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Cheerleaders' decision to take knee during national anthem upsets vets

Several high school cheerleaders' decision to take a knee Friday night while a VFW Color Guard performed at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, isn’t sitting well with some, especially military veterans.

The gesture has made headlines in recent weeks because of NFL player Colin Kaepernick who has refused to stand while the national anthem is played in protest of racial injustice.  

“They don't know what they are doing, them young kids. They don't know what they are doing,” WWII Army veteran Danny Larocco said.  

Larocco said he didn’t take the photo of the cheerleaders kneeling that has circulated online, but he was there in-person. He said that he and his fellow veterans of VFW 402 in Coraopolis were invited to present the colors before the game.   

Instead of standing like everyone else on the field and in the stands 12 out of 15 cheerleaders kneeled, Larocco said.

>> Read more trending stories    

“I was 16 when I enlisted, fighting Japanese. To see them do that and disgrace Coraopolis and that school, it made me sick,” the military veteran said.  

Cornell School District Superintendent Aaron Thomas, however, said he’s standing by his students’ decision to take a knee.  

“This is a classic case that dates back to the ‘60s, and symbolic speech is protected speech,” he said.  

Thomas said the district supports the students' right to free speech, and he said that he was aware some in the cheerleading squad were going to take a knee in a public protest. Thomas, though, said he’s the first to admit their timing could have been better.  

“I apologize to those individuals on Friday night that I saw. Ideally could this have happened on another night? Yeah, but it happened on the night that it did (and) it created healthy discussion within (the) walls of our building,” the superintendent said.  

Larocco said it all comes down to respect.  

“My friends and everybody else that served in the service, they have that right to be respected. We love our flag very much. We fought for it,” he said.  

Thomas said he cannot predict whether the cheerleaders will continue their protest at the next home game, but he said to be on the safe side, security will be increased.

Did Donald Trump suggest veterans with PTSD 'can't handle' combat?

While speaking to a group of United States military veterans on Monday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made a comment that critics say implied that veterans who kill themselves "can't handle" what they've seen in combat.

"When people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it," Trump said.

>> Read more trending stories

Trump's latest comment provoked a lot of unflattering social media reaction.

Still, many pointed out Trump's remark was part of a larger comment on how the U.S. needs stronger mental health initiatives for veterans to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious issues.

"We're going to have a very, very robust, very, very robust, level of performance having to do with mental health," Trump said.

In the past, Trump has promised to ensure that each veteran gets timely access to health care when they need it through the VA or through private care.

The Trump campaign has yet to comment on Monday's remarks.

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Government to pay for gender reassignment surgery for military members

The U.S. government will, beginning this week, pay for soldiers to undergo treatment and surgery for gender reassignment.

The policy, which was first announced in June, applies to active duty soldiers who have received approval for gender reassignment from a military physician and from their commanding officers, according to the Department of Defense.

The military health program will cover therapy and hormone treatments along with surgery for approved service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The policy does not yet extend to military dependents.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here

The RAND Corp., a nonprofit institute that researches and analyzes government policies, estimates the new DOD plan will cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year.

According to RAND, there are between 2,500 – 7,000 transgender service members on active duty in today’s military.

At least five transgender troops – three sailors or Marines and two airmen – are currently pursuing treatment outside the military health care system, USA Today reported.

Here’s what the policy says:

 • Effective immediately (when it was first announced on June 16, 2016), transgender Service members may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals.

 • These policies will be implemented in stages over the next 12 months—starting most immediately with addressing the needs of current Service members and their commanders, and followed by training for the entire force, and ultimately, beginning to admit transgender recruits.

On June 16, 2016:

• Otherwise qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely for being transgender individuals.

As of Oct. 1, 2016: 

 • The Department will issue a training handbook for commanders, transgender service members, and the force.

 • The Department will issue medical guidance for providing transition related care to transgender service members.

• The Military Health System will be required to provide transgender service members with all medically necessary care related to gender transition, based on the guidance that is issued

Service members will be able to begin the process to officially change their gender in our personnel management systems.

Between October 2016 – June 2017:

• Based on detailed guidance and training materials that will be issued, the services will conduct training of the force — from commanders, to medical personnel, to the operating forces, and recruiters.

Not later than July 1, 2017:

• When the training of the force is complete, the military services will begin accessing transgender applicants who meet all standards—holding them to the same physical and mental fitness standards as everyone else who wants to join the military.

• The gender identity of an otherwise qualified individual will not bar them from joining the military, from admission to our Service Academies, or from participating in ROTC or any other accession program.

 • Our initial accession policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition, and to have been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military.

• This standard will be reviewed no later than 24 months from July 1, 2016 to ensure it reflects what more we learn as this is implemented, as well as the most updated medical information.

• Service members with a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary will be provided medical care and treatment for the diagnosed medical condition, in the same manner as other medical care and treatment.

• Gender transition in the military begins when a service member receives a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, and concludes when the service member’s gender marker is changed in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and the service member serves and is recognized in the preferred gender.

• At that point, the service member is responsible for meeting all applicable military standards in the preferred gender and will use berthing, bathroom, and shower facilities associated with their gender.

 • Any discrimination against a service member based on their gender identity is sex discrimination and may be addressed through the Department’s equal opportunity channels.

Veteran refused Social Security benefits

Phil Sommers says he's paid Social Security taxes for 48 years and now he's 65 years old and ready to retire with his wife, Mari, but said he's being denied his Social Security benefits.

"It doesn't make sense. They took the money. Now they want to keep the money. It's put a lot of strain on myself and my family," Sommers said.

Sommers was born in Canada but vital records show his father was a U.S. citizen. Sommers said he grew up in the U.S. and worked here his entire life.

He showed WSOC'S Whistleblower 9 investigative reporter Paul Boyd what he said is his original Social Security card from 1968.

Sommers also provided a Social Security statement showing 48 years of payments into the system.

>> Read more trending stories  

He wanted to know how Social Security can issue a card, take payments all these years and not pay the benefit.

"They couldn't give me the answer. I asked for the answer," Sommers said.

Whistleblower 9 asked the Social Security Administration for answers.

"Due to privacy laws, we cannot discuss individual cases,” spokeswoman Patti Patterson said. “However, we are in contact with Mr. Sommers and providing assistance. I can provide some general information on requirements for receiving Social Security retirement benefits.When applying for Social Security benefits, one of the eligibility requirements is U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. Social Security does not determine U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. We depend on the agency that issued the document provided, such as Department of Homeland Security, for immigration status and Department of State for U.S. passports, for example."

Sommers' issue hinges on when he became a U.S. citizen. He said immigration officials only consider him a citizen as of 2016.

Whistleblower 9 obtained paperwork from 1972 that clearly showed the government considered Phil Sommers a U.S. citizen at least 44 years ago when he served in the U.S. Army.

"I served honorably with the U.S. Army. I just feel cheated," Sommers said.

Sommers said he should be receiving $809 in Social Security every month plus approximately $28,000 in back pay, because he's been fighting this for almost four years.

His wife said they're not rich and need the money.

"He loves his country and he's getting stepped on. It's just not fair," Mari Sommers said.

Phil Sommers said he's had to start working again. His family has also been in touch with U.S. senators and even wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, but said Sommers still hasn't received a penny.

Sailor reportedly under investigation for sitting during national anthem

A sailor is under investigation by the U.S. Navy for sitting during the national anthem.

U.S. Navy Sailor Janaye Ervin taped herself sitting during the national anthem during a recent morning flag-raising.

Troops who don’t stand for the national anthem could face prosecution under the uniform code of military justice, which states that troops can be punished for failing to obey a lawful general order.


>> Read more trending stories  

The petty officer said she was threatened with jail time by the Navy in response to her actions. She also lost her security clearance, she said. 

Evrin showed herself in the video sitting during the flag. She was seen in the video getting emotional when she talked for several minutes about why she protested during the anthem. >> Read prior story: Sailor 'sits with' Kaepernick during morning colors

Ervin posted a message on her Facebook page explaining her actions, which reads in part, "I feel like a hypocrite singing about the 'land of the free' when I know that only applies to some Americans. I will gladly stand again, when all Americans are afforded the same freedom."

he Facebook post has now been taken down. 

However, many people disagree. There’s a Facebook page called Hold Janaye Ervin Accountable where people call her a traitor and said she brings discredit to the U.S. Navy for her actions.

Some people have started a petition called Keep Black Soldiers Out of Jail for Choosing Not to Stand for National Anthem. It said the sailor should not be punished by jail time or a dishonorable discharge for what she believes in. 

The Navy’s protocol handbook said sailors in uniform must salute during the anthem. They must face the flag,  if they don’t see the flag they have to face the direction of the music. 

Purple Heart recipient's grave marked with veteran's plaque after 32 years

Thirty-one years after his death, a Massachusetts veteran is being recognized for the honors he earned as a Korean War veteran.

Marine Sgt. Donald Mackenzie earned two Purple Hearts, but his grave at Dell Park Cemetery in Natick had no mention of the service and sacrifice.

"I remember him from being a child he was one of my heroes as a child," Jeff Campbell said of his uncle.

Campbell told WFXT that he was shocked the first time he visited the grave, especially because of what his uncle went through.

>> Read more trending stories

"He saw the enemy soldiers coming around with rifles and bayonets, sticking them in his brothers, and also in the grass and paddies looking for other bodies hidden in there," Campbell said. "He was able to avoid being captured."

After the war, Mackenzie had a tough life that included substance abuse and homelessness, that's why Campbell said it was so hard to see his uncle's military past ignored. That changes on Sunday when a plaque and flags were placed at his grave.

"All veterans should be recognized for the sacrifices that they've made," he said.

Natick Veteran Affairs Officer Paul Carew said cases like this are not uncommon, especially if the veteran is not close with their families.

"Once we bury our family member, sometimes the families just don't go back," he said,

Carew arranged to have Sgt. Mackenzie recognized, and his working for others too.

"They served this country to protect me, you and all of us for the freedoms we take for granted way too often in this country," he said.

Sailor gives birth on carrier in Persian Gulf

A Navy ship had a stowaway of sorts on Sunday.

A sailor checked into the medical clinic of the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier suffering from stomach pains, the Navy Times reported.

It turns out that she was pregnant and didn't know it. 

>> Read more trending stories  

Hours later, Navy medical staff delivered a healthy 7-pound baby girl in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

Mother and baby are doing well, a Navy spokesperson said.

And since the closest Babies R Us is thousands of miles from the ship, the Eisenhower had to fly in diapers, formula and an incubator to help care for the baby, the Navy Times reported.

Sailors who find out they're expecting would not deploy or would leave an operational command once they hit 20 weeks.

Sailor 'sits with' Kaepernick during morning colors

A sailor assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola is the subject of a Facebook debate after she followed in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The unnamed woman shared a video her Facebook page of her sitting during the playing of the National Anthem and holding up her left hand in protest. She was apparently on base, WEAR reported.

The video was shared on a military social media page where it has been viewed more than 53,000 times.

>> Read more trending stories  

Lt. Commander Kate Meadows told WEAR that the Navy is aware of the video and disciplinary action is pending.

Meadows told the Navy Times that the sailor will not be discharged, but will move to her next command as planned.

When the National Anthem is played, members of the military are required to stand when they are either in or out of uniform, Meadows said.

The sailor ends the video, which contains explicit language, saying, "I don't not respect the men and women that serve, who I serve alongside. It's just until this country shows that they got my back as a black woman. They have my people's back and not even just being black I mean people of color, I can't and I won't. I won't be forced to."

Kaepernick has been sitting or kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, saying it is a protest of the oppression of minorities in America, Fox Sports reported. Other members of the NFL and other big names in sports have been joining his protest.

Female WWII pilot to finally be laid to rest in Arlington

She flew noncombat missions as a pilot during World War II, but her service wasn't enough to allow Elaine Harmon be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.

Harmon was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. It was a group of women who flew military planes, but on noncombat missions, WRC reported

Their service allowed men to fight on the front lines.

>> Read more trending stories  

Harmon and other servicewomen weren't granted military status in the '40s. It took until 1977 for them to be named veterans.

Since then WASPs were able to be inurned at Arlington. That was until last year, when the Army decided to make WASPs ineligible for Arlington, citing dwindling available space and saying that WASPs shouldn't have been included in the first place, WRC reported.

But Harmon's family fought the new ruling after she died last year at the age of 95. And in May, President Barack Obama signed a law that allows WASPs their rightful resting place in the national cemetery.

Harmon's remains will be inurned during a service with full military honors Wednesday, more than a year after her death.

More than 1,000 women served as WASPs from 1942 until 1944, according to the WASP museum. Thirty-eight died during the war. Now there are fewer than 100 alive, with the youngest being 93 years old, WRC reported.

They test-flew repaired military aircraft, trained combat pilots and towed targets that were shot at with live ammunition. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

It is difficult to be granted in-ground burial at Arlington because of space limitations, but ashes and above-ground inurnment is easier.

WATCH: Navy crew serenades 98-year-old veteran with 'Anchors Aweigh'

World War II veteran Ernest Thompson recently became an internet sensation after a video of him went viral.

<script>(function(d, s, id) {<br />  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];<br />  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;<br />  js = d.createElement(s); = id;<br />  js.src = "//;version=v2.7";<br />  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);<br />}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>Posted by Jonathan Williams on Friday, August 19, 2016

>> Click here to watch

For many years, Thompson made a point to travel to the Pacific Battleship Center, the current home of the USS Iowa. During World War II, Thompson was stationed aboard the USS Missouri, which considered the USS Iowa a “sister” ship.

Due to some recent health problems, Thompson has had to slow down his daily routines, including his trips to see the ship.

Now 98 years old, Thompson is stuck at home and unable to stand or walk for long periods of time.

>> Read more trending stories

So Chief Selects from the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center came to him. They visited Thompson at his home and performed a rendition of “Anchors Aweigh” in the street.

After they were done, each sailor greeted Thompson and thanked him for his service.

“When they found out that my grandfather was unable to visit the (USS Iowa) lately due to health reasons, they decided to take it to him,” Thompson’s grandson Jonathan Williams wrote on Facebook.

“The video shows the culmination of the planning and the amazing efforts of all involved. Neighbors came out of their houses to witness a once in a lifetime experience. My grandfather told me that it was one of the best days of his life! I am humbled by the efforts these young men and women to do this for my grandfather.”

>> See a Facebook post by Williams here

Thank you to USS Iowa Volunteer Coordinator Susan Schmidt for filming a series of awesome videos of the recent Navy...Posted by Jonathan Williams on Friday, August 19, 2016

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