Pardons Sought for Troops Discharged for Mental Health-related Offenses

dischargeee

By Debbie Gregory.

Military veteran advocates are urging President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump to join forces and pardon tens of thousands of post-9/11 service members whose “bad paper” or “general” discharges were based on infractions related to mental health issues.

John Rowan, the national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America says such a pardon can only be achieved if President Obama and President-elect Trump work together to identify and restore benefits to these some 300,000 veterans.

“Over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our government has failed to respond appropriately to multiple, comprehensive reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged from the military,” the letter states. “We implore you to at least save the current generation of America’s warriors an unfairly marginal life as outcasts in the nation they have so faithfully served.”

Bad paper discharges are often given to those who suffered from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other mental health issues.

Others have been kicked out for alcohol abuse, drug use and suicide attempts.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

Advocates insist that these veterans should have received treatment for those under-diagnosed problems. Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are ineligible for a host of government benefits, including free health care.

While veterans can appeal those discharges, the process is complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

Instead, Rowan is asking for an upgrade in discharge status for all veterans who qualify and “to immediately grant access to PTS and TBI screening at the VA for all veterans.”

Setting up the system to identify and screen eligible veterans will not happen overnight, which is why the president-elect’s cooperation is vital.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

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.

President-Elect Trump’s Plan for Military Spending Boost

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the Guantanamo prison against critics who want it closed by saying U.S. taxpayers have a big financial stake in it and no other facility could replace it at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. REUTERS/Jason Reed JIR/CN - RTREIPO

By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Donald Trump plan to “rebuild” the military with new fighter jets, ships and troops may not get too much opposition from the Republican-led Congress.

Trump’s Defense Department spending plans include 350 new Navy ships, 1,200 aircraft, equipment and weapons for at least 65,000 new Army soldiers and at least 13,000 more Marines, expected to come with a price tag in the neighborhood of $90 billion per year in spending increases.

He would, however, have to prevail over GOP fiscal hawks who have an aversion to deficit spending, as well as Democrats who want equality for both defense and non-defense spending.

Trump’s campaign proposed an action plan for the first 100 days, including a Restoring National Security Act, aimed at “eliminating the defense sequester” — assumed to mean repeal of the Budget Control Act and its multi-year caps — “and expanding military investment.” It would also expand health care options for veterans, protect infrastructure from cyberattacks and impose politically charged screening on immigrants.

Major defense companies’ stocks shot up in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory, and for good reason, as experts predict firms like General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin will secure hefty contracts and boost hiring.

Following Trump’s win, Lockheed Martin shares gained 6 percent, Raytheon added 7.5 percent, and Northrop Grumman advanced 5.4 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls led the charge with a rise of 11.4 percent.

With that said, Trump faces an uphill battle convincing Democrats and fiscal conservatives in Congress that increasing the nation’s defense budget by billions of dollars is smart policy.

In service of Trump’s peace-through-strength approach, his proposed military buildup features an active-duty Army of 540,000 soldiers, a Navy of 350 ships, an Air Force fleet of 1,200 fighter aircraft and a Marine Corps stocked with 36 battalions. He has also said he also will build a “state-of-the-art missile defense system” and modernize the Navy’s cruisers to provide ballistic missile defense capabilities.

The proposed defense buildup will have natural allies in the armed services committees, and it dovetails with the traditional Republican argument that the military is overstretched, suffering from a critical readiness shortfall and in dire need of expansion.

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.

Number of VA Loans Sharply Increased Following the Mortgage Crisis

va loan

By Debbie Gregory.

The Home Depot Foundation, the charitable arm of home improvement giant Home Depot, partially funded a study that revealed that home loans through the Department of Veterans Affairs more than tripled in the wake of the 2007-2009 subprime mortgage crisis.

This information exemplifies the critical need for credit in order for tens of thousands of veterans to buy a house, as well as the importance of the VA program, a benefit used by millions of veterans but often getting less attention than initiatives like health care coverage and education stipends.

“This is a stable, accessible form of credit that has helped a lot of families,” said Keith Wiley, a research associate at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and co-author of the report. The HAC is a national nonprofit organization that supports affordable housing efforts in rural areas of the United States. It was established in 1971 to increase the availability of affordable housing for rural low-income people.

Wiley’s report found nearly 9 percent of all home mortgages in America in 2014 were backed by VA, up from 2 percent a decade earlier.

Before the mortgage crisis, those loans totaled around 140,000 a year. Today, those numbers are closer to 510,000, making them the third-largest home loan type in the country.

“There has been a VA home loan in nearly every county in America,” said Moises Loza, HAC executive director, in a statement. “There are more than 100 counties where VA loans make up 20 percent of the loan population. … The military community truly relies on the VA Home Loan program to provide a home for their families.”

The mortgage crisis was triggered by a large decline in home prices after the collapse of a housing bubble, leading to mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures and the devaluation of housing-related securities.

Declines in residential investment preceded the recession and were followed by reductions in household spending and then business investment. Spending reductions were more significant in areas with a combination of high household debt and larger housing price declines.

Researchers said they did not see a significant drop in the rejection rate of loan applications as the total mortgage count rose in recent years, another sign they say indicates stability and accessibility 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.

Tricare Policy Update Expands Hearing Assistance

AOI

By Debbie Gregory.

Up until recently, Tricare did not cover hearing aids for retirees, Tricare for Life and Tricare Reserve Select users. But a recent policy change reclassifies a certain type of bone-implanted hearing aid — Auditory Osseointegrated Implant (AOI) Devices — as a “prosthetic,” opening up coverage of the implant to all Tricare beneficiaries.

With AOI implant devices, a tiny titanium vibrator is inserted in the skull behind the ear. A microphone and hearing aid components form the rest of the package. Incoming sounds cause the implanted portion to vibrate. These vibrations are transmitted to the inner ear via bone conduction and produce sound sensations.

The decision to expand coverage was made as part of a routine policy review and is retroactive to June 30, 2016.

The implants are used to treat conductive and mixed hearing loss or singled-sided deafness, according to the association. Cochlear implants, another implantable type of aid, are used to treat those with non-functioning cochlea or those who have bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants are currently covered by Tricare for all types of beneficiaries.

The change for AOI devices impacts all Tricare users, including Tricare for Life users.

The new policy does create parameters for what kind of hearing loss qualifies for coverage.

“AOI devices … are covered as a prosthetic device when necessary due to significant conditions resulting from trauma, congenital anomalies, or disease,” it states.

That means that retirees whose hearing loss can be blamed on other causes that are not trauma, disease or a birth defect don’t qualify for coverage.

Non-implantable devices, such as the BAHA Softband, which gives hearing help to children who are too young for the AOI implant, are still excluded from coverage, according to the policy.

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.

Former Navy Seal, Founder of the Mission Continues Wins Governorship of Missouri

eric

By Debbie Gregory.

In one of the most closely contested races, Republican Eric Greitens, a decorated former Navy SEAL who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, won his election for governor of Missouri against Democrat opponent Chris Koster, the former State Attorney General.

The former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow is also the founder of The Mission Continues, an organization that encourages veterans to get involved in their communities.

In 2014, Greitens, who has never previously held elected office, was listed in Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders. In 2013, he was named to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Greitens is also an accomplished author. Strength and Compassion is a collection of photographs and essays published in 2008.

Greitens’ second book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, was released in 2011. The book is Greitens’ memoir of service, featuring stories of his humanitarian work, his training as a naval officer and SEAL and the military experiences that led him to adopt the paradoxical philosophy that you have to be strong to do good, but you also have to do good to be strong. The book became a New York Times bestseller. A year later, Greitens’ publisher released a young adult edition of The Heart and the Fist titled The Warrior’s Heart.

March 2015 saw the release of  Greitens’ book Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. It draws on letters Greitens wrote to a fellow SEAL struggling with PTSD.

I had the honor of meeting Eric Greitens, and also the honor of hosting Mission Continues fellows.

Among, Greitens’ awards are the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation, Joint Service Achievement Medal Combat Action Ribbon and Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

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.

Defense Bill May Not Include Provision on Drafting Women

drafting women

By Debbie Gregory.

House and Senate negotiators plan to shelve the provision requiring women to register for the draft in favor of ordering up a study of the issue.

Last year at this time, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the combat exclusionary rule for women and opened up all military jobs to women in the military who qualify. The Senate Armed Services Committee then said that Carter’s action had removed any justification for limiting draft registration to men.

A few months later, Rep. Duncan Hunter and Rep. Ryan Zinke, opposed to Carter’s action, introduced a bill titled the “Draft America’s Daughters Act of 2016” that would require women to register with the Selective Service System.

Both Hunter and Zinke said they were opposed to their own bill, but argued that a debate in Congress was necessary on lifting the combat exclusion rule for women.

Carter, the service secretaries, and the service chiefs have made clear that requiring women to register for the draft was up to Congress, and they have yet to voice any opposition to such a move.

President Obama supports requiring women to register for Selective Service when they turn 18. He is the first president to endorse universal draft registration since Jimmy Carter.

Obama believes adding women to the draft would serve two purposes: showing a commitment to gender equality throughout the armed services, and fostering a sense of public service that comes from requiring draft registration as a ritual of adulthood.

“As old barriers for military service are being removed, the administration supports — as a logical next step — women registering for the Selective Service,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council.

But the timing of Obama’s support makes it mostly symbolic, coming in the final weeks of his presidency.

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.

Not All Reservists Getting GI Bill Credit During Deployments

marine reservists

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 300 Marines reservists returned home from a 7-month long deployment in Central America without something that most were counting on; due to a relatively new and obscure deployment code, the reservists did not accumulate seven months of GI Bill benefits.

By law, reservists involuntarily mobilized under Title 10, section 12304b, do not receive credit for the GI Bill while they are activated.

Nearly a million reservists have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center.

Marine Sgt. William Hubbard, a reservist who also happens to be the vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said fellow Marines are stunned by this news as word has spread through the ranks.

“Reservists serve their country like any other component, and they have to balance civilian employment, education and the military,” Hubbard said. “And to say they don’t rate the full benefit? It doesn’t add up.”

The exception has fueled the belief that reservists are not afforded the same benefits as active duty troops.

The issue of the 12304b authority starts with the Pentagon. As combat deployments slowed, the Pentagon looked to create mobilization authorities that would fill operational needs worldwide, but also trim the budget.

The 12304b authorization was included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and stripped most mobilization and deployment benefits, including the accumulation of GI Bill benefits.

The post-9/11 GI Bill benefit pays part or all tuition and a housing stipend based on a sliding scale of active duty time, and was designed as a recruitment and retention tool.

Hubbard sees two possible solutions to the issue: Although highly unlikely, President Barack Obama could direct the Department of Veterans Affairs through an executive order to waive the exemption. The other option would be for the authorization to be modified through a law passed by Congress.

The National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act bill would grant GI Bill benefits to reservists along with health care and retirement benefits, but it has not moved from the Senate’s Armed Services Committee since its introduction.

“The men and women who serve our country lay everything on the line to protect us, and in return, they deserve access to the support and benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the legislation.

A joint letter from Franken and Cornyn sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter last April highlighted the issue.

“Upon their return from duty, they applied for educational benefits only to learn that the Department had directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue a denial for active service under Section 12304b,” the letter stated.

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.

Army Enticing Cyber Gurus

cyber1

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army is in the midst of growing its cyber force of commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers, and warrant officers. And the good news for potential officers is that they can better use their skills above and beyond what they could do as civilians.

Cyber professionals are often bound by what the law allows in their private-sector jobs. But those same skilled cyber professionals may be able to cut loose if they were in the military. In fact, that potential for greater freedom in cyberspace might entice some of those professionals to enlist. It may also serve as an enticement for cyber professionals who are already serving in the Army to stay in the Army, the Army’s vice chief of staff said.

The Army currently has 397 officers, 141 warrant officers and 560 enlisted Soldiers in its ranks, and is on track to increase the current 41 teams to a total of 62 teams.

In March 2017, enlisted Soldiers will for the first time attend Army Advanced Individual Training for cyber. Also in March, Army-developed AIT to defend the network will begin at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Some 300 Soldiers are expected to graduate from that course.

Attracting and retaining cyber talent remains a concern for the Army. Digital ROTC would be one way for the Defense Department to compete with the private sector for cyber talent. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been working on ways to bring Silicon Valley expertise and new ways of addressing complex problems to the military.

It’s not just Army networks that need to be protected — commercial networks require protection as well — and the Army must compete with the private sector to attract the best cyber talent.

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.

Setting Down Roots? The Best & Worst Cities For Veterans

best cities

By Debbie Gregory.

Personal finance website WalletHub has released the results of the best/worst cities for veterans, and the Lone Star State can lay claim to 40% of the best.

When looking at factors such as the availability of military-skills related jobs, veteran unemployment, economic health, overall veteran population and access to Department of Veteran Affairs administered healthcare, the cities of Laredo, Plano, Austin and El Paso are among the nation’s best for vets.

The six other cities in the top ten are Scottsdale, AZ, Irvine, CA, San Diego, CA, Colorado Springs, CO, Tampa, FL and Orlando, FL.

The cities at the bottom of the survey include Detroit, MI, Newark, NJ, Cleveland, OH and Memphis, TN.

Included in the study was data analyzed from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the VA.

The results are slightly different when you break up cities by size.

For large cities with a population of 200,000 or more, the top ten are: San Diego, CA, Virginia Beach, VA, Colorado Springs, CO, San Antonio, TX, Honolulu, HI, Oklahoma City, OK, Seattle, WA, Aurora, CO, El Paso, TX and Denver, CO.

For medium sized cities, with populations of at least 75,000 but fewer than 200,000, the top ten are: Alexandria, VA, Arlington, VA, Centennial, CO, Pearland, TX, Columbia, MD, Lakewood, CO, Mission Viejo, CA Olathe, KS, Torrance, CA and Overland Park, KS.

For small cities, with fewer than 75,000, Maryland comes out on top. The top ten are: League City, TX, San Clemente, CA, Bethesda, MD, Kirland, WA, Ellicott City, MD, Dale City, VA, Waldorf MD, Rockville, MD, Rio Rancho, NM and Eagan, MN.

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.

Civilian Hiring Managers Value Veteran Employees, but Struggle to Understand Military Culture

Veterans in the workplace

By Debbie Gregory.

 

A new survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program found that while civilian hiring managers have great respect for veterans and see them as valuable recruits, they struggle to understand the culture.

The study, conducted between 2015 and 2016, surveyed 400 human resource professionals nationwide, as well as 1,000 veterans who have transitioned out of the military in the last five years on their perceptions during the recruiting and onboarding processes.

Hiring managers actively look to hire veterans, see them as ideal employees, and value the contributions they make. Managers listed military experience as one of the top three recruiting priorities for their firms, with 77 percent calling their skills an important addition to the work force. Eighty percent ranked finding employees with higher education degrees that same level of importance.

With that said, they also express some concerns about hiring veterans. More than half of the hiring managers surveyed said they had little to no understanding of military rank and structure, making it difficult to match veterans’ experience with appropriate jobs.

The study, which included interviews with 400 hiring professionals and 1,000 veterans, found that business leaders have helped make their corporate culture more welcoming to transitioning troops in recent years.

The Merck Foundation funded the study.

The study also revealed that HR managers overwhelmingly see veterans as more disciplined, collaborative and hard-working than their civilian counterparts.

While less than 25 per cent of managers think their workplaces have negative biases against veterans, nearly half of the veterans surveyed said they have faced negative attitudes and treatment in civilian jobs.

Retention still seems to be an issue. Veterans who left a job within a year of being hired cited difficulty relating to colleagues and the company’s operations and culture.

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.