(Saturday, June 7th) - Not even a week after the state's primary, Rep. Tom Udall was out on the campaign trail working a crowd of American Veterans who are disappointed in President George Bush's handling of veteran affairs and the president's threatened veto of a new G.I. Bill.
Geronimo Fragua, 83, from Jemez Pueblo, a WWII and Korean War Vet attended the event with his friend Joe Sando. Fragua fought with the 20th Armory/27 Tank Batallion and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp.
Nearly 200 people decided to stand with the Democrat US Senate candidate, who served eight years as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs committee, as he signed this letter to President Bush. Udall wrote the letter urging the Commander in Chief to support a new G.I. Bill. The legislation provides the same education benefits to this generation of warriors that was previously provided to other returning troops.
Udall also encouraged others to sign the letter on his campaign's website.
During the noon-time rally at the Bataan Memorial Park Udall told the crowd that enhancing the bill is the right thing to do for soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I believe we can start doing what’s right for our veterans by ensuring victims of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury get the care they need care,” said Udall. “We have a sacred responsibility to do what’s right by those who wear our nation’s uniform and those who they leave behind.”
Jim Buhaug a wheel-chair bound vet and First Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County, introduced Udall to the crowd. Bauhug told photo journalist Mark Bralley in this AUDIO INTERVIEW it would be a mistake for the President to veto the bill.
“After World War II Congress passed legislation that helped veterans like my father get an education,” Udall said. “By investing in veterans, America built the strongest economy our country has ever known. Sixty years later, with American troops once again returning from war, it’s time for us to invest in our veterans again.”
There are nearly 200,000 Veterans in New Mexico.
Jessie Anzuras, an Army medic in Vietnam agrees with Buhaug and Fragua. In this AUDIO INTERVIEW Anazuras says the Bush administration has done a poor job handling veterans affairs. He says he knows how soldiers returning from the Middle East feel because he had similar problems after returning from Vietnam.
Udall, who talked with 770KKOB reporter Craig Kennedy on Tuesday night, traveled to the the veteran rally from Alamogordo's Holloman Air Force Base. On Friday, he joined the rest of NM's Congressional Delegation as they welcomed a new squadron of Raptor F22A jets to the 149th Fighter Wing.
Udall is a co-sponsor and strong advocate for enacting a New G.I. Bill into law. This bill would extend educational benefits on par with those provided to veterans of the World War II era to the 1.7 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Udall-backed G.I. Bill would extend veterans the benefits to cover the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public school. It would include a stipend for housing, books and other expenses. Currently, veterans ' education benefits cover only about 60 percent of the cost of a public-school education.
Under the legislation, any service member who has served three months active duty since September 11, 2001, is eligible for benefits, and any service member who has served at least three years will receive the full benefit package. Those who end their service before three years due to an injury may also qualify for full benefits. All branches of the military would be eligible, including members of the National Guard and Reserve.
For additional information on current benefits call the NM GI Rights Hotline or visit their website. The site also includes important statistics and the number of psychological casualties, traumatic brain injuries, service member deaths, and increasing number of veteran suicides per week which at last report was more than 125.
Earlier Saturday morning, Sen. Pete Domenici and other members of the congressional delegation attended a ceremony to rename the Albuquerque VA Medical Center in honor of Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy, a Medal of Honor recipient, Korean War veteran, and long-time VA employee and hospital volunteer.
Jerry Murphy dedicated over 20 years of his life, following his military service, to work at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. He passed away on April 6, 2007. Wilson introduced the House version of the bill to rename the VA Medical Center in his honor and led the effort in the U.S. House to rename the hospital in her district.
“Jerry Murphy was a hero for his actions in Korea, but the way he chose to spend the rest of his life is what makes him so special to New Mexico's veterans,” said Rep. HeatherWilson , who was defeated by Steve Pearce in her Senatorial bid.
“Renaming the Albuquerque VA Medical Center in honor of Mr. Murphy will ensure that his life’s work is never forgotten. Jerry Murphy wasn’t buried in his Marine dress uniform. He was buried in his VA volunteer smock. That’s just the way Jerry was, and today, we honor him as he honored veterans with the way he lived his life.”
During the Korean War as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, Murphy led a mission to rescue wounded Marines pinned down by enemy fire on Ungok Hill. He was wounded in the engagement, and refused treatment until all the Marines were accounted for and treated. He also earned a Silver Star for bravery in 1952.
When he returned from Korea, Murphy went to work for the VA and served as manager for the regional office in New Mexico for 23 years. He continued to volunteer at the medical center after he retired.
Mark Bralley contributed photos and audio to this report.