One Door Closes and Another Opens

As I sit here surrounded by the executive leadership of the California Veteran Community.  It’s day 2 of the CalVet Leadership Summit,  a gathering of the Senior and Executive Level leaders of US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, CA Veterans Affairs, the County VSOs,  DAV,  American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America,  Swords to Plowshares, VetFund Foundation, other Veteran Service Organizations from around the state.  I’ve never seen every VA Medical Center and Regional Office, and County  VSO in one room at the same time.  The newly appointed CalVet Secretary, Dr Vito Imbasciani MD called this summit to identify barriers faced by the Veterans of California and create strategies and alliances to better serve the Veterans.  The Secretary and other leaders have set a tone of leaving politics and agendas at the door.

I was asked to attend and represent the LGBT Veterans in the State. The timing of this Summit couldn’t have been more perfect.  I was laid off from my position at VOA as a Peer Support Specialist in the HUD-VASH Program due to lack of funding. With my experience of being an underemployed and homeless Veteran I have an insight in the struggles of the Veterans that most of these leaders don’t know first hand.  At first I asked myself why am I here?  I don’t belong in this room surrounded by these executives with travel budgets and resources to give up a week to travel to the Capitol. However, some how The gods smiled down on me and made this opportunity possible.

When I return back to LA,  I’ll be using the contacts made here to plan the upcoming Operation: Do Ask,  Do Tell 2016 and establish resources and programs for the Veterans in LA,  and possibly find a new position working to continue to serve LGBT Veterans not only in LA but across the State.

So much to do…

I am sitting here taking a breather from packing. Tomorrow morning I have to be at the Airport (LAX) bright and early. I am boarding a plane to head to Denver for the AVER National Convention. The stressing part is I am taking Mariposa along with me, and she is used to having her own large duffle bag on wheels when we go from one side of LA County to the other, however for this trip I have to pack all of her stuff  for one maybe two nights out and my clothes for the next 4 days into one suitcase. Damn, the airlines and their baggage restrictions. But, I shall overcome this obstacle. I only wish that bitch would figure out what she is going to wear. She has some many different habits (clothes) to choose from. We were able to downsize her make-up/jewelry cases to a small travel size make-up bag. No matter what she choose to wear, she is excited to be gracing the Convention with her presence and give the City of Denver a very special blessing. So look out Denver, Sister Mariposa Patriota, The All-American Charity Whore and I are coming for ya….

Why I fight…

I know this is from an old episode, but it just proves that I must continue to fight for the rights of my brothers and sisters in arms. So that someday soon, NO Veteran, Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, Coast Gaurdsman, Reservist, or National Gaurdsman has to go thru this again. We first and foremost are men and women  that proudly served our county, and some of us happen to have loved ones that happen to be Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Transgender which deserve to be at our side when we need them the most. Personally I haven’t experienced this, but know many who have. It can be the worst feeling in the world to know that you can’t be there at your loved ones side when they need you, or to properly say good bye. That they had to go thru this tragedy alone, when you aren’t allowed to be there or even recognized as a loved one. Some day soon, we will all be able to enjoy the freedoms and rights as people, and the labels of today will be a thing of the past.

 

AVER: The Iraq War is Over

Below, are the words of one the first Soldiers to be kicked out under DADT. SGT Danny Ingram, who now runs the American Veterans for Equal Rights as their National President.

As of this morning, with the “casing of the colors”, the Iraq War is officially over. As we have for most of this war, the American people will pass this day as if nothing of significance has happened. We are still at war, and the longer of the two wars, the Afghan war, continues. But the ending of the Iraq War has deep meaning to all of us who honor the 4500 American service members who gave their lives there for their country, among them, Major Alan G. Rogers, a member of AVER, and the first publicly known LGBT American to die in combat. Those of you who knew Alan will know what we have lost in a way the rest of us cannot fully experience. You feel the hole in your heart. As the number of Americans who feel that hole in their hearts becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, those of us who know the cost of war must remind our fellow citizens that the price is always measured in the blood of our honored dead. Lives lost, and lives shattered, will always be the cost of taking our great nation to war. We must never forget the reality of making that decision, and it should never be a decision too easily reached. I encourage each of you to take a moment today to be silent and honor the men and women who gave their lives defending our freedom in Iraq. The war in Iraq was a controversial one, and Americans still disagree as to whether or not it was necessary. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen do not enjoy the luxury of such debates. They go where they are told, always in the defense of our constitution, regardless of the mission. To Alan Rogers, and to each of the honored Iraq dead, I am grateful for the lives which each of you lay down for your country. May your names, and the sacrifices you made, be forever honored by a grateful nation.

Danny Ingram, National President American Veterans for Equal Rights

NVF attends the 2011 AVER National Convention

Just recently on Thursday, October 6, 2011, Apolonio E. Muñoz III the NVF Outreach Coordinator boarded a plane for Albuquerque, NM. Apolonio was heading to the Land of Enchantment to attend the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) National Convention which was hosted at the Sandia Courtyard Hotel, October 6-9, 2011. With the recent passage and certification of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) Repeal, this was an opportune time to get the facts from one of the organizations responsible for this piece of legislature that will forever change the history of the most powerful militaries on Earth.

At the AVER National Convention, Apolonio had the pleasure to meet several brave men & women who were integral parts of the DADT Repeal, such as: LTC Steve Loomis, US Army (Ret), LTC Victor Fehrenbach, US Air Force (Ret), SSG James Apedaile, US Army (Ret), SGT Danny Ingram (Discharged from the US Army under DADT), SSG Anthony Loverde (Discharged from the US Air Force under DADT), MAJ Mike Almy (Discharged from the US Air Force under DADT) & last but definitely not least COL Andy Leonard, US Army (Ret). That was just a hand full of those that were in attendance. Apolonio also had the pleasure of meeting Bill Toledo, a Navajo World War II Marine Veteran and one of the famous “Code Talkers” who were able to use their unwritten language to help defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. Apolonio was also scheduled to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, “The Greatest Show off the Earth”, as part of the Convention. However the weather didn’t cooperate & several showings were cancelled.

Throughout the Convention there were presentations by LTC Fehrenbach & MAJ Almy about their experiences with DADT, and the work they are currently doing with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). There was also a presentation from ACLU-New Mexico who is currently doing a class action lawsuit against the Dept of Defense for those who were discharged under DADT and had their separation pay reduced by 50%. This case is spearheaded by ACLU-NM with the assistance of SLDN and is still in litigations at this time; NVF will post more information about this case as more information is provided. SLDN is attempting to work with the Dept of Defense to resolve any issues that stemmed from the DADT Policy. Now that the policy is no longer on the books, there still is the issue of upgrading Discharges, Re-Entry Codes, Discharge Narratives, Loss of Pay, and Loss of Time in Service/Rank. There are many people whom were discharged under DADT who wish to renter the service onto Active Duty and can’t unless these issues are addressed. With the current Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, and anything else will not be recognized by the federal government. DOMA creates a sub-class of members of the US Armed Forces, just as DADT had done. Without the passage of a repeal of DOMA, the service members who have a spouse of the same sex, that is recognized in the state that they reside is barred from adding said spouse to their benefits. Furthermore, if the servicemember is relocated on orders to another state that doesn’t recognize the marriage or relocated out of Country, that spouse will not be eligible for the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. In most cases the spouse will not get anything and will not be able to move with the servicemember creating a rift in the battle readiness of the US Armed Forces. One last issue that is being fought is the inclusion of Transgender service members in the DADT Repeal. Currently as it stands this class of American Citizens whom wish to serve their country are barred from doing so.

Another issue that has was brought up at the Convention, would be the treatment of LGBT Veterans by the US Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA). When DADT was enacted many service members were discharged with less than Honorable Discharges barring them from VA Benefits. The VA has countless reports of maltreatment of its LGBT Patients, which is violation of the Patient’s rights & discriminatory on bases of sexual identity & preference. This type of discrimination is not tolerated in any medical facility outside of the VA, so why is the VA doing this. Being that all these issues are still being litigated in Federal Court, the NVF will be monitoring them and passing on any & all information regarding them.

Apolonio will be working with the AVER National Board in the coming months to assist them in reforming their Greater Los Angeles Chapter. He will also be working as a liaison between AVER & SLDN to make sure that the NVF Team is up to date on the developments pertaining to these hot button issues, as they directly affect the Veterans and Servicemembers that the NVF is here to help.

(American Veterans for Equal Rights( AVER), founded in 1990, is a non-profit, chapter-based association of Active, Reserve and Veteran Servicemembers dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), founded in 1993, is a non-profit legal services, watchdog, and policy organization. It is dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment of gay and lesbian U.S. military personnel negatively affected by the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which was enacted in 1993. The SLDN documented over 700 violations in the policy’s first two years of operation. As of January, 2011, SLDN has provided legal aid to more than 10,000 servicemembers.)

“The Color Of The Carpet‏”

Today I received an email from the President of the AVER (American Veterans for Equal Rights). In the email he told a story of him meeting a Veteran and recently returning home, and what it is like to come home after being in war, regardless of what your job in the service was. The Soldier, Sailor, Airman and, Marine go off to these far off lands fighting for freedom, but when they come home, they don’t come home the same, and in some cases don’t ever come home completely. I even watched the movie “Hurt Locker” today, and it also showed this message. Showed what the service member goes thru and of course with a Hollywood spin. However, the core message at the end of the story really shows what it is like to come home, and lose part of yourself to the war, and how it feels more at home to be back in the mist of knowing you could die any min, and that you grow accustomed to the dangers of everyday live. These feelings alone can destroy a person’s soul.  Below is a copy of the email, hope you read it, and share its message with those around you.
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 16:25:28 -0500
Subject: ****AVER: the color of the carpet

Yesterday evening on my way home from work I noticed a soldier standing on the Eastbound platform at the Five Points rail station in downtown Atlanta. He was wearing one of the new digital desert uniforms and carrying a relatively large backpack. Its not unusual to see soldiers in the rail stations since Fort McPherson is still in operation (not for much longer) and the base has its own station. But most of the soldiers who work there carry a brief case rather than a backpack. I was wearing an old ARMY warm-up jacket that I keep in the office and sometimes wear home. The soldier noticed my Fitness patch and started up a conversation. We caught the same train to Decatur and continued our conversation.

The soldier turned out to be a colonel (its harder to tell with the new uniforms) and a chaplain. I asked him what “flavor” of chaplain he was and he told me he was a United Methodist. He had served several tours in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. When he talked about seeing parts of the world he never thought he would see we discovered a mutual interest in ancient history. I told him I envied him in getting to see some of the ancient Persian cities. I said I would really like to see the remains of Babylon and the great palace at Persepolis. He told me he had been inside a 5000 year old tomb and stood on the top of an ancient ziggurat. But it wasn’t a very attractive view. He said it was mostly bleak desert.

I told him a story I had heard about a Catholic chaplain in the Army who retired as a full colonel, left the priesthood, got married and lived comfortably on his military pension. I thought it was an ironic story. The colonel said he could never return to parish life as a pastor. He said that with all he had done and all he had seen he just couldn’t “sit through another parish council meeting where they argue about something as mundane as the color of the carpet”. He said he had become both “more patient and less patient” with people. It was difficult for him to see people spend so much time and energy being concerned over petty things that really meant so very little. I told him I understood his perspective even though I had never been in combat myself. War changes life. You really can’t go home again. My stop came and he said he was going to visit friends in Decatur. He was on a layover at the airport. We shook hands. We thanked each other for our service and I told him I was sure he had done a lot of good for a lot of people.

As the train pulled out of the station I watched it leave from the platform. Somehow my heart really went out to that soldier. I understood. I really did. Wherever his flight was taking him, he really never was going to go home again. Old soldiers never do.

Danny
________________________________________________________________

Danny Ingram, National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights
http://aver.us
president@aver.us
678 596-1311

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