Posts Tagged ‘Department of Veterans Affairs’

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The Cannabis for Countrymen Rally

During today’s lunchtime bike ride as I was passing by the park at McPherson Square I noticed a lot of activity and tents being set up. So I stopped to find out what was happening. This is the same park where a few years ago demonstrators from the Occupy D.C. protest movement camped out for several months to protest against social and economic inequality around the world. And I thought they might be back. But it turned out that today’s demonstration, which is scheduled to continue through tomorrow’s Veteran’s Day holiday, was a very different kind of demonstration.

The event currently going on is called “Cannabis for Countrymen,” or D.O.P.E (Don’t Oppress People Ever) Festival, and is being sponsored by a number of groups and organizations, including Weed4Warriors, The Drug Policy Alliance, The People’s Champ, LLC, GreenTech Industries, the National Association for Concerned Veterans, DC NORML, and many others. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about potential medical benefits of marijuana in treating veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other illnesses related to war trauma. The event will include a protest at The Department of Veteran’s Affair Headquarters, which is only a block away from the park, as well as a march to the White House for a first amendment demonstration. In another corner of the park I watched as an artist was setting up an exhibit comprised of twenty-two American flags surrounded by pill bottles, which I was told symbolizes the number of veterans who commit suicide each day in this country. They also advised that tomorrow they will also be handing out free marijuana to military veterans. Today there were booths set up offering samples of different hemp products, including everything from clothing to skin care products to flavored teas. I stopped and talked with a number of people, and they advised their products are in compliance with local D.C. law. When I asked if the products violated any Federal laws, I found out that some didn’t but others did. I explained that I appreciated the information they were offering but because of my position with the Federal government, I would have to decline any of the free samples.   

I did stop on the bike ride back to work, however, and treated myself by picking up some Kung Pao chicken at Soho Café & Market to take back to the office. It was a good ride today, despite the fact that it was raining. And of course, it was interesting too. It just goes to show you that there’s always something going on in D.C., and it is often something unusual. 

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The Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

Many of the statues and memorials in D.C. seem as though they are permanent.  But this is often not the case, with many of them being moved around, placed in storage, or changed as necessary to accommodate new construction or development.  This is the case for The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, which was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial is presently located across the street from The National Archives and Records Administration Building and adjacent to the U.S. Navy Memorial in Indiana Plaza, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  The memorial was moved in 1987 from it’s original location, which was just a few yards away where The Temperance Fountain is now located.  The fountain was moved from its original location a few blocks away during the renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War, groups of men began joining together in fraternal organizations. These organizations were first formed for camaraderie, but eventually evolved into groups which possessed and wielded significant political influence.  Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be The Grand Army of the Republic.

Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership in the Grand Army of the Republic was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service, who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The organization became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, lobbying the U.S. Congress to establish veterans’ pensions, advocating for voting rights for black veterans, and supporting Republican political candidates.  As one of the more powerful political organizations in the late 19th century, it also helped to establish The Old Soldiers’ Home, which would later become The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Also, under the leadership of John Alexander Logan, the organization was largely responsible for establishing the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, as part of their Decoration Day campaign.

At it’s height in 1890, it would number almost 500,000 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion,” with chapters or “posts” in every state except Hawaii, even those of the former Confederacy.  But the organization continued to allow only Union veterans of the Civil War, and through attrition it grew smaller each year.  It was finally dissolved in 1956 when its last surviving member, Albert Henry Woolson, passed away.

Memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic include a commemorative postage stamp, a U.S. Federal highway, and various statues and physical memorials in hundreds of communities throughout the country. The D.C. memorial was erected by the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Foundation using funds that the U.S. Congress appropriated in 1907, and was dedicated in 1909.

The memorial’s pink granite centerpiece was designed by the firm of Rankin, Kellogg and Crane, and P.R. Pullman and Company, was responsible for the foundation of the monument, which had to be specially made due to the significant weight of the granite column. Scottish-American sculptor J. Massey Rhind sculpted the bronze statue and inlays for the memorial.

Also known as The Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson Memorial, it is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.  With the dissolution of the organization, the memorial is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service.

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Day is an official Federal holiday intended to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, who are also known as veterans. It occurred earlier this week, and is observed every year on November 11th. Veterans Day coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day, which is observed in other parts of the world and marks the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States also originally observed Armistice Day, but in 1954 it was changed to the current Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

In recognition of Veterans Day, on this bike ride I went by the offices for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is located at 810 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just north of the White House and Lafayette Square in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.

The Department of Veterans Affairs employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices throughout the country, and is responsible for supporting Veterans in their time after service by administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations. They are: the Veterans Health Administration, which is responsible for providing health care in all its forms; the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is responsible for initial veteran registration and eligibility determination, and oversees benefits and entitlements, and; the National Cemetery Administration, which is responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of 147 veterans and nationally important cemeteries, the most well-known of which is Arlington National Cemetery.

Among its other responsibilities, a current initiative in the Department of Veterans Affairs entitled “The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans” is underway end and prevent homelessness among veterans. The number of Veterans experiencing homelessness exceeds 100,000 former service men and women on any given night. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is increasing as is the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children. In general, veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma, which can lead to higher risk for homelessness. About half of homeless veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Veterans are more likely to live outdoors, and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

While this initiative is admirable, it still has a long way to go, as evidenced by the number of homeless veterans actually living on the sidewalk outside the Department of Veterans Affairs offices here in D.C.

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The American National Red Cross Headquarters

Today is the anniversary of American National Red Cross, which was co-founded by humanitarian Clara Barton on this day in 1881.  So if you’re out today for a bike ride in downtown D.C., I recommend riding by the headquarters for the American National Red Cross, which is located at 430 17th Street (MAP), just a few blocks from the White House.  You could also go by their administrative building at 2025 E Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), where on the grounds you will find the Red Cross Memorial.

Clara Barton, who was born in Massachusetts in 1821, worked with the sick and wounded during the Civil War and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless dedication.  In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned her to search for lost prisoners of war, and with the extensive records she had compiled during the war, she succeeded in identifying thousands of the Union dead at the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp.  She worked out of a location on 7th Street in D.C., known as The Missing Soldiers Office.

She was in Europe in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and she went behind the German lines to work for the International Red Cross.  In 1873, Barton returned to the United States, and four years later she organized an American branch of the International Red Cross.

The American National Red Cross later received its first U.S. Federal charter in 1900.  Although not a branch of the government, the organization, under a second charter issued by Congress in 1905, continues to this day to provide services to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as to state and local relief units coping with natural disasters.

The organization started 133 years ago today is still going strong.  It currently supplies more than 40 percent of the blood and blood products in the U.S.  It is also involved helping victims whenever disasters strike, such as hurricanes, tornados and floods.  The American Red Cross also is actively involved in supporting America’s military families.  And the multifaceted organization provides an array of training to more than 9 million people each year, in the areas of first aid/CPR certification, lifeguard training, babysitter’s training, as well as training for first responders and nursing assistants.

I encourage everyone to learn more about what they do, and then get involved either through donating blood, donating money, or donating your time.  You’ll be glad you did. And undoubtedly, so will someone else who is in need.

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Historic Congressional Cemetery

Historic Congressional Cemetery

The cemetery which is located on the west bank of the Anacostia River in southeast D.C. was founded in 1807, but had no formal name for its first four years.  After the property, located at 1801 E Street (MAP), was deeded to Christ Church on Capitol Hill, its name became “Washington Parish Burial Ground.”   Then in 1830, after Congress purchased several hundred sites, built monuments to representatives who died in office and appropriated money for improvements, the public and the members of Congress began referring to it as the “Congressional burying ground”.  Eventually that was shortened to “Congressional Cemetery.”  Today it is officially named Historic Congressional Cemetery.

It is a historic yet active cemetery. Over 65,000 individuals are buried or memorialized at the cemetery, including 806 burial plots which are owned by the Federal government and administered by The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Those interred there include many who helped form not only the national capitol city, but the nation itself, during the early part of the nineteenth century.  Many members of the U.S. Congress who died while Congress was in session are interred at Congressional, as well as other politicians and public figures.  Other burials include the early landowners and speculators, the builders and architects of many of the great buildings of D.C., Native American diplomats, and hundreds of Civil War veterans. Nineteenth-century D.C. families unaffiliated with the Federal government have also had graves and tombs at the cemetery.  In all there is one Vice-President, one Supreme Court Justice, six Cabinet Members, 19 Senators and 71 Representatives – including a former Speaker of the House, buried there; as well as the first Director of the FBI, an American Indian chief, more than one leader in the American gay rights movement, as well as veterans of every American war.  The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

By the mid to late 1970s, however, urban decay, the declining membership of Christ Church, and the declining value of the endowment funded by Christ Church, left the cemetery with minimal funding and in serious difficulties.  Monuments and burial vaults were in disrepair, and general maintenance on the chapel and other buildings had been delayed for too long.  Eventually, drug dealers, gang members and prostitutes began to occupy the cemetery.  Although attempts to restore the cemetery were initiated throughout the 1980s and 90s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the Cemetery on its 1997 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.  As a result, many gifts and donations were soon received. Congress provided one million dollars in matching funds in 1999 to create an endowment for basic maintenance, and a 2002 Congressional appropriation helped fund restoration.  Today the cemetery is still owned by Christ Church, but since 1976 it has been managed by the non-profit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

One of the more creative management techniques of the Association was the formation of a dog walkers club at the cemetery. The dogwalkers now play a vital role in the running of Congressional Cemetery.  In addition to making up a major portion of the volunteer efforts to maintain the cemetery, donations by the dogwalking members provide enough income to cover the cost of the grounds maintenance contracts.  Additionally, the presence of dogwalkers at almost every hour of the day constitutes a de facto on site patrol all day long, keeping the grounds clear of drug dealers, prostitutes, vandals, and other undesirable elements that had contributed to its decline in the past.  It’s not all business though.  In addition to being able to walk their dogs off-leash over more than 35 fenced-in acres, the dogwalkers enjoy social activities with their animals like “Yappy Hours” in the spring, photos with Santa at Christmas, and the Blessing of the Animals in October.  Membership is a requirement of dogwalking privileges in the cemetery, but it is so popular that there is a waiting list.

Recently, the Association also employed a creative solution to a unusual landscaping problem.  They partnered with Eco-Goats, a company that uses grazing goats to restore land overgrown with unwanted weeds.  They brought in a herd of more than 100 ravenous billies and nannies, and even a few kids, who “goatscaped” the exterior perimeters of the grounds as an “innovative green project.”  The goats grazed 24 hours a day for six days, and eliminated vines, poison ivy, ground cover and even fallen debris, all the while they fertilized the ground.

The Historic Congressional Cemetery provides a unique blend of the past and the present, and is well worth a visit.

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Click on this photo to take a virtual tour of Historic Congressional Cemetery.