Today is our 4,622nd day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy on Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,319
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,120
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 538, 866, 850, 000 .00
I have so many stories that I've picked up over the last week or so that it's tough to know where to begin. Seeing how negative things have been of late, why not a couple of feel-good stories for a change?
We'll start right here in my neck of the woods. You may be familiar with the fishing community of Gloucester; if you've ever bought "Gorton's" frozen fish, this is where it comes from. Like many seaside communities, there's also the "uppity" part of town where the rich folk have their seaside "cottages". One couple has decided that maybe they can do more good with their wealth
than simply living better than the rest of us.
GLOUCESTER, Mass. — A Gloucester veteran and his wife have contributed to a charity that provides dream vacations for wounded service men and women.
This is the fourth time that Bob and Germaine Fritz of Gloucester have donated their villa in the Caribbean for use by wounded veterans, through the Virginia-based organization Vacations for Veterans. Bob Fritz served in the U.S. Army in the 1970s.
The organization was founded in 2007 by Peggy and Chris Carr, both veterans of the Marine Corps. The mission is simple: to pair up Purple Heart recipients from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns with vacation home donors who offer them a free week in their homes.
So far, the charity has sent an estimated 450 veterans and their families on free vacations. There are more than 1,000 Purple Heart recipients on a waiting list.
“We are really excited that we have an extra-special vacation for one of our veterans this year. U.S. Army veteran Daniel Diaz will be going on a vacation to the British Virgin Islands with his family and will be staying for free at the ‘Dream Come True Villa’ owned by Bob and Germaine Fritz,” said Peggy Carr.
Diaz of California will travel with his wife and two children to the villa in Virgin Gorda. Diaz was wounded by an IED in Iraq, suffered cracked vertebrae and traumatic brain injury, but is recovering well.
“He and his family are thrilled to be going on this free trip,” said Carr. “This is a fabulous offer and one that is certainly unattainable for most of our wounded veterans this summer — and most of us.”
Through donations from many individuals, the charity also works to find money to pay for airfare for these Purple Heart veterans.
“Though people may be tired of hearing about Iraq and Afghanistan, the aftermath for these wounded veterans and their caretakers is ever-present, and through donations of vacation homes, time shares and funds to sponsor these dream vacations, the American people are showing that they truly value the service and sacrifice of our military,” Carr said.
If you look at the calendar, you might be aware that it will soon be June 6. It's a nice, round year so many anniversary commemorations are taking place. With most veterans of the day on the other side of 90, this is realistically the last chance that any of them will have to attend and participate. But that also means that those who were liberated on that day are also aging at the same pace...and while our friends on the right have long vilified the French, I tend to view them a little more charitably
. Those aging survivors along the Normandy coast are still eternally grateful to us
SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France — Andree Auvray, nine months pregnant, was hiding from German bombings in a Normandy ditch with her husband one night in June 1944 when their dogs started barking. The shadows of three soldiers appeared.
"We both came out to see what was going on," she recalls. She initially thought the men were the Nazi occupiers who had upended life in her quiet farming village. "And then I said `No, it's not the Germans!'
The soldiers were Americans. D-Day had begun.
Auvray relives that wrenching time with clarity and a growing sense of urgency. Seventy years have passed since the Allied invasion of Normandy helped turn the tide against Hitler. With their numbers rapidly diminishing, she and other French women and men who owe their freedom to D-Day's fighters are more determined than ever to keep alive the memory of the battle and its meaning.
As President Barack Obama and other world leaders prepare to gather in Normandy next week to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle, French survivors are speaking to schools, conferences, tourists, filmmakers about their experiences, and their gratitude.
That's especially important to Auvray's hometown of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first village liberated by the Allies after D-Day.
About 15,000 paratroopers landed in and around the town not long after midnight on June 6, 1944, and seized it from the Germans at 4:30 a.m. An American flag was raised in front of the town hall.
During the drop, American paratrooper John Steele's parachute got caught on the church spire. For two hours, Steele hung there, feigning death before being taken prisoner by the Germans. Today, a dummy paratrooper hangs from the spire in his honor.
Henri-Jean Renaud was an excitable 10-year-old the night the Americans landed, and his father was the town mayor.
"Waves of planes came, paratroopers landed, and one hour later — after various events and fighting on the square between Germans and Americans — (my father) came back home," Renaud recounts. "He was all excited, saying `There you go, it's the (D-Day) landing, it has finally happened!'"
Alas, it wouldn't be "Ask a Vet" unless the harsh realities of war appear at some point. We still won't go far; I'm headed to Miami on this one. There have been reams of print recently about the ongoing problems at the VA. I fear that Paul Rieckhoff may have it right; Shinsecki's resignation is not going to do anything except make people heave a sigh of 'relief' that the problem is gone...without actually changing or improving a thing. But that's not even what I'm mentioning today...there's a story from the Miami VA that reveals problems even more sinister.
MIAMI — As a crisis engulfs the Department of Veterans Affairs over allegations of wrongdoing at VA medical centers across the country, Miami’s VA Hospital has come under fire from one of its own: a longtime employee and police detective, who alleges that some patients are dealing drugs, others are being physically abused — and administrators are covering up the problems.
Thomas Fiore, a VA law enforcement officer who was reassigned to clerical duties in February, said he has repeatedly reported to superiors incidents of drug dealing among patients, evidence of physical abuse of patients, and other potential crimes.
In allegations first reported by WFOR-CBS 4 this week, Fiore said that instead of being allowed to investigate these incidents as a VA detective, he was re-assigned to a clerical position within the hospital’s medical administration department as retaliation.
“I was reassigned because I continued to bring things up to the director, and he continued to ignore it,’’ Fiore, 38, said. “They just needed to get rid of me.’’
Fiore fears continued retaliation for speaking out, and he has hired an attorney to represent him. “There’s not a bone in my body that is not scared,’’ he said.
But he felt compelled to come forward after a federal report in March revealed that the residential drug abuse rehabilitation program at the Miami VA Hospital failed to monitor patients, provide sufficient staff, control access to the facility or even curb illicit drug use among patients — culminating with the June 2013 death of Nicholas Todd Cutter, a 27-year-old Iraq combat veteran who overdosed on cocaine and heroin one week before he was scheduled to graduate from the program.
“Quite honestly,’’ Fiore said, “his death could have been prevented.’’
The Miami VA declined the Herald’s request to interview the VA administrator, Paul Russo, and the chief of staff, Vincent DeGennaro.
Shane Suzuki, a public affairs officer for the Miami VA Healthcare System, said Fiore’s allegations have no evidence to substantiate them.
“Miami VA leadership has every intent of holding employees who mistreat our veterans accountable for their actions,’’ Suzuki said in a written statement. “We will fully investigate any allegations that we do anything less than treat our veterans with the respect and honor they have earned.’’
Of course, I'm not really surprised that it's Florida; but then again given the scope of the VA's problems, this may just be the tip of yet another iceberg.