Center for Minority Veterans (CMV)
The Voice | Issue 3 - Fiscal Year 2021
As we start to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we see how lessons learned over the past fourteen months can improve the Center for Minority Veterans’ outreach to Veterans, family members, caregivers, and survivors.
Learning to pivot from in-person, face-to-face events to virtual engagements, we were able to make the best of a challenging situation - still engaging with our outreach partners to assist Veterans, while keeping our staff and our clients safe and healthy.
In April, we assisted the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans in coordinating the annual site visit. This year’s event took place virtually in Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL from April 20-22. The Committee received briefings from VISN and facility leadership as well as local Minority Veteran Program Coordinators. The visit culminated with a virtual town hall where Veterans could have their questions answered by local facility experts.
As an example of the increased reach using virtual tools, the Center for Minority Veterans, along with the Headquarters Chapter of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) hosted this year’s VA Central Office observance of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year’s event included remarks from VA Secretary Denis McDonough, keynote remarks from Congressman Kaiali’i Kahele of Hawaii, and a cooking demonstration from chef Kevin Tien, Executive Chef of Moon Rabbit, in Washington DC. This event is normally attended by about 75 people in person here at VACO. Using Webex, over 700 VA employees from across the country were able to participate this year!
We’ll continue to leverage virtual technology to reach as many Veterans, family members, survivors, and caregivers as possible. After all is said and done, the CMV goal is to ensure Veterans: (1) are aware of benefits and services available to them; (2) know how to access those benefits, and (3) recognize they have an advocate within VA to assist them every step of the way!
By Tech. Sgt Jim Araos, Air Force News Services
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Hazel Ying Lee became the first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot’s license and fly for the U.S. military under the Army Air Corps.
Lee’s bravery and service record paved the way to secure military status for women pilots and echoed a legacy of equality and inclusion.
In her youth, Lee had a passion for becoming a pilot. After graduating from high school, she took a job as an elevator operator to earn money for flight lessons. At the age of 19, she joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland, took flying lessons, and earned her pilot's license.
In 1933, Lee went to China in the hopes of becoming a military pilot. The Chinese air force turned her down because women were not allowed to become pilots. Despite the adversity, she remained in China, working a military desk job and occasionally flying for a commercial airline. When the Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, Lee again attempted to join the Chinese air force and was again rejected due to her gender.
Lee returned to the United States in 1938 and worked for the Chinese government in New York as a buyer of war materials.
In the fall of 1942, Lee applied for the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which later merged with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron to become the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots or WASP. She began her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she learned to fly a variety of military planes. As one of only two Chinese American pilots in the WASP program, Lee relished her role and ethnicity. She enjoyed teaching her fellow WASPs about her Chinese culture and Asian cuisine and even helped her classmates inscribe their nicknames in Chinese characters on their aircraft using red lipstick.
After training in Texas, Lee was stationed at the Air Transport Command’s Romulus Army Air Base, Michigan. While there, she flew in a Boeing-Stearman PT-17, a North American T-6 Texan, and a Boeing C-47 transporting military passengers and cargo. For Lee, flying was a way for her to feel the freedom she didn’t have on the ground. Her passion for flight drove her to pursue a qualification in flying single-engine fighter aircraft, which she earned through a Pursuit School in Brownsville, Texas, in 1944. While there, she familiarized herself with the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, North American P-51 Mustang, and Bell P-63 King Cobra.
Although she achieved a pinnacle of flight prowess, Lee was still often mistakenly seen as a Japanese enemy due to her appearance. During an emergency landing on a Kansas farm, she was chased down by farmers with pitchforks as she was mistaken for a Japanese aggressor. Lee was able to settle the confusion but not before suffering anguish as a result of their prejudice.
In World War II, Lee and other pursuit pilots delivered more than 5,000 fighters to Great Falls, an essential link in supplying Russian allies with planes.
During a routine aircraft transport to Great Falls, Montana, a faulty communication between the air traffic controllers caused Lee’s P-63 to collide with another P-63. She was able to land her damaged and burning plane, but she was severely injured. On Nov. 25, 1944, she died of her injuries. A few days after her death, her family was informed her brother, Victor, was killed in action in France. The two siblings are buried at River View Cemetery in Portland.
River View Cemetery initially refused to bury the siblings alongside white Portlanders, but their sister wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the cemetery allowed it. Lee was denied military death benefits because the WASPs were considered civilians.
In 1977, after years of fighting for recognition, the WASPs were granted veteran status along with full benefits. In 2010, Lee and the other 1,073 women who served as WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Lee is now regarded as a local heroine in Portland and recognized by the Department of Defense as the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military.
CMV’s very own Dennis May was interviewed by ABC 7 New’s Ashlie Rodriguez.
Research proved that not many minority Veterans utilized VA benefits thus in 1994, the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans was created. Since 1994, we have been able to place a Minority Veteran Program Coordinator in almost every VA facility in every administration.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, minorities are over-represented among homeless veterans; 56 percent are black or Hispanic. Black Vets are 1.4 times more likely to become homeless than their white counterparts (Rodriguez, 2021).
“Being prepared for life after the military is an important role and function we play here,” said Dennis O. May, Acting Executive Director, Center for Minority Veterans.
From VAntage Point
Women Veterans deserve a seat at the table in medical research. They want doctors who understand them better, with treatments and breakthroughs tailored to their health needs, experiences, and military exposures.
In a new video, Women Veterans invite others to help make this dream a reality by enrolling in VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), now one of the largest genetic research programs in the world.
By collecting DNA from as many Veterans as possible, along with information on their health, lifestyle, and military exposures, MVP advances medical discoveries that will one day offer Veterans the personalized care they deserve.
By Juanita Mullen, Program Analyst
Charles Shay, who just turned 97, lives in France. The Native American from Indian Island, Maine, now lives in the country he helped liberate from the Nazis as a 19-year-old Army medic.He was the only veteran at a ceremony in Carentan, where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day when the small French town marked the 77th anniversary of the epic World War II invasion Friday. (Connelly, NY Post).
The National D-Day Memorial estimates about 2,600 U.S. D-Day veterans survive. “In France, people who remember these men, they kept them close to their heart,” Shay said. “And they remember what they did for them. And I don’t think the French people will ever forget.” (Connelly, NY Post).
Read 96-year-old American is lone veteran to attend D-Day anniversary to learn more on the Charles Shay visit.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Helm-Frazier, Department of Veteran’s Affairs
It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Ms. Deloris Louise Ruddock. Ms. Ruddock died on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Holy Cross Hospital in the Hospice Unit at 5:30 am. She was surrounded by the nursing team and Chaplin. I saw her on Friday, March 26th, prayed for her, held her hand, and told her that GOD loves you and I love you too. She was 97 and a member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, World War 11.
She had not talked about her service until 2018. She would say, “I went into the Army to serve my country and do what I was told.” PFC Ruddock enlisted into the Army, Oct 1943. She trained at Fort De Moines, Iowa and her first duty assignment was at Muskogee Army Air Field, Muskogee, OK as a Supply Clerk. About a year later, she volunteers to go overseas. She had overseas training at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga and it was there that she was assigned to The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion as a Postal Clerk. You can learn more about this amazing unit at www.womenofthe6888th.org. If you are military, you know how important the mail was.
After her honorable discharge at Fort Dix, NJ, she returned home to Washington, D.C. Ms. Ruddock used her GI Bill to apply to The Traphagen School of Fashion, New York City. While there she won a contest in costume design. After graduating, she could not find a job in fashion, so she got a job in banking. She worked in banking for over 20 years, then retired and worked for Neiman-Marcus. She was in The Top Sales Club, 1981. Ms. Ruddock returned to Washington. D.C. to be near family. She attended National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. She drove to church every Sunday and to the food pantry every Wednesday, where she volunteered until COVID-19 closed down everything.
In 2018, I meet Ms. Ruddock; she was 95. She lived alone, upstairs, 2nd floor, 17 steps, and walked the steps daily 3 to 5 times a day. She read the paper every day at 8 pm, was a golf fan, and even explained the game to me in Nov 2020. In Nov 2018 Ms. Ruddock and I along with 4 other living members, traveled to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to the dedication of the 6888th Monument Ceremony. She was the only one that did not want to use a wheelchair. Finally after much begging and saying to her, that I was afraid of the snow and did not want her to fall. She agrees to be in a wheelchair only for that day-Thursday.
Mr. Carlton Philpot, U S Navy RET, is credited with bringing the 6888th to the spotlight. He is the one that introduced Ms. Ruddock to me. Over the next 3 years, we had a GREAT relationship. I called her every day between 5 pm and 6:15 pm. I could not miss a day! We celebrated our birthdays together; her birthday-Sept 16th and my birthday-Sept 14th. We attended 6888th events together and she would only attend if I went. During COIVD, I would visit one day a week and bring food items.
In June 2020 I took her to renew her Maryland State Driving License, and the Rep could not believe she was 96 and still driving. Her license was renewed for 5 years, as we were leaving, she told the Rep she would be back in 5 years to renew her licenses. He believes her. She decided to give up driving in Aug 2020 because the car was just too much to repair and parts were no longer made for the Sunbird. Over the last few years, she represents her sisters of the 6888th with honor and pride. The unit was inducted into The Army Women’s Foundation-Hall of Fame in 2016. The unit has the ARMY Commendation Award. The 2019 American Veterans Center, Audie Murphy Award, Citations from States, Cities, and Counties. She is one of the members of the DVD-The Six Triple Eight, No Mail, Low Morale. We are working on trying to get the unit the US Congressional Gold Medal.
You can learn more about the film at http://lincolnpennyfilms.com/index.php/the-six-triple-eight/ You can call, email, or write a letter to Congress to support the 6888th Congressional Gold Medal; Senate Bill S.633 and The House Bill H.R.3138.
By D’Andrea Jacobs, Program Analyst
Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas. That was also about two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Southern states. Kevin Freking, Associated Press
Growing up in the south in the 90’s, I would see African Americans celebrate Juneteeth, although the holiday itself was not widely celebrated or known about. I felt fairly disconnected as the subject of Juneteenth was not taught in schools. As I got older, I learned its’ importance to the African American community- namely those in the south who were my ancestors that were directly affected.
Recently, the US Senate appproved a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.Once the U.S. House of Representatives approves the bill and passes it to the President, Juneteenth will ultimately become a federal holiday.I feel that acknowleging the significance of this historical event by aiming to make it a federal holiday is a step in the right direction.
By Wilmya Goldsberry, Program Analyst, Center for Minority Veterans
Veterans Affairs officials are renewing their call for all eligible Americans to get a coronavirus vaccine as demand for the inoculations has dropped in recent weeks. VA employees, Veterans, and caregivers can get the COVID Vaccine at any VAMC on a walk-in (no appointment required) basis. Just need to call ahead to confirm the vaccination clinic is operational and has vaccines available.
Established in 2007, Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization, came together when Marine Corps Veteran Dan Van Buskirk took months of guitar lessons from Patrick Nettesheim. Through their lessons, Van Buskirk was able to learn to play the guitar and since then, the two became friends. Both realized that these lessons created an outlet for expression as well as provided a positive interaction. Together they went to the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to share their story. Since then, Guitars for Vets, or G4V, has expanded to be operating out of 110 VA chapters in 40 states.
The G4V guitar instruction program can help Veterans working through physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other forms of emotional distress. Music therapy is an evidence-based clinical treatment designed to help Veterans through music. The therapy can help improve Veterans’ communication, coordination, and interpersonal skills. Nettesheim also developed the G4V “four-way path,” which consists of Patience, Acceptance, Gratitude, and Empathy (PAGE). These are the guiding principles used throughout the program.
The G4V program starts with a 10-week instruction period. During this time Veterans are given one-on-one individualized lessons. They promote teaching the music that appeals to the student and works at the students’ pace. After completing the lessons, the graduation process involves receiving a free acoustic guitar and guitar accessory kit. The next step is to continue practicing and learning. Each month there are group sessions organized by one of the 110 chapters and growing. The group sessions develop a community of fellow Veterans and guitarists. To date, GV4 has provided over 4,000 guitars to Veterans.
Enrollment in G4V requires a referral from a case or social worker to a local VA office that offers a G4V program. G4V does not control admission into the program. To find a local chapter they offer a locator tool on their site.
My G4V Experience by D’Andrea Jacobs
As instructed, I clicked the link and easily found a G4V chapter in my area. I sent the information to my provider and was immediately referred to the service. Within the week, I was contacted by a G4V representative who put me in touch with my local G4V chapter. My new teacher interviewed me to see if the program was right for me. Once he determined my level of interest, I was swiftly provided a beautiful acoustic guitar with accessories, a schedule of my upcoming online one-on-one classes, and two workbooks for the course. The program teaches from beginner’s level guitar playing to expert level. My first class will be in June 2021!
From VAntage Point
According to our Veterans Service Organization partners, there are an estimated 1 million Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Veterans in the U.S. Here at VBA, we remain dedicated to providing all Veterans, service members and their families with the benefits they have earned, regardless of sexual orientation. To help us better serve all who served, here are the answers to some of the most common questions we hear and what you can do to make a difference.
Read the full VAntage Point article »
The ACMV committee members, CMV Staff, and local VA staff completed its first successful virtual Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida ACMV Site Visit from April 20-22, 2021.
Are you interested in serving on the advisory committee? The cut off for submissions is July 15, 2021. Visit the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans website for information on qualifications and the application process.