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Press Releases

Grinder Hosts 2nd Annual Women Veterans Summit in Nashville

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; April 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder hosted the Second Annual Women Veterans Summit today in Nashville. The inaugural event was co-sponsored by the Women Veterans of America Chapter 20.

More than 150 attendees heard from several inspirational veterans. Speakers included State Senator and Marine Veteran Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) on Saturday and Associate Director of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans Dr. Betty Moseley Brown will speak about new women veterans programs on Sunday, April 14.

Marine Veteran and Country Music Artist Stephen Cochran performed and shared his inspirational story of recovery after a life-changing combat injury he endured while serving in Iraq. Comedian Sheila Van Dyke continued her “Mission of Laughter” for Tennessee’s Women Veterans in attendance.

A panel of VA Experts shared news about changes in federal benefits and healthcare for women veterans. Attendees will also heard from a panel of women veterans regarding their military service and how it has formed their careers and community service. This year’s theme is “Unshakeable Foundation, Unstoppable Force”. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 51,000 Women Veterans in the state of Tennessee.

“As the number of women veterans continues to increase in Tennessee, we are committed to ensuring they are recognized, remembered and informed about federal, local and state resources,” Grinder said. “This networking opportunity will continue to strengthen the unshakeable foundation of our volunteer spirit and equip women veterans to remain an unstoppable force in their communities.”

During the Summit, Harriett Howard was named Tennessee’s Woman Veteran of the Year. Howard joined the United States Navy in 1944 and served for nearly 39 years. She retired at the age of 60. The Chattanooga native was the first woman to receive the “Dr. Joe Nunley Award” and has also been named “Woman of the Year” by WAVES National Unit 94. Howard carried a shoebox everywhere she went over the course of four years and raised $100,000 for the Tennessee Fisher House.

For more information, visit the women veterans page on the department’s website at http://www.tn.gov/veteran/womensvets.shtml, facebook.com/myTDVA or stay up to date by following the department on twitter @TNDVA.

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Press Releases

Haslam Remembers Tennessee’s, Nation’s Fallen on Pearl Harbor Day

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; December 6, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced December 7, 2012 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

On December 7, 1941 more than 3,500 Americans serving in the United States military stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, were killed or wounded in an unprovoked attack by the Air and Naval forces serving Japan.

Images of burning battleships and the grief of lives dominated the entire country and American allies. During an address to the American people, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941 is a “date which will live in infamy”.

The United States Congress, by Public Law 103 308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day” to recognize and honor brave heroes who died and demonstrate deep gratitude and admiration for their sacrifice.

“It has been 71 years since the attacks on Pearl Harbor, a day that changed our country,” Haslam said. “Twenty Tennessee service members were killed on the USS Arizona during the attack, along with thousands of other American heroes, and today we remember their sacrifice.”

“The attacks on Pearl Harbor fortified our Nation’s spirit, but the darkness of that day remain burned in the memories of survivors,” Grinder said. “On this day, we remember the precious lives lost, the Veterans who survived that unprovoked attack and the families who lost loved ones. It is a privilege to meet, listen and learn from Pearl Harbor survivors and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of that opportunity while it still exists.”

Commissioner Grinder will present Governor Haslam’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Proclamations to Pearl Harbor survivors William Ferguson, George Westover as well as Tennessee Valley Healthcare System Director Juan Morales during the Pearl Harbor Day 71st Anniversary Commemoration ceremony at the Flynn G. Humphreys Chapel at the VA Medical Center- Nashville, 1310 24th Avenue South, at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, December 7. Media contact is Christopher Alexander at (615) 873-7932.

Commissioner Grinder will also present the Governor’s proclamation during Senator Bob Corker’s Rally Point Veterans Outreach Event at the Gallatin Civic Center, 210 Albert Gallatin Avenue at 9:00 a.m. (CST) on Friday, December 7. Media contact is Micah Johnson or Chuck Harper at (202) 228-6523.

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Press Releases

State Flag Presented to Fmr. Marine Biking Around Nation for Wounded Troops

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs; June 1, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears presented the state flag to former Marine Corporal Scot King. King has been traveling the country on a bicycle to raise awareness and money for service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Portland, Oregon native started the first leg of his journey in May of 2011. This phase of the King’s journey started in April 2012 and will cover 12,000 miles.

“Scot’s commitment to wounded Veterans is admirable and inspirational,” Grinder said. “We are honored to be a part of his journey and to present him with the state flag on behalf of our wounded Tennessee Veterans.”

King is collecting state flags to take back to Portland to present to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum during a Veterans Day ceremony in 2013. He is also interviewing veterans wounded in combat for a series of books that will tell their stories.

To find out more about Scot King’s biking journey, you can visit the Remember the Wounded Ride website at http://www.RTWR.org/.

The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs is organized to accomplish its mission of serving Tennessee’s Veterans and their families with dignity and compassion, and being their principle advocate in ensuring they receive the care, support, earned entitlements, and recognition they earned in service to our nation. For more information, visit the department’s web site at www.tn.gov/veteran, facebook/myTDVA or twitter @TNDVA.

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NewsTracker Tax and Budget

VA Asks for Budget Increase to Aid Veterans Challenged by ‘Red Tape’

Knowing full well that the governor is looking to trim back hundreds of millions of dollars in next year’s state budget, the Department of Veterans Affairs is asking for a spending increase.

Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said the department’s $4.8 million annual state budget would struggle to withstand the 5 percent budget cut Gov. Bill Haslam is requesting of all departments at a time when the agency is already working with a small staff and struggling to ensure veterans don’t miss out on benefits.

“Many of our veterans have physical scars. Some battle demons within. And we have veterans’ widows who are living in poverty here in Tennessee. Many of them are just not aware of what they may be entitled to,” she told the governor during a budget hearing in Knoxville last week.

“Some of this is because the laws are complicated and they change. Some of it is because it’s just confusing. Some of our customers, some of the red tape involved would mean that their claim would never get approved so they don’t even try,” she said.

The department’s spending now amounts to about $2.50 on each of the the half-million veterans, 1.5 million dependants and survivors of veterans and 16,000 reserve units it serves. Last year, the agency helped Tennessee veterans collect $820 million in federal entitlements to put back into the economy, according to Grinder.

The department would cut $238,500 if forced to cut 5 percent from its state-funded budget by reducing staff and travel, she told the governor, adding “we feel the impact of every single dollar.”

Instead, Grinder is asking the governor for a $158,000 increase for staffing employees, including retaining one now-vacant benefits representative position, hiring two traveling veterans benefits reps, and reverting one position to a permanently-funded job.

Haslam wouldn’t tip his hand about whether expanding the agency’s budget is in the cards this year, saying only, “We understand all you’re doing with not a whole lot of dollars, and we’re very, very grateful for it.”

The governor is expected to offer a roughly $30 billion budget plan early next year after he devises a plan that cuts the state budget by as much as $400 million to make up for rising costs in education and TennCare that are estimated to exceed the growth in state revenues.

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NewsTracker

Haslam Salutes State Workers Who Served in Armed Forces

Gov. Bill Haslam told a gathering Monday honoring veterans that the reason he was chosen to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer was because Tennessee has one of the strongest contingents of military service personnel in the country.

Haslam spoke at an event on the plaza of the Tennessee Tower in a ceremony that honored a group of state employees who are also veterans. New employees as well as some of the longest-serving employees of the state were among those recognized with certificates.

Veterans Day is Friday.

Haslam said that even though Tennessee is the 17th largest state, it has one of the highest rates of military service in the country.

He went to Iraq and Afghanistan with the governors of Nevada, Kentucky and Utah.

“We were all feeling kind of special. We were on this military jet. They were taking care of us,” Haslam said. “Finally somebody said, ‘How did you pick the four of us to go on this trip?'”

He said they were told it was because their states represented more service members per capita than other states.

“They didn’t invite us because of who we are but because of the positions that we have,” Haslam said. “I got to go somewhere I didn’t deserve because of something other people had done.”

Haslam told the crowd that they all got to enjoy Monday’s event on a warm, sunny day in Nashville “because of other less desirable places — muddy battlefields in Europe, battleships in the Pacific and hot, hot deserts in the Middle East. I could go on and on.”

Major Gen. Mike Maloan, deputy commander of the Tennessee National Guard, talked about the state’s long history of military service, dating back to 1780, before Tennessee was a state, when Col. John Sevier, who would become Gov. John Sevier, made a call to arms to fight against the British, who were defeated in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Many-Bears Grinder, a Bronze Star Medal recipient and a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, spoke to the crowd. Haslam noted that Grinder has also lost a child in military duty.

First Lady Crissy Haslam read the records of the employees who were honored. The program’s moderator, Yvette Martinez, a press aide to Haslam, is a former Marine.

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Health Care Liberty and Justice

New State Veterans’ Homes in Works

Tennessee is in the planning stages for additional state veterans homes in Montgomery and Bradley counties, the state commissioner of Veterans Affairs told the state VFW’s 82nd convention Friday in Nashville.

State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder also lauded conditions at the state’s current veterans homes, and said the state is prepared to open its fourth veterans cemetery in Knoxville in July.

The state has veterans homes in Knoxville, Murfreesboro and Humboldt, and all have received deficiency-free inspections, the commissioner said, adding that it puts them in the 99th percentile of all nursing homes in the state.

“When you walk through those doors, it doesn’t smell like a nursing home,” Grinder said. “That’s a big thing to me.”

The Murfreesboro home recently received a five-star rating from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the highest rating any nursing home can receive.

Ed Harries, executive director of the state’s veterans homes, noted in a recent statement that less than 15 percent of more than 300 nursing facilities in the state are given five-star ratings. The rating includes health inspections, staffing and quality. The Murfreesboro home opened in 1991, the Knoxville home in 2006 and the home in Humboldt 1996. Each has 140 beds.

“Not long ago, the quality in our veterans homes was substandard — shameful, shameful,” Grinder said Friday. “They deserve nothing but the best.”

The state’s homes provide plenty of activity for residents, she said, listing residents’ visits to locations like Graceland, the Jack Daniel’s distillery and an air show.

“It’s not a place just to lay their heads at night. We really try hard to make it a home environment,” she said.

The planned homes in Montgomery and Bradley counties already have funding lined up from federal, state, county, city and donated dollars. The Montgomery County site will be the next to be ready, with Bradley County to follow, and funds are being sought for a home in Memphis.

Not everything about the department is good news, however, according to Grinder. She said she recently met with the head of gold-star mothers in Memphis.

“It was heartbreaking for me to know she had difficulty getting to the grave of her son because of the mud,” Grinder said. “It was heartbreaking for me to see sunken graves because of drainage and erosion. It’s a swamp over there. I’ve asked the U.S. VA what it can do to help us.”

She said the national VA is sending someone to look at the sites in Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson and Memphis and the potential for building more veterans cemeteries in the state. One projected new site for a cemetery is in Madison County.

“Tennessee is a long state. If you are a family member, if you want to go visit your loved one, whether it is in a veterans home or a cemetery, I think we need to be able to have something that makes it a lot easier for families to do so,” Grinder said.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the smallest departments in state government with less than 100 staffers. Grinder has re-organized the department and has named geographical commissioners for each of the state’s three grand divisions. Don Smith serves as assistant commissioner in East Tennessee, Wendell Cheek in Middle Tennessee and Mark Breece in West Tennessee.

Grinder said so far this fiscal year, the department has secured more than $800 million in federal funds for Tennessee’s veterans, their families and survivors. But she pointed to the economic stress on many families.

“There are a lot of economic difficulties right now. A lot of our veterans are really suffering physically and emotionally because of their service to their country, and we cannot afford to fail them.

“What keeps me up at night is I know we still have veterans that don’t know what they may be entitled to. I know we have veterans that are still suffering because they have not received medical care. I know we have widows that are living in poverty that may not know they may be eligible for pensions. And it is our duty to make sure we get this word out.”

Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the convention as well. He said he takes his responsibility as commander in chief of the Tennessee National Guard very seriously.

“We worked hard to protect the things in the Veterans Affairs budget,” Haslam said after the meeting. “We have some significant adds in terms of the new cemetery in Knoxville, and we have some money in there for a new veterans home in Clarksville, which has been long delayed.

“Once we get that done, that kind of frees up the funds where we can do another veterans home in Bradley County. Both of those have been hung up in the process a long time.”

Haslam told the convention audience that the first burial in Knoxville will be a re-burial of a member of the family who provided the property for the Knoxville site, which overlooks the river.

Grinder’s first name began as a nickname, but she legally changed it to make it official. She is a former director of logistics for the Tennessee Army National Guard in Nashville.

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Press Releases

Haslam Names National Guard Colonel Next Veterans Commissioner

Press Release from Gov.-elect Bill Haslam; Jan. 14, 2011:

Grinder’s 35-year Career Began in the Army National Guard as an Enlisted Soldier

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam named COL Many-Bears Grinder with the Tennessee Army National Guard as Commissioner of Veterans Affairs.

Grinder was the Director of Logistics for the Tennessee Army National Guard in Nashville. She served previously as the Director of Personnel, overseeing actions from the time that an individual enlists in the National Guard to the retirement process.

“I’m thankful that Many-Bears Grinder agreed to come aboard our team because she adds great experience to what I believe is an already outstanding group,” Haslam said. “Her thorough knowledge of the issues facing veterans in our state will directly benefit those who served.”

Grinder is a member of several military and veterans associations, including the Military Officers’ Association, American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America.

As Director of Logistics, Grinder supervised more than 340 personnel across the state in service activities, facilities, equipment and support mission requirements. She was responsible for a more than $35 million budget and is a certified Defense Financial Manager, the Defense equivalent of a certified public accountant.

“I am honored to serve Gov.-elect Haslam as well as the men and women who have served their country in the Armed Forces in this capacity,” Grinder said. “Although I will miss wearing the uniform, I will be able to continue my bond with service members, their families and survivors.”

Grinder has master’s in Strategic Studies from Army War College and a master’s in Human Resource Management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a Bronze Star Medal recipient, and she is an Operation Enduring Freedom combat veteran.

Grinder’s first name was originally a nickname that stuck, so she legally changed her name. She is married to Ernie, a Vietnam veteran and military retiree. They have two grown step-sons and four grandchildren. She is an active member of Rehoboth United Methodist Church in Gallatin.

A photo of Grinder can be obtained here.

For more information, please visit www.billhaslam.org.