U.S. military veterans who were stationed in different parts of the Pacific, including the CNMI, while in active service are currently on Saipan to attend the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ 53rd Department of Pacific Areas Convention and the 50th Grand Pacific or Military Order of the Cooties Convention.
Both conventions started yesterday and will run until Thursday at the Hibiscus Hall of the Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan.
This is the second time both conventions were held on Saipan; the last one was in 2004.
Michael “Mike” Verville, commander of the Department of Pacific Areas, said the conventions are held annually to tend to the different businesses and activities that the VFA does every year.
“Our primary mission is to help veterans and also to help the community such as support events and help upgrade schools,” he said. “We annually move to a different location in our area (Pacific). …Whenever there is a need, we get involved and it is always on a grant basis and not on a loan basis because it never has to be paid back…”
Retired U.S. Air Force and DPA adjutant Jerry Chaplin said the five-day convention has a full agenda. That includes electing and installing a new set of DPA officers and talking about the budget for the following year, such as how much money is coming in and how much was spent.
According to outgoing grand commander of the Grand Pacific or Cooties William “Bill” Bradford, the Military Order of the Cootie is recognized as a subordinate and auxiliary order to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
“Our biggest motto is ‘keep them smiling in beds of white’ as we do hospital business. Whenever we hear veterans are in the hospital, we visit them. …They might not see any visitors at all and that’s what we do—we come in to keep them smiling,” he said.
The group tries to do it every month in Guam, the CNMI, and possibly Palau.
The DPA is active in different countries or territories such as South Korea, Japan, Saipan, Guam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Australia. Membership is at 12,028 right now.
Verville said they also pushed issues on toxic agents that affected Blue Water Navy composed of Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean veterans that served during Vietnam era. One of that was called “Agent Orange,” a chemical used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War.
“…They were never ‘boots on the ground’ and as a result, they were not given benefits. …In 1991, the Office of General Council of Veterans Affairs put a stipulation and a technical term ‘boots on the ground’ where one must have been in and touched the ground in Vietnam to receive any of the benefits…”
“On Jan. 29 this year, the federal court overturned that decision of over 10 years. …The decision has become a part of the law of the land,” he added
Verville said that there are about a 100,000 veterans in the Pacific who will benefit from that case. “Many did tours in Vietnam on ships. Now they can start filing claims and be considered for that. I am one of those Blue Water Navy vets. I have diabetes, I can’t see on my left eye die to glaucoma and those are all sub-diseases as a result of ‘Agent Orange.’ Now I am glad I can go in and get treatment 100 percent.”
The opening of the Saipan conventions were attended by Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang.
Verville said that more than $30,000 was donated to the CNMI to help the veterans in this community after Super Typhoon Yutu. “Donations came from the department level, districts and many veterans from our posts donated individually,” he added.