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Congress to Fight Massive Trump Saudi Arms Deal

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By Debbie Gregory.

Congress introduced Legislation on May 24th to stop part of President Trump’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

A bill of disapproval was introduced in the Senate by Republican Rand Paul (KY) and Democrats Chris Murphy (CT) and Al Franken (MN) to force a vote to block part of the sale of arms.  On May 19th,the Senate Foreign Relations Committee received formal notice of the pending sale.

Once Congress is formally notified of plans of an arms sale, under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, a senator is allowed to force a vote on the arms sale.  The same three senators introduced a similar resolution last year to block the sale of $1.15 billion of tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.   Their resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.

When President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, they agreed to purchase $110 billion of U.S. arms with options of as much as $350 billion over ten years.   These lawmakers want to block approximately $500 million of the sale that includes precision-guided munitions and other offensive weapons.

Rand Paul cited Saudi Arabia’s past support of terror and their poor human rights record.  He asked if this sale is in the best interest of the United States’ national security.

Members of the House also took action on the sale.  Representatives Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) wrote to the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee requesting a hearing to review the sale of the precision-guided munitions.

President Trump stated that he wants to encourage international weapons sales as a way to create jobs in the United States.

Do you think we should sell precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia?  Do you think selling these weapons will create jobs in the United States?  Tell us what you think by emailing us [email protected]

Not All Reservists Getting GI Bill Credit During Deployments

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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.

Should Separation Policy Address Service-related Trauma?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter urging the Department of Defense (DOD) to update the military’s separation policy to address behavior that results from trauma, such as sexual assault or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

“Clear guidance will ensure that all service members who are impacted by combat or military sexual assault-related trauma receive fair consideration of their medical conditions prior to their separation from the military and will ensure that fair, consistent and transparent standards are applied across the services,” the senators wrote.

The Department of the Navy has already updated its administrative separation policy to ensure a diagnosed mental health condition takes precedence over misconduct when a sailor or Marine is being involuntarily separated. But the other branches of the military have not yet made similar changes to their policies.

The senators made reference to a May 2015 inspector general report that found sexual assault survivors who engage in trauma-related misconduct are at an increased risk of being involuntarily discharged under less than honorable conditions than the general military population.

Additionally, combat veterans with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may exhibit irregular behavior, have difficulty performing at work, or battle substance abuse. These disciplinary infractions can often be mischaracterized as misconduct rather than symptoms of a mental health condition.

“Their chain of command may not understand that these disciplinary infractions can be symptoms of mental health conditions,” they wrote.

Involuntary discharges have a number of negative consequences including increased rates of suicide, homelessness, and employment discrimination.

While changes have been made in recent years, they said, more needs to be done.

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

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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.