Memories abound at Calvary UMC
Before flags were raised and before Memorial Day parades marched down the streets of communities across the country, the stories of veterans were shared at Calvary United Methodist Church in Arnolds Park.
Ann Miller, Director of the Dickinson County Veterans Affairs Office, spoke during Thursday’s Respite Care session. The church hosts Respite Angels each week and Respite staff arranges for presentations and activities.
Miller said she and former Dickinson County Veterans Affairs Director Ernie Cupp both became service officers at the same time. She said her family had vacationed in the Milford area when she was younger and her mother had retired to Milford. Cupp’s retirement in 2011 presented an opportunity to continue serving veterans in an area close to her heart.
“When he decided to retire, I put in for the job and, by the grace of God, I got to come back home,” Miller said.
Local Respite Angels Director Kelly Schultz said Miller serves the community well.
“I wish every county had someone with the VA that represented them as well as she does,” Schultz said.
Miller said her office helps file claims with the VA hospitals regarding service-connected medical conditions or helps veterans collect pensions — sometimes even helping widows and widowers of veterans collect their spouse’s pensions. Miller said pensions can be of great benefit to veterans and their families, if they qualify for the funds.
“That is income-based, but if you find someone that’s experiencing really high medical bills — where their monthly income is getting eaten up by medical bills — they could possibly qualify for a pension,” Miller said. “One of the criteria being, they had to have served during a war era. They didn’t have to be in a war necessarily, but during a designated wartime era. Peacetime veterans don’t qualify.”
Miller said the pension amount is higher for the veteran rather than the spouse, but she also said any amount is a help to families and can potentially keep them off Medicaid for a time.
“It can be a life-saver,” Miller said. “It really can.”
Some attendees were curious about progress on a planned expansion of the local VA clinic. Miller said the expansion will include a new building as well as new services. She said the bids for the expansion project will be closed July 5, but indicated there was the possibility of extending the deadline another five days.
“It could go as far east as Estherville and as far west as Harris maybe,” Miller said. “I feel confident it will be along Highway 9. I certainly hope it’s in Dickinson County. It means a lot to us.”
She indicated the current clinic is on a 10-year lease and the new building would likely be on a similar lease.
Miller said the region’s facilities are not in the same boat as VA facilities that made national headlines because of delayed care.
“We have a marvelous VA medical center in Sioux Falls, (South Dakota) and we have a great clinic here,” Miller said.
She told the group Darwin Goodspeed, director of Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs, had looked into the matter and found approximately 100 veterans who had not received care as quickly as intended. She said the director had found approximately 80 of the 100 did not receive their treatment because they did not want to schedule an outside appointment.
Though the VA hospitals and clinics provide care for many veterans, some take advantage of home care services through the VA. Miller said veterans must qualify for services, like home care, and not all do. She used herself as an example of someone who does not qualify for VA services.
“When I was in the service, I was told I would have healthcare for the rest of my life,” Miller said. “I don’t qualify because I don’t have a service-connected condition and because of the household income.”
She said veterans can qualify on a financial basis, but any boots-on-ground Vietnam veterans are automatically enrolled. Persian Gulf veterans were automatically enrolled for seven years. President George W. Bush opened enrollment to all veterans from 2000 to 2003. Miller said this open enrollment period allowed many veterans to be grandfathered in, regardless of factors like income.
“If you got in, you were grandfathered in, I don’t care if you were Bill Gates,” Miller said. “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
Some of the veterans present said they had enrolled during that period simply because of the reduced cost of medication.
Today, the VA has expanded its services to include yoga and acupuncture massage therapy. The VA can also arrange transportation transportation for veterans via the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV Van.
“We are always looking for drivers,” Miller said. “You don’t have to be a veteran. You don’t have to be a guy.”
Schultz said her father had often used the DAV van.
“I think since my dad was a caregiver, that bus was a major social thing for him,” she said. Miller agreed, saying the van seems to build camaraderie among veterans.
Miller encouraged the public to look for ways to serve veterans. She said the public can assist in putting up flags during local Memorial Day programs or aid local boy scout troops as they place flags at grave sites and being sure flags are in good condition. The lawn outside the county courthouse is typically covered in flags for Memorial Day.
“We have more flags than we do holes, even though we have 300 holes,” Miller said. “It’s a wonderful sight, Friday afternoon to see these people come — young kids with their parents — and to see these plates from out of state. These people get it.”
Miller said families of deceased veterans sometimes purchase poles in memory of their loved one. She recalled one particular year in which a family member could not find the flag placed in his father’s honor. Miller said she was determined to find it for him. And she did just that.
“When I found him and I took him to the flag, that man just cried,” Miller said. “He held onto that pole, tears just streaming down his eyes. It really is an emotional thing for some people. It’s their last connection to that person.”
Schultz attested to that fact: “When they did my dad’s flag, I could hardly get through that ceremony,” Schultz said.
Miller said displays and service such as this perpetuate a love and appreciation for the country.
“Take a moment to understand what this day is all about,” Miller said. “Yeah, it’s the kick-off of summer, but it’s much bigger than that … We all need to take a moment on Memorial Day to say thank you and to be grateful.”
Voices from the past
By Seth Boyes
Sometimes, the war that defined Greatest Generation speaks to this generation only through history books. For Ann Miller, director of the Dickinson County Veterans Affairs Office, she has a book full of reminders. But it’s not a history book.
Her mother, Lucy, saw fit to write down her memories of that time and give each of her 10 children a bound copy. Miller shared some of the highlights of her mother’s writing with a group during Thursday’s respite care session at Calvary United Methodist Church.
Her mother recalled playing a game of hearts with friends in a cafe on Dec. 7, 1941.
“The news over the radio informed us that bombs had fallen on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had attacked us,” Miller recited. “It changed everyone’s lives. The day that will live in infamy. Dec. 8, we were at war.”
Her mother wrote about rationing stamps; red for meat, blue for sugar and canned goods. Shoes were worth a ration stamp. Lucy made due with a pair of sandals, since they didn’t require a rations stamp. As many young men did at the time, Miller’s father, Tony, left for the service, thinking of his girl back home.
“My mom was madly in love with my dad when he took off for war and he ended up in Anzio and he was in a fox hole for twenty-some days.” Miller said.
Letters were censored to prevent the enemy from learning of troop movements. Lucy wrote about a family who’s son had told them the first capital letter of each letter would eventually spell out where he was. The family was confused when they arranged the letters to spell “NUTISIA.”
“The parents didn’t figure out that he was in Tunisia and the letters didn’t arrive in the correct order,” her mother had written.
After his time in Anzio, Tony commissioned an Italian man to paint a portrait of Lucy from the black and white photograph he kept on his person. Supposedly, Tony negotiated through hand gestures for the painting and, with no money to his name, secured a final price tag of three packs of cigarettes. Tony returned with the painting in 1946 and married Lucy.
Miller turned a page and continued to read.
Her parents wedding was held at a hotel and only immediate family attended. Rationing was still in place and they did not have enough stamps to pay for a larger meal. The painting was stored away in the couple’s home and eventually found its way into the hands of Miller’s sister Joan and her husband. Miller said her brother-in-law was inspired to write down the painting’s history. It now hangs in their entry way, among many other collected portraits.
“The one my eye goes to first is Tony Krogman’s beloved Lucy; beautiful at 19, not yet mother to 10 children, not yet aware that her face is worth a few packs of cigarettes and a soldier’s heart,” Miller read.