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Legislation Aims to Help Working Military Spouses

milspouseemploy

By Debbie Gregory.

Military spouses who want to work suffer from an unemployment rate five times greater than the national average, and they are looking for help from the government to solve the problem.

To that end, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced legislation that would expand a federal military spouse hiring authority and broaden the Pentagon’s transition program to include spouses. The legislation would also order the Pentagon to develop a plan to allow military spouse small businesses to operate on military bases.

“This is not an issue that should be partisan at all,” said Sen. Kaine. “Having been on the Armed Services Committee for five years now, I know the issues where there tends to be partisan difference and I also know the issues where there’s not,” Kaine said.

Frequent moves and unpredictable military deployment and training schedules make it difficult for spouses to hold jobs long enough to establish long-term, successful careers. The bill could also lead to the expansion of the former My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. The program was done away with in 2010, and a scaled-back version was brought back eight months later, but with a reduction in the benefit from $6,000 to $4,000.

Another issue Kaine would like to see addressed is license reciprocity. When spouses work in credentialed fields like therapy, teaching or real estate they often must get new licenses in the state they live in. Kaine and other members of Congress want to make it easier for military spouses to move to a new state without having to get a new license with different standards.

Kaine said he anticipates this bill will ultimately be rolled into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

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.

 

Senate Advances Proposal to Help Veterans with Mental Trauma

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Senate recently passed, on a voice vote, a proposal by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., to help make sure traumatized veterans retain their G.I. benefits.

Peters, along with Steve Daines, R-Mont., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C, had requested the measure as an addition to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The proposal is aimed at helping veterans who may have been erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to negative behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

If the proposal becomes part of the final law, it would require Discharge Review Boards to consider petitions to change the discharge status of service members if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental trauma linked to their military service.

Being dishonorably discharged can cost service members benefits such as being eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs home loans.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed this amendment to support brave men and women who are suffering from mental health trauma experienced during their military service,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “This amendment will help ensure veterans are treated fairly when petitioning their discharge status, and in turn, upholds America’s commitment to our men and women in uniform, who answered the call of duty in defense of our nation.”

“By continuing to overlook these cases, the Department of Defense is only amplifying the invisible wounds of war afflicting many veterans,” Senator Daines stated.  “I’m proud that this bill allows veterans to have their discharges reviewed, taking their PTSD, Military Sexual Assault or Traumatic Brain Injury into account. We’ve known there were many of our veterans who had been discharged without proper consideration. It’s a wrong we need to right.”

“So many of our servicemembers have developed PTSD and brain injuries while on active duty, many of whom were undiagnosed until long after their service was completed,” said Senator Tillis. “I am happy the Senate passed this amendment to provide a fair opportunity for these brave men and women to regain the benefits they lost as a result of conditions we now know were caused by the effects of the trauma they sustained during their service to our nation.”

“Our selfless and brave veterans should never lose out on the benefits they earned because of a health condition like PTSD or MST,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m pleased the Senate has passed our bipartisan amendment to help ensure that the VA is taking care of all of our veterans, no matter what their condition is when they leave the military.”

In 2014, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memo to military records boards to provide for a consistent manner of dealing with veterans’ discharge upgrade requests related to post-traumatic stress disorder. This change from Peters and the others would effectively codify that memo.

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.

Will Women Soon Be Subject to the Draft?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s attempt to take a stand against women in combat backfired.

Hunter (R-CA), who is against integrating combat forces, proposed opening up the Selective Service to include women. “This is about a big war, meaning when you have tens of thousands of people dying — tens of thousands — that is when you have a draft,” he said. But he also vowed to vote against his own proposal.

Last December, the Defense Department decided to open all remaining gender-segregated combat jobs — about 225,000 — to female troops.

Selective Service law as it is currently written now refers specifically to “male persons” in stating who must register and who would be drafted. For women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law.

The proposal garnered enough support for female integration that members of the House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of opening the Selective Service and the draft.

The Selective Service measure is now part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. If passed by Congress, for the first time in our nation’s history, women aged 18-26 would be required to register for the draft,  and could be forced into combat.

The U.S. came close to drafting women during World War II, when there was a shortage of military nurses. However, there was a surge of volunteerism and a draft of women nurses was not needed.

“I actually support your amendment and will be delighted to vote for it,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). “If we want equality in this country, we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” she added.

Retired Navy SEAL Rep. Ryan Zinke, (R-MT) and Hunter have been trying to build opposition to female integration since they introduced the Draft America’s Daughters Act, a bill that is the same as the amendment.

But political momentum appears to be building behind integration and changes to the draft system.

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 Expected to Sign National Defense Authorization Act

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By Debbie Gregory.

Congress sent President Obama a revised $607 billion defense policy bill that the Senate overwhelmingly approved, 91-3, just days after the House passed the bipartisan measure, 370-58.

In spite of the National Defense Authorization Act limitations, especially the provisions designed to block Obama from moving some detainees to federal prisons, the president is expected to sign to sign the bill.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there are too many important provisions in the defense bill for another veto.

“I would expect that you would see the president sign the NDAA when it comes to his desk,” he told a news briefing.

Closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay is an unfulfilled promise of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and Earnest said that the administration would continue to press that goal. “[The signing] certainly does not reflect a change in our position, or the intensity of our position, about the need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”

The annual defense policy bill has passed each year for more than half a century and is one of the few bipartisan achievements of the current Congress.

Among the changes: the bill updates the military retirement system; establishes a new 401(k)-style retirement benefit for all service members; adds a number of reforms to the Pentagon’s acquisition system; strips substantial authority for acquiring new weapons from Pentagon leaders, authorizing the military branches to oversee their own programs; imposes new restrictions on transfers to third countries, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

Congress must pass the remaining 11 appropriations bills, or a larger omnibus agreement, by December 11th , when a temporary spending measure expires. Despite the budget accord, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, warned that a government shutdown was still possible, but said there had been progress toward a larger accord on appropriations.

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 Spending Bill Showdown: Military Connection

Defense Spending

By Debbie Gregory.

The Senate and House Armed Services committees have reconciled their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, setting the stage for a veto showdown with the Obama Administration.

The House passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act Thursday after the House and Senate Armed Services committees reached agreement on a final conference report earlier this week.

On September 30th, t This year, the White House urged Republicans to lift federal budget caps for the Pentagon and non-defense spending in 2016. The Republican-proposed budget would leave those caps in place for non-defense spending but boost defense spending through a war fund not subject to those caps established in 2011.

President Obama has issued a veto threat against the bill, which senior administration officials warn he will follow through on. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday he has already recommended that the president veto it.

In regards to what would happen if the president does veto the bill, a senior staffer on the House Armed Service Committee said, “We’ll see what happens and move from there.”

The current version of the bill would keep the ban on bringing detainees from Guantanamo to the United States for another year. According to Sen. McCain, the Obama administration did not deliver a plan on where to house the detainees.

Other provisions of the bill would continue a ban on transfers to Yemen and add bans on transfers to Syria, Libya and Somalia. It would also allow one-year increases in military healthcare prescription co-pays. It would allow troops who serve fewer than 20 years to receive some retirement benefits, and allow troops to be able to take a lump sum payment after 20 years instead of waiting until they are 60 years old.

The bill would also allow the U.S. to provide arms to Ukraine; provide for coordination between the DoD and VA on mental health issues; allow troops on U.S. bases to carry arms, and ban torture by any U.S. agency.