February: An important month in history

The month of February has many important days. Here are just a few.

Feb. 3 is Four Chaplains Day. This day commemorates the events of Feb. 3, 1943, when the troop ship USAT Dorchester sank. The Dorchester left New York on the morning of Jan. 23, 1943, carrying 4 Chaplains and about 900 others as a part of a convoy of three ships. It was torpedoed by a German submarine U-223 of Newfoundland at 12:55 a.m. When the Dorchester began to sink, the Four Chaplains of different religions – George L.Fox (Methodist), Alexander D. Goode (Rabbi), Clark V. Poling ( Baptist) and John P. Washington (Catholic) – were helping to calm down the men and organize an orderly evacuation. The life vests were passed out to the men, but the supply ran out before each man had one. The Four Chaplains gave their own vests to others and helped as many men as they could into the boats. They then linked their arms together, saying prayers and singing hymns, as they went down with the ship.

Other Important Days

President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12; Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14; Coast Guard Reserve’s Birthday, Feb. 19; Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20; George Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22.

Federal Hiring Freeze Update

On Monday, President Trump initiated a 90-day federal hiring freeze until the Office of Management and Budget can develop a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition. The executive memorandum does allow the head of any executive department or agency to exempt any position that is deemed necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities. Military service members are specifically exempt from the temporary freeze, but the Defense Department’s 750,000 federal civilians are not; nor are the 350,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Acting VA Secretary Robert Snyder said he would continue to hire medical staff and other front line personnel, and the VFW fully expects Trump’s VA nominee, Dr. David Shulkin, and DOD to do likewise. Long time federal civilian personnel experts have called the temporary freeze a prudent step that many new administrations exercise in order to assess what they have before moving forward.

Three Veterans Tapped for Service Secretaries

President Trump nominated businessman Philip Bilden this week to become the new Secretary of the Navy. Bilden served from 1986 to 1996 in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer, including a stint at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He is the son of a career naval officer and his mother also grew up in a Navy family. His eldest son graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2015, and his youngest is in the Class of 2018. Bilden now joins former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), the new Air Force Secretary nominee, and Vincent Viola, who was picked for Army Secretary. Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 and served until 1989, when she left to join the National Security Council as its director for European defense policy and arms control. Viola graduated from West Point in 1977, and served in the 101st Airborne Division. Their Senate confirmation hearings have yet to be announced.

VA to Begin Fertility Counseling and Treatment

Thanks to the advocacy of VFW members, VA is now authorized to provide fertility counseling and treatment using assisted reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), to veterans with service-connected disabilities that resulted in the inability to procreate without the use of such treatments. Last week, VA announced that it will begin providing IVF treatments for eligible veterans and their spouses. Veterans with service-related infertility who wish to explore IVF options should schedule an appointment with their local VA health care facility for eligibility determinations, clinical evaluation and consultation. The law also authorizes VA to reimburse veterans for the cost of adoption, but VA has not announced when it will begin adoption reimbursements.

Till next week, praying for all service members.

– Charles Castelluccio