VA Inspector General Nominee Wants Improved Whistleblower Protection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Mike Missal, President Obama’s nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general said that if he is confirmed, one of his top goals will be improving the treatment of whistleblowers in the VA.

The Washington, D.C. attorney, who specializes in government enforcement and internal investigations, testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he will ensure whistleblowers who come forward in the troubled agency will have their identities concealed and be protected from reprisal.

“If confirmed, one of my goals will be to promote an improved environment in which whistleblowers have confidence that their concerns will be fairly and effectively considered by the Office of Inspector General and that their identities will be protected from disclosure,” Missal said.

Missal would fill a key position at the VA that has been vacant since the previous inspector general at the VA stepped down in December 2013. The acting IG, Deputy Inspector General Richard Griffin, retired on July 4th.

The new IG will be faced with investigating an agency with a history of widespread data manipulation, management relocation schemes used to skirt rules on pay raises and massive construction cost overruns.

He told lawmakers that his inspiration for working at the VA was his deceased father, who served in Europe with the Army 286th Engineer Combat Battalion during World War II.

Missal said he recognizes “the great frustration in VA not fully meeting its mission” and vowed to work with lawmakers in finding ways to fix those problems.

“This is a particularly critical time for VA as it attempts to rebuild the trust and confidence it has lost from our veterans, Congress, veterans service organizations and the American public,” said attorney Mike Missal, who previously worked as senior counsel on a number of federal and congressional investigations.

Senators gave no indication during the hearing that Missal’s nomination will face any opposition. A full Senate vote on Missal’s nomination is expected before the end of the year.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Policy Academies Aim to Support Veterans

Veterans Economic Communities Initiative

By Debbie Gregory.

This year, in an effort to promote collaboration and open dialogue among organizations dedicated to the success of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI).

I had the pleasure of attending the Department of Veterans Affairs’ two-Day Veterans Economic Communities Initiative Policy Academy in Orange County, CA. This was the first in a series of “Policy Academies” the VA is hosting around the nation, in collaboration with national and community partners across industries and sectors.

These Policy Academies are an important part of the VECI campaign, as they serve as a forum for interactive training and networking, and provide access to new research for stakeholders who serve the Veteran community. Through VECI Policy Academies, VA is convening local, regional, and national partners across industries and sectors to facilitate and encourage dialog and collaboration.

One of my take-aways from the academy was that community-based efforts have a huge impact on the economic success of veterans. Engaging organizations and individuals in the community for the benefit of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families is crucial. This includes recognizing the value of hiring veterans and military spouses and improving the services, support and guidance to transitioning service members, veterans, and their families.   This is a big part of my motivation in launching Joining Forces California.

While I was extremely impressed by many of the corporate citizens present, I was most impressed by Hilton Worldwide and Apria Healthcare.

Hilton Worldwide’s 12 unique hospitality brands across 4,200 hotels in 93 countries and territories make Hilton Worldwide  the fastest growing global hotel company. Launched in 2013, Hilton’s Operation: Opportunity is a major initiative to provide extensive support to United States military veterans and their families. The initiative has a goal to hire 10,000 veterans at the company by 2018. Additionally, the program allows the donation of millions of Hilton HHonors points that veterans can redeem for free hotel stays while seeking jobs, both within and outside the company.

Apria Healthcare, one of the nation’s leading providers of home healthcare medical equipment and related services, supports our veterans and reservists through an outreach initiative called “Hiring Our Heroes.” Launched in 2014, the purpose of this initiative is to support those who have served our country by offering veterans the opportunity to make a successful transition to civilian life through employment with Apria. By focusing employment outreach and recruitment programs to attract veterans, Apria hopes to bring to its ranks men and women ingrained with qualities that align with Apria’s values, like leadership and a commitment to service excellence and teamwork, to help maintain and improve the quality of life for the company’s patients.

Marine Vet’s Tweet to Trump Goes Viral

rashid

By Debbie Gregory.

A Marine veteran took to social media to fire back at Donald Trump’s call for American Muslims to be registered in a national database.

Marine Sgt. Tayyib Rashid’s comeback has gone viral. Rashid, whose Twitter handle is @MuslimMarine, tweeted Trump a photo of his military identification card with the message: “Hey @realDonald Trump, I’m an American and I already carry a special ID badge. Where’s yours?”

Rashid, the son of a Muslim missionary and theologian, served from 1997 to 2002 as an aircraft electronic countermeasures technician with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, according to Marine Corps officials.

On November 19th, Trump said that he “would certainly implement” databases or increase surveillance for Muslims living in the U.S.

Rashid’s post has over 39,000 retweets and 51,000 likes. It has also prompted a barrage of follow-on social media posts under the hashtag #MuslimID from other U.S. troops, police officers, lawyers, medical professionals and students who identify as Muslim.

“I got borderline angry that [Trump] would make such a comment and try to drive a wedge between Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces and people who aren’t Muslim,” said Rashid. “I felt the need to call him out — particularly because Trump himself has never served.”

Rashid, now 38, said that he became a Marine because he “wanted to be part of a brotherhood of men dedicated to the service of our country.”

He said that he is a proud American Muslim.

“For me there is no conflict between the two identities,” he said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

If Found Guilty, Bergdahl Could Face Life in Prison

bowe

By Debbie Gregory.

As a result of his 2009 disappearance from his base in Afghanistan, it was announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will face general court-martial, the highest level of trial in the military justice system.

Bergdahl, 29, is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and could receive a sentence of life in prison. While desertion can carry a death penalty, Army officials have said that will not occur in Bergdahl’s case. No American service member has been executed for desertion since World War II.

Lt. Col. Mark Visger, who oversaw a two-day hearing for Bergdahl’s case in September,
had recommended that Bergdahl get a lower form of judicial proceeding known as a special court-martial, which would have given a maximum penalty of 12 months of confinement.

Bergdahl’s return was secured through a prisoner swap in 2014, which resulted in the release of five Taliban officials from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl broke his silence last week when he participated in a podcast on “Serial.” He said that within 20 minutes of leaving his base, he had second thoughts, and realized he would face a “hurricane of wrath” from commanding officers. Berghdahl hoped he could find some intelligence that would allow the Army to go easier on him, but got lost in the hills, and then he was captured by the Taliban.

“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne. I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing,” Bergdahl said.

Jason Bourne is a fictional character who is an elite Top Secret Special Forces operative in a series of novels by Robert Ludlum.

Jon Thurman, a former enlisted specialist in Bergdahl’s infantry company, said that he wasn’t surprised by the Army going forward with a general court-martial. Thurman, who was interviewed for “Serial,” speculated that Bergdahl’s comments in the podcast could hurt his case.

“When that first episode aired, I mean, he sort of hung himself by saying that he walked off and was kinda thinking about doing his own Jason Bourne thing,” Thurman said. “The guilty verdict might come from just that.”

An arraignment hearing will be held at a later date at Fort Bragg, Army officials said. Bergdahl is assigned to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, with a desk job.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

 

Innovative Navy Football Helmets Based on Player Position

midshipman

By Debbie Gregory.

Perhaps bolstered by their new Under Armour-designed helmets, featuring the seven classes of ships that make up the Navy’s fleet, the Midshipmen of Navy beat the Army’s Black Knights, 21-17.

Each class of ship was based on the player’s position group. The Naval Academy explained that each position group and their corresponding class of ship had significance.

The Quarterbacks sported the Aircraft Carrier, the QB of the Naval Fleet. The aircraft carrier is the ultimate decision maker; the “quick strike” weapon of the Naval fleet.

The Linebackers wore the Cruiser, which provides anti-air defense and packs the biggest punch of Naval surface ships, representative of the linebackers on the Navy football team.

The Wide Receivers donned the Submarine. Predominantly utilized as blockers, wide receivers play a key role in driving the Navy rush attack, taking on a stealth-like persona as they blend into the rhythm of the offense but bring significant fire power when called upon, just like a Naval submarine.

The Linemen’s helmets carried the Amphibious Assault Ships. Just as a lineman’s job is the create a hole for a running back or linebacker, these ships are utilized to establish the “beach head” that enables the invading force to gain access and ultimately accomplish their objective.

The Running Backs wore the Littoral Combat Ship, the fast and nimble ships that can navigate through both crowded shallow and deep waters.

The Kicker/Special Teams helmets were designated with the Minesweeper. Much like the specific task of the Navy special teams, this small ship has a unique mission of identifying and eliminating mines.

The Midshipmen’s uniforms also featured the historic battle cry “Damn the torpedoes!” on the pants, jerseys and the palms of the players’ gloves. Rear Adm. David G. Farragut is said to have screamed the order in the midst of a Civil War naval battle won by the North.

Players’ cleats, base-layer sleeves and jersey shoulders will be colored battleship gray while the pants and jerseys will be blue and gold.

The Marine Corps was honored in the design with the addition of the eagle, globe and anchor emblem on the jersey pants.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Nominations Sought for 2016 ESGR Freedom Awards

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By Debbie Gregory.

National Guard and Reserve members- does your employer go above and beyond to assist you with your service obligations? If so, then perhaps you should nominate your employer for a 2016 Freedom Award. But hurry, because nomination are only open until December 31st!

The Freedom award is presented by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), an office of the Department of Defense (DOD). The award is the nation’s highest honor given to civilian employers for their efforts in support of their National Guard and Reserves employees. The ESGR determines which employers are deserving of the prestigious award through nominations made by current members of the Guard and Reserves.

Members of the Guard and Reserve make up nearly half of our nation’s military force. These citizen-soldiers provide essential services to maintain national security and conduct humanitarian efforts at home and abroad. The cooperation of their employers eases the burden of sacrifice on service members, and helps keep our military prepared and our nation protected.

In 1996, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry presented the first Freedom Awards to Schneider National, McDonnell Douglas, National Life of Vermont, Tektronix, and United Parcel Service (UPS) Central Florida District. Since then, up to fifteen Freedom Awards are presented each year. A total of 205 employers have received the award.

The ESGR is asking for members of the Guard, Reserves, or family members acting on their behalf, to submit nominations for employers at www.FreedomAward.mil by December 31, 2015. Nominations for employers from companies of all industries, functions and sizes will be accepted, so long as they are the service member’s current employer. Each year, a Freedom Award ceremony is held in Washington, D.C. to present the awards to deserving employers.

Wonderful employers who go above and beyond in their efforts to support the members of the Guard and Reserves deserve recognition. Military Connection is a long-time supporter of the ESGR and often facilitate signings of support for employers.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Earning the Status of “Veteran”

retirees

By Debbie Gregory.

On November 10th, the Senate passed the Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act (S 1203), a bill to grant “honorary” veteran status to as many as 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees. Although they signed up to serve, these brave individuals have never been deemed veterans because they did not serve a qualifying period of active service under federal orders.

On November 16th the House passed the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act (HR 1384), a standalone bill from Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) which echoed the sentiments of the Senate bill.

Both the Senate-approved language and the House bill bestow veterans’ status on as many as 200,000 retirees. It will not, however, expand their benefits beyond what federal law now allows.

Impacted retirees are those who left service without a DD-214 or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. Though they had 20 or more “good” years of drill points earned on weekends and through annual training, they were never called to active duty. Many of these retirees, as well as most civilians, are surprised to learn they aren’t legally veteran.

The bills will only bestow the right to be called a veteran, but it will have a few caveats. The bill recognizes the retirees as vets to honor their service but will not extend the same benefits as active duty and other veterans. They will receive the treatment from the VA that qualified vets receive. They may get a VA home loan.

David L. McLenachen, Director of the Pension and Fiduciary Service, Department of Veteran’s Affairs said, the VA opposes extending “veteran status to those who never performed active military, naval or air service, the very circumstance [that] qualifies an individual as a veteran.”

Shouldn’t all Guard and Reservists be recognized as veterans, given that they signed on and served their country in the capacity that they were ordered to?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Housing Benefits Available for On-The-Job Training

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a shame to leave hard-earned benefits on the table. In 2011, a benefit was added to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that gave living stipends to non-students who were seeking on-the-job (OJT) training or apprenticeships. Unfortunately, only about 2 percent of eligible veterans have taken advantage of it.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was approved in 2008, covering tuition and living expenses for veterans who wanted to attend college. Three years later, Congress added the OJT and apprenticeship benefit to provide transition support for veterans who sought alternatives to education.

These programs typically involve entering into a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, a job certification is issued or journeyman status achieved.According to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the offer provides a full or partial housing allowance to working veterans.

So why are the other 98 percent of eligible veterans leaving this benefit on the table?

One reason might be that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the tendency to emphasize the educational components of the GI Bill, offering few details on how to access the on-the-job training and apprenticeship benefits.

Another key problem is the administrative burdens that make some employers reluctant to participate, forcing employers to fill out forms and submit them to the VA before participating veterans begin receiving checks. Employers must also agree to incrementally raise the veteran employees’ wages in accordance with the VA plan.

The VA has agreed to develop a guide for employers and apprenticeship sponsors about Post-9/11 GI Bill OJT and apprenticeship benefits.

Benefits may include a full housing allowance along with a small stipend for books or supplies for the first six months. For the second six months, the benefit is 80 percent of the housing allowance tied to the veteran’s location. For the third six-month period, the percentage of the housing allowance drops to 60 percent. For the fourth six-month period, the housing allowance is reduced to 40 percent, and any time beyond 24 months, the stipend is at 20 percent of the housing allowance.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New Non-profit Focused on Tests, Treatments for TBI and PTSD

cohen

By Debbie Gregory.

New nonprofit organization Cohen Veterans Bioscience is looking for ways to cut the time it takes for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) research to transform into real-life treatments.

The goal of the company is to speed the discovery of first generation diagnostics, treatments, and cures for PTS and TBI by improving the scientific understanding of the basic biological mechanisms that set the stage for these conditions.

This is the latest endeavor supported by Steven Cohen to address the needs of our nation’s veterans. Cohen, the chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management, is a philanthropist who has financed other veterans mental health programs, including the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury at NYU Langone Medical Center and the Cohen Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone.

About 1.7 million Americans experience head injuries each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such injuries are not uncommon in the military; 327,299 troops were diagnosed with a TBI from 2000 to March 2015.

Additionally, more than 138,000 active-duty members who deployed in support of combat operations were diagnosed with PTSD from 2001 to 2015.

“Our veterans have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan facing PTS and TBI, and we owe it to them to find better diagnostic tools and treatments,” Cohen said. “PTS is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, and our service members don’t receive effective treatment as a result.”

Cohen Veterans Bioscience President and CEO, Dr. Magali Haas, said, “Despite significant investment by the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department in basic science, there is still a huge unmet need for these individuals. There are only two approved medications for PTS and nothing for TBI. The fact that this gap exists despite these investments indicates that more work needs to be done.”

Haas says she hopes to shorten the development for diagnostics and treatments from the average 11 to 13 years to five years, and, for a diagnostic test, perhaps as little as three years.

“It is sometimes disheartening to hear it’s going to be another three, five, 10 years until we have that first-generation diagnostic test, but I think it’s actually going to be sooner than that because the investments are right,” Haas said.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done to address the mental health needs of our veterans. But we haven’t done nearly enough,” says Mr. Cohen. “With Dr. Haas’ leadership, Cohen Veterans Bioscience will advance the science and availability of new medical treatments and we will be able to help more veterans tomorrow than we did yesterday.”

Cohen Veterans Bioscience is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit

College Tuition for Starbucks Veteran Employees and Their Families

starbucksveteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Starbucks is further demonstrating its good corporate citizenship by paying tribute to the families of their employees who have served in the U.S. Military.

The Coffeehouse giant is extending its college scholarship program to cover the spouses and children of veteran employees. In addition, it offers active military workers up to 80 hours of paid service leave.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Arizona State University, the company offers all part- and full-time benefits eligible U.S. employees full tuition coverage for every year of college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Now, the partnership between ASU and Starbucks is being extended to spouses and children of Starbucks U.S. veteran employees. This is an opportunity for them to pick any of the more than 50 undergraduate majors the ASU online campus offers.

In 2013, Starbucks, along with the Schultz Family Foundation, pledged to join forces across the public, private and non-profit sectors to hire, honor and strengthen the military community and to spark a renewed spirit of responsibility for citizenship in America. Two years in, the company has hired more than 5000 veterans and military spouses, passing the halfway goal to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018.

“We have a responsibility as a nation to honor our veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, but it goes beyond saying thank you,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Starbucks recognizes the value of a college education, and wants to put that goal in the grasp of its employees. So far, the existing Starbucks College Achievement Plan has been taken up by more than 4,000 employees.

The extension of the college plan to veterans’ families will affect up to 5,500 Starbucks employees who are veterans or the spouses of military members.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.