Men and women who perform valiantly in the face of the enemy are not the only military personnel who should be awarded for their courage. This thought is what drove Maria Dickin to establish the Dickin medal through her veterinary charity the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). The Medal was instituted in 1943 to honor the work of animals during World War II and has since honored 67 military service animals.

The first animals to receive the Dickin Medal were carrier pigeons that carried vital messages that contributed to the rescue of airmen from downed aircraft during 1942 and 1943. The award was given to numerous animals throughout the rest of the war ranging from dog that was killed in combat while saving his human handlers by collecting a live grenade to a pigeon that delivered crucial messages during the battles at Normandy. Unfortunately the award was largely forgotten following World War II, with no recipients between 1950-2000.

The medal made a spectacular resurgence following the attacks of September 11th attacks when it was given to 3 dogs: Appollo, Salty, and Roselle. Apollo received the Dickin medal on behalf of all search-and-rescue dogs that assisted in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks for their collective valor in the face of tragedy. Salty and Roselle were two Labrador guide dogs who received the medal for leading their blind owners down more than 70 flights of stars to escape the burning buildings during the attacks. Since then the Dickin Medal has been seen as a symbol of valor among service animals and has been awarded numerous times to animals who have helped save the lives of their human counterparts during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The latest recipient of the award is Lucca, a retired Marine Corps German Shepard Dog. Lucca received the award for outstanding service in Iraq and Afghanistan. During her six years of service Lucca completed 400 missions without a single casualty to any member of her team. Sadly Lucca lost a leg during her final patrol on March 23, 2012, when she detected an IED that detonated at close range. Lucca uncovered more that 40 IEDs during her two deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan. She was honored with the Dickin Medal during a ceremony in London on April 5, 2016. As part of her retirement she will be transferred from her current handler Juan M. Rodriguez (pictured above) to live with her original trainer Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham.

Tomorrows Super Tuesday primaries are an important step towards the nomination. Make sure you know where your candidate stands on veterans issues before you cast your ballot.

Republicans

Donald Trump

 

• Declined to participate in one republican debate and instead held a fundraiser to raise money for veterans.
• The fundraiser was held on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project, which has recently received criticism for excessive executive compensation and high fundraising costs.
• Does not support privatization of the VA
• Plans to allow veterans full access to any facility that accepts Medicare to promote competition between VA and non-VA facilities.
• Wants more money to be allocated to PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicide prevention.
• Plans on finding and removing corrupt VA officials
• Solicits donations through donaldtrumpforvets.com, which claims that 100% of donations will go directly to veterans needs when in fact the donation go directly to the Donald trump foundation which only donated $57,000 to veterans organizations between 2009 and 2013.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/Donald_Trump.htm

Ted Cruz

 

• Voted against the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act citing that although it did contain positive measure, it did not address current problems within the VA and made some existing problems worse.
• Supports privatized treatment option that would allow veterans to see doctors outside of the VA, but does not support privatization of the VA itself.
• Holds the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for “falsely denying care” and wants anyone criminally liable to be prosecuted.
• Voted against S. 1982 which sought to expand health benefits for veterans to veterans from every generation and improve education benefits for veterans. The bill was lent full support by the American Legion who believed it addressed high priority issues for veterans.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Ted_Cruz.htm

Marco Rubio

 

• Introduced legislation (VA Management Accountability Act of 2014) with House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller that allows secretaries of the VA to fire senior executives at the VA that are not doing their jobs.
• Advocates that the VA should provide subsidized private insurance to veterans to foster competition and flexibility.
• Outside providers would have to be approved first.
• Wants to provide veterans with more flexible option for higher education, including an emphasis on vocational training.
• Wants what a solider has done in the military to count toward education and professional certification at home.
• Voted against providing $27 million for the Veterans Health Administration as part of a Superstorm Sandy recovery package.
• Voted against a bill that would have provided $142 billion in 2012 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, military construction, military housing, and related operations. It also included $52.5 billion in advance fiscal 2013 appropriations for VA medical programs.
• Also voted against S. 1982, which sought to expand health benefits for veterans to veterans from every generation and improve education benefits for veterans. The bill was lent full support by the American Legion who believed it addressed high priority issues for veterans.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Marco_Rubio.htm

Ben Carson

 

• Supports complete privatization of the VA.
• Under his plan the Department of Veterans Affairs would be absorbed into the Department of Defense and all veterans would receive health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care.
• His plan would also sponsor a select few defense-run veterans clinics that specialized in traumatic brain injury and limb replacement.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/Ben_Carson.htm

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

 

• Plans to reform existing programs to offer coordination between military health care, private physicians and others while leaving the VA as the primary source of veterans care.
• Opposes privatization of the VA
• Voted against S. Amdt. 3704 which sought to provide an additional $20 million in funding to veterans affairs medical facilities. (2006)
• Voted for an amendment which sought to provide $2 million in additional funding for army imaging equipment for use in the diagnosis of brain injuries. (2006)
• Voted in favor of a failed amendment which sought to provide a stream of future funding for veterans health care by repealing the Bush tax cuts. (2006)
• Voted in favor of an amendment to provide and additional $1 billion in funding to the Veterans Affairs Administration in 2004.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/Hillary_Clinton.htm

Bernie Sanders

 

• Head of Senate veterans affairs committee 2013-15
• Worked with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to pass an amendment ensuring that the military’s TRICARE system would be available to treat autism.
• Used an amendment to win $10 million for operation and maintenance of the Army National Guard which was overextended by the war in Iraq.
• Worked to pass an amendment in July 2009 which mandated comprehensive reporting on financial assistance for child care available to parents in the Armed Forces.
• Authored the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, a law aimed at reforming the VA which passed through a polarized congress likely due to compromises he made with John McCain. The Act authorized $15 billion to be used to reduce wait times at VA facilities and provide private care for veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA clinic.
• Some veterans groups have been critical of the legislation calling in a “Band-Aid on a gaping wound”
• Opposes privatization of the VA
• Sought to kill Marco Rubio’s legislation to give secretaries the right to fire senior executives at the VA.

On other issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/bernie_sanders.htm

On Thursday Feb. 18th, Connecticut Governer Dannel Malloy announced that it has become the second state to have officially ended veteran homelessness. This follows the lead of Virginia who became the first state to end homelessness for veterans in November. Gov. Malloy credited the success to a cooperative effort between state housing agencies, shelter workers, community groups, and a partnership with the department of veterans affairs. “The most important thing you can do for a family is to give it a safe home, give it a decent home, a home you can sustain yourself and your family in,” he said.

Over the past 12 months the state has found or built homes for over 280 veterans across the state. With all veterans in the state now housed the state has set goals for dealing with incoming veterans in the future. They have vowed that any veteran who is homeless will be placed in temporary housing within 30 days and have a permanent home within 60 days. This is largely due to the $1 billion the state has committed to housing construction. The 16,000 homes they have committed to build over include many affordable low-cost homes.

The state also plans to expand the fight against homelessness to youth and families. Using the housing first approach to eradicating homelessness among veterans, they hope to end homelessness for these groups by 2017.

The Fisher House Foundation works in partnership with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide free housing on site at military and VA hospitals. These “comfort homes” allow families to stay close to their loved ones in their time of need. This is especially important because veterans often have to travel great distances for specialized medical care and are force to leave their families behind due to exorbitant travel and lodging costs. Fisher House gives these families the gift of togetherness and peace of mind.

The Fisher House Foundation is also one of the most trustworthy and efficient nonprofits. In the most recent ratings Fisher House Foundation received an A+ rating from Charity Watch (for putting a staggering 92% of all donations directly towards program projects) and a 96.87/100 rating from Charity Navigator (due to it’s perfect score in accountability and transparency). This puts Fisher House among the top charities for ensuring that your charity receives the greatest benefit from your donation.

If the character of this charity is not enough to garner your support, the popularity of the cause among many noteworthy supporters may help. Fisher House has recently received large donations from individual and corporate sponsors who hope to improve care for veterans across the United States. These include a $500,000 contribution from Wal-Mart, a $500,000 contribution from Samsung, and a $22,000 individual donation from President Obama. With the support of these large partners, you can be assured that your donation will go towards getting something done.

As 2015 drew to a close, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act to appropriate funds for military spending in 2016. Although it is a standard and often uneventful peace of legislation, the act came with a special Christmas gift for military service animals. Within the hundreds of pages that made up the bill, there was a provision that will allow military service dogs to return home to the United States for retirement. Previously, military service animals were ineligible for transport back to the U.S. and were often placed in local shelters.

This marks a huge victory for both animal rights groups and veterans care groups who have long been fighting to give military animals a proper and happy retirement. Their service to military operations and personnel is often overlooked despite their incredible life saving contributions. In fact, according to the American Humane Association, each military service dog saves the lives of between 150-200 service men by detecting IEDs and hidden weapons caches.

The law also goes beyond simply bringing these heroic dogs home, it gives the military handlers the first choice in adoptions of these dogs. This makes a huge difference to veterans who have returned home and are struggling to adjust to civilian life. Having a K9 companion who has experienced many of the same traumatic experiences can help veterans combat conditions like PTSD. This offers many retired military dogs the ability retire in comfort while continuing to serve the struggling veterans they love.

“The NDAA and its passage will ensure that our four-legged veterans will finally have their chance to come home and live a comfortable quiet life, hopefully with a handler they deployed with or a fellow veteran.” – Lance Corporal Jeff DeYoung, USMC (Ret.) who was reunited with his military dog Cena (From the American Humane Newsroom)

Credit goes to Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat from Missouri, and Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Republican from New Jersey, who introduced the provision.

This past weekend of college football brought with it one of the most deep-seated rivalries, the Army vs. Navy game. The game is one of the longest running rivalries in sports dating back to 1890. It all began when Cadet Dennis Mahan Michie, who was also the coach of the Army football team, accepted a challenge from the Naval Academy. The game has been played nearly every year since then with only a few years missed due to war or a dispute between the two academies.

This years 125th anniversary of the rivalry saw the continuation of the Navy’s win streak of 14 games against Army. The win streak is the longest in the history of a rivalry that has consistently gone back and forth between two great teams. Three games into their current winning streak Navy took over the series lead against Army. The Series record now stands at 60-49-7 with Navy winning 60 games, Army winning 49 games, and 7 ties.

The game holds a particularly important spot in college football marking the end of the regular season. It was originally played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which was the end of most college regular season games, but it has been moved to the weekend following the conference championship games. It marks the final game of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy which is awarded to the winner of the triangular series between the Military Academy, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. The winner of the Army v. Navy game also receives the Thompson Cup.

As you celebrate your father today, also think of the countless active duty service members and veterans who sacrificed time with their children to serve our country during Father’s Day. Today is a happy time but also  difficult time for many families around the country who are celebrating fathers overseas or the memory of those who have passed while serving our nation.

Watch this Huffington Post Live segment about issues facing enlisted parents and the challenges facing new veterans returning to families they have left at home. We want to wish a very Happy Father’s Day to all the great fathers out there who support and love their children every day.

When we think of veterans portrayed in the media, we often think of men and women with vacant eyes, internally suffering over images of gunfire and bloodshed in overseas lands. To assume that all veterans are gun-toting radicals, suffering from PTSD and prone to violence, is one of the greatest injustices we can do to the brave men and women who have risked their lives for our nation.

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is one of the few films in recent years that has gotten the portrayal of a contemporary veteran right. The film follows the story of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL known for making the most sniper kills in U.S. military history; so many in fact that he earned the nickname “Legend” over the course of his four tours in Iraq.

As he makes the difficult transition from service to home life and back with each deployment, the film deftly captures the conflicting existences on each front: the responsibility of family life that is constantly with him on the battlefield and his contemplation of the lives he could have saved while back at home. The outcome is a film that not only portrays life on the battlefield and home front, but the struggles soldiers face in the transition and the quest to find a sense of normalcy. American Sniper is an example of a Hollywood war film that thoughtfully captures the nuance of the veteran experience. It is media depictions such as these that will help bridge the civilian-military divide.

I came across Sword & Plough while researching socially responsible companies that are not just focused on making profits, but also on doing social good. Sword & Plough is is a fantastic example of a company that raises profits while also creating solutions to social issues; in this case by helping to employ our nation’s veterans.

Sword & Plough works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish handbags. The company is committed to supporting veterans by employing them. It only works with manufacturers that employ veterans and generate employment opportunities for retired soldiers.

Founders and sisters, Betsy and Emily Nunez, grew up in a military family. Emily Nunez is also a veteran. Her time serving as an officer in the U.S. Army inspired her to start Sword & Plough with her sister Betsy. As Emily wrote in GOOD Magazine,

“U.S veterans ages 18 to 24 have unemployment rates 16 percent higher than the national average. More than one million veterans are projected to leave the military in the next four years, and the crisis of veteran unemployment and related depression is projected to grow as a result.”

The company aims to solve this problem by helping veterans transition into civilian life by finding meaningful employment and a sense of purpose.

Sword & Plough also recycles resources through its production. The materials used to make the bags would otherwise be burned or buried in a landfill. The company projects is will up recycle up to 20,000 pounds of military surplus within its first year of operation.

Not only does Sword & Plough work to promote veteran employment, it’s also committed to ‘Made in USA’ production, sustainable fashion and strengthened civilian-military relations.

To buy a Sword & Plough bag and to learn more about their mission, visit their website.