Military Connection: Should War Vets Be Exempt From the Death Penalty?

vet crime

By Debbie Gregory.

Andrew Brannan was a decorated Vietnam War Veteran. He volunteered for military service in 1968 and deployed as a forward observer in an artillery unit. He took command of his unit twice, when his commanding officers were killed. For his efforts, Brannan was awarded the Bronze Star and two Army Commendation medals for outstanding service. But after the war, he struggled to hold his life together.

Brannan suffered from both psychological and emotional problems. He was unable to keep a job and his marriage failed. The Veterans Administration (VA) declared him partially disabled due to service-related post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).

In1998, Brannan was driving his truck at breakneck speeds in Georgia when he was pulled over. Brannan, who was 66 at the time, attacked and killed Deputy Kyle Dinkheller. Brannan received the death sentence and was executed on January 13, 2015.

Joseph Loveland, the attorney who tried to commute Brannan’s sentence to life imprisonment without parole, says the jury and sentencing judge might have determined a different outcome if they had known all of the facts.

“Every doctor who had examined Andrew confirmed that he was suffering for years before the crime from significant PTSD that was directly related to his service in Vietnam…” Loveland said in an interview.

This begs the question: should war Veterans be exempt from the death penalty?

While the Department of Veteran Affairs argues that most veterans suffering from PTSD are not violent, PTSD is a severe mental disorder

According to mental health experts, the risk of criminal behavior isn’t necessarily higher among combat Veterans. But there are those in the legal community who are suggesting the criminal justice system should treat convicted Veterans suffering from PTSD differently.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that executing people with severe mental illness is unconstitutional, many death row inmates suffer from a form of mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and delusions that don’t fall within that exemption.

According to Anthony Giardino, an attorney and former Marine, the ultimate outcome of each case depends on the defense council and on the laws of each state.

It will always be difficult for society and the legal system to truly understand and appreciate what happens to Veterans on the battlefield, and the struggles they face when they come home, unless they’ve walked a mile in those boots.

Military Connection: Changes to Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans

Carter delivers remarks at a question-and-answer session with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar

By Debbie Gregory.

Major withdrawal from Afghanistan could be on hold, with many new variables factoring into the equation.

Through much of 2014 and into 2015, the strategy the White House has laid out for Afghanistan has included a further draw-down, leading to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. The timeline for completion has been estimated to be as early as the end of this year.

But as everyone who has served knows, plans and timelines are subject to change. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is not exempt.

There are currently approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan. Discussions last year included cutting that number almost by half in 2015, to around 5,500 or less, if the country’s own security forces could demonstrate their ability to quell insurgencies.

But now, the talk around Washington is that military officials are pushing to keep most, if not all of the 9,800 service members in Afghanistan through 2015, and likely into 2016.

A more concrete vision of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will be made apparent after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pays a visit to the White House in the coming weeks. Ghani has repeatedly stated his desire to have U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan for as long as possible in order to help stabilize the country.

New Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has acknowledged to the media that talks of keeping a larger force in Afghanistan after this year have gained a foothold in the administration. Carter has said that President Ghani’s administration’s welcoming of U.S. military support is in contrast to his predecessor’s stance. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was often critical of the U.S. military, and urged the Obama administration to plan for a rapid withdrawal.

A new Afghan president and a new U.S. Secretary of Defense aren’t the only new variables to the Afghanistan equation. The U.S.’s increased involvement against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria and the IS’s potential to expand into Afghanistan are also factors that could lead the Obama Administration to alter its plans.

We all know that whatever the plan is, our men and women in uniform will be prepared and willing to accomplish whatever mission is set out before them.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Changes to Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans? By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Members of National Guard Win USERRA Settlement

MISSOURI NG

By Debbie Gregory.

The Missouri National Guard has reached a settlement with the Department of Justice regarding policies that allegedly violated the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, members of the National Guard and Reserve who have been called to active duty have rights with respect to the retirement and health benefits provided by their private-sector employers as they prepare to be deployed. USERRA laws protect the civilian job rights and benefits for Veterans and service members. These laws stipulate that returning service-members must be promptly reemployed in the same position that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service, with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority.

The case in Missouri affects 138 civilian National Guard technicians. The largest case was that of an Army sergeant who was forced to quit her job as a civilian National Guard technician as a condition of being called to active duty under the Active Guard Reserve program. The sergeant was forced to forfeit paid military leave that she would otherwise have been entitled to.

As part of the settlement, the Missouri National Guard agreed to pay the sergeant for thirty days of military leave. The other 137 technicians who were named in the case received 15 days of paid leave. One stipulation of the settlement notes that there is no admission by the Missouri National Guard of any wrongdoing or violation of any federal or state law or regulation.

This case is important to note because of its irony. USERRA laws were created to protect members of the National Guard and Reserves. And in this case, the law sought to defend the employment rights of the service members, not against a civilian employer, but against a service component. While the Missouri National Guard contends that it did no wrong, and surely we can all agree that it didn’t actively seek to violate any of its members’ rights, this incident is a prime example of how and why Veterans and service members need to be aware of their rights under USERRA.

For more information on USERRA, or to sign up for USERRA 101, please visit www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/index.htm

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Members of National Guard Win USERRA Settlement: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Questions Veterans Should ASK at Interviews

Veteran job interviews

By Debbie Gregory.

For many Veterans looking for their first post-military jobs, much of the process is new to them. There are workshops and resources for employment searches, and resume writing to assist with those aspects of the job hunt. There are also resources available for practicing for interviews. But even with preparation, interviews can be the most intimidating portion of the job search. That is why it is important that Veterans do all that they can to present themselves as capable and confident to prospective employers.

It is crucial that Veterans research the company they’re interviewing with, and be familiar with the company’s mission statement and values. It also goes without saying that Veterans should be prepared to answer questions about the industry and the position they’re applying for, in a manner that displays their capability to fill the company’s need. But what many Veterans may not be aware of is the need to ask questions at the end of the interview, in order to convey their interest in the company and desire to win the position.

In the military, asking too many questions was a bad thing. And most Veterans who held leadership roles would argue that, in fact, there is such a thing as a stupid question. But asking well informed and targeted questions at the end of an interview can mean the difference between getting hired or continuing the job search.

When you’re researching the company, its policies and values, if you should happen to come up with legitimate questions that were not addressed, ask them. These questions will show that you have done your homework.

One of the best questions you can ask is something along the lines of, “Is there anything about me or my resume that I can clarify for you to make hiring me an easy decision?” A question such as this will show your interviewer that you are truly interested in getting the position. It can also get you talking more about your strengths, abilities and experience.

Another question to ask your interviewer should be something like, “Can you provide me with an area that the company needs improvement in?” If in researching the company, you find an area that company acknowledges a deficiency, you could specify that area, and ask how the company is approaching that fix. Asking these types of questions shows your interviewer how you are already thinking of ways to make their company better. Be prepared to offer a solution, but only if you are asked for one.

One last question that Veterans should ask during the interview is, “What does your ideal candidate look like and what can I do to become more like them? This question is a good one for multiple reasons. First, it shows your desire to win the position. It also exhibits your willingness to improve yourself. Furthermore, if for some reason you don’t get hired for this position, an answer from the interviewer could provide you with useful information to land the next job.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Questions Veterans Should Ask at Interviews: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Who Are the Unemployed Veterans?

unemployed Veterans

By Debbie Gregory.

Each month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes its report, “The Employment Situation.” Economists and concerned citizens view this report in order to track a variety of employment trends. MilitaryConnection.com uses the BLS data to track the statistics for Veterans, with a focus on the current generation of Veterans, transitioning out of uniform and into civilian employment. Data for the February 2015 Report was published on March 6, 2015.

Post-9/11 Veterans are referred to in the report as “Gulf War-era II Veterans.” Gulf War-era II Veterans have consistently recorded among the highest levels of unemployment in BLS reports. In the most recent report, Gulf War-era II Veterans recorded an unemployment rate of 6.7% for February 2015. While this number is down from January, 2015’s mark of 7.9% and considerably lower than February of last year’s rate of 9.2%, it is still one point higher than non-veteran totals. It is also1.2% higher than the national unemployment rate of 5.5%.

But a more telling picture of the unemployment picture for Post-9/11 Veterans was posted in a November 2014 BLS report titled “Employment and Unemployment Among All Veterans, Gulf-War-era II, and Nonveterans.” In this report, the unemployment data is broken down by war-era/non veteran as well as by age.

The data shows that Veterans over age 35 had an unemployment rate that was much more in tune with their non-veteran peers during 2013. All Veterans had a 6% unemployment rate, Gulf War-era II Veterans had a 6.4% rate, while non-veterans notched a 5.9% rating.

On the other hand, Veterans aged 18 to 24 years old, all them Gulf War-era, and comprising most of the fighting force for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw an unemployment rate of 21.4% in 2013, versus 14.3% for non-veterans.

The BLS data shows that an “area of focus” needs to be addressed in order to improve Veteran employment. It is not always enough to create initiatives and hiring programs that are geared towards “Veterans” or even “Post-9/11 Veterans.” Utilizing the data provided by the BLS, employers and Veteran advocates who are serious about combating unemployment among those who served in the military will start focusing their efforts on Veterans aged 18 to 24, who are the most unemployed group.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Who Are the Unemployed Veterans? By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: DOD Posts 3rd Quarter Suicide Report

military suicide

By Debbie Gregory.

On March 9, 2015, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR) for the third quarter of 2014, representing the time period of July through September.

The QSRs are posted on the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) at www.suicideoutreach.org. QSRs are intended to communicate the DOD’s data on suicide and suicide prevention to the public on a regular basis.

For the sake of the report, the QSR defines suicide as self-inflicted death with evidence of intent to die.

The report shows that there were 56 total suicides among active-duty components from all branches of the military combined. There were 31 suicides in the Army, 12 in the Air Force, seven in the Navy and six in the Marine Corps.

While high, the third quarter count is significantly lower than each of the first two quarters of 2014. The first quarter suicide count for active duty components was 74, and the second quarter was 70.

Among the Reserve component for the third quarter there were 20 suicides: 15 from the Army Reserve, three from the Air Force Reserve and one each from the Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve.

There were also 26 suicides among members of the National Guard during the third quarter, including 23 in the Army National Guard and three from the Air National Guard.

Service members from all branches and components need to be reminded that there is help available to them in times of crisis through the Military Crisis Line.The Military Crisis Line is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Active duty service members, Reservists, and members of the Guard can access help at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ActiveDuty.aspx, by texting 838255 or by calling toll free to: 1-(800) 273-8255 [then Press 1].

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: DOD Posts 3rd Quarter Suicide Report: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Drone Operators Contracting PTSD

drone operators

By Debbie Gregory.

Throughout time, those who have gone to war have experienced what was then referred to as Soldier’s Heart, Shell Shock, War Neurosis, War Hysteria, and Combat Stress Reaction.  Today, these conditions are known as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), and with the evolution of warfare, we are finding new and surprising methods of contracting PTSD. One of the latest discoveries is that more and more drone operators are complaining of PTSD symptoms.

Many in the military call drone operators “Nintendo Warriors,” implying that their contributions to military operations are merely glorified video gaming. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that drones operators, including pilots, camera operators, intelligence gatherers, communications experts, and maintenance workers, are involved in nearly every ground and air operation around the globe. This is especially true in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. And the role of drones is only increasing.

So while many other service members joke about the fact that drone operators can complete their missions after a morning commute stateside, and debrief at a TGI Fridays or Chili’s after “doing nothing but staring at video screens all day,” they can’t see the whole picture. Most Air Force pilots are logging somewhere in the area of 300 hours of flight-time per year, most of which is training. Most drone operators are logging 900-1,800 hours per year, nearly all of it while conducting active operations.

Drone operators are tasked with watching over U.S. forces on the ground, collecting intelligence photos and video feeds, and sometimes engaging enemy targets. Since the U.S. started conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State last August, at least three to four drones have taken part in every airstrike.

Drone missions are much different than other airstrike missions. The majority of the time, drone operators have been tracking a particular target for an extended period of time, collecting intelligence, before they are authorized to “eliminate” that target. This is opposed to other fighter, bomber and attack pilots, who often “rain hell from above” on unseen targets. And while other pilots are often on to another target or on their way back to the airfield, drone operators are regularly under orders to confirm that their target has been destroyed, meaning that they are often subjected to watching human beings in pain or dying from their actions.

The toll that the nature and the frequency of missions are taking on drone operators is as real as their contribution to U.S. military efforts. And more and more, operators are complaining of stress and PTSD-type symptoms.

For the mission workload that it wants to sustain, the Air Force needs to maintain a force of around 1,700 drone operators. There are currently only approximately one thousand operators currently serving, and they are being tasked with the work-load of 1,700. Nearly 240 drone operators leave the service each year, and with the Air Force only able to train somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 replacement drone operators per year, it’s easy to do the math and see that the void is only increasing.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Drone Operators Contracting PTSD: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Legislation Expands Programs for Veteran-Students

Veteran Students

By Joe Silva

On February 26, 2015, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would reauthorize and improve a grant program designed to assist colleges and universities in establishing, maintaining, improving, and operating Veteran Student Centers.

The Senate bill is titled The Veteran Education Empowerment Act of 2015 S.604 and was sponsored by Senator Jon Tester from Montana.

According to the text in S.604, Congress found that over 1 million Veterans attended college in 2014. Veteran-students face unique challenges that many traditional and even other non-traditional students don’t, including age differences, significant time away from academic life, obligations to their families, and even service-connected disabilities.

Congressionally sponsored studies reported that many Veterans struggle in the classroom and often feel isolated and under served on campus. This leads many Veterans to drop out of college before they complete their desired degree or certification program.

Veterans of the Post-9/11 era have the highest unemployment rate among Veterans. Dropping out of college does not help to improve this statistic.

Studies have shown that among the most beneficial resources for Veteran-students are each other. Veterans on campus provide each other with comradery, a sense of belonging, and serve as mentors to each other. Congressional studies and studies carried out by student groups and educators concur; providing a centralized location on campus for Veteran-students for information, resources, and a hub to connect to other Veterans has proven to increase their academic success.

The Veteran Education Empowerment Act of 2015 would empower the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to award no more than thirty grants to institutions of higher learning that have a significant population of Veteran-students, and students who are current members of the active-duty military, National Guard or Reserves. The grants would be awarded for periods of four years and will not exceed $500,000 each.

The use of grant funding is to be used to establish, maintain, improve, and operate a Veteran Student Center. Grant recipients can also use portions of the funds to carry out supportive services for Veterans on their campus, such as assistance with admissions and transfer credits.

At the time it was introduced, S.604 was read twice and then referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

As a Veteran-student, I can see the benefits in approving the Veteran Education Empowerment Act of 2015. Most of the rules and policies for admissions and tuition payments are unique for Veterans, and not every staff member on every campus knows this. Veteran-students need a place on campus to go to get all of their questions answered by a staff member who knows how their individual school processes benefits.

On behalf of those who served, who are now or will someday be enrolled in college, please contact your senator and tell them to back S.604, the Veteran Education Empowerment Act of 2015 for their constituency.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Legislation Expands Programs for Veteran-Students: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: All Black Hawk Crash Victims Identified

Fallen

By Debbie Gregory.

The identities of the service members killed in the March 10thhelicopter crash in Florida’s Santa Rosa Sound have been released to the media.

The service members lost their lives when a Black Hawk Helicopter went down during a nighttime training exercise off the coast of Florida’s Panhandle. Four of the victims were the helicopter’s pilots and crew, members of the Louisiana National Guard. The remaining seven were passengers from the 2nd Special Operations Battalion of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The names of the seven Marines were released on March 13th. The fallen Marines have been identified as:

  • Captain Stanford Henry Shaw III from Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
  • Master Sergeant Thomas A. Saunders, originally from Bonn, Germany.
  • Staff Sergeant Marcus S. Bawol of Warren, Michigan.
  • Staff Sergeant Trevor P. Blaylock from Lake Orion, Michigan.
  • Staff Sergeant Liam Flynn, originally from Reading, England.
  • Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp, originally from Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Staff Sergeant Andrew C. Seif from Holland, Michigan.

The names of the four members of the Louisiana National Guard were released on March 16th. The two pilots and two crew members were identified as:

  • Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin Jr. of Delhi, Louisiana.
  • Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother of Alexandria, Louisiana.
  • Staff Sergeant Lance Bergeron of Thibodaux, Louisiana.
  • Staff Sergeant Thomas Florich of Fairfax, Virginia.

The cause of the crash is still unknown. The incident is still under military investigation by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama.

At MilitaryConnection.com, we celebrate the service of our men and women in uniform, and mourn the loss of the fallen. Our staff would like to send our heart-felt condolences to the families, friends and comrades of the fallen from the 2nd Special Operations Battalion and the Louisiana National Guard.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: All Black Hawk Crash Victims Identified: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: The Path to Special Ops for Women

ranger

By Debbie Gregory.

In years past, society had us believe that only men went to war, while the women stayed behind to hold down the fort. But with more and more women joining the armed forces and serving their country, these ideas need modernizing.

Approved by Army Secretary John McHugh, the Army will now allow as many as 60 women to participate in the next Ranger course, a grueling, two-month combat school, marking a first in the Army’s history. This course is regarded as one of the first steps into the military special operations field. It would not, however, allow them to become members of the Ranger Regiment, which is a men’s only position.

Part of an ongoing campaign to eliminate the Direct Ground Combat Assignment Rule, the changes are dismantling, in phases, policies that have prohibited women from serving in combat units below the brigade level.

Since 2012, when the campaign began, almost 50,000 jobs have been opened as gender neutral. This includes jobs within artillery and maneuver units, primarily being brigade and combat teams.  There are also a few hundred positions opened in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which is currently recruiting women to serve as pilots, mechanics, and other duties within the unit, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, currently has one female member. Service in the Night Stalkers is one of the most prestigious and sought after positions, as they are responsible for flying the helicopters that carried the Navy Seals into Osama Bin Laden’s compound in 2011.

This spring, some 80 women are scheduled to attend the training and assessment courses that will be held at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Additionally, the organizations being opened to women, thanks to Army Secretary John McHugh include: Army Special Operations Command (Airborne); Army National Guard Special Forces Group (Airborne) Battalions; Military Information Support Operations Command Tactical Psychological Teams; Special Forces Military Free Fall Operations, and associated additional skill identifiers 4X for officers and W8 for enlisted soldiers.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: The Path to Special Ops for Women: By Debbie Gregory