Thursday, December 11, 2008

Legislative Update from Lee F. Kichen, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Federal Legislative Update

President-elect Obama Names VA Secretary-President-elect Barack announced that he will send the name of former Chief of Staff of the Army, General (Ret) Eric K. Shinseki to the Senate for confirmation as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. General Shinseki has first hand knowledge of the sacrifices made by members of the Armed Forces. As a young officer in Vietnam he was twice wounded and had to overcome the amputation of a foot to forge a successful career. He has commanded soldiers at every level from platoon to theater Army. He is a product of the United States Military Academy and embodies that institution's creed of Duty, Honor and Country. Beyond his unquestionable physical courage, he has the moral courage to tell his bosses the unvarnished truth as evidenced when he testified before Congress in 2003 that we would not have enough troops to successfully complete the mission in Iraq.

General (Ret) Shinseki faces enormous challenges. He and his team along with their counterparts in the Department of Defense need to achieve seamless transition for service members transferring from the Armed Forces to Department of Veterans Affairs programs. VA and DoD have for too long failed to develop an integrated electronic medical records system which travels from military duty station to military duty station and ultimately to VA. VA must improve transition benefits which insure that America's newest veterans have viable training, employment and education leading to productive careers. The first order of business for Secretary-designate Shinseki is ensuring that VA is ready to administer the Post 9-11 GI Bill when it comes on line in August 2009. We are concerned that once again the backlog of claims for VA disability compensation and survivors' benefits is growing. The new leadership at VA must ensure that OIF/OEF veterans receive the treatment appropriate for their unique conditions.

Economic Crisis Means Train Wreck for Defense Spending-Although, Robert Gates will stay on as Secretary of Defense, the Administration and the new Congress will have to grapple with budget issues that could have profound impact on the military's personnel programs. Complicating matters is the decision of the outgoing Bush Administration decision not to submit a formal budget for FY 2010; instead leaving that task to the incoming Obama Administration. There are already rumbles that the 111th Congress is seriously looking to scale back the planned increases in the end strength of the Army and Marine Corps to pay for weapons systems. Maybe we ought to play for them the tapes of GEN (Ret) Shinseki's Congressional testimony in 2003 when we were at the early stages of what is now a two front war. General Shinseki warned of fighting a war requiring twelve divisions when we only had ten.

Congress is already salivating at the possibility of a "peace dividend" resulting from troop draw downs in Iraq. The post Cold War "peace dividend" left us with an Army far two small to deal with the realities of the Global War on Terrorism. None other than Representative John Murtha (D-PA) chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that controls the Pentagon's budget predicts an austere future for defense spending. Given his power over defense appropriations his predictions are really self-fulfilling prophecies. Not surprisingly, he has personnel programs in his cross hairs.

The Army and Marine Corps are increasing in size, but to attract and retain recruits in wartime, they are spending $2 billion on bonuses, Murtha said. And the percentage of recruits who have graduated from high school has slipped from 94 percent to 82 percent. Murtha said the military is now spending $153 billion a year on personnel, and that cuts into spending on new weapons. "You can't increase personnel and increase procurement at the same time,"
Murtha suggests reducing defense spending by targeting personnel accounts:

• Stop spending $2 billion a year on recruiting and retention bonuses. "As we draw down [from Iraq] we ought to be able to get rid of the bonuses".

• Slow personnel increases in the Army and Marine Corps -- "because that's where the real money is." Apparently, Murtha is willing to continue spending on weapons systems, but, sacrifice both the quality and the size of the force while we still face all manner of national security threats.

Forget "Army Strong", the "Hollow Army" of Jimmy Carter is about to be reborn.


Florida State Legislative Update

Florida Veterans Council Approves 2009 State Legislative Priorities

Each year the Florida Veterans' Council, which is a coalition of Florida's major veterans' service organizations and military associations, formulates legislative goals and priorities. The priorities listed below were agreed to unanimously during our November meeting. We believe these priorities address the most pressing needs of Florida's veterans and their families.

Ad Valorem Tax Exemptions for Deployed Service Members

Legislation asking the people to amend Article VII, Section 6 (e) of the Florida Constitution providing a 100% Ad Valorem tax exemption to members of the Armed Forces who are deployed in direct support of the Global War on Terrorism.

Request State legislators to pass a memorial that will ask congress to amend the Post 9/11 GI Bill

Chapter 33 of the Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Enhancement Act of 2008 needs to be modified to include non-college degree programs (NCD) such as trade schools, flight and correspondence schools, as well as apprenticeship and OJT. Other recommended improvements to the Post 9-11 GI Bill include provisions for lifelong learning and additional financial support for educational institutions providing programs and services to veterans.

Broader Eligibility Disabled Veterans Ad Valorem Discounts

Legislation asking the people to amend Article VII, Section 6 (e) of the Florida Constitution eliminating the age and pre-service Florida residency requirements.

State contributions to the Disabled American Veterans Transportation Program

Legislation Providing Repayment of Student Loans for Combat Veterans
Legislation requiring the Department of Education to repay student loans outstanding after a waiver has been granted to combat veterans if the loan was certified by a post secondary institution before receipt of combat qualifying badge or ribbon e.g. Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat Medic Badge or Combat Action Badge, Air Force Combat Action Medal or Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon.

Cash Bonuses for GWOT, Iraqi and Afghanistan Veterans

Legislation establishing a one-time cash bonus for veterans who entered active duty from Florida and received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal or the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Legislative Update from Lee F. Kichen, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.)

The American People Have Spoken - Every four years, in November, Americans go to the polls to choose a President. Presidential elections are the beginning of a peaceful transition of power culminating with the Inauguration in January. Ironically, November is the month that we also celebrate the service of America’s veterans. Since before the birth of the Republic, America’s veterans fought for and secured our freedom to peacefully choose those who govern this great nation. For veterans, active and reserve personnel, military retirees and their families the impending transition is the first in forty years during wartime.

In 1969, at what was in many respects the height of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon succeeded Lyndon B. Johnson as Commander in Chief, the Vietnam War continued for four more years under Nixon without victory. A new administration can learn much from that transition, most importantly, there is no “Peace with Honor” unless victory has been gained on the battlefield. Forty years ago, the enemy was Communism and we successfully confronted that enemy in Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Europe, sometimes the wars were hot, sometimes they were cold. Nevertheless, we fought that enemy far from the Homeland.

Today, we are fighting Islamic terrorism and we are taking the battle to them, we effectively defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq and are establishing a free government in that country and given the resources and the will we can finish the job in Afghanistan. We must ensure that America is never attacked.

As we look forward to an Obama administration and the 111th Congress it is appropriate for us to look back over the past years of what we have achieved and the work that lies ahead as we continue to serve America’s Warriors past, present and future.

  • Since the Bush Administration took office in 2001, the total appropriation for the Department of Veterans Affairs increased by 98%. These dramatic increases in funding for veterans’ health care were the result of three Republican and one Democratic Congresses to ensure adequate funding by increasing the appropriations over that requested by the Administration.

  • For nearly twenty years, we have fought for some form of concurrent receipt of military retirement pay and VA disability compensation. In 2003 and 2004, Congress acted to address this injustice by establishing Combat Related Special Compensation and Concurrent Disabled Retirement Pay.

  • Even before 9-11, we were working for comprehensive changes to the Montgomery GI Bill. Our position was that today’s servicemen and women deserved an education package comparable to first GI bill of 1944 which in essence provided World War II veterans a fully funded college education. This year, with the passage of the “Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Enhancement Act of 2008”, we achieved a “GI Bill for the 21st Century” which provides a Global War on Terrorism Veteran tuition based on the most expensive public institution in his state, as well as a book allowance, living and housing stipends.

  • We achieved legislation to end the Social Security offset to the Survivor’s Benefits Program and reinstatement of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for those surviving spouses who remarried after the death of their first spouse, if the marriage to the second spouse ended in death or divorce. Additionally, if a surviving spouse remarries after age 57 they could retain his or her DIC.

What’s Next?-Not since 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt and another Democrat led Congress took the reins of the federal government, has a President and Congress faced an economic crisis which could fundamentally change the fabric of American society. Falling revenues and pressures to prop up financial institutions and other business groups, potentially threaten veterans and military benefits. We must be ever vigilant and ensure that our systems of military and veterans health care, disability compensation and survivors benefits not only remain intact but are enhanced.

· We must gain legislation ensuring that VA Health continues to be adequately and timely funded to ensure that all veterans seeking care receive nothing but world class care regardless of whether he is an 88 year old World War II veteran or she is 18 year old veteran of the Global War on Terrorism. We must never again accept a late VA budget.

· We must pressure the new Congress to recognize the selfless service of Reservists and National Guard members by ensuring all mobilization service is credited towards an early retirement.

· It is time to help Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), in his effort to end the egregious “Military Widows’ Tax” by ending the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to the Survivors Benefits Annuity.

· We must gain full and complete concurrent receipt of VA disability compensation and military retirement pay for all disabled military retirement pay.

· We must gain legislation which forbids the Defense Department from arbitrarily and capriciously increasing TRICARE fees and co-payments.

This is going to be tough fight, with each and every election the number of veterans serving in the Congress dwindles. This election is no different than earlier elections. Not all the results are in, but, we could have as few as 93 or as many as 99 veterans in the 435 member House of Representatives and depending on how some still contested races turn-out and who are appointed to fill Senators Obama’s and Biden’s seats there could be as few or as many as 29 veterans serving in the United States Senate. It will be up to the Action Corps to take the lead in education these non-veteran public servants.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

September Legislative Update from Lee F. Kichen, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.)

At Your Service!!!
Lee F. Kichen
September 2008

Federal Legislative Update

Senate Completes a “Bare Bones” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)-Last month, in this space we criticized the Senate Democrat leadership for its failure to complete work on its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 09. As the legislative process unfolded this week, we fell victim to a classic example of “if you want it bad, you’ll probably get it bad.” When the Senate returned after the August recess, it was looking at over 300 amendments to the NDAA for floor consideration. Many of these amendments addressed issues we have tracked over the last twelve months. This list of amendments included proposals to expand concurrent receipt eligibility, limit TRICARE fee increases, ease Guard/Reserve retirement age restrictions, authorize TRICARE coverage for "gray area" Reserve retirees, improve benefits for military spouses, authorize a partial family separation allowance for single servicemembers assigned to remote duty, and many, many more.

On 15 and 16 Sep, the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Committee was on Capitol Hill meeting with respective Members of Congress calling for the passage of both the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations and National Defense Authorization Acts before the scheduled end of the month adjournment. On Wednesday, 17 Sep, the Senate abruptly passed the NDAA without considering any of the 300-plus amendments. The only amendment in the final version of the bill of interest to us is Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) language calling for the end of the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to DoD’s Survivor Benefits Annuity, thus abolishing the so-called ”Widows’ Tax”. Only time will tell if Senator Nelson’s amendment will survive Conference committee reconciliation of the differences between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA.

The work of one senator blocked the passage of many the 300 amendments. With the Congress heading towards adjournment at the end of the month, a bipartisan group of senior members of the Armed Services Committee had already agreed on a list of more than 90 amendments they would propose to approve by "unanimous consent" - which allows bypassing of the normal votes unless some senator objects. Additionally they intended to add several dozen more - including the TRICARE and concurrent receipt provisions.

In spite of a bipartisan agreement, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) took a hard line position against $5 billion in so-called "earmarks" in the NDAA - specific provisions calling for spending on programs that were above and beyond what the Pentagon had requested. He also refused to support any unanimous consent request for any other amendments unless he got a vote on his amendment to drop the earmarks provision - which wasn't going to happen, especially in an election year.
This political brinksmanship, combined with the lack of time left on the Congressional calendar and the pending vote on the financial “bail-out” package effectively kills, in the Senate, those quality of life measures important to many VFW members and their families. In all fairness, even if the Senate bill included all the amendments we supported, it was probable that during the reconciliation process with the House, the conferees may have stripped out many of those amendments.

What is the current status of the “quality of life” issues?

TRICARE Fees. The House-passed bill would bar any TRICARE fees through the end of the next fiscal year. We had hoped to get the Senate to approve some permanent rules to restrict the Pentagon's ability to impose fee increases as well, but it now looks probable that Congress will approve the House version, and we'll face another battle when that freeze expires next year.
Concurrent Receipt. Absent something truly extraordinary, hope for further concurrent receipt progress this year probably went out the window with the loss of Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) amendment. If so, this would be the first year in the last six without at least some forward movement.

Guard/Reserve Retirement Age. Under current law, Guard/Reserve members can cut three months off the Reserve retirement age (60) for each consecutive 90 days served on active duty since January 2008. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R-GA) amendment to credit all active duty service since 9/11/01 is nowdead, since there was no similar provision in the House bill.

Military Pay Raise. The House-passed bill calls not only for a 3.9% pay raise for 2009 (vs. the 3.4% proposed in the Pentagon budget), but would also add one-half percentage point to the military raise each year for the next five years. The Senate bill has the 3.9% for 2009, but no plus-up for the out years.

Survivor Benefit Plan. The House bill would make only modest adjustments - including authorizing payment of the new $50 special monthly payment to qualifying survivors whose sponsors died on active duty. The Senate bill, thanks to our own Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), includes the full repeal of the VA benefits deduction from SBP, so that's at least still in play.
MILCON/VA Appropriation and Veterans Benefits Bills Remain on Hold-As reported last month, the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriation still remains stalled in the Senate. In all likelihood, unconscionable delays by The Congress will result in this very important funding bill dying when Congress adjourns the end of this month forcing VA to operate under a Continuing Resolution until the new Congress takes action. This inaction effectively funds VA at current year’s level, precludes new hiring and establishing new programs until Congress approves the FY 09 appropriation.

In addition to not completing a VA funding bill, Congress appears to be on the verge of abandoning major veterans’ issues in a rush to leave town to run for re-election. Partisan disagreements are preventing The Congress from passing major veterans’ health and benefits bills last year, and the situation appears to be repeating this year. Veterans’ benefits legislation is tied up over a dispute about whether to increase pensions to Filipino Scouts and provide monthly stipends to World War II Merchant Marines. Health care legislation is bogged down, in part, over gun-ownership restrictions for veterans diagnosed with or being treated for mental health issues. While Congress has passed a veterans’ cost-of-living adjustment bill and a “GI Bill for the 21st Century”, it has failed to pass legislation to improve mental health programs, expand health care for women veterans, improve diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries, and help families who are caring for severely disabled veterans. The Senate passed S. 1315 which included more generous benefits for Filipino Scouts, the House Veterans Affairs Committee has not cleared H.R. 760. In a compromise that could end the contentious debate over whether the U.S. still owes a debt to Filipinos who served alongside American troops in World War II, the House Veterans Affairs Committee approved a plan September 17 for a one-time payment to surviving veterans instead of an annual pension. But if veterans were to take the payments spelled out in H.R. 6897 — $15,000 for U.S. citizens and $9,000 for non-citizens — they would waive the right to ever receive another pension for their World War II service if the federal government were to someday pass a more generous bill. About 18,000 Filipinos would qualify for payments under the bill, according to estimates prepared by the Congressional Budget Office. With Congress heading towards a September 26th adjournment, the odds of veterans’ benefits bill passing are not good.

VFW National Legislative Committee Sets Priorities for 2009-The Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Committee convened in Washington, DC for its annual priority setting session 13-16 Sep 08. Department of Florida Legislative Chairman Lee F. Kichen, National Legislative Committee members A.E. “Gene” Hall and Al Wallace joined fellow VFW National Legislative Committee members in formulating the following priorities for the 111th Congress:

VA Health Care
The VFW calls on Congress to pass a sufficient budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs so that it can properly care for all of America’s sick and disabled veterans.

The VFW urges funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to be sufficient, predictable and timely, ending the trend of the last decade wherein VA’s budget has been delivered months late.

Congress must ensure that the unique health care and benefits challenges of OEF/OIF veterans are met, to include increased funding for Traumatic Brain Injuries and other related disabilities, as well as improved access to care, especially for veterans suffering from mental illness and for the growing number of women veterans accessing the system

The VFW calls on Congress and VA to increase priority given to women veterans by providing adequate services by hiring specialized health care providers and by providing training in gender-specific issues to help address shortfalls in gender-specific care and mental health care services for PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma and other needs.

The VFW urges the Department to improve outreach so that all veterans are aware of the range of health care services and benefits available to them, especially with female, minority and rural veterans, who may be less aware of their rights than other groups of veterans.

VA Benefits and Compensation
The VFW asks Congress to provide adequate resources to enable the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to reduce the current backlog of claims.

To protect the needs of current and future veterans, the VFW opposes any changes to the current definition of “line of duty,” structural changes to the programs for disability and survivors’ benefits, or curtailment of veterans’ or beneficiaries’ rights of entitlement or to appeal benefit decisions.

Seamless Transition
The VFW demands a truly seamless transition for those men and women serving in uniform who are transferring from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs. We envision a system with a truly integrated electronic medical record that travels wherever the service member is stationed eventually to VA where it follows the veteran to wherever he or she receives health care.

The VFW urges Congress and the Administration to improve the transition services and benefits provided to our veterans to ensure a steady and safe return to civilian life, including viable training, employment and education programs that address the realities of the current and future job markets to provide meaningful careers and not just temporary jobs.

Military Quality of Life
The VFW calls on Congress to fully fund all programs that enable our troops to succeed in their mission. We must ensure our active duty, guard and reserve members are provided increased pay, affordable health care, and adequate housing and work facilities for themselves and their families.

Florida Veterans of Foreign Wars Push for VA Appropriation Reform-The inability of Congress to pass on time either a Veterans Affairs funding bill or Defense authorization presents a clear and present danger to America’s warriors past and present and their families. Every year we castigate the Congress for its slow roll on these two important bills. While attending the this year’s fall Legislative Committee meeting, Past Department Commander Gene Hall, Department Legislative Chairman Lee F. Kichen and former Department Political Action Committee Al Wallace were able to meet with twenty members of the Florida Congressional delegation or members of their staff. Hall, Kichen and Wallace emphasized the importance of passing an on time MIL/VA Appropriation Bill.

The National Organization of the VFW and the other major organizations comprising the Partnership for VA Health Care Budget Reform are proposing a simple solution to the problem of late VA appropriation bill. Our proposal calls for a one year advanced appropriation of VA health care. This proposal has the support of the Chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, Senator Daniel Akaka and Representative Bob Filner filed companion bills that will, hopefully, lend timeliness and predictably to funding VA Health. In our discussions with Congresswomen Corrine Brown (D-FL3), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL5), Kathy Castor (D-FL11), Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (R-FL9), Vern Buchanan (R-FL13), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL6) we sensed a real enthusiasm for this proposal.

Mr. Bilirakis suggested that we seek out the support of C.W. “Bill” Young (R-FL10) Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee. Ms. Castor indicated that she will discuss this proposal with Chet Edwards (D-TX17), Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. While we acknowledge that there is virtually no chance of this bill passing this year, we will full court press this measure when the 111th Congress convenes in January 2009.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August Legislative Update from Lee F. Kichen, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.)


Federal Legislative Update

United States Senate Walks Away from Two Key Bills

Senate Democrat Leadership Delays 09 Defense Authorization Act-Once again Congress delays two bills that are crucial to active and reserve service members, veterans, military retirees and their families. Due to the usual partisan bickering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the FY 09 National Defense Authorization Act from the floor. Ironically, the House of Representatives finished its version of this bill in May.

The authorization bill is the key vehicle for nearly all military personnel changes, and the Senate is scheduled to consider amendments to prevent undue TRICARE increases, ease compensation penalties for disabled retirees and military widows, plus up military pay raises, and fix Reserve retirement inequities, among others. All issues discussed in earlier “Battling Inside the Beltway” columns.

But it's hung up in the Senate because some senators won't agree to limit amendments to defense-related issues. The single biggest issue is that some Republicans insist on being able to add amendments to expand oil-drilling. But Sen. John Warner (R-VA), the elder statesman and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, isn't among them. Warner voted to move on with the defense bill and limit amendments to defense issues. But that effort gathered only 51 votes...9 short of the 60 needed to end the debate and move on. While we recognize that Congress has the responsibility to produce some meaningful energy legislation, we don’t believe that this important bill should be delayed because of partisanship.

Given that Congress will adjourn early in October to allow members to return to the District to campaign, it is a safe bet that this bill will not be done before adjournment. Unless there is a post election lame duck session, it is likely that this bill won’t be finished until next year.

The nightmare scenario is that the oil-drilling fight could delay Senate action so long that Senate leaders feel compelled to drop nearly all defense bill amendments -- including some that military people really need -- just to get the bill passed and go home. Some fear it could scuttle the defense bill altogether -- an unthinkable scenario in time of war. These amendments include the one sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) which would end the so-called “Widow’s Tax” by abolishing the prohibition against the concurrent receipt of both the Survivors’ Benefits Annuity and VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) is also a cosponsor of this important amendment.

Senate Allows Veterans Affairs Funding Bill to Languish-To quote that great American philosopher Yogi Berra, “…it must be déjà vu all over again…” The Senate also left the FY 09 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriation on the table as it blew out of The Capital for the August recess. On August 1, the full House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, H.R. 6599, with a nearly unanimous vote of 409 to 4. The 2009 bill builds on the historic increases for veterans and troops passed into law last year, and, if signed into law, it would be the largest funding increase in the 78-year history of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

For the VA, the bill would provide $47.7 billion in health and other discretionary funding, $4.6 billion above 2008 and $2.9 billion over the Administration's request. These funds would provide substantial relief in improving veterans' medical care, hiring more claims processors, conducting new research, expanding VA efforts to combat homelessness, and helping VA make improvements to its facilities. The Veterans Health Administration estimates VA will treat more than 5.8 million patients in 2009 including more than 333,275 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (40,000 more than 2008).

The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported a separate funding bill, S. 3301 but was not scheduled for a vote before the summer recess. Please write your U.S. Senators to urge them to schedule a vote on veterans funding for fiscal year 2009 immediately after they return to Washington in September. It is intolerable that as VA expects to care for over a third of a million injured and ill veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus continues to care for millions of sick and disabled veterans of prior military service, that yet another year would begin without full VA funding. Unless the Senate acts quickly, then conferences with the House, this new funding for veterans will be in jeopardy and at minimum will be significantly delayed, perhaps as long as March 2009.

House Votes on Key Veterans’ Program Bills-At least the House of Representatives completed work on some important bills before the summer recess. Although hope is not a method, let’s hope the Senate will get to work on these bills before next St. Patrick’s Day. These important bills address disability, financial, tax, reemployment, and health care protections for veterans and military families.

  • VA Disability System Reform: H.R. 5892 would implement a number of recommendations of the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission. The bill would require the VA to provide immediate payment for unquestioned disabilities such as amputations rather than holding up claims until all conditions are evaluated. It would also require a plan to modernize the VA disability rating schedule and address quality of life issues, change evaluator incentives to improve processing quality, and require the VA to establish special offices to assist survivors and dependents. In addition, it would allow a survivor or dependent to proceed with a VA claim if the veteran dies before it is adjudicated.

  • Mortgage Foreclosure Protections: H.R. 3221 would prohibit foreclosure on property owned by a servicemember for nine months (vs. 90 days) following deployment. It would also increase, through the end of 2008, the maximum guaranty amount for mortgages backed by the VA.

  • VA Health Care and Counseling: H.R. 6445 would exempt vets who have catastrophic, non-service-connected disabilities from paying copayments for hospital or nursing home care and loosen restrictions on counseling for those vets' family members

  • Reemployment Rights: H.R. 6225 would strengthen protections for reservists denied reemployment benefits by state or private employers

  • Armed Forces Student Rights: H.R. 6225 would limit interest on loan debts to 6% for members on active duty. It would also require colleges to refund tuition and fees for students forced to leave school because of military orders and reinstate those students on return with the same academic status held prior to service

  • Cellphone Contracts: H.R. 6225 would let servicemembers terminate or suspend personal services contracts (e.g., cellphone or cable TV) entered into before being notified of PCS or deployment orders and penalize providers who violate the law

  • Spouse Domicile: H.R. 6225 would let spouses of active duty members maintain the same state of domicile as the servicemember for state taxation purposes and voter registration

  • Roth Thrift Saving Plan (TSP): A provision in H.R. 1108 would allow servicemembers and federal workers a "Roth TSP" option, entailing taxable deposits into the federal retirement savings plan and tax-free withdrawals in retirement

  • In-state Tuition: H.R. 4137 would require all states to continue in-state college tuition rates for a military dependent previously granted such rates if the military parent is re-assigned outside the state.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pacifism, militarism, patriotism

This article was brought to my attention by Marj Baldwin of Sarasota, FL. Marj is a WW II veteran of the Woman's Army Air Corps. Article written by Jeff Watson - THE ERICKSON TRIBUNE.

Some Americans live with a curious kind of courage. Convinced that violence, retaliation, and war are always wrong, some pacifists put their lives on the line for peace—sometimes in a war zone. Others believe that war is never wrong. Endorsing armed conflict as a necessary evil, some militarists in our culture sensationalize the drama and technology of combat.

In between these moral end-zones is 100 yards of playing field. For many, the playbook of life includes the possibility of a “just war” and of warriors with integrity. That is how Joshua saw it, when he barked out commands: “Do not be afraid …. Be … courageous … the Lord your God fights for you.” Even the Carpenter’s Son surprised people when he said: “[I]f you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

It was his love of country that pushed Jacklyn Lucas toward the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. According to Flags of Our Fathers, the North Carolinian: “…[F]ast-talked his way into the Marines at 14…. Assigned to drive a truck in Hawaii … he stowed away on a transport out of Honolulu … landed on D-Day without a rifle … grabbed one lying on the beach and fought his way inland …. Jack and three comrades were crawling through a trench when eight Japanese sprang in front of them … his rifle jammed. As he struggled … a grenade landed at his feet. He yelled a warning … rammed the grenade into the soft ash. Immediately, another rolled in …. Lucas, 17, fell on both grenades …”

Surviving 21 surgeries, Lucas would be forgiven his desertion in Hawaii and become the nation’s youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Pragmatism: finding common ground
According to the American Jewish Historical Society, the battle for Iwo Jima lasted five weeks non-stop. Among the 70,000 Marines who would raise the lag over Suribachi, 1,500 were Jewish—including the first Jewish chaplain ever appointed to the Corps: Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn.

Caring for the fearful and fallen of all faiths, Gittelsohn earned three decorations for his ministry under enemy fire. On that tragic rock, the nation would suffer 25,000 casualties and lose 6,000 of its beloved sons.

To dedicate the massive cemetery on the island, the division quickly organized a joint ceremony. Assigned to deliver a nondenominational sermon, the Rabbi began his preparations. To the surprise of his superiors, the majority of Christian chaplains objected. To save further embarrassment, the rabbi suggested three services.

Delivering his same eulogy to a smaller assembly, this son of Abraham was heartened to spot three Christian chaplains in his audience; one borrowed his meditation and privately distributed it throughout his regiment. Copies were soon traveling home with heartfelt letters from lonely GIs. Unknown to the rabbi, his shunned remarks were soon carried across the wire services, in Time magazine, and even in the Congressional Record.

“Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors … helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they … or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor … together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas …. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy …. Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happened to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this … as our solemn duty … do we … now dedicate ourselves: to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price …”

The Twelve Myths about War by LTC Ralph Peters, U.S. Army (Ret.)

The following are excerpts from a November 2007 article in the American Legion Magazine by Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, military expert and author. He lists the twelve myths about war. It is time to re-read what Colonel Peters said then and apply his wisdom to today's reality of victory over Al Qaeda in Iraq. For the full article go here.

Myth No. 1: War doesn't change anything. This campus slogan contradicts all of human history ...We need not agree in our politics or on the manner in which a given war is prosecuted, but we can't pretend that if only we laid down our arms all others would do the same. Wars, in fact, often change everything. Who would argue that the American Revolution, our Civil War or World War II changed nothing? Would the world be better today if we had been pacifists in the face of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan?...But of one thing we may be certain: a U.S. defeat in any war is a defeat not only for freedom, but for civilization. Our enemies believe that war can change the world. And they won't be deterred by bumper stickers.

Myth No. 2: Victory is impossible today. Victory is always possible, if our nation is willing to do what it takes to win. But victory is, indeed, impossible if U.S. troops are placed under impossible restrictions, if their leaders refuse to act boldly, if every target must be approved by lawyers, and if the American people are disheartened by a constant barrage of negativity from the media...In the timeless words of Nathan Bedford Forrest, "War means fighting, and fighting means killing." And in the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it."

Myth No. 3: Insurgencies can never be defeated. Historically, fewer than one in 20 major insurgencies succeeded. Virtually no minor ones survived...The good news is that in over 3,000 years of recorded history, insurgencies motivated by faith and blood overwhelmingly failed. The bad news is that they had to be put down with remorseless bloodshed.

Myth No. 4: There's no military solution; only negotiations can solve our problems. In most cases, the reverse is true. Negotiations solve nothing until a military decision has been reached and one side recognizes a peace agreement as its only hope of survival. It would be a welcome development if negotiations fixed the problems we face in Iraq, but we're the only side interested in a negotiated solution. Every other faction - the terrorists, Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, Iran and Syria - is convinced it can win. The only negotiations that produce lasting results are those conducted from positions of indisputable strength.

Myth No. 5: When we fight back, we only provoke our enemies. When dealing with bullies, either in the schoolyard or in a global war, the opposite is true: if you don't fight back, you encourage your enemy to behave more viciously. Passive resistance only works when directed against rule-of-law states, such as the core English-speaking nations. It doesn't work where silent protest is answered with a bayonet in the belly or a one-way trip to a political prison. We've allowed far too many myths about the "innate goodness of humanity" to creep up on us. Certainly, many humans would rather be good than bad. But if we're unwilling to fight the fraction of humanity that's evil, armed and determined to subjugate the rest, we'll face even grimmer conflicts.

Myth No. 6: Killing terrorists only turns them into martyrs. It's an anomaly of today's Western world that privileged individuals feel more sympathy for dictators, mass murderers and terrorists - consider the irrational protests against Guantanamo - than they do for their victims...Want to make a terrorist a martyr? Just lock him up. Attempts to try such monsters in a court of law turn into mockeries that only provide public platforms for their hate speech, which the global media is delighted to broadcast. Dead, they're dead. And killing them is the ultimate proof that they lack divine protection. Dead terrorists don't kill.

Myth No. 7: If we fight as fiercely as our enemies, we're no better than them. Did the bombing campaign against Germany turn us into Nazis? Did dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end the war and save hundreds of thousands of American lives, as well as millions of Japanese lives, turn us into the beasts who conducted the Bataan Death March? The greatest immorality is for the United States to lose a war.

Myth No. 8: The United States is more hated today than ever before. Those who served in Europe during the Cold War remember enormous, often-violent protests against U.S. policy that dwarfed today's let's-have-fun-on-a-Sunday-afternoon rallies. Older readers recall the huge ban-the-bomb, pro-communist demonstrations of the 1950s and the vast seas of demonstrators filling the streets of Paris, Rome and Berlin to protest our commitment to Vietnam. Imagine if we'd had 24/7 news coverage of those rallies. I well remember serving in Germany in the wake of our withdrawal from Saigon, when U.S. soldiers were despised by the locals - who nonetheless were willing to take our money - and terrorists tried to assassinate U.S. generals. The fashionable anti-Americanism of the chattering classes hasn't stopped the world from seeking one big green card. As I've traveled around the globe since 9/11, I've found that below the government-spokesman/professional-radical level, the United States remains the great dream for university graduates from Berlin to Bangalore to Bogota. On the domestic front, we hear ludicrous claims that our country has never been so divided. Well, that leaves out our Civil War. Our historical amnesia also erases the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the mass confrontations, rioting and deaths. Is today's America really more fractured than it was in 1968?

Myth No. 9: Our invasion of Iraq created our terrorist problems. This claim rearranges the order of events, as if the attacks of 9/11 happened after Baghdad fell. Our terrorist problems have been created by the catastrophic failure of Middle Eastern civilization to compete on any front and were exacerbated by the determination of successive U.S. administrations, Democrat and Republican, to pretend that Islamist terrorism was a brief aberration.

Myth No. 10: If we just leave, the Iraqis will patch up their differences on their own. The point may come at which we have to accept that Iraqis are so determined to destroy their own future that there's nothing more we can do. But we're not there yet, and leaving immediately would guarantee not just one massacre but a series of slaughters and the delivery of a massive victory to the forces of terrorism.

Myth No. 11: It's all Israel's fault. Or the popular Washington corollary: "The Saudis are our friends." Israel is the Muslim world's excuse for failure, not a reason for it...Even if we didn't support Israel, Islamist extremists would blame us for countless other imagined wrongs, since they fear our freedoms and our culture even more than they do our military.

Myth No. 12: The Middle East's problems are all America's fault. Muslim extremists would like everyone to believe this, but it just isn't true. The collapse of once great Middle Eastern civilizations has been under way for more than five centuries, and the region became a backwater before the United States became a country...And we need to work within our community and state education systems to return balanced, comprehensive history programs to our schools. The unprecedented wealth and power of the United States allows us to afford many things denied to human beings throughout history. But we, the people, cannot afford ignorance.

Ralph Peters is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, strategist and author of 22 books, including the recent "Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts That Will Shape the 21st Century.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's official! Vietnam War hero is now a true American

New York Daily News, Wednesday, July 9th 2008, 9:26 PM

With his combat medals on his chest, Vietnam War hero Rudy Thomas Sr., takes citizenship oath Wednesday at Brooklyn Federal Courthouse. This disabled Vietnam veteran paratrooper with three Purple Hearts is no longer a man without a country. Wednesday, 40 years after limping home from Vietnam, Rudy Thomas, 64, a Trinidadian immigrant, took the Oath of Citizenship in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse.

Now he is an official American hero.

'For the last 40 years I thought of myself as a proud American,' Thomas was saying yesterday, waiting in the large courtroom on the 2nd floor with 250 new citizenship applicants from 40 countries to be sworn in by Federal Judge Nina Gershon.

'I came home. My discharge papers said I was an American citizen. For the past 30 years I worked as a counselor at the State Department of Veteran's Affairs. My first American-born son, Rudy Jr., became a New York City police officer. He was shot dead on the Fourth of July in 1993...'

When you fight in the uniform of the U.S. Army's Airborne and stain the soil of a foreign land with your blood and then lose a police officer son in the war back home you kinda think you've earned a place setting at the American table.

'When I was in Vietnam the only thing I ever thought about was going home,' he said. 'Home to me was not Trinidad, which I left when my grandparents brought me here when I was a little boy. Home was Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.'

And typical All-American Brooklynite that he is, Rudy Thomas saluted the flag as he buried his son, and got on with his heartbroken American life.

He sired two more, named Rudolph Pierre III, 13, and Isaiah, 10, and worked and paid taxes and never traveled anywhere outside of America again.

'A few years ago my grandfather died and I applied for my first passport to go back to Trinidad for the funeral,' he says, tapping his spit-shined shoes and adjusting his combat vest covered in battle medals.

'That day a clerk at the passport office told me that I was an illegal alien, that I was not a citizen of the U.S.A. I was crushed. Told him it was a mistake. That the Army told me back before they sent me to Vietnam the first time that the military had naturalized me as a citizen, allowing me to fight in a foreign war. I showed him my discharge papers that said I was a citizen...'

His passport was denied. He was the only member of his family unable to attend his grandfather's funeral. Rudy Thomas, with his three Purple Hearts earned in defense of an ungrateful nation, was marked down as an illegal.

Already walking with a limp from his war wounds, and officially disabled with post traumatic stress disorder, Thomas began the slow, agonizing battle with the federal bureaucracy, trying to win back his dignity in the skittery paranoia of post-9/11 America.

Everywhere he turned he was stung by friendly fire.

'It was like a third tour of 'Nam,' he says. 'First I fought for my country. Now I was fighting with my country.'

Thomas, part of a New York Vietnam Veteran's Exhibit still running at the Brooklyn Historical Society, reached out to organizer Phil Napoli, a history professor at Brooklyn College. Napoli suggested Thomas contact this reporter. When he did. Rudy Thomas told his story in this space on June 5.

By 10 a.m. that day Sen. Chuck Schumer's office took up Rudy Thomas's cause and expedited a clear path through the bureaucratic jungle to yesterday's swearing in.

'I want to thank Professor Napoli and the Daily News and Senator Schumer who got me here today,' Thomas said yesterday.

'There was a point when I was starting to give up hope. I was afraid I was going to be deported by the country I fought for. I could hardly sleep last night in fear that I wouldn't be here on time this morning.'

But here he was in the courtroom yesterday, sitting with Napoli, and fellow 173 Airborne Vietnam vet Lucian Vecchio, himself a federal administrative judge, and Rudy's two proud sons sitting across the room when Judge Gershon climbed the steps to the bench.

Everyone in the room rose.

'Welcome new citizens,' Judge Gershon said. 'This is a very happy day for all the families here today. But first I want to say we do have a military veteran taking the oath today.' She motioned for a startled Rudy Thomas to stand, which he did with the help of his cane. 'Mr. Rudy Thomas was awarded three Purple Hearts in his service in Vietnam and today we are delighted to
welcome you to citizenship and we thank you for your service.'

A tear escaped down Rudy Thomas's face as the entire room of newly minted American citizens exploded in applause.

'I wish my son Rudy were here for this,' Thomas said.

'Believe me, he is,' said fellow vet Vecchio, giving him a comrade-in-arms hug.

'A grown man isn't supposed to cry,' said Thomas, wiping his eyes.

'If you've been to 'Nam he does,' said Vecchio.

THEN the ceremony was over, he was given his certificate of naturalization #30435522 and he was surrounded by friends and family, and other beaming new Americans lining up to shake his hand.

And then Rudy Thomas went home with his kids, at long last an official American hero.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Navy Seal's Funeral

PO2 Mike Monsoor was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for jumping on a grenade in Iraq, giving his life to save his fellow SEALs.

During Mike Monsoor's funeral in San Diego, as his casket was being moved from the hearse to the grave site at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery, SEALs were lined up on both sides of the pallbearers route forming a column of two's, with the casket moving up the center. As Mike's casket passed, each SEAL, having removed his gold Trident from his uniform, slapped it down embedding the Trident in the walnut casket.

The slaps were audible from across the cemetery; by the time the casket arrived at graveside, it looked as though it had a gold inlay from all the Tridents pinned to it. This was a fitting send-off for a warrior hero.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Legislative Update from Lee F. Kichen, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.) - July 2008


Federal Legislative Update

GI Bill for the 21 Century is a Done Deal- On June 30, President George W. Bush signed the Wartime Supplemental Funding bill which contained the GI Bill language for which the Veterans of Foreign Wars championed for nearly ten years. This bill represents the most significant improvement in veterans’ education benefits since World War II. Below is a recap of the provisions of this bill.

Basic Benefit: Initial average of $1,450 a month, actual payments will cover full tuition and fees up to the cost of the highest in-state tuition for a four year public college or university in each state. Basic benefit will be indexed to increase in tuition costs.

Veterans will receive a monthly payment equal to the local Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents. Currently BAH for an E-5 averages about $1,100 per month.

Books and Equipment: Each full time veteran-student will receive up to $1,000 annually.

Veterans needing special tutoring will receive $100 monthly, with a maximum total payment of $1,200.

There is a one time payment of up $2,000 for this purpose.

Longer Delimiting Time: Increases the time veterans have to use this benefit to 15 years after separation from the current 10 years

Transferability: Service members with six years of service who extend their obligation for four more years can transfer full benefits to spouses. Members who serve 10 or more years can transfer benefits to children

Abolishes Enrollment Fee: The $1,200 member contribution required by the old Montgomery GI Bill is part of this new package:

The Department of Florida, Veterans of Foreign Wars congratulates those Floridians in the Congress who supported this incredibly important bill. We strongly urge that you send a short note to Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) for supporting this bill. Additionally, Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL9) Corrine Brown (D-FL3), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL5), Vern Buchanan (R-FL13), Kathy Castor (R-11), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL4), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL21), Mario Diaz (R-FL25), Tom Feeney (R-FL24), Alcee Hastings (D-FL23), Ric Keller (R-FL8), Ron Klein (D-FL22), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL18), Tim Mahoney (D-FL16), John Mica (R-FL7), Jeff Miller (R-FL1), Cliff Stearns (R-FL6), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL20), Robert Wexler (D-FL19), and C.W. Bill Young (R-FL10) were cosponsors of one or the other or in some cases both of the two House of Representatives versions of this bill. Unfortunately, Representatives F. Alan Boyd (D-FL2), Connie Mack (R-FL14), Kendrick Meek (D-FL17). Adam Putman (R-FL12), and Dave Weldon (R-15) failed to cosponsor either of the two House bills.

Senate Moves Vet Bills: The Senate Veterans Affairs committee marked up several veterans' bills before the 4th of July recess. Among the bills discussed were the annual cost-of-living adjustment and two large health and benefit-related bills that would improve options for veterans and their families. Among the provisions in the benefits bill is language that would change the definition of "engaged in combat with the enemy" to all people who receive combat pay for purposes relating to VA compensation. It would also allow for new and better home loan refinancing options and a temporary increase in the maximum loan guaranty amount for veterans. The Committee also moved VFW-supported legislation that would expand and improve upon the health care services provided to women veterans. The bill would put special emphasis on providing mental health coverage, and requires several studies and assessments as to VA's capacity for care for women veterans and their future needs. For more about the bills, visit the Senate VA Committee website at: of Defense Veterans Affairs Fail to Implement Law Change Designed to Help Disabled Veterans - The Congress in the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act included language in Section 1646 of that bill ending the requirement of service members injured in combat or performing tasks relating to combat such as training from having to repay any military disability severance pay before becoming eligible for disability compensation pay from VA. In a moment of absolute arrogance David S.C. Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness sent a memo to the military departments instructing only those injured in a combat zone or as direct result of armed conflict as being exempt from the repayment of severance pay. The Chu memorandum removes the hazardous service, conditions simulating war and instrumentality of war clauses for the definition of “combat relatedness” Ironically, section E3.P5.1.2 of Defense Department Instruction 1332.28 includes actual combat as well as hazardous service, conditions simulating war and instrumentality of war in its definition of “combat relatedness”. It is this same document DoD uses to determine whether or not a military retiree is eligible for Combat Related Special Compensation. Our contention is that a disabling injury incurred during training, hazardous duty, or the result of instrumentality of war has no less of an economic or quality of life impact then one resulting from combat with the enemy.

DoD Does Comply with Other FY 09 National Defense Authorization Act Mandate- In a classic example of selective compliance with Congressional mandates, the Pentagon will conduct a Congressionally mandated review of disability ratings. Service members given a disability rating of 20 percent or lower during their medical evaluation boards since Sept. 11, 2001, may have their cases reviewed by a new Defense Department board.

The Physical Disability Board of Review was a creation of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a number of studies revealed between differences in the average amounts of disability benefits awarded. For example, in a study conducted by the Military Times an enlisted airmen averaged much higher monthly disability payments — $926 — than did enlisted Marines at $770 a month. And all the services tended to award more officers than enlisted personnel ratings of 50 percent or higher.

“The purpose of the [board] shall be to reassess the accuracy and fairness of the combined disability ratings assigned service members who were discharged as unfit for continued military service,” wrote David S.C. Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, in a memo dated June 27. “The [board] shall operate in a spirit of transparency and accountability, and shall impartially readjudicate cases upon which review is requested or undertaken on its own motion.” Evidently, the Undersecretary insists on “transferability and accountability” when it is convenient while it still disregards the Congressional mandate to end the policy or recouping military disability severance pay before a veteran can receive VA compensation.

The new policy is effective immediately. According to the 2008 authorization act, the board was supposed to be set up by the end of April. It is shameful that the machinery to implement this policy is not yet in place. It was clear from the work of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, last year, that DoD would be mandated to undertake these reviews.

We are very concerned the Undersecretary’s directive will limit the scope of these reviews. “Only the medical condition(s) determined to be specifically unfitting for continued military service, as previously determined by the Military Department [physical evaluation board], will be subject to review by the [board].”

According to an Army Times article, “Retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker, who has worked as an advocate for service members going through the physical evaluation board process, said that in the past, a person might have been looked at for three conditions. For example, the first condition, perhaps asthma, might be an unfitting condition that would rate at 10 percent for retirement purposes. The second, perhaps for sleep apnea, might be unfitting but rated at zero percent. The third, perhaps diabetes, could be found to be unfitting but pre-existing, so the service member would not be eligible for benefits. That last condition might be the one the service member was discharged for, even though the regulations state service members should be rated for all unfitting conditions. Parker said that’s exactly the kind of unfair treatment the new board was intended to correct.”

‘They’ve been cherry-picking which unfitting condition to use,’ Parker said. According to Chu’s directive, the board may still only look at that one condition rather than the three that should have been rated in the first place, Parker said. ‘In some cases, an injury, such as the thousands of traumatic brain injuries that went undiagnosed in the first few years of the war in Iraq, may not have been properly diagnosed in time to be included in a medical retirement board.’” According to the Army Times, the Air Force will serve as executive agent for this and will nominate someone to lead the program as well as set up guidance as to how it will be run. We would urge that the Air Force select recently retired Officers and Noncommissioned Officers from all military departments to sit on these boards. We believe that retired Officers and NCOs would not be subject to undue command influence and work in the best interest of those whose cases they were reviewing.

Any former service member who was not found eligible for medical retirement, including lifetime medical benefits, but who was still separated from the military may have his or her case reviewed. However, after they receive a recommendation from the new review board, service members will not be eligible for review by the Board for the Correction of Military Records, according to the Defense Department. Service members will have to sign a statement saying they understand they lose that right. We are concerned by the provision denying further review by the Board of Corrections Military Records if service member chooses review by the Physical Disability Board of Review. Historically, the Board of Corrections has impartially and compassionately served to balance the interests of the service member and the military departments.

“The [Physical Disability Board of Review] has no greater obligation to our wounded, ill and injured service members and former service members than to offer fair and equitable recommendations pertaining to the assignment of disability ratings,” Chu said in a Defense Department release. We hope that Dr. Chu will also consider that Defense Department, when considering who should be exempt from repaying disability severance pay to receive VA disability compensation, will act fairly and equitably and ensure all ill and injured former service members retain both severance pay and disability compensation.

Republicans, Democrats, the Congress and the President Blow Off Medicare Recipients and TRICARE Participants-The Honorables had at least six months to work out a relatively simple deal to prevent a 10.6% cut in Medicare payments from taking effect on July 1 and to prevent cutting off Medicare coverage for hundreds of thousands of Medicare-eligible speech and physical therapy patients on that date.

The usual political bickering and intransigence prevented a fix before Congress took a week's vacation over Independence Day and promised to fix things when last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a fix (H.R. 6331) that would have stopped the payment cuts, substituted a small increase for doctors seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients, and prevented the therapy cutoff. The vote was a veto-proof 355-59.

But Senate Republicans and President Bush didn't approve of the funding source for that fix (cutbacks in some Medicare Advantage programs that pay doctors up to 17% more than regular Medicare does), and pushed an alternative bill. After the overwhelming House vote, Senate leaders tried to bring the bill up for a vote anyway. But when Republicans objected, they needed 60 votes to overcome the objection. They got 59. Not enough to even get a vote, let alone override a threatened presidential veto.

This isn't the first time Congress has failed to stop a Medicare payment cut. In 2006, Congress missed the deadline, but approved a fix within a few weeks and made it retroactive. That caused doctors and Medicare administrators lots of headaches in the interim, but in the end, the lost payments were made up. And TRICARE patients were never affected, because Congress fixed the rates before TRICARE got around to implementing the cuts. That's the best-case scenario now - if Congress can act quickly after July 4 to approve a fix the president will sign. But the risk remains that some number of fed-up doctors will decide not to accept any more Medicare or TRICARE patients.

In this instance the Pentagon has acted responsibly. Shortly after the Senate vote, OSD has announced that TRICARE claims will continue to be processed under pre-July rates at least through the end of the summer. The law gives TRICARE the flexibility to do that. The Pentagon's assumption is that Congress will act reasonably shortly to reverse the cut, so there's no sense processing rate changes now if they're going to be reversed soon. Unfortunately, Medicare doesn't have quite that much flexibility, but has announced that Medicare claims for service since July 1 will be held until July 15, giving Congress eight days to act once they return to work on July 7. Whatever Congress does after the recess it could have done before July 1 and prevented this train wreck. If the President, the House, the Senate, Republicans, and Democrats had been willing to compromise -- just a little -- health care access for our seniors and military beneficiaries need not have been put at risk in this irresponsible way.


State Legislative Update

Veterans of Foreign Wars Adopts State Legislative Priorities for FY 2009-The 2008-09 Department Council of Administration met for the first time immediately after this year’s convention in Orlando on June 22 and adopted, on a voice vote, the following legislative priorities.

1. Legislation providing for the sale of Veterans Service Organization (VSO) distinctive license plates with the proceeds of sales being divided between the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and the VSO.

2. Legislation granting equal treatment for wartime veterans in the state retirement system.

3. Legislation establishing a cash bonus for veterans who entered active duty from the State of Florida and received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal or the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

4. Legislation establishing tuition exemptions for veterans enrolled in Florida public institutions of higher learning who entered active duty from the State of Florida and received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal or the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

5. Legislation calling for a Constitutional Amendment granting a 100% Ad Valorem tax exemption for service members deployed and participating in operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

6. Legislation requiring the Department of Education to repay student loans outstanding after a waiver has been granted to a combat veteran if the loan was certified by a postsecondary institution and awarded before receipt of a combat qualifying badge or ribbon, e.g. Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Army Combat Medic Badge, Army Combat Action Badge Navy/Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

7. Legislation granting Congressionally Chartered veterans service organizations an exemption from the Department of Agriculture administrative solicitation fees.

Recommended Priorities County, Municipal and School District Legislative Priority

Local ordinances establishing preferences for disabled veteran owned businesses bidding on county, municipal and school district contracts.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-13) Votes To Expand Education Benefits for Veterans

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Vern Buchanan voted last night for a bipartisan bill to expand veterans’ education benefits. Buchanan is an original cosponsor of the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act” (H.R. 5740) to provide U.S. service men and women who have served in active duty since September 11, 2001 with additional education benefits similar to those provided in the original post-World War II G.I. Bill.

“Since World War II, the G.I. bill has helped veterans readjust to civilian life and get a college education when they returned home,” said Buchanan. “But the current program does not cover today’s cost of a college education. Furthermore, it doesn’t give members of the National Guard and Reserves, many of whom have served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, with equal benefits. This bill brings the G.I. bill into the 21st century by expanding educational benefits available to enlisted men and women as well as citizen soldiers.”

The “Iraq/Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriations Act” (H.R. 2642) increases education benefits to provide veterans who enlisted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with tuition, books, fees, and other trainings costs and provide Florida veterans with a monthly stipend of $1,309. Veterans, including members of the Reserve and National Guard who have served at least two years of active duty would qualify for the benefit. Furthermore, the bill allows qualified military personnel to transfer unused GI education benefits to their spouses or children.

The supplemental funding bill also gives our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan the resources they need to succeed in their mission and return home safely. Furthermore, it requires that federal funding for the reconstruction of Iraq be matched dollar for dollar by the Iraqi government.

“We have brave men and women who are serving at great sacrifice,” said Buchanan. “They deserve the support of the American people. But Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay for the U.S. military presence and improvements to Iraq's infrastructure.”

Buchanan is a cosponsor of H.Res. 1108 expressing the sense of the House that future Iraq reconstruction should be paid for by the Government of Iraq.

Finally, the supplemental funding bill provides a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for all states.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq

General David Petraeus re-enlists 1,215 US soldiers at Al Faw Palace, Baghdad. July 4, 2008. What have you done for your country today?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Reflections on the American Flag - July 4, 2008

I just returned from a naturalization ceremony conducted by the Department of Homeland Security at the Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, FL. We took a friend there to be with her at her naturalization ceremony. Her husband could not because he is in the Merchant Marine and on a Navy ship in the Pacific.

At this first of two ceremonies scheduled in Tampa for today, July 4th, 709 men and women from 90 different countries took the oath to "support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic". One was from Iraq. It was a moving and patriotic ceremony. I sat behind a woman who became an American today who was born in China. I sat next to another woman who became an American from Brazil. There were hundreds and hundreds of flags at the ceremony.

I pass on this story because we still have those who do not believe in the American flag as a symbol of liberty and freedom. Some, especially in the media as so sadly reflected below, do not believe in displaying our flag, even today.

ABC News Bans Flag Lapel Pins

Yesterday [September 12, 2001], the brass at ABC News issued orders forbidding reporters to wear lapel pin American flags or other patriotic insignia. Their reasoning was that ABC should remain neutral about 'causes'.

"We cannot signal through outward symbols how we feel, even if the cause is justified," said ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. "Overseas, it could be perceived that we're just mouthpieces for the U.S. government, and that can place our journalists in danger."

Watch your favorite local or national news program today, tomorrow or the day after. Look to see if the newsman or woman are wearing a flag pin. If not I ask that you call or e-mail the station and ask simply, "Why not?" See what you get for an answer.

The newest Americans I met today in Tampa certainly would not understand why any American would not wear or display our flag proudly.

We must never forget 9/11 and what our troops are doing today to keep us safe and protect our liberty. Always remember: "Freedom is not Free".

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Freedom is not free, thank a veteran! by Brigadier General (Ret.) Jerry Neff, FLARNG

On our nation's birthday, remember . . . freedom isn't free.

It's that time of year again when Americans from coast to coast celebrate the founding of our country. There are barbecues, fireworks and parades almost everywhere as people take one day out of the year to remember the high cost of freedom and the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who have served and continue to fight to preserve our freedoms since 1775. But is one day a year enough to demonstrate our appreciation for having the privilege to live in such a great country? Personally, I don't think so and decided to do something about it.

About two years ago, I learned about the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute program. The U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute program allows anyone to thank discharged Army veterans for their selfless service to our nation. Additionally, the program provides soldiers - active duty, National Guard and Reservists - the opportunity to recognize their supporters with a Freedom Team Salute Commendation.

As a citizen of this great country, I have made it my duty to thank Army veterans who have sacrificed so much, so that I can celebrate our nation's freedom on the fourth of each July as well as every day in between.

If you would like to thank an Army veteran, visit Army veterans will receive an official U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute Commendation Package, which includes a certificate of appreciation and a letter signed by the secretary and chief of staff of the Army; a customized U.S. Army lapel pin; and U.S. Army decals.

So, this Independence Day, celebrate our freedom and remember the brave men and women that have made it possible. If you want more information on the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute program, visit or call me directly at (941) 795-3050.

Jerry L. Neff, Volunteer Ambassador,
U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute program
Brigadier General, (Ret.), Florida Army National Guard, U.S. Army
Bradenton, FL

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is pleased to announce the inauguration of the Florida Veterans Foundation, Inc.

Established by Florida Statute on July 1, 2008, and incorporated as a tax-exempt public organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the foundation is dedicated to supporting the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs and to providing assistance and services to Florida veterans and their families.

The Florida Legislature authorized the foundation in statute during its 2008 legislative session as the Direct Support Organization of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

“I am grateful to Governor Crist and other members of the Cabinet, the Florida Legislature and Florida’s Veteran Service Organizations for supporting this initiative,” said FDVA Executive Director LeRoy Collins Jr. “This foundation will help us expand our mission of veterans’ advocacy, especially with our state’s returning veterans from the Global War on Terror.”

The work of the foundation will be supported by a combination of entrepreneurial initiatives, agreement with participating businesses, contributions from veterans, philanthropic foundations, corporations and private citizens.

A voluntary Board of Directors, selected by the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, will meet as necessary to set and implement policies and programs. The nine-member board is composed of veterans, business owners and community leaders.
Board members are:

1. Lt. Gen. Robert Milligan, U.S. Marine Corps (ret), Chairperson, Tallahassee
2. Roderick Petrey, Esq., Miami
3. Maj. Gen. Fred Raymond, U.S. Army (ret), Wesley Chapel
4. Robert Creger, D.B.A., Fort Myers
5. Lt. Col. Anthony Armbrister, U.S. Marine Corps (ret), Fort Lauderdale
6. Col. Sharon Richie-Melvan, Ph.D., U.S. Army (ret), Inverness
7. Maj. John Haynes, U.S. Marine Corps (ret), Monticello
8. Frank Ryll, Tallahassee
9. Michael Coker, Ocala

The board will have its first meeting July 9 in Tallahassee, Fla.

The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is a state agency responsible for assisting, without charge to the claimant, Florida’s veterans, their families and survivors in improving their health and economic well-being through quality benefit information, advocacy, education and long-term health services. The department operates five veterans’ nursing homes and one assisted living facility through the State Veterans’ Homes Program. For more information on FDVA and Florida’s veterans’ homes, visit

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Saturday, June 21st is Destroyer Escort Day by Ed Eastman

Did you know that the third Saturday in June is Destroyer Escort Day in Florida every year? I approached Governor Jeb Bush at the Groundbreaking for the Veterans Administration Douglas T. Jacobson State Nursing Home in Port Charlotte, FL. Gov. Bush promised me that if he won reelection that Fall, he would have a Resolution drawn up and signed by himself and his Cabinet to declare the third Saturday in June every year as Destroyer Escort Day. Gov. Bush was as good as his word. We display the Resolution at the Military Heritage And Aviation Museum at Fishermen's Village in Punta Gorda.

The Southwest Florida Chapter of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association will observe DE Day at the Inner Court at Fishermen's Village on 21 June 2008 at 1100 hours. The National President, Thomas L. Kidd, will be officiating. The program will be emphasizing the War for the North Atlantic, honoring American, Canadian, and British sailors who were involved, some making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

The Color Guard will be provided by the Charlotte High School Naval JROTC. Representatives of the Navy and Coast Guard DE Sailors will provide the Wreath Ceremony, at which, the wreath will be cast upon the waters in memory of those who sacrificed their lives, and those of our DE Veterans who have crossed over the bar.

The Military Heritage And Aviation Museum will have a display of DE Sailors' artifacts.

Destroyer Escort Day will be observed in several States upon the same day. DESA has a Destroyer Escort berthed at Albany, NY. It is better known as the USS Slater DE 766 Museum. It is being restored meticulously to it's WW II condition. The Slater's website is:

A Japanese film company is in preparation of making a movie in which the USS Slater plays a prominent part.

Article by Ed Eastman.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Veterans Launch National Education Effort on Illegal Immigration

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, April 28, 2008 - Crime, terrorism and dependency on scarce government dollars are some of the major reasons why the nation's largest veterans organization is concerned about illegal immigration. So concerned, in fact, that The American Legion today began a nationwide outreach to alert Americans to the dangers posed by illegal aliens and the government's reluctance to seriously address the issue.

Through a radio spot campaign, news releases from posts across the country, letters to newspaper editors and a concerted outreach to America's leading media pundits, at both the national and local levels, The American Legion will offer a free booklet about illegal immigration that not only discusses the far reaching problems it is causing but also provides a cogent strategy to address the issue.

"American Legion members have served in the U.S. Armed Forces throughout the world so that Americans can feel safe at home," said Marty Conatser, national commander. "We have seen Third World countries. We have seen poverty, political instability, disease and war. Today we see the threat that open borders present to our homeland.

"With more than 14,000 posts and 2.7 million members, I am asking Legionnaires everywhere to start the national dialogue that needs to happen now," Conatser said. "As a nation at war with operatives sworn to kill Americans, our government must shut down our open borders and take decisive action to address a crippling national problem."

The booklet, "A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States," is available for download at A free hard copy can be requested by sending an email to Conatser has asked Legionnaires to obtain a media kit, visit radio stations and offer the public service spot package of six 60-second radio spots that addresses various problems with illegal immigration and offers the booklet free to listeners.

"The American Legion is very much in support of legal immigration," Conatser added. "Indeed the ancestors of countless Legionnaires immigrated here from around the world. However, we are a nation of laws and since we all swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States when we donned our uniforms, we believe strongly that the security and sovereignty of our nation must be our highest priority through stringent enforcement of our immigration laws."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy 233rd Birthday - U.S. Army

This video is a fitting tribute to our Army, to our troops, their families and their love for our flag and nation. God Bless our Army!

Friday, June 13, 2008

A tribute to our troops

Please watch this moving video tribute to our troops. It puts things in perspective.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Legislative Update - June 2008 by LTC (Ret.) Lee Kichen

At Your Service!!!

Lee F. Kichen

June 2008


Federal Legislative Update

To Be a GI or not to Be a GI Bill?-Apologies to William Shakespeare, but, at this writing, Congress has not yet completed final action on the Wartime Supplemental Funding appropriation which contains the GI Bill. With The Pentagon transferring monies from Navy and Air Force accounts to pay Army bills, there is less urgency to pass an emergency war spending bill. Last month, both the House and Senate included major improvement in GI Bill benefits in the now stalled supplemental appropriation. The House version would pay for it by increasing income taxes on millionaires by one-half of one percent. The Senate version offered no specific costs offsets for it.

The administration and The Pentagon claim the GI Bill provisions (which enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support in both House and Senate) are so good that they'll hurt retention by luring troops to leave service for school. They prefer a lower-end, cheaper version. There have been some reports that White House may agree to GI Bill legislation if Congress adds an even more costly provision to let service members transfer GI Bill benefits to family members. If this reports are valid this could be a major reversal of the White House’s usual objections to high cost military and veterans quality of life programs.

In all likelihood, the GI Bill provisions will probably stay as is, and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) will offer the transferability plan as an amendment to the FY09 Defense Authorization Bill coming up for Senate action later this month. More likely than not, the Senate will reject the House plan for ½% surcharge on millionaires to pay for the GI Bill. Our view is that we may have a better chance for a cleaner GI Bill if it is included in the National Defense Authorization Act instead in the more contentious wartime supplemental bill.

Last month, we were extremely critical of Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) for not supporting the more generous education package contained in S. 22. Senator Martinez heard our concerns and voted for the S. 22 language. We are incredibly pleased with Senator Martinez’s vote and appreciate his bipartisanship. Jack McDermott, VFW State Commander called the United States Senate passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, “One of the most important actions in the past fifty years to improve veterans benefits. This is a milestone in bipartisanship. The fact that 72 Democrats and Republicans came together on a ‘GI Bill for the 21st Century’ is testimony to the fact that veterans issues can serve to transcend party lines. I am extremely gratified that Senator Mel Martinez joined his fellow Floridian Senator Bill Nelson in voting for this bill. It took a lot of moral courage for Senator Martinez to break with the White House and support this bill. Senator Martinez, after listening to our position recognized that America’s veterans who served selflessly are deserving of an education package comparable to the one received by World War II veterans. Senator Martinez really came through for the newest generation of veterans. It is clear to us that Senator Martinez and Senator Nelson understand that, like the World War II GI Bill, this bill will pay dividends for many years to come.”

Buchanan Tabbed for Veterans Health Subcommittee-

House VA Committee Reviews Health Bills- Last week, VFW provided testimony to the House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Health. The Committee reviewed five health-related bills designed to improve and enhance health care options for veterans using VA. VFW supported the following bills:

H.R. 4463 "The Veterans Health Care Quality Improvement Act," would enforce and ensure higher uniformed professional standards as well as addressing recruitment and retention among health care professionals within VA.

H.R. 5888, a bill that would allow veterans to be reimbursed for emergency medical treatment provided them outside VA facilities.

H.R. 6114, legislation that would simplify and update National standards for HIV testing within VA.

H.R. 6122, "The Veterans Pain Care Act of 2009" would direct VA to implement comprehensive policies on pain management for veterans seeking care in VHA.
To read our testimony or for more on the hearing visit the House VA website at:

Senate Holds Hearing on Current VA outcomes for PTSD-The Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee held a hearing to discuss VA's response to veterans seeking help for mental health issues related to their service. Members of the Committee are concerned that VA has not remained focused on balances between care and compensation with regard to mental healthcare. Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) asked the panel members ( all VA witnesses) how VA is ensuring that best practices for dealing with PTSD, both in VHA and VBA, are in place throughout the system. Others wanted to make sure that the issues or problems regarding PTSD or other psychological problems related to service, receive accurate diagnoses from VA, proper care, and appropriate benefits. For more on the hearing visit the Senate VA website at:

TRICARE Bill for Reserve Retirees Introduced: The VFW attended a press conference yesterday and offered its strong support for the "TRICARE Continuity of Coverage for National Guard and Reserve Families Act of 2008." The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH). This legislation would provide TRICARE Standard coverage for "Gray Area" retired Reserve members and their families. These are retired members who are qualified for a non-regular retirement but who have not yet reached 60 years of age. The full cost of premiums would be the responsibility of the beneficiary. A bill number should be assigned within the next few days.


State Legislative Update

2008-09 BUDGET IMPROVES CARE FOR VETERANS TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs 2008-09 budget provides strong support for Florida’s military veterans and their families. Florida has the fastest growing veteran population in the United States.

“The $59.7 million veterans’ affairs budget reinforces the state’s commitment to our more than 1.7 million veterans,” said FDVA Executive Director Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., U.S. Navy Reserve (Ret.). “Despite the challenges of a lean budget year, Governor Crist and the Florida Legislature made a tremendous effort to ensure that Florida continues to be a leader in providing services to those who have honorably served our nation.”

The 2008-09 budget controls costs and improves quality of care for veterans residing in Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes. It also enhances education opportunities for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans. The Fiscal Year 2008-09 budget includes the following:

  • Authorizes the transfer of funding of $8.3 million from contracted services to state salaries and benefits, which enables the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to in-source certified nursing assistants and food service workers to establish a single staffing model for the State Veterans’ Homes Program. Currently, FDVA contracts these positions at three of its homes. Research indicates that the department can better control costs and provide a higher quality of care and food to residents by having in-house staff perform the services.

  • Provides $1.3 million for major repairs and maintenance of buildings and fixed equipment at Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes.

  • Provides an increase in funding from $1.1 million to $1.9 million for Scholarships for Children and Spouses of Deceased or Disabled Veterans and Service members.

The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is a state agency responsible for assisting, without charge, Florida’s veterans, their families and survivors in improving their health and economic well-being through quality benefit information, advocacy and education. FDVA also provides long-term health care services through five veterans’ nursing homes and one assisted living facility.