Veterans rally for funding for funeral honors [Journal Inquirer]

April 16, 2015

By Mike Savino
Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD — A rally of more than 100 veterans offered harsh words for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and expressed outrage over his proposal to cut roughly $470,000 for military funeral services from his budget.

While the federal government would continue to provide honors at military services, veterans said the cuts would reduce some of the services they have earned.

“I almost died in Vietnam for what, for him? No, thanks,” Bill Brewer, representing the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said of Malloy.

Coventry Resident Micah Welinkutonis organized the rally, which lasted roughly 90 minutes and was attended by several lawmakers, some of them veterans, who pledged not to sign any budget that cut money for the state’s honor guard.

Capt. Michael T. Petersen, spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard, said in a statement that veterans would continue to receive services at their funerals, including the presentation of colors and the playing of “Taps.”

“That will not change, and our veterans will continue to get the final tribute they have earned through their honorable and faithful service, but just with a smaller honor guard,” Petersen said. “Connecticut has gone above and beyond what many other states across the country do to honor their veterans in this capacity, and ultimately, this budget proposal eliminates the need to cut other, less resilient programs.”

But veterans said the cuts would eliminate supplemental services provided by the state’s honor guard.

A master of ceremonies highlighted this point by calling for a three-volley, or rifle, salute that never came, and said the silence was symbolic of the cut.

Welinkutonis, a sergeant first class Army veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan, said servicemen and women defend America’s freedom with a “blank check filled with honor, service, sweat, tears, and blood with the highest price of them all being our lives.”

While working with Afghan police in Kandahar in 2012, Welinkutonis was shot in the left arm and later, while protecting soldiers inside a stairwell, a suicide bomber blew up close to him, sending shrapnel into his chest, abdomen, face, and arm.
“To be honored in death is our time-honored right,” he said. “When I heard about these cuts I was traumatized, so affected by this that I can honestly say now that I have post-traumatic Malloy disorder.”

He also questioned whether Malloy — who has vowed to end homelessness among veterans by the end of the year, among other initiatives — is sincere in thanking veterans after proposing such a cut.

Other veterans also accused the governor of not supporting veterans and said the $470,000 cut likely would have little impact on the budget.

“This is clearly the work of a politician passing a bill a for the sake of signing a bill — it does absolutely nothing,” said state American Legion Senior Vice Commander Paul Spedaliere.

A group of lawmakers, including Reps. David Alexander, D-Enfield, and Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, and Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, vowed not to support a budget that includes the cut.

“There’s no way that any of us up here are going to vote for any budget that has cuts to these veterans’ honors, no way,” Guglielmo said. “That’s not happening and I’m going to make a prediction: We will prevail.”

Alexander, Ackert, and Guglielmo are all veterans.

“When my time comes, I’d like to have that honor of having that honor guard be with me as I go away and for my family, to be quite honest with you,” Ackert said.

Alexander, meanwhile, quoted former Secretary of the Navy James Webb by saying “there is strength to be gained from remembering,” and the services are important to all veterans.

After the rally, Alexander said the state could add the $470,000 by rescinding raises of up to 12 percent that Malloy authorized in December for his appointees.