As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) commitment to a smoke-free health care environment for Veterans, in October, the department will extend its smoke-free policies to include employees at its health care facilities. This follows the department’s June 10 announcement of a new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at its health care facilities. The integration of these two efforts guarantees a fully smoke-free environment for Veterans. “This policy change is consistent with our mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees at our facilities and is an important element of improving our health care system,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will reduce the harmful effects of smoking, including exposure to second and third-hand smoke, as well as increase safety and reduce fire hazards caused by smoking.” The VA has collaborated with key stakeholders to update and recertify the employee policy to be consistent with department’s commitment to Veterans and the community. Implementation of the employee smoke-free policy will be completed no later than January 2020 based on employee union-negotiated timelines. The Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) smoke-free policy applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, any other combustion of tobacco and non-Federal Drug Administration approved electronic nicotine delivery systems, including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars. To learn more about health risks associated with smoking, visit the Surgeon General’s website at or VHA has resources and programs to assist employees in their smoke free journey and these can be found at the following VHA website at For additional information about the policy visit
'Higher education allows us to truly integrate all of the life lessons we learned in the military to our civilian careers' Veteran Tyler Walsh, 30, of Middlebury, Conn., believes higher education is incredibly important for veterans.    Pictured above are Tyler Walsh and his dog, Mack. “The military teaches us lessons that cannot always be cleanly transferred into the civilian world. Higher education allows us to truly integrate all of the life lessons we learned in the military to our civilian careers,” he said.   And he doesn’t take the bridge to better his civilian life for granted. Walsh thanks everyone who supports the VFW because it makes programs like the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” possible.  Walsh joined the Marine Corps right out of high school because he believed he would have a more profound experience than what college could offer him. He’s had a strong desire to chart his own course from the very beginning. His interests led him to be a dog handler and working with a Labrador Retriever, Woody, to detect explosives when deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2011. He left the Marines a sergeant and began to set his sights on what would come next. Currently, Walsh attends the University of New Hampshire as a graduate student seeking a master’s degree in social work. Woody sadly passed while Walsh was in the demobilization process and they were never reunited. However, Walsh is now the proud owner of another Labrador, Mack, who has been instrumental in showing him the therapeutic impact animals offer. After this discovery, Walsh became involved with equine assisted therapy. He’s still pondering exactly where his path should go but is currently leaning toward combining his environmental studies undergraduate experience with a wilderness therapy program.  Walsh’s path toward a meaningful career has been made a little easier with assistance from the VFW. “This scholarship has alleviated a great deal of stress in finding work throughout my graduate program. I am better able to focus on my studies with financial support,” he explained.  He found the VFW’s scholarship easily by searching online and hopes that others will discover the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving an advanced degree.  “You will never regret being better trained and more educated. Find a field that allows you to come alive and chase it with all that you have,” he concluded.     -VFW Magazine, 8/14/19
Stop & Shop will celebrate the 98th birthday of one of its long-time baggers and WWII veteran, Bartholomeo 'Benny' Ficeto, with a surprise party at 12 noon on Tuesday, August 20th at the Stop & Shop located at 1049 US Highway 1 South, Edison, NJ.   Stop & Shop will surprise Benny with a cake and performances by the USO Show Troupe. His niece who works at a Staten Island Stop & Shop store will also be on hand to celebrate his birthday, along with Stop & Shop executives.   Benny started working at Stop & Shop nearly ten years ago in Bloomfield. He transferred to the Edison store about 18 months ago, and continues to work two, four-hour shifts a week as a bag boy.   Previously, Benny served in the Army Air Force during World War II as a gunner on a B-25 Mitchell bomber, flying mostly over northern Africa and Italy, and has held other various jobs after “retiring” from a cosmetic company back in the 80s. Benny’s work ethic is second to none – he stands the entire time, working at a steady pace, and refuses to take his 15-minute break. Bennie has said, “Why would I take a break when I only get to work four hours?” WHAT:          Stop & Shop Celebrates Benny The Bagger’s 98th Birthday WHEN:          12 Noon on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 WHERE:        Stop & Shop                     1049 US Highway 1 South                     Edison, NJ 08837    
A U.S. soldier of 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, makes his way down the stairs at the conclusion of the squadron?s room breaching and clearing exercise during Agile Spirit 19 near Tbilisi, Georgia, July 29, 2019. LASHIC PATTERSON/U.S. ARMY By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: August 1, 2019 More than 3,300 soldiers from 14 nations began the largest annual exercise in the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, aimed at strengthening security in the tense Black Sea region. During the two-week Agile Spirit war games, soldiers will face and use modern military equipment and hybrid warfare tactics, such as cyberwarfare, to defend against an attack by a “near-peer” adversary, Brig. Gen. Nikoloz Janjgava, deputy chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. He said that the opposing forces in the exercise scenario are not modeled on the Russians. However, Russia is using similar tactics in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine and used them in the brief war it fought with Georgia in 2008. “We are trying not to use the ‘R’ word during the exercise,” Janjgava said. About 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory is under Russian occupation, including Abkhazia on the Black Sea and South Ossetia, which is about 50 miles away from the Vaziani Training Area, where Agile Spirit is taking place. U.S. soldiers, assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stop to pull security as they advance to the simulated enemy targets for the live-fire exercise during Agile Spirit 19 near Tbilisi, Georgia, July 29, 2019.LASHIC PATTERSON/U.S. ARMY About 1,500 U.S. troops and a similar number of Georgians are participating in the drills. Twelve other countries, including Ukraine, have sent an a total of 300 participants. U.S. and Georgian troops opened the event with a live-fire attack on enemy-held bunkers. They plan to move into defensive operations later in the exercise. Agile Spirit gives Georgia and Ukraine more experience working with NATO allies, Janjgava said. Both countries are on track to become part of the alliance in the near future, the Georgian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. The drills also help to prepare Georgian soldiers for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan, where Georgia is one of the top troop contributors to the NATO-led mission, Janjgava added. U.S. soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, brought Stryker armored vehicles to Georgia for the war games. The wheeled armored vehicles can navigate more easily through Georgia’s hilly terrain than tracked vehicles, Maj. Nathaniel Carter said. “This exercise shows how maneuverable Strykers are in any given terrain,” Carter said. When the cavalrymen finish the exercise, they plan on having a “culture day,” sightseeing in Georgia’s nearby capital, Tbilisi, and spending more time with their Georgian comrades, he said. “It’s been great so far,” Carter said. “I’m impressed with the Georgian soldiers and look forward to spending the next few weeks with them.”
Legionnaire Lori McMath Varner (left) and Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado will compete for Ms. Veteran America. The American Legion As a teen, Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado competed in a series of pageants and competitions in Ohio that took her to more than 80 cities and allowed her to meet and mentor young women along the way. Little did she know that experience would come back to benefit her years later. Now a Legionnaire and past commander of American Legion Post 808 on the University of Akron campus, Gorbulja-Maldonado is one of 25 finalists for the Ms. Veteran America competition. She'll head to Hollywood this fall for the Oct. 13 final, joined by fellow Legionnaire Lori McMath Varner, a member of James W. McCartney Post 232 in Dry Run, Pa. “When I heard about Ms. Veteran America I thought ‘why not? Why not me?’” Gorbulja-Maldonado said. “I am the only one that can place limits on myself. If there’s anything I can do to help others in an advocacy platform, I’m going to do it. “To be Ms. Veteran America is symbolic for a lot of reasons. This a competition where women from all (military) branches are represented. This is just a group of badass women … coming together for a cause – something bigger than ourselves. Us being the voice for not just homeless veterans and their children, but … women veterans across the entire country. It’s something not to be taken lightly.” Ms. Veteran America contestants must be a women either honorably discharged from or still serving in the U.S. military. Ms. Veteran America is required to provide at least 100 hours of community service during her 12 months as title holder, and also is required to attend speaking engagements and special events as the official spokeswoman of the Ms. Veteran America competition and Final Salute Inc., a nonprofit supported by the competition that provides women veterans with suitable and safe housing. Contestants will be judged on the interview and talent portions of the competition, and must also provide documentation of their advocacy efforts from June through October. Gorbulja-Maldonado has served in the National Guard since 2011 and will commission over to the Army reserve this fall. She took a job with the Veterans Benefits Administration in the Washington, D.C., area, where she has relocated and plans to transfer her American Legion membership to Dyer-Gunnell Post 180 in Vienna, Va. “I take great, humbling pride (in being a Legionnaire),” said Gorbulja-Maldonado, a member of the Legion’s National Veterans Employment and Education Council. “Our organization is always looking out for the veteran, at a grass-roots level all the way up (to the national level). We are always on top of these issues. There’s such a support system and network within the Legion that’s so powerful and robust, that when we put our minds together collectively, things happen. “I have always felt that the Legion has given me the tools for success to put in my toolbox and use to solve any problem that has occurred.” Just being named a finalist in the Ms. Veteran American competition is a big deal for Gorbulja-Maldonado. “People have been watching me kind of grinding for years with everything that I do,” she said. “So this is a win for my community. This is a win for my network, for my family, for my friends, for my sisters-in-arms. “I threw a rock in the pond, and my ripples are now waves. Why not keep pushing forward? Why not continue to trail blaze and set the standard and set that bar high?" Varner, who served in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard from 1986 to 1993 and is, in her own words, the “oldest” contestant in Ms. Veteran America, learned about the competition while the guest speaker at a women veterans retreat. In researching the competition, she learned about the growing number of homeless women veterans, as well as the large number of women veterans who don’t use Department of Veterans Affairs services. “It was very eye-opening,” said Varner, the mother of both a son and daughter serving in the Air Force. “So I applied (for Ms. Veteran America) in December, and then I found out that I was a semifinalist in January. And it really took off. “There’s so many people I’ve met. And I’m opening doors and opportunities for people to listen about this subject.” Varner – who also has membership in the American Legion Riders and American Legion Auxiliary, and serves on the Department of Pennsylvania’s Blood Donor Committee and newly formed women veterans committee – stresses Ms. Veteran America isn’t a pageant. “This is a competition to find the best candidate to be the national spokesperson for homeless women veterans,” she said. Varner hails from an American Legion department, Pennsylvania, that has been at the forefront of battling the homeless veterans issue for decade. In 1988, the department established the Housing for Homeless Veterans Corporation and purchased four townhomes between the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to provide a safe, clean, stable environment for veterans while they completed schooling or job training and became self-sufficient to seek permanent housing. Today, the corporation operates six homes. Since its inception, well over 400 veterans have gone through the department’s program with an 85 percent success rate. The Pittsburgh VA puts the Department of Pennsylvania in contact with the veterans, who have the responsibility of cooking, cleaning and doing laundry while going through the program. A veteran may reside in one of the homes for up to two years with the stipulation they attend school or find a job. Varner said if she wins the competition, she would do her part to share the success of the Housing for Homeless Veterans Corporation. “I think there needs to be more visibility with it,” she said. “I always bring The American Legion into play in speeches because I feel it’s important, as a Legionnaire, to always let folks know the Legion is there to help.” For more information about Gorbulja-Maldonado’s campaign, click here. For more information about Varner’s campaign, click here.
The American Legion In the Southern Minnesota city of Austin, American Legion Post 91 is known as the place to drop off U.S. flags for disposal. Six-time Post Commander Roland Hanson estimates that 2,000 flags are disposed of properly during ceremonies conducted by the post on Veterans Day at nearby VFW Post 1216 and on Flag Day at Post 91. During the most recent disposal ceremony, Hanson came across a special flag – one that allowed him to give a history lesson to the Boy and Girl Scouts who annually assist with the ceremony. While prepping the flags for disposal – some already folded and ready to burn by the Scouts – Hanson noticed a flag that was a little different than the rest of the inventory. But it was one he was well familiar with, having said the Pledge of Allegiance to it many times in high school. “As soon as I picked it up out of the box and held it up, I said ‘oh boy,’” said Hanson, a Vietnam War Army veteran. “I saw six stars going down and eight stars across. I knew this was something that I had pledged to for many, many years myself.” The flag was the symbol of the United States from 1912 – after New Mexico and Arizona were granted statehood – until 1959 with the addition of Alaska. It had the second-longest life of any version of the U.S. flag; the current 50-star version has been in place since Hawaii was granted statehood on Aug. 21, 1959. “I held it up and I asked (the Scouts), ‘What do you think is wrong with this flag?’” Hanson said. “They said ‘wow, that’s in pretty good condition. Why would we want to retire that?’ I said, ‘Well, we do have to retire it because there’s only 48 stars on this flag.’ They were all in awe. They’d never seen one before.” That provided Hanson the opportunity to teach the Scouts a bit more about the flag. “I wanted to do a little bit of education,” he said. “It was probably one of the greatest moments in my (American Legion) career. I like to teach our youth what Americanism is all about. And obviously taking care of our American flag is one of them that’s top of the list in my book.” Hanson said the flag was still attached to part of a staff and that he’d like to try to locate the rest of the staff. After that, he’s going to donate the flag to the Mower County Historical Society in Austin. Properly disposing of U.S. flags is a responsibility Post 91 takes seriously. Hanson said a local car club built flag disposal bins for the post that he said “look like post office boxes. Sometimes we have to empty our bin four or five times and put them in boxes in storage until either Flag Day or Veterans Day.” Conducting two ceremonies a year allows the post to “retire our flags with dignity,” Hanson said, “so that we don’t find them in ditches and garbage cans … to disgrace our flag.”
Thirteen seniors celebrate June 4, 2019 after graduating from Ansbach High School at the Army garrison in Germany. Servicemembers with more than 16 years of service were given an additional six months to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to family members. Children must be high school graduates or 18 to receive the benefits.  AMY STORK/U.S. ARMY   Military personnel with more than 16 years of service will have an additional six months to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to family members, while Congress decides whether to remove the restriction on transfers. A new Defense Department rule was set to take effect on July 12, limiting the benefit transfers to troops with at least six years of service but no more than 16 years. The Pentagon extended the deadline until Jan. 12, 2020 for troops who have more than 16 years of service to give Congress time to discuss the House Armed Services Committee’s proposal to change the rule. Troops still must have served at least six years and be able to reenlist for four more years. “This is a welcome decision by the department to slow down implementation of a policy that will unfairly affect some of our most seasoned servicemembers,” Armed Services committee member Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said in a statement. Courtney proposed repealing the 16-year limit and received the committee’s unanimous support. He sent a letter on June 24 to Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper requesting that the Pentagon delay imposing the restriction. The Pentagon announced plans for the limit in July 2018. Previously, there were no restrictions on when servicemembers could transfer education benefits to family members after they’d served six years. Servicemembers wounded in combat who have received Purple Heart medals are exempted from the rule. When veterans advocates criticized the restriction, military officials said the transfers were intended as a retention tool and not as a benefit to career servicemembers. In his letter to Esper, Courtney said efforts to retain good servicemembers shouldn’t stop at 16 years. “Ultimately, we hope that you will reconsider implementing this new limitation entirely and look forward to working with you as we consider policies to attract and retain our country’s best and the brightest,” Courtney said.
'Now is still a great time to help solidify our government’s relationship with Vietnam, and to help make a difference in the lives of other families half a world away' WASHINGTON – In advance of this weekend’s start of the 120th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States in Orlando, Fla., the VFW national commander is asking all Vietnam veterans to search through their closets and footlockers for documents that might help Vietnam to determine the fate of an estimated 300,000 missing Vietnamese, and personal effects that might help bring comfort to their families. “It is important for the Vietnam generation to recognize that the personal connection they have with their memorabilia will not transfer to their descendants, which means such items will either be donated or simply trashed,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence. “And even though it’s been over a half-century for most Vietnam veterans, now is still a great time to help solidify our government’s relationship with Vietnam, and to help make a difference in the lives of other families half a world away.” Lawrence said VFW senior leaders have traveled back to Vietnam every year since 1991 to help U.S. government efforts to account for missing and unaccounted-for servicemen and civilians, a number that currently totals 1,588 Americans (1,246 in Vietnam, 287 in Laos, 48 in Cambodia, and 7 in Chinese territorial waters). He said it is important for the VFW to maintain a “vet-to-vet” relationship with these countries from a non-bureaucrat, nonpolitician perspective, and he said it was critical for the VFW and military family organizations – specifically the National League of POW/MIA Families – to continue to put a human face on a humanitarian mission that transcends politics. “This call to action is the result of numerous requests for assistance from Vietnamese veterans organizations,” he stressed. “Being requested are personal effects, such as wallets, family photos and personal letters, as well as detailed battle maps or burial locations, anything that might help Vietnam to recover its own missing. No weapons, please!” Vietnam veterans can hand deliver their memorabilia to representatives from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency who will be attending the VFW National Convention in Orlando. They will turn over the artifacts to appropriate Vietnamese officials. Vietnam veterans can also share personal battlefield accounts with the DPAA representatives. Such firsthand information has led U.S. investigation and recovery teams to successfully search in locations not previously recorded by military after-action reports. Vietnam veterans unable to attend the convention can mail their memorabilia to:VFW Washington OfficeAttention: Public Affairs200 Maryland Avenue, NEWashington, DC 20002 Items collected by the VFW Washington Office will be turned over to DPAA.
WASHINGTON – More than 600 military Veterans from across the country, Puerto Rico and Great Britain are in Louisville, Kentucky this week to compete in the 39th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (Wheelchair Games) being held July 11-16.   The Wheelchair Games, co-presented each year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), is a multi-event sports rehabilitation program. The games are open to U.S. military Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological disorders, and who receive care at VA medical facilities or military treatment centers. “The Wheelchair Games showcase the athletic ability and competitive spirit of our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Competition through sports and recreation plays an important role in the rehabilitation journey and these games exemplify VA’s commitment to supporting Veterans who are  navigating recovery and rehabilitation to achieve active, independent lives.” VA research and clinical experience have shown that physical activity is important to maintaining good health, speeding recovery and improving overall quality of life.  For many injured Veterans, the Wheelchair Games provides their first exposure to wheelchair athletics. Veterans have the opportunity to compete in 20 different events throughout the week including archery, billiards, bowling, cycling, track, field, quad rugby, wheelchair basketball and more.  “Every year, our members look forward to this event for the adaptive sports competition and the chance to reconnect with peers,” said David Zurfluh, a disabled Air Force Veteran and national president of PVA, who himself will compete this week. “The PVA mission is to ensure Veterans with disabilities have the same life experiences as everyone else, and co-hosting this event certainly delivers on that mission.” The opening ceremonies were held on Thursday at the Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) – the venue for many of the week’s competitive events. The annual Kids Day event for local children with disabilities will take place at 12 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, at KICC. All events are free and open to the public - no tickets are required.   For a complete schedule of events and additional information about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games visit  People can follow #NVWG on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for videos and photos from the event.
Few living people can remember a world prior to The American Legion. Anthony Mancinelli is one of them. A Legionnaire from Post 1796 in New Windsor, N.Y., Mancinelli celebrated his eighth birthday almost two weeks before the organization’s initial caucus more than a century ago. Born on March 2, 1911, near Naples, Italy, Mancinelli lived in Europe during the duration of World War I. He moved to the United States in 1919. Today, the 108-year-old is not only remarkably healthy, he continues to work fulltime as a barber at Fantastic Cuts in New Windsor. He is currently recognized as the “world’s oldest working barber” by Guinness World Records. He most likely is the world’s most experienced as well, giving his first haircut when Warren G. Harding lived in the White House, 97 years ago. “I first cut hair when I was 11. By 12, I was a full-fledged barber,” he said. During World War II, Mancinelli was tasked as a company barber and supply technician. “The Army drafted me in 1944 and stationed me at Fort Lewis, Washington. I was ready to go overseas, my name was called out and they said, ‘You’re not going with us, you’re the only married person and you have two children,'” recalls Mancinelli, who was 33 at the time. “In `45, the war was over and they sent me home.” When he owned his own barbershop in Newburgh, N.Y., he built a loyal customer base that continues to seek his services. “He gave the best haircut,” said Ed Schlobohm, who has been a customer of Mancinelli for 40 years. “He does it the right way. He talks to you and makes you feel comfortable while you’re getting a haircut. In a short period of time, you’re finished and you’re out the door.” Mancinelli’s son knows a 75-year-old who would regularly receive haircuts from Anthony since he was a young boy. “He doesn’t do it now because he doesn’t have any hair,” said Bobby Mancinelli, 82. The younger Mancinelli has been driving his father to his daily shifts at the salon since he stopped driving in December at age 107. “He said, ‘My license is still good until 2021.’ I said, ‘Whose car you going to drive? You don’t have insurance. You don’t have a car!'” he recalled, half admiringly and half incredulous. The older Mancinelli attributes his longevity to “clean living” and his work ethic. “I never thought I’d reach this age to tell you the truth…People say, ‘You’re 108 and you still work?’ I like to work. If I stayed home, I’d get old fast.” Post 1796 Commander Tracey Lanthier recognizes the significance of having the world’s oldest barber in his post. The post held an official celebration for Mancinelli’s 108th birthday party and featured him as the grand marshal for the community’s Memorial Day parade. Mancinelli, however, is not the only World War II veteran belonging to the post, according to Lanthier. “I have one World War II veteran who is 96 and one who’s 93. They’re the young ones!” Son Bobby, who served as the Post 1796 commander nine times, believes his father’s slender build has contributed to his long life. “My father jokes and says he stays thin because he eats thin spaghetti,” Bobby said. “My mother passed away 15 years ago and I figured he was going to be gone. He said, ‘I have to be working. I can’t just sit around.' And he’s been doing it ever since.” “He just loves his job,” added Jeannie Nagrinelli, a receptionist at the salon. “He’s amazing. Everybody loves him.” After being recognized by Guinness, media interest and international attention about New York’s most famous barber grew exponentially. Bobby believes the world is finally seeing the father that he has known and admired his entire life. “He’s a great man but he’s tough. And stubborn. And independent. He never took a pill in his entire life.” As far as Mancinelli’s Army superiors who kept him stateside during the war, Mancinelli can no longer ask them if his advanced age at the time played a factor. They have been dead for years.