Conversations at the Capitol

Top military officer discusses wide range of issues at Chambersburg theater

February 10, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • Chambersburg Area Senior High School student Egor Ruzhin poses a question for Navy Adm. Mike Mullen Thursday at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa. Mullen is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

If not for family, Retired U.S. Army Spc. Gabriel Fauntleroy would be homeless, he said.

Last year Fauntleroy, who lives in Fayetteville, was medically retired from the U.S. Army after he broke his back while serving in Afghanistan in 2006.

Fauntleroy twirled a cane in his left hand as he told of his meager, barely $1,200 monthly retirement subsidy and how a beleaguered bureaucratic process has kept him waiting for disability from Veterans Affairs (VA).

Forced to make frequent trips between Chambersburg, Pa. and the Martinsburg, W.Va. VA Hospital for therapy and treatment of his injury, he said he has to rely on his family's charity just to survive.

"Honestly, right now, without my in-laws, we'd be homeless," he said. "With $1,200 a month to live on, a wife and two kids, I mean, there is just no way I could do it."

Fauntleroy was one of the many faces that filled the Capitol Theatre Thursday to listen to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Like many people, Fauntleroy was hoping for some answers from Mullen.

"I was hoping to get some kind of clarification, some kind of answer on why it is taking so long to get my VA percentages finalized," he said. "It's been four months."

In his opening address to the nearly packed house, Mullen spoke of the problem of homeless veterans.

"When these wars started in 2003, as a Vietnam vet, one of the things I worried about the most was generating another generation of homeless vets," Mullen said. "While I live in a very nice set of quarters in Washington (D.C.), not a stone's throw away from me I can see my peers from Vietnam who are still sleeping on the street. We can't do that again in our country."

Fauntleroy's father-in-law, Retired Marine Col. George Germann, asked Mullen what the military is doing to address the bureaucracy that has continually pushed veterans like his son-in-law onto the edge of homelessness.

"We have too many cases like the one you just described," Mullen said. In short, he told Germann that the military is working on a solution but has not yet succeeded.

While Fauntleroy and Germann did not receive a definitive answer Thursday, Mullen asked Germann to provide him more specific information so he could provide him a better answer.

Fauntleroy said he was pleased to know that the military's highest ranking officer is aware of the problem.

"The system is broken, he knows it, and he is actively working on it. It was nice to hear that from him," he said. "I came here with low expectations, expecting more of a photo-op, and it was nice that he really took the time to answer questions and to, kind of, generally speak from the heart about issues."

About a dozen people were given the chance to ask their questions of Mullen, including numerous students from the Chambersburg Area School District, who questioned the admiral about the national debt, America's place in the world and how the United States plans to respond to growing unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, among other questions.

For all those who stood to ask questions, most of the audience was there just to listen.

Corey Summers, an AP Government and Politics student at Chambersburg Area Senior High School said she was there to gain greater knowledge for her classes.

Alan Kline of Chambersburg said he came Thursday because he now has a son serving in Afghanistan.

Kline's son, U.S. Army Spc. Kyler Kline was able to attend Mullen's talk with his father Thursday while home on leave from Afghanistan.

"It's a very great thing he is doing," Kyler Kline said of Mullen. "It's a very needed thing."

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