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How Tracking Legislation Possibly Saved My Life

By: Stephanie Kalota 
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice & AHG Correspondent

For those who know me, I don’t often share my personal life publicly. I have been advocating for better legislation for the military and veterans and writing about it since 2020. But recently, a single piece of legislation may have just saved my life.

I was 37, when Senate Bill 2102, Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas SERVICE Act, was signed into law. This act added an extra eligibility category to breast cancer screenings for veterans, which is a deployment for the Gulf War and Post-9/11 Wars, despite the veteran’s age. I waited at least 90 days before requesting a breast cancer screening. Unsurprisingly, my primary care doctor and nurses were not read in on this new law. It took a few more months for me to get a mammogram and a subsequent MRI (dense breast tissue runs in my family). As a result, they did find some suspicious-looking masses. Multiple imaging and biopsies later, they found precancerous cells. Various doctors could not find these masses by the regular touch method, the recommended method of screening before one is old enough for a mammogram. 

For those that do not know, the starting age for breast cancer screening is 45 if there is no known breast cancer in the family and 40 if it does run in the family. I did not find out that a grandmother did indeed have breast cancer before she passed until my immediate family discussed my first biopsy with my extended family. So, if I never received the screening in the first place, I would not be screened until I turned 45. By that age, the precancerous mass in my breast would have certainly turned malignant and possibly metastatic.

So why is this screening important? Attention was first brought when a 2009 study by Walter Reed found that breast cancer rates among military women are 20 to 40% higher than the general population. This act was named after Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas, a former Marine officer and mental health care advocate, who was diagnosed with three types of breast cancer at just 38 years old. Sadly, she lost her fight on April 5th, 2022, just 2 months before the act passed. 

When the SERVICE Act was passed, it was overshadowed by the Honoring Our PACT Act. This can be partially understandable since the PACT Act was one of the most progressive pieces of legislation for the Gulf War and Post-9/11 War veterans. But the Service Act does deserve its attention because it can save lives like it has saved mine. So please share this information with every veteran (male or female) to get checked. Always advocate for yourself and don’t settle with a denial. 



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Review of Trump’s Administration for the US Military and Veterans

By: Stephanie Kalota 
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice & AHG Correspondent

With the whole “Were we better off four years ago” question from the presidential campaigns, it may be important to review how the Trump administration affected the military and its veterans. But there is a lot of information to review, so this is separated into two parts. This part will cover how the Trump Administration affected the US military.

There are many discussed points and incidents like President Trump wanting to hold a show of force military parade as he observed in France. Unfortunately, what he was demanding would cost $30 million, which became the main reason that it did not come to fruition. Another one is about President Trump calling fallen service members losers and suckers. This was later confirmed by former Trump White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

So, let’s start with what the Trump administration stated that they accomplished. Here are a few undisputed facts:

  • – Secured three pay raises, including the largest raise in a decade.
  • – Established the Space Force, the first branch of the United States Armed Forces since 1947.
  • – Defeated 100% of ISIS’s territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
  • – Killed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and eliminated the world’s top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.
  • – Created the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) in partnership between the United States and its Gulf partners to combat extremist ideology and threats, and target terrorist financial networks, including over 60 terrorist individuals and entities spanning the globe.

A few dubious details are about completely rebuilding the United States military with over $2.2 trillion in defense spending, including $738 billion for 2020. That spending is only a little more than average. The other interesting bullet point is the veto of the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, which per former President Trump’s White House Archives “failed to protect our national security, disrespected the history of our veterans and military, and contradicted our efforts to put America first.” Per the Heritage Foundation, “the president wants the NDAA to include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects Internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter from legal liability for content posted by users.” Interestingly, this point has nothing to do with defense spending. 

The former president’s archives also stated that the act failed to “include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.  It is a “gift” to China and Russia.” Lastly, the bill was vetoed because the bill included the renaming of the military installations that were named for Confederate generals. What the archives leave out is that his veto was overridden by Congress, which requires a two-thirds vote. Which means that Republicans had to vote for the override.

Speaking of funding, former President Trump used the cost of gender-affirming surgery as a reason to reinstitute the transgender ban in the military. In an interview with Piers Morgan, he stated that the operation is $200,000, $250,000.  In reality, bottom transition surgeries are around $25,000, the type of surgery that most think of when it comes to gender-affirming care. Currently, there are an estimated 15,500 members in the US military that are transgender, just 1% of the active military. So, is spending precious time on 1% of the military really more important to the rest of the 99% of the military?

Another way to see how former President Trump affected the US military is to look at those who worked for the administration. One of the ways to look at this is at his team’s turnover and by the end of the term, the team of advisers’ turnover was 92%. In comparison (as of February 15, 2024), President Biden’s turnover is 71%. President Trump’s total cabinet turnover is 14, while President Biden’s is 2. Turnover rates can signal many things like problems with a “company’s recruiting, its culture, its compensation and benefits structure, individual managers, training and career progression paths, and more.”

One of the most notable individual turnovers is the Honorable James Mattis, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the former Secretary of Defense. He was former President Trump’s defense secretary from 2017 until he handed in his resignation letter in December 2018. His resignation came to a head when he disagreed with the commander-in-chief’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Since then, former Secretary Mattis maintained his silence on what it was like to work in President Trump’s cabinet. But per the Atlantic, “his aides and friends say he found the president to be of limited cognitive ability and generally dubious character.”

One of the most notable individual turnovers is the Honorable James Mattis, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the former Secretary of Defense. He was former President Trump’s defense secretary from 2017 until he handed in his resignation letter in December 2018. His resignation came to a head when he disagreed with the commander-in-chief’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Since then, former Secretary Mattis maintained his silence on what it was like to work in President Trump’s cabinet. But per the Atlantic, “his aides and friends say he found the president to be of limited cognitive ability and generally dubious character.”

Hopefully, this piece serves as a reminder of what happened four or more years ago. It is important to take in information with reputable references in order to come to the most informed decision when it comes to the upcoming election.

One of the biggest actions that former President Trump did for veterans is the VA Mission Act of 2018, S. 2372. What this act did was establish a permanent community care program for veterans, which is utilized when treatments are either not available at all or in a timely manner for veterans. In itself, the act was well written, well-supported, and made the community care program very useful for veterans. The disconcerting facts surrounding the VA Mission Act aren’t about the act itself, but how former President Trump took the credit for the subsequent act that the VA Mission Act followed, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, of which the former President Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) worked to pass. The Washington Post published an article that found former President Trump spoke more than 156 mistruths just about this legislation alone, including erasing its history. What the VA Mission Act and the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017

Another piece of legislation that President Trump fought for was the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. What this act was supposed to do was make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to punish and fire VA workers who do not meet work standards. In the years following its enactment, it has been met with mixed reviews. On July 28, 2023, “the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new settlement agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) that resolves litigation over adverse actions taken against former VA employees under the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.

 This settlement resolves the Federal Labor Relations Authority finding that VA failed to bargain with AFGE regarding the impact and implementation of the 2017 law.” Many of the former VA employees were given the option to return to work or receive compensation in place of being reinstated. This followed after “A federal appellate court handed down a pair of rulings Thursday that could make it somewhat more difficult to fire Department of Veterans Affairs employees, while also adding some legal clarity to portions of a 2017 VA accountability law that Congress left a bit vague.” The vagueness has to do with the amount of evidence required to remove employees. The VA interpreted the act to require a lower level of evidence than what is required by other federal agencies.  This is a possible indicator of former President Trump’s inexperience surrounding political and federal policies, because where he was experienced, this may not have happened. On October 24, 2019, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General published a report describing the failures of the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, and it provided recommendations.  

It’s important to remember how our elected officials truly treat veterans. So, if any elected official does not treat them at the highest level, how can we expect them to treat regular citizens at a minimum?

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Grand Finale of the Evolution of AHG

By: Stephanie Kalota 
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice & AHG Correspondent

In the grand finale of the relaunch of America’s Heroes Group, it is important to include all those that made this amazing program just that much more amazing.
Being in the military or as a veteran can feel isolated, confusing, and bleak. But that is what America Heroes Group does every day to prevent this from happening. They do that by introducing them to wholesome, considerate, and decent humans. These introductions can be on radio shows and podcasts that humanize the VA, which can reduce the negative opinions of the VA.

To be successful in this venture, America’s Heroes Group is assisted by the best advisory board that any organization can ask for. The members of the advisory board are Lt. General Russel L. Honoré, Congressman Danny K. Davis, Congresswoman Shelia L. Jackson Lee, Chris Kennedy, and James Compton. Lt. General Russel L. Honoré is a decorated 37-year army veteran whose missions include: commanding the military relief effort in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans or conducting a security review of the Capitol’s security infrastructure following the attacks on January 6, 2021. Congressman Danny K. Davis is the U.S. House Representative for the 7 th district of Illinois and have been since November 5, 1996. Congresswoman Shelia L. Jackson Lee is the U.S. House Representative for the 18 th district of Texas and the Democratic Chief Deputy Whip. Christopher Kennedy is chair of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, nephew of late President John F. Kennedy, and son of the late New York Senator and US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. James Compton is the former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

More distinguished guests are: The Jesse Brown VA, the Chicago Regional Office of the Veteran Benefits Administration, Christopher Deutsch of All Rise, Lindsey Church, Danitza James, Rochelle Crump, Gigi Brookshire, Stephanie Gattas, Coalition of Veterans Organizations, Steven J. Seidman of Seidman, Margulis, Fairman, LLP, Jared Evans of Chase Bank Community Outreach Manager, Nancy Espinosa, National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Annaliese Cothron of American Institute of Dental Public Health, Darren Jeffrey of Rick Herrema Foundation Rick’s Place, Bob Carnagey of Indiana Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17, Liza Lieberman and Josh Protas of MAZON, Kathryn Monet and Ralph Cooper of National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Troy J. Brossard of AARP, James D. Rodriguez, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor, Trabue Bland, the board of directors of the RHF, Keisha L. Jackson, a family caregiver advocate, Richard Brookshire of Black Veterans Project, Jennifer-Ruth Green of Battle-Proven Leadership, Hines VA Women Healthcare, KFF Health News, Jeopardy, Suzanne Gordon of VHPI and Dr. Paul R. Lawrence, the former Under Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, DC Office.

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The Evolution of America’s Heroes Group

By: Stephanie Kalota 
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice & AHG Correspondent

n 2016, America’s Heroes Group (AHG) started as a modest weekly one-hour radio show on AM 1690 WVON in Chicago, Illinois; founded by Clifford P. Kelley and Glenda R. Smith on October 30, 2015. Then it was known as America’s Fireside Chat Radio Talk Show. Since then, AHG has become a game changer that allows voices to be heard, celebrated, and honored.

As a 501(c)3 non-profit, AHG leverages radio and digital media and delivers vital information on benefits, resources, and referrals to military service members, veterans, and their families. The show’s host, Clifford P. Kelley, a Vietnam veteran and former city council member, lends his decades-long expertise. Co-host, COL Dr. Damon Arnold provides his medical and military knowledge to the show. Co-host, Debra Denhart shares her unique perspective as a military spouse and a community leader. Co-host, Sean Claiborne, also a former Army National Guardsman, brings his background in communications and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the military and veteran community.

The show’s notable guests include the Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton, Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, former Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Press Secretary, Terrence Hayes. The following organizations participated in this show: Partner National Nurses United (NNU), Military Women’s Memorial, Repatriate Our Patriots, National Women Veterans United, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Military Families Matter, Military & Veteran Women’s Coalition, Combat Sexual Assault, Minority Veterans of America, Veteran Legislative Voice, League of United Latin American Citizens, the Pink Berets, and the Red Cross.
In 2020, AHG began distributing its material as a podcast, and since then has accumulated more than 5.7 million downloads. Almost 1 million of them have been downloaded in the last 90 days! The majority of the downloads are within the United States, with top downloads in San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Miami, and Jacksonville.