TOP

The Bracelet of Captain Calvin Maxwell

Sometimes a series of events that seemed totally unrelated at the time they happened, come together in a most profound and an almost unbelievable way that leaves one to truly ponder the definition of “Fate” to tell a story.

I don’t know how long the events have been aligned, but for me, this part of the story began in 1972 when I was 21 flying around the country as a Stewardess for National Airlines.  We often had planes full of soldiers who just wanted to finally be home.

The Vietnam conflict was still going on, and so many of my high school classmates had either been drafted or elected to join the military, and many of them did not get the opportunity to make it home.

The wearing of POW/MIA bracelets in showing support was quite popular at the time, and it was a small way to keep hope alive.

The soldier that was given to me was Army Captain Calvin Maxwell.  He had been MIA since October 10, 1969.  I was a senior in high school the year he went missing.

I wore the bracelet faithfully with the hope that one night on the evening news, I would learn that he had been found, and was on his way back to his family.  The image of John McCain walking off that plane after being held captive only served to reassure me that it was possible.

The Vietnam conflict ended in 1975 with no news regarding Calvin, and like most, life had gotten busy, and for those whose lives had not been touched by this war, it faded into the background, and his bracelet found its way to a jewelry box only coming out on days we remember or honor our veterans.

On a leap of faith, we move forward 40 years, where other parts of this story that had been there all along begin to unfold.

The internet was now part of our world, and finding information was only a keystroke away.  I had done many searches for Calvin over the years anticipating learning of his fate, but the vastness of the internet seemed unwilling to offer up the answer I sought, until one day I found an article on him that included a picture I believed must have been his senior picture from high school.

Finally there was a face, and Calvin Maxwell was more than just a name engraved onto a bracelet.

Interestingly enough I found this article just prior to what would be the 40th year he had been classified MIA.

At the time I thought how “coincidental” that I would find this just in time to honor him, his memory, his service, and sacrifice for this milestone day by writing a blog on VeteranAid.org dedicated to him.

For the back story of his fatal mission and my original blog, I recommend reading this for clarification to fully appreciate how this all is woven together. http://veteranaid.org/vetblog/?p=49&trashed=1&ids=22

I never really anticipated that this piece I wrote in 2009 would be anything more than just my personal tribute to this solider, and then on September 12th 2011, someone commented on the blog.

“Calvin was my cousin. Thank you so much for keeping the faith. It means the world to us. His parents were Uncle Calvin and Aunt Ruth. Sweetest people you ever met. Thank you so much my friend!!”

Once again, I found it “coincidental” that this posting was made on my Mother’s birthday, for it was my battle with the VA on her behalf that lead me to launch VeteranAid.org, which lead to the creation of the blog where Calvin’s story is told.

Not just a name engraved on a bracelet, but now a picture of him and knowing who his parents were.  A Mom and Dad who “were the sweetest people”, and my heart ached at the thought they left this world without closure for their son.

Every now and then someone would post that they too had a POW/MIA bracelet with his name, and what it meant to them. Part of me didn’t much care that someone else had “my soldier” as I thought of him, but I knew that just meant there had been that many more people who had prayed and hoped for his safe return.

“Thank you! For many years I wore a bracelet with Capt. Maxwell’s name on it and never knew his story. I was looking in a jewelry box today and found the bracelet and thought I would look online to see if I could find anything about him. Thank you again for providing this valuable service.”

“I just randomly googled Captain Calvin Maxwell and found this site. I too have a Calvin Maxwell POW bracelet that I was given in the sixth grade in 1971. A teacher purchased one for me since I always was commenting on hers. I wore it constantly for years and still on occasion wear it. I too have prayed for the young soldier and his family. It goes to show that those lost are not forgotten. My own brother who has since past served in Viet Nam. It is an honor it wear it.”

“I also wore a bracelet for Captain Calvin Maxwell. When the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial was unveiled, I went there, hoping that Captain Maxwell’s name was not engraved there. Sadly, I found him listed in the index listed as MIA.

As I went to the memorial panel and counted down to the line where his name was engraved, I wished I knew more about him. Every visit I have made to “The Wall” since then, I find his name again and wonder about him.

Today, as I watched the Memorial Day Ceremonies on TV, it occurred to me to try and google his name and I found your website. Thank you for creating this on-line memorial to him.

I was not aware that his name had been worn on other wrists. It is comforting to know that there were so many of us wearing the POW/MIA bracelets during the time when it seemed that so much of the country was preoccupied with protesting both the war and it’s participants.

Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in Rolling Thunder. Now in its 25th year, this motorcycle ride was begun by Viet Nam Veterans who wanted to raise awareness about the service members who were left behind in Viet Nam. My husband and our two sons rode yesterday in honor and remembrance of men like Captain Calvin Maxwell.

Our sincere condolences to his family and to all you wore the bracelet for, especially on this Memorial Day. We pray for Captain Calvin Maxwell’s return.”

And then there were those who found my blog whose comments provided additional insights of who he was prior to enlisting in the Army.

“I lived in Carlsbad NM one of my school years.

There was a handsome ROTC student named Calvin Maxwell.  I always wondered about his life knowing he would be in the service of his country.

I am so sad to hear this may be him. A very striking young man that I could never get up the courage to speak to.

So sorry his family has had to go through this hardest of all things to bear.”

“I went to school with Calvin at Carlsbad High. I can remember him in his ROTC uniform. He wore it with pride. I went to the traveling Memorial and saw his name on the list.”

Childhood memories are often our most treasured, and our first “best friend” is never really forgotten as evident by this post.

“I was Calvin’s best friend from about 4 years old to 18 years old. We played with each other every day as we grew up in Atlantic City. We were inseparable and traveled to the beach boardwalk and the neighborhood. He lived on Drexel and Mulloch Terrace in the inlet section of Atlantic City. He was a gentlemen and a best friend. His father, Calvin, was an Atlantic City policeman. Ruth was a sweet lady that often invited me for dinner. Ruth’s mother was a Carroll, and she also lived in the Inlet of AC Calvin and I spent many hours with her talking many things.

Prior to High School the family moved to Carlsbad New Mexico and during High School Calvin would come back to Atlantic City and we always got together. He loved Atlantic City

About 30 years ago I went to the telephone directory and called the family in Carlsbad. I believe at that time Ruth was ill. I called again and I believe Ruth had passed away. The next time I called Calvin’s father had passed

I spoke to one of Calvin’s brothers. I remember there was a John and a Scott. I cannot remember the other brothers name

A few days ago I was talking to another one of our friends and he told me that Calvin was in Atlantic City right before he was going to be sent to Vietnam, and he mention that Calvin thought he was going to be promoted to Major.

I still think about Calvin and miss the fun we had as kids.”

Amazingly I had been given this incredible glimpse into much of his life, and the people who loved him.  A total stranger whose name was engraved upon a bracelet now had a history that encompassed much of his life before coming to me, but there was still yet more to learn.

“Does anyone know if Capt. Maxwell had/has any siblings?”

“Yes he had four, three of which are still here. John who also served in Vietnam, Scott, Donald & Roger. My father is John.”

Brothers – A mental picture forms as I imagine these brothers playing on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, and their anguish for all these years, and how incomplete their circle must feel.

An entire life had been told with responses to my blog from family and strangers across the country.  All who had hoped for his return to his rightful place as a son, brother, husband, cousin, and friend.

One would think that this would be where the story ends, but one more “coincidence” or happenstance had other plans.

This past Monday, we celebrated Veterans’ Day, and in the final hours of the evening with Calvin’s bracelet on my desk while I worked, I received a notification that another comment had been posted on the blog regarding the piece on Captain Calvin Maxwell. Once again I thought what a “coincidence” that on this day of all days, but nothing could have prepared me for what this comment would hold.

“Calvin Maxwell and I met in July 1969 in Nha Trang, Viet Nam, at First Field Force Headquarters. We were both Artillery Captains and were assigned to the 52nd Artillery Group, Pleiku, Central Highlands. We flew together to Pleiku and reported to the Commander, who assigned us both to the 6th Battalion 14th Artillery known as the Big Guns of the Central Highlands (8?, 175mm.. For more background go to http://www.614arty.org.) The Battalion Commander, LTC Bailey, had just returned from the siege of Ben Het, and he assigned Capt. Maxwell to be S2 (Intelligence Officer), and myself to be Battalion Motor Officer. We had bunked together for about a week but now Maxwell went to Kontum with a special intelligence unit and I stayed in Pleiku. At a staff meeting in October we learned that his plane had been shot down and he was missing. I left the Army and Viet Nam in February 1970. As the years went by I wondered if he had ever come back. I am glad that his name is now on the Viet Nam Memorial. Master Sergeant John Lamerson was Assistant S2 with Calvin Maxwell and wrote a book about his experiences entitled The Phantom of Ben Het. In the book he also writes about when Capt. Maxwell went missing. I have one picture that shows a group of us including Capt. Maxwell, taken shortly before. All these years I have kept him in my thoughts and prayers.”

His entire known lifetime had been shared from a young boy of only 4-years old playing ball with his best friend in Atlantic City to three months before he would go missing in the hell hole of Vietnam.

I sat there holding his bracelet overwhelmed and read through the comment again, and with a whisper in my heart, I wrote back to Captain Richard Lunt thanking him for what he had shared, for his service to our country, and asked for his considerations to share the pictures with me if possible.

Calvin Maxwell

Calvin Maxwell

He responded quickly, and in a matter of minutes as big as life, there Calvin stood before me on my monitor – Tall and strikingly handsome.  I glanced down at his bracelet, and thought how can this be possible?  (Calvin Maxwell is pictured far right)

That whisper in my heart told me, I needed to find a way to share more of his story.  To put together all the pieces that for many were fragmented.  Not just for me, but for those brothers, cousins, family, and all of us who wore his bracelet, or traced his name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall surrendering the hope his name was not there.

I asked Captain Lunt for his permission to share the photos, and his request was that I contact the family members first who had commented on the blog.

I held my breath that an old email address used for a post was still valid, and the contact was sent.

When a response came in, I was fearful to open what might contain a no, I didn’t want to receive.

“Yes, I would be interested.  Calvin was my oldest brother, and was shot down in a birddog on 10-10-69.

I would like to see those pictures.”

“I am Calvin’s brother Scott.  The other brothers are Don who is deceased and Roger.  Roger was not born in NJ.  He was 13 years younger than I was.  Calvin, John, Don and myself all moved from Atlantic City back in about 1958.

Calvin’s wife Kay has since married and finally had kids.  Calvin and Kay never had their own children.

I still stay in contact with Washington and the MIA families groups.  I have been very disappointed that the government has given up on Calvin.  Many of the other families had a very thick packet but our packet contained a redacted version of the events that you talked about above concerning the few days after the event.  The government will not recognize the events involving the foot prints and the possibilities that he might have been taken by the locals and then moved into Laos.

Daily I pray that he didn’t suffer.  With his age at the time of the event, I don’t see that he could be alive today.  I just don’t know if he was held in some of the cave imprisonment camps in Laos.

I thank all of those who have added comments to this section of this great website.  Mom and Dad died with a heavy heart due to the lack of information about Calvin’s condition.  I retained all of the information that she had kept and continue to this day to hold the government accountable for more information. Calvin was declared PKIA and ended up with the rank of Major.”

For clarifications, I told the family and Captain Lunt I would like to do an additional story, and was granted permission by all involved.

My hope is that I have been able to do it justice, and to portray Calvin in a more complete way than just a soldier listed as MIA. I also hope that in some small way, I have allowed for connections to be made,  some questions to be answered, and to honor him for this ultimate sacrifice.

I am challenged to believe that this story started as a flat piece of metal shaped to fit my wrist some 44 years ago with the words

“Capt. Calvin Maxwell

10-10-69

More than just a name engraved onto a bracelet, and maybe, not so “coincidental” after all.

My prayer is that one day there will be a need to add one final paragraph to this story – the one that talks about the day Captain Calvin Maxwell came home.

Read More
TOP

Letter to Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

August 1, 2012

Dear Senator Wyden:

As someone who assisted the Senate Committee on Aging with the investigation on “Pension Poachers”, I respectfully must say that I am incredibly disappointed at the outcome of this investigation.

I worked with Investigators for three solid months leading up to the hearing held on June 6, 2012.

I spent countless hours scouring thousands of VeteranAid.org emails and forum postings along with reaching out to my resources in order to provide critical information to investigators clearly showing the individuals and companies that should have been the focus of the investigation.

All the while in doing so, I was under the impression that the goal of this investigation was to identify those who had committed fraud associated with this pension, and to criminalize the activities of specific individuals and companies.  I thought someone was finally going to put an end to this “illegal” exploitation of our senior veterans and their families. I would not have cooperated to the extent that I did had I believed otherwise.

Due to my unique position with my work, I was able to provide Investigators incredible insights, information, and incriminating documentation regarding those individuals and companies who have deliberately duped our veterans and their families.  It seems that very little if anything was done with this information.

To quote from one investigator’s emails to me:

“Debbie,

It’s been wonderful working with you these past few months. You were invaluable to this hearing! Veterans across the country are lucky to have you as an advocate”.

I provided individuals to speak with along with former employees who had worked for some of the companies who were willing to share insider information to include an excel spreadsheet listing over 3,000 veterans and widows who had been promised and hoodwinked by XXXXXX Corporation.

None of these individuals were called to testify, and the fact that only one subpoena was issued is at best suspect.

While the Senate’s investigation looked at all the offenders and perpetrators who have exploited this pension, I have to ask why was VA Accredited Attorney, Douglas Ocker not sitting at the witness table to face Kris S., whose parents were duped by him through a XXXXXX property asking him to explain himself and his actions?

The bigger question is why was no one there representing XXXXXXX Corp, who has single-handedly done more harm than all others combined in fraudulently using this pension to fill their 300+ Independent/Retirement properties that do even not meet the qualification of providing assistance with daily living?

With documentation being provided showing that XXXXXX Corp submits fraudulent applications claiming that the veteran or widow is paying the market rate at the “Independent” facility, when in fact they are not, and that they imply that services are being provided which are not, begs the question as to why a subpoena was not issued for their appearance.  The biggest offender in all of this is not called before the Committee?  How much desire could there have been to truly get to the bottom of this issue?   (For insights as to how employees feel about working at this company, you can read here – http://blog.dlcharles.com/2012/03/01/beneath-the-veil-part-6.aspx)

These actions are no different from those who commit Medicaid fraud by claiming bogus expenses and services provided.  I am confident that there are legal ramifications for doing so, and I am unclear as to how this would not have been the primary focus of the investigation and concern of the Committee.

It appears that having Emily Schwarz present at the hearing held June 6, 2012, as the representative of Veteran’s Financial Services served the sole purpose of justifying the need for a look back being put into place rather than addressing the issue of those who have essentially committed fraud and left thousands of veterans in the same situation that Kris Schaffer now finds her father in.

While the actions of Veteran’s Financial are inarguably despicable, under current VA law, they have committed no actual “crime”.   I believe this was just the better story to use as an example to make a point, while Greg M., Glen O., and others who truly are the components that have toppled this VA benefit with their greed go without vetting and accountability.

If you truly wanted to make a statement of what happens to individuals who violate this pension, all you had to do was bring forth criminal charges and set someone out there as an example of what will happen to anyone who infringes on our veterans and fraudulently uses this pension. If your concerns were to protect our senior veterans from the likes of these companies and individuals, you would have arrived at another conclusion as a solution in dealing with this.  Not doing so left more questions than answers.

This Pension has been sitting idle on the VA books for 61 years, while millions have missed out simply due to a lack of being informed about it, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that as long as it remained unknown and underutilized.

Now that this pension has become more publicized, there is this “call to action”, but rather than holding those responsible for having exploited this pension, and committing fraud, or demanding an explanation from the VA as to why they have failed to inform our veterans about this resource, your answer to this is to impose a “look back”, while the true offenders get a pass on this and get to continue business as usual, and the VA gets another way to delay payment.  Where was the outcry for the previous 61 years?

Am I to understand that you are ok with the fact the VA is already taking 9-18 months to award this pension, which in itself is unacceptable given that this is a non- service-connected pension and not “compensation”?  There are three simple qualifiers that make this an either you do, or you don’t qualify, and there simply is no excuse to be offered here for the current delays.

With three pension centers in the country dedicated to the processing of applications for Aid and Attendance, there is no legitimate reason that a fully developed claim with all supporting documentation taking any longer than 60 days at most for processing and award for those who qualify.

If the IRS can keep up with the advancements in technology and use them to streamline the filing of income-tax returns, it is not unreasonable to hold the VA to the same standard.  It is very telling in the intention that the only Federal agency that can process volumes of paperwork seamlessly is the IRS.

VA employees fail open book tests, and are lacking educational opportunities giving them the proper tools to truly assist our veterans.    They are forced to work off production quotas that are attached to “bonus” driven incentives.  At state and local levels the education  and training of County Service Officers is even less. To add 36 months worth of banking statements to a system that is flawed and can’t handle the work flow as it exists now, is a disaster in the making.

Have you even considered the challenge families will face in trying to obtain 36 months worth of bank statements who may not already hold POA, or the frequency in which the VA claims to have not received a specific document, or the cost associated with requesting all these copies or providing them more than once?

How can one justify that a 94-year old widow who literally has nothing has been waiting 16 months for a decision from the VA, and is on Hospice care.  It is doubtful she will live to see the decision letter arrive.

What about this 94- year old veteran waiting 7 years featured in the Houston Chronicle on July 9, 2012?

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/94-year-old-World-War-II-veteran-from-Houston-3691979.php

Or more recently this 92-year old veteran potentially being evicted this past Thursday waiting on the VA.

http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/92-year-old-wwii-vet-danger-being-evicted-nursing-/nP4nd/

Did the VA step up on this? No they did not.  I am the one who contacted the station, the reporter, and Senator Nelson’s office asking for them to intervene on his behalf.

I think out of all that was taken into consideration during this investigation, the Committee circumvented the VA’s daily failings of our veterans for another agenda.  You have not addressed the problem, but rather an unfortunate circumstance that came about due to the VA’s 61 years of silence.  Silence that created the market for these “poachers” to thrive in.

Are you aware that on average every day in this country 1,369 veterans 70 or older die?

Do you know that the largest growing segment of our population is centenarians?

Bill S.3270 will not have any impact on the “Pension Poachers”.  They will simply target the veteran population a little earlier than they do now to avoid the 3-year look back.  If anything, they will, and already are using it to their advantage to alarm individuals to act now prior to the bill going into affect.  Essentially, you have given them an additional means to close the sale, and I 100%, oppose this bill.

Companies like XXXXXXX will stand to benefit greatly from this purposed look back, and will more than likely see their highest profits to date in making loans to veterans and their families to pay for care at facilities.

I’m quite certain that others will find ways to offer services to benefit from an additional imposed delay and hurdle to jump through.

The VA will certainly benefit by hanging onto payments that won’t be going out to the veteran or widow.

The only person who does not stand to benefit from Bill S. 3270 is the very veteran and widow for who this pension is intended.  You are not protecting the intention of this pension, and you are not addressing the scavengers who will hover like vultures when the dust settles on this.

Having been a part of this process giving over 3 months of my personal time, attending this hearing in person, and being asked to write an official Statement for the Record , I honestly thought I was being given an incredible opportunity to assist our government at work for the right reasons, and to see justice prevail.  I have walked away from this totally disillusioned.  I fail to see where any good came from all of this regardless of what type of “spin” one might put on it.

It seems to me that all the contributing issues that brought this pension to light in the first place are still on the table, and the integrity of this pension remains compromised due to the fact that those who were and are responsible for exploiting it will not be held accountable.

I find it most alarming that out of all the pensions, compensations and benefits offered through the VA, that the Aid and Attendance level of the “Improved Pension” has been hand-picked to be the only benefit to have an imposed “look back” attached to it.  The very segment of our veteran population who are in their final days, and who do not have time on the clock to wait on the VA, this is who gets to bear this burden rather than taking to task those whose unethical conduct created this mess.

It is a disgrace beyond comprehension that our men and women at any age, let alone in advanced age, should be put through these rigors due to a failing agency that is allowed to operate with no accountability, and to pay the price for the actions of “scammers” who seized an opportunity to “monetize” senior veterans and their families.

Bill S. 3270 is not the answer.  It is simply reacting to a symptom of the problems associated with an agency that is deliberately designed to fail those it is intended to serve.  It is not the solution, it is an injustice.

I did not build and maintain a #1 nationally ranked site dedicated to this pension, or become the most respected resource on the topic of Aid and Attendance by keeping my mouth shut.  I have given it my all for the past 7 years doing the job the VA didn’t, because my parents did without in their greatest hour of need, and the outcome of this investigation for me is unacceptable.

I am the proud daughter of a WWII veteran, who knows that our veterans deserve their sacrifice to be honored and especially so when they are no longer strapping young men and women defending our freedom, but rather frail and in need for a grateful nation to step up.

I respectfully submit that until Congress as a “collective” body holds the VA accountable for its failings of our veterans, that no change should be put into effect until such time that the VA is a transparent agency keeping its promise to our veterans in a timely manner rather than holding them hostage.

The days of the VA operating as a “broken” agency have got to come to an end before implementing any additional requirements that are not to the greater good of our veterans, and measures need to be put into place to ensure that  those who violate a veteran are prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.

I appreciate your time and considerations of my concerns, and would be happy to be of any assistance should you choose to investigate this matter further.

Sincerely,

Debbie Burak – Founder

VeteranAid.org

Read More
TOP

Senate Investigation on Pension Poachers

Debbie meets with Senator Wyden

Debbie meets with Senator Wyden

For the past 3 months I have been assisting the U.S. Senate with an ongoing investigation involving individuals and companies that have exploited the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit.

These individuals have put thousands of senior veterans and their widows at risk due to their greed for profits and for the sake of filling up a building by selling inappropriate financial products.

At issue is the Independent and Retirement properties owned by one of the largest groups in the country that have “promised” people they would qualify for this pension in spite of the fact their properties do not include assistance with day-to-day living.

As a result of their exploitation, the Senate is now looking at evoking a 3-year look back period in order for the veteran or widow to qualify.

The greed on the part of this company and one particuliar individual  has indeed put the Aid and Attendance Pension at risk for the very veteran or widow is was intended for.

I would encourage anyone who may be impacted by the Senate’s considered action to contact your Senator or Congressperson and object to the look-back as a means to address the abuse of Aid and Attendance.

This action will only ultimately hurt the veteran who will have yet another loophole to jump through in receiving this award.

If you have an interest in watching the hearing, you may do so at this link.

I am proud to have been a resource for the investigators during this inquiry, and that my Statement of Record is part of the hearing.

I am also proud that NBC 12 News decided to do a piece on my efforts for the June 8th, 2012 newscast.  You can see a copy of the video by clicking here.

United States Senate
Special Committee on Aging
Washington, DC 20510-6400

June 6, 2012

Honorable Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I respectfully submit this statement for the record as the proud daughter of a WWII veteran, as well as a daughter who knows what it is to be desperate, out of hope, options, resources, and money to care for aging parents. I faced this challenge for 9 years with my Mom and Dad.

I am also the Founder of VeteranAid.org, a non-profit organization I founded in 2005 that is the #1 nationally ranked website dedicated to the VA’s Improved Pension with a primary focus on the Aid and Attendance level. The site was founded based off my personal experience of having filed for the pension for my mother as the widow of a veteran, who died in 2005, without every receiving a penny from her approved application. The impact of our family not knowing about this pension benefit during my parent’s time of need is that there would have been over $160,000 to offset the extraordinary cost of their monthly care over those 9 years, which my parents nor we as a family could afford.

There were no seminars being held back in 1996, and finding information on this pension was a futile effort. According to the VA, it did not exist, when in fact it has been an entitlement for the past 61 years sitting idle, unknown, and hidden while millions upon millions of older veterans and their widows have done without or were forced to live in sub-standard care facilities where none of us would want our loved one to lay their head down. A converted Holiday Inn that reeked of urine is where my parents called “home” after being displaced from a house fire leaving them homeless and in the care of others. The difference of having this pension for my parents would have provided dramatically better options. So for me, my being present at this hearing is personal, very personal.

On that note, I have self-funded the undertaking of VeteranAid.org, and I am not affiliated with any group or agency. I am simply the daughter sharing information and insights about this pension with a mission to give other sons and daughters better choices than we had, and doing what I believe is honoring the sacrifice of service. I am humbled to say that my efforts have changed the lives of tens of thousands of veterans and their widows over the past 7 years.

I have traveled to Washington, DC in the past to meet with various Senators and the staff of the Republican Senate Sub-Committee on Veteran’s Affairs asking for assistance in bringing this pension to light, to put a Bill before Congress, and to address the influx of individuals and companies who have exploited this pension for the sole purpose of duping our veterans and widows for their own financial gain. To address the very reason why this investigation has taken place, and why we are here today. I can only hope that some government official or agency will step up to champion any of my efforts in making this pension as common knowledge as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The silence on the VA’s part regarding the Improved Pension is exactly what has created the opportunity for individuals, companies, and corporations to leverage themselves to sell financial products, move assets, set up trusts, charge fees, hold seminars, and make false promises. Relationships have been developed between individuals, corporations and facilities to sell financial products in order to fill beds. The financial planning that is done is often done with the salesperson’s commission in mind and not what is in the best interest of the veteran long-term.

It is the VA’s silence and misinformation about this pension that has let a fox into the hen house, and it is our veterans and their families who are paying the price. The combination of greed and silence rarely results in a positive outcome.

The Improved Pension is a “needs based” benefit and is essentially a Veteran’s Welfare program, and is not intended for those who are fortunate enough to have assets and resources to pay for care and services. Yet most of the companies or individuals who are the exploiters of this pension have created business models that allow them to capture those with excessive assets for their own advancement. The VA has allowed the creation of this market by not informing our veterans and their families that this financial resource is available for those in need. The VA is not in the business of protecting assets, and yet those whose livelihood is based on doing so, see it otherwise.

I would invite you to attend one of these seminars given by a financial company who pass themselves off as veteran advocates to learn first-hand the tactics they employ, and be sure to notice the number of brochures and photographs displayed implying how other veterans are receiving their pension. But the most important thing to notice is the veteran or widow that will be ignored once it is learned there is no money or assets to move, and no commission to be made. The very veteran or widow the pension is intended for, the veteran whose daughter has taken out a 2nd mortgage to pay for their parent’s care, who has gone through that money and is now desperate, will not be getting any help from the financial advisor or so called “veteran’s advocate”.

I come before you with a unique perspective as someone who has witnessed the growth of infringements on this pension over the past 7 years through the thousands and thousands of emails and forum postings on VeteranAid.org. Emails and postings that I have personally responded to.

The biggest area of concern I have noted is corporations who have seized this pension as a means to fill a building.

Approximately three years ago an individual who has been using this pension as a calling card to sell annuities to seniors for years, approached one of the largest Senior Living companies. They started by charging $950 to process an application. The communities hung up the “Welcome Veterans” sign and allowed the financial planners access to the veteran population in the hopes of filling beds. It had nothing to do with “caring” for or honoring our veterans or their widows. In cases where an applicant did not meet the criteria medically, the paperwork was fudged – often claiming the applicant needed and received services they did not.

As examples of how this often does not work out in the veteran’s or widows long-term best interest, I offer you the following examples that are true stories.

Carl is a veteran in Independent living who was introduced by that facility to an annuity salesman to get the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. He was told to put $135,000 into a retirement annuity for his nephew, all but $12,000 of his assets, and was told if he needed additional money, his nephew could withdraw it. Carl was denied the pension because the VA did not give him a deduction for the Independent Living fee. Carl’s nephew tried to make a withdrawal from the retirement annuity, but was informed he cannot withdrawal from this type of annuity until he is 59. Carl’s nephew is only 50. Carl is 86, and Carl will be out of money and homeless in 10 months.

Mary, a veteran’s widow, moved into another property owned by the same company with the “promise” that their property qualified for the VA pension. When the VA called to talk with the facility manager to validate the services being provided, Mary was informed that her residence did not qualify her for the pension. Mary received a letter from the corporate office a week later informing her she owed over $10,000 in deferred rent, and they wanted payment in full that month. Mary had left a subsidized apartment that she had waited 2 years to move into because she was promised this money was there for her to live in a much nicer place. She had to leave her state and move to NC where she found subsidized housing without a waiting list.

Patrick, is in an AZ property also owned by the same corporation, has only a ¼ of his heart function and 9 stints. Patrick’s application has never even been submitted, and no one has his records although he was assured it was being handled.

William has a freeze on his bank account because he cannot pay for his cost of care, and cannot afford any personal items due to having no money and also in a property owned by the same corporation.

In many cases involving Retirement properties working with financial and estate planners, the VA has approved the applications, only to discover months later upon completion of the VA’s annual Eligibility Verification Report, the applicant was never entitled, so the VA stops the pension, and demands a full repayment of all monies paid. The veteran or widow now owes several thousand dollars back to the VA, has nowhere to go, has incurred a huge debt, and does not have the pension award. But the Retirement Community received the payment and no one is asking them to return it.

Our “Greatest Generation” is for these companies and individuals nothing more than a “target market”. The VA has left them to be victimized by their silence, and the responsibility for these groups and individuals preying on our elderly veteran’s Service rest solely at the front door of the VA.

I offer this analogy to make that point:  If you can legally walk into a liquor store and purchase a bottle of whiskey, what would be the point in chasing down a Moonshiner?

These companies have built fortresses around themselves staffed with attorneys, annuity salespeople, and application processors. They hold weekly seminars around the country always looking for the next victim that has too many assets to qualify for the pension. If there was access to clear, accurate and professional advice, there would be no room for those whose goal is “monetizing the senior”.

My greatest fear is that the findings of this committee will be to recommend evoking a “look back” period as in Medicaid to thwart these financial groups from exploiting our veterans, which will only be putting yet another additional “burden of proof” upon the veteran who already faces enough challenges when dealing with the VA. These companies and individuals who have thrived in this market will simply revamp their business model to become “Veteran Pension Planners” in the same way those who acclimated to Medicaid fraud became Medicaid Planners. It won’t change the landscape of things, it will simply go by another name and give them another door to come through and hang out their sign.

At one time the application for Aid and Attendance was only 4-pages. After the demands for the pension increased, the VA saw fit to increase it into a 17-19-page application not counting supporting documentation. The completing of this application is a daunting task, and most seniors would be overwhelmed with the complexity of doing so. Since the VA makes it difficult to hire competent help, those who offer their services for “free” if you invest in a financial product is extremely attractive – and a lot of times the senior doesn’t understand they have bought a financial product or what it means for future access to the funds or Medicaid benefits.

If the application and the processing of it were as simple as the three basic requirements of eligibility for this pension, most veterans or their families would feel capable to take the task on. But instead the application is so complicated that families turn to the only people making them aware of the benefit, those with other agendas. When the veteran stands in front of the VA defenseless with discharge papers in hand, the prospect of having someone on your side makes for an easy sale.

It seems to me that a simpler solution would be to allow a veteran or widow the right to pay a nominal fee for assistance in completing complicated applications the same as they can pay an accountant or tax-return company to ensure that the IRS has a full financial accounting of the taxpayer. In this scenario there would be no selling of financial products or the restructuring of assets. You either qualify or you don’t. It would simply mean the veteran got it right the first time, and the oath they took to defend this country would be honored as it should be.

It is my belief that many of these companies have at best violated the truth in submitting applications misrepresenting the services they provide, Physicians’ Statements being falsified signed by others than the Physician themselves , and medical fees in excess of what was actually being paid. If it is the findings of this Committee that these individuals or corporations are guilty of exploiting this pension and our Veterans for financial gain, it is my hope as the daughter whose parents did without, that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent that the law will allow.

Respectfully,
Debbie Burak – Founder
VeteranAid.org

Read More
TOP

Memorial Day – 2011

It’s Memorial Day – flags will be lowered to half staff to honor those who gave all to defend our freedoms, graves will have flags placed upon them and wreaths will be set to honor the ultimate sacrifice.  Parades will be held and many will be saluted for their service.

Shadows will be cast upon headstones as visitors stand looking down at gravesites, and tears will fall with a whisper of “thank you”.  Monuments will have hands placed upon them out of respect to reflect upon those whom we honor today.

It’s Memorial Day, and regardless of which conflict that “all”, was given, everyone of us should be mindful that without these brave men and women who took an oath to defend our great nation, there would be no  barbecues to attend, no Memorial Day sales to catch, no 3-day weekend to enjoy, or fireworks to watch …. There would be no freedom to celebrate as we do, because freedom is many things, but the one thing it isn’t, is “free”.  Someone has to pay that price, and those some ones deserve this day to mean more than a cold beer, the smell of charcoal, and summer shorts on sale at Old Navy.

I recently had the privilege of hearing an astonishing story told by Jack Carver, a 92-year old retired Army Lieutenant, who fought at The Battle of the Bulge.  The majority of men who filled this room were themselves WWII and Korean War veterans who sat a little straighter and held their heads a little higher, with pride and respect as Jack took us all to a hill in Germany filled with SS tanks, and proudly told about the day when a jeep pulled up  on the front lines to find himself face- to- face with his hero, General Patton, who left with the words, “You boys are doing one hell of a  job, keep it up!”

Jack told of shells being fired as he and a couple of his buddies tried to take cover, and the moment he realized he had been hit.  As fate would have it, the one that struck him was a dud and was hung up in the collar of his uniform.  When he looked to his right, his one friend has been critically injured, and the buddy to his left had been killed.  He kept that shell as a reminder that his life had been spared that day while someone else paid the price.  I’m sure that today will be a day that Jack will reflect on those he served with and those who were lost.  At 92-years of age, no doubt Jack has known too many goodbyes, and too many to remember this Memorial Day.

How many of us will take the time on this day to actually do something to honor our Fallen, or is this a day that only touches those who paid the ultimate price along with their loved ones?

It appears in many ways that perhaps we have lost ourselves along the way somehow, and this day has become someone else’s job to remember while we attend all the festivities and gatherings of the first long weekend of summer.

Before you bite into that burger, remember this…… “The American flag does not fly because the wind moves past it -The American flag flies from the last breath of each, military member who has died protecting it!” ~ Unknown

Happy Memorial Day, and I hope you will do something that honors that “last breath”.

Read More
TOP

POW/MIA Day

Today there will be ceremonies held across the country in honor of our soldiers who are classified as POW or MIA.

Many are unaware of what is represented in the items that are used in this ritual of honor, and I think that every American should have a full understanding and appreciation for the history and symbols of this service, as well as the creation of the flag that represents our soldiers who are POW or MIA, and the Missing Man Formation.

This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars. They are not with us today, and we need to remember the sacrifice…

The tablecloth is white to symbolizing the purity of the soldier’s intentions to respond to their country’s “Call to Arms” so that their children could remain free.

The single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood they many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.

The yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.

A slice of lemon on is placed upon a bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.

Salt is sprinkled on the plate to remind us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.

The lone white candle symbolizes the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against his oppressors.

The candle is lit — Symbolizing the upward reach of their unconquerable spirit.

The black ribbon on the candle reminds us of those who will not be coming home.

A water glass is inverted on the table as they cannot toast with us tonight.

A lone chair is leaned against the table and remains empty as they are not here tonight.

A faded picture on the table is a reminder that they are missed, but remembered by their families.

This service is generally is performed as illustrated below:

Four members of the Honor Guard will bring out the wheel caps of the four military branches as they are recognized in the ceremony. Five caps and five members if the Coast Guard is included in the ceremony.  All movements in this ceremony are slow and remorseful.  The only sharp movement will be the facing movement at the end to leave the table after setting it.

Once at the table, the Honor Guard members will slowly bring the left hand up and over the wheel cap to have the fingers at “5 o’clock”. Once there, the cap is pivoted on the tips of the fingers of the right hand so the wheel cap is now facing toward the Honor Guard member. There will be a slow bend at the waist to place the cap on the table. Once there, the member will slowly straighten up and slow salute the cap still keeping their eyes caged on the cap.

If you ever have the opportunity to see one of these ceremonies, my hope is that you will have a better appreciation of each of the elements and what they represent.

 

The History of

The Vietnam War POW/MIA Flag

In 1971, Mrs. Mary Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. Prompted by an article in the Jacksonville, Florida TIMES-UNION, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice-President of Annin & Company which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China, as a part of their policy to provide flags to all UN member nations. Mrs. Hoff found Mr. Rivkees very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, and he, along with Annin’s advertising agency, designed a flag to represent our missing men. Following League approval, the flags were manufactured for distribution.

The flag is black, bearing in the center, in black and white, the emblem of the League. The emblem is a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man, watch tower with a guard holding a rifle, and a strand of barbed wire; above the disk are the white letters POW and MIA framing a white 5-pointed star; below the disk is a black and white wreath above the white motto YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.

Concerned groups and individuals have altered the original POW/MIA Flag many times; the colors have been switched from black with white – to red, white and blue, -to white with black; the POW/MIA has at times been revised to MIA/POW. Such changes, however, are insignificant. The importance lies in the continued visibility of the symbol, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIA’S.

On March 9,1989, a POW/MIA Flag, which flew over the White House on the 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day, was installed in the United States Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th session of Congress. The leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony in a demonstration of bipartisan congressional support. This POW/MIA Flag, the only flag displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda, stands as a powerful symbol of our national commitment to our POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing in Southeast Asia has been achieved.

YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN SO LONG AS THERE IS ONE LEFT IN WHOM YOUR MEMORY REMAINS.

 

Missing Man Formation

Looking heavenward you cannot help but shed a tear… mournful… lonesome… a hole that screams out almost as loudly as the roar of the engines that pass overhead.

This is The Missing Man Formation… perhaps the most magnificent and solemn aerial maneuver ever seen.
Whether flown with the wingman spiraling off into the great beyond, or, flown consistently with that awful hole where a buddy should be… this dignified, almost painful to watch maneuver is a part of POW-MIA and combat history.

The genesis of this maneuver is one shrouded in years of faded memories, long fought battles and countless missions almost a century old.

It is rumored to have begun when British fighter pilots flew over the funeral of Manfred ‘The Red Baron’ von Richthofen as a sign of respect by his fellow aces, the formation does find its birth in World War I. At some point during the Great War, the RAF pilots created an aerial maneuver known as ‘The Fly Past’… whether this was before or after the alleged von Richthofen loss is unknown. But it is
British in origin and it was used infrequently and privately during the War.

The ‘Fly Past’ remained a private affair… returning aircrews signaled to the ground their losses upon their return. The first written account of the maneuver shown publicly is by the RAF in 1935 when flying over a review by George V. Prior.

During World War II, it morphed and evolved into a ceremonial tradition as part of RAF programs. The US first began the tradition in 1938 during the funeral for MG Westover with over 50 aircraft and one blank file. The 8th Air Force with her legion of Flying Fortresses, the Bloody Hundredth and other combat weary groups adopted the maneuver when returning home from a ‘milk run.’ Again, it signaled to those on the ground the losses incurred during the last mission… and held a place of honor for their fallen comrades.

The Missing Man formation, as used in the United States, was rarely if ever seen by the public. Only those privileged to attend military funerals and ceremonies were familiar with it. But during the Second Indochina War, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the public at large got its first glimpse of this sobering moment.

The first time a military aerobatics unit ever performed the Missing Man Formation was during the war in 1969 when the USAF Thunderbirds flew the maneuver for the first time to honor the men and women who were then POWs in Vietnam. Other aerial demonstration squadrons, both military and civilian, have adopted the formation and perform it during ceremonial events such as National POW-MIA Recognition Day, Memorial Day, during funerals and at the internment of repatriated remains of Prisoners and Missing. Aside from the fixed wing maneuver, a rotary wing version is flown by National Guard and Reservists with exceptional beauty and solemnity.

Perhaps it is fitting that the true history of this exquisite yet sad tradition should be unknown… its history with those whom it honors and is named for… Missing.

*Information above provided by War-Veterans.org

Read More
TOP

4 Years

Today, November 20th marks the 4th anniversary for VeteranAid.org.  I am proud to know that in 4 years since beginning this journey that my efforts have changed the lives of thousands, and in return has changed mine far more than I could ever imagined.

Because of the venue that I do this work from, I often fail to realize the impact I have, but a recent event gave me a glimpse into the difference I actually get to make.

I had been contacted by a reporter in the Houston area several months back who wanted to do a story on the backlog of VA claims with the focus being on disability compensation and not on Aid and Attendance.  I was happy to help in whatever way I could by providing some statistics and thought nothing much more about it. She had mentioned that she was referred to me by someone who had contacted her asking her to do the story, and they had told her I had been helpful.

At the end of October, I heard from the reporter again who informed me that she had been given the go-ahead to run the story without an inclusion of a statement from the VA who refused to respond to several request asking for such, and wanted to verify a few more facts with me. The focus of the story revolved around a 91-year old veteran who had been waiting for his compensation award.  What I didn’t know at the time was that the son of this 91-year old veteran was someone I had helped a few years back.

Shortly after the story ran in the paper, I was contacted by another reporter who wanted to contact the gentleman featured in the article.  And then I had that “ah-ha” moment where the name of the 91-year old veteran clicked and I remembered his son. I had an old email from him and was able to contact him and make a connection for the second reporter. A special show ran on the CBS local affiliate regarding veteran’s struggles with dealing with the VA.

After 4 years of dealing with so many faceless people, I got to see Denis Maxson and his 91-year old dad, who due to the article that ran on him in the paper, had “suddenly” gotten his award from the VA.  These were people I made a difference for.  This wasn’t just an email I responded to, a forum posting, or a call I had returned.  This was a veteran who finally got the honor he was entitled to, and I got to be a part of that process.  What I do finally had a face attached to it.

The second reporter who had contacted me was receptive to my suggesting a story be done on Aid and Attendance. He told me if I could find someone who would have the story encompassing the struggle with filing for A&A he would do it.

I put feelers out everywhere, and spent days going back through four years of contacts looking for someone I thought would make the perfect story.

I also contacted the first reporter to ask if in her research she had encountered anyone facing this struggle.  She informed me that there was only one person, and was kind enough to give me an email address to contact her, which I did.

Don’t ever question whether it was the Universe along with my mother that has its hand in this mission for as it turns out, this woman was a regular visitor to the site, had printed off all the forms and followed the step-by-step directions and had read every posting on the forums.  She had been waiting over 2 years for the VA to release her dad’s funds who resides in a nursing home.  For the past two years she has been paying out between $1500 – $2000 a month making up the difference for her dad’s care while waiting on the VA. I knew I had the person for the story.

I had spoken with Cindy earlier in the day getting the background on her situation.  Later that same evening, she called me sitting in her car in the parking lot of her dad’s nursing home sobbing.  My first instinct was that her dad had passed, but when she was finally able to speak, she told me she had stopped to pick up her mail on her way to see her dad and when she saw that yet another letter form the VA was in the stack, she just knew it was going to be another form letter telling her “Sorry for the delay, but we are still processing the application.” What it actually was is the Award Letter informing her and her dad he had been approved for the pension.

After more than two years neither she nor I could believe that the day we spoke for the first time would be the day the long awaited and desperately needed award notification would arrive.  I don’t know who was crying more me or her, but she kept saying “I owe this all to you.  If it hadn’t been for you, I would have given up. If I hadn’t found your site, I wouldn’t have known.”

Cindy kept me on the phone as she exited the car, entered the building and walked down the hall to her dad’s room with that letter in her hand.  Still crying, she stood in the doorway to his room and I told her to give her dad a kiss from this daughter before letting her go to share the news with him.

I know I have helped a lot of people in the past 4 years who I will never meet, but being on the phone with Cindy that night with that letter in her hand has to be one of the most defining moments for me for anything I have accomplished through VeteranAid.org There were a lot of tears that night, along with the understanding of how this had come full circle from a decision I had made 4 years ago to change the ending for someone else. To me there is no question as to the blessing that has been put on my work, and today I stand proud and humbled.

I can’t acknowledge these four years without offering up my gratitude to those who have entered my life through this mission who in their own way showed up just in time to lend their support, expertise, encouragement, and belief in what I do. Ironically all of us have been brought together by more that just a mere coincidence.  It is obvious that a much Higher Power knew the team it would take and the part each one would play. I don’t stand alone this day.

In a category on their own – The Department of Veterans Affairs – Thank you for pissing off the wrong daughter and being the catalyst for this mission

Jay – Without your support none of this would have been possible
Connie
– For your beloved Bill

Denver – My silent hero and the champion of veterans

Mike and Tara – For believing and taking a chance

Chris – For your tenacious spirit and standing up to county officials

Melissa – For sharing a common bond and being a voice

Patty – For your brilliance and determination

Anne Marie – For your immeasurable generosity and goodness

I’m indebted to you all, and I thank you for making this possible and for believing in this effort.

Read More
TOP

Veterans Day

We will always remember

We will always remember

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. There will be parades held across the country to honor those who have and do make the sacrifice of service. There will be visits to monuments, and for many there will be quiet reflections and tears for the price that has been paid for our freedom. There is a common bond that binds these soldiers and their families who share this journey, and it is one that is deserving of more than just one day of recognition, but on this day, we say with a grateful heart, Thank you.

The following story cannot be verified, and the author to the best of our knowledge is unknown, but something about this story makes you want to believe deep down that it’s true. Either way, it’s a touching story and a reminder to all of us as to the costs and burdens borne by those who rise up to the “call of duty”. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and fully appreciate what it means to pay the price.

Cemetery Escort Duty

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever — the heat and humidity at the same level — both too high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, ‘69 or ‘70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace.

An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”

But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the “In” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour at Smokey’s

I broke Post Attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint. “Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”

She took long enough to answer. “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”

“My pleasure Ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.

She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”

Vietnam, Ma’am. Ground-pounder. ‘69 to ‘71.”

She looked at me closer. “Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

I lied a little bigger “No hurry, Ma’am.”

She smiled, and winked at me. “Son, I’m 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”

“Yes, Ma’am. At your service.”

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek.

She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman USMC , 1944.

She paused for a second, “Two more, son, and we’ll be done.”

I almost didn’t say anything, but, “Yes, Ma’am. Take your time.”

She looked confused. “Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.” I pointed with my chin. “That way, Ma’am.” “Oh!” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970.

She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out. “OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?”

She paused. “Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephen was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines.” She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. “Get to the ‘Out’-gate quick. I have something I’ve got to do.”

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

“Kevin, stand at attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead.” I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: “TehenHut! Present Haaaarms!”

I have to hand it to Kevin, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Instead of “The End”….just think of “Taps”.

Read More
TOP

Captain Calvin Maxwell Remembered

October 10, 1969 – October 10, 2009

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Today marks 40 years that Captain Calvin Maxwell went missing in Vietnam.  I was 21 when I ordered a POW/MIA bracelet to wear for a soldier who needed prayer for a safe return.  That was 37 years ago, and today I sit here wearing that same bracelet acknowledging what this day means and, offering a pray for his family who for the past 40 years have been denied closure or knowing with any certainty the final fate of their loved one.

Over the years when I have cleaned things out or given items away, I could never part with the bracelet.  I felt that if I threw it away, it would be like giving up hope that he did make it home or worse if there was no one to remember this soldier, he would be forgotten. I wear the bracelet randomly, but always on days that are acknowledgments of the freedoms we are afforded in this country and for those who pay the price by their sacrifice to defend us.

By stark contrast this time last week, I was in Miami attending my 40th HS reunion reconnecting with friends and classmates I have known for most of my life.  It was an amazing weekend full of laughter and reminiscing of our youth and the adventures of growing up in a much simpler time.

It struck me the difference between two 40th year events separated by only a weekend and how dramatically different they are from one another.

In honor of my soldier who in fact did not make it home – you have not been forgotten for your name is etched into this bracelet and for all the years I have hoped and prayed for you, it has been etched into my heart.

Name:

Calvin Walter Maxwell

Rank/Branch:

Major/US Army

Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
6th Battalion, 14th Artillery
52nd Artillery Group,
1st Field Force Vietnam Artillery

DOB: 06 November 1943 (Atlantic City, NJ)

Eddy, NM

10 October 1969

South Vietnam

Missing in Action

2

O1G “Bird Dog”

Franklin L. Weisner (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Cessna O1 Bird Dog was primarily used by the Army as a liaison and observation aircraft. It brought not only an aerial method of locating targets, but the rudiments of a system of strike coordination between different types of aircraft used in the air war as well as with the different branches of the service who were operating in the same area. The Bird Dog was also used very successfully as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) since it could fly low and slow carrying marker rounds of ammunition to identify enemy positions for the attack aircraft.

On 10 October 1969, 1st Lt. Franklin L. Weisner, pilot assigned to the 219th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade; and then Capt. Calvin W. Maxwell, observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery; comprised the crew of an O1G Bird Dog (serial #51-11942). Their assignment was to fly as the “high aircraft” in a flight of two Bird Dogs on a high/low search mission. A high/low search involved a “low” aircraft moving slower and closer to the ground looking for targets while the “high” aircraft confirmed the location and identification of the target.

The low aircraft made radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner as they were proceeding down a valley about 6 miles northeast of the city of Dak Pek and 30 miles north of Dak To, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. About 10 or 15 seconds after this radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner, the crew of the low aircraft received a radio transmission in which they heard screams and moans. No further contact could be established with the crew of the high aircraft. Immediately a search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated.

On 13 October, search aircraft found the wreckage of the Bird Dog lying inverted in a fast-flowing river running through the hotly contested and extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles south of a primary east/west road and 5 miles east of a primary north/south road that branched off of the first road northwest of the crashsite. Roughly 6 miles east of the crashsite, the east/west road made a 90-degree turn to the south. This location was also 12 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and 33 miles northeast of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia joined.

Ground search teams were brought into the area by helicopter the next day and confirmed the tail number as being that of 1st Lt. Weisner’s and Capt. Maxwell’s aircraft. By examining the crash site, the search team established the aircraft hit a cliff above the river and slid into its present position. They also found barefoot tracks of four people in the area, but no bodies of the missing crew were located in or around the crashsite or downstream.

Military scuba divers were brought in to examine the wreckage for remains.

The team reported that both seat belts and shoulder harnesses were still hooked together in the cockpit, but no seat pads remained in the aircraft. One seat pad and an aviator’s helmet were located approximately 100 meters downstream of the crash. Further, two 30-caliber holes were found in the aircraft, but because of their location, neither one would have caused the aircraft to go down nor would the bullets have hit either crewman. For unknown reasons those individuals who visited the crash site before the Americans arrived carried an 8-inch thick tree to the site and left it there.

All searches were terminated on 18 October. At the time the military believed there was a reasonable chance both men could have been swept out of their seats and the aircraft by the swift current without unbuckling their straps, Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell were listed Missing in Action.

If Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is little question that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

Read More
TOP

How to Fix the Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA versus The IRS

As the backlogged number of unprocessed VA claims is knocking on the door of 1 Million, one has to wonder is anybody really at home.  Is anyone really trying to find “the” solution of how to fix and bring this broken agency up to the standards our veterans and their families deserve?

I had high hopes for the new VA administration, but to date, have not been impressed.  Every day there is yet another story about a Regional Office that has been caught shredding and changing dates on applications, or boxes of unopened applications are being discovered.  There are not enough fingers to cover the holes in this dam.

If the IRS was having this issue with collecting taxes from “We the People”, I can promise you that this would have been resolved and systems put into place to make certain it would never happen again.  Of this you can be certain, the IRS would not stand by and have 1 million tax returns waiting to be processed.

So here is my take on all this and a couple of questions that I believe bear asking.

I think the VA needs to take a crash course in how the IRS does things.  These folks don’t lose tax returns, they keep up with every dime you make.  You can file on-line, they know if you haven’t filed, and if you are owed a refund, you can expect it in 30-45 days.  If you owe money and don’t pay, you are assessed a penalty and will pay dearly for that.  It’s a big incentive for making sure you allot the right amount of deductions. Most of us hope to never know what an audit notification looks like.

If your taxes are complicated or more than you want to deal with, you can make an appointment with the fine folks at H&R Block or your personal accountant and pay someone to prepare them for you.

Now here is where I take issue:  How is it that you can legally seek the expertise of someone who understands complicated tax laws, forms, and all the legitimate deductions and credits you are entitled to just to make certain that the IRS gets a full accounting of your finances and their piece of your pie, but veterans and their families legally are restricted from any assistance attached with a fee and are left to figure it out on their own?

Two government agencies, two different approaches, two different agendas.

It is legal to make sure you pay your taxes, but illegal to make certain your claim for benefits is correct and complete in order to “receive” your entitlements. Interesting that there should be such a stark contrast between the two and who actually benefits from this arrangement.

Decades ago the VA instituted a law that an attorney could not charge a veteran more than $10.00 for representing him.  This was done to “protect” the veteran from being taken advantage of by those who would be so inclined to do so.

So one might have to ask, who is truthfully exploiting and taking advantage of our veterans and their families? Considering some recent actions on the part of the VA, the answer to this question may not be what you’d expect.

The application for Improved Pension was originally a 4-page, simple straight forward application.  Due to the benefit being highlighted and the rise in the number of applications being submitted, the VA decided it was time to increase it to a 26-page application, and write it so that you probably won’t figure it out increasing the odds they won’t have to pay or at the very least delay having to pay.

While the benefit sat idle and unused, 4 pages seemed to make perfect sense.  Now that Baby Boomers are our largest demographic and the VA is being flooded with applications for Aid and Attendance, whose best interest is it in that the process should suddenly become so much more complicated?  The veteran is not who first comes to mind as to who stands to gain the most from this change. It seems a little suspect as to the true motivation for having done so.  Is the VA once again “protecting” the veteran?

If you don’t get it right the first time, you should not feel too badly about it as the national rate of applications being returned to the originating VA regional and local offices as being incomplete or missing documentation is 46%.

I wonder if these same employees who failed VA “Open Book” tests could find permanent employment with the IRS.  I suspect that performance standards are probably just a “little” higher. Millions of taxpayer’s monies going uncollected – not going to happen, but it is ok for a million veterans to be waiting on the VA to get it right. There is something incredibly wrong with this scenario.

The VA continues to operate off an antiquated “Fiduciary” process refusing to acknowledge POA or DPOA. The IRS acknowledges POA. Your mom or dad might have some investments that pay dividends, so there may be some monies to be collected, so for the sake of efficiency they will gladly work with you to assure a proper return has been filed.

The VA’s refusal to respond to the demands of accepting POA and doing away with the fiduciary process is once again done in the name of “protecting” the veteran.  According to the VA they have to make certain that the family member or other interested party who holds POA can’t take advantage of the veteran or widow and have access to the pension money to spend at their discretion such as purchasing Depends or Ensure.

I’m sure that somewhere there is someone who absconded with funds they were not entitled to and did in fact take advantage of a veteran, but I’m willing to wager a guess that most who are providing care for a loved one have spent the check out of their own pocket long before it is received.

It is the lesser of two evils.  On one hand you have the family member who is taking advantage of the veteran or widow by writing a check every month to the ALF or caregiver hoping they will have enough to pay it as credit cards are maxed out and all funds have been depleted while waiting to be approved as a fiduciary.

On the other hand you have the VA who wants to take months to arrange for a fiduciary to be appointed without much care as to how you will pay for everything pending their approval.  In the meantime if you have to move your loved one to a lesser quality facility due to costs, or arrange to bring them in-home and provide the care yourself, keep in mind the VA is only doing their job and “protecting” the veteran or widow.

So if the veteran is doing without basic essentials and is living in conditions that are not healthy or services being provided are not adequate even though they are entitled to the pension which would allow for better care and services, who is really taking advantage of the veteran?

All of this “protecting” has created an “opportunity for many individuals and companies to “Carpe Diem”  – Seize the Moment and many of these folks, but not all, have found a way to use filing for this pension as a revenue generator, and doing so under the guise of reaching out to veterans and their families at no cost for their assistance to make application, but it sure helps if mom and dad need someone to manage their investments and move them around so they will qualify for the pension from a financial standpoint.

Seminars are being held daily nationwide at $500.00 a session to learn how you too can use this pension to recruit new business and increase your sales. Don’t overlook the kids who are taking care of mom and dad, they will be so grateful for your assistance they will want you to manage their assets as well.  While you are at it, sell some annuities.

What most don’t realize is that by moving things around to a trust or annuity can often mean that when mom or dad need that money to continue paying for their care, they won’t have access to it.  It will sit in that trust until they die and the beneficiaries get it.

For those who are fortunate enough to have assets that need protecting, these services are valid, but for those who go into this situation strictly based on wanting to file for this pension, you need to educate yourself on whether this is truly in your best interest in the long run.

Again this frenzy of businesses using this pension to get in the hen house is largely due to the fact that the VA has created a need for these services due to the lack of information, the lack of trained employees well versed in Improved Pension, taking a simple application and turning it into more than it needs to be.  If it was as originally designed – a simple 4- page application based on meeting the need for assistance and financial guidelines, there would not be a need nor an opportunity for those who use this as a calling card.

As a result, the VA has responded by now sending out an additional form to those who submit an application that they have to sign stating that neither they nor the veteran have paid anyone for any type of assistance in completing the application.  The application will not be processed until this form has been returned.

So in the name of “protecting” the veteran, which in my opinion translates to denying the veteran, there is yet another hurdle to jump through.

Rather an unfair dynamic that the VA has its attorneys and council, but a veteran is not entitled to any representation upon making an initial application for any benefit or compensation.  They are only entitled to representation if they are appealing a decision on their claim while the IRS wants to make sure you get it right the first time.

Of the two, which do you think is more efficient?

There are more of us that file income tax returns than there are veterans/widows filing for benefits, so how is it that the IRS can receive and process a higher volume of paper so seamlessly while the VA claims they never received the application even though you have a signed “Registered Return Receipt” proving that they did?

If you posed the question of why the IRS created the EZ form while the VA took an easy form and turned it into 26 pages, it really is self explanatory.  One wants your money and the other hedges their bets they can keep their money.

This mindset is nothing new.  For insight as to how long this treatment and mentality has been permitted and promoted, one need look no further than what was done to the “Bonus Army” when our veterans marched into Washington in 1932 demanding what had been promised.  Not much has changed in 77 years.  Do yourself a favor and Google “Bonus Army”. You’ll be enlightened for having done so.

I know there are a lot of good hardworking people at the VA and local offices who have the right intent, but they are only acting under the directives they have been given. What I want to know is who signs the memo authorizing these practices.

When bonuses hinge on giving a veteran the lowest possible disability rating rather than the rating they deserve, I’m hard pressed to believe that this qualifies as acting in the veteran’s best interest.  Make no mistake here, there is a vested interest, but somewhere along the way the interest got shifted to self serving.

Like solving any other mystery – follow the money.

Until such time that the VA can get its house in order, I think the individuals who do nothing but help file for Improved Pension and have no hidden agenda or want to sell you anything, should have the right to provide the same assistance as your accountant does. Most of these well intended folks have to stay behind closed doors for fear of retribution by the VA for actually helping a veteran make a correct application.

The VA will argue that the veteran is entitled to assistance with filing for free, but when the SO of the office you walk into knows nothing about the pension, or says you don’t qualify, when actually you do, “free” comes at a pretty hefty price.

Yes these folks (the good ones) who work secretly behind the scenes helping veterans and their families should be able to charge a modest fee for their expertise and assistance, but the VA will never sanction anything of the likes, they have too much to lose.

There would be too many applications to approve with no reason to deny them.  There are budgets to be justified, bonuses to be earned, and credits for getting a Service Organization assigned as Claimant’s Representative rather than the family member so that you can’t call and inquire about the status of the claim.  The SO isn’t paying the monthly bill so they won’t have much motivation to follow up and press for a ruling or approval. And lastly they are busy making sure that no one other than them can “take advantage” of a veteran or widow.

The IRS has a few free months before it is tax season again. Maybe they can step in and show the VA how to get the job done.Better yet, instead of employees getting bonuses for the highest number of denied applications or lowest disability ratings given, how about an imposed penalty with incurring interest for any application that takes longer than 90 days to process!

Now there’s an idea that has merit.

Read More
TOP

I Am the Flag

Today I attended the funeral of a very dear family friend who will be greatly missed by family and friends alike.

Hal was quite a character. A little rough around the edges with eyes that reflected a life that had been challenging at times. He had a deep, warm and rich laugh that was infectious, and he never met a stranger.

Always telling the same jokes over and over to anyone who would listen. He was a little ornery and loved to pull pranks. A “gotcha” kind of guy.

He was unpretentious and just about as down to earth as anyone could be – just your basic guy with an average life who just also happened to be a proud Marine in his prime, and gave all he had to his country.

I had never attended a funeral service with Military Honors before today. The backdrop was something scripted out of a movie. It was a chilly, rainy day with dark skies shielded by black umbrellas all lending to the heaviness to this day of sorrow.

I stood riveted as the Honor Guard performed the ceremony of removing the casket from the hearse and carried Hal’s flagged draped coffin into the sanctuary with the dignity and honor reserved for our service men and women, our veterans. The French doors to the left of where the casket was to be placed revealed a lone Guard member standing at the edge of the field at full salute as Hal proceeded on his journey to his final resting place.

The folding of the flag was the definition of “precision” with crisp snaps that echoed in the sanctuary, and when the young man bent to present the folded flag to Hal’s oldest son, it was a moment I won’t forget.

The remaining Guard members formed procession and joined the lone Guard in the field to perform the 3-volley riffle salute. In the sanctuary, one young, proud Marine stood alone at full salute in military dress as Taps was played for the grandfather whose footsteps he had chosen to follow in. The grandfather who was a simple man who did an extraordinary thing to all the lives he touched, and on this day was given the recognition for being a soldier and for a job well done.

Before being dismissed from services, the Pastor read a poem I had not heard before entitled “I Am the Flag” by Ruth Apperson-Rous. This pride, this sentiment written many decades ago represents what I witnessed today in the final salute to Hal Everett.

I am the Flag
by Ruth Apperson Rous

I am the flag of the United States of America.

I was born on June 14, 1777, in Philadelphia.

There the Continental Congress adopted my stars and stripes as the national flag.

My thirteen stripes alternating red and white, with a union of thirteen white stars in a field of blue, represented a new constellation, a new nation dedicated to the personal and religious liberty of mankind.

Today fifty stars signal from my union, one for each of the fifty sovereign states in the greatest constitutional republic the world has ever known.

My colors symbolize the patriotic ideals and spiritual qualities of the citizens of my country.

My red stripes proclaim the fearless courage and integrity of American men and boys and the self-sacrifice and devotion of American mothers and daughters.

My white stripes stand for liberty and equality for all.

My blue is the blue of heaven, loyalty, and faith.

I represent these eternal principles: liberty, justice, and humanity.

I embody American freedom: freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press, and the sanctity of the home.

I typify that indomitable spirit of determination brought to my land by Christopher Columbus and by all my forefathers – the Pilgrims, Puritans, settlers at James town and Plymouth.

I am as old as my nation.

I am a living symbol of my nation’s law: the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

I voice Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy: “A government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

I stand guard over my nation’s schools, the seedbed of good citizenship and true patriotism.

I am displayed in every schoolroom throughout my nation; every school yard has a flag pole for my
display.

Daily thousands upon thousands of boys and girls pledge their allegiance to me and my country.

I have my own law—Public Law 829, “The Flag Code” – which definitely states my correct use and display for all occasions and situations.

I have my special day, Flag Day. June 14 is set aside to honor my birth.

Americans, I am the sacred emblem of your country. I symbolize your birthright, your heritage of liberty purchased with blood and sorrow.

I am your title deed of freedom, which is yours to enjoy and hold in trust for posterity.

If you fail to keep this sacred trust inviolate, if I am nullified and destroyed, you and your children will become slaves to dictators and despots.

Eternal vigilance is your price of freedom.

As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country, remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are – no more, no less.

Guard me well, lest your freedom perish from the earth.

Dedicate your lives to those principles for which I stand: “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I was created in freedom. I made my first appearance in a battle for human liberty.

God grant that I may spend eternity in my “land of the free and the home of the brave” and that I shall ever be known as “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America.

Read More