Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: "Community Voices" Opinion piece #2 - Supporting our Veterans

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Community Voices" Opinion piece #2 - Supporting our Veterans

My second piece for the Anchorage Daily News is very different from the first. I wrote about a Veterans organization that just blows me away by the work they do for their fellow Vets.

It will be in Thursday's paper.
With the passing of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq conflict and the tragic milestone of 4000 U.S. soldiers killed there, many people showed their support for our troops this week by holding vigils to "bring the troops home" or by organizing alternative memorials. All gatherings included participants who were Veterans as well as military family and friends.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Iraq policies, it's clear that a strong majority of Alaskans truly want the best for all of our troops past, present and future. This was demonstrated symbolically when some idiot dumped a can of paint on the Park Strip Veteran's Memorial last week and people of all political persuasions came to help clean it up.

Beyond symbolic support, most of us want to do more but are at a loss what to do. We hear news stories on the plight of our Veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan...especially those who are wounded and/or disabled. We hear how the backlog of the Iraq Veterans in the system has had a bottleneck effect on the services to those from the Vietnam-era and earlier. We've heard claims regarding funding and the performance of the Veterans Administration and other government entities tasked with caring for our Vets.

A friend recently told me about the “Veterans Aviation Outreach”. It is a non-profit organization of Vietnam-era veteran pilots who have dedicated their lives and their pocketbooks to helping their fellow vets. According to their website, the group’s “express purpose is to locate, inform and assist Veterans residing in rural and remote Alaska, to help them in obtaining health care and other earned benefits in which they are entitled to - even death benefits.

Many of these Veterans have no knowledge of these different programs or how to go about applying for them.”

That’s an amazing statement. It gives just an idea of the scope of the problem. Most of these vets are probably paying for their own services or just suffering in silence and must be contacted by someone who can give them the information – something the Federal and State governments are clearly not doing.

The VAO’s website has a map showing their area of service. Since they target the “underserved veterans” that means they basically fly everywhere in Alaska but Anchorage, the Mat Su Valley and Fairbanks. Using my trusty Google and my calculator, I added up the square miles for Anchorage, Mat Su and Fairbanks and got 34,582 sq mi. That left 551, 830 sq mi for the VAO to cover. The skyrocketing fuel prices alone are draining whatever resources they have.

When I talked to Maurice “Mo” Bailey about his organization, he told me about a Vietnam-era vet who was suffering from cancer and concerned about the operation he was facing. When Mo started to question him, it turned out that this man had come into regular contact with Agent Orange. His cancer should have been covered by the VA through disability. Within a short time, Mo helped him get set-up and taken care of through the appropriate agencies.

The VAO is organizing a big barbecue on April 26th to bring as many veterans, serving agencies and veteran supporters together as possible. They are hoping to get a few donations to offset the cost of their operations as well.

I’m helping in any way that I can, and I hope you’ll want to help too.

Linda Kellen Biegel lives in Midtown. Her email address is celticdivaak@yahoo.com. The Veterans Aviation Outreach website is http://www.vaoonline.org/.


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