Sexual Assaults Doubled At West Point


West Point assault

By Debbie Gregory.

For the fourth year in a row,  sexual assault reports increased at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. The 50 cases reported during the school year nearly doubled from the prior year, up from 26.

Both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy saw only slight increases.

The Defense Department did try to put a positive spin on the latest numbers, saying that more people were feeling emboldened to report sexual abuse and that students are aware of treatment programs, showing confidence in the system.

Reporting a sexual assault is difficult for any victim, under any circumstance.  For those at military academies or serving in the military, the difficulty is compounded by the close living conditions inherent in there. Also, sexual assaults are sometimes accompanied by collateral misconduct (e.g. fraternization, sex in the barracks, breaking curfew, or underage drinking) on the part of the victim; issues which are either minor violations or non-existent rules at civilian schools but carry severe sanctions at the Academies.

The reports will rekindle a problem that has plagued the military as increasing numbers of women join the armed services. The increase in sexual assault reports in the service academies is similar to what is happening in the military as a whole.

“We are absolutely committed to making the Academies safe,” Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said in a press release. “It is imperative that these future officers understand how eliminating sexual harassment and assault advances our ability to protect the nation.”

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.

DoD’s “This Is Your Military” Program Aims to Bridge Civilian-Military Divide

know your mil

By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department program called “This Is Your Military” is trying to bridge the military-civilian gap. The initiative is using the hashtag #KnowYourMil.

The program highlights the work of servicemembers, dispel myths about military service, and increase awareness among the American people.

Amber Smith, the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for outreach, said the purpose of the program is to fix common misconceptions that those who have not served have regarding those who have.

“Some of the trends we found are a majority of young adults think that if you serve in the military, upon leaving the military you are going to have a psychological or an emotional issue or a physical injury,” said Smith.

Internal data indicates the civilian-military divide is expanding, Smith said. “That ultimately is a threat to the viability and the sustainability of the all-volunteer force, which in the long term has some national security risks.”

Smith added that in the mid-1990s, 40 percent of young adults had a direct connection to a veteran in their family. That number has dropped to 15 percent today.

“We really want to articulate a message of what the military is doing, tell that military story to a nonmilitary audience, and really create some interest for people who don’t necessarily care,” she added.

Outreach efforts will include coverage of sporting events and military engagements, as well as videos, photos, graphics and other products, Smith said.

The initiative will conduct outreach on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Each month, the initiative will highlight an aspect of military life such as military jobs and benefits, entrepreneurism and innovation, global missions and family life.

“I think the end goal on both sides is to feel like America is connected to the military and the military is connected to the Americans and that there is support on both side,” Smith 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.

Pentagon Plans Changes to Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability


By Debbie Gregory.

While most people know that the GI Bill is administered and paid for through the Department of Veterans Affairs, what most people probably don’t know is that the Defense Department controls the transferability of the benefit. And the DoD is planning some changes to that transferability.

The transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows servicemembers to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. Current GI Bill policy allows service members with at least six years of service to transfer their benefits to a dependent, provided they agree to serve four more.

The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while servicing as an active member of the Armed Forces.

Anthony Kurta, currently the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the department intends to issue a policy change affecting the transferability of benefits, which will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total service.

The addition of a cap to one aspect of the GI Bill doesn’t sit well with veterans who recently fought for a provision in the new Forever GI Bill that lifted a 15-year time limit on the benefit.

“As a matter of principle, the American Legion is against anything that would degrade a veteran’s current benefit,” said American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzler.

With that said, as the transferability only applies to active duty servicemembers, this change should have no impact on 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.

Service-related PTSD Disability Claims have Tripled in the Last Decade



By Debbie Gregory.

More than 20 percent of veterans receiving federal disability are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has tripled in the last decade, from approximately 345,000 cases in fiscal 2008 to more than 940,000 cases today.

This includes all age groups, not just veterans from the recent wars.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not occur until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause great distress, or interfere with work or home life, the individual probably has PTSD.

Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • persistent memories of the event, nightmares, re-living the event over and over
  • not talking to anyone about the event, avoiding any situation that may trigger your bad memories
  • feeling numb and detached, depressed, disinterested in normal life activities, and
  • feeling on high alert all the time, always watching for danger.

PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. Both the VA and Defense Department have worked in recent years to combat the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

PTSD is treatable. Many places within VA provide PTSD treatment. General programs that provide mental health services include VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), and Vet Centers.

Vet Centers also offer services to families of Veterans for military-related issues. There are no fees or charges for Vet Center services, and services are confidential.

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.

Pentagon Waves Payback From California National Guard Members

ca national guard

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense will allow 17,092 California National Guard members to keep more than $190 million in disputed enlistment bonuses and other payments.

A Defense Department report concluded that there was no wrong-doing on the part of the majority of California Guard soldiers who accepted bonuses of between $15,000 and $80,000 each. In fact, only 393 soldiers have been ordered to return the money, chiefly due to disciplinary action or criminal conduct.

The bonuses 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. The soldiers, who received the bonuses, took the money in good faith, served honorably, and fulfilled their enlistment contracts, often serving in war zones.

The forgiveness represents a retreat by the Defense Department and the California Guard from the aggressive recoupment effort, which included tax liens, wage garnishments and other heavy-handed tactics to try to recover the bonuses it paid for enlistment or reenlistment between 2004 to 2010. According to the report, the California Guard paid more than $233 million in bonuses and student loan repayments to fill its enlistment goals.

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.

Many soldiers ordered to repay the large sums were slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refused or could not.

Going forward, the National Guard has put in place new computer software that is intended to ensure that bonuses are not given out improperly, and California has adopted the system, the report said.

But nothing has been said about an apology to those who were caught up in this unfortunate situation.

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.

Mattis Picks Two Navy Rear Admirals as Top Aides

mattis picks

By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has named retired Navy Rear Adm. Kevin Sweeney, who served with him previously at U.S. Central Command, to be his chief of staff.

Two-star Navy Rear Adm. Craig Faller, currently the service’s chief of legislative affairs, was chosen to serve as Mattis’ senior military assistant.

Mattis has known Faller and Sweeney for several years. Each worked for the retired Marine Corps general during his tenure at Central Command.

Sweeney, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1982, commanded Carrier Strike Group Ten. In 2001, he took command of the USS Cole, helping restore the ship after a devastating militant attack off the coast of Yemen. Since leaving the Navy, he has been active in business development in Virginia.
Faller has served in the Navy for nearly 34 years, most recently as chief of legislative affairs. In that role he represented the service and its senior leaders on Capitol Hill. His familiarity with Congress likely signals that Mattis is intending to make a major push to grow the Defense Department’s budget, which has been severely constricted by federal spending caps enacted five years ago.
In their new roles, both men will have considerable influence during internal policy discussions. Defense secretaries look to their advisers to provide candid, constructive advice on all manner of military operations and initiatives — and to speak up if they believe specific efforts are ill conceived.

Mattis received a waiver from Congress that permitted him to succeed Ashton Carter as defense secretary, bypassing a law that mandates a seven-year “cooling off” period between military service and assuming the top civilian defense job. Mattis, 66, retired in 2013 after a 44-year 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.

Easier Medical Care Access for Mil Families Expected

tricare 12 29

By Debbie Gregory.

Thanks to changes in the annual defense department bill, passed by both the House and Senate, military families will have easier access to urgent care and primary care.

Awaiting President Obama’s signature before becoming law, the bill ensures out-of-pocket costs won’t change for most Tricare users who are already enrolled in the system.

Unfortunately for future service members and their families, plans call for fees and co-payments to be collected from those entering service and/or enrolling in health plans beginning in 2018. Retirees and family members now enrolled in Tricare Standard will have to pay an annual enrollment fee of $150 for singles and $300 for families starting in 2020.

Among the improvements are urgent care referrals will no longer be required, allowing greater access to care.

Some military medical treatment facilities will keep urgent care services open until 11 p.m. daily. Defense department officials would determine the locations where these extra hours would be needed, and they’d have 365 days from the bill’s signing to get the plan in place.

Hours at primary care clinic military medical treatment facilities (MTF) would also expand, if needed. Again, the Defense Department would determine the appropriate hours for primary care clinics at MTFs based on the ability to meet access standards and patients’ patterns of using primary care. This would be implemented within six months after the bill is signed into law.

The legislation would retire the Tricare Standard and Tricare Extra programs as of the end of next year. The new program, Tricare Select, would take effect January, 2018. Current Standard/Extra users would enroll in either the new Select program or Tricare Prime.

Tricare Select will come with higher out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries of anyone entering service after Jan. 1, 2018.

Tricare Prime will remain free for all active-duty families — no enrollment fees, deductibles or out-of-pocket co-payments.

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.

Dunford Outlines Military Strategy


By Debbie Gregory.

Change is coming at strategic levels in the Defense Department, according to Gen. Joseph Dunford , the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The soon-to-be-finalized National Military Strategy will focus on developing international alliances, projecting power to faraway places, and reframing the definition of war to aid in the Defense Department’s planning processes.

The U.S. needs better ways to deal with Russian behavior in Ukraine and Georgia, Iran’s actions across the Middle East, and China’s behavior in the South and East China Seas, Dunford said.

“Each of those nations have leveraged economic and political influence, information operations, unconventional operations and military pressure to advance their national interests,” he added. “I refer to that as adversarial competition that has a military dimension, but falls short of actual conflict.”

The traditional U.S. approach is to think the nation is at peace or at war, but these countries are blurring the lines between peace and war, according to Dunford.

“I like to remind people who have a high level of confidence in assumptions on when, where and how we will fight the next fight … that the Korean War took place right after some of the best strategists that we’ve ever produced as a nation decided to rebalance to Europe,” he said. Military operation plans, therefore, are ill-suited to prepare forces for what defense leaders consider an increasingly complex international security environment, according to Dunford.

A re-evaluation of what constitutes war is necessary because Russian activities in Europe have been carefully orchestrated to fall below the West’s threshold.

Dunford alleged that Moscow was specifically seeking to undermine America’s ability to project power and “the credibility of our alliances” because those two capabilities represent the “centers of gravity” from which the US military draws strength.

“We don’t have mission command today at the strategic level,” he said. “And more importantly, we haven’t set the fundamental conditions that are necessary to establish mission command.”

Previously, the Pentagon’s National Military Strategy documents have been released publicly, but the new version will be classified. The documents are waiting for approval from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

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.

This Is The Future Of The Air Force Reserve


By Debbie Gregory.

On July 15, 2016, Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller was named commander of the Air Force Reserve. She is the first female to hold the position.

As one of the highest ranking women in the military, Miller will have four years to make her mark by ensuring that anyone who joins the Air Force Reserve will play an important role in the branch’s future.

Miller spent eight years on active duty before choosing to switch to the full-time reserves. A few years later, she opened a restaurant and juggled dual military-civilian life.

She is proud to lead the 70,000 men and women of the Air Force Reserve as they stand side-by-side with the active component around the world.

Miller looks to the future in order to increase diversity across the Reserves in lock-step with the Defense Department. The DoD took proactive steps toward creating a more diverse force by making the move to fully integrate women into all combat positions and allow transgender men and women to enlist or commission.

During the four years Miller will spend at the helm, she hopes to make the Reserve a place that offers something unique for all those who volunteer to serve.

“My goal is to get out to every population and let them understand the opportunities that are out there for them.”

Miller intends to continue to build out the Reserves as a crucial part of the Air Force by seeking out the best talent not only from those who transition out of the active component, but also from the civilian population.

“What I am going to do in this particular area is to show an opportunity to serve,” Miller said. “You can serve in your civilian capacity and then bring that same expertise into the military side. There’s many, many opportunities to participate at all levels.”

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.

DoD’s Proposed 2017 Budget Comes in at $583 Billion


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter submitted a proposed $583 billion Defense Department budget for 2017 that focuses more on high-tech future conflicts and less on counterterrorism operations against militants such as the Islamic State group. But the budget does include a significant increase in funding for the fight against Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL.

“The [fiscal year 2017] budget reflects recent strategic threats that have taken place in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe,” the Pentagon said in a statement accompanying the budget documents released on February 9th.

The budget request includes a quadrupling of the funds to support NATO’s effort to counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, raising the current amount of $789 million to $3.4 billion. This increase will allow for the rotation of more U.S. units in Europe, additional training, and the pre-positioning of gear.

“All of this together by the end of 2017 will let us rapidly form a highly-capable combined arms ground force that can respond theater-wide if necessary,” Carter said.

Fiscal year 2017 begins on October 1, 2016.

Carter called Russia, along with China, “our most stressing competitors,” which “reflect a return to a great power competition.”

With Russia’s seizing of Crimea from the Ukraine and China’s claims on disputed islands in the South China Sea, Carter said “we cannot blind ourselves to the actions they appear to choose to pursue.”

The Defense Department budget will shift in focus away from one potential enemy to multiple threats.

“We don’t have the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between current fights and future fights — we have to do both. And that’s what our budget is designed to do,” Carter 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.