Expediency is rarely associated with government bureaucracy. Yet expeditious action is exactly what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel provided after meeting at the Pentagon with representatives from veterans and military service organizations, among them the Association of the United States Army’s Assistant Director of Retiree Affairs Sgt. Maj. Leroy Bussells, USA, Ret.
During a roundtable for veterans and military service organizations – the first of its kind organized by a sitting secretary of defense – Bussells and others present asked the secretary of defense how the Joint Ethics Regulation could be updated in order to allow nonprofit organizations to assist junior enlisted soldiers and their families in need with free food, free clothing, and free programs that are worth more than $20 per gift and $50 per annum.
The prior regulation prohibited any gift giving by any organization to military personnel exceeding the aforementioned limits.
"I know our chapters have struggled with that limitation," Bussells said. "And it created problems in supporting soldiers at the installation level."
In response, Hagel promptly issued a memorandum revising the Joint Ethics Regulation by allowing enlisted military personnel from E-6 and below to "receive unsolicited gifts of a higher value" for the "limited purpose of permitting them to accept gifts (e.g. items valued in excess of $20), other than cash, from charitable and veterans service tax-exempt organizations."
The acceptance of these gifts must comply with Standards of Conduct rules and regulations.
For instance, the gifts cannot be accepted where the intent is to "influence the enlisted member in the performance of his official duties or as improper supplementation of his or her salary." In addition, military personnel are still prohibited from soliciting gifts from these organizations.
"I’m highly impressed that he took the time to answer directly back to us and that he took action so quickly," Bussells said. "That doesn’t usually happen at that level."
Following the meeting, Hagel sent Bussells a letter that included a copy of the memorandum and a series of answers to other questions he asked during the roundtable discussion.
"Your candor was refreshing and your obvious concern for our warriors was uplifting," Hagel’s letter read.