- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear Sgt Shaft,

As national president of Gold Star Wives of America, a national veterans service organization, I recently wrote a letter to President Obama that Id like to share with you and your readers.

The letter said, “On behalf of Gold Star Wives of America, I would like to express our organizations disappointment in your State of the Union Address on Wednesday evening. In your speech you spoke about the ‘respect, gratitude, and full support’ that should be shown our men and women in uniform around the world. What about the respect, gratitude, and support owed the men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and those theyve left behind? We applaud your support for service members and their families; however, we would like to see equal public recognition and support for the survivors of the fallen. Youve diminished our spouses sacrifice by ignoring them, and us.

“Mr. President, you supported survivor issues when you were in the Senate, why have you abandoned us now when you can truly make a difference? Just a word or two of acknowledgment would have been nice.”

Gold Star Wives asks everyone to remember and honor the fallen and their surviving family members, not just those who are currently serving and their families.

— Kit Frazer, national president, Gold Star Wives of America

Dear Kit,

I urge the president to not only mention the sacrifices of the fallen, but also to support programs espoused by you and other surviving spouses such as SBP/DIC (Survivor Benefit Plan/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation) offset legislation, which is dormant in Congress.

Shaft notes

Kudos to Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, for his continuous advocacy on behalf of veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war. This was manifested most recently in an oversight hearing on veteran suicide and mental health issues.

Mr. Akaka, who has championed a number of veterans mental health and suicide-prevention bills which are now law, sought to hear from veterans and VA leadership on the implementation of these measures.

“Just as we must provide our troops with the equipment and tools they need when they are sent to battle, we must do more to help veterans battle the enemy of mental illness,” Mr. Akaka said. “VA has made important improvements in recent years, but we must continue to work until what now seems impossible becomes a reality: that no veteran who returns from service is lost to suicide.”

Mr. Akaka is the author of the Veterans Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act (Public Law 110-387), a sweeping bill passed in 2008 to address the dual issues of substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans. This legislation paid tribute to Justin Bailey, a veteran who died of a drug overdose while receiving treatment from VA for PTSD and substance abuse.

Mr. Akaka also co-sponsored the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, passed in 2007 to improve VAs suicide prevention efforts and establish a counseling hot line that has led to more than 1,000 rescues.

Witnesses at the hearing drew from firsthand knowledge to discuss the challenges faced by veterans with invisible wounds, which sometimes produce tragic consequences. Mr. Daniel Hanson, an Iraq war veteran, discussed his difficult road from attempted suicide to recovery, to which he largely credited a year-plus residential recovery program outside of VA. A witness from VAs suicide prevention hot line described the successful rescue of a veteran who had attempted to take his own life.

Thanks to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki for directing VA attention to Persian Gulf War veterans. A special task force has nearly completed a comprehensive report that will redefine how VA addresses the pain and suffering of ill veterans who deployed during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.

The mission of VAs Gulf War Task Force is to identify gaps in services as well as opportunities to better serve veterans of the war. Of the almost 700,000 service members who deployed to Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there have been 300,000 Gulf War veterans withclaims decisions, more than 85 percent were granted service connection for at least one condition, and more than 14 percent were not granted service connection for any condition. The chairman of the Gulf War Task Force is John R. Gingrich, chief of staff at Veterans Affairs and retired Army officer who served during the Gulf War.

“Reaching out to Gulf War veterans is not only essential to our transformation of VA; for many of us it is also personal,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Having commanded troops in the Gulf War and then witness some of them fall to mysterious illnesses has been very difficult to watch. With this task force, I am hopeful we can provide these men and women a better quality of life.”

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.