Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 7:16 am
Basetrack began as a place for embedded journalists to post photos. Later it became a social media site where families could keep up with their troops in Afghanistan. Now it has transformed again, into a new way for the most recent generation of veterans to tell the story of their service and survival.
Vietnam War-era veterans and their families are being invited to Kentucky's first major event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war.
The Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs says the event is set for Sept. 25 at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort. The names of Kentucky's 1,103 fallen soldiers in Vietnam are carved into the base of the memorial.
Guests will include Gov. Steve Beshear, Medal of Honor recipient Don Jenkins and Joe Galloway, author of "We Were Soldiers Once."
The event is part of the national 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration, which runs through 2025.
About 20 soldiers from Fort Campbell and Fort Knox who've been wounded or injured or who are ill are riding bicycles from one post to the other this week.
Warrior Transition Battalion physical therapist Rebecca Murphy is one of the event coordinators. She says while the soldiers will be pedaling the 164 miles, their cadre and chain of command will be with them, pedaling alongside them.
Murphy says biking gives soldiers obvious health benefits of physical activity and positive social interaction with other riders. She says it also relieves stress.
One of the state’s leading veterans advocates is imploring state lawmakers to create a new position to connect the rising number of female veterans across the state with new services designed for them.
There are about 30,000 female veterans in Kentucky. But Margaret Plattner, a retired Lt. Col. with the National Guard and the deputy commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, says just under 2,000 of them have applied for benefits.
She says that the number of homeless female veterans in Kentucky, about 250, is growing faster than that of their male counterparts, and they suffer from domestic violence trauma in greater numbers than men.
Plattner implored a panel of lawmakers in Frankfort to create a position for the state to bridge the gap.
A Meade County native who died while serving in Iraq is being honored this weekend at Fort Campbell.
The U.S. Army Reserve Center at the southern Kentucky post is being renamed Sunday in honor of Major Michael L. Mundell, who died in 2007 from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device was detonated in Fallujah.
Mundell, who was 47 when he was killed, had volunteered to deploy to Iraq, and was survived by a wife, Audrey, and four children; Erica, Ryan, Zachary, and Dale.
Michael Mascari, Public Affairs Director with the 81st Regional Support Command, says Mundell served in an 11-man unit in Fallujah that was training Iraqi soldiers. Several of Mundell’s former comrades will be at Sunday’s ceremony.
“And one of the things that was unique about that unit was how small it is and how specialized the staff were,” Mascari told WKU Public Radio. “They took soldiers from all over, from all different types of units to assemble them for this. And out of 11 people, six soldiers from his unit are actually going to be there.”
House and Senate negotiators unveiled a $17 billion plan Monday to address the crisis in care for veterans.
The agreement would provide $10 billion to allow veterans to be treated outside the Veterans Affairs system, if they've had trouble getting appointments within it. More than two dozen clinics would be leased around the country, with $5 billion spent to hire additional doctors, nurses and other medical personnel at the VA.
Some retired military veterans are asking Kentucky lawmakers to commit funding for a new long-term care facility for veterans that would be located in Bowling Green.
The commonwealth currently has only three such facilities, with a fourth veterans nursing home scheduled to open next summer in Hardin County.
Dr. Ray Biggerstaff served in Vietnam as a Captain with the 101st Airborne Division, based in Fort Campbell. He told state lawmakers in Frankfort that the number of veterans in the south-central Kentucky region makes Warren County a logical location for a long-term care operation.
“When we take a look at the demographic data for Bowling Green and the Barren River Area Development District, we’re looking at a total of 20,000 veterans in that particular area. Surrounding the area, we have an additional 22,000 veterans that are in the perimeter,” said Biggerstaff.
Biggerstaff said he also thought a long-term care facility for veterans in southern Kentucky could attract veterans who live in northern Tennessee.
In testimony before a joint committee on State Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection, Biggerstaff said backers of the proposed veteran’s nursing home in Warren County have identified a 30-acre site off I-65 near the Kentucky Transpark as a possible location for the facility.
The nursing home being built in Hardin County will sit on 195 acres of land donated by the Defense Department, and feature a dozen ten-person homes providing full nursing services to 120 veterans. It’s scheduled to open next June.
Kentucky’s three nursing homes for veterans currently in operation are in Hopkins, Jessamine, and Perry counties.
Kentucky lawmakers have been discussing the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, and how sexual assault in the military plays a factor.
Dr. Mary Sweeney was among a team of physicians from the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs hospital in Louisville who recently testified before a joint Committee on the Military, Veterans Affairs and Public Safety about PTSD treatment efforts.
“Fifty percent of people who experience a rape go on to get PTSD. The numbers are lower for combat. Vietnam veterans, probably about 30 percent at some point in their life. Gulf War veterans, perhaps 10 percent. The numbers are still out in the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”
Many veterans have lobbied Frankfort in support of medical marijuana as a treatment for their symptoms.
About 18,500 veterans in Kentucky suffer from PTSD. Nationwide, that number is 350,000.
Medical Marijuana for Veterans?
Kentucky lawmakers also heard testimony from those advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana as a way for veterans to cope with the impact of PTSD and physical ailments related to their military service.
Inside a gym on the Fort Knox Army post, a group of soldiers show up ready to play ball, but not in jerseys and cleats.
The uniform here is camouflage.
BJ Levis has come to Fort Knox to introduce Beep Baseball. Levis works for Metro Parks and Recreation in Louisville. One of the programs she oversees is adaptive sports for people with disabilities.
“A lot of times when people have a recent injury and their life has changed it’s like 'I’m not going to be able to do anything I could do before,'" says Levis. "We like to introduce different sports and say 'Yes you can.' There’s just some simple adaptations or some simple equipment you might need so you still can participate in sports or start some you’ve never even done before which is really cool.”
WKU is being recognized for its efforts in reaching out to military veterans.
The school was ranked seventh among all four-year schools in the 2014 "Best for Vets" report published by the Military Times. WKU was praised for having the state's only Veterans Upward Bound program, as well as a tuition discount for active duty military.
WKU Military Student Services Director Tonya Archey, a 10 year Navy veteran, says schools have to work to convince some veterans that they can succeed academically after being out of the classroom for many years.
"Speaking for myself, and many of my students, we can tell you that we've been out for a long time and we lack some of the confidence--do I have what it takes to make it through college? Many wonder since they've been out of high school so long, are they going to be really rusty on a lot of the basic stuff."
The "Best for Vets" rankings factored in a school's service member enrollment, percentage of tuition covered by the G.I. Bill, and the presence of programs designed to help active duty and former military personnel.