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Start of new year brings issues to forefront

There are many things to discuss before we get too far into 2016. Some facts to consider: Daylight is already staying around a bit longer. (Well, just for a second or two to start.) And the world seems as if it's on the brink of war again.

I'm pleased that the public is still so appreciative of its military. It appears we're going to need a strong force for a long time to come. Current Middle East war casualties for the U.S. number close to 7,000, according to the Department of Defense, and the number is exceedingly higher for native residents in so many of the affected desert nations.

The nation's major candidates for president each have managed to develop their own methods for winning against terrorism, and none of the plans impress me as workable. I'm truly not "General Baker," but I fought in Vietnam and I know a little something about tall odds in a nontraditional combat situation. Maybe whoever is elected will call and ask me?

Let's talk about veterans and saving money, while we're all still around to enjoy life's little pleasures. If veterans who own homes survived the recent financial crisis and monetary downturn, they should determine if they are eligible for a property tax exemption. Nevada residents who have served in the armed forces while on active duty during time of war for a minimum of 90 continuous days (during specific periods) can apply for an amount to be deducted from next year's property tax statement. They should check with the assessor's office in the counties they reside in.

And if you're a veteran who is also a senior, don't forget about Social Security. Every year Washington cries that the money from that fund is running out, and the fact is it has probably already run out. But the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing keep the presses running like there's no tomorrow. Magicians David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy and Harry Houdini all combined would be impressed. They would be amazed, really. They'd be watching government illusionists turn green ink into red ink. (How'd they do that?)

The Social Security Administration continues to go along its merry way, paying out money to those who earned it after working for years. There is some good news for veterans who are eligible. Expedited processing of Social Security claims is provided for veterans who have a compensation rating of 100 percent permanent and total disabilities. Wounded veterans can go to www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors for more detailed information. The site also offers webinars on veterans benefits, and links to the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense websites. Each of those entities has its own eligibility qualifications concerning earned financial benefits.

The mantra "separation of church and state" has long been cited by both sides of the issue, and concerns precedents that can be traced back to the Revolutionary War and founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They wanted to ensure that the government in the New World had no king, church or pope. But Liberty magazine writer Edwin Cook examined the recent visit of Pope Francis, who made history by addressing a joint session of Congress, the first pope to speak before the bicameral legislature.

Cook claims the action called into question the concept of separation of church and state. Liberty is published by an arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Cook notes that some Americans feel Francis was just fulfilling his role as ambassador from the Vatican City. He writes that others argue that he was acting as a religious leader of a particular faith group. The article contains too many additional details to cover here, but it brings the issue of civil liberties into the conversation. Readers can follow the magazine on Twitter: @Liberty_Mag.

Now that the U.S. military will allow active-duty women to serve in combat roles, female veterans want additional respect, as well. The Disabled American Veterans commissioned a report in 2014 that stated female veterans suffered from gaps in VA health care, benefits and other federal programs. With women gaining more recognition as warriors, the DAV screened the documentary "Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home" from director JulieHera DeStefano. Later, the DAV quoted retired Army Maj. Jill Finken who said, "We don't want to have these fights where we're talking about 'female veterans.' To me, what we want is to be included in the word 'veteran.' Period."

So as we begin 2016, I wish all the best to female veterans, all active-duty service people, homeowners and their veterans' tax breaks, religious leaders of all faiths, veterans and others receiving Social Security and presidential candidates seeking their party's nomination with hopes of becoming commander in chief. As always seems to be the case in January, it's already turning out to be an eventful year.

Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Purple Heart recipient. Every other Sunday he discusses veterans issues over several Lotus Broadcasting AM radio stations in Southern Nevada.

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