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NGAUS E-Notes September 25, 2009



Late for Class: VA Slow Sending GI Bill Benefits

Delays by the Veterans Administration in issuing benefit checks is causing problems for thousands of veterans attending college, the New York Times reports today.

The newspaper says veterans have had to take out loans or dig into savings because the money from the highly touted bill has not arrived. The bill, which took effect Aug. 1, provides money to cover much or all of the costs of attending college for veterans who served in the military after Sept. 10, 2001.

More than 277,000 veterans and their eligible relatives applied for the assistance, but the department, which expected such a tidal wave of applicants, was unable to handle the flow. The department reported this week that only 20,000 applicants have received tuition payments from VA.

The newspaper reported 35 days were required to process claims, but that could stretch eventually to eight weeks or possibly longer.

"Taking into account the complexity of this bill, we've done about as well as could have been done," said Keith Wilson, the VA's education service director. "That doesn't alleviate our concern that we're not meeting everybody's expectations."

Colleges around the country have been allowing veterans to enroll in classes even though they have not received tuition payments, according to the Times report.

But many veterans are digging into their pockets or taking out loans for housing, books and other expenses that were to be paid by the assistance they expected to begin receiving Sept. 1.

We're discouraged by what we've seen and how it's affecting veterans in the field," Ryan Callucci, spokesman for the veterans' service organization Amvets, told the newspaper. "It is national in scope."

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the communication with veterans by the VA was not adequate, which could harm the department.

"For most of our generation of veterans, this is going to their first interaction with VA," he said.               

Tweet This: DoD to Announce Social Media Policy

Defense Department officials plan to forward a social media policy to the department leadership within the next two weeks that will balance the pros and cons of social networking sites, the department's top public affairs official said on National Public Radio this week.

Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said, "I think there are two issues that need to be balanced. No. 1, you need to recognize the benefits taking part in social networking sites and social networking media give you, as well as the risks involved. And I don't want in any way to shortchange the risks.

"I believe [the policy] ... will encourage the use of social networking because of the benefits that are there, but also understand and underscore the risks there."

Currently, Floyd said, the department does not have a policy on the use of social media, which usually refers to interactive tools such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others.

"Right now, there is no policy on working with or in social networking sites or media. It's currently under review," he said. "It's on course to be finished within about two weeks."

He said some in the Pentagon are greatly concerned about the social media sites because information sent on them can reach so many people in a short amount of time, unlike a letter.

"The ramifications of making a mistake, of putting things that shouldn't be on there on those sites, are even greater than they used to be," he said.

Noah Shactman, editor of Wired magazine's national security blog called Danger Room, said on the program that the operational concerns "might be a little overblown." He said an independent study of military blogs done in 2006 found only 28 security violations over the course of a year, while official military sites had more than 1,800 violations of those same security policies.

Blum: Unity of Effort Needed in Disaster Response

In the wake of a natural or manmade disaster, unity of effort is required from federal, state and local governments and the military, the deputy combatant commander of the U.S. Northern Command said at a conference at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, former chief of the National Guard Bureau, is the first Guard officer to serve as a deputy combatant commander.

"We need to move to a point where we have unity of effort of the interagencies, the intergovernmental organizations that are responding and of the military organizations that respond," Blum said. "That's what the American people expect. If you're going to help somebody, they're not going to look at your unit and say, 'No, thank you, I'm not going to have you rescue me. I'm going to wait for my favorite unit to come.'

"That's not the way it works. They expect us all to work in a seamless fashion."

Blum said it is wrong not to use all the resources available when people are suffering and in need of immediate help.

"It is unconscionable to me as an American taxpayer or as a military professional that we have ... a reserve of every active component that is not easily accessible and included in the disaster response plans for this nation," he said. "You have a flood in ... Maryland and you may have to drive by a Marine Corps Reserve engineer battalion that has exactly the equipment and exactly the skill set you need ... [and] go 120 miles further to get a National Guard engineer unit that has the same skill set and capability."

McHugh Takes Charge as 21st Army Secretary

John McHugh, who spent 16 years in Congress, was sworn in this week as the Army's 21st secretary.

The Republican from New York served in the House of Representatives and was the top member of his party on the House Armed Services Committee.

He was nominated by President Obama in June, but his confirmation by the Senate was delayed by two Republican senators from Kansas, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, over the prospect of Guantanamo detainees being sent to their state.    

They ended their opposition after discussions with the administration convinced them no detainees would be sent to Kansas.

McHugh, 60, was also co-chair of the House Army Caucus, a bipartisan organization that educates fellow House members and their staffs about Army issues and programs. He is a 14-year member of the U.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors.

During his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, McHugh said he understood the challenges facing soldiers in today's Army.

"They are strained by the frequency of constant deployments and stressed by the pressures levied against their families," he said. "Too often-far too often-they return home only to be disappointed by a network of support systems that, despite high intentions and constant effort, continue to fall short of the level of support they so richly deserve and each and everyone one of us so deeply desires."

Association History

At the 127th NGAUS General Conference in Honolulu, NGAUS donated money to help several coastal states in their relief efforts of Hurricane Katrina. Brig. Gen. Robert V. Taylor, NGAUS chairman, presented checks for $60,000 in hurricane aid to the state Guard associations of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi on Sept. 17, 2005.

The three associations distributed the money to deserving Guard storm victims in their states. Louisiana and Mississippi received $25,000 and Alabama got $10,000. The NGAUS board of directors approved the expenditure during a special meeting convened only a few hours before the check presentations.

In addition, the board also directed the association's finance committee to develop a permanent NGAUS relief fund to assist Guard families affected by future disasters.

This Week in Guard History

Sept. 21, 1846: Monterrey, Mexico - America declared war against Mexico in April 1846. By mid-summer, Gen.  Zachary Taylor had marched his army of nearly 20,000 men, more than half of whom were in volunteer units, across the border and deep into northern Mexico. He attacked the city meeting stiff resistance.

But it was the assault and capture of the citadel, often referred to as the Bishop's Palace, that involved the hardest combat. One of the units involved in this attack was the 1st Mississippi Volunteers, also known as the Mississippi Rifles, commanded by Col. Jefferson Davis. A West Point graduate and former Regular Army officer before the war, he made sure his men were well-trained and armed with the best shoulder arms available, better than the muskets carried by the Army.     The Rifles stormed the Palace and secured it after hand-to-hand fighting. The Mexicans were allowed to surrender with the honors of war, marching out under arms and carrying their colors.

At the Battle of Buena Vista on Feb. 23, 1847, the Rifles helped stem the main Mexican assault and threw the enemy back in confusion, causing them to retreat. Davis served at various times as a senator from Mississippi and as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce from 1853 to1857 before returning to the Senate. In 1861, Davis was elected as the president of the Confederate States of America.

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