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Unclaimed veterans buried with dignity, thanks to strangers By: Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press and Karen Pulfer Focht, The Associated Press  

In this Jan. 17, 2019, photo, a retired U.S. Marine master gunnery sergeant salutes three Memphis veterans, Wesley Russell, 76, Arnold Klechka, 71, Charles Fox, 60, who died this past fall and whose remains were unclaimed, in Memphis, Tenn. (Karen Pulfer Focht/AP)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When the flags were removed from the caskets and folded with military precision, there were no family members there to receive them.
So, the banners were passed, hand-to-hand, through the crowd.
Some mourners wept as they clutched the flags briefly. Others kissed them. But the three veterans laid to rest on a rainy Memphis morning were strangers to most of those who gathered to honor their memory.

The service was part of a national effort by funeral homes, medical examiners, state and federal veterans’ affairs departments, and local veterans’ groups to pay final respects to members of the military whose bodies were not claimed by any relatives. Since 2000, Dignity Memorial and other funeral homes in more than 30 cities have organized about 3,000 funerals for soldiers, sailors and Marines who died alone, but still deserved a dignified funeral and burial, said Jeff Berry, Dignity’s general manager in Knoxville.
Soldiers Arnold M. Klechka, 71, and Wesley Russell, 76, and Marine Charles B. Fox, 60, were laid to rest in a service attended by about 700 people at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis on Thursday. There was a gun salute, and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

In this Jan. 17, 2019, photo, a flag draped coffin is moved during a funeral for three Memphis veterans, Wesley Russell, 76, Arnold Klechka, 71, Charles Fox, 60, who died this past fall and whose remains were unclaimed in Memphis, Tenn. (Karen Pulfer Focht/AP)
But none of them had family members present.

Amelia Callicott did show up. She wept during the service, thinking of her late father and husband, who both served in the military. Callicott said she learned about the service through friends and Facebook. She felt a duty to honor the men.
“It touched my heart when no one came to claim these gentlemen, these soldiers, because they fought for our freedom,” said Callicott, 69. “Any serviceman, they’re just like family to me, and I just can’t see laying them to rest without going and seeing their final moments, to say goodbye.”
Organizing the funerals, which are fairly commonplace in Tennessee, requires a lot of teamwork.

Berry said the process usually begins with county medical examiners or local coroners, who contact state or national veterans’ cemeteries with names of people whose bodies have gone unclaimed. They typically were either homeless or had no surviving relatives to claim them.
And some have had surviving family members who did not want to claim them.

The cemeteries determine whether the service members were honorably discharged. If they were, medical examiners or the cemeteries then contact Dignity, which is owned by Service Corporation International, or one of its partner funeral homes. A funeral director then sets up the memorial service, and the funeral home covers the cost, Berry said.
Cemetery directors can file claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for grave markers or placards for columbariums, according to the Tennessee Department of Veterans’ Services. The VA also gives money to individuals or entities that provide burials, caskets and transportation to cemeteries for unclaimed deceased vets.

In this Jan. 17, 2019, photo, two elderly veterans were among the last to arrive at a service to bury three Memphis veterans who died this past fall and whose remains were unclaimed in Memphis, Tenn. The veterans were buried at the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery with honors. (Karen Pulfer Focht/AP)
Memorial services are publicized through news outlets, veterans’ groups like the American Legion, or social media. Honor Guard and other active military members attend, but it’s the strangers who come out of respect for the military and the dead who bring dignity to the occasion.
A service for unclaimed veterans is planned in the coming weeks at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Knoxville, Berry said.
“Most of the time, it’s folks that had no knowledge of the person in life,” Berry said. “One thing I’ve learned in working with the veterans is that they are a tight knit group. They really support each other. It’s like a band of brothers or sisters.”

During the Memphis ceremony, funeral director Gary Taylor thanked those who showed up.
Then, he spoke directly to the caskets.
“Today, we salute you,” Taylor said. “Today we all claim you as our own.”

VA Welcome Kit and WH VA Hotline number (‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2019)

January 22, 2019 
New Resources Available from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 
TREA is pleased to email important VA contact information for members to learn about benefits and services you may be eligible from VA. VA’s Welcome Kit should be downloaded here.  VA WELCOME KIT
Whether you are just getting out of the service or you have been a civilian for years, the VA Welcome Kit can help guide you to the benefits and services you have earned.
 The Kit provides a broad overview of services offered by VA, including understanding benefits, eligibility, 
decisions. Access to VA’s 
Veterans Health, 
Veterans Benefits, 
and National Cemetery 
Administrations’ websites highlights detailed 
and benefit information available to TREA’s members. 
TREA members should also know VA established a White House VA Hot Line at 1-855-948-2311 for veterans and family members. Calls are answered by a live agent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  The hotline is staffed by more than 60 agents who have had extensive training on VA programs and services.  Most of these agents are a Veteran, military family member, caregiver or a survivor. 
Veterans should continue to use existing VA customer service hotlines:                             
Health Care:   1-877-222-8387;  Benefits:   1-800-827-1000; Forever GI Bill:  1-888-GI-BILL1 
Veterans Crisis Line:   1-800-273-8255  Press 1 if you are a veteran.  
TREA encourages its members to use the information in the Welcome Kit and to call these phone numbers to contact VA specialists with questions on benefits and services.  

TREA wants to hear from you. Did you find this information help? Please let us know. 

Informational Contact Broadcast HVAC/SVAC/SASC (‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2019)

TREA’s Legislative Affairs Office continues to work with the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services, as each continue oversight, consider program modifications and new initiatives for veterans and military service members. TREA looks forward to advocating with both returning and new Members in the 116 th Congress. 
With Democratic Majority — New Chairman Named for House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services in 116th Congress 
Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) was named the new Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the 116 th Congress. Chairman Takano is a strong supporter of veterans and already reintroduced H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, legislation supported by TREA. He is joined in the Majority by Julia Brownley (CA), Kathleen Rice (NY), Conor Lamb (PA), and newly elected Mike Levin (CA), Max Rose (NY), Anthony Brindisi (NY), Gil Cisneros (CA), Susie Lee (NV), Lauren Underwood (IL), Joe Cunningham (SC), Elaine Luria (VA), Chris Pappas (NH), Colin Allred (TX), Collin Peterson (MN), and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands) 
Former Chairman Representative Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN), was named the Ranking Member. Roe was instrumental in securing passage of 25 bills to improve benefits and services to veterans in the last Congress. Roe has pledged to seek swift passage of H.R. 203, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, legislation supported by TREA. He is joined in the Minority by 
Gus M. Bilirakis (FL), Amata Coleman Radewagen (American Samoa), Mike Bost (IL), Jim Banks (IN), Jack Bergman (MI), Dr. Neal Dunn (FL), Andy Barr (KY), and newly elected Dan Meuser (PA), Steve Watkins (KS), Chip Roy (TX), and Greg Steube (FL). 
Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) was named the new Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services for the 116 th Congress. Smith, previously served as the Ranking Member and has served on the Committee since 1997. He is well versed in Department of Defense issues and said he will continue to be a strong advocate for military personnel. 
Former Chairman Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), was named the Ranking Member. Thornberry has reiterated his strong support for military readiness a strong military budget for the Pentagon. 
Full Committee Rosters are still pending and will be furnished once finalized.   
TREA will continue to work with the Leadership of both House Committees to protect the care and benefits of veterans and active members of the uniformed services. 
Leadership on Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Provides for Continuity 
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) continues in his 3rd term as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the 116 th Congress. Isakson, a veteran himself, has worked tirelessly to reform VA and ensure veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve. He is joined in the Majority by returning Senators Jerry Moran (KS), John Boozman (AR), Bill Cassidy (LA), Mike Rounds (SD), Thom Tillis (NC), Dan Sullivan (AK), and newly elected Senators Marsha Blackburn (TN), and Kevin Cramer (ND). 
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), continues in his 2nd term as the Ranking Member. Tester pledged to continue to work in a bipartisan manner to build on the progress made and ensure VA implements reforms to provide quality services to veteran. He is joined in the Minority by returning Senators Patty Murray (WA), Bernie Sanders (VT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie K. Hirono (HI), Joe Manchin (WV), and newly elected Senator Kyrsten Sinema (AZ). 
TREA will continue to advocate for its members by supporting initiatives that improve services, increase oversight and enhance care and benefits to veterans. 
Leadership on Senate Committee on Armed Services Provides for Continuity 
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) continues as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services for the 116 th Congress. Inhofe, became Chairman in August 2018, strongly supports military spending and readiness for the troops. He is joined in the Majority by returning Senators Roger Wicker (MS), Deb Fischer (NE), Tom Cotton (AR), Mike Rounds (SD), Joni Ernst (IA), Tom Tillis (NC), Dan Sullivan (AK), David Perdue (GA), and newly elected Senators Kevin Cramer (ND), Martha McSalley (AZ), Rick Scott (FL), Marsha Blackburn (TN), and Josh Hawley (MO). McSalley is an Air Force combat veteran and previously served on the House Armed Services Committee. 
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), continues as the Ranking Member. Reed is a long-time advocate of military personnel and believes it is critical that service members continue to have access to quality benefits, assistance programs and medical care. He is joined in the Minority by returning Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Kristen Gillibrand (NY), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie K. Hirono (HI), Tim Kaine (VA), Angus King (ME), Martin Heinrich (NM), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Gary Peters (MI) and new to the Committee Joe Manchin (WV), Tammy Duckworth (IL), and Doug Jones (AL). Duckworth is a veteran Army combat pilot who survived several war injuries. 
TREA will continue to work with both the Majority and Minority Leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee to support a strong military budget, assure military readiness and protect the services and benefits of active members of the uniformed services. 
TREA Members: The Washington Office wants to hear from you. Please provide feedback and share comments on Congressional or legislative actions to

Jan Membership report

January 2019 AMVETS EXECUTIVE REPORT For AMVETS official Use only Renewals Take a look at our numbers and see where you stand. The Dept renewals are on page 8 and 9 of the attached report. At the end of December, we were at 61%. If you are in the red contact your members. We need […]

VFW Action Corps Weekly, January 18, 2019

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HR 6566 and S 3355 on Agent Orange

Thanks for having me in Sturbridge Sat. With your help and AMVETS we will get our house and senate bill passed this year. New house and senate bill numbers coming out of DC with in the next two weeks. If you would like more information on what I’m doing, let me know via email and […]

RAO BULLETIN 15 JAN 2019 Availability Notice (Veteran News)

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Courtney Reintroduces Bipartisan Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act

 New bill number is HR 566 Now you can call your congressman and senators to get on board as co sponsors.  Share with others and help me get the word out Thanks, Gerry FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 15, 2019 CONTACT Patrick CassidyCommunications Director (202) 225-2076 Courtney Reintroduces Bipartisan Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act  Washington – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney […]