One of Nation’s First African American Marines Dies

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By Debbie Gregory.

One the first African American U.S. Marines who served during World War II has died.

Angus Hardie “Jay” Jamerson’s daughter, Wendy Jamerson confirmed that her father died in his sleep at the age of 89. The Georgia resident would have celebrated his 90th birthday later this month.

A student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Jamerson was drafted in 1945 and sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C. That’s where Montford Point, a segregated training facility, had been established.

Railroad tracks divided white residents from the camp for African American troops, and the black recruits were not allowed to enter the main base of nearby Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a white Marine. By 1945, all drill instructors and many NCOs at Montford Point were African Americans.

Unlike the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and the Army’s Buffalo Soldiers formed after the Civil War, blacks who served in the Montford Point Marines received scant recognition for decades. It’s estimated 20,000 of them trained from 1942 until 1949, when the Marine Corps was ordered to desegregate.

After 18 months of service, Jamerson left the Marines and returned to Morehouse College, where he graduated. He went on to earn a law degree in California

In 2011, U.S. lawmakers voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, to the surviving Montford Point Marines. Only about 300 of them were still alive, and their numbers have been rapidly declining.

Wendy Jamerson said her father didn’t know about the congressional award until he read about it in the newspaper. She said he appeared nonchalant, telling her: “Well, you know, they’re going to give me a medal.”

But Jamerson’s pride was unmistakable.

“He did sleep with it for a couple of nights,” his wife Doris said. “We couldn’t get it off him.”

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Lockheed Martin Exec a Possible VA Secretary Nominee

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By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Trump may be considering Lockheed Martin Senior Vice President Leo Mackay, Jr. to fill one of the few remaining cabinet posts, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump has publicly sparred with Lockheed Martin in the past few weeks, arguing that the defense contractor wastes billions in tax dollars building F-35 fighter jets that are behind schedule and over-budget.

Mackay, who served as deputy VA secretary under President George W. Bush, met with the president-elect, and said that he and Trump had a “good discussion.”

He added that “things are progressing; we’ll keep having a conversation.”

“The president-elect is up on the issues and very concerned about the department and veterans issues,” Mackay said. “He’s a first-class veterans advocate and we had a good conversation.”

Other rumored contenders have included former Sen. Scott Brown, former House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth, who helped grow Concerned Veterans for America into an influential veterans’ advocacy group.

A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Mackay was born into a military family in San Antonio, Texas and grew up on, and around, military installations. He lived in Japan as a child and spent two years of high school in Tehran, Iran. He served in the Navy as a naval aviator. He completed pilot training in 1985, graduating at the top of his class. He spent three years in Fighter Squadron Eleven flying the F-14, attended Fighter Weapons School (Topgun), and compiled 235 carrier landings and 1,000 hours in the F-14. He also served as an instructor at the Naval Academy

The VA secretary search carries unusual significance for the Trump team given how intensely the president-elect focused on veterans issues during his campaign.

Trump regularly blasted the VA as a prime example of the Obama administration’s failures, especially when whistleblowers exposed the agency’s nationwide use of fake patient waiting lists to conceal long delays in health care in 2014.

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Should Congress Halt Concurrent Receipt to Veterans to Save Money?

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Congressional Budget Office has revealed that eliminating the collection of retirement pay and disability compensation simultaneously could save the government billions of dollars.

Changing the benefit, which is called “concurrent receipt” would affect some 600,000 military veterans who are able to collect both benefits.

Veterans who sustained career-ending combat injuries are eligible for combat-related special compensation, while those veterans who received a disability rating of 50 percent or more after at least 20 years of service are eligible for concurrent retirement and disability pay.

Congress authorized some veterans to take both as military personnel began to sustain grievous wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then the number of veterans receiving both retirement pay and disability compensation has risen drastically — from 33 percent in 2005 to more than 50 percent in 2015.

Up until 2003, disabled veterans had to select either their full retirement compensation from the Department of Defense or their disability benefit from Veterans Affairs with a reduced retirement annuity.

In 2015, Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, then-director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) said, “MOAA’s position is that career service members earn their retired pay by service alone and those unfortunate enough to suffer a service-caused disability in the process should have any VA disability compensation from the VA added to, not subtracted from, their service-earned military retired pay.”

Last year, about 55 percent of the 2 million or so military retirees were subject to the VA offset penalty. Of those, about half — 575,000 retirees — took both payments totaling $10 billion, according to CBO estimates.

Changing the benefit could potentially save the government $139 billion over the next eight years. But is it the right thing to do?

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Pentagon Will Waive Bonus Repayments for Most CA National Guardsmen

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon announced it would waive repayment for more than 15,000 California National Guard soldiers and veterans who received enlistment bonuses over the last decade.

The Defense Department will begin notifying soldiers this month, with all of the notifications completed before July 1st.

The announcement follows President Obama’s December 23rd signing of the defense authorization bill into law. The bill contained language that required the Pentagon to conduct a case-by-case review of the California Guard bonuses, waiving repayment unless a soldier took the money fraudulently or did not fulfill his or her enlistment contract.

Bonuses of $15,000 or more were previously recalled, years after recipients had completed their military service. Student loan repayments, which were given to some soldiers with educational loans, sometimes totaled as much as $50,000.

A Pentagon review had found a total of 17,500 bonuses were paid to California Guard soldiers from 2004 to 2010.

Of those, 1,400 soldiers had been ordered to begin repaying a bonus or student loan incentive, while another 16,000 had been notified that they could face debt collection.

About 50 percent of the 1,400 who have been repaying their bonuses are likely to have the debts waived and their money returned.

Unfortunately, 1,000 or so other service members will not have their debts waived. In most cases, repayments will be from soldiers who decided not to fulfill their six-year enlistment terms or other terms of their contract.

Pentagon officials have said California was distinct in scale and because a handful of soldiers fraudulently took bonuses.

Most of the improper bonuses in California were processed by Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

National Guard soldiers in states other than California who have been ordered to repay bonuses are not eligible for the debt forgiveness that Congress approved for California.

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Supreme Court to Consider Change in Mil Divorce Pension Division

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case next year that could change the amount disabled military retirees must pay a former spouse after a divorce.

At issue is whether the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) pre-empts a state court’s order directing a veteran to indemnify a former spouse for a reduction in the former spouse’s portion of the veteran’s military retirement pay, when that reduction results from the veteran’s post-divorce waiver of retirement pay in order to receive compensation for a service-connected disability.

The test case, Howell v. Howell, centers on an Arizona Air Force couple who divorced in 1991. At the time of the divorce, John Howell’s upcoming pension was considered a “marital asset” under USFSPA, and split 50-50 with his former spouse, Sandra.

But when John received a 20 percent disability rating in 2005 from the Department of Veterans Affairs, he elected to waive a portion of his monthly retirement pay under pension offset rules, about $250, in order to receive his full monthly VA award. The result, however, was that Sandra’s portion of the pension went down by about $125 a month.

Federal law bars those with a VA rating under 50 percent from receiving both a federal pension and disability pay, according to court documents. The result is that the pays must be “offset,” with one reduced by the amount of the other. Many military retirees elect to receive their full disability pay instead of their full military pension because pensions are subject federal income tax, while disability pay is not.

Sandra took John to family court in Arizona, asking the state to order him to pay her the extra $125 a month she lost when he chose to keep all of his disability pay. The court ruled in her favor, saying John had “violated the decree by unilaterally decreasing the retirement pay in favor of disability.”

A series of Arizona courts also upheld the ruling upon appeal.

But the state courts’ decisions conflict with rulings made by courts in other states on similar cases. John’s attorneys and those rulings contend that forcing military retirees to make up for spousal pay lost through a VA disability award violates a portion of the USFSPA law, which specifically blocks ex-spouses from collecting on disability payments.

The high court’s ruling could provide final guidance on how state courts should treat a reduction of pension payments as a result of VA disability pay after a divorce. If the court rules in Sandra’s favor, for example, military retirees who elect after a divorce to receive full disability pay in lieu of their full pension could be forced to make up the difference to their former spouse out of pocket.

The court is expected to hear the Howell case and make a ruling by late next year.

Family Vacations

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Make time to make memories! It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But Armed Forces Vacation Club knows how difficult it can be for military families to find time to take a vacation. So when the stars (and schedules) align and you’re able to carve out a week or even just a few days of time, we want to help you make the most of your vacation. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Stick to a budget – Nothing adds extra stress to a vacation like being surprised by how much everything costs. Try to do some pre-planning to anticipate things like how many meals you need to eat out, which activities you’ll need to pay for and any other additional costs that could pop up. A little extra research can help remove the sticker-shock factor of your vacation.
  2. Look for accommodations with extra space – Spending time together is always special, but sometimes you need just a little added space to keep those happy feelings going. Traditional hotel rooms can tend to be a bit cramped, and make it feel like you’re on top of each other. Try out a vacation rental for some breathing room – accommodations typically separate living and sleeping spaces, so you can protect those sacred nap times!
  3. Don’t over plan – Vacation is meant to be at least a little relaxing! Don’t get us wrong, having a plan is ALWAYS a great idea, but know your families limits and don’t plan to push them beyond. Try starting with one planned activity per day and go from there.
  4. Capture the moment – Remember to clear out some space on your smartphone before you set off on vacation so that you’ll be ready to take lots of pictures of all the smiles, activities and more while you’re away. Grab a few disposable cameras for the kids to document the trip from their perspective too!

Remember these tips when planning, and the memories you make on your family vacation are sure to be your most valuable souvenirs.

Looking for more tips on how to plan the best possible Family Vacation, check our AFVC’s Family Vacations article and more in their Vacation Planning Resource Center.

P.S. Don’t forget that Armed Forces Vacation Club offers free membership for all active duty, guard, reserve and retired members of the Armed Forces, as well as civilian employees of the DOD. Join today!

Guard/Reservists to Get Equal Death Benefit

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By Debbie Gregory.

A change to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) for the families of Guard members and Reservists killed during inactive training will mean an increase in benefits. National Guard and Reserve members would receive the same death benefits as their active-duty counterparts under a bill expected to pass Congress.

Up until now, family members of Guardsmen and Reservists killed during inactive training receive a much smaller monthly payment than those of active-duty members. For example, a survivor receives $1,036 a month if the spouse was killed on inactive training status, yet another receives $3,381 if the spouse was killed on active duty, according to a fact sheet from the Defense Department.

For those on active duty, the amount is based on a simple percentage of what the troop’s retirement payment would be. For those in the Guard or Reserve, the amount is based on a more complicated three-step formula that factors in Reserve points and years of service, among other items.

In addition, survivors of active-duty members qualify for an additional payment designed to get around a rule that blocks them from receiving full death benefit payouts from both the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department. But the allowance doesn’t extend to those of Guardsmen and reservists killed on in-active training.

The legislation includes language championed by Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, to fix this inequity.

“A discrepancy between survivor benefits for fallen service members of differing active duty statuses was finally remedied,” Veasey said in a statement. “This long overdue change will now make available equal survivor benefits for all who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and will hopefully alleviate some of the financial stress experienced by our military families.”

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Air Force Developing an ‘EMP Missile’ to Counter North Korea

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By Debbie Gregory.

While not quite ready for prime time, the Air Force Research Laboratory is looking to develop an air-launched directed-energy weapon capable of incapacitating the nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles utilized by North Korea.

The experimental Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) weapon uses bursts of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) energy to disable electronic systems.

Air Force officials believe that in an emergency, the weapon could be operational.

After testing on October 16 at the Utah Test and Training Range by the Boeing Phantom Works/U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate team, the Air Force says that the CHAMP works, but that it needs to get extremely close to the target to be effective, and there are still a lot of unknowns.

“In theory, high-powered microwaves will damage electronics, but I am not sure we really know how much power is necessary to disable specific systems that may be complex and hardened?” said Jeffrey Lewis, the Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Though speculation exists surrounding the weapon’s effectiveness against military-hardened electronics, the prospects of its use are bright.

“This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare,” said Keith Coleman, Boeing Phantom Works’ CHAMP Program Manager. “In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.”

But it’s possible that the entire conversation is really about securing funding for the CHAMP program.

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 Reserve Chief to Build Rapidly Deployable Ready Force

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By Debbie Gregory.

Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command said that he plans to stand up a package of forces capable of mobilizing and deploying into a major contingency operation much faster than traditional Reserve units.

“We are calling it Ready Force X; we are still trying to figure out what Ready Force X is going to look like, what’s in it and what war plans inform that requirement,” Luckey said.

Over the past 15 or so years, the Reserve has built readiness over time, in a progressive and rotational manner, he said. If a unit was alerted for a possible mobilization in 2019, he said, those soldiers had several years to work their way through the training required to prepare for the mission.

“I have asked the G-3/5/7 of U.S. Army Reserve Command down at Fort Bragg to do an assessment of capabilities that we think we — the United States Army Reserve — ought to provide to the warfighter and the Army on fairly short notice.”

The Reserve is made up of commands designed provide support, such as aviation, medical, military intelligence, civil affairs and theater sustainment, to active-duty and National Guard combat forces.

Now, what Reserve forces “need to be able to do is anticipate a contingency demand different than a known demand,” Luckey said.

“Instead of planning for a unit deploying sometime in 2019 and have several years to prepare, we are now in a situation where we have some capabilities that we may need to deploy in less than 90 days and, in some cases, significantly less than 90 days,” Luckey said.

This will be a challenge since the Army Reserve is made up of part-time soldiers, Luckey said.

Luckey, who assumed command in June, said units need to be on a relatively high degree of readiness — not just in terms of training, but also manning, individual soldier readiness and modernization.

Another challenge will likely come from budget constraints, he said, acknowledging that there is a “high likelihood” that it is going to cost more to generate and sustain this new type of readiness.

But “I want to make sure, before I start talking about money or needing more resources, I am very clear on what effect I think I can achieve if I had more resources,” he said.

The details of Ready Force X are still being worked out, but the idea is to have the first tranche of formations — about 25,000 to 33,000 soldiers — ready to go on short notice

“A lot of this is, frankly, a journey of discovery into what is in the art of the possible in terms of generating these capabilities.”

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 Announces Drug Price Reductions at February’s End

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is amending its regulation on co-payments for Veterans’ outpatient medications for non-service connected conditions.

The VA currently charges veterans who do not qualify for free health care either $8 or $9 for a 30-day or less drug supply.

But under a new plan set to kick in February 27th, the VA will categorize drugs into tiers, with tier 1 medications (preferred generics) costing $5, and tier 2 (non-preferred generics) costing $8 for a 30-day or less supply. Tier 3 (brand name) will cost $11 for a 30-day or less supply.

Most veterans will see a 10 to 50 percent reduction in the cost of the drugs they receive from the VA.

“Switching to a tiered system continues to keep outpatient medication costs low for Veterans,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Reducing their out-of-pocket costs encourages greater adherence to prescribed outpatient medications and reduces the risk of fragmented care that results when multiple pharmacies are used; another way that VA is providing better service to Veterans.”

A series of seven criteria is used by the VA to determine which generic drugs are on the lower-cost “preferred generics” list, and which drugs are “non-preferred generics” and cost $3 more per 30-day or less supply, according to the rule proposal.

For example, generic drugs typically used to treat a common “chronic condition,” such as hypertension, will be on the list, while topical creams, products used to treat musculo-skeletal conditions, antihistamines and steroid-containing generics would not because they are typically used on an “as-needed basis,” the document says.

Co-payments stop each calendar year for Veterans in Priority Groups 2-8 once a $700 cap is reached.

These changes apply to Veterans without a service-connected condition, or Veterans with a disability rated less than 50 percent who are receiving outpatient treatment for a non-service connected condition, and whose annual income exceeds the limit set by law. Medication co-payments do not apply to former Prisoners of War, catastrophically disabled Veterans, or those covered by other exceptions as set by law.

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.