- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft, I recently visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and walked those sacred grounds once more. As I passed by the statue “The Three Servicemen,” I viewed at the foot of the statue the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commendation Plaque, also known as the In Memory Plaque. As you and many of your readers know, the plaque was dedicated on Nov. 10, 2004, to recognize the veterans who died after service in Vietnam as a direct result of that service.

I subsequently learned that the words on the plaque are to be improved for better visibility. I appreciate this effort, but I think more needs to be done! The plaque could be raised or placed on a pedestal or moved to a more visible location. The In Memory Book with the names of the service members so honored could be placed beside the plaque.

I am interested to learn if there is interest and support among your readers to improve the visibility of the In Memory Plaque.

Sincerely,

Rep. Bob Filner

Chairman

Committee on Veterans Affairs

Dear Mr. Chairman,

I find it disgraceful that this special memorial plaque seems to have such little meaning for its visibility and maintenance by the caretakers at the wall. I join you, Mr. Filner, in urging those responsible to remedy this situation.

Shaft notes:

• As I mentioned in a previous column, the National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) recently sent letters to members of Congress urging their support of H.R. 23, the belated thank-you to merchant mariners of World War II.

As NAUS noted, “U.S. Merchant Marine Combat Veterans received no help and little recognition after the war from the government they served. They missed out on the GI Bill for their education, the GI Home Loan Program for purchase of their family home and related earned benefits, not to mention the cost of the medical care they underwent for the wounds, illnesses and injuries they experienced. In short, “Their service was shelved and taken for granted.”

It wasn’t until decades later, 44 years to be exact, that Congress granted veterans status to these deserving individuals - long after other veterans had used the generous benefits our nation provided and received the necessary medical care to treat their wounds.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill in 1944, he said, “I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to members of the Merchant Marine, who risked their lives time and again during the war for their country.”

Fewer than 10,000 of these brave men, who challenged our enemy at sea and helped win the war, remain. All are of extended age, and time is quickly running out for Congress to express appreciation for their service as Roosevelt intended.

H.R. 23 was approved by the full House on May 12. That bill and its Senate companion, S. 663, await Senate action. I again urge the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to favorably consider this important legislation and the full Senate to pass it.

• Kudos to the U.S. Senate, which recently voted 98-0 to pass the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009, a sweeping reform bill sponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, for wounded warriors and the families who care for them.

“Today the Senate reaffirmed that caring for veterans is a cost of war, a cost wounded warriors and their family members should not be forced to pay alone,” said Mr. Akaka of the vote. “I applaud my colleagues for recognizing the urgent need to pass this bill, and I thank the many veterans, veterans organizations, and concerned Americans who pushed for today’s vote.”

The bill would:

• Establish an unprecedented permanent program to train, support and assist the caregivers of disabled veterans.

• Improve care for veterans in rural areas, reduce veteran homelessness, improve care for women veterans.

• Improve VA’s ability to recruit and retain a strong work force and provide quality assurance at its medical facilities.

This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

• Sens. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, recently introduced the Cold War Service Medals Act of 2009, bipartisan legislation to authorize the secretaries of the military departments to award Cold War Service Medals to American veterans.

To date, no medal exists to honor the men and women who served and defended the United States during the Cold War.

Specifically, the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2009 would allow the Defense Department to issue a Cold War Service Medal to any honorably discharged veteran who served on active duty for not less than two years or was deployed for 30 days or more during the period from Sept. 2, 1945, to Dec. 26, 1991. In the case of veterans who are deceased, the medal could be issued to their family or representative, as determined by the Defense Department.

The bill also would express the sense of Congress that the secretary of defense should expedite the design of the medal and expedite the establishment and implementation mechanisms to facilitate the issuance of the Cold War Service Medal. The award of the Cold War Service Medal is supported by the American Cold War Veterans, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans services organizations.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

The In Memory Plaque “could be raised or placed on a pedestal or moved to a more visible location. The In Memory Book … could be placed beside the plaque.”

- Rep. Bob Filne

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