Category Archives: veterans

TN congressmen seek honor for WWII soldier

Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds was honored last week by Israel for an act of bravery that saved as many as 200 Jewish Americans during World War II and members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation think it’s time for his own government to do the same, reports Michael Collins.

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, and the state’s two U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — have begun looking for ways the U.S. government might be able to formally honor the Knoxville soldier, who died in 1985.

Duncan’s office has been working for two years to round up the supporting documentation needed to nominate Edmonds for the Medal of Honor.

It’s a huge undertaking. The medal has been awarded to just 3,496 recipients since it was first presented in 1863. Complicating matters further are the eligibility requirements, which state that the medal is to be awarded for personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty during actual combat with an enemy of the United States.

Edmonds’ defiance against the Germans certainly was an act of personal bravery that went above the call of duty. President Barack Obama said so last Wednesday during an emotional ceremony at the Embassy of Israel, where Edmonds posthumously became the first U.S. serviceman to receive the highest honor Israel bestows upon non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Edmonds’ almost unbelievable display of courage happened in 1945, when he was a prisoner of war. One day, the Germans ordered all Jewish POWs in his camp to report the next morning in front of their barracks. Edmonds, the highest-ranking officer in the camp, ordered all of the camp’s POWs — Jews and non-Jews alike — to stand together.

An estimated 1,000 serviceman assembled in front of their barracks the next morning, Jan. 27, 1945. Upon seeing the mass of prisoners, the German officer in charge said, “They cannot all be Jews.”

“We are all Jews,” Edmonds replied.

Some of the men standing beside Edmonds that day remember him standing his ground, even when the German officer pulled out his pistol and threatened to shoot him. “If you shoot me,” Edmonds said, “you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war, you will be tried for war crimes.”

The German officer gave up and left.

Edmonds’ actions are credited with saving the lives of 200 Jewish American POWs. But Edmonds’ act of bravery took place while he was a prisoner of war, not in actual combat. That raises questions about whether he’s eligible for the Medal of Honor.

New state Veterans Home opens at Clarksville

News release from Department of Veterans Services
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder dedicated the new Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home in Clarksville today.

Haslam was also joined by Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville), Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett, Tennessee State Veterans Homes Executive Director Ed Harries and Tennessee State Veterans Homes Administrator Warren Jasper.

“There are more than 506,000 veterans in Tennessee and 42 percent of them are age 65 or older,” Haslam said. “We are grateful for these Tennessee heroes and proud of this much needed home to care for our veterans with the dignity they deserve.”
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TBI: $60K stolen from Disabled Veterans

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities say a Byrdstown man has been charged with stealing thousands of dollars from a Disabled American Veterans fund.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says 65-year-old Glen Williams has been indicted by a Pickett County grand jury on a charge of theft over $60,000. He was arrested at his home Wednesday and was booked on $100,000 bond.

The TBI says agents began investigating a report of missing funds from the Honor Guard financial account of the Hull-York chapter of the Disabled American Veterans in Byrdstown on Aug. 11. Investigators say Williams, a former Disabled American Veterans commander, began stealing money from the account in December 2013

Rep. Faison proposes to legalize medical marijuana, but only for military veterans

While most Tennessee Republican leaders have indicated opposition to any steps toward legalization of marijuana, state Rep. Jeremy Faison says he is hopeful they will make an exception for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Faison, R-Cosby, said he is drafting legislation that would “decriminalize” possession of marijuana by veterans diagnosed with PTSD, motivated by conversations with several veterans who believe that the medicinal properties of marijuana would help them far more than prescription medications.

“Pills have side effects. … The No. 1 side effect is suicide,” said Faison in an interview last week. “Twenty-eight veterans a day in America are committing suicide.”

“For most ailments man has, God has a remedy,” Faison said, quoting his wife, who has a master’s degree in nutrition. In many cases, the legislator said he believes that is marijuana.

Faison said he personally has never consumed alcohol, marijuana or any other intoxicants — a decision made as a youngster after his sister was killed by a drunken driver a week before her 16th birthday. But he would use marijuana if suffering from a debilitating illness since it has “no side effects” as does alcohol.
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TN Marine, slain in WWII, returning for burial Sunday

By order of Gov. Bill Haslam, flags over the State Capitol and all state office buildings shall be flown at half-staff Sunday in honor of Marine Lt. Alexander Bonnyman of Knoxville, killed Nov. 22, 1943, as a soldier in the World War II South Pacific battle of Tarawa. That’s from an email today by David Smith, Haslam’s communications director.

News release from state Department of Veterans Services:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder recognize the service and sacrifice of 1st Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. Bonnyman, of Knoxville, was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 18th Marines Regiment, 2nd Marine Division when he was killed in action on November 22, 1943 after several days of intense combat on the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll.

Approximately 1,100 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. Bonnyman personally led a 21-man team in the attack against Japanese forces holding a large concrete blockhouse and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for personal acts of exceptional valor during the battle. He was 33 years old.

After the battle of Tarawa, service members were buried in a number of battlefields on the island. In June 2015, a team from History Flight Inc. notified the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) after discovering a burial site on Betio Island.
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Haslam distributes $1M in student veteran grants

News release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the 11 colleges and universities selected to receive the Veteran Reconnect Grant, a competitive grant focused on improving the success of student veterans enrolled in Tennessee colleges and universities.

“From 2008 to 2013, we saw a 200 percent increase in the number of veterans enrolling in our Tennessee colleges and universities,” Haslam said. “Our Veterans Education Task Force has been working to address the unique needs that our service men and women have when they come home and go back to school, and these competitive grants will help 2-year and 4-year schools develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans to be successful in earning a degree or certificate.”

Haslam included in his FY 2015-2016 budget amendment and the General Assembly approved $1 million for the Veteran Reconnect Grant.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) was released in May. Proposals were due July 2 and reviewed by a committee of higher education and veteran service leaders.

Recipients of the Veteran Reconnect Grant include:

Belmont University, $95,000
Chattanooga State Community College, $92,000
Columbia State Community College, $92,797
East Tennessee State University, $95,000
Jackson State Community College, $94,151
Lipscomb University, $80,415
Maryville College, $82,257
Middle Tennessee State University, $90,999
Northeast State Community College, $94,600
University of Memphis, $93,374
Volunteer State Community College, $89,104

The Veteran Reconnect Grant is part of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school. By 2025, 55 percent of the jobs in Tennessee will require a post-secondary credential, and currently only 33 percent of Tennesseans qualify.

Veteran senators prod Haslam on military gun permits

(UPDATE/NOTE: The governor was asked about this at a news conference today. His comment is below.)
News release sent via Senate Republican Caucus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (August 3, 2015) – Following the targeted attacks on military installations in Chattanooga on July 16 that resulted in the deaths of four US Marines and a US Navy sailor, the Tennessee Senate Veterans Caucus formerly requested that Governor Bill Haslam issue an executive order that would recognize active military service members’ identification cards as Tennessee Carry Permits while they serve in their active service roles for the Tennessee National Guard.

The Governor initially developed an expedited process in response to the attack. As weeks have passed, Tennessee Senators and Veterans Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), and Mark Green (R-Clarksville) are concerned that our military men and women are left vulnerable as this process fails to match the immediacy of the threat.

“The swift call for Tennessee’s Adjutant General to boost the security of our state’s National Guard facilities, even with weapons, at his discretion is applauded,” observed TN Senator and US Army Combat Veteran Mark Green. “Additional action must be taken to allow our military men and women an opportunity to defend themselves. The evidence of organizations such as ISIS specifically naming soldiers and their families as targets warrants immediate action, not a shortened process.”

To date, Governor Haslam has, in addition to the July 19 directive ordering Adjutant General Major General Max Haston to “review current Guard personnel who are authorized to be armed in the performance of their duties, and identify and arm additional Guardsmen where necessary to protect themselves, citizens, and Guard facilities,” temporarily relocated all seven of Tennessee’s National Guard recruiting centers to local armories.

Governors in seven states have acted in their roles of the states’ Commander-in-Chief to order their Guardsmen be armed while on active duty, eliminating gun-free zones that currently exist in Tennessee’s facilities. Florida, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin have enacted through executive order the policy change for their National Guard military installations.
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Veterans angry over cut to tax relief benefits

Veterans groups across Tennessee are fuming over changes to a property tax relief program for disabled veterans and elderly residents that will double taxes for some homeowners this year, reports the Times-Free Press.

Since 1973, veterans who were completely disabled during service, their surviving spouses and other Tennesseans who are elderly or completely disabled could get state help paying their property taxes. The state would pay tax on the first $175,000 of appraised value on veterans’ homes, and on the first $25,000 of homes owned by the elderly or disabled.

But starting July 1, the subsidy limit will be capped at $100,000 for veterans and $23,000 for the elderly or disabled.

And new enrollees will face income caps. Completely disabled veterans with household incomes of $60,000 a year or more and seniors with incomes above $28,690 will not qualify. Those already enrolled in the program are not subject to the income limit.

In Hamilton County, the change will mean a completely disabled veteran who owns a $250,000 house in the unincorporated county will see his or her 2015 tax bill double, from $518 in 2014 to $1,036. A disabled veteran in Chattanooga with a similar home will go from paying $951 in 2014 to $1,902 in 2015.

…Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander said he’s talking with state legislators about grouping veterans and the elderly/disabled into separate programs in hopes of tapping federal dollars for the veterans. That could benefit both groups, he said.

“I would think the state might could get some federal help with the veterans. If they could, this could maybe only be a one-year thing,” Hullander said.

…Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander said he’s talking with state legislators about grouping veterans and the elderly/disabled into separate programs in hopes of tapping federal dollars for the veterans. That could benefit both groups, he said.

…State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said she has got people researching the issue and hopes to have a few solutions by next session… She said the Legislature tried to spread the burden so it didn’t fall on just one group, but she hopes the state can do better next year.

“We all appreciate their service and their sacrifice, but it’s a state program that’s not in any way aided by the [federal government.] It’s a question of revenue, and that’s fixed,” Hazlewood said.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said the state Senate is working to help, too… “We have a commitment among members of the Senate to fund it in a better way.”

Kevin Walden, president of the state’s County Veterans Service Officers Association, said something needs to be done, because completely disabled veterans are some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, financially and physically.

“These are only benefits that are due to veterans who are 100 percent disabled. They are in bad shape. Why do you want to hurt the worst those who are already hurting the worst? And to make it a money issue is crazy,” Walden said.

Three deceased TN veterans honored in Memorial Day weekend service

News release from Department of Veterans Services:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston of the Tennessee Military Department to pay tribute to three Tennesseans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including two service members previously missing in action for several decades. Haslam presented surviving family members with the Honor and Remember Flag and an Iris which is the official state flower.

Private First Class Cecil Harris of Shelbyville was serving with the 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division on January 2, 1945 when his platoon came under attack during World War II. When the platoon was able to regroup, fellow soldiers realized Harris was missing. He was 19-years old. In September, 2013, a French national alerted federal officials to the discovery of a possible grave of an American service member. The grave was excavated and Harris was positively identified. He was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery on October 22, 2014.

Private First Class Lotchie John Ray Jones of Jasper went missing on or about November 2, 1950 while serving with B Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during the Korean War. He was 17-years old. Jones is believed to have died at a prisoner camp on February 28, 1951. His remains were not identified until 2014. Jones was buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery on March 6, 2015.

Specialist Frederick Greene of Mountain City was killed during a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center on November 5, 2009. The 29-year old father of two was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Governor Haslam declared May 15, 2015 as Gold Star Family Day and formally presented the proclamation to Greene’s wife, Christie Greene and their daughters Haley and Allison as well as his mother Karen Nourse and step-father Rob Nourse.

“We want to take a moment to remember the heroism of each of these young men and extend our support and sympathy to the families they left behind,” Haslam said. “We encourage all Tennesseans to learn more about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their state and country.”

“Each life lost in battle leaves wounds that may never heal for the families they left behind,” Grinder said. “Please remember the surviving family members of our fallen and the sacrifice of each of these brave Americans.”

“Those we honor and remember today represent far more than the stone monuments that mark fields of battle,” Haston said. “Those we memorialize today represent by their actions the reverent belief that some things are worth dying for. Let’s strive to make every day Memorial Day by never failing to honor the men and women who gave their all.”

The “Honor and Remember Flag” was presented to surviving family members during the Governor’s Memorial Day Event. The flag is a combination of memorial symbolism to include a large red section which represents blood spilled by service members in America’s military throughout history. The blue star represents active service in military conflicts from the American Revolution to present day. The white border around the gold star recognizes the purity of sacrifice. The gold star reflects the value of life that was given. The folded flag signifies the final tribute to an individual life that a family sacrificed and gave to the nation. The flame is an eternal reminder of the spirit that has departed this life yet burns on in the memory of all who knew and loved the fallen hero.

Haslam stands by new restriction on tax relief for veterans

Gov. Bill Haslam is standing by a decision to limit tax relief to veterans, reports WPLN.

The governor says he supports a bill passed by the Tennessee legislature to rein in the rapid growth of a state program that helps veterans pay their local property tax bills.

State lawmakers set an income cap of $60,000 a year to qualify. Haslam hasn’t signed House Bill 1197 yet but says the limit makes sense because it’s more than most Tennesseans make in a year.

“We have to be judicious and fair with how we allocate funds, and the money we have spent on that fund has grown at 20 percent a year.”

The cap applies only to new applicants to the program. Haslam says higher costs can largely be blamed on swelling enrollment, as word of the relief has spread and as the number of veterans in Tennessee has grown.

Veterans groups have criticized the new limits for the 42-year program. They argue the changes to the rules discriminates against new veterans.