Last month was when Americans across the nation celebrated Memorial Day, paying tribute to men and women who defended our freedom and are no longer with us.
Because of that holiday, there were many groups that honored veterans and numerous news items that saw print because of the significance of the month. And some events even took advantage of the holiday to honor recent veterans who have returned from the wars in the Middle East. Space does not allow me to review all the news during May, but here are a few things that bear mentioning:
The Department of Veterans Affairs released for public comment a draft of its strategic report to address key issues facing female veterans. The plan outlines steps for improvements to care and services for female veterans that are sustainable, accountable and a part of the department's culture and operations.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said, "Expanding care and services to women veterans is too important to limit ourselves solely to the views within the department, so we are seeking feedback from all stakeholders, most importantly women veterans themselves.
"The VA must be visionary and agile enough to anticipate and adjust not only to the coming increase in women veterans but also to the complexity and longevity of treatment needs."
Shinseki formed a task force to develop an action plan to address female veterans' issues. Since then, the group has conducted a broad survey of department experts to identify those issues and organize them by priority. The VA said the draft report is an interim step before the VA finalizes its overall plan. The VA noted that the number of female veterans using the VA has increased 83 percent in the past decade, from about 160,000 to more than 292,000 between fiscal years 2000 and 2009, compared with a 50 percent increase in male veterans.
In fact, women are the fastest-growing segment within the veterans community. More than 1,200 VA providers have been receiving special training in comprehensive women's health, and clinic models have been established in Nevada and at 153 medical centers within the VA health care system to ensure that women receive all of their primary health care that includes prevention, medical and routine gynecologic care by a single primary provider. To view the report, go to www.va.gov/opa/publications/Draft_2012_WomenVeterans_StrategicPlan.pdf.
Two nonprofit organizations in Nevada have long been established to help veterans and their families. The Nellis Support Team (NST) exists to help airmen at Nellis Air Force Base and its "sister base," Creech, north of Las Vegas.
Leading the group is former airman Randy Black, a local builder and developer. Members of the NST include veterans and nonveterans alike, including leading businesspeople who donate their time and money annually to serve airmen and their families. The group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A similar group is the Nevada Military Support Alliance (NMSA), which supports families of all Nevada servicemen and women in need of select services. Both the NST and the NMSA hold meetings and have guest speakers that impart information of interest to veterans and their families. NMSA can be contacted at ltrotter@jonesvargas. com.
The Purple Heart medal traditionally is given to servicemen and women who have been wounded or killed in combat situations. There are strict guidelines concerning the extent of such wounds. Over the years, groups such as law enforcement agencies have taken to awarding Purple Hearts of their own design to members of their organizations who have been wounded while apprehending criminals.
Not all military Purple Heart recipients are pleased with that trend. Now the eligibility for the military version of the medal might be expanded. According to press reports, bipartisan legislation in Congress would allow Purple Hearts to be awarded to members of the armed forces killed or wounded in domestic terrorist attacks. Examples of such situations are military victims of shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and at a Little Rock, Ark., recruiting station. If the legislation is passed, it would strongly solidify the notion that there are no front lines in terrorism.
In Las Vegas, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson continued their annual homage to current soldiers by giving an all-expense flight to Wounded Warriors and their spouses and putting them up as top-of-the-line guests at their Palazzo and Venetian hotels on the Strip. On this visit approximately 80 soldiers and many spouses were treated as if they were high rollers, with free tickets to shows, gourmet meals at top restaurants and other all-expense-paid amenities.
At the event, I asked Adelson about his own military service and rank in the Army during the Korean War, and he held back a laugh. "Rank? I was lower than low," he said of his status.
He did note, however, that he was stationed on the East Coast during the war and his assignment was that of a military court reporter. But while he never experienced combat, he and his wife have a heartfelt desire to honor as many troops as possible and show their appreciation for their service.
It's gratifying to witness the outpouring of respect and acclaim given to the U.S. military.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada's Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the "Veterans Reporter Radio Show" on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and of the "Veterans Reporter News" at 2:30 a.m. Fridays on VEGAStv KTUD Cable 14.