American Legion Daily News Clips 5.15.20

Good morning folks, you made it another week. Today is Friday, May 15, 2020 and here are the clips for today.

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Stripes: Medal of Honor recipient Ronald Shurer dies after lengthy struggle with lung cancer

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2020

Ronald Shurer, the Green Beret medic awarded the Medal of Honor for aiding the wounded during a six-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2008, died of lung cancer Thursday. He was 41.

His death was announced by the U.S. Secret Service, for whom Shurer had worked since retiring from the Army in 2009.

“Today, we lost an American Hero: Husband, Father, Son, Medal of Honor Recipient — Special Agent Ronald J. Shurer II,” the Secret Service said in a tweet. “From a grateful Nation and Agency — your memory and legacy will live on forever.”

Shurer was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2017 and had chronicled his treatment and hospitalization on Instagram.

From his room at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., Shurer posted a message Wednesday with a photo of him with an oxygen tube in his mouth. Beside him was his wife, Miranda, smiling hopefully.

“Very upset to write this … been unconscious for a week,” the message said. "They are going to try and take it out in a couple hours, they can’t tell me if it will work.”

Shurer was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 1, 2018, an upgrade from the Silver Star originally presented for his actions in the fight that would become known as the Battle of Shok Valley in Nuristan province.

Shurer said during the award ceremony that he had not even been aware that the Silver Star was under consideration for an upgrade at the time he learned he would receive the Medal of Honor, the highest honor the military bestows for valor.

On April 6, 2008, a 12-man Green Beret force from Operational Detachment-Alpha 3336 were on a mission to kill or capture a leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin insurgent group.

The Green Berets and about 100 Afghan commandos were dropped from hovering helicopters because the icy mountainside was too steep to land on. The assault force was immediately faced with scaling a 100-foot cliff to reach the enemy compound.

But within minutes, heavy machine fire and rockets rained down from enemy positions above.

Shurer, then a senior medical sergeant, was the only medic on the operation, and his frantic work to save lives began immediately with wounded Afghan commandos.

Capt. Kyle Walton, the operation’s ground commander, radioed Shurer to advance up the slope as casualties mounted.

Shurer scaled the mountainside under fire.

“When he showed up, nearly everybody was wounded,” Walton told Stars and Stripes in 2018. “We were under direct fire. We were pinned down with nearly nowhere to go except down that 100-foot cliff.”

While treating the wounded, Shurer was hit twice — once in the arm and once by a stunning round to his helmet.

One of the Green Beret soldiers who was critically wounded in the hip credited Shurer for his survival.

“Without Ron Shurer at my side, I would have died that day. No question,” Dillon Behr told Stars and Stripes in 2018. “His presence gave me the confidence to know I could make it. There’s a good chance if he would have been critically injured or killed on the battlefield … we all might have died out there.”

As coalition air strikes began pummeling the enemy positions, Shurer moved the wounded to be evacuated.

“While moving down the mountain, Staff Sergeant Shurer used his own body to shield the wounded from enemy fire and debris caused by danger-close air strikes,” the Medal of Honor citation said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Corey Dickstein contributed to this report.

olson.wyatt
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

Military.com: Proposal Would Create Tent Cities for Homeless Veterans in VA Parking Lots

13 May 2020

Military.com | By Richard Sisk

Tent cities for homeless veterans would go up in Department of Veterans Affairs hospital parking lots under a proposal included in a massive COVID-19 aid bill offered up this week by House Democrats.

The proposal by Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, would authorize the VA "to set up temporary encampments on the grounds of [VA Medical Centers] to allow homeless veterans to stay temporarily in VA parking lots," according to a release Tuesday from the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Although the tent city plan may seem far-fetched, it has precedent. Last month, the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System set up temporary pup tents for homeless veterans at the West Los Angeles VAMC at the urging of veterans advocates and local city and county officials.

Related: Tricare Drops Telehealth Copays, Adds Phone Call Coverage in Emergency Measure

The proposal by Levin, head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee subcommittee on economic opportunity, was included in legislation offered up by Rep. Mark Takano, the committee chairman, to aid veterans during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Takano’s proposals were part of a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill shaped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, that is expected to be voted on as early as Friday.

Pelosi, who has a track record of never sending a bill to the floor for which she doesn’t have the votes, said Tuesday, "We must think big for the people now, because if we don’t it will cost more in lives and livelihood later."

She told reporters in the Capitol, "We’re presenting a plan to do what is necessary to deal with a chronic crisis and make sure we can get the country back to work and school safely."

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act, includes nearly $1 trillion in assistance to state and local governments, hazardous pay for VA and other health care workers, forgiveness of student debt and funding to shore up Medicaid and Medicare.

The more than 1,800-page bill also included a second round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and would create a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said there is no urgency in the Senate to move on the House bill. At a livestream event Tuesday, he said it is time to "hit pause" on new coronavirus relief proposals.

Takano’s package of proposals would approve VA health care for all veterans who lost their health insurance due to the pandemic and give prior VA authorization for any emergency care sought by veterans at non-VA hospitals.

In addition, veterans would not have any copays or cost-sharing for preventative treatment or services related to COVID-19.

"The HEROES Act is critical," Takano said in a statement. "By supporting homeless veterans, suspending debt collection, expanding health coverage, and caring for our most vulnerable, we can help ensure that those who have served our country have an opportunity to succeed."

The pup tents at the West Los Angeles VA were the latest attempt by the facility to ease the plight of homeless veterans in California.

Last May, the nonprofit Safe Parking L.A. partnered with the VA to offer homeless veterans living out of their vehicles parking stalls on the West Los Angeles VA’s campus for overnight stays and a place to wash up.

In an address last May to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recalled a visit to the West Los Angeles VA and "the saddest sight I have seen."

"I watched at dusk cars come into that wonderful, wonderful facility, and veterans did not get out of the cars," he said. "I was told that they all had jobs. They were contributing to the tax base and the prosperity of America’s second largest city, but because of government policy there was no place for them to afford a decent living."

At a virtual House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on homeless veterans last month, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, the ranking member of the committee, framed the problem for homeless veterans during the stay-at-home restrictions of the pandemic with a question: "How do you stay at home if you don’t have a home?"

In her testimony at the April 28 hearing, Kathryn Monet, executive director of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, praised the outreach by the VA and the work to get homeless veterans into rentals through vouchers from the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, but said the problem has only worsened during the pandemic.

She called on Congress to provide more assistance to advocacy groups and community providers to get more homeless veterans off the streets and into shelters.

The pandemic "has truly created financial strain for these organizations on the front lines of this fight," Monet said.

"Given the infection rates at congregate housing across the country, any further delay is putting homeless service providers in the impossible position of making life-or-death decisions based on insufficient resources," she added.

At the hearing, Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pennsylvania, pointed to the work of the nonprofit Veterans Leadership Program in the Pittsburgh area in getting homeless veterans into shelters and rentals.

In a phone interview, Christine Pietryga, VLP’s chief operating officer, said the organization is working with $1 million in assistance from the VA to get homeless veterans, and those who have been "couch surfing" after losing jobs, into shelters and vacant hotel rooms.

One problem is that some of the veterans worry about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from the lack of social distancing at shelters, she said.

"The VA has done a really good job" at addressing the homeless veterans issue through HUD-VASH and other programs, said Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans. But "we’re likely to see more veterans become homeless in the months ahead" as unemployment spikes in the epidemic, she added.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Ilem, a former Army medic, said the DAV is also concerned with veterans’ mental health issues in the coronavirus era.

Last week, the VA announced an expansion of services through the $17.2 billion in funding to the Veterans Health Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

About $300 million from the $17.2 billion will go "to address the challenges faced by homeless and at-risk veterans," the VA said in a release.

The total includes $202 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program aimed at low-income veteran families "to mitigate the expected wave of evictions and potential homelessness that will result from extensive unemployment," the VA said.

Since 2010, the effort, begun under then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to end veteran homelessness, has resulted in about a 50% reduction in the number of homeless veterans, currently estimated at about 40,000, according to the VA and HUD.

As a result, 77 communities and three states nationwide have declared an effective end to veteran homelessness, HunterKurtz, assistant secretary for public and Indian housing at HUD, said at an Aug. 22 field hearing in San Diego of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on economic opportunity.

Military Times: VA cemeteries will open to the public on Memorial Day, but wreath-laying ceremonies will be closed

Leo Shane III

1 day ago

Veterans Affairs officials will continue the tradition of holding wreath-laying ceremonies at department cemeteries on Memorial Day later this month but will not open those events to the public because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, visitors will be allowed to visit the cemeteries over the holiday weekend to place flowers or flags at the grave sites of loved ones, provided they avoid any large gatherings or close contact with other families.

The department is also scrapping plans to hold large-scale commemorative events to mark the holiday, set aside each year to honor individuals who died while serving in the armed forces.

In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the ongoing coronavirus restrictions will force this year’s observation to be “different” but pledged the spirit of the holiday will remain unchanged.

“While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor veterans and service members with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice,” he said.

Under guidance released by the department on Wednesday morning, each VA cemetery will conduct a brief wreath-laying ceremony, including a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps.”

Those events will not be open to the public, in keeping with federal recommendations limiting large gatherings in an attempt to stunt the spread of the coronavirus. More than 80,000 Americans have died from illnesses connected to the virus in the last two months, including nearly 1,000 patients in VA care.

All department-run cemeteries will be open from dawn to dusk on Memorial Day (Monday, May 25), but VA officials are asking for visitors to “adhere to health and safety guidelines and maintain physical distancing while visiting.”

They also recommend traveling to the cemeteries on Friday, Saturday or Sunday of the holiday weekend to avoid larger crowds.

The department is also opening its Veterans Legacy Memorial online site starting May 14 to allow families to leave tribute comments on a veteran’s memorial page. The site includes a section for every veteran or service member interred at a VA cemetery.

In keeping with past tradition, Wilkie will preside over the wreath laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on Memorial Day. Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers will do the same at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia.

Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves will lay a wreath at Riverside National Cemetery in California on May 22, and another at Calverton National Cemetery in New York on Memorial Day. All of the events will be live streamed.

White House officials have not announced any schedule for President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence for the Memorial Day weekend. The commander in chief typically visits Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on the holiday.

Arlington National Cemetery, operated by the Army, will be releasing guidance on Memorial Day later this week. Access is currently limited to family pass holders in groups of 10 or less.

Earlier this month, officials from AMVETS cancelled plans to host a new “Rolling Thunder” event over the Memorial Day weekend. In the past, the event drew thousands of motorcyclists to the Washington, D.C., area to honor troops still missing in action, but the tradition was ended last year because of cost concerns.

Instead, AMVETS leaders have asked veterans supporters to ride their motorcycle for 22 miles in their local communities on May 24, in an effort to call attention to veterans suicides. And estimated 20 veterans and service members die by suicide each day, according to VA statistics.

Portland Press Herald: Lawsuits alleging poor medical care at VA’s Togus facility in Maine end in settlements

By MEGAN GRAY | Portland Press Herald, Maine | Published: May 14, 2020

PORTLAND, Maine (Tribune News Service) — The federal government has agreed to pay more than $1 million total to five veterans who alleged mistreatment of foot and ankle problems at the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta.

The legal battle began with the first lawsuit in 2014. The complaints came amid national criticism of the Department of Veterans Affairs over mismanagement and long wait lists that resulted in deaths.

The parties settled the last open case in March and the Portland Press Herald received copies of the five settlement agreements through a public records request.

The veterans claimed poor treatment by a podiatrist at Togus left them with severe pain that limited their ability to walk. The settlements allowed for all pending claims to be resolved without the government admitting liability or fault.

The most drastic case was that of April Wood, a Maine native who now lives in Missouri. Court documents show she smashed her ankle when she fell 20 feet from a ropes course in 2004 during a U.S. Army training exercise. The podiatrist later performed surgery on her ankle twice. But she continued to experience chronic pain for years, and other surgeons ultimately amputated her leg below the knee in 2012.

Wood was the last plaintiff to reach a settlement agreement and received the largest payout of $800,000. Four other veterans received smaller settlements between $50,000 and $80,000.

Dan Lipman was part of the team of attorneys who represented Wood and Mark Prescott, who received a $70,000 settlement. Court documents show Prescott served in the U.S. Navy until 2004 and had previous surgeries to address a running injury. He underwent two additional surgeries at Togus, and another doctor later said those procedures had actually continued or worsened his pain.

Dr. Thomas Franchini, the podiatrist whose care was the focus of the lawsuits, was not named as a defendant. He left Togus in 2010, and he did not renew his license to practice in Maine in 2011.

Lipman criticized Togus for waiting so long to tell the veterans about problems with their care, and he said the government should have immediately compensated those patients rather than fighting their cases in court for years.

“The right thing to do would have been to come out at the outset and say these veterans should not have been hurt this way, and we’re going to make it right,” Lipman said. “But the government didn’t do that.”

Kenneth Myrick, who goes by Jake, served in the Army from 1998 to 2004. Court documents show his ankle surgery at Togus in 2005 resulted in a “nerve entrapment,” which caused severe pain and was not identified for years. He said Tuesday that he still has chronic pain and limited mobility.

“My life is forever changed,” he said. “I can’t go run, jump and play with my kids. I can’t go take a ski trip like I normally would have done. … No amount of money was going to change that.”

His case resulted in a $50,000 settlement, but he said he never got the apology or accountability he wanted from Togus officials.

“That betrayal from the VA is the most hurtful,” Myrick said.

The attorney who represented two additional plaintiffs is no longer at her firm and could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine represented the federal government, and a spokesman commented on the case by email.

“As with all of its settlements in cases in which a federal agency is a defendant, the United States views the settlements agreed to in the referenced cases to be appropriate based on the government’s analysis of its risk at trial and the interests of justice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff wrote.

Six veterans filed lawsuits in federal court in 2014 and 2015. U.S. District Judge Jon Levy initially dismissed the cases in 2016 because they did not file their complaints within three years of the treatment that caused their problems. But Levy allowed the veterans to pursue an argument that Togus “fraudulently concealed” the mistreatment from them.

In 2018, he decided to allow five of the six cases to move forward, saying the question of fraudulent concealment was “inextricably intertwined” with the claims in their lawsuits. Beginning in 2019, the parties began to settle the cases, one by one.

©2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)
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Military.com: Veteran Duped by Phony Marine Awarded $1.7 Million in Stolen Valor Case

14 May 2020

Military.com | By Patricia Kime

Montana’s highest court has upheld a judgment against a Lynchburg, Virginia, man who solicited at least one investor in his business dealings by claiming to have been a U.S. Marine.

The Montana Supreme Court last month upheld a lower court’s decision ordering Laron Shannon, formerly of Kalispell, Montana, to pay $1.7 million in damages to Donald Kaltschmidt, of Whitefish. Kaltschmidt, according to the court, gave Shannon $250,000 to invest in a company Shannon said would hire veterans to clean oil rigs in eastern Montana and North Dakota.

But Shannon, who often wore Marine apparel such as caps and knit shirts with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and portrayed himself as a former Marine officer, never served on active duty as a commissioned Marine, according to court documents. When asked early during the court proceedings to produce a DD-214 record of service document, he did not immediately produce it.

Following multiple trial delays by Shannon for medical emergencies, as well as a bankruptcy declaration that temporarily halted proceedings, Shannon offered up roughly 300 documents a week before the trial was to start, including a DD-214 that showed he was discharged in 1982 as a midshipman — a term that applies to both students at the U.S. Naval Academy and students in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs at other schools.

The 11th District Judicial Court ruled that the documents were not admissible to the court because they had not been produced in a timely manner. And Kaltschmidt’s attorneys charged that the documents were forged.

"The District Court was provided with proof that Mr. Shannon had fabricated many of the newly produced ‘Top Secret’ redacted documents in his ‘VA file’ … and was presented with proof that Mr. Shannon had forged what he claimed was his DD214," an appellee brief to the Montana Supreme Court states.

Shannon appealed the lower court’s decision based on the decision regarding the documentation as well as the trial proceedings, which continued after Shannon elected to leave the courtroom the first day when, while cross-examining Kaltschmidt, he claimed a medical emergency.

In his absence, the jury found Shannon liable for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, constructive fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, awarding $224,000 in compensatory damages, and later, an additional $1.5 million in punitive damages.

The Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling, concluding that the lower court had the right to exclude Shannon’s documents and it had "exercised considerable patience with" him before allowing the trial to proceed.

It did not weigh in on the validity of Shannon’s documents.

Shannon graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1982, according to the college’s yearbook, and he showed what he said was his DD-214 and honorable discharge to a Virginia television station last year.

Shannon said he was a member of the Marine Reserve as an enlisted person during college and attended Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia, from July 13, 1982, through Aug. 21, 1982.

"I was discharged honorably with a rank of officer candidate," Shannon told the court and the television station.

But he never produced any evidence of having received a commission. And according to Kaltschmidt, he represented himself as a former Marine officer at various events and in business dealings.

“He was always vague about the details of his service,” Kaltschmidt said.

According to Kaltschmidt, Shannon portrayed himself as a former officer at charitable events in Montana and elsewhere, including Toys for Tots drives, veterans functions and the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia.

During Shannon’s time in Montana, he "infiltrated our veterans groups and took advantage of a lot of people," Kaltschmidt said, adding that he pursued the case solely for that reason.

"He shows up for veteran events and takes credit for something he had nothing to do with,” Kaltschmidt told Military.com. “We wanted to make sure he would never do it again.”

According to court documents, the company Shannon intended to establish, Oilfield Warriors, never conducted any business operations. Shannon allegedly embezzled the company’s funds and established two other companies, JD Services and Hire America’s Finest, around the same time he created Oilfield Warriors, the business in which Kaltschmidt invested.

A call to Shannon’s home in Lynchburg went unanswered. He represented himself in court proceedings after three separate attorneys withdrew from his case.

Kaltschmidt, who served in the Marine Corps in the amphibious assault vehicle community from 1975 to 1978 and has a son who served in the Marine Corps, said Shannon knew enough about the service to "talk a good game," which made other veterans — and the public