Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 18 February 2013 

2/18/2013 

THE LIGHTS ARE ON, BUT NO ONE IS HOME

 SEQUESTRATION:  se·ques·tra·tion


The employment of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits.

We hope Hill staff members are working behind the scenes this week to find an alternative to sequestration which starts on March 1.  We know members of Congress aren’t because they are out of town for a week-long recess.  

Unbelievably,  it seems that only after sequestration kicks in, will both sides of the aisle stop blaming each other and actually work together to find a solution.  Before they left town, Senate Democrats released preliminary details of a bill they say will avert the sequestration.  The plan would save $110 billion, half of which would come by increasing revenue and the other half by cutting defense and domestic programs equally.  The $25.7 billion in defense cuts would be phased in over nine years as opposed to the $48 billion that would be cut in the remainder of this year.  Republicans have already said that they will oppose it because of the tax hikes. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that the Senate will vote on the plan when they return from recess and would also vote on an alternate plan the GOP will unveil.  We have no details on the GOP plan.

Meanwhile, part two of the fiscal perfect storm is the likelihood that the government will continue to be funded under a continuing resolution for the remaining six months of the fiscal year.  The outlook on that front became a bit rosier when House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., announced that he intends to include fiscal 2013 spending bills for the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs in the package.  

Rogers said that it would give the Pentagon and VA “some flexibility to manage their business.”  It would be welcome news if Rogers’ plan succeeds.  

Every year, those of us who follow Congress closely express optimism that they will go back to business as usual.  Budgets delivered on time, authorization and appropriations bills approved and signed into law before the beginning of the next fiscal year seem like a distant memory.  All it seems that we do now is wring our hands while we lurch from one fiscal crisis to another.  What we find so appalling about the “new normal” is the fact that our service members continue to do their jobs superbly while being used as pawns in the fiscal mess. Not only are the tools that are critical to their continued success on the line, those benefits that they earn because of their arduous service are also targeted as ways out of this mess.  Please be assured that we will defend those who currently serve, their families, and those who have already served against these endless attacks.   

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., Vice President for Education, Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA Ret., and Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper met with members of Congress and key congressional staff members last week to personally convey the AUSA message that triggering sequestration and funding the Army for all of FY 13 with a continuing resolution would be devastating to our Army. 

The group met with House Army Caucus co-chairs Reps John Carter, R-Texas and Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., senior staff members from the Senate Armed Services Committee, and staff from the office of Rep. John Mica. R-Fla.  They reinforced earlier testimony that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter gave before defense committees in the House and Senate last week:  The Army must have timely, predictable funding streams in order to properly train Soldiers and provide required services for them and their families.

All were receptive to and agreed with the AUSA message, but warned that in the current atmosphere on the Hill, the outcome of the sequestration and continuing resolutions battles remained uncertain.  AUSA will continue to make clear to members through personal visits and correspondence of the enormous downside of allowing sequestration to trigger and of using a year-long continuing resolution to fund the Army.

CALL TO ACTION!!!

AUSA has been urging Congress to solve the sequestration puzzle since last March!  If they do not act, it will kick in this March.  The across-the-board budget cuts would severely damage the defense industrial base, and the ripple effects of layoffs and delayed or cancelled contracts could well plunge the national economy into recession.  At a time when our nation faces a wide range of national security threats, should sequestration occur, equipment, maintenance and training accounts would take the brunt of the cuts and then we’ve hollowed out the force.

Please add your voice to ours by sending a letter to your representatives.  Click here, enter your zip code and then click on the letter titled “Stop Sequestration Now”.

The fiscal process must be put back in order so that our defense forces can maintain readiness and their ability to defend this nation.  

DISAPPOINTING MILITARY PAY RAISE PROPOSED

The Department of Defense needs to get personnel costs under control because those accounts have grown 80 percent since 2003.  That’s what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters last week.  He added that if steps are not taken now, it would force the department to cut military end strength and sacrifice readiness.

 Panetta said that the proposed 2014 defense budget will request only a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel which would be the smallest pay raise in the 40-year history of the all-volunteer force. 

 AUSA has fought tirelessly for years to close the pay gap.  While we had great success, we must be vigilant and not slide back to the time when tight budgets drove caps on military pay raises.  The end result of continued caps is a crisis in retention and readiness.  Soldiers who are willing to give their lives for their country should not be paid less than their civilian counterparts – period – end of discussion. 

The secretary also said that the budget proposal will recommend another round of military base closures and will continue to look for savings in the TRICARE health program. Here we go again.

 We at AUSA might view all of this in a different light if we had not just been informed by the General Accountability Office that it could not complete an audit of the federal government because of serious problems within the Department of Defense.

 A letter to the President and House and Senate leaders that accompanied the report said that, "The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2012 consolidated financial statements of the federal government because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.  As was the case in 2011, the main obstacles to a GAO opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements were:  Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable.”

How does the Pentagon know that the personnel accounts have grown 80 percent?     

The details of the budget will not be known until it reaches Capitol Hill.  Although it was due Feb. 1, it is anticipated that it will not be released by the Administration until late March/early April.  

 "DOC FIX" LEGISLATION INTRODUCED

Could this be the year that the “doc fix” is finally fixed?  

It will be if Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., have their way.  They introduced the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act that would ensure patient access to physicians while promoting efficiency, quality and value in health care delivery. The bipartisan legislation would permanently repeal the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and defines a clear path toward comprehensive reforms of Medicare payment and delivery systems. 

For years, the SGR formula which is used to determine payments for physicians’ services under Medicare and TRICARE, has threatened to impose steep cuts in Medicare payments for physicians who provide care to seniors and military beneficiaries.  The cuts drive physicians out of Medicare, creating severe access problems for senior citizens and members of the military community.   

The fiscal cliff legislation passed by Congress at the end of the year contained a one-year payment patch for physicians who treat Medicare/TRICARE patients.  

The legislation would implement delivery system and payment reforms that would ensure long-term stability in the Medicare physician payment system and would contain\ the rising growth in health care costs.  

The Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act:

 * Permanently repeals the SGR formula;

* Provides annual positive payment updates for all physicians for four years;

* Ensures access to preventive care, care coordination, and primary care services through increased payment updates for those services;

* Aggressively tests and evaluates new payment and delivery models;

* Identifies a variety of unique payment models to provide options for providers across medical specialties, practice types, and geographic regions;

* Stabilizes payment rates for providers who demonstrate a commitment to quality and efficiency within a fee-for-service model; and,

* Ensures long-term stability in the Medicare physician payment system through predictable updates that accurately reflect the cost and value of providing health care services in coordinated care models.

AUSA strongly supports this important legislation.

NEW LEGISLATION SPOTLIGHT

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced legislation that that will permit retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability between 0-40% to receive both their military retired pay and full disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Sen. Reid said that the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2013 (S.234) “addresses an injustice against 625,000 disabled veterans across the country face.  For the past 122 years, Congress has repeatedly forced the bravest men and women in our nation – retired, career veterans – to forfeit dollar-for-dollar their retirement pay if they also receive disability pay for an injury that occurred in the line of duty.  This is simply wrong, and we owe it to our veterans to do better.  

AUSA agrees and fully supports Sen. Reid’s efforts in getting this injustice corrected.

VA Switching to Electronic Payments

If you are receiving your Federal benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by paper check, you will need to switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. You can receive your benefits electronically in one of two ways: (1) by direct deposit or (2) by prepaid debit card where the U.S. Treasury deposits your benefits directly to a debit card. This is an option if you do not have a bank account and do not want to open one. You can request a debit card by calling (800) 333-1795 (Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm ET). If you have questions, call the Go Direct Helpline at (800) 333-1795.

Illinois to Streamline Certification for Veterans

The state of Illinois has announced a new initiative in which veterans will be able to use their military occupational specialty as proof of their skills. This initiative will start out by identifying qualified service members to serve in the medical field, with institutes of higher education allowed to create programs catered towards veterans with medical expertise. For more on this initiative and its potential impact, visit the Veteran Jobs blog.

Museum Features Native American Weapons

The Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) Museum in Illinois is the second oldest U.S. Army Museum. The museum contains the largest known collection of weapons used by the Cheyenne and Sioux during this battle. It has also always been known for its small arms collection with 75 percent of its small arms being displayed. The RIA Museum is also a research center, which also provides information for research requests. Tours of the RIA museum are available for adult and school groups free; request tours and other information by calling (309) 782-2979/5021.

Black History Month and the Military

February is Black History Month. African-Americans have continuously served in the U.S. Military since colonial times. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July 1948, integrating the U.S. Military services. For more information on the service of African Americans in the U.S. Military, visit the Military.com History section, the African Americans in the U.S. Army webpage, the African Americans in the U.S. Army: Loyalty, Honor, Patriotism webpage, the African American Military History website, the Department of Defense African Americans in the Military website, the African Americans and the Military webpage, the National Archives website, and the African American Military Records webpage.

Decorated Soldier's Arrest Raising Bloggers' Ire

Bloggers are storming Jefferson County with their anger and disbelief over the arrest in January of a former Fort Drum soldier because he had in his car an empty "large capacity ammunition feeding device."

The shower of criticism, which takes direct aim at the sheriff's and district attorney's offices, is fueling a defense fund for Nathan H. Haddad, 32,  that at the latest report had grown to more than $34,500.

His brother, Michael Haddad, Jamestown, who spearheaded the show of support, has set a $100,000 goal.

Michael Haddad could not be reached Friday for comment, but in a blog he wrote, "The purpose of this fund was to be able to provide a vigorous, tenacious and viable defense for an honorable man who served his country and is now a victim of a government that has taken routine actions and criminalized them."

Nathan Haddad was arrested on the evening of Jan. 6 in the town of LeRay by a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy on five felony counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He did not possess weapons or ammunition in his car, but had five 30-round AR-15 magazines for ammunition. He was not jailed, but awaits grand jury action on charges that, if he is convicted, could bring him a prison sentence.

One of the early bloggers who took up Mr. Haddad's cause alleged that he was being charged under New York's recently legislated gun laws, which were passed in reaction to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, but were not yet in effect.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills said Mr. Haddad is cited under a 1994 section of the state penal law, which reads, in part, "possesses a large capacity ammunition feeding device." The paragraph does not specify that the device must be loaded to justify the charge.

Mrs. Mills said no traffic charges were filed against Mr. Haddad. She declined to comment about what prompted the traffic stop or to discuss merits of the case. Sheriff John P. Burns refused to provide any background information about the arrest.

Mr. Haddad was discharged from the Army in October 2010. During a military career that spanned more than a decade, he served four deployments, with service in Iraq. His Army service was brought to an end by a shoulder injury he suffered during special forces training in South Korea.

Michael Haddad and some of the bloggers who have joined the cause compared the former soldier's situation to the suggestion that David Gregory of NBC could be criminally prosecuted because he displayed an empty high-capacity gun magazine during a "Meet the Press" interview in December. District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan declined to prosecute, reasoning that doing so "would not promote public safety."

T.L. Davis, author of the book "The Constitutionalist," in which he explores the rights guaranteed Americans in the Constitution, blogged, "The case of Nathan Haddad should boil the blood of any good American. ... This is why, even though one is a law-abiding citizen, never talk to police officers and never give them permission to search your vehicle without a warrant describing in detail the area to be searched and the things to be seized."

The Davis blog issued a challenge to the Jefferson County district attorney's office: "Let's see if Nathan Haddad is afforded the same type of justice that a white, rich, liberal with a television news program can expect."

Same Sex Spouses Denied Health, Housing Benefits

The Defense Department extended a range of benefits to same sex military couples Monday but declined to grant the two main ones -- housing and health care -- because of prohibitions in the Defense of Marriage Act.

"One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.

Until the Supreme Court or Congress changes DOMA on the definition of "spouse," DOD "will continue to comply with the current law" barring housing and health benefits to same sex couples in the military, Panetta said.

DOD said the range of benefits that will now be available to same sex couples included military identification cards, death benefits, hospital visitation privileges, access to base commissaries and exchanges, daycare for the children of same sex couples, legal assistance and rights to space available travel on chartered military flights.

At a background briefing at the Pentagon, DOD personnel and legal affairs officials made clear that the defense department favored extending housing and health care benefits to same sex couples and their dependents but could not get around DOMA's definition of "spouse" as being a person of the opposite sex.

Unless and until DOMA is changed, "we would be violating the spirit of that law" by extending the full range of benefits, the DOD personnel official said. A base commander who acted on his own to extend housing and health care benefits "would be put in a very difficult postion," the official said, "and, therefore, the decision was made not to offer those benefits at this time."

The official estimated that decisions on extending same sex benefits applied to about 5,600 active duty personnel, 3,400 in the Guard and Reserves, and about 8,000 retirees.

The DOD legal official said that the effort to extend more benefits "is not off the table" but would depend on the Supreme Court's action. The Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA in March and a decision was expected in June.

The extension of benefits has been the subject of DOD reviews since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning gays from serving openly in the military was scrapped last September.

The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman under federal law. States that do not permit same sex marriage are not required to recognize a same sex marriage from another state, further complicating the effort of the military to extend benefits.

GOP: Shrink Federal Workforce to Meet Cuts

Republican congressional leaders on Wednesday began a full-court press to protect the Defense Department from any potential sequestration cuts by recommending civilian federal jobs numbers be cut by 10 percent over the next year by attrition.

And in the same time the GOP leaders said the President's proposal for a budget deal – which includes military cuts and tax increases – is unacceptable.  Convinced the plan lacks support on both sides of the aisle, the Republicans challenged Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to put it for a vote.

"It is responsible, unacceptable. It leaves our troops and economy unready to face the challenges of the future and the threats of today," Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said. "

Under the GOP plan, which is based on previous House and Senate bills drafted by Republicans, federal agencies would be able to hire one new person for every three that are lost through attrition. An earlier version allowed one new hire for every two people who left the payrolls.

They estimate the plan would save about $85 billion through the remainder of the year, accounting for the entire amount the government, including DoD, would have to slash if the sequestration cuts take effect on March 1 as scheduled. And making the cuts through attrition will negate furloughs and reductions-in-force.

"So it's as painless [a way] as possible to protect our troops," McKeon said.

The House and Senate Republican leadership already came out on Tuesday opposing a plan put forward by President Obama, made up of 25 percent cuts in military spending, 25 percent in domestic spending and 50 percent in revenue, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said.

"It was a non-starter. I think [President Obama] knew that," Inhofe said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said it was time to vote one way or another on a budget in the Senate, noting that the House has voted on bills but the Senate Democrats have not introduced one.

He called Obama's proposal unsound, "but lets' vote on it," he said. Or if not that, he challenged Reid to put up a budget proposal.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former ranking member of SASC, pushed the same challenge.

"Bring a bill to the floor … Let's go to work for a change," he said.

The Pentagon has already come up with more than $400 billion in cuts over the next 10 years as it scales back on spending with the end of the Iraq War and expected withdrawal from Afghanistan. The sequester cuts, totaling about $500 billion, would come on top of those already factored in.

The sequestration plan was put into law by Congress in 2011 as a way to force itself to come up with and pass a budget. The thinking then was that an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts on top of reductions already planned would be so terrible that they would have to work together.

But that plan has failed so far. The cuts were supposed to take effect in January but a last-minute deal worked out by all sides pushed the deadline back to March 1.

More than a month later, however, the two sides still cannot agree on a deal and so the sequestration "time bomb" is again ticking down.

According to Cory Bythrow, spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees, reducing the federal workers will not be painless, either for the military or the civilian economy.

"First question you have to ask is how does this affect the uniformed members of the military?" Bythrow said. "The only reason why there's a need for a civilian workforce is to support the mission of troops in the field. Any reduction in the civilian part of the force represents a reduction in the ability of the United States to give our active-duty men and women the support they need."

The cuts will also hurt the American public, since it will reduce the number of people working for them and reduce employment around the country, he said.

"Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce lives and works in communities across America," he said. "When you cut 10 percent you're taking most of those workers out of those communities."

Bythrow estimates a 10 percent reduction will mean 200,000 jobs across the country. This will mean staff reductions at federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Interior Department, which is responsible for National Park Service, and the Food and Drug Administration.

"Do you really want a 10 percent cut in the number of people who keep the food supply safe? You need to ask what impact this will have" across the country, he said.

Article Wrongly Says OBL Killer Denied Healthcare

Esquire magazine claims "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden ... Is Screwed." 

The story details the life of the Navy SEAL after the successful raid to take out the No. 1 terrorist, and it asserts that once the SEAL got out of the military he was left to fend for himself.

"...here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:

Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family."

Except the claim about health care is wrong. And no servicemember who does less than 20 years gets a pension, unless he has to medically retire.

Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL, who is identified in the story only as "the Shooter", is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But the story doesn't mention that. 

The writer, Phil Bronstein, who heads up the Center for Investigative Reporting, stands by the story. He said the assertion that the government gave the SEAL "nothing" in terms of health care is both fair and accurate, because the SEAL didn't know the VA benefits existed. 

"No one ever told him that this is available," Bronstein said. 

He said there wasn't space in the article to explain that the former SEAL's lack of healthcare was driven by an ignorance of the benefits to which he is entitled. 

"That's a different story," Bronstein said in a phone interview with Stars and Stripes about what he omitted from the article.

The Center for Investigating Reporting posted a story on its website today that goes into greater detail about the SEAL's interactions with the VA, including that he has a disability claim that is stuck in the backlog.

Esquire magazine has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The story's claims are getting a lot of buzz - The Washington Post picked up the detail about the SEAL's healthcare situation - disconcerting veteran advocates like Brandon Friedman, who served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and used to be a VA public affairs officer. 

"Misinformation like this doesn't help veterans," he said. "When one veteran hears in a high-profile story that another veteran was denied care, it makes him or her less likely to enroll in the VA system."

Congress Considers Putting Limits on Drone Strikes

WASHINGTON -- Uncomfortable with the Obama administration's use of deadly drones, a growing number in Congress is looking to limit America's authority to kill suspected terrorists, even U.S. citizens. The Democratic-led outcry was emboldened by the revelation in a newly surfaced Justice Department memo that shows drones can strike against a wider range of threats, with less evidence, than previously believed.

The drone program, which has been used from Pakistan across the Middle East and into North Africa to find and kill an unknown number of suspected terrorists, is expected to be a top topic of debate when the Senate Intelligence Committee grills John Brennan, the White House's pick for CIA chief, at a hearing Thursday.

The White House on Tuesday defended its lethal drone program by citing the very laws that some in Congress once believed were appropriate in the years immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks but now think may be too broad.

"It has to be in the agenda of this Congress to reconsider the scope of action of drones and use of deadly force by the United States around the world because the original authorization of use of force, I think, is being strained to its limits," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a recent interview.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said Tuesday that "it deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well."

Hoyer added: "We ought to carefully review our policies as a country."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee likely will hold hearings on U.S. drone policy, an aide said Tuesday, and Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, both have quietly expressed concerns about the deadly operations. And earlier this week, a group of 11 Democratic and Republican senators urged President Barack Obama to release a classified Justice Department legal opinion justifying when U.S. counterterror missions, including drone strikes, can be used to kill American citizens abroad.

Without those documents, it's impossible for Congress and the public to decide "whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the president's power to deliberately kill Americans is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards," the senators wrote.

It was a repeated request after receiving last June an unclassified Justice Department memo, which fell short of giving the senators all the information they requested.

First detailed publicly by NBC News late Monday, the memo for the first time outlines the Obama administration's decision to kill al-Qaida terror suspects without any evidence that specific and imminent plots are being planned against the United States.

"The threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat," concluded the document.

The memo was immediately decried by civil liberties groups as "flawed" and "profoundly disturbing" - especially in light of 2011 U.S. drone strikes in Yemen that killed three American citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old-son and Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki was linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010. His son was killed in a separate strike on a suspected al-Qaida den. Khan was an al-Qaida propagandist.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, echoing comments Brennan made in a speech last April, called the strikes legal, ethical and wise and said they are covered by a law that Congress approved allowing the use of military force against al-Qaida.

"And certainly, under that authority, the president acts in the United States' interest to protect the United States and its citizens from al-Qaida," Carney said Tuesday.

"It is a matter of fact that Congress authorized the use of military force against al-Qaida," Carney said. "It is a matter of fact that al-Qaida is in a state of war against us and that senior leaders, operational leaders of al-Qaida are continually plotting to attack the United States, plotting to kill American citizens as they did most horrifically on September 11th of 2001."

Three days after 9/11, Congress approved a law authorizing the military to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against al-Qaida and other groups believed to be helping or harboring the global terror network, including the use of drone strikes. In the decade since the attacks, U.S. intelligence officials say, al-Qaida has splintered into a number of affiliates and allied sympathizers. That means the current laws could allow military force against thousands of extremists across the Mideast and North Africa who have limited or no ability to strike the United States.

Currently, both the CIA and the U.S. military are authorized to remotely pilot unmanned, missile-carrying drones against terror suspects. It's unknown exactly how many strikes have been carried out, but experts say that drone attacks in Pakistan are conducted by the CIA, while those in Yemen and Somalia, for example, are by military forces.

The drones have strained diplomacy between the U.S. and the nations where the strikes are carried out, as civilians have been killed alongside the targeted terrorists, even though most nations have given Washington at least tacit agreement to carry out the attacks.

A Middle Eastern diplomat said that in Yemen, for example, an uptick of U.S. drone strikes last month have killed dozens of people and upset the local public, leading some leaders in Sanaa to reconsider how often they should be used. The diplomat spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity to avoid political retribution from the Obama administration.

The Pentagon is also considering basing surveillance drones in Niger to monitor on burgeoning extremist violence in North Africa, but it's not clear if they will be armed. Scaling back the use of drones also would hamper war plans in Afghanistan after combat troops are scheduled to withdraw in 2014. Drones represent a major thrust of the post-troops campaign to help the limited number of special forces units that remain there keep the Taliban from regrouping.

Brennan, who currently serves as the White House counterterrorism czar, has signaled he is prepared to turn the CIA from carrying out lethal drone strikes and hand over those missions to the U.S. military. Sen. Ron Wyden, a senior Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence panel, declared himself unsatisfied Tuesday with the Justice memo and said he will press Brennan at the confirmation hearing about the administration's current policy.

The drone debate puts Obama -- himself a former civil rights lawyer -- in the awkward position of carrying out lethal attacks in secret and bucking his political allies in the Democratic Party. Democratic lawmakers were incensed by the refusal of the Republican administration of President George W. Bush to hand over classified Justice Department opinions justifying the use of waterboarding, the harsh interrogation tactic that critics call a form of torture. Obama repudiated those methods -- and released those opinions -- when he took office in 2009. The use of drones proved to have no political cost to Obama in his re-election campaign.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., defended the use of deadly drones, calling it "a lawful act of national self-defense."

"When an individual has joined al-Qaida -- the organization responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans -- and actively plots future attacks against U.S. citizens, soldiers, and interests around the world, the U.S. government has both the authority and the obligation to defend the country against that threat," Rogers said in a statement.

But Rep. Keith Ellison, said the new Justice memo could spur lawmakers into taking a fresh look at deadly drones, and what he called an outdated policy guiding them.

"We are sort of running on the steam that we acquired right after our country was attacked in the most horrific act of terror in U.S. history," said Ellison, D-Minn. "We have learned much since 9/11, and now it's time to take a more sober look at where we should be with use of force."

Reserve Retirees May Soon Get Veteran Status

Tom Philpott

New Push to Make ‘Veterans’ of 200,000 Reserve Retirees

Lt. Cmdr. Jack Townsend, a Navy Reserve retiree in Richmond, Va., first became aware a decade ago that he wasn’t considered a military “veteran” under federal law. It’s been bothering him ever since.

Townsend was applying for a job when asked for a copy of his DD Form 214, “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” to prove veteran status. Townsend, who had earned his reserve commission through the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, didn’t have a DD 214 because he never had served under active duty orders.

He did have his Navy Reserve retirement letter to verify 24 years of service. But employers are schooled to ask for the DD 214, proof from a job seeker of veteran status for completing a period of active duty service.

“It put me in a bad light,” Townsend said.

Roger Miller, 60, of Denver, Colo., who retired from the Navy Reserve at the same rank also after 24 years, spent six of his years as an Air Force Reserve enlistee, loading cargo on aircraft that others crewed.

“I knew that to be classified a veteran you had to have 180 days of continuous active duty, not including basic training or tech school. I finished up tech school at 179 days,” Miller said, just as the Air Force intended.

Non-veteran status didn’t string Miller until years later when he applied for federal civilian positions that fit his experience well in television and mass communications. He couldn’t, however, claim veterans’ preference points and he lost those jobs to former service members with active duty time.

“People ask me, ‘Are you a veteran?’ I say well, yeah, I served 24 years in the Reserve so I consider myself a veteran -- even though the government doesn’t.’  That’s my answer to them,” Miller said.

Townsend said it’s illogical that the law denies Reserve retirees veteran status but they can draw military retirement at age 60, get military health care, shop on base and the Department of Veterans Affairs even finds them eligible for certain benefits including VA guaranteed home loans.

“The only thing I’m lacking,” said Townsend, “is the paperwork.”

After years of complaints by reserve component retirees, a change to their veteran status may be near.

The Military Coalition, an umbrella organization for 34 military associations and veterans’ groups, is restarting a lobbying campaign for the new Congress and will push for passage of a bill to alter the definition of “veteran” for more than 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees.

The Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act will be re-introduced this month in the House by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Co-sponsors in the Senate will be John Boozman (R) and Mark Pryor (D), a bipartisan team from Arkansas, at least on this issue.

The House has passed this legislation twice. It died each time in the Senate on opposition from Richard Burr (N.C.), ranking Republican on the veterans affairs committee. Burr’s staff could not be reached to comment.

But advocates say the senator is worried that extending veterans status to reserve component retirees would open the door to more benefits. Proponents say the bill specifically states that those to be honored as veterans in the bill “shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason” of it.

So there is no “nose under the tent” benefit issue that should worry Burr, say coalition representatives leading the fight for the bill. These 'veterans,' for example, would still not enjoy preference points in competing for federal jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office is persuaded, scoring the bill as “cost neutral.”  Yet the coalition is working with sponsors to add more phrasing that would allay any remaining concerns Burr might have.

“To call yourself a veteran is one of the highest honors you can have after you leave the military. It’s an acknowledgement of one’s service,” said Anthony A. Wallis, with the Association of the United States Navy.

Most of the retirees targeted by the bill served in an era when it was commonplace to complete Reserve and Guard careers without active service. That’s almost unfathomable today given Guard and Reserve operations since 9/11.

“The population we are fighting for in this legislation is diminishing over time,” said Bob Norton, deputy director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “These are mostly Cold War-era folks, people who served in Reserve and Guard units but before first Gulf War, and were never called up during their careers.”

But Norton noted there still are reserve component careerists serving today, including National Guard technicians, who prepare others for call up but are not mobilized themselves for overseas contingencies or national emergencies. So these members too would be honored as veterans if they reach Guard or Reserve retirement for serving at least 20 years.

Another reason Burr should not fear a benefit expansion, Norton said, is that every benefit provided to veterans is governed by its own restrictive language specifying who is eligible. None simply goes to “any veteran.”

The bill being drafted would only extend veteran status to reserve component retirees, not to many more thousands of Reserve and Guard personnel who left before earning retirement.

Some members of the coalition may see the issue differently, Norton said, but at MOAA “our feeling is that this honor really should be reserved for those who have completed a full career.”

Miller does feel differently. He thinks any length of honorable service should suffice, “whether six years in the Reserve or 24 years.”

“I would still like to be recognized as a veteran, officially by the government, because I did serve 24 years,” Miller added. “And if you have talked to other reservists you know that it wasn’t just that one weekend a month you did your duty.”

Afghan Vet to Receive Medal of Honor

Former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha is scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor on Monday for heroism under fire at the battle of Combat Outpost Keating on Oct. 3, 2009, when some 300 insurgents surrounded a small, forward deployed outpost of about 50 Americans. Romesha, who currently resides in Minot, N.D., was assigned to Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. He will be just the fourth living and 11th overall recipient of the Medal of Honor from America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On Sunday night, CNN will air an encore of its special, An American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha on Sunday evening at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. eastern. For a preview of the special visit: http://on.cnn.com/YddFzE and to read more about Staff Sgt. Romesha, visit: http://www.army.mil/article/95790.

DOD Budget Cuts

The Defense Department and the services released details this week on how they plan to meet the mandatory sequester, which barring a last minute agreement by Congress, is scheduled to automatically kick in on March 1, and would force the Pentagon to cut $52 billion more from its budget by the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30, just seven months away. The automatic sequestration cuts would be in addition to the $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years, as mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011. Planned reductions include:
* Slashing noncombat flying, sailing and driving hours, to include possibly cancelling all or part of the airshow seasons of the Navy's Blue Angels and the Air Force's Thunderbirds.
* A three-week furlough of almost 800,000 DOD civilians.
* A hiring freeze and cut back on installation and facility maintenance.
* Cancelling the deployment of a second carrier strike force into the Persian Gulf.
* Requesting a 1 percent military pay raise for fiscal year 2014 instead of the planned 1.7 percent.
* Requesting another base realignment and closure round.
* And possibly increasing military dependent and retiree Tricare health program fees, and changing the current military retirement system for future generations.
Further complicating the issue is Congress has yet to pass a current year defense budget, which means the Pentagon is operating under a continuing resolution at last year's spending levels, which also prevents them from reprogramming monies from one account to another. As expected, the Pentagon is planning for the worst. DOD is guaranteeing that deployed forces will be protected, but forces in garrison and not "on deck" to deploy will be impacted. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=119232.

FY 2014 Independent Budget Released

This week, the VFW along with its partners---AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America---released their 27th edition of The Independent Budget, a comprehensive budget and policy document written by veterans for veterans that details funding requirements for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Recommendations for FY 2014 include:
* $58.8 billion total for health care---$1.3 billion more than what the Administration recommended ($57.5 billion) in their advance appropriation last year.
* $2.4 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration---approximately $226 million more than the expected FY 2013 appropriated level.
* $2.25 billion for all construction programs---approximately $900 million more than the expected FY 2013 appropriated level, and well below the true funding needs of construction projects.
* $611 million for medical and prosthetic research, approximately $28 million more than the expected FY 2013 appropriated level.
To the view the full document, click here: http://www.independentbudget.org/. For the Press Release, go here: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2013-Articles/Veterans-Organizations-Urge-Administration-and-Congress-to-Keep-Promise-Regarding-Health-Care-Funding-and-Benefits/.

VFW Reacts to VA Suicide Report

Last week, VA released its first report on veterans' suicide since 2010. The new report estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day -- a 22 percent jump from 2010. The VFW was saddened by the VA's report on suicide, but we hope it serves as a wake-up call for the nation and how we address military mental health through reduced stigma in both the military and the public, as well as leveraging peer mentorship for veterans. It is unacceptable that our nation loses more heroes on the homefront than we lose on the battlefield. To read the full reaction on the VFW Hill Blog visit: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/02/reaction-to-vas-suicide-report.html

House VA Committee Hearings

The House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing this week regarding the deadly Legionnaires' breakout at the VA Healthcare System in Pittsburgh. Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria known as legionella. A months-long investigation by the subcommittee revealed that VA officials learned of problems with their water system as early as December 2011, yet waited nearly a year to disclose and address those issues. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Coffman (R-CO) condemned VA officials for a culture of complacency which led to the death of five veterans, and ordered VA to strengthen the weaknesses in its infection control program. To learn more about the hearing and to view a webcast click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/analyzing-va%E2%80%99s-actions-to-prevent-legionnaire%E2%80%99s-disease-in-pittsburgh

The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held its first oversight hearing of 2013 on VA's use of the 100 percent temporary disability rating. Veterans receive the temporary rating when medical evidence shows that a surgery or treatment for serious illness requires a substantial recovery period which may prevent them from working, or when the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities allows the award of a 100 percent evaluation for a period of time. A recent VA Office of Inspector General report detailed VA's failure to process and monitor those claims, resulting in a $943 million overpayment to veterans. The IG also found that VA had not set up proper controls or scheduled future medical examinations as required. All seven IG recommendations, including one requiring VBA to review all temporary 100-percent ratings to ensure a future examination date is entered in the Veteran's electronic record, are being implemented. For more information on the hearings or to view the recorded webcast, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/the-100-temporary-disability-rating-an-examination-of-its-effective-use.

Senate Introduces Stolen Valor Act

Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced Stolen Valor Act legislation this week as a companion bill to what Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced in the House last month. Both H.R. 253 and its companion, S. 210, would make it a crime to knowingly benefit from lying about receiving a military valor medal or combat badge. Violators could face a fine and up to one year imprisonment. VFW strongly supports both bills. To read more, visit our blog at http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/01/new-stolen-valor-act-introduced.html.

NY Times Seeks Student-Veteran Stories 
 

The New York Times "At War" Blog is asking student-veterans to share their experiences on campus as a follow up to last Sunday's story on how schools are improving resources for veterans on their campuses. If you are a student-veteran, the Times wants to share your experiences on a variety of issues like war, deployment, training and the transition to civilian life. Please limit submissions to 700 words. Learn more at http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/veterans-in-college-share-your-stories/.

Three Korean War MIAs Identified

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently announced the identification of remains belong to three soldiers who have been unaccounted-for since the Korean War. Identified are:
* Cpl. Robert W. Scott, 19, of Detroit. In late November 1950, Scott and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team were deployed along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea when they were attacked by a vastly superior number of enemy forces. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 1, 1950.
* Cpl. Robert G. Archer, 19, of Brazil, Ind., also a member of the 31st Regimental Combat Team. On Nov. 29, 1950, his unit began a fighting withdrawal to a more defensible position south of the Chosin Reservoir. It was later learned he had been captured but died of malnutrition and lack of medical care.
* Pfc. Weldon A. Davis, 24, of Tioga, Texas. In late November 1950, elements of the 2nd Infantry Division suffered extensive casualties fighting the Chinese south of the Ch'ongch'on River in North Korea. It was later learned Davis had been captured but had died of malnutrition and pneumonia.
Read more at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here, http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

More Legislation Introduced - All “Concurrent Receipt” Bills Now Introduced in 113th Session of Congress

More interesting pieces of legislation are being introduced every day. All the major pieces of legislation to end the military retired pay/VA Service related disability pay offset bills have now been reintroduced in this session of Congress. And they have their old numbers. (This makes it easier for former co-sponsors to immediately sign up for the new bill. And it makes it much easier for the general public to keep track of it.)

On Thursday Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the Majority Leader, again introduced S. 234, “The Retired Pay Restoration Act for 2013. It would allow all military retirees with VA disability ratings of 10%-40% to receive both their retired pay and their VA disability pay.

When reintroducing his bill Senator Reid stated: “This legislation addresses an injustice against 625,000 disabled veterans across the country face. For the past 122 years, Congress has repeatedly forced the bravest men and women in our nation – retired, career veterans – to forfeit dollar-for-dollar their retirement pay if they also receive disability pay for an injury that occurred in the line of duty. This is simply wrong, and we owe it to our veterans to do better.

“Throughout my time in Washington, I have fought hard to ensure that all disabled veterans are fully compensated for their years of service and I am pleased that the ten-year phase-in period will finally come to bear, providing full concurrent receipt for veterans with a disability rating of 50-90%. However, we must finish our work for our nation’s heroes with a rating of 0-40%.”

It has no co-sponsors but should quickly get co-sponsors from; at least, Mr. Reid’s side of the aisle. And it is joining Representative Stanford Bishop’s (D-GA) new H.R. 333 which already has 49 co-sponsors and Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ (R-FL) H.R. 303 with 34 co-sponsors.

Through years and years of advocacy we have ended this unfair offset for many retirees. With a 10 year phase in plan longevity retirees with disability ratings of 50% or higher, no longer have the offset and receive both their retired pay and their VA disability pay. Both longevity retirees and disabilities military retirees whose any percentage disabilities are “combat related” now receive both their military retires pay and Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC). Combat related disabilities are defined as injuries incurred as a direct result of armed conflict, hazardous duty, an instrumentality of war, or a simulated war.

But these successes still do not cover longevity retirees with VA rated disabilities 40% and lower and medical retiree’s whose disabilities are not “combat related.” So we must push on.

In these tough financial/deficit times this is going to be a hard to sell to Congress. However, simple fairness requires keeping pushing and keeping bringing it up to the front of the line. TREA will continue to push this issue and we hope that you will continue to contact your members of Congress about how necessary it is to complete this long time goal.

And Even More New Military/Veteran Legislation

The number of new bills being introduced is impressive. Even with the following long list I am sure we have missed a couple.

S.262 A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide equity for tuition and fees for individuals entitled to educational assistance under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs who are pursuing programs of education at institutions of higher learning, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

S.257 A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to require courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education that are approved for purposes of the educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-State tuition rate, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. John N. Boozman (R-AR)

H.R.543 To amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Chris P. Gibson (R-NY-19)

H.R.562 To provide for a three-month extension of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff B. Miller (R-FL-01)

H.R.357 To amend title 38, United States Code, to require courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education that are approved for purposes of the educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-State tuition rate.
Sponsors: Rep. Jeff B. Miller (R-FL-01) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-02)

H.R.386 Homes for Heroes Act of 2013 To provide housing assistance for very low-income veterans.
Sponsor by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas-09)

H.R.385 HAVEN Act To establish a pilot program to authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to make grants to nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate and modify homes of disabled and low-income veterans.
Sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas-09)

H.R.384 Homes for Heroes Act of 2013 To establish the position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for other purposes.
Sponsored byRep. Al Green (D-Texas-09)

H.R.343 To amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that every military chaplain has the prerogative to close a prayer outside of a religious service according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience.
Sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.-03)

H.R.430 Protect Our Military Trainees Act To amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to protect new members of the Armed Forces who are undergoing basic training from the sexual advances of the members of the Armed Forces responsible for their instruction.
Sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.-14)

H.R.331 To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to permit the centralized reporting of veteran enrollment by certain groups, districts, and consortiums of educational institutions.
Sponsored by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.-42)

H.R.288 CHAMPVA Children's Protection Act of 2013 To amend title 38, United States Code, to increase the maximum age for children eligible for medical care under the CHAMPVA program.
Sponsored by Rep. Michael H. Michaud (D-Maine-02)

Federal Government Announces End of Push to Create a Lifetime Electronic Military Health Record

This week the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs announced that they were throwing in the towel on a computer project they had been working on for over 25 years. The goal was to create a single computer system to keep a lifetime medical record. But on Tuesday the White House announced that it was stopping the system’s development because it cost too much.

This is a huge disappointment to us and numerous members of Congress. This has been a continuing goal and project and according to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a long time proponent of a seamless transition it has already cost over $1 billion in R &D.

During the announcement Secretaries Panetta and Shinseki said that the medical records will be readable by both existing systems by 2014. Though they did not explain how that was going to happen.

Secretary Panetta basically said the perfect should not stop the good:”This is a struggle that has gone on for a long number of years. Some have argued that we should build a perfect system. But for the first time, both DOD and VA have come together to say we can get this done, we can get it done in an effective way that does the job."

Vietnam Vets: Be Sure To Check the Agent Orange Blue/Brown Navy Ship List

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs maintains a list of US Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in Vietnam during the war and could have been exposed to Agent Orange. Exposure is presumed for any veteran with duty or visitation within the country of Vietnam or on its inland waterways. Veterans who served aboard a listed ship that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways will automatically receive the presumption of exposure. Veterans who served aboard open sea ships that did not enter inland waterways will only be presumed exposed if the ship docked to shore, sent small boats ashore, or otherwise sent crew members ashore. The veteran must further provide a statement of personally going ashore. VA adds ships to this list after confirming service on inland waterways based on military records.
To find if your ship is on the list, go to: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/

Ships will be regularly added to the list based on information confirmed in official records of ship operations. Currently there are 244 ships on this list.
Questions about your eligibility for disability compensation? Call 1-800-827-1000 or 1-800-829-4833 (TDD for hearing impaired), or go to your nearest VA benefits office, which you can find here: http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/division.asp?dnum=3

Small (But Interesting) Bits of Information

Fiscal Cliff law changes Medicare repayment system- The fiscal cliff legislation included a 2 year expansion of the time that Medicare providers will be required to return overpayments. Previously if there was a Medicare overpayment the federal government had 3 years to demand a return of the payment. This is when it is an innocent mistake- not when it was a question of misinformation or fraud. But under the new law the government has 5 years to demand repayment even for mistakes that were complexly the governments. Because how final costs are presently calculated the law effectively lengthens the recovery period 1 year rather than the 2 years. But CBO has calculated that even a single year will save the government $500 million in ten years.

On Wednesday, with only 2 days warning the Pentagon cancelled the upcoming deployment of the U.S.S. Truman aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The Navy, facing the threat of an $8 billion cut this year asked Secretary Panetta to cancel the requirement that the U.S. keep 2 carrier groups in the Gulf. SecDef Panetta agreed and over 5,000 sailors’ plans were canceled. The Pentagon said that the decision was a direct result of imminent budget cuts including the pending sequestration. So we are already seeing affects even before the end of the month.

It is interesting to note that the SBP participation rates for those retiring in FY 2011 are: Enlisted 80%; Officers 83%; Both 81%. 

And Finally, a Good Piece of News for the Guard and Reserve in a Congressional Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 7, 2013
Tester, Chambliss, Latham fight to ensure reservists get retirement credit earned through service
Lawmakers introducing bills to fix technicality, make sure time deployed is credited toward retirement

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are teaming up with Representative Tom Latham (R-Iowa) to ensure that National Guard and Reserve members get the early retirement credit they have earned through active duty service.

While qualified active duty troops can receive retirement benefits immediately upon completion of service, most reservists must currently wait until the age of 60 to begin receiving benefits.

A 2008 law allows the minimum retirement age for reservists to be moved up by three months for every 90 days of deployment overseas. However, under current law, those 90 days of deployment must occur within one fiscal year in order to be applied toward retirement—meaning reservists who deploy for more than 90 days spanning two fiscal years receive no retirement credit.

The lawmakers’ measures would correct that technicality, authorizing early reserve retirement credit for every 90 days of active duty service over two years.

Tim Lincoln, Chairman of the Montana National Guard Association and Dennis Stoner, President of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard for the State of Montana, support the bill.

“Since September 11, 2001, the Montana National Guard has deployed over 4,000 soldiers and airmen all over the world, with many deploying into direct combat areas multiple times,” Lincoln and Stoner said. “The era of the Guard as a strategic reserve is over and the benefits of fighting our nation’s wars should reflect our contributions. We strongly support this correction so our members get the credit they have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

“Today, as folks across the country honor our service members as the heroes they are, we’ve got to make sure their benefits reflect their increased service,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Members of our National Guard and Reserve forces have been called upon in historic ways over the past twelve years, and they have fulfilled their obligations with honor. This legislation helps make sure the service of these brave men and women is more properly recognized by granting them the early retirement benefits they’ve earned.”

“Our guardsmen and reservists serve alongside all branches of the regular armed forces, and they should be recognized and compensated for the indispensable role they play in the defense of our nation,” Chambliss said. “I will continue to fight for them to receive credit and recognition for their service when considering retirement benefits.”

“The men and women of the National Guard and Reserve are serving an expanded, integral purpose in America’s foreign engagements, and they deserve retirement benefits that reflect the commitment and sacrifice of their increased role,” Congressman Latham said. “This legislation simply removes a technical glitch that is keeping some Guard members from receiving the retirement benefits that they’ve earned. We made significant progress last Congress in moving this measure closer to becoming law, and I intend to keep working until we can make it a reality by introducing the House version of this bill in the coming days."

Tester, Chambliss, and Latham’s bill is endorsed by the Military Coalition—an organization of nationally prominent uniformed services and veterans associations representing more than 5.5 million members.