Marine Who Won VA Coverage for Camp LeJeune Water Dies

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

A Marine who challenged and finally won his VA disability claim that his breast cancer was linked to Camp Lejeune contaminated water died just months after winning his claim according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Tom Gervasi, a veteran who won his protracted disability claim fight with the government over the rare cancer he contracted during his service, died Tuesday at home in Sarasota.

He was 77.

While serving in the Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1956, Gervasi was exposed to contaminated water that caused breast cancer, which rarely affects men. For the last decade, he fought with the government over medical coverage for him and other veterans.

After repeated denials, he finally received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in April confirming that the contaminated water had in fact caused his cancer.

Read the full Sarasota Herald-Tribune article here.

In March, the VA started reaching out to former Marines and families who lived at Lejeune during the period of contamination. Details on eligibility and a list of illnesses covered by the VA such as breast cancer, bladder cancer and female infertility are available here.

If you served at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination, August 1953 through 1987, and have health problems, you may be eligible for VA benefits. Details are available here.

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Insiders: Benghazi Attack Opportunistic, Not Coordinated

AP Images – courtesy of Business Insiders.com

Typically this blog focuses on military families and veterans and what affects  their daily lives. The turmoil in Libya may seem less family focused and more like world news of the moment.

However, I came across an article, “Insiders Tell Us What Really Happened in  Libya,” that I wanted to share. It seems appropriate with Marines on their way to Libya to protect the embassy and with State Department personnel at risk throughout the region.

First, the article dispels the theory that it was a coordinated attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi:

Fox News reported earlier that “current and former U.S. lawmakers, and others, claimed Wednesday that the attack looked like a coordinated strike.” Sure there was plenty of strong language coming from American political or intelligence figures, but Matt maintains that that is largely to save face.

“Also, other reporters are playing up Anti-American sentiment, but that’s not true either, Libyans like Americans, because they helped. Even some of the extreme islamists of the past have given up violence.”

The article by Geoffery Ingersoll begins by talking to journalist and analyst on Libya Matt VanDyke:

“It’s really simple how it happened. First there was the video, that no one would have known about if it weren’t for the Egyptian media blowing it up. Then people protested in Cairo, and people in Libya saw it on TV, so they decided to protest in Benghazi.”

From there, Matt said, all it took was a few phone calls.

“The people up in the green mountains, the extremists, they saw their opportunity to pounce.”

Matt said the protestors probably had no intent to get violent.

“The extremists, who the government knew was there, they used the protestors as a shield. I’ve experienced how quickly the mobilization can happen firsthand. All it takes is a couple cell phones. All of sudden there’s a handful of trucks packed with fighters.”

Ingersoll goes on in his “insiders” story to cite a member with the Department of State who he identified only as “John.” He wrote that U.S. diplomatic officials understood the risk but were willing to take it for the potential payoff:

In the past, the U.S. would simply close embassies in times of transition, but in this region things are different. American foreign policy in the region hinges on good relations with incoming, or newly forming government bodies.Maintaining that influence also means issuing a certain amount of “trust” currency. Therein lies the risk.

“Really it’s an abysmal failing their behalf. We expect reciprocal protection, just as we give their dignitaries here. You know, the NYPD doesn’t actively protect embassies, but if a riot or protest started in front of one, they’d be out there breaking it up. But they’re unstable as a whole, there’s no real government there.”

As a part of that trust, the U.S. can’t send in thousands of troops to fill in the cracks, so to speak. It also can’t go throwing around deadly force.

You can read the full “insiders” account of the attack in Libya at BusinessInsider.com.

Wounded Warriors: Our “One Sacred Obligation”

Biden with a wounded warrior. Photo courtesy of the American Forces Press Service.

“We have a lot of obligations — to the old, to the young, to educate — but we have only one sacred obligation, and that is to equip those we send to war and care for those we bring home from war,” Vice President Joe Biden told the troops at the Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Camp Pendleton, California according to a report by the American Forces Press Service.

“It is the single most significant obligation the United States of America has,” he added.

Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited the Warrior Hope and Care Center Friday. The vice president said he’s been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq 23 times, but “not like you,” he said, addressing a wounded Marine in front of him.

You can read the full article HERE.

Marine Darkhorse Battalion: Life on the Homefront

NPR Reporter Tom Bowman. Photo by Jacques Coughlin - courtesy of NPR.org.

Twitter, Facebook and the United State’s all voluntary military have changed how families experience war. Marine wives set up Google alerts to get immediate notification if there’s trouble in the region where their husbands are serving. Others lament that less than 1 percent of the population serve in the military. They believe many of the remaining 99 percent are unattached and unknowing about the everyday sacrifices and struggles experienced by military families.

In his final of seven stories on the Marine Darkhorse Battalion, National Public Radio’s Tom Bowman  talks about what it’s like for the Marine families who wait at home.

Part seven of seven

LAURA SULLIVAN, host: All week, we’ve been reporting on one Marine unit. They’re called Darkhorse. And they had a horrific deployment to Afghanistan about a year ago. They lost 25 Marines and many, many more were wounded.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been telling their stories. And Tom’s here in the studio with me now because we wanted to learn a little bit more about these Marines and their families and how they made it through. Tom, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM BOWMAN: Hi, Laura.

SULLIVAN: I’ve listened to all of your reporting this week, and I think what I’ve never heard before was the detail about what it’s like both for the families and for the Marines in the field.

BOWMAN: Right. My producer, Amy Walters and I, we wanted to give our listeners a better sense of what happened here, why this Marine unit suffered so many casualties. But we also wanted to explore the connection between the deployed Marines and the families back home.

SULLIVAN: We got a lot of response to your series at npr.org and on Facebook. And many said bring the troops home and many were saddened by the losses, by the stories of the widows. And we contacted a few of them. Here’s one of them. Her name is Emily Kelly(ph). Her husband is in the Army, and he just deployed to Afghanistan.

EMILY KELLY: The American public needs to hear more of these stories of sacrifice, pain and loss. During World War II, the entire country was at war. Everyone knew someone who had been killed or wounded in action. Today, less than two percent of our countrymen and women serve in the military and it increasingly appears that only their families and close friends even realize that there’s actually a war that we’re losing men and women and weekly. Thank you, NPR, for telling stories like this well, with respect and simply for remembering that many of us sacrifice so much for a country that has largely forgotten us.

SULLIVAN: Tom, I just want to get your reaction to that.

BOWMAN: Well, you know, it’s funny. That’s a theme you often hear from Marines and soldiers and their families that very few people serve today, and there’s really no shared sacrifice at all, like you saw during World War II.

SULLIVAN: Was there anything in the series that surprised you in your reporting?

You can read the full transcript or listen to Tom Bowman’s interview HERE.

Darkhorse Marine Battalion Lived an “Afghan Hell on Earth”

The 3/5 Marine Darkhorse Battalion was involved in more than a hundred fire-fights within the first three weeks of arriving in Helmand Province October 2010. The Marine deaths started almost immediately according to Tom Bowman’s report on National Public Radio. Here’s part two in the seven part series on the Marine Darkhorse Battalion which suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the last decade of war in Afghanistan.

Cpl. David R. Hernandez/U.S. Marine Corps U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment and the Afghan National Army provide cover as they move out of a dangerous area after taking enemy sniper fire during a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, in November 2010. During its seven-month deployment, the 3/5 sustained the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the Afghan war, losing 25 men.

Second of seven parts

The Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment remember Sangin in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province as different from anywhere else they’d fought.

Sgt. Daniel Robert describes it as “hell.” Lance Cpl. Jake Romo calls it “the Wild West.” Lt. Col. Jason Morris says he’d heard it described as “the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.”

Morris was the commander of the Marines of the 3/5, known as “Darkhorse,” and Sangin had been a battleground long before he arrived.

You can listen to the story or read the full article HERE.

You can listen to 1st story in the series HERE.

In Training to Become a Marine Mom

Jared Agle at the Marine Recuiter drop-off on his way to joining the Corps.

On Friday, Jared Agle graduated from Marine Infantry training. This blog is featuring his journey through the eyes of his mother.

By April Agle

In October 2009, I remember Jared informed his Dad and me that he made an appointment for the Marine Recruiter to come to our house to explain the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP).  I was not thrilled and not because I was against Jared going into the military.  My concern was why the Marines? Did Jared check out the other branches?

Jared turned 17 in August 2009 and a senior at Zephyrhill’s High School.  He needed to make plans for after high school graduation, but I wanted him to thoroughly explore all options like college, technical school, and yes, the military.  I asked Jared to pray about his decision and make sure this is where God was leading him.  I already knew he was not going to choose college.  Jared had often talked about the Marines and wore clothing with Marine symbols on his shirts.  I knew he was choosing between the Marines and Fire College. As of October 2009, he decided on the Marines.

What a mother sees and feels as her 17-year-old son chooses to become a Marine.

I remember the young recruiter who came to the house. He was in a Marine dress uniform and I kept thinking to myself that he did not look much older than Jared.  I will say this: there is just something about a Marine in dress uniform. It is impressive.  The recruiter was very nice and answered every question I had on my list.  I had always heard you cannot trust a recruiter and I told him that.  He was not offended and explained step by step what the Delayed Enlistment Program was and the advantages for Jared.  Roger and I were convinced and signed the papers for Jared to be in the DEP.  Jared was so thrilled.  He got what he wanted.

Even before he was in the DEP, Jared participated in the Physical Training (PT) held each week.  How can a mom be upset with her child getting exercise?  There was a change in Jared right away.  He had a plan for his future, something to work towards, the decision had been made. 

Jared Agle at Marine Boot Camp on Family Day, November 2010.

Jared started paying attention to what he was eating.  He cut way back on his soda consumption.  He did crunches at home, pull-ups in the doorway and started running.  It was now mandatory to go to the PT weekly and attend Pool meets each month.  Jared was already a slim guy, but now he was getting fit.  Again, this is what moms want – healthy teenagers.  I think being in the DEP also helped Jared make better decisions in social situations.  We had often discussed with Jared how one little indiscretion could change the course of his life.  Now, Jared did not want anything to mess up his chance of becoming a Marine.

Jared had to take an entrance test, the ASFAB.  The Marines had raised the minimum score to pass making it harder for people to join.  Jared was concerned about it because he knew some guys that had not passed it their first attempt.  I was actually pleased that the ASFAB was a challenge.  This told me that you had to have smarts to get into the Marines.  I had this misconception that the Marines were the brawn and not necessarily the smarts.  I learned early on that this is not the case.

 I was relieved. The Marines actually encourage college education.  They have to take college classes to get certain promotions.  I was happy to be wrong and I apologize to all Marines for believing this stereo type.  Jared was able to pass his ASFAB first time through and he passed his physical and background check.  Jared was going to go to boot camp after high school graduation.

Jared Agle with his parents and sister on graduation day from Marine Boot Camp.

My pleasure was somewhat short lived because Jared had to choose his MOS, Military Occupational Specialty.  Jared chose Infantry.  I admit I had a problem with this.  I asked him all Marines shoot guns why do you have to specifically sign up to shoot guns?  There has to be something else you could do.  This is where the boy/man struggle is evident and I can see the immaturity.  Jared tells me he is looking for excitement and adventure.  And “besides, mom I get a signing bonus.”  I answered, “I know why they offer a signing bonus – it’s because you get shot at.”

Needless to say, much heated discussion took place.  In all reality, I have no decision or choice in this matter.  I signed the papers and Jared gets to decide.  Jared signed up for infantry.  At this point as a mom, I have to be supportive.  Jared really could be a diplomat – he can be convincing that he knows what he is doing.

Here’s a link to our first story when Jared graduated boot camp.

April Agle works in WUSF’s business office and among her many duties, she helps me and other staff with Human Resource issues.

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