Retired Gen. David Petraeus Avoids Demotion

pet

By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon says it will not dock retired Army Gen. David Petraeus one star, in spite of his conviction on charges of leaking classified information to his biographer and former lover.

After Petraeus’ guilty plea, then-Army Secretary John McHugh reviewed the matter and determined that the general’s final pay grade should remain unchanged. McHugh retired in November.

“The Army completed its review of his case and recommended no additional action,” Stephen C. Hedger, assistant defense secretary for legislative affairs, wrote the Senate Armed Services Committee. Hedger added that that Defense Secretary Ash Carter considers the Petraeus matter closed

Media reports had surfaced that indicated the Pentagon was considering downgrading Petraeus to a three-star general. Holding his current rank, while prestigious, also allows him to collect a pension of around $220,000. Loss of a star could have cost him tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Petraeus, the highest-profile commander of his generation, resigned from the CIA in November 2012 following an extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. During the course of the relationship, Petraeus divulged a massive amount of sensitive data to Broadwell.

He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of unlawful removal and retention of classified materials. The federal court levied a fine of $100,000 against him and placed him on two years’ probation in the plea deal, allowing him the opportunity to avoid prison time.

Petraeus admitted that he loaned Broadwell binders that contained the identities of covert officers, war strategy, diplomatic discussions and intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, as well as discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings and discussions with the president of the United States.

Broadwell, an Army intelligence officer, met and traveled with Petraeus several times for research on her book. They maintain that their affair began after Petraeus left the military.

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.

Bill Aimed at Clearing VA Backlog

free to see

By Debbie Gregory.

A bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Tim Walz aimed at tackling the Department of Veterans Affairs benefit-claims backlog that was reintroduced nearly a year ago has passed the House of Representatives.

The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2015 is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that allows local doctors to conduct disability medical examinations for veterans seeking benefits from the VA for the first time. Currently, veterans must visit a VA facility for the examination.

In a press release from March 4, 2015, Franken said, “We know that our veterans’ battles don’t always end when they return home. Too many return with mental and physical disabilities incurred while protecting our freedoms. All they expect in return for their service is for our nation to keep its promises and get them the VA benefits they’ve earned. Our legislation would help the VA speed up the claims process that is making far too many veterans wait far too long to get help they need.”

In the same release, Rep. Walz, “After these brave men and women put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is ensure they are getting the benefits they have earned in a timely manner. I recognize this problem was not created, nor will it be solved, overnight, but we can and must do better. Our bipartisan legislation will enhance the VA’s current efforts to break the backlog by helping them become more efficient, and will help veterans get the benefits—and the care—they deserve quicker.”

Allowing veterans to see a local doctor for their initial exam will not only conserve VA resources, but will also cut back on long wait times at VA hospitals. This, in turn, will allow for quicker diagnoses of disabilities.

In order to qualify, a veteran must be waiting 125 days or more for the VA to process their claim.

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.

Are For-Profit Colleges the Best Choice for Veteran Education?

for profit schools

By Debbie Gregory.

A number of for-profit colleges have been characterized as preying on those seeing to use their veteran education benefits. These schools are often guilty of inflated job promises and under-delivering on education. With more than 1 million veterans and their families taking advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend college, are for-profit school the best choice?

It’s no secret that the for-profit sector has aggressively aimed its marketing to members of the military. A 2014 Senate report found that eight for-profit college companies received $2.9 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill veteran benefits, approximately one quarter of all the funds spent on GI Bill benefits in 2012-2013.

Further, due to a loophole in current law, veteran education students are unusually attractive to for-profit colleges. First, veterans eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits offer for-profit colleges a guaranteed stream of federal revenue but, unlike the students attending the colleges with federal student loans, do not present a risk of subsequent default.

In addition, the Higher Education Act requires that all proprietary (for-profit) colleges demonstrate compliance with the “90/10 rule” meaning that at least ten percent of revenues must come from sources other than federal financial aid funds authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act. However, as currently written, federal military educational benefits including Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are not counted as federal financial aid and in fact are counted on the “10” side of the revenue calculation.

What makes for-profit schools so attractive to this audience, given the fact that on average, for-profit schools cost twice as much as educating veterans at public colleges?

First off, as previously stated, for-profit schools are the ones targeting and courting these potential students. They make for easy acceptance and easy enrollment in order to cash in on veteran resources.

Traditional colleges and universities should be doing much more to reach out to help those who served reach their education goals. These nontraditional students often come out of the military with unique skill sets. These schools need to let veterans know that they are not only welcome, but they are accepted and valued. Becoming a “Veteran Friendly” or Yellow Ribbon School would go a long way to that end.

Also, transition resources should focus on giving advice to those who want to further their education. Providing more guidance and knowledge on how to make that transition is crucial: when to apply; what kind of credentials schools are looking for; how to package yourself as an applicant. If a veteran needs to beef up their academic credentials, then attending a community college is a great alternative.

The bottom line is that not-for-profit schools need to market their veteran education value. In the long run, it will greatly benefit the schools , the veterans, and the tax payers.

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.

US Flyover in S. Korea Seen as Show of Force

f22

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. military flew four of the most advanced fighter jets over South Korea in a clear show of force against North Korea

The high-tech, stealth F-22 planes landed at Osan Air Base after the flyover, escorted by other U.S. and South Korean fighter jets. The demonstration underscored the United States’ airpower that can be called upon to defend its ally, South Korea, from potential aggression from North Korea.

“The F-22 ‘Raptor’ is the most capable air superiority fighter in the world, and it represents one of many capabilities available for the defense of this great nation,” Lt. Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, deputy commander of the U.S. military command in South Korea, said in a statement.

The show of force came 10 days after North Korea used a long-range rocket to fire a satellite into space. The U.S. military would not say how long the F-22s will be deployed in South Korea.

The F-22 Raptor, each costing $143 million, became operational in 2005, but only saw initial combat in attacks on Syrian ISIS positions in late 2014. The fifth-generation single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft was developed for the United States Air Force (USAF).

Lockheed Martin was the prime contractor and was responsible for the majority of the airframe, weapon systems, and final assembly of the F-22, while program partner Boeing provided the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems. The aircraft was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but has additional capabilities including ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles.

South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye addressed North Korea’s nuclear bomb program, saying that South Korea will take unspecified “stronger and more effective” measures to make North Korea realize its nuclear ambitions will result only in accelerating its “regime collapse.”

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.

Congressmen Introduce Bill to “Draft Our Daughters”

draft

By Debbie Gregory.

Two Republican congressmen, who are both military veterans, have introduced a bill requiring women to register for the draft.

In spite of the fact that Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Ryan Zinke of Montana are opponents of opening up combat roles to women, they introduced “Draft America’s Daughters Act of 2016,” which would require women to register for the draft.

Hunter, a former Marine, and Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, stated that the bill was a response to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s order that all billets in the military, including infantry and armor, be opened to women who qualify.

The bill would “amend the Military Selective Service Act to extend the registration and conscription requirements of the Selective Service System, currently applicable only to men between the ages of 18 and 26, to women between those ages to reflect the opening of combat arms Military Occupational Specialties to women,” according to copy of the text.

Both Hunter and Zinke are likely to vote against their own bill, but said the legislation is aimed at provoking a fuller discussion of Carter’s order.

In a statement, Hunter said, “It’s unfortunate that a bill like this even needs to be introduced.”  He added, “If this administration wants to send 18-20 year old women into combat, to serve and fight on the front lines, then the American people deserve to have this discussion through their elected representatives.”

“I know women play an invaluable role in war. My daughter was a damn good Navy Diver,” Zinke said in a statement. “Many times women can gain access to strategic sites that men never could. However, this Administration’s plan to force all front-line combat positions and Special Forces to integrate women into their units is reckless and dangerous.”

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.

VA Budget for 2017 Addresses Increased Care and Benefits for Veterans

va

By Debbie Gregory.

The 2017 VA budget will continue to support the largest transformation in VA history, expanding access to healthcare and benefits, while attempting to end homelessness among those who have served.

The budget includes $78.7 billion in discretionary funding, which is earmarked largely for healthcare, which is almost 5 percent more than the 2016 enacted level.

Healthcare is being provided to over 922,000 veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn/Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS).

The budget provides for continued implementation of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) robust Transformation Plan, which will continue to improve the quality and efficiency of claims processing. Additionally, the budget supports increasing the VBA’s workforce to address staffing needs so it can continue to improve the delivery of benefits to veterans.

As VBA continues to receive and complete more disability compensation rating claims, the volume of non-rating claims correspondingly increases. The request for $54 million for 300 additional full-time equivalent employees (FTE) and claims processing support will allow VBA to provide more timely actions on non-rating claims.

The budget also proposes a simplified appeals initiative to provide veterans with a simple, fair, and streamlined appeals process in which they would receive a final appeals decision within one year from filing an appeal, by 2021. The current appeals process is complicated and ineffective, and veterans are waiting, on average, about 5 years for a final decision on an appeal that reaches the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, with thousands waiting much longer.

The Obama Administration has made the ending of veteran homelessness a national priority. The new budget requests $1.6 billion for programs to prevent or reduce veteran homelessness, including: Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) to promote housing stability; the HUD-VASH program, wherein VA provides case management services for at-risk veterans and their families, and HUD provides permanent housing through its Housing Choice Voucher program; and grants/per diem payments that support temporary housing provided by community-based organizations.

The budget also provides for the MyVA initiative, the Veterans Choice Act and other key services for veterans.

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.

 

$30 Million Scheme To Defraud Government

cold

By Debbie Gregory.

An alert customs inspector unraveled a cross-border scheme to defraud the federal government of more than $30 million. The inspector’s observation set in motion a criminal investigation that led to the owners of Barrier Wear forfeiting $2.1 million to the federal government, and facing probation.

Loose tags on a 2009 shipment of trousers at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, AZ had loose country-of-origin labels. Permanently affixed labels are required by federal law.

The loose labels read “Assembled in Mexico of U.S. components” and identified the trousers as “Official Army Use.” According to the invoice, the shipment left a factory in Sonora run by Barrier Wear de Mexico, bound for the Colorado-based company’s facility in Nogales.

On December 9, 2015, Barrier Wear owners Paul Grillo and Raymond Lawson pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstructing a federal auditor.

From 2008 to 2012, the company was a subcontractor for Atlantic Diving Supply in Virginia, which holds a contract with the Department of Defense to supply cold-weather trousers and jackets.

According to the DoD’s Criminal Investigative Service, Barrier Wear “falsely certified that the Army’s purchase of the clothing complied with the Berry Amendment,” which requires the DoD to buy clothing and other goods produced domestically.

The Berry Amendment is a statutory requirement that restricts the Department of Defense (DoD) from using funds appropriated or otherwise available to DoD for procurement of food, clothing, fabrics, fibers, yarns, other made-up textiles, and hand or measuring tools that are not grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States.

The Berry Amendment has been critical to maintaining the safety and security of our armed forces, by requiring covered items to be produced in the United States. With respect to textiles and clothing, the Berry Amendment has been critical to the viability of the textile and clothing production base in the United States.

Barrier Wear employees were ordered to remove the country-of-origin labels after normal business.

Grillo and Lawson agreed to forfeit the $2.1 million and to serve a term of probation, not to include any form of confinement. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 7.

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.

More Money and Boots on the Ground to Fight ISIS

Ashhh

By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has confirmed that the Pentagon plans to sharply increase spending on the fight against the Islamic State group and potentially put more American “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria in an “enabling” role.

“We have 3,700 boots on the ground in Iraq today, and we’re looking to do more. We’re looking for opportunities to do more,” Carter said.

Carter acknowledged there are about 50 U.S. Special Forces troops serving as advisers in Syria to local forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in addition to the American troops serving as trainers and advisors to the Iraqi Security Forces.

“We’re not looking to substitute for local forces in terms of governing the place and policing the place,” Carter said. “That’s why we put Special Forces in Syria. They’re tremendous force multipliers. They’re the ones who connect them to the great might of our military. The strategic concept is not to substitute but to enable” local forces, he said.

The new campaign will focus on helping local forces retake the militants’ two main strongholds, Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, Syria.

“We need to destroy them in those two places, and I’d like to get on with that as soon as possible,” he said.

Carter said he hopes that other countries will offer troops as well. “It won’t just be Americans. This is crucial. It has got to be the other members of our so-called coalition,” he said.

While in talks with defense ministers from allied nations in Brussels, Carter will coordinate future plans for the anti-ISIS fight.

“What I’m going to do with them is to say, all right, here are all the capabilities that are needed — boots on the ground, airplanes in the air, more prosaic things, logistics, bridging, training for those police that are going to patrol cities like they’re patrolling Ramadi now once the cities are retaken,” 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.

Military Looking at 1.6% Pay Increase for Troops in 2017

militarypay

By Debbie Gregory.

Five evolving challenges drive the Pentagon’s planning for the 2017 defense budget request, including Russian aggression in Europe, the rise of China in the Asia Pacific, North Korea, Iran, and the ongoing fight against terrorism, especially the Islamic.

The annual budget request the Pentagon sends to Congress will include a 1.6 percent pay raise for troops in 2017, aimed at reducing military personnel costs, according to defense officials.

The 1.6 percent pay raise will be half of the projected increase in private-sector wages, which is likely to be 3.2 percent.

If approved by Congress, the modest pay increase would mark the fourth consecutive year that military basic pay has not kept pace with the growth in most civilian wages,.

The budget request also includes efforts to ratchet up Tricare health care fees for military families.

Overall personnel costs have begun to decline, partly because of the continued troop drawdown. The current active-duty force is down about 7 percent, standing at 1.33 million, down from 1.43 million in 2011.

Defense officials say that reducing personnel costs is vital in order to ensure funding for high-tech research, weapons modernization and training.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said investments in new technologies include advanced navigation, swarming autonomous vehicles, self-driving networked boats, gun-based missile defense, and an arsenal plane that turns one of the department’s older planes into a flying launch pad for a range of conventional payloads.

Carter added that the Pentagon is investing to build the force of the future, highlighting opening all remaining combat positions to women and strengthening support to military families to improve their quality of life. Monies will also be spent on cyber training, tools and infrastructure, and in space to identify, attribute and negate all threatening actions.

“With so many commercial space endeavors, he added, “we want this domain to be just like the oceans and the Internet: free and safe for all.”

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.

Cost of VA’s Electronic Claims System Worries Congress

claimsbacklog

By Debbie Gregory.

The good news is that the VA’s claims backlog, a major source of embarrassment for a number of years, has fallen impressively. The bad news is the price tag that goes along with the accomplishment.

The cost of VA’s paperless electronic claims network, called the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), has already cost $1 billion. The cost will soon reach $1.3 billion, more than double the VA’s original estimate of $580 million.

The VBMS gets a software upgrade every three months, which, of course, is not free. And apart from quarterly upgrades, the VA is planning major innovations to the system, starting in 2018.

The size of the backlog peaked in March, 2013 at 611,000. Today the backlog is somewhere between 75,000 and 80,000, said Beth McCoy, VA’s deputy undersecretary for field operations. A VA claim is said to be in backlog status if awaiting a decision beyond 125 days of being filed. McCoy credited the decline in large part to the increasing effectiveness of the VBMS.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-FL, complained that the backlog wasn’t eliminated by 2015, as promised by VA. Miller questioned how much credit VBMS deserves for the backlog’s sharp decline, noting that the Veterans Benefits Administration had hired 7,300 more full-time employees from 2007 to 2014.

In VA’s defense, McCoy said, “Scope and cost increases were planned, essential and approved to move beyond just an initial electronic repository functionality.”

She added that to better serve veterans as well as veteran service organizations and VA claim processors, VA steadily is increasing “automation functionality,” something they will probably never finish.

Miller has tried to make the case that paperless claims resulted in decisions of lesser quality, which accounted for a ballooning of claims on appeal.

McCoy disputed that, arguing that overall, claim accuracy scores had climbed from 83 percent in 2011 to 91 percent last year.

“Veterans are much better off because of the electronic system,” McCoy said. “We were outdated [and] should have done this years ago.”

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.