Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Planning for the Future

By Horace Coleman

The Hugh Thompson Memorial chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP chapter 91, San Diego) held a southern California regional conference in Oceanside, CA (home of Camp Pendleton) May 29-31. The conference began with a Friday evening barbecue hosted by military mom Dawn O’Brien. Annie and the Vets, long term fund raisers for peace and veterans’ causes, played after dinner.

San Diego chapter president David Wiley made opening remarks. Chapter member Jack Doxey introduced conference panels. The first was” Working with the Media,” conducted by Pat Alviso (MFSO, Orange County, CA) and her husband Jeff Merrick (MFSO and VFP Orange County, CA).

Pat and Jeff are effective and experienced activists, experts at organizing, publicizing and getting media coverage for veterans and pro peace events and issues. They brought handouts and a PowerPoint display full of hints and examples—including video clips—that showed how to plan media events and write and structure press releases. They spoke about the use of talking points, how to attract the media’s attention and who in and when to contact the media.

Pat and Jeff know how to attract and get coverage in print, radio and TV outlets. They also use the Internet and e-mail well. Events that they have sponsored, or been part of, have been covered by local, regional and national media outlets.

After a coffee break, Jan Ruhman, who doesn’t need coffee to speed him up, led a panel on “Veteran Detention and Deportation.” On that panel were Heather Boxeth, a San Diego based lawyer specializing in immigration and criminal defense cases, Luis Alvarez (a veteran facing deportation) and his sister, Angelica Madrigal. Alverez was brought into the country as a two-year-old child. His sister, a naturalized citizen, spoke of the strain on the family, especially their aged mother whose health is failing.

Ruhman put the overall issue, and its scope, in perspective. “Use ‘em and lose ‘em!” occurs all too often with veterans who aren’t naturalized citizens. Paper work that would help their claims for citizenship is never delivered or “lost.” Boxeth gave an overview of the complexity in immigration and criminal law that can easily trip up veterans facing deportation--and any attorneys not intricately aware of the law.

The father / son duo of Tim and Ryan Kahlor spoke of the problems a wounded soldier can have getting injuries treated that the Army couldn’t find and a father’s quest to get Ryan the care he needed.

Tim used to carry around a poster about Ryan, a tanker. Below a picture of him in battle gear was the number of times his tank had been hit by IEDs (6). His injuries were listed. Among them were TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), a detached retina, arm injuries, an ear that kept draining, partial hearing loss and PTSD. No Purple Heart was awarded, though! Seeing a short video in which Ryan appeared and comparing the skinny and unnaturally pale guy in it with “the thousand yard stare to the strapping young man Ryan is once more was shocking. You were glad he had recovered so well, although recovery is not over.

Ryan became, Iiterally, a poster child. As Tim said, Ryan represented *all* the wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, what if they didn’t have a father and mother (or a spouse) as driven as Tim and his wife to insist they got the care they needed?

Ryan recounted how a platoon sergeant had told his squad to downplay any thing that might render them unfit for duty: “We don’t want no pussy stuff. There’s nothing wrong with you that alcohol can’t cure!!” Ironically (fittingly?), that sergeant was dismissed from the Army for alcoholism.

One of the audience members, Lane Anderson, stressed the importance of getting a Medical Discharge under Honorable conditions instead of an Honorable discharge to ease hassles involving treatment and money.

A last minute addition to the conference program were Colin and Karen Archipley. A former Marine Sergeant with 3 tours in Iraq, he and wife Karen run Archi’s Acres.

Started with their own funds, devoted to organic farming and coordinating with Veterans Affairs Compensated Work Therapy, Archi’s Acres teaches veterans organic farming and green house construction.

Located in Valley Center, CA, Archi’s Acres provides a peaceful, low stress environment where vets can decompress, and learn grove management and hydroponic growing, along with product marketing and retailing.

The conference’s closing session on Saturday was facilitated by David Wiley. It was a “Regional Strategy Discussion” covering regional issues and how Southern California VFP chapters could help and support each other. Two ideas that came out of the discussion were supporting IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) supporting and raising awareness about the effects of exposure to depleted uranium.

after dinner, Annie and the Vets played and sang again. Sunday was devoted to hitting the streets of Oceanside to let any Marines encountered know that some people went beyond just saying they “support the troops", to actually doing so.