re giving us some rough people.”
THE FACTS: A perpetual falsehood from the president. Countries don’t nominate their citizens for the program. They don’t get to select people they’d like to get rid of.
Foreigners apply for the visas on their own. Under the program, citizens of countries named by the U.S. can bid for visas if they have enough education or work experience in desired fields. Out of that pool of qualified applicants, the State Department randomly selects a much smaller pool of tentative winners. Not all winners will have visas approved because they still must compete for a smaller number of slots by getting their applications in quickly.
Those who are ultimately offered visas still need to go through background checks, like other immigrants.
TRUMP, describing how veterans used to wait weeks and months for a VA appointment: “For the veterans, we passed VA Choice. … (Now) they immediately go outside, find a good local doctor, get themselves fixed up and we pay the bill.”
THE FACTS: No, veterans still must wait for weeks for a medical appointment.
While it’s true the VA recently announced plans to expand eligibility for veterans in the Veterans Choice program, it remains limited due in part to uncertain money and longer waits.
The program currently allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Under new rules to take effect in June, veterans will have that option for a private doctor if their VA wait is only 20 days (28 for specialty care) or their drive is only 30 minutes.
But the expanded Choice eligibility may do little to provide immediate help.
That’s because veterans often must wait even longer for an appointment in the private sector. In 2018, 34 percent of all VA appointments were with outside physicians, down from 36 percent in 2017. Then-Secretary David Shulkin said VA care was “often 40 percent better in terms of wait times” compared with the private sector.
Choice came into effect after some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.
TRUMP, on the Choice program: “That’s a great thing for our veterans. They’ve been trying to get it passed for 44 years. We got it passed.”
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect. Congress approved the private-sector Veterans Choice health program in 2014 and President Barack Obama signed it into law. Trump is expanding it.
TRUMP, on Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s crowd size at a Texas rally before he launched his presidential campaign: “He had like 502 people.”
THE FACTS: Trump sells short O’Rourke’s crowd, though it has grown in his mind since he claimed the Democrat only got 200-300 at his El Paso gathering in February. Trump had a rally there the same day.
O’Rourke’s march and rally drew thousands. Police did not give an estimate, but his crowd filled nearly all of a baseball field from the stage at the infield to the edge of outfield and was tightly packed.
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Fresh off the GOP’s loss of the House, President Donald Trump is fudging the success of a “booming” economy and overstating the impact of his campaigning on the midterm elections.
He suggested that every Republican congressional candidate for whom he paid a visit to their state to rally voters prevailed on Election Day. That’s not true. Several of his favorites in closely contested Senate and House races lost Tuesday, in some cases after Trump held multiple rallies on their behalf.
On the economy, Trump asserted that U.S. growth under his watch has been unprecedented. In fact, it was surpassed just four years ago during the Obama administration. He also minimized the trade threat from China and claims a U.S. steel industry renaissance that isn’t really happening.
And speaking before Veterans Day, Trump claimed premature success in achieving “more for the vets than any president,” citing an expanded health care program that has yet to be fully paid for or take effect.
A look at his claims and the reality:
TRUMP, on the message taken from Tuesday’s elections: “I think the results that I’ve learned, and maybe confirm, I think people like me. I think people like the job I’m doing, frankly. Because if you look at every place I went to do a rally … and it was very hard to do it with people in Congress because there are just too many … but I did it with the Senate. I did it with (Kentucky Rep.) Andy Barr, as you know. And he won.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong to suggest that congressional candidates won in every state where he held a rally on their behalf.
Two Republicans who closely embraced Trump in their Senate races — Montana’s state auditor, Matt Rosendale, and West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey — lost to Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, respectively. Trump had visited Montana four times and West Virginia three times to rally voters. Also losing Tuesday were Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, defeated by Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, and Leah Vukmir, a GOP state lawmaker in Wisconsin who lost her Senate race to Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Trump campaigned for Heller in Nevada on Oct. 20 and for Vukmir in Wisconsin on Oct. 24.
In the House, Republican Rep. Jason Lewis lost his race in Minnesota to Democrat Angie Craig, whom he had defeated by 2 percentage points in 2016. Trump campaigned in Minnesota on Oct. 4 after Lewis invited Trump to appear for him. .
TRUMP: “Fifty-five is the largest number of Republican senators in the last 100 years.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: His party didn’t win 55 Senate seats Tuesday. Republicans held 55 seats in the Senate in 2005-2006, as well as 1997-2000, according to the Senate historian’s office.
After Tuesday’s elections, Republicans will hold a 51-46 edge, with races in Florida and Arizona too close to call. A special election in Mississippi has advanced to a runoff election on Nov. 27 between Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. That means 54 Republican seats if those three races all break the GOP’s way.
TRUMP: “America is booming like never before. … In terms of GDP, we’re doing unbelievably.” — news conference Wednesday.
TRUMP, on his telephone conversation Tuesday night with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi: “We didn’t talk about impeaching. We didn’t talk about — what do you do? Do you impeach somebody because he created the greatest economic success in the history of our country?”
THE FACTS: The economy is healthy, but it’s not unbelievable or unprecedented. It’s also not clear what he means in claiming the nation’s “greatest economic success” ever.
The economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, then by 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter. Those are the best two quarters in just four years. Growth reached 5.1 percent in the second quarter of 2014, followed by 4.9 percent in the third quarter.
The economy has boomed much more dramatically in the past. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years. It reached 7.2 percent in 1984. The unemployment rate is now at an impressive 50-year low of 3.7 percent. But it remained below 4 percent for nearly four years in the late 1960s.
TRUMP: “And our steel industry is back. Our aluminum industry is starting to do really well. These are industries that were dead. Our miners are working again.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating.
The steel industry has added jobs at a faster rate than the economy as a whole since Trump’s inauguration, though all the gains occurred before the administration imposed tariffs on steel imports in March. Still, the rebound has hardly restored steel to its former glory.
The United States has added 5,500 steel jobs since Trump entered the White House for a total of 86,500. Before the Great Recession, there were about 100,000 steel jobs. Aluminum factories have added 2,600 jobs since the inauguration for a total of 60,100. These are minor changes in an economy with almost 150 million jobs.
Meanwhile, not many miners are working again. Coal mining jobs have increased just 1,900 to 52,600 since Trump’s inauguration. That’s also a lot lower than the roughly 70,000 coal mining jobs that existed as recently as 2014.
TRUMP: “China got rid of their ‘China ’25’ because I found it very insulting. I said that to them. I said, ‘China ’25’ is very insulting, because ‘China ’25’ means, in 2025, they’re going to take over, economically, the world. I said, ‘That’s not happening.'” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence China has abandoned its economic plan. Trump is referring to China’s “Made in China 2025” plan, under which that country’s government aims to develop world-leading companies in robotics, semiconductors, electric vehicles and other advanced technologies. It’s a sore point between the two nations because the United States and other countries argue that China is using unfair tactics to achieve those aims, such as forcing U.S. companies to share technology and providing government subsidies.
Chinese officials have played down the plan in recent months because of the international criticism. But there’s little sign they have “gotten rid of” the plan. Because China sees the plan as a key step in the development of its economy, many observers worry they are unlikely to scale it back, which suggests U.S.-China trade fights aren’t going away anytime soon.
TRUMP: “I’ve done more for the vets than any President has done, certainly in many, many decades, with Choice and with other things, as you know. …If you look at Choice — Choice alone — I mean, just take a look at what we’ve done with Choice.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s taking premature credit for improvements that will take years to see full effect in regards to the Veterans Choice program.
Trump signed legislation in June to expand the private-sector Choice program, which was first approved in 2014 during the Obama administration in the wake of a scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center in which some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. The current Choice program allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.
How much Choice will be expanded, however, will depend on yet-to-be-completed regulations that will determine eligibility for veterans as well as available money for the program. The Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to resolve long-term financing due to congressional budget caps that could put funding for VA or other domestic programs at risk of shortfalls next year.
Also important to the program’s success is an overhaul of the VA’s electronic medical records to allow seamless sharing of medical records with private physicians, a process expected to take up to 10 years. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said full implementation of the expanded Choice program is “years” away.
TRUMP, on keeping health premiums down and covering people with preexisting medical conditions: “What we’re doing, if you look at the Department of Labor also — (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Alex) Azar, what they’ve done. They’ve come up with some incredible health care plans, which is causing great competition and driving the prices right down.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s glossing over the limitations of his administration’s new health care options, which offer lower premiums than comprehensive plans such as the Affordable Care Act but also cover less. The availability of Trump’s short-term health plans also is not going to “drive down” prices of the Obama-era overhaul or comprehensive plans, but may increase premiums for robust coverage if fewer healthy people take it as a result.
Strictly speaking, the short-term and association health plans are not new. The Trump administration has broadened their potential reach, although some states may push back with restrictions.
Short-term plans don’t have to take people with medical conditions or provide benefits such as coverage for maternity, mental health, prescription drugs and substance abuse treatment. Association health plans do have to accept people with pre-existing medical conditions, but they don’t have to cover the full menu of 10 “essential” kinds of benefits required by Obamacare.
Gary Claxton of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says short-term plans may turn out to be more costly than Trump administration officials suggest. The plans now cover up to 90 days, but if insurers expand them to offer up to 36 months’ coverage, the companies will be taking on more risk.
“You’ll have to pay more up front because there’s a longer time during which you could get sick,” Claxton said.
Associated Press writers Cal Woodward, Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
As one of the “baby boom” generation, I lived and worked among three U.S. Presidents who could have served in the military during the Vietnam war.
Bill Clinton, the first Vietnam-era President, defied military service with multiple draft deferments, including a questionable one obtained while he studied as an Rhodes scholar in Britain.
George W. Bush served in the air reserves in Texas, but that service was marred by reports of his use of that role to avoid serving in combat in Vietnam.
Barack Obama was too young to serve in the the military during Vietnam. As our youngest president, he avoided military service completely as the draft wound down after the war. He said he considered the military, but choose another route for public service.
Donald Trump used a claimed “bone spur” in his ankle that may or may not have existed since no medical records have ever appeared to support what kept him out of war. His doctor, now long dead, never produced any proof that Trump suffered from bone spurs.
Three failed presidential nominees — Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore along with the late Republican John McCain — served in the military and fought in Vietnam. McCain, a Navy aviator, spent years in a Viet Cong prison in Hanoi after being shot down — lost early in primaries on one bid but won the nomination to lose against Barack Obama in 2008. Al Gore lost to George W. Bush as did Kerry in Bush’s re-election to a second term.
To date, no veteran of one of America’s most controversial wars, has run this country. The last American president to serve in war was George H.W. Bush, shot down over the Pacific in World War II. Like McCain, he was a Navy aviator. The elder Bush failed to win a second term, losing to proclaimed draft dodger Clinton.
Three of our last five presidents did not serve. Two of the three served two terms. The third’s second term will most likely be decided by voters in 2020.
George W. Bush used reserve service to stay out of war. Ironically, he became the president who tapped the reserves and National Guard to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan during his terms.
As America honored and buried John McCain this past week — a fitting tribute to a war hero who tried twice to become president and failed — one has to wonder: Does serving your country matter in today’s America?
A draft dodger beat a World War II veteran trying to seek re-election.
America’s current “president” is a foul-mouthed, skirt-chasing liar draft dodger who abuses the office of the presidency to “punish” anyone who disagrees with him by stripping security clearances without valid reasons while he avoids the law, traditions and decency?
Disgusting? Without a doubt.
Irreversible? Only time can say. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is building a documented case against Donald Trump’s corruption and crimes against the Constitution. That’s step one.
In November, voters can take the second step in the midterm elections that could change the leadership of Congress.
Step three should be the final one to rid our nation of the loathsome son-of-a-bitch who threatens the sanctity and security of the United States of America.
A former U.S. naval combat-tested officer said she feels angry that President Donald Trump is saying transgender veterans like her should be considered unfit to serve.
Another transgender service member said he will not be kicked out without a fight.
Transgender veterans and active-duty troops spoke Wednesday about Trump’s Twitter pronouncement banning transgender people from military service.
Here are their stories:
OFFENSIVE TO MILITARY VALUES
Paula M. Neira, who left the Navy in 1991 and transitioned to female after leaving active duty, said she was angry at Trump’s announcement. It brought up bad memories for the naval officer, who served on Sept. 11, 2001.
She said the commander in chief is sending the message that the country does not want transgender troops.
“Nobody who is willing to volunteer to defend our country should ever be told that they’re not fit because of other people’s prejudice, and not because of any military necessity,” she said.
VOWING TO FIGHT
Rudy Akbarian, 26, said he will not leave the armed forces without a fight.
“I’m just serving as a soldier just like anybody else,” Akbarian said.
His chain-of-command was supportive of him as he transitioned from female to male.
“Everybody is hurt. Everybody is scared,” he said. “This is people’s lives we’re talking about. People who enlisted nearly 20 years ago and now 18 or 19 years in, now that’s being taken away and the don’t get to retire?”
Alaina Kupec, a Navy intelligence officer from 1992 until 1995, said she felt “heartbreak” after she heard about Trump’s tweet. The 48-year-old transitioned to life as a woman in 2013.
“It just really saddened me for the transgender sailors and soldiers who are serving around the world today and are selflessly giving themselves to protect our country,” said Kupec, who lives in Orange, New Jersey.
‘FORCED BACK INTO THE CLOSET’
Air Force veteran Vanessa Sheridan said transgender people have always served in the military but now they are going to have to hide their identities if there is a new policy.
“My biggest concern now is going to be that transgender people are going to be forced back into the closet,” said Sheridan, a transgender woman who works as an LGBT activist in Chicago.
‘FIRED BY TWEET’
Capt. Jacob Eleazer, 31, who serves in the Kentucky Army National Guard, took the day off from his job as a therapist in Lexington to figure out the situation.
“Fired by tweet. It was honestly pretty shocking,” he said.
FEAR OF THE FUTURE
Combat veteran Shane Ortega, a transgender man in Los Angeles who served in the Army and Marines for more than a decade, said troops who are forced out may get a bad conduct discharge for being transgender, jeopardizing their VA benefits and future.
“That’s the equivalent of being a convicted felon in American society,” said Ortega, 30, who transitioned to a male in 2009, seven years before leaving the military after serving multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They will not get gainful employment.”
‘PEOPLE KNOW WHO WE ARE NOW’
Blake Dremann, a transgender, active-duty Navy lieutenant commander in Washington, said he will continue to serve “regardless of what was said today.”
“Trans service members are continuing to do our jobs,” said Dremann 36, president of SPARTA a trans advocacy group. “People know who we are now and it becomes personal, especially when you’ve got families that are going to be affected by this.”
WHAT MATTERS MOST
Emma Shinn, 41, a transgender woman who served in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring in 2014, said it was incredibly stressful to work under the military’s previous policy that banned LGBT service members.
“It creates a gulf between the service member and his or her fellow Marines,” said Shinn, who lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.
What matters most is if “you have my back in a firefight,” Shinn said.
Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; Teresa Crawford in Chicago; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Tatiana Flowers in Denver; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Cathy Bussewitz in Honolulu contributed to this report.
My grandfather, Army private Walter McPeak fought in the trenches of Europe in World War I.
He made it home and died at the VA Hospital in Salem, VA, in 1976.
My father, Navy Electrician’s Mate 1st Class William D. Thompson, Sr., fought in the Pacific in World War II and stood, in his dress whites, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered and World War II ended in 1945.
He died three years after the war in an industrial accident at the U.S. Phosphorus Plant just south of Tampa, Florida. I was nine months old.
Both men joined to serve their countries to fight in foreign lands to protect what they felt was an American way of life worth saving and, if necessary, die to their service.
Today, Memorial Day, I will ride my Harley out to Buffalo Mountain Cemetery in Floyd County, Virginia, to drop to my knees and thank my grandfather for his willingness, without question, to serve.
My father’s grave is just north of Tampa and I won’t be able to get there today but I will go to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. to thank those who served and died to protect our country.
Then I will ride to the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin, VA, to honor friends, family and colleagues.
My father and grandfather made it back from wars but I still try to honor their service on Memorial Day and any other chance I have to remember them. A nephew serves in the Navy now and I hope and pray he is safe wherever he is today.
A Navy SEAL died this weekend at the start of Fleet Week in New York City as part of the Memorial Day activities. As a member of the elite Leap Frogs parachute team, his chute failed on a demonstration jump.
Not all veterans die in wars but they should be remembered on this Memorial Day and all other times.
Thousands died in the Revolutionary War that helped create our nation. Less than a century later, thousands more died in the Civil War that almost destroyed our young nation.
Even more died in World Wars I & II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. They continue to die in Afghanistan and other present conflicts.
Veterans Cemeteries cover many acres of land in the United States and around the world. Many who died at Normandy and other beaches on D-Day in World War II lie in graves in France. Others on Pacific atolls or at the bottom of the seas.
“Death in service to one’s country is the greatest valor,” says a traditional saying, but other question such beliefs.
Wrote Ernest Hemingway:
They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
Mark Twain wrote:
Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
Theodore Roosevelt may have put it best:
Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.
I will remember Roosevelt’s comments when I drop to one knee at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, the Vietnam War Memorial at Princeton, West Virginia and the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin today.
They died proudly in service to the country and I honor them without hesitation.
Yet, particularly in these troubled times in a divisive America, I must wonder if at least some of them died in vain.
President Barack Obama is touting strides in reducing homelessness among military veterans as his administration reaches the halfway point in building a massive database on veterans’ health.
Overall veteran homelessness has been cut nearly in half, by 47 percent, although that’s still short of Obama’s long-held goal of getting it to zero by 2015. Credit also goes to first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, for using their initiative on military families to challenge mayors and county officials nationwide to end veterans’ homelessness, the White House says.
A half-million veterans have voluntarily given blood samples and health data for a long-term government research program that seeks to enroll 1 million veterans as part of an Obama initiative to make “precision medicine,” or tailored treatment, a reality.
Those two milestones are being announced Monday when Obama addresses the annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, the White House said. The appearance before the service organization is a valedictory address by Obama, who ends his eight years in the White House in January.
In a preview of his comments, the White House says Obama will argue that getting ex-military members the health care and benefits they’ve earned is a national promise that “can’t be broken.” He also will recap how he has tried to help former military members, moving beyond headline-grabbing scandals over lengthy wait-times for veterans seeking medical care that led to the firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Care for America’s veterans is a top issue in the presidential campaign, with the nearly 21 million veterans in the U.S. making up a critical voting bloc. Republican Donald Trump has repeatedly blasted the VA under Obama; Democrat Hillary Clinton has been less harsh.
Both candidates promise to overhaul the department, including its health care delivery. Trump has proposed allowing veterans eligible for VA health care to take their ID cards to any doctor or facility that accepts Medicare to get immediate care. Clinton would make changes to the existing system.
Despite the problems and bad publicity, demand for VA health care continues to grow, increasing 13 percent in the past year, said DAV Executive Director Garry Augustine.
“We know that even though the access is a problem, health care in the VA is very good,” Augustine said in an interview.
The health care side “remains to be fixed,” Augustine said, and noted the recent conclusion by a congressionally mandated commission that the department continues to have “profound deficiencies” in delivering health care to millions of veterans. VA already has been making changes in line with the commission’s recommendations. Augustine said he’d like veterans to be allowed to seek outside care from an approved system of private doctors who know how to treat veterans.
Augustine also expressed concern, shared by the White House, over a backlog of appeals.
While a backlog of disability claims that neared 610,000 in 2013 has been whittled to below 80,000, more than 450,000 appeals are pending. Veterans wait an average of three years for a decision, which the White House called “unacceptable.”
“We want to get them both down,” Augustine said, referring to both backlogs.
Overall, though, Augustine said veterans appreciate the support they have received from Obama. He cited increased spending on veterans, expanded and better health care for female veterans, tax credits for hiring veterans and strides toward reducing veterans’ homelessness, among other issues.
“We feel the president’s been very supportive during his administration and we appreciate that,” he said.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald, an Army veteran and former president and CEO of Procter & Gamble who succeeded Shinseki, said in an interview that “the president’s got a lot to be proud of.” He cited the increased spending and demand for VA health care, progress toward cutting unemployment and homelessness, and efforts to streamline claims and appeals.
McDonald argued against privatizing the VA.
“When all of us signed up, we signed up with the belief and an obligation that we were going to put our lives on the line, and in exchange for that the country was going to help support us,” he said. “I see that from this president. He is going to make it clear … that this commitment is a national responsibility and a promise that can’t be broken.”
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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Donald Trump’s heated war with the media reached new heights as he turned the brag-worthy feat of raising $5.6 million for veterans’ charities into a sparring match with reporters pressing him on the issue.
“The press should be ashamed of themselves,” a defensive Trump railed during a Tuesday news conference at Trump Tower, called to announce a list of 41 charities that received a cut of the money he raised during a highly publicized January fundraiser.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee had previously declined to disclose which charities had received the $6 million he’d claimed to have raised, and his campaign had gone back and forth about how much pledged money had come through. The Washington Post had pressed for an accounting of the donations, and several charities said they received checks just last week.
Throughout Tuesday’s 40-minute question-and-answer session, Trump accused the media of being “unbelievably dishonest” in their treatment of him.
“I sent people checks of a lot of money. … And instead of being like, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone’s saying: ‘Who got (the money)? Who got it? Who got it?’ And you make me look very bad,” he complained. “I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”
While Trump has frequently made the media a punching bag, calling out reporters during his signature rallies, the taunts Tuesday were intense, even for him. The billionaire mogul interrupted his recitation of the list of groups receiving portions of the money to complain about the way reporters had called up charities to try to verify his contributions. He called the political press “disgusting” and dismissed one ABC News reporter as “a sleaze.”
While Trump’s fundraiser, held opposite a Fox News debate he chose to boycott, should have been a positive story for Trump, his campaign’s refusal to disclose details about the money raised became a sticking point. Trump insisted Tuesday that “most of the money went out quite a while ago,” but that didn’t seem to be the case.
The Associated Press spoke or left messages with each of the organizations Trump named. Of the 26 groups that responded by Tuesday, half said they had received checks from Trump just last week.
Several said the checks were dated on or about March 24 and shipped out by overnight express — the same date as a Trump interview with The Washington Post, which for weeks had been pressing his campaign to disclose the recipients of the millions raised during the splashy telethon-style fundraiser in Iowa.
Indeed, more than a dozen big checks were rushed out of New York early last week, bound for veterans charities around the country. The largest, a $1 million check dated May 24 and drawn from Trump’s personal account, was addressed to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, a small Tuckahoe, New York, group that provides scholarships to the children of fallen Marines. The foundation had presented Trump with an award at its 2015 gala held at a ritzy New York hotel.
Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, had originally told the Post that the Iowa event had raised about $4.5 million — less than the $6 million originally announced by Trump — because some who’d pledged contributions had backed out.
Appearing Tuesday on CNN, Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton said she was glad Trump had finally given out the promised money.
“The problem here is the difference between what Donald Trump says and what Donald Trump does,” Clinton said. “He’s bragged for months about raising $6 million for vets and donating $1 million himself, but it took a reporter to shame him into actually making the contribution.”
Trump repeatedly insisted during the news conference that he didn’t want “credit” for the contributions. However, he hadn’t appeared shy about giving away poster-size checks at campaign events in the weeks after the fundraiser.
On Jan. 30, just before the Iowa caucuses, he gave a $100,000 check to the Puppy Jake Foundation, which provides service dogs to wounded veterans. Representatives from the foundation, accompanied by several service dogs, accepted the check at the Adler Theater in Davenport, Iowa, where Trump was being interviewed on stage.
The next day, in Council Bluffs, Trump presented another check, also for $100,000, to Partners for Patriots, which also provides service dogs to disabled veterans.
The public check presentations trickled off within days, though some of the groups contacted by the AP did report receiving checks in February, March and April.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied Tuesday that timing had anything to do with questions from the media.
“Mr. Trump’s team worked very hard to complete this lengthy process prior to Memorial Day Weekend,” she said. The campaign also said it had taken months to carefully vet each of the groups receiving money.
Trump, who has refused calls to moderate his tone and temperament, also said he has no plans to change his tone with the press if he’s elected to the White House.
“Yeah, it is going to be like this,” he said of potential future news conferences led by a President Trump.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.
Nursing assistant Tom Alligood wears camouflage scrubs during his emergency room shifts at the Dorn VA hospital because he says it helps other veteran patients realize they’ve “walked over the same dirt,” the 62-year-old former Army tanker says.
And he doesn’t just mean the desert sands of Iraq.
Alligood means homelessness, job loss and the mental anguish of being a long-time military veteran trying to adjust to the trials of a dog-eat-dog, backstabbing civilian world he says nearly ate him alive.
“I need to be around veterans like me. That’s where I get my strength, my ‘positiveness’ from,” says the burly former first sergeant who now sports a long, gray braid on his back.
Alligood says he has found a new mission – working in the sprawling Columbia VA hospital and helping as many of his one-time brothers and sisters in arms as he can.
And the VA is looking for more people like Alligood.
In an attempt to respond to the crisis of lengthy patient wait-times and a malfunctioning bureaucracy, VA Secretary Robert McDonald told Congress the agency hired about 14,000 health care workers last year, including 1,300 doctors and 3,600 nurses.
At Dorn, nursing administrator Ruth Mustard said the hospital hired an average of 85 nurses as well as 25 licensed practical nurses and 25 nursing assistants each year for the past two years.
Alligood’s background as a military veteran is a plus, she says, and they can always use more like him.
“Veterans know what it takes to serve and what sacrifices they’ve endured and what some of their challenges have been that have affected their health,” the nurse supervisor says.
Alligood said he can relate to his veteran-patients because the route he took from being a VA patient to VA caregiver has been a challenging one.
After leaving the Army, he took a job managing a concrete block plant. The job was eliminated when the plant was sold. Falling deep in debt, Alligood said he took to sleeping in abandoned buildings after losing his car and his home. Life in homeless shelters didn’t sit right, either.
“I wasn’t in the best of shape, mentally and physically,” he said, his rumbling voice catching. “That was the lowest I’ve ever been.”
Alligood said counselors told him about a VA program that put homeless veterans into counseling and back to work. He grabbed the chance to put in 40 hours a week transporting other veterans around the hallways of the sprawling Dorn VA Medical Center in wheelchairs and gurneys.
“It was for $5.15 an hour, minimum wage. But trust me, that $5.15 meant more to me at that time than anything,” he recalls.
As he traversed the hospital’s maze of corridors, Alligood said he made a point of greeting as many people as he could.
Alligood’s banter with other veterans caught Mustard’s ear. She told him the VA would pay for his schooling if he wanted to learn to become a certified nursing assistant and come back to help other veterans.
He went back to school and the Florida native returned to the Dorn VA Medical Center, where he’s logged three years in an eldercare unit and six years in the emergency department.
“He has a fabulous rapport,” Mustard said.
Emergency room nurse Karen Teal says the former first sergeant has a personal touch that put stressed-out patients “instantly at ease.”
“He’s our jewel,” Teal says, beaming at her co-worker.
Alligood said his days in Iraq and Saudi Arabia help him understand veterans who might be dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He recounted one veteran he found experiencing a “flashback” in the ER.
“I was able to tell him, ‘I got your back, I got your back,'” Alligood said, telling how he’d gotten down on the floor with the ailing veteran, assuring him he’d reached a safe place.
“I don’t feel that this is a job for me. I feel that this is a calling, because I get to help so many people,” Alligood said.
Associated Press writer Bruce Smith contributed to this report from Charleston, South Carolina.
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