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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

We are an organization comprised of U.S. military veterans, the families of veterans and those who believe and are supportive of our agenda. The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard are represented in our membership. And while our organization came into existence in the shadows of the Vietnam War, our membership has included those who served in WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all of the conflicts that have occurred around the world and drawn upon the U.S. military.

And while the theaters of battle and the participants may have been different, a constant has, and always will be, the resoluteness of our military to go into harm’s way to accomplish the missions that they’ve been charged with.


With the above in mind, a major function of Rolling Thunder, Inc., is to publicize the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action issue: to educate the public that many American POWs were left behind after all previous wars, to help correct the past, and protect future veterans from being left behind, should they become POW/MIA.

Another major function is to add ours to the clarion of voices calling for improvements in the health care outcomes experienced by veterans as a result of inadequacies in the Veterans Administration (VA)-administered health care system.

POW/MIA

If one were to go back just 100 years for the purpose of reviewing how well this country has done in the area of accounting for the millions of American men and women who have been sent off to fight in distant theaters for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms which this country’s citizenry hold so dear, we as a country have not done so well.

Some say we’ve done well by accounting for more than 99 percent of all who’ve been sent into harm’s way. The problem with that line of thinking is that included in the less than 1 percent are the 91,000-plus who have not been accounted for. Meaning that 91,000-plus families have sent loved ones off to war, but have not seen nor heard from them since — nor has the government said anything more than they are prisoners or otherwise missing.

The 91,000-plus moms and dads have raised a child, only to have them sacrificed for the “greater good.” To know one’s child has died in the line of battle is a sorrowful thing. But not to know their whereabouts years after the war or conflict has been terminated should be thought of as more than a parent should have to stand.

And we’ve not begun to mention the pain and sorrow of a wife, or a child that must grow up fatherless, or siblings who must continue their lives without the love of a brother or sister who has been lost to them forever.

It should not be too much to ask for this country to advance those things of a commemorative nature that could have the effect of soothing the hearts of loved ones.

Rolling Thunder, Inc., thinks so, and that is why we’ve gone to great measure in support of 1) flying the POW/MIA flag on the White House and on the Capitol building whenever the American flag is flown, as a way of saying to these families and to the public at large that our government has not forgotten that they did not come home, and 2) the positioning of the “Chair of Honor” in the Capitol Rotunda, as a way of saying to the world that those who are missing are always welcome home.

Health care

For those who’ve fought in this country’s wars, it is certainly not new that many instruments of war are used in order to effect a positive outcome in the field of battle. Couple this with those toxic agents that may have been inadvertently released into the air as a result of enemy actions.

The problem is that quite possibly those instruments of a chemical nature may not have been thoroughly researched, at the time of use, in terms how it may affect our troops — a principal case being the use of chemically derived defoliating agents used in Vietnam. At the time of the war, our troops used Agent Orange, as well as numerous other agents, to remove the foliage that could conceal the enemy. And in the Gulf War, the enemy took to setting fire to oil wells, releasing thick, toxic plumes into the atmosphere.

Our troops went into these areas soon after release. It was realized only much later that these chemicals were health-altering, remaining in the body possibly as long as for generations.

This could very well mean that our troops were exposed to chemical agents that could affect their family lines for generations to come, thus affecting our troops and possibly their children and children’s children.

Rolling Thunder, Inc., thinks it’s only right that research finally be done to determine the potential extent of this problem. In prior sessions of Congress, legislation had been introduced that, if enacted, would address this matter head on, but it will take the political will of this country’s leadership to make this happen.

There is another matter that is of grave concern to Rolling Thunder, Inc., which deserves as much attention as can be brought to bear.

It is signified by the red patch with the number 22 on it that we are placing on the vests that we wear.

This red patch represents the suicides that are occurring every day. The number 22 represents the number of suicides committed by military personnel, who are either active-duty or of veteran status. This is truly an American tragedy. Something must be done to end this.

The VA appears to be overwhelmed and in need of new leadership and/or direction. The backlogs are legendary, as the health care being provided is falling short of what is required of it.

Additionally, Rolling Thunder, Inc., recommends that the new administration consider the following key points:

• Ensure VA providers can coordinate care.

• Ensure case management, continuity and consistency in providers, especially for those with critical needs.

• Significantly increase access to mental health care, making it the highest priority.

• Communicate to veterans about VA Choice program, VA capacity, and preserve VA’s role as coordinator of care.

• Hire more veterans, and increase access to patient advocates and peer mentors.

• Move toward veteran-focused and veteran-centric care.

• Rolling Thunder, Inc., strongly urges the new administration to keep our nation’s commitment to our veterans.

Legislation

Rolling Thunder, Inc.’s national leadership supports two pieces of legislation.

Since 2007, we have lobbied Congress to establish a Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, as spelled out in House Resolution 111.

This committee would conduct a full investigation of all unresolved matters relating to any U.S. POW/MIAs who are unaccounted for from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf States, Vietnam, Korea, the battlegrounds in WWII, and the Cold War.

In the 111th, 112th and 113th Congresses, we had more than enough co-sponsors to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote by the Rules Committee. But despite our meetings with their policy advisers, neither former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor former House Speaker John Boehner did anything to move this resolution forward.

Also, Rolling Thunder, Inc. was highly instrumental in passing legislation requiring that federal buildings and all U.S. Post Offices and military facilities fly the POW/MIA flag on all six national holidays.

Fast-forward to 2017: New legislation was introduced in the 115th Congress by Rep. Leonard Lance, New Jersey Republican, to fly the POW/MIA flag on all days that the American flag is displayed, over all federal buildings and military facilities, and especially over the White House and the U.S. Capitol building.

Rolling Thunder, Inc., is a nonprofit incorporated in 1995 for the sole purpose to advocate for veterans and veterans’ rights. It is a nationwide organization of 8,000-plus volunteers in over 90 chapters. Rolling Thunder members volunteer in VA facilities, raise money to support veterans, and lobby state and federal government agencies on the behalf of veterans and their families.


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