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thedrifter
04-11-08, 02:56 PM
No more free medals for Navy families
By: JODY McNICHOL, Dispatch Staff Writer
04/11/2008

Sons, daughters of Marines, sailors now must buy replacements of dads' medals from commercial suppliers

If you are a veteran, it might be a good time to request a replacement set of your military medals.

Until August 2006, all branches of the military would give a veteran or his or her immediate family a free replacement set of military awards, medals, and pins.

It was a one-time-only, no-charge courtesy, and the offer went to next-of-kin only, if the veteran had not already received a replacement and was deceased.

No more.

While veterans can still receive free replacement medals, the sons and daughters of those veterans who served in the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard, and have since passed away, cannot.

"One day we were replacing medals, the next week we weren't any longer," said Deena Martin, spokesperson for the Navy Personnel Command in St. Louis, Missouri.

The change began in August 2006, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter made the decision, that for members of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the next of kin can no longer receive the replacement set, unless the veteran died in combat.

"Immediate family of Army and Air Force veterans can still receive the one free replacement set," according to Tamara Leggett, secretary at Madison County's Veteran's Service Agency in Wampsville. "The veteran's name is engraved on the back of some medals and they may also receive the Bronze Service Star."

Leggett handles requests for the replacement medals. What the family member of a Navy, Marine or Coast Guard veteran will receive, is a list of the awards, medals and ribbons the service member earned and form letter that reads in part: "Thank you for your letter. Replacement medals are only issued to the next of kin of those killed in action." The letter is signed generically by "Navy Personnel Command."

All branches of the military share the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where the request process starts. From there, the fulfillment is divided by branch. Air Force requests are sent to Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio Texas, while the Army's are sent to U.S. Army TACOM in Philadelphia, Pa.

All Navy, Marine and Coast Guard requests for medals are handled at the St. Louis address and replacement medals will only be furnished while the veteran is alive, unless he or she is killed in combat.

"The Department of Navy provides a one-time replacement set of medals to the veteran and families of service members killed in combat," said Ensign Laura Stegherr at the Navy News Desk. "Descendants of a veteran, not killed in action cannot get a set of medals other than through a commercial source."

"At one time, military medals were only available through military channels," said Stegherr, "But then sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, commercial sources were allowed to provide them."

The only medal not commercially available is the military's highest award, the Medal of Honor.

"The Navy had such a huge backlog. We couldn't get medals out in a timely manner. At that point, we began referring veterans and families to a commercial source," said Stegherr, "The rationale is that you can get these with no wait time.

A recorded message at the Navy Personnel Command in St. Louis, directs callers to make all requests in writing, and the backlog for fulfillment is eight to ten months.

According to Leggett, it usually takes much longer - up to 18 months - to get a request filled by the Navy records division.

She says despite the Navy's stated policies, she's seen local veterans' requests denied.

The Navy, Marines and Coast Guard still provide verification service for family members who have questions about what honors their veteran has been awarded. As part of the service, the family will receive a list of medals and, using the list, can go to a number of military memorabilia companies and purchase the correct medal.

"We regularly get requests and we refer vets and family members to search the Internet," said Staff Sgt. Christine Delai, who works in the Marine Corps public affairs office at the Pentagon. "Many veterans don't realize that they are still entitled to use the same outlets we do to purchase military items," according to Delai, "We get a lot of calls for how to get medals, not for how to get them free."

"It's a one-time-only replacement and the Air Force and Army still extend that courtesy to families if their service members have deceased," said Leggett, "I don't know what to tell people. I still get letters from St. Louis saying that the medals won't be issued."

Capt. B.E. Binstock, media officer for the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs at the Pentagon said "Replacements can only be issued to the next of kin of a deceased veteran who was killed in action."

"It is regrettable to say the least," said U.S. Rep. John McHugh, R-23, from his Washington D.C. office. "It is disappointing that the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard chose that path. Having said that, I will look into at what we can do, through the National Defense Authorization Bill, look at what avenues may exist to legislatively change the policy. Not a very good way to treat our veterans."

"It' just not a good idea from any perspective," McHugh said. "It's not a very respectful way to treat the families of those veterans who sacrificed on our behalf. It is absolutely wrongheaded public relations. Should it come to that consideration it's hardly a good recruiting tool. So at about every level this Navy made a bad choice."

McHugh, a member of the House Armed Service Committee, thinks he can convince the Navy to change course. "Seems to me we can help them see the lack of wisdom in the policy," he said. "If they fail to do that, we will take a very close look at reversing it legislatively."

Representatives from the office of Sen. Hillary Clinton did not return phone calls or e-mails on the subject.

The Madison County's Veteran's Service Agency in Wampsville will request replacement medals, and also do a presentation of the award for family members.

Last year, the agency held 90 award presentations for veteran's families.

As of March 2008, they have held 21.

"We are here for veterans and veterans' family," said Tamara Leggett agency secretary. "We don't stop until they are taken care of."

Call the office at 366-2395 or 366-2397

To request replacement medals or military records:
Call 314-801-0800 or 314-592-1150
Or go to the website:
www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/replacement-medals
or www.vetrecs.archives.gov

Medals may be found online at a variety of sites including:
www.usmedals.com
www.usamilitarymedals.com
www.usmilitarystuff.com

Here are a few simple prices from usmedals.com (anodized metal costs extra):
Navy Cross - 79.95
Distinguished Service Cross - $59.95
Purple Heart - $35.95
Air Medal - $29.95
Silver Star - $29.95
Bronze Star - $19.96
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal $17.95

Ellie