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Signed into Law: The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

Signed into Law: The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

Patricia Kime, writer for Military.com, reported early last Wednesday that after decades of negotiations, President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law late Tuesday.

The sailors, Marines and other service personnel who served off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam have been fighting for the passing of H.R. 299 for decades. Before this legislation, the specific diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure exposure were recognized only for ground troops. This new law extends that recognition to all those who served off of the coast of the Republic of Vietnam and Cambodia between January 1962 and May 1975.

This change in legislation stands to benefit an estimated 90,000 veterans who were exposed to the chemical herbicide agent produced by Monsanto in the 1960’s. The medical conditions of these veterans who served off the coastline will now receive the same considerations as ground troops and will have their disability compensation fast-tracked. Agent Orange-associated illnesses range from respiratory cancers to Parkinson’s, heart disease and certain types of diabetes. 

Veterans who have previously had claims denied are now eligible to resubmit along with those who were deployed in the Korean Demilitarized Zone from 9/1/67-8/31/71. An additional group covered by this new legislation is the children of veterans who served in Thailand from 1/62-5/75 who were born with spina bifida. 

Not everyone is celebrating this new legislation. The Military-Veterans Advocacy group has some significant concerns about the wording of H.R. 299. The bill covers Blue Water veterans that were up to 12 miles off the shores of Vietnam and Cambodia. The concern of the Military-Veterans Advocacy group is for the Blue Water veterans who are outside of this perimeter of the predetermined area but still within the South China sea and subject to the waters and chemical runoff of the heavily impacted Mekong River. Military-Veterans Advocacy has previously filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the Blue Water veterans over the denial of benefits. 

Rep. Mark Takano, (Democrat, CA) is one of the original drafters of the legislation. He also chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Takano has been quoted as saying that Congress has now “righted a terrible injustice.”

“We can finally tell the tens of thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War but wrongly denied benefits that justice is finally coming.” 

While the signing of the legislation should absolutely be viewed as a victory for all Blue Water veterans, this win does not mean the end of the war. Provisions are now in place for tens of thousands of additional veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. However, the work is not complete until every benefit is available to every exposed veteran, no questions asked.  

With additional benefits come additional costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that these changes could cost as much as $1.1 billion over 10 years but the Department of Veterans Affairs has a much higher estimate of $5.5 billion. Non-disabled veterans can expect additional fees on VA-supported home loans (less than a percentage point). 

 

Trump Wants to Use Military to Secure Border

border wall

By Debbie Gregory.

President Donald Trump wants to deploy members of the military to secure the U.S.-Mexico border until his promised border wall is built.

No time frame for the deployment has been announced.

Trump has promised to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the border since early in his campaign, claiming it will help secure the border. But Congress has yet to pass any meaningful funding for the wall’s construction, and federal law prohibits the use of active duty service members for law enforcement inside the U.S., unless specifically authorized by Congress.

Some 6,000 National Guard troops were deployed to the border in 2006, under president George W Bush. The troops did not participate in any law enforcement activity, but helped with surveillance and administrative tasks.

“We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said, calling the move a “big step.”

In addition to mobilizing the National Guard, Trump and senior officials agreed on the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations

Among the new measures the administration is pursuing: ending special safeguards that prevent the immediate deportation of children arrested at the border and traveling alone. Currently, unaccompanied children from countries that don’t border the U.S. are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services and undergo often lengthy deportation proceedings before an immigration judge instead of being immediately deported.

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 Sends Congress List of Needs

troop strength

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has been steadily drawing down the force since 2012, decreasing its numbers from a war time high of 570,000 active Army soldiers.

But following the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in December, the Army is poised to increase its end-strength by 16,000 more soldiers than originally planned. What is yet to be determined is the amount of funding the Army will get in the fiscal year 2017 budget and beyond to cope with the proposed troop increase.

The bill adds billions of dollars for “unfunded priorities” that the Obama administration left out of its budget request. The House bill partly pays for those programs by siphoning about $18 billion from the account that directly supports overseas contingency operations.

Congress has yet to pass a 2017 appropriations bill, keeping the Defense Department operating under 2016 funding levels until April 30, 2017.

Besides troop strength, there is a need for modernization, particularly in aviation. The Army is asking for $2.5 billion for 10 new-build AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and advanced procurement for an additional 10 aircraft, 14 new-build CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters, 17 LUH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters, and 12 additional Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft.

Additionally, Bradley Fighting Vehicle production would be sped up to build one cavalry squadron set. The Army would also ramp-up the pace to modernization of 140 Stryker armored fighting vehicles to the Double V-Hull (DVH) variant as well as the production of 18 M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicles, which would accelerate the pure-fleet of M88A2 for all Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCT) and ABCT support units.

Among other armor formation upgrades, the Army would procure battalion mortar capability for three ABCTs and would fund research and development to increase fire power of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with a 30mm gun.

Electronic warfare is also a growing concern and the Army would speed up the procurement of ground and air electronic warfare 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.

Flint Family Speaks Out about Contamination, Feels the Navy is Retaliating

flint

By Debbie Gregory.

Lee Anne Walters noticed that the tap water in her Flint, Michigan home had an orange tint to it.  Her twin boys also had rashes. Doctors confirmed one of the boys was showing signs of stunted growth.

The Walters were living in Flint because Lee Anne’s husband, Dennis Walters, was stationed there.

Walters sent a sample of her water to the EPA, expecting it to take care of the problem.

It took 11 months for the EPA to issue an emergency order in Flint. The lead levels in Walters’ home were twice the level considered to be toxic waste.

The family feels that Lee Anne’s criticism and advocacy during the water crisis has caused workplace retaliation and harassment against Dennis, a sailor with the US Navy.

The 17-year Navy veteran has filed a complaint claiming mistreatment at work due to his wife’s role in the Flint water crisis.

In a complaint filed last week, Dennis claims that he has been repeatedly mistreated at the Sewells Point Police Precinct, which is part of Naval Station Norfolk, because his wife has been so outspoken.

“Since I testified at the state Senate hearing, things got progressively worse,” Lee Anne Walters said. “They threatened to force him into a hardship discharge if he didn’t get me under control.”

Lee Anne Walters says the family has been careful to respect protocol and keep her husband out of the advocacy efforts.  She says her criticism of the EPA and the slow response to the water crisis in Flint has caused her husband problems at work.

Two years later, now living in Virginia where Dennis is stationed, the Walters family is still dealing with the effects of the crisis. Both boys, now 5, suffer from health issues.

Lee Anne continues to testify in Congress and bring attention to the issue.

“They were demeaning me on a daily basis to my husband, that my job as a military wife is not to be a crusader,” Lee Anne Walters said. According to court documents, he was “effectively demoted, and reduced to administrative details that had the effect of completely removing him from any leadership role within the command.”

Dennis Walters is requesting a transfer to another unit within the Navy.

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.

Senators Seek Quick Action on Stalled VA Projects

congress2016

By Debbie Gregory.

A group of senators are urging quick action from the lame duck Congress on two dozen stalled VA projects.

The senators are calling for Congress to set aside funding for a list of health care centers, outpatient clinics and research facilities proposed throughout the Veterans Affairs system. The list includes three each in California and Florida, research facilities in Boston and Charleston, S.C., and a business office in Denver.

In South Hampton Roads, the proposed 155,200-square-foot facility is aimed at easing the workload at the Hampton VA Medical Center, where demand has skyrocketed. Patient visits in Hampton’s service area increased by 30.5 percent from 2011 to September 2014. The national average across the VA system was 8.6 percent during that time.

The Hampton Roads center would offer primary and specialty care, day surgery, an eye clinic, pharmacy and radiology services. Two similar centers are operating in North Carolina, another high-growth area for veterans care.

While Trump has talked about improving  veterans’ health care, it is unclear how these proposed projects would fare under his administration.

Supporters say a plan that leans more on private hospitals would give veterans additional choices. Critics fear it marks the first step toward privatization of veterans health care and abandonment of long-held promises for retired service members.

VA hospitals could concentrate on military-specific areas for which it has expertise, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Supporters say this would not lead to a dismantling of the VA health system. The federal government would still bear responsibility for veterans health care.

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.

Veterans Have Good Showings in 2016 Election

vote2016

By Debbie Gregory.

The recent election has proven that Americans are recognizing the leadership capabilities gleaned through military service. At least 27 post-9/11 veterans won congressional races in the November 8th election. This is in addition to the current Congress, which includes 26 veterans. At least 18 veteran incumbents won reelection

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

The election underscored a growing trend of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan parlaying their military leadership skills in bids for national elected office. More than 30 veterans of the two wars ran for House Seats they had not held before.

Greitens has a distinguished resume as a former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow who is also the founder of The Mission Continues.

Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who served honorably as an Army officer in Iraq, made a successful bid for a Senate seat.

Duckworth, the daughter of an Army veteran, is a former helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq. She will be the second female Iraq veteran in the Senate, joining Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa.

Brian Mast, a medically retired Army explosive ordnance disposal specialist, lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt.Mast first considered running for an elected office while recovering in a hospital bed at Walter Reed. He earned his bachelor’s degree after he was wounded, taking classes at Harvard University. Mast won the Florida seat left open by Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Other veterans heading to Congress for the first time include Republican Scott Taylor, a another former Navy SEAL and veteran of the Iraq War who will fill the Virginia Beach seat left open by retiring Rep. Scott Rigell, and Democrat Jimmy Panetta, a Navy veteran of Afghanistan who is the son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and defeated Republican Casey Lucius in California.

Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland who formerly served as lieutenant governor, and who served a tour in Iraq as an Army judge advocate, won a House seat vacated by Rep. Donna Edwards in a landslide. Republican Jim Banks, a former Navy officer who served in Afghanistan, and Republican Mike Gallagher, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, won seats in Indiana and Wisconsin, respectively.

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.

Air Force Officials Warn of Fighter Pilot Shortage

fighter

By Debbie Gregory.

Several Air Force officials have reported that the U.S. Air Force is facing a shortage of more than 1,000 fighter pilots.

The acute shortage of fighter pilots could grow even worse, with nearly a third of all jobs becoming vacant in the coming years, senior service officials said.

Lieutenant General James Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force, said only about four experienced fighter pilots are being produced each year. Retention is also a major issue.

The current goal is to try to retain as many pilots as possible in the short term, but there is a lot of completion from commercial airlines who are hiring thousands of fighter pilots.

Air Force Secretary Deborah James is looking to Congress for the ability to boost financial incentives to recruit and keep pilots. She and Gen. David L. Goldfein, the service’s new top officer, attributed the shortfall to a wave of hiring in the commercial airline industry, high demand for air power keeping pilots deployed and away from their families, and a reduction in training while at home prompted by heavy usage and budget constraints.

James and Goldfein said they want to improve pilots’ quality of life and their military service conditions, including training and housing.

The Air Force currently can pay pilots an extra $25,000 per year after they complete their initial service contract, which concludes 10 years from the completion of pilot training, a number that has not been changed in 17 years. The Air Force has proposed an increase to $48,000 per year, and a proposal in the House would boost the figure to $60,000.

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.

Provision Scales Back Federal Job Preferences for Veterans

Veterans McCainBy Debbie Gregory.

Congress has stepped into a sensitive issue that’s been quietly roiling the hiring system for federal jobs: the Obama administration’s push to give preference to veterans.

While former service members would still go to the head of the hiring line, a little-noticed provision of the new defense bill recently passed by the Senate would eliminate the preference veterans get once they are in the government and apply for another federal job.

Top defense officials pressed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the change in order to ensure that qualified non-veterans are considered equally with veterans for specialized, hard-to-fill positions.

The provision would affect thousands of veterans, many of whom get a foot in the door with an entry-level position and then seek jobs at other agencies.

The provision has been fiercely opposed by leading service organizations, which had no idea until the legislation was on the floor that the Senate was moving to chip away at the government’s most visible effort to reward military service.

“Is Congress now starting to dial back the goodwill the country’s shown toward veterans’ employment?” asked Lauren Augustine, senior legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group. “Are we now going to set a bad example to the private sector by limiting veterans preference in government?”

In 2009, Obama boosted the extra hiring credits given to veterans to give them a greater edge in getting federal jobs.

But the down-side to the policy has been that qualified non-veterans are getting shut out of federal jobs in deference to those who served, but may not be as qualified.

In 2014, almost half of those hired in full-time, permanent federal jobs were veterans. The figures for 2015 have not yet been released.

A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said the committee has not taken a position on the issue.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that he does not think the Senate provision hurts veterans’ preference but instead “balances the goals of rewarding those who are eligible for a federal hiring advantage with the needs of the federal government and notably the Department of Defense to attract and hire the best talent for a variety of important national security jobs.”

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.