VIDEO: Representative O’Donnell promoted to Lt. Commander

Representative Michael O’Donnell (R-St. Louis) received Monday a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, on the Missouri House Chamber floor.  In front of his House colleagues, O’Donnell accepted the promotion in a ceremony that combined Navy traditions with House traditions. It was conducted by Representative Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill), a Navy veteran.  House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis) assisted in the ceremony.

Mother says Marine son lives on in acts, honors by family and friends

The mother of a Perryville Marine says he lives on in the acts of kindness his friends and family do in his name.

Friends, family, and superiors often said when remembering Trevor Richardet that he was known for his “infectious smile.” (photo courtesy; Amy Hager)

Missouri House members last month honored Lance Corporal Trevor Richardet, who died in September at the age of 19, due to injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident while stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Richardet decided at 17 to join the Marines.  He went to boot camp in San Diego, California, and trained at Fort Leonard Wood before being stationed at Camp Lejeune.  He was able to wear his dress blues to walk across the stage for his high school graduation.

“He was my right hand for a long time,” said Richardet’s mom, Amy Hager.  “Anything you asked of him, he was always willing to help.  He was always willing to lend a helping hand.”

Representative Rick Francis (R-Perryville) said Richardet was a “great young man,” who, “enjoyed life but also was respectful.  It seemed like he had instilled in him the discipline even before he went into the military.”

When Richardet was brought home for his funeral, he was escorted from St. Louis by Patriot Guard riders and 50 to 100 Perryville residents.  Then as his body arrived in Perryville, hundreds of local residents turned out along the streets to “light his way” home.

“Starting at the Arnold overpass … there were fire trucks and people on every single overpass with lights on,” said Hager.  “Then once we got to the Perryville exit and we drove through town to the funeral home, the streets were lined with people holding flashlights and candles … all the way from the time we got off the interstate to the time we got to the funeral home.”

“It was just overwhelming.  I mean, it was amazing, but being in the situation I was in as a parent, that was just completely overwhelming to see that,” said Hager.

27 of Richardet’s fellow Marines took a bus from North Carolina all the way to Perryville to be present for his funeral, and six of them served as pallbearers.  Hager has kept in touch with some of those Marines as part of her effort to keep her son’s memory alive.

Trevor Richardet’s superiors noted he never lost a sense of wonder and awe at life, including the work being done by the Marines. (photo courtesy; Amy Hager)

“I don’t want his story to end just because he’s not here,” said Hager.  “We’ve stayed in contact with the Marines that came here, and they’re deployed right now, and my family and friends have got together three different times and sent them care packages … like 30 care packages going out each time.”

Another ongoing effort to remember Richardet will be a stipend that will go to seniors graduating from Perryville High School and going into the military.

“My intent is that once they complete boot camp and they have to buy a plane ticket to fly home for their leave before they go on, I want to pay for that plane ticket to fly them home,” said Hager.

That stipend has already been given to one graduate, who Hager learned was a friend of Richardet’s and who said Richardet inspired him to join the military.

He will also be honored at a Veterans memorial in Perryville and by a memorial at the Perryville High School.

Hager said the Marines who came to Perryville shared stories about how Richardet often helped them with car repairs to save them the cost of a trip to a mechanic, or how he would go out of his way to help anyone who needed it.

Trevor Richardet’s mother, father, stepfather, grandparents, and brothers receive copies of a resolution honoring Trevor and U.S. flags that flew over the Missouri Capitol on Veterans Day 2018. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

On May 8, Hager and Richardet’s father, Chad Richardet, stepfather, Mark Hager, and other members of the family, were presented with a resolution from the House and a pair of United States flags that flew over the Missouri Capitol on Veterans Day, 2018.

“His selfless service to our nation gave him fulfillment and made his family and friends extremely proud,” Francis said of Richardet that day.  “Our nation is the greatest in the world because of dedicated individuals like Trevor Richardet.  Without their willingness to sacrifice and serve we would not be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In addition to his parents, Richardet is survived by five brothers and his grandparents.

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and families honored in Missouri Capitol ceremony

Today hundreds of Vietnam veterans and their families gathered in the Missouri State Capitol, where they were honored by members of the House as well as Governor Mike Parson and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe.

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans gathered in the Missouri Capitol for a ceremony to honor them during the ongoing 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The ceremony was part of the continuing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that conflict.

“It is our hope that today and each day forward that you will always know that your state legislature, along with those serving in the executive and the judicial branch and the people of our great State of Missouri have not forgotten you, our Vietnam veterans, and we will never forget your service.  To you we are forever grateful,” Grant City Representative Allen Andrews (R) told the veterans and family members who filled the rotunda.

Click here to view a montage of photos taken during the ceremony

Andrews spearheaded the ceremony, which continues an annual tradition started by former state representative Pat Conway (D-St. Joseph) who left the legislature due to term limits.

Vietnam War veterans and their families gathered in the Missouri State Capitol rotunda for a ceremony honoring them during the ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that conflict. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Unfortunately [for] many of you here today this will be the first time that you have been honored.  This potentially may be the first time that you have been offered a sincere, ‘Thank you,’ for your service to our state and to our nation,” said Andrews.

Governor Parson, who served 6 years in the Army, said it wasn’t until he wore the uniform that he understood the importance of the U.S. flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“When I did figure out what it all meant, it wasn’t about me wearing the uniform.  It wasn’t necessarily about you wearing the uniform.  It was about all the people that wore the uniform before me and you.  It was about the sacrifices they made for our county,” said Parson.  “The only reason that we’re all here today, the only reason all of us have lived the American dream … is because of the sacrifices people made before you – the sacrifices to this country, to this service.  They stood on solid ground for me and you.”

Parson said he also wanted to thank another group, “that normally don’t get to be recognized and sometimes we take them for granted.”

Missouri House members wait during a ceremony to honor Vietnam War veterans to present those veterans with pins commemorating their service and the 50th anniversary of that conflict. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Today I also want to say, ‘thank you,’ to the mothers, fathers, wives, children, relatives, and friends that so many times worried and prayed for us while we were overseas, while we were gone from home.  They truly deserve distinction themselves for their service to the country by helping us when we served,” said Parson.

All the veterans who attended were pinned with a lapel pin proclaiming the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.  The pins were meant to recognize, thank, and honor those who served in that conflict.  The pins were presented by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and several House members.

“Allow me to offer you our most sincere gratitude for the selfless service that you have provided to our country.  This is a nation that is rich in tradition of heroism, of bravery, that is exhibited by outstanding individuals like you – Americans who put love of country before love of self,” said Andrews.

House votes to require veterans courts in all jurisdictions in Missouri

Every circuit court in the State of Missouri would have to have at least one veterans treatment court in its jurisdiction under a bill approved by the Missouri House.

Representative Dave Griffith (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Treatment courts utilize an intensive program of court supervision, drug or alcohol testing, and rehabilitation to help defendants overcome substance abuse, mental, emotional, or behavioral issues and keep them from re-offending.

Veterans treatment courts specifically focus on those who have served or currently serve in the military.  Many of their needs, including drug testing, utilize the Veterans Administration’s services.

Lawmakers said there is one circuit in the state that does not have a treatment court program.

House Bill 547 would require every circuit court in the state to establish a treatment court division.  For courts in which resources are not available for a veterans court, it would allow defendants who are veterans to have their cases transferred to any court in the circuit.

The bill is sponsored by Jefferson City representative Dave Griffith (R), who served in the Army as a Green Beret.

“When a soldier, a sailor, a marine, or an airman goes into battle, that experience changes who they are, and many of them come out of that experience and that situation different people.  They make decisions they very well would not have made prior to going on the battlefield.  Many turn to alcohol or drugs and because of those choices they can find themselves on the wrong side of the law,” said Griffith.  “The veterans treatment courts throughout the state will give these men and women an opportunity to clear their names, to get a clean record, and give them a second chance at life, but more importantly it will show them that we have not given up on them.”

Griffith said passing HB 547 would help mitigate the number of suicides among veterans in Missouri.

“#22 stands for the number of veterans committing suicide every day [nationwide].  This bill will show our veterans and military that we do care and we want to give them the second chance that they deserve,” said Griffith.

The bill would specify that veterans who had been in combat would be given preference by courts in determining whether to have their cases handled by a veterans court.  That provision was offered by Pleasant Hill Republican Mike Haffner, a retired Naval Officer and decorated combat veteran.

Representative Mike Haffner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Let’s face it.  Men were never meant to kill men,” said Haffner.  “Every individual that goes into combat is changed psychologically.  They are never the same again, and the part that’s hard about this is the assimilation when we come back home.  For those that haven’t been in combat they don’t understand, coming into a room like this is not the same.  We’re forever changed … some can cope and some cannot.”

Some lawmakers expressed concerns about having courts prioritize combat veterans ahead of non-combat veterans, but Haffner maintains that no one who could benefit from veterans courts will be turned away.

“Given the triage priorities that they list [in the bill] I cannot think of a situation where any of the circuit courts, especially here in the State of Missouri, where this is going to be an issue given the number of vets that we have and how few of them are combat vets,” said Haffner.

Griffith thanked his colleagues for supporting the bill and said it is a further effort to honor veterans.

“When I was separated from the service my first sergeant told me not to wear my uniform home, but to wear civilian clothes.  As many of us walked through airports either returning home from deployment or separating from the service, we were cursed at, we were spit on, we were called ‘baby killers,’ and the list goes on and on.  Today when I look on Facebook and I see posts of soldiers receiving standing ovations in airports when they are making their way to their planes it brings a tear to my eye.” said Griffith.  “This bill will further support our veterans and military by giving them another resource to help them get the support they need so very badly.”

HB 547 would give courts until August 28, 2021 to establish a treatment court division.  The House voted 149-3 to send the bill to the Senate.

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

The Missouri House is one vote away from proposing that Missouri legalize the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from certain terminal or debilitating conditions.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who is also a doctor.

“There’s a lot of people in my world, from the hospice and the long-term care world, that feel that this would be appropriate for people to ease the pain, suffering, and the side-effects of the opioids and this might be the best way to go,” said Neely.  He said the bill would give people, “another option at the end stages of life.”

House members including Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) spoke about loved ones that might benefit from the legislation, such as his mother and sister who have multiple sclerosis.

Fitzwater said their neurologist, who he knows and trust, has said they should have the option of using marijuana for pain treatment.

“I trust his opinion.  He went to medical school.  He knows what he’s talking about.  He’s spent his career focused on multiple sclerosis and his patients are mainly multiple sclerosis patients,” said Fitzwater.  When he tells me that … [my] mom or [my] sister should have the option to come to their neurologist and discuss treatment options for pain – and this is a gentleman who is as professional as anybody I’ve ever met – they ought to have that opportunity.”

“Patients that have these debilitating diseases ought to have an option … when the doctors agree and there are professionals involved that know more about what’s going on with those patients than we do,” said Fitzwater.

Representative Gina Mitten (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) said a colleague of hers who is a practicing attorney must break her oath to uphold the law by using marijuana to treat her epilepsy, rather than use the prescription drugs that caused her to have a psychotic episode among other side effects.

“How is it that it’s okay to have to spend a night, or two nights, or three nights in a hospital due to medication that’s been prescribed and creates all kinds of other side effects, as opposed to something that we know in other states has worked very well for this disease?” asked Mitten.

Pacific Republican Paul Curtman sponsored adding PTSD to the legislation.  He described what he knows some of his fellow comrades in the Marine corps faced, and said leaving this issue facing veterans out of the bill would be a “travesty.”

He spoke about a fellow Marine from Missouri whose experience overseas included having to routinely wash the blood of friends out of the back of a Humvee.  Curtman said the man was prescribed by the Veterans’ Administration drugs that had numerous side effects.  For a time he used marijuana and that worked for him, but he was arrested and forced to return to the drugs prescribed by the VA.

“The VA came by and said if you ever [use marijuana] again you’re jeopardizing your ability to use any of your VA benefits.  So, after being on house arrest for a while with the VA checking up on him to make sure that he was taking the synthetic drugs that the VA wanted him to take, his father came home just a few weeks later only to find that his son had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” said Curtman.

Under the bill the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would issue medical cannabis registration cards to approved patients, or to parents in the cases of minor parents.  The bill would only allow the use of smokeless forms of marijuana.  HB 1554 also lays out how marijuana could be legally cultivated by licensed growers under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.  Two years ago the House rejected a bill that would have asked voters whether to legalize the limited, medical use of marijuana.

House votes to expand definition of ‘service dog,’ criminalize faking a service animal

The Missouri House has voted to expand the state’s legal definition of what qualifies as a “service dog,” and to make illegal the faking of having a service animal.

A service dog, with training that includes waiting patiently for long periods, lays next to its master during a meeting in a hearing room in the Missouri State Capitol. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bills 1369 and 2031 are aimed at making life better for those who legitimately have service dogs and service animals, according to sponsor Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles).  She said such people make up a growing segment of society, as the list of conditions dogs can help with continues to grow.

“There are a lot of soldiers, there are a lot of seniors who either have, say, PTSD or some ailment or disability that’s not visible that when they go into the public, even though ADA says these are service dogs, entities or businesses or even individuals don’t understand that because you don’t see a disability; it’s not visible,” said Sommer.

HB 1369 changes the definition of “service dog” to include psychiatric service dogs and mental health service dogs.  The definition covers dogs that serve individuals with conditions including panic attacks, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sommer said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has left the definition of what is considered a “service dog” in kind of a gray area, so HB 1369 will make clear what animals qualify as service dogs.

HB 2031 would add to Missouri’s law against impersonating a person with a disability the crime of misrepresenting a dog or animal as a service dog or assistance animal.  It would make those misdemeanors punishable by up to fifteen days in jail, or up to 6 months for repeated violations.

Backers of HB 2031 said when people fake having a service animal it casts doubt on individuals who really do have them.  Sommer said such fraud causes other issues as well, when untrained dogs have been, “attacking service dogs in training, them attacking patrons of a restaurant; airplanes are starting to crack down too because what happens is a service dog goes through training – how to handle and airplane, how to handle that pressure, how to handle the different noises, how to handle that small little area they have to be in, whereas a pet, if you try to bring them on a plane and say, ‘Oh, this is a service dog,’ I mean think of what it does to a person.  They’ll freak out,” said Sommer.

St. Louis Democrat Tracy McCreery said she initially thought HB 2031 was not necessary, but has reversed that opinion.

Representative Chrissy Sommer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“I think a lot of us see now, when we go out to eat or out into social settings, there seem to be a lot more dogs in places where normally animals are not permitted, like restaurants and things like that, so we need to kind of get a handle on things, if you will.  Several states – I think there have been about 19 states that have cracked down on these fake services dogs,” said McCreery.  “What the lady’s bill will do, I think, is help make things more comfortable for those families and people that actually have legitimate service dogs.”

HB 2031 would require the Commission on Human Rights to use its existing complaint hotline to take reports of individuals believed to be faking having a disability or a service animal.

It would also require the Governor’s Council on Disability to design a placard that restaurants and other businesses could display stating that service dogs are welcome and that misrepresentation of a service dog is illegal.  A brochure would also be created to help business owners know what questions are allowed and guidelines on how to behave around service animals.

Each bill received only one “no” in the House’s vote to send them to the Senate for consideration.

Additional audio:

“Because people are taking untrained pets into public areas and telling people, ‘This is a service dog,’ what happens is the dog that’s not trained, in some situations, they’ll panic, they’ll attack the people around them, they’ll go to the bathroom, they’ll bark, they’ll be disruptive,” said Sommer.

 

 

Bill to legalize limited medical marijuana in Missouri heard in House committee

Again this year the Missouri House has heard testimony on whether the state should legalize marijuana for limited medicinal use.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cameron doctor and state representative Jim Neely (R) has proposed allowing the use of marijuana to treat terminal conditions.  Neely said his House Bill 1554 would expand on legislation that became law in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  It would also expand on Missouri’s “right to try” law that allows doctors and patients to use drugs that haven’t completed the approval process of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The House Committee on General Laws heard from people who said marijuana did help or could have helped their loved ones.  Jane Suozzi said her daughter Kim was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly before she graduated with two degrees from Truman State University in 2011.

After studying and pursuing multiple experimental treatments Kim turned to marijuana shortly after her diagnosis.

“Kim viewed marijuana the same as all the other experimental options she pursued.  She didn’t enjoy it but it gave her some additional hope and sometimes relieved her nausea,” Jane Suozzi testified.  “I appreciate Doctor Neely’s efforts to afford people like Kim potentially life-extending access to experimental treatments including medical cannabis.”

The committee also heard from a number of veterans and organizations that represent them.  Kyle Kisner served in the Missouri National Guard for seven years and spent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He said for years he was treated with opioids for pain and benzodiazepines for depression, during which time he said his personality was altered and he twice attempted suicide.

“Cannabis allows me to focus.  It’s allowed me to consistently hold some kind of employment for the past few years, and for the past year-and-a-half I’ve gone back to school and I’m currently finishing up two bachelor’s degrees at Lindenwood University; something I couldn’t do when I was nodding out on three to four hours a day taking some kind of opioid or something for anxiety,” said Kisner.  “There’s thousands of veterans out there that are taking that.  You guys asked if this is medicine.  I say, ‘Yes, absolutely, without a doubt this is medicine.’”

The Missouri Prosecutor’s Association spoke against the proposal.  Its lobbyist, Woody Cozad, said for Missouri to pass legislation legalizing marijuana at any level would fly in the face of federal statute.

“Nullification was decided by the Civil War.  Whether this legislature has previously attempted to nullify federal gun law or anything else doesn’t alter the fact that under our system of government, the system for which all of these veterans including myself fought, the states don’t nullify federal laws,” said Cozad, “and it just creates a confusion that at least our members can have a lot of difficulty dealing with.”

Legislators noted that Missouri already has laws that conflict with federal laws, and questioned whether prosecuting people like those who testified for the bill – veterans and those with serious medical conditions – would be a priority for any prosecutors.

Kansas City Democrat Jon Carpenter told Cozad several states have already legalized marijuana to some extent, in spite of federal law, “and I don’t see the mass confusion happening, so I’m not sure why we would anticipate having a different experience if we were to go down this path in Missouri.”

Neely said his bill, as it is written, is about improving quality of life for patients.

“I remember, I may have been an intern, a doctor telling me that his goal as he was near the end of his life as a physician, what he did in life was to provide some comfort to people, and I guess that resonated with me,” said Neely.  “I think that’s what I’m after is that I’ve seen people struggle.  Narcotics aren’t effective, pain control, anxiety, depression, a variety of other issues that the marijuana may be beneficial.”

The committee has not voted on Neely’s bill.  Last year he filed the same language in House Bill 437 and it was voted out of two committees but was not debated in the full House.

Defense Department responds to House request for closure about Missourians missing from Vietnam War

A state representative has been “frustrated” in his effort to speed up a determination of what happened to 15 Missourians in the Vietnam War.  The federal government, meanwhile, is looking for DNA from the families of two of those men.

The Missouri House honors Vietnam Veterans with resolutions and a standing ovation, on March 31, 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The legislature in May passed House Concurrent Resolution 35, which asked the federal government to make it a priority to determine what happened to 15 Missouri men presumed killed in that war.  This week Missouri House members received a response to that Resolution from Fern Sumpter Winbush, the Acting Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

In a letter Mrs. Winbush summarized the Agency’s efforts to account for the 15 men named in HCR 35 and described the process that goes into learning the final disposition of missing U.S. military personnel.  She also noted that the Department has DNA for 13 of those 15 Missourians, to which it can compare DNA from unidentified human remains, but it has no DNA samples for Lieutenant Commander Charles Weldon Marik of Oakland and Captain Dwight Gray Rickman of Joplin.

Read more about Lt. Commander Marik and Capt. Rickman at the bottom of this article

Representative Tom Hurst offered HCR 35 after hearing the story of the family of Private First Class Paul Alfred Hasenbeck, and their effort to find out what happened to him in Vietnam. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tom Hurst (R-Meta) sponsored HCR 35, and has read the Agency’s response.

“If you go by what you’re being told … they know of these people, they’re trying to find them, and they’re doing what they can to do it, so given that it’s almost like I got the impression that, ‘You can pass a resolution, you can write us letters, we’re doing all we can but nothing more is gonna be done that isn’t already done,” said Hurst.

Hurst said he is learning what impact efforts such as this resolution actually have when they reach Washington D.C.  In this case he said he has received one letter basically acknowledging that HCR 35 has been received.

“I know they have a lot going on up there but it’s kind of disheartening whenever you go through that much work to get a resolution passed and then it’s basically ignored,” said Hurst.

Hurst said he will look for other avenues to push for resolution in the cases of these 15 men and that could include asking Governor Eric Greitens (R), himself a former Navy SEAL, to get involved.

“I know it’s not much to me or you, but just to get back maybe [a soldier’s] dog tags could give that family something to hold just for some closure,” said Hurst.  “It sounds simple and it seems simple, but whenever you deal with government, naturally, it’s got to be difficult.”

Hurst said much of that difficulty lies not with the U.S. Government but with the government in Vietnam, where there could be roadblocks to locating remains or belongings or to retrieving some believed to already have been located.

Representative Pat Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Joseph representative Pat Conway (D), a Vietnam veteran, supported HCR 35.  Conway said he was satisfied with the response from DPAA.

“I think they are still at least indicating that they are on track,” said Conway.

Conway hopes the search efforts will continue.

“Those of us who have a connection to Vietnam have always felt that some of those soldiers didn’t get the fairness that they deserved and, I think, the respect for those who didn’t make it back,” said Conway.  “We can keep trying.  It’s not that huge of a cost, and if some of those people can be able to say that their family members are, to a certain extent, more accounted for, I think that the pursuit of the information and Representative Hurst’s drive in trying to get this done is going to be something that will be helpful in the long run.”

Meanwhile Conway, Hurst, and other legislators are hopeful that relatives of Captain Rickman and Lieutenant Commander Marik can be found and put in touch with the Marine or Navy casualty offices that could potentially secure a DNA sample from them.  Anyone in those families or who knows of them could contact the Missouri House Communications Office, attention Mike Lear, for help.

The other 12 men listed in HCR 35 who fought in Vietnam and are presumed dead are:  Private First Class Paul Alfred Hasenbeck, First Lieutenant Steven Neil Bezold, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donald Martin Cramer, First Lieutenant William R. Edmondson, Private First Class Dickey W. Finley, First Lieutenant Frederick William Hess Jr., Major Carl D. Miller, First Lieutenant Bernard Herbert Plassmeyer, Lieutenant Colonel Dayton William Ragland, Captain Robert Page Rosenbach, Captain John W. Seuell, First Lieutenant George Craig Smith, and Sergeant Randolph Bothwell Suber.

Captain Dwight Gray Rickman

On Christmas Day, 1972, Marine First Lieutenant Dwight Gray Rickman was the observer on an observation plane on a reconnaissance mission over southern Vietnam.  During the flight radio contact with the plane was lost and it never returned to base.  Search and rescue efforts failed to find the plane or its crew.  Years later Rickman was promoted to Captain.

The Department of Defense investigated the case seven times in Vietnam, including the excavation of two possible burial sites, but Rickman’s remains have not been found and he remains unaccounted for.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Weldon Marik

On June 25, 1966, Navy Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Charles Weldon Marik was the bombardier/navigator on a fighter jet flying a combat mission over northern Vietnam.  The plane was hit by enemy fire and both Marik and the pilot ejected over the South China Sea.  The pilot was recovered but Marik was never found.  He was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

In the 1990s, Department of Defense teams met with residents of coastal villages in case anyone remembered Lieutenant Commander Marik’s remains washing ashore.  No evidence to that end was found and he is believed to have been lost at sea.

House pushes for closure for families of missing Missourians from Vietnam War

The Missouri House has voted to urge the federal government to determine what happened to 15 Missourians who fought in the Vietnam War.

Representative Tom Hurst (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Tom Hurst (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Of 35 Missourians unaccounted for in that war, 20 are classified as killed in action.  15 Missourians are presumed dead.

The sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 35, Meta Republican Tom Hurst, said it’s time the families of those 15 soldiers know definitively what happened to them.

“When our nation has the opportunity to bring our fallen heroes home and to provide closure to the families who simply want to know what happened to their loved ones and to give them an honorable burial, it’s heartbreaking to see our nation fall short in its duties and to see these families forced to live for decades with the pain of loss and uncertainty,” said Hurst.

HCR 35 would ask the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to prioritize resolution of the cases of those 15 men.

“This is a country that should honor and revere its heroes.  This should not be a nation that forgets those that have given their lives in services, and we should not be a people who abandon those who have fought and died for our freedoms,” said Hurst.

Hurst shared on the House floor the story of Private First Class Paul Alfred Hasenbeck of Freeburg, who disappeared while returning from a patrol in Vietnam.  His sister, Jeanie, is still looking for information on what happened to him.

“Throughout her efforts she has been frustrated by conflicting and confusing information.  Officials from the Pentagon have disputed information provided by U.S. intelligence services regarding the whereabouts of her brother.  The C.I.A. told her that they have no files on her brother after she had already obtained several C.I.A. documents from other sources,” said Hurst.  “Then she later found out that a museum in North Vietnam’s Hanoi once held 13 pieces of Paul Hasenbeck’s personal identification including his wallet, his social security card, his dog tags … The North Vietnamese government claimed to have no information detailing Paul’s fate.  Clearly someone knows something.”

Hurst said Jeanie Hasenbeck told him, “When Paul went to Vietnam, I know he expected to be wounded.  I know he expected to be killed, but he never expected to be abandoned.”

St. Joseph Democrat Pat Conway is a Vietnam Veteran.  He said people who fought for this country should not be left behind, and their families should not be left with questions.

“If we owe a debt, we owe a debt to those people who served, but we carry on that debt to those families who supported those servicemen,” said Conway.  “Especially in this resolution, for those servicemen and those families who have not had the answer to the questions that they’ve had for over four decades.”

Besides Hasenbeck, the Resolution lists the other 14 Missourians who fought in Vietnam and are presumed dead:  First Lieutenant Steven Neil Bezold, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donald Martin Cramer, First Lieutenant William R. Edmondson, Private First Class Dickey W. Finley, First Lieutenant Frederick William Hess Jr., Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Weldon Marik, Major Carl D. Miller, First Lieutenant Bernard Herbert Plassmeyer, Lieutenant Colonel Dayton William Ragland, First Lieutenant Dwight G. Rickman, Captain Robert Page Rosenbach, Captain John W. Seuell, First Lieutenant George Craig Smith, and Sergeant Randolph Bothwell Suber.

The resolution has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Veterans Committee chair: the path is clear on addressing veterans awaiting long-term care

State lawmakers now have information from the federal government that could make clear the path forward on creating more places for veterans on a waiting list to get into the state’s veterans homes.

Representative Charlie Davis (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Charlie Davis (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That waiting list has around 1800 veterans on it; about one-third of those have an immediate need for care.  Legislators and state officials have in recent years considered building another state veterans home, replacing and/or expanding an existing home, or looking for options to get veterans into existing nursing homes closer to their own homes and families.

Missouri exceeds the number of veterans home beds it is allowed by the federal government before it will no longer reimburse the state for adding more.  This has largely halted efforts that included attempts to pass a bond issue in the legislature to pay for a new home, at a cost now estimated to be around $60-million.

Webb City Republican Charlie Davis, in an e-mail last week to House members and staff, said the state Veterans Commission recently met with the Veterans Association about Missouri’s options for adding bed space.  He said the VA confirmed it would not support the building of a new home.  It would cover part of the cost to replace a home.

Davis said if a home will be replaced, it will be the home at Mexico.

“It is one of our oldest homes.  It is one that is absolutely in need of some renovation and possibly so much renovation that it would cost quite a bit to actually take care of what needs to be done,” said Davis.

A new home to replace the one at Mexico would have about 50 additional beds.

To further address the state’s waiting list, Davis said the state could utilize existing space at nursing homes throughout Missouri.  The difference is that veterans don’t have to liquidate their assets to enter a veterans home, whereas a person benefitting from Medicaid support to go into a nursing home must spend down their assets to get below the income threshold for assistance.

Davis wants to seek a waiver from the federal government so that federal dollars coming to Missouri could be used for part of the cost of care for veterans in nursing homes.  The remainder of that cost would come from state aid and individual veterans’ own money.

“We do have some beds in all of our facilities across the state of Missouri, that would love to take care of our veterans, honor them, and do a fantastic job,” said Davis.

With the deadline to file new legislation for this year passed and four weeks left in the legislative session, Davis said it could be next year before the legislature can consider seeking the necessary federal waiver.

Davis, who is the chairman of the House Veterans Committee, said he is anxious to see action taken to provide homes and care for those who fought for the country.

“But the compassion, the love that we have, the honor that we have for veterans has to be met with the ability to fund it.  If we do not have the ability to fund it then we absolutely cannot do it,” said Davis.

Hannibal representative Lindell Shumake (R) has a resolution that would ask voters to approve $63-million in bonds that could go toward replacing the veterans home in Mexico.  That resolution (HJR 2) has passed out of one committee and awaits a second committee’s action.