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