A new medal for drone operators and others not in direct ground combat will be ranked above some long-standing combat valor medals, according to a recent letter from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Toomey asked why the Pentagon decided to rank these medals above some other ground-combat medals. Toomey received a response in which Hagel said he was convinced the new Distinguished Warfare Medal was properly ranked among other medals.
I feel it is a disgrace and a disservice to rank noncombat-related service higher then those medals earned and awarded for combat service. Toomey is correct in standing up to the Department of Defense.
Veterans ask nothing more than to be respected and cared for in our time of need. I have not earned battlefield medals for valor. In one respect, I am glad not to have been in such a position. I witnessed battle from the deck of a ship during the Vietnam War. I was relatively safe even after four shipboard deployments to Vietnam combat waters in the South China Sea and the Tonkin Gulf, oftentimes just a few miles offshore.
I still was infected by the herbicide Agent Orange, as were thousands of other sailors now doing battle with cancer. After over a year, I have been awarded by the Department of Veteran Affairs 100 percent disability combat-related compensation. My mission for these past 24 months has been to fight Congress to approve legislation for VA benefits. So far our legislators have failed to do so.
Will the veterans of today's wars be forgotten in time? Freedom is not free.
John J. Bury
The writer is a U.S. Navy war veteran.
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