VFW Action Corps Weekly – VFW – August 18, 2017 In This Issue: 1. VFW on Charlottesville 2. GI Bill Improvements Become Law 3. President Signs Choice Program, Employment Bill 4. TRICARE Fee Increase 5. Pharmacy Automatic Refill Changes 6. VA to Staff White House VA Hotline with Veterans 7. VA Women Veterans Summit 8. VFW National Home for Children Supports Military & Veteran Families 9. Service Cross Review 10. Arlington National Cemetery Survey Goes Live 11. MIA Update Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly. 1. VFW on Charlottesville: On Monday, VFW National Commander Keith Harman extended his organization’s deepest condolences to the families of Heather Heyer, Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, and almost two dozen others who were injured last Saturday when white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. He also condemned the violence, saying “There is no reason or excuse great enough to justify violence against others just because you disagree with their ideology, backgrounds, religious beliefs or ethnicities. Individuals and organizations who wave Nazi flags, and who use the First Amendment as both shield and sword, must be rooted out of our society and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for fueling hate. There is no place in any civilized society for their ilk.” The VFW national commander was joined in his condemnation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said: — “I can absolutely and unambiguously tell you there is no place — no place — for racism and bigotry in the U.S. military or in the United States as a whole.” — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford — “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.” — Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley — “No place for racial hatred or extremism in USMC. Our core values of honor, courage, and commitment frame the way Marines live and act.” — Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller — “The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred. For those on our team, we want our Navy to be the safest possible place — a team as strong and tough as we can be, saving violence only for our enemies.” — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson — “We’re always stronger together.” — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein — “Our diversity is our strength.” — Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel 2. GI Bill Improvements Become Law: The VFW is applauding President Trump for signing into law Wednesday the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017. The new Forever GI Bill will have an unparalleled impact on America’s service members, veterans and their families because it protects the benefits they have earned, expands access and eligibility, and properly recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for almost 16 years. “The VFW is proud to have played a key role in its creation and passage,” said VFW National Commander Keith Harman. 3. President Signs Choice Program, Employment Bill: On Saturday, President Trump signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 into law. The law provides funding for a shortfall to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program –– a community care program designed to provide access to health care for veterans facing long wait times or travel far distances for their health care appointments. The program, which was scheduled to end in August 2017, has been extended for an additional six months. The new law also improves hiring authorities for VA and authorizes the department to enter into 28 new leases for medical clinics and research. The VFW worked with Congress and other veterans organizations to ensure the passage of this important bill and applauds its enactment into law. View the legislation. 4. TRICARE Fee Increase: Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act increased TRICARE costs for military retirees who enter the military after January 1, 2018, and their families. Current military retirees and their family members are exempt from these cost increases, but a proposal which was recently advanced by the Senate would remove this exemption. This proposal would result in higher TRICARE fees for military retirees, including pharmacy copayments, which are already three times higher than they were in 2011, and enrollment costs for certain plans, such as the new Select plan, would nearly triple. The VFW believes that there is an inherent cost to fielding a professional, all-volunteer military, and the promise of a modest stipend immediately upon retirement and inexpensive health care are keys to retaining our best and brightest service members. The VFW needs your help in defeating this harmful proposal which would require military retirees to pay more for their earned health care. TAKE ACTION here. 5. Pharmacy Automatic Refill Changes: Beginning Sept. 1, 2017, Express Scripts will need annual consent from patients who want to receive automatic refills of maintenance medications enrolled in the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery program. When the last refill of a medication enrolled in the Automatic Refill program ships, Express Scripts will reach out to the beneficiary by telephone and/or email (depending on indicated preference) for consent. Express Scripts will not re-enroll medications unless they hear from a beneficiary via the automated phone call, online at Express-Scripts.com/TRICARE, or an Express Scripts Patient Care Advocate (PCA) at 1-877-363-1303. If Express Scripts does not receive consent within 10 days of reaching out, they will remove the medication from the Auto Refill program. However, re-enrolling is simple and can be done at any time online, or through a PCA. Consent will be required annually for each individual prescription. Read more. 6. VA to Staff White House VA Hotline with Veterans: This week VA announced the two-month pilot phase for the White House VA Hotline demonstrated that veterans calling the hotline prefer to talk to fellow veterans about their issues. As a result, VA announced it will hire mostly veterans to staff the call center instead of a third-party vendor, and is hiring additional VA personnel to complete the planned move to a 24-hour operation. The decision will delay the move to a 24-hour service by two months, which is no later than October 15. Until that time, the hotline’s current pilot program service is available to receive calls from veterans from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday. The phone number is 855-948-2311. 7. VA Women Veterans Summit: The Department of Veterans Affairs National Women Veterans Summit will take place in Houston, Aug. 25-26. The VFW will be participating as the summit hosts two days of panel discussions, work groups, guest speakers, entertainment and seminars all focused on women veterans. Read more about the summit. 8. VFW National Home for Children Supports Military & Veteran Families: The VFW National Home for Children is here to help struggling veteran families in your community. Families of active duty military personnel, veterans, and descendants of members of the VFW and its Auxiliary may qualify to apply for this life changing opportunity. We recently released new material that speaks directly to those families. Request promotional materials or refer a family in need of help. 9. Service Cross Review: Section 586 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 requires that the Military Departments conduct a review of Service Crosses (the Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, and Air Force Cross) that were awarded to Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The purpose of the review is to determine if those awards warrant an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Names of any qualifying Service Cross recipients, along with any associated documents from the veteran’s service record that indicates he/she was an Asian American or a Native American Pacific Islander, must be provided to their respective military service for consideration by March 1, 2018. Read more. 10. Arlington National Cemetery Survey Goes Live: Over the past few years, awareness has risen concerning the rapidly shrinking in-ground burial space availability at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). A recent report to Congress indicates that given current conditions, ANC will reach its capacity and will be forced to close in about 25 years. To remedy this, several proposals have been offered for consideration by the Department of Defense, including restricting the eligibility criteria required for burial, as well as expanding the cemetery by annexing pieces of Ft. Meyer. Last month, ANC launched an online survey, in order to gauge the opinions of visitors, military members, veterans and retirees, regarding the best way forward for this piece of hallowed ground. The VFW provided in-depth feedback to ANC regarding the questions, and hosted representatives from ANC at the 118th VFW National Convention in order to provide an update. Read more and take the survey. 11. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced burial updates and identifications of remains of 17 American servicemen who had been missing in action from World War II and the Korean War. Returning home for burial with full military honors are: — Marine Corps Pfc. George B. Murray, 20, of Oceano, Calif., will be buried Aug. 18, in Arroyo Grande, Calif. Murray was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Murray’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Murray was killed on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943. Read about Murray. — Navy Gunner’s Mate 1st Class George Herbert was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Herbert was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read about Herbert. — Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class John H. Schoonover was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Schoonover was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read about Schoonover. — Army Technician 4th Grade Pete M. Counter was assigned to Company C, 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division. On Dec. 5, 1942, his unit was engaged in an intense battle with Japanese forces in the vicinity of Soputa-Sanananda Track in the Australian Territory of Papua (present-day Papua New Guinea). Counter was killed during the battle and reportedly buried in an isolated grave north of Soputa. Interment services are pending. Read about Counter. — Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Earl P. Gorman was a member of the 718th Bombardment Squadron, 449th Bombardment Group, based in Grottaglie, Italy. On April 23, 1944, Gorman was serving as the radio operator for a B-24 aircraft on a bombing mission against targets near Schwechat, Austria. While enroute over Yugoslavia, they were attacked by German planes. Struck during the attack and critically wounded, Gorman was put into a parachute by his crewmates and bailed out of the plane, before they bailed out themselves. All of the crewmembers except Gorman survived. Interment services are pending. Read about Gorman. — Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Frank A. Fazekas was assigned to the 22nd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group. On May 27, 1944, Fazekas was returning from a mission over northern France when his P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft came under enemy fire, causing him to crash in a field north of the French village of Buysscheure. His remains were not recovered and the Army reported him deceased on May 27, 1944. Interment services are pending. Read about Fazekas. — Navy Reserve Aviation Radioman 2nd Class Albert P. Rybarczyk was a member of the Navy Torpedo Squadron Eighteen (VT-18), USS Intrepid. On Sept. 8, 1944, during a bombing mission against Japanese positions on Babelthuap Island, Palau, their 2,000-pound bomb hit an ammunition dump. The resulting explosion tore the tail from the aircraft, causing it to crash off-shore. Rybarczyk was reported missing in action. Interment services are pending. Read about Rybarczyk. — Navy Reserve Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Ora H. Sharninghouse was a member of the Navy Torpedo Squadron Eighteen (VT-18), USS Intrepid. On Sept. 8, 1944, during a bombing mission against Japanese positions on Babelthuap Island, Palau, their 2,000-pound bomb hit an ammunition dump. The resulting explosion tore the tail from the aircraft, causing it to crash off-shore. Sharninghouse was reported missing in action. Interment services are pending. Read about Sharninghouse. — Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Clarence E. Allen was a P-47 pilot assigned to the 395th Fighter Squadron, 368th Fighter Group. In mid-October 1944, Allen’s aircraft was the lead element in a dive-bombing mission near Aachen, Germany. After being engaged by enemy aircraft in dogfights in the vicinity of Dusseldorf, all aircraft except Allen’s returned to base. It was reported that a P-47 was witnessed crashing in the vicinity of the air battle and, based on this information, Allen was declared missing in action on Oct. 12, 1944. Interment services are pending. Read about Allen. — Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Stanley F. Stegnerski was a P-51D pilot flying out of Royal Air Force Base 244 at East Wretham, Norfolk, England. On Nov. 21, 1944, Stegnerski was flying a bomber escort mission when the American aircraft were attacked by German fighters over Merseberg, Germany. Stegnerski’s group closed in on a group of 20 German fighters and opened fire. He was last seen by his wingman as they prepared to attack the German Focke-Wulf fighters. Interment services are pending. Read about Stegnerski. — Army Pvt. Rudolph Johnson was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 365th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division –– the only African-American combat infantry division in Europe. In February 1945, during Operation Fourth Term, Johnson’s regiment fought for days against strong German counterattacks to secure positions along the Lama di Sotto ridge, part of the Gothic Line in northern Italy. Johnson was reported missing in action as of Feb. 6, 1945. His status was changed to killed in action on Feb, 21. 1945. Interment services are pending. Read about Johnson. — Army Pfc. Walter W. Green was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In November 1950, his unit was involved in combat actions against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces in the vicinity of Unsan, North Korea. Green was reported missing in action as of Nov. 2, 1950 when he could not be accounted for by his unit. Interment services are pending. Read about Green. — Army Master Sgt. Finley J. Davis was a member of Company D, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. In late 1950, his unit was fighting off persistent Chinese attacks in the Ch’ongch’on River area in northwest North Korea. On Nov. 25, 1950, Chinese forces initiated an offensive along the 8th Army front, forcing all 8th Army units to withdraw on November 29. Davis’ battalion, assigned to provide security for the division, was attacked again by the Chinese and Davis was reported missing in action as of Dec. 1, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read about Davis. — Army Pfc. James P. Shaw was a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. In December 1950, enemy forces invaded the regiment’s positions and forced them to withdraw in North Korea, hampered by icy roads, heavy equipment, and constant enemy pressure. Shaw was reported missing following an engagement which lasted through the night on Dec. 3, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read about Shaw. — Army Sgt. Philip J. Iyotte was a member of Company E, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, assigned under 8th Army. From Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 1951, Iyotte’s unit participated in Operation Thunderbolt, a reconnaissance mission stretching 30 miles from 8th Army’s front to the south bank of the Han River. Iyotte could not be accounted for after the operation and was declared missing in action as of Feb. 9, 1951. It was later determined that he was captured by Chinese forces and moved to Camp 1 and Changsong, where he later died. Interment services are pending. Read about Iyotte. — Army Cpl. Ernest L.R. Heilman was a member of Battery B, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. Heilman was declared missing in action when his unit was breaking a roadblock in the vicinity of Hoengsong, South Korea, on Feb. 13, 1951. Interment services are pending. Read about Heilman. — Army Sgt. Gerald J. Mueller was a member of Battery D, 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion (Automatic Weapons,) 2nd Infantry Division. The unit, part of Support Force 21, was providing artillery fire support for South Korean forces on Feb. 11, 1951, when Chinese forces launched a massive counter-offensive, driving the support force to withdraw. After fighting their way south through ambushes and roadblocks to Wonju, Mueller could not be accounted for and was declared missing in action as of Feb. 13, 1951. Interment services are pending. Read about Mueller. Do you know someone who wants to help us fight for veterans? Sign up new veterans’ advocates today. As always, we want to hear your advocacy stories. Email the VFW to share your stories or photos with us. Missed last week’s issue? Read it here.