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National Day of the Deployed: Soldiers and their families honored on social media

In honor of the National Day of the Deployed on Wednesday, social media users are sharing their thanks and well-wishes for soldiers and their families.

>> Read more trending stories

According to Soldiers' Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to troops, veterans and their loved ones, the day is dedicated to "all of the brave men and women who have been deployed and are sacrificing, or have sacrificed, their lives to fight for our country. It's also a day that acknowledges their families they are separated from."

>> PHOTOS: Celebrities who served in the military

Want to post a message of support to our troops or share a story about a soldier in your life? Join the conversation on social media with #DayOfTheDeployed or #NationalDayOfTheDeployed.

>> Click here or scroll down to see what people are saying

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Why is the Pentagon going after National Guard bonuses?

A decade after the Department of Defense offered bonuses to soldiers to reenlist to help fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are asking National Guard troops for that money back.

The bonuses, which averaged around $15,000, were a result of overpayments from a fraudulent scheme, federal investigators said.

Now, the Pentagon wants its money back, and is threatening the Guardsmen with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they don’t get it.

Here’s a look at what happened with the payments and what can be done now amid the outrage over the demand for repayment.

Why is the Department of Defense going after soldiers to get bonus money back?

The Department of Defense is looking for millions of dollars in bonuses that were overpaid to National Guardsmen in the early 2000s. The bonuses, along with help to pay off student loans, were offered to get guardsmen to re-enlist and to get new recruits to sign up.

What’s wrong with getting re-enlistment bonuses?

Nothing if it is done per DoD regulations. Widespread fraud and mismanagement by the California Guard led to the overpayment, according to an investigation by the DoD. California National Guard officials, under pressure to meet enlistment targets, offered the bonuses and other incentives to thousands of members, many who were not eligible under Pentagon standards. The California Guard's incentive manager pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million, according to the Department of Justice. 

According to The Associated Press, in 2014, eight current or former members were indicted on federal charges for fraudulently obtaining recruiting referral bonuses.

Who does this affect?

According to the Los Angeles Times, about 11,000 soldiers were included in a Department of Defense audit and about 9,700 are being asked to repay bonuses and student loan aid. According to CNN, Col. Michael Piazzoni, commander of the Soldier Incentive Assistance Center, said the numbers aren’t that big.

According to Piazzoni, 2,000 members were found to have received unauthorized bonus payments amounting to at least $22 million. A portion of an additional 5,400 soldiers who could not show proof they were eligible for the payments they received were also ordered to repay the funds. 

Can’t they just forgive the debt?

The affected soldiers can petition to have the debt waived, and the military has the option to waive the debts, but only on an individual basis. It does not have the authority to issue a blanket waiver. The California National Guard asked Congress to forgive the debts in 2014. That did not happen, as many congressmen said that cost – estimated to be between $70 million and $100 million – was too high.

Some members of Congress have called for the debt to be forgiven, but no action has been taken yet.

Does the DoD offer bonuses often?

Yes, and has for years.

Re-enlistment bonuses are nothing new and are used to keep qualified people in the service. According to the New York Times, the budget for re-enlistment incentives double between 2000 and 2008 to $1.4 billion, the time these bonus were being paid. It was the time the United States was involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Has it happened before?

It has. Earlier this year, the Pentagon's nine-member bomb squad was in a similar situation. According to, one member of the team committed suicide. The department agreed to forgive the debt for each of the team members individually.

Cheerleaders' decision to take knee during national anthem upsets vets

Several high school cheerleaders' decision to take a knee Friday night while a VFW Color Guard performed at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, isn’t sitting well with some, especially military veterans.

The gesture has made headlines in recent weeks because of NFL player Colin Kaepernick who has refused to stand while the national anthem is played in protest of racial injustice.  

“They don't know what they are doing, them young kids. They don't know what they are doing,” WWII Army veteran Danny Larocco said.  

Larocco said he didn’t take the photo of the cheerleaders kneeling that has circulated online, but he was there in-person. He said that he and his fellow veterans of VFW 402 in Coraopolis were invited to present the colors before the game.   

Instead of standing like everyone else on the field and in the stands 12 out of 15 cheerleaders kneeled, Larocco said.

>> Read more trending stories    

“I was 16 when I enlisted, fighting Japanese. To see them do that and disgrace Coraopolis and that school, it made me sick,” the military veteran said.  

Cornell School District Superintendent Aaron Thomas, however, said he’s standing by his students’ decision to take a knee.  

“This is a classic case that dates back to the ‘60s, and symbolic speech is protected speech,” he said.  

Thomas said the district supports the students' right to free speech, and he said that he was aware some in the cheerleading squad were going to take a knee in a public protest. Thomas, though, said he’s the first to admit their timing could have been better.  

“I apologize to those individuals on Friday night that I saw. Ideally could this have happened on another night? Yeah, but it happened on the night that it did (and) it created healthy discussion within (the) walls of our building,” the superintendent said.  

Larocco said it all comes down to respect.  

“My friends and everybody else that served in the service, they have that right to be respected. We love our flag very much. We fought for it,” he said.  

Thomas said he cannot predict whether the cheerleaders will continue their protest at the next home game, but he said to be on the safe side, security will be increased.

Did Donald Trump suggest veterans with PTSD 'can't handle' combat?

While speaking to a group of United States military veterans on Monday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made a comment that critics say implied that veterans who kill themselves "can't handle" what they've seen in combat.

"When people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it," Trump said.

>> Read more trending stories

Trump's latest comment provoked a lot of unflattering social media reaction.

Still, many pointed out Trump's remark was part of a larger comment on how the U.S. needs stronger mental health initiatives for veterans to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious issues.

"We're going to have a very, very robust, very, very robust, level of performance having to do with mental health," Trump said.

In the past, Trump has promised to ensure that each veteran gets timely access to health care when they need it through the VA or through private care.

The Trump campaign has yet to comment on Monday's remarks.

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Government to pay for gender reassignment surgery for military members

The U.S. government will, beginning this week, pay for soldiers to undergo treatment and surgery for gender reassignment.

The policy, which was first announced in June, applies to active duty soldiers who have received approval for gender reassignment from a military physician and from their commanding officers, according to the Department of Defense.

The military health program will cover therapy and hormone treatments along with surgery for approved service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The policy does not yet extend to military dependents.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here

The RAND Corp., a nonprofit institute that researches and analyzes government policies, estimates the new DOD plan will cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year.

According to RAND, there are between 2,500 – 7,000 transgender service members on active duty in today’s military.

At least five transgender troops – three sailors or Marines and two airmen – are currently pursuing treatment outside the military health care system, USA Today reported.

Here’s what the policy says:

 • Effective immediately (when it was first announced on June 16, 2016), transgender Service members may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals.

 • These policies will be implemented in stages over the next 12 months—starting most immediately with addressing the needs of current Service members and their commanders, and followed by training for the entire force, and ultimately, beginning to admit transgender recruits.

On June 16, 2016:

• Otherwise qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely for being transgender individuals.

As of Oct. 1, 2016: 

 • The Department will issue a training handbook for commanders, transgender service members, and the force.

 • The Department will issue medical guidance for providing transition related care to transgender service members.

• The Military Health System will be required to provide transgender service members with all medically necessary care related to gender transition, based on the guidance that is issued

Service members will be able to begin the process to officially change their gender in our personnel management systems.

Between October 2016 – June 2017:

• Based on detailed guidance and training materials that will be issued, the services will conduct training of the force — from commanders, to medical personnel, to the operating forces, and recruiters.

Not later than July 1, 2017:

• When the training of the force is complete, the military services will begin accessing transgender applicants who meet all standards—holding them to the same physical and mental fitness standards as everyone else who wants to join the military.

• The gender identity of an otherwise qualified individual will not bar them from joining the military, from admission to our Service Academies, or from participating in ROTC or any other accession program.

 • Our initial accession policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition, and to have been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military.

• This standard will be reviewed no later than 24 months from July 1, 2016 to ensure it reflects what more we learn as this is implemented, as well as the most updated medical information.

• Service members with a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary will be provided medical care and treatment for the diagnosed medical condition, in the same manner as other medical care and treatment.

• Gender transition in the military begins when a service member receives a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, and concludes when the service member’s gender marker is changed in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and the service member serves and is recognized in the preferred gender.

• At that point, the service member is responsible for meeting all applicable military standards in the preferred gender and will use berthing, bathroom, and shower facilities associated with their gender.

 • Any discrimination against a service member based on their gender identity is sex discrimination and may be addressed through the Department’s equal opportunity channels.

Veteran refused Social Security benefits

Phil Sommers says he's paid Social Security taxes for 48 years and now he's 65 years old and ready to retire with his wife, Mari, but said he's being denied his Social Security benefits.

"It doesn't make sense. They took the money. Now they want to keep the money. It's put a lot of strain on myself and my family," Sommers said.

Sommers was born in Canada but vital records show his father was a U.S. citizen. Sommers said he grew up in the U.S. and worked here his entire life.

He showed WSOC'S Whistleblower 9 investigative reporter Paul Boyd what he said is his original Social Security card from 1968.

Sommers also provided a Social Security statement showing 48 years of payments into the system.

>> Read more trending stories  

He wanted to know how Social Security can issue a card, take payments all these years and not pay the benefit.

"They couldn't give me the answer. I asked for the answer," Sommers said.

Whistleblower 9 asked the Social Security Administration for answers.

"Due to privacy laws, we cannot discuss individual cases,” spokeswoman Patti Patterson said. “However, we are in contact with Mr. Sommers and providing assistance. I can provide some general information on requirements for receiving Social Security retirement benefits.When applying for Social Security benefits, one of the eligibility requirements is U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. Social Security does not determine U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. We depend on the agency that issued the document provided, such as Department of Homeland Security, for immigration status and Department of State for U.S. passports, for example."

Sommers' issue hinges on when he became a U.S. citizen. He said immigration officials only consider him a citizen as of 2016.

Whistleblower 9 obtained paperwork from 1972 that clearly showed the government considered Phil Sommers a U.S. citizen at least 44 years ago when he served in the U.S. Army.

"I served honorably with the U.S. Army. I just feel cheated," Sommers said.

Sommers said he should be receiving $809 in Social Security every month plus approximately $28,000 in back pay, because he's been fighting this for almost four years.

His wife said they're not rich and need the money.

"He loves his country and he's getting stepped on. It's just not fair," Mari Sommers said.

Phil Sommers said he's had to start working again. His family has also been in touch with U.S. senators and even wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, but said Sommers still hasn't received a penny.

Sailor reportedly under investigation for sitting during national anthem

A sailor is under investigation by the U.S. Navy for sitting during the national anthem.

U.S. Navy Sailor Janaye Ervin taped herself sitting during the national anthem during a recent morning flag-raising.

Troops who don’t stand for the national anthem could face prosecution under the uniform code of military justice, which states that troops can be punished for failing to obey a lawful general order.


>> Read more trending stories  

The petty officer said she was threatened with jail time by the Navy in response to her actions. She also lost her security clearance, she said. 

Evrin showed herself in the video sitting during the flag. She was seen in the video getting emotional when she talked for several minutes about why she protested during the anthem. >> Read prior story: Sailor 'sits with' Kaepernick during morning colors

Ervin posted a message on her Facebook page explaining her actions, which reads in part, "I feel like a hypocrite singing about the 'land of the free' when I know that only applies to some Americans. I will gladly stand again, when all Americans are afforded the same freedom."

he Facebook post has now been taken down. 

However, many people disagree. There’s a Facebook page called Hold Janaye Ervin Accountable where people call her a traitor and said she brings discredit to the U.S. Navy for her actions.

Some people have started a petition called Keep Black Soldiers Out of Jail for Choosing Not to Stand for National Anthem. It said the sailor should not be punished by jail time or a dishonorable discharge for what she believes in. 

The Navy’s protocol handbook said sailors in uniform must salute during the anthem. They must face the flag,  if they don’t see the flag they have to face the direction of the music. 

Purple Heart recipient's grave marked with veteran's plaque after 32 years

Thirty-one years after his death, a Massachusetts veteran is being recognized for the honors he earned as a Korean War veteran.

Marine Sgt. Donald Mackenzie earned two Purple Hearts, but his grave at Dell Park Cemetery in Natick had no mention of the service and sacrifice.

"I remember him from being a child he was one of my heroes as a child," Jeff Campbell said of his uncle.

Campbell told WFXT that he was shocked the first time he visited the grave, especially because of what his uncle went through.

>> Read more trending stories

"He saw the enemy soldiers coming around with rifles and bayonets, sticking them in his brothers, and also in the grass and paddies looking for other bodies hidden in there," Campbell said. "He was able to avoid being captured."

After the war, Mackenzie had a tough life that included substance abuse and homelessness, that's why Campbell said it was so hard to see his uncle's military past ignored. That changes on Sunday when a plaque and flags were placed at his grave.

"All veterans should be recognized for the sacrifices that they've made," he said.

Natick Veteran Affairs Officer Paul Carew said cases like this are not uncommon, especially if the veteran is not close with their families.

"Once we bury our family member, sometimes the families just don't go back," he said,

Carew arranged to have Sgt. Mackenzie recognized, and his working for others too.

"They served this country to protect me, you and all of us for the freedoms we take for granted way too often in this country," he said.

Sailor gives birth on carrier in Persian Gulf

A Navy ship had a stowaway of sorts on Sunday.

A sailor checked into the medical clinic of the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier suffering from stomach pains, the Navy Times reported.

It turns out that she was pregnant and didn't know it. 

>> Read more trending stories  

Hours later, Navy medical staff delivered a healthy 7-pound baby girl in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

Mother and baby are doing well, a Navy spokesperson said.

And since the closest Babies R Us is thousands of miles from the ship, the Eisenhower had to fly in diapers, formula and an incubator to help care for the baby, the Navy Times reported.

Sailors who find out they're expecting would not deploy or would leave an operational command once they hit 20 weeks.

Sailor 'sits with' Kaepernick during morning colors

A sailor assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola is the subject of a Facebook debate after she followed in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The unnamed woman shared a video her Facebook page of her sitting during the playing of the National Anthem and holding up her left hand in protest. She was apparently on base, WEAR reported.

The video was shared on a military social media page where it has been viewed more than 53,000 times.

>> Read more trending stories  

Lt. Commander Kate Meadows told WEAR that the Navy is aware of the video and disciplinary action is pending.

Meadows told the Navy Times that the sailor will not be discharged, but will move to her next command as planned.

When the National Anthem is played, members of the military are required to stand when they are either in or out of uniform, Meadows said.

The sailor ends the video, which contains explicit language, saying, "I don't not respect the men and women that serve, who I serve alongside. It's just until this country shows that they got my back as a black woman. They have my people's back and not even just being black I mean people of color, I can't and I won't. I won't be forced to."

Kaepernick has been sitting or kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, saying it is a protest of the oppression of minorities in America, Fox Sports reported. Other members of the NFL and other big names in sports have been joining his protest.

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