The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Landmark G.I. Bill to take effect, Veterans' advocates praise new benefits and examine potential shortfalls

There's no doubt that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will bring unprecedented opportunities to this generation's warfighters. Today's volunteer force will be able to earn a four-year college degree from some of the nation's best public institutions without having to fork over a single dime.

To read AMVETS' official release about the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Click Here.

This morning, AMVETS National Publications Editor Isaac Pacheco, a post-9/11 veteran who plans to use his new G.I. Bill, spoke to the merits of the new benefit in an Associated Press story picked up by media outlets around the world.

However, veterans' advocates acknowledge that the new G.I. Bill is not perfect, and that some minor shortfalls will need to be addressed in the coming months, including tuition reimbursement inequities for student attending private colleges in places like California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Another inequity that recently came to the attention to American Veteran was the situation facing former Army Staff Sgt. Shimon Starfury, who is pursuing a masters degree in film at Chapman University in California.

Starfury originally enlisted in the Army in the late 1980s and served a combat tour during the first Gulf War. He separated from the service and earned a bachelor's degree in the 1990s, then reenlisted in 2002 to once again serve overseas.

After only six month in Iraq, Starfury was injured and had to return stateside. Though he remains eligible for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, his time on active duty prior to 9/11 does not count toward his total eligibility, meaning that he only has access to 50 percent of the Chapter 33 entitlements.

In most other states, Starfury's Chapter 33 benefits would still represent a marked increase over his Montgomery G.I. Bill entitlement of $1,300 per month. However, since California's current tuition reimbursement is nonexistent, Starfury is only eligible for 50 percent of the housing and fees allowances, which would only amount to about $1,200 per month.

Starfury said he was surprised that his benefit would actually be lower under the new G.I. Bill and that he couldn't understand why his injury and prior military service would not count toward the new benefit.

Thankfully, Chapman University has signed Yellow Ribbon agreements with the VA, which offer matching tuition with a VA contribution for student-veterans. Though this will help alleviate the burden for students like Starfury, the Yellow Ribbon program is not a cure-all for prior-service inequities.

AMVETS discussed California's situation in an interview with a Sacramento, Calif. NPR affiliate this morning.

Though the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill represents a tremendous opportunity for today's veterans, AMVETS will continue to monitor its implementation and look for ways to ensure that the bill lives up to its expectations for all who have served honorably since 9/11.

As always, American Veteran is eager to hear what you have to say about the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Check back with American Veteran Online on Monday, as we cover the official G.I. Bill kick-off with President Obama and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) at George Mason University in Virginia.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Senate listens to tesimony on VA claims process

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs heard testimony from VA, Department of Defense, DAV, and the Government Accountability Office on the VA claims process and progress on mitigating the daunting VA claims backlog.

To view video from yesterday's hearing, Click Here.

To review each witness' written statements, Click Here.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the hearing was the new GAO report highlighting improvements and continued shortcomings in VA's efforts to mitigate the claims backlog, which veterans' advocates believe is approaching one million claims.

The GAO report notes that the VA experienced a dramatic increase in the overall time it takes to process a claim between 2005 and 2007, topping out at 200 days. Over the last year, VA has managed to reign in the average claims-processing time to about 180 days. The GAO believes that the initial increase was due not only to an overall increase in volume of claims resulting from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also because of legislative and policy changes, entitling veterans to a variety of new benefits.

However, the GAO also reported that the overall time for VA to adjudicate claims appeals has actually increased to a time of about 21 months--a number that AMVETS leaders balk at--in spite of the overall number of appeals dropping dramatically. VA claims that repeated submissions of new evidence and multiple pending appeals have exacerbated the situation.

Since 2005, GAO reports that VA has increased its claims-processing personnel by 58 percent, with plans to hire an additional 1,500 employees in the coming year. VA has also relaxed its rules on redistributed claims work, allowing overtaxed regional offices to ship claims to offices capable of handling the workload.

During the hearing, DAV outlined its plan to mitigate the claims backlog, a system that would take full advantage of 21st century technology, with a single point-of-entry for claims, and the capability to digitally track all records which have been submitted. For a full overview of DAV's proposal, Click Here.

The claims backlog is a critical issue to AMVETS and many leaders across the veterans' community. AMVETS encourages veterans seeking service-connected compensation from the VA to visit with a certified veterans' service officer who offer their services free of charge. To view the most up-to-date list of AMVETS National Service Officers on the official AMVETS Web site, Click Here.

American Veteran will continue to follow work on Capitol Hill to ensure that the VA claims backlog is properly addressed. As always, we welcome your comments on this issue.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Congress announces hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Yesterday, Military Times reported that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees plan to hold hearings on the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy once Congress reconvenes in the fall. The announcement came on Monday from Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Gillibrand and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) both support legislation that would essentially overturn the policy, which was enacted in 1993 as a compromise allowing for homosexual individuals to serve in the military, provided their personal lives remained private.

Murphy, an Iraq veteran, announced his efforts spearheading the campaign, "Let Them Serve," on July 8. To read the original story from American Veteran Online, Click Here.

Two weeks ago, American Veteran asked for comments on the issue from more than 400 AMVETS Facebook group members. Many of the responses were in support of overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for a variety of reasons.

Comments on the blog can be viewed on the original posting, but here is a sample of the responses we received via Facebook:

"I know that there is a difference of opinion among soldiers, but for the most part, I think we all value good soldiers, leaders, and those willing to sacrifice. The military confronted racial and gender discrimination in the past, and have made great strides in those areas. I believe don't ask, don't tell is obsolete. We need to judge people on merit and qualifications, regardless of what they do in their private lives behind closed doors." - Glenn (OIF Army veteran)

"In my opinion, the law needs to stay as is. If changed, I believe it will have a negative impact on morale,ability to work as a cohesive team(especially in combat),it is an unhealthy, unnatural lifestyle choice. In a military situation,keep your personal,sexual lifestyle choice to yourself. This would be too socially disruptive." - Shirley (AMVETS supporter)

"When I joined the Army in 1988 the rule was simple, if you are gay you are out. Then Clinton gets into office and say rule changed: We wont ask and you won't tell. Now somewhere along the lines we are doing away with the rule. What is going on with people today? Why can't we get a rule and stick with it? No matter what they come up with, it just won't matter because someone is going to get offended by the ruling. I was offended when the rule was changed to "Don't Ask Don't Tell." We in the military were and are held to a high standard, our morals are expected to be higher than anyone else. And yet we have to be the most acceptable people on the planet, because we worry who is going to get offended. So never mind how the armed forces are going to deal with this, our opinion never matters anyways." - Richard (AMVETS life member)

"I don't care about the sexual orientation of the people I serve with. As long as they can do their job they'll be fine in my book." - Matt (OIF Army veteran)

"Personally, I am not a fan of homosexuals and their lifestyle disgusts me. But, I believe that they should not be exempt from risking their lives and dying for their country the same way straight men and women do. If they are physically and mentally able to complete all training then let them join. If they can't then get them out. The only real down side I can see is that many men and woman will not be comfortable having a gay person living, bathing or eating next to them, so that could be an issue. We don't need any issues that could cause a soldier to lose focus because when you lose focus bad things can happen." - Melissa (AMVETS Facebook group member)

American Veteran will post details on this fall's hearings as soon as they become available. Check back regularly for updates. In the meantime, we're eager to hear what you have to say on this controversial issue.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

House approves caregiver bill; VSOs push for the Senate version

Yesterday, the House passed its version of a new VA family caregiver bill that would establish a new set of benefits for family and non-family member caregivers for wounded warriors.

However, veterans' advocates note that the House bill (H.R. 3155) would create a program only available to a small fraction of wounded veterans. The Senate version of the bill (S. 801) would make up to 34,000 wounded veterans eligible for the program.

"When we're looking at a version of a bill between the House and Senate, AMVETS usually believes 'more is better,'" said AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "If more veterans will be served, or if more benefits will be offered, we usually encourage Congress to accept that version of the bill."

The House bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), contains a more restrictive definition of severely-wounded combat veterans, which advocates believe would only allow up to 200 caregivers to take advantage of the new benefits. Meanwhile, the Senate bill, introduced by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), contains a much broader definition of eligible veterans.

The VA has testified that it does not wish to assume the responsibility for training family caregivers since it would set a dangerous precedent of the VA providing services and benefits for non-veterans.

Here is a line-by-line breakdown of each bill and the terms of eligibility:

H.R. 3155:

(A) provides caregiver services to a veteran who--
        `(i) was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom; and
        `(ii) for purposes of this subsection, is determined by the Secretary--
          `(I) to have a service-connected disability or illness that is severe;
          `(II) to be in need of caregiver services, such that without such services, the veteran would require hospitalization, nursing home care, or other residential institutional care; and
          `(III) based on an examination by a physician employed by the Department (or, in areas where no such physician is available, by a physician carrying out such function under a contract or fee arrangement), to be unable to carry out the activities (including instrumental activities) of daily living;
S. 801:

(b) Eligible Veterans- (1) For purposes of this section, an eligible veteran is a veteran (or member of the Armed Forces undergoing medical discharge from the Armed Forces)--
      `(A) who has a serious injury (including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma, or other mental disorder) incurred or aggravated in line of duty in the active military, naval, or air service on or after the date described in paragraph (2); and
      `(B) whom the Secretary determines, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense as necessary, is in need of personal care services because of--
        `(i) an inability to perform one or more independent activities of daily living;
        `(ii) a need for supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological or other impairment or injury; or
        `(iii) such other matters as the Secretary shall establish in consultation with the Secretary of Defense as appropriate.

As the Senate version indicates, the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs can confer on who else will be eligible for the new program simply based on the service-connected injury and its effects on everyday life, without the constraints of domiciliary care found in the House version.

Check back with American Veteran Online for updates as each caregiver program act moves through Congress, and please let us know what you think of this potential new program.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow the developing story behind the capture of Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl.

AMVETS faxed and mailed its letter to the chairman of Fox News, demanding an apology for the network's off-color remarks regarding the young soldier and the circumstances of his capture by the Taliban.

We will also continue to follow VA's implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which is set to roll out on Monday, August 3. AMVETS anticipates a smooth roll-out of the new benefits on the part of the VA, but it remains to be seen whether or not colleges and universities are adequately prepared.

We will also follow the final hearings on Capitol Hill in the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs prior to the August recess.

AMVETS has also been following the current health care reform bill, as it moves through Congress. AMVETS raised some questions on potential "unforeseen consequences" of the current bill. American Veteran Online will continue to follow the story and keep you up to date on the responses AMVETS receives from each of the committees involved.

As always, American Veteran is eager to hear what you have to say about the stories we cover. We're also eager to see content from the field, which we can post on the blog and in the print edition of American Veteran magazine.

Finally, if you choose to post comments to the blog, we encourage you to either log on with a Google account, or leave your name at the bottom of an anonymous quote. This way, we can publish your thoughts in the print edition of American Veteran.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Senate votes down alternate engine for Joint Strike Fighter

Yesterday, the Senate voted down a provision in the FY2010 defense budget that would continue to fund an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Earlier this month, AMVETS drafted a letter to House appropriators, asking them to support the Pentagon's decision to scrap the wasteful program. While the controversial provision passed in the House, the Senate's decision to squash the program could now set the stage for a contentious conference on the budget.

According to the letter from AMVETS National Headquarters, AMVETS wants to see the Pentagon focus on mission-critical acquisitions for the Department of Defense. The Pentagon has been trying to kill the alternative engine program since 2006, when the Bush Administration first labeled the program as wasteful.

However, Congress continued to tack on the provision, wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money for a program that America's top military minds say they do not want.

Over the last few weeks, top brass from all branches set to receive versions of the Joint Strike Fighter have discussed exactly why the program would cripple military readiness. Air Force Gen. Mark Shackelford said that the alternate engine program would delay the timely delivery of more than 50 fighters to the Air Force's already-strained fleet of fighter jets.

The Navy said it cannot possibly maintain multiple engine systems for its fleet of Joint Strike Fighters during sea-based operations.

Finally, the Marine Corps called for an end to the alternative engine program, since the funding would be diverted from the badly-needed H1 helicopter program. In a recent letter to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who sponsored the amendment to kill the alternate engine program, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said that the helicopter programs needed to continue unabated, or the Corps risked relying on a fleet long-overdue for retirement to transport Marines on and off the battlefield.

Conway's comments struck a particular chord with AMVETS leaders who had served in the Marine Corps, such as AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley.

"Conway's comments only reiterate what we heard from Secretary Gates on this issue--one dollar of pork is a dollar that we can't spend on our Marines," Kelley said. "I was happy to see the Senate vote responsibly on this issue, and we must continue to ensure that the next defense budget represents the best interests of our military."

Proponents of the alternate engine have stirred tension over potential job losses in a tough economy. However, executives from GE-Rolls Royce, the contractor for the alternate engine, confirmed before the Senate that the company's industrial base would not be threatened, should the program be terminated. In addition, the program remains in the development phase, with a large portion of the work set to be shipped overseas, should the project advance.

AMVETS will continue to push members of the House to support the Pentagon's position on this issue. Continued development of the alternative engine will siphon billions of badly-needed defense dollars to a program that threatens the well-being of our troops on the ground.

American Veteran will continue to track this story, as it develops. In the meantime, we're eager to hear what you have to say about the issue.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Live from Capitol Hill: House VA Subcommittee listens to testimony on Philadelphia VA's brachytherapy program

This morning, the House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to discuss the recent brachytherapy issues at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and issues surrounding the prostate cancer procedures at VA health care facilities nationwide.

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) chaired the hearing along with ranking member David Roe (R-Tenn.). The subcommittee reiterated concerns from the last hearing that the issues uncovered at the Philadelphia VA may be indicative of a system-wide issue.

To view video from today's hearing, Click Here.

To view a list of today's witnesses and read their statements, Click Here.

American Veteran originally reported on the preliminary hearing at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center late last month. Check back shortly with American Veteran Online for details of today's hearing.

UPDATE: Fox News unrepentant on Bergdahl comments

Last night, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters had the opportunity to back down from his heinous accusations against Taliban POW and Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl on Fox's O'Reilly Factor.

Unfortunately, Peters chose to reiterate his conjecture on the situation surrounding Bergdahl's capture. The video is available on YouTube.

Peters claims that the "Army knows" that Bergdahl deserted his post. However, the Army has refused to comment on the situation, citing operational security and concern for the Bergdahl family. In fact, in an effort to protect the identity of the missing soldier and his loved ones, the Pentagon deliberately withheld Bergdahl's name from the public for more than two weeks, until the Taliban released its illegal propaganda video of their prisoner.

What's worse about this second interview is that host Bill O'Reilly agrees with Peters' baseless assertions and suggests that the media is being too easy on Bergdahl. O'Reilly suggests that Bergdahl must be "crazy" for abandoning his post, expounding on his guest's speculation, and suggests that Bergdahl does not deserve our legitimate concern.

The hateful rhetoric spewed by Peters and O'Reilly has absolutely no place in this discussion and certainly cannot be construed as news. As Peters admits in his interview, he is not a combat veteran and he never commanded in combat during his 22 years in the military. O'Reilly has never served. How could either of these men know about being held as a prisoner of war? As a combat veteran of the war in Iraq, I'm personally insulted by their comments.

In my line of work, I've had the unique opportunity to speak with some of our nation's brave former POWs. Every time, I hear that there is only so much a prisoner can do to resist. Our enemies are brutal. As we saw in the Bergdahl video, this young soldier fears for his life. He was forced into making his statements about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan because American withdrawal is what the Taliban is demanding in exchange for Bergdahl's life. How dare anyone criticize a young man trapped in a situation that so few of us could legitimately empathize with.

I remember my own limited Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training during Army AIT and prior to my deployment to Iraq. While it is true that it is our duty, as soldiers, to resist and escape, even the U.S. military acknowledges that everyone has a breaking point. Did Peters miss this block of instruction in his 22 years of service?

Bergdahl is a prisoner of war. Our nation needs to rally behind the young soldier, his unit in Afghanistan, and his loved ones in Idaho. We must continue to demand his safe return. Fox News should be ashamed for giving Peters and O'Reilly this kind of forum to propagate their unfounded and morally reprehensible messages.

For all we know, Bergdahl was taken against his will by the Afghan soldiers he was purported to have left the base with, and subsequently sold to Taliban warlords, as initially reported. During my time in Iraq, I know that many of our local "allies" liked to play both sides of the ball. Reporting that he is a deserter or a traitor is utterly tasteless--especially when you know that his parents and his girlfriend are probably watching.

AMVETS has drafted a letter of its own to Fox News executives demanding an apology for the network's continued skewed commentary on this issue, which will be available on the official AMVETS Web site later today.

Pfc. Bergdahl and his family remain in our thoughts and prayers today, and I leave you with this: Let's stop speculating on circumstances we know nothing about, and just remember that a young man from Idaho raised his right hand and swore to defend our nation in a time of war. He deserves our respect and he deserves to come home safe.


(Photo: Official U.S. Army photo of Pfc. Bergdahl, courtesy of Fort Richardon Public Affairs.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BREAKING: Veterans in Congress scold Fox News for pundit's comments on Pfc. Bergdahl

Tonight, American Veteran received a copy of a letter sent by a bipartisan consortium of congressmen who served in the military demanding an apology from Fox News for airing comments by a military analyst criticizing Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held hostage by the Taliban for nearly three weeks.

The analyst, retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, speculated that Bergdahl deserted his unit and that the Taliban could "save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills" by simply killing their American hostage. Peters' comments are available on YouTube.

Peters' comments did not end here, though. He went on to say that Bergdahl's comments in the video posted by the Taliban were unprofessional and possibly treasonous. However, Bergdahl's comments were consistent with a hostage under duress, coerced into making certain statements, as AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner noted in yesterday's reaction to the video.

The letter, drafted by Congressmen John Boccieri (D-Ohio), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and undersigned by 20 additional members, calls on Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to apologize to the family of Bergdahl for his ridiculous comments. AMVETS will draft a letter of its own in the morning. However, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley called the segment "sickening" earlier tonight, noting that Bergdahl is an American soldier and a prisoner of war who should be in our thoughts and prayers.

American Veteran has been covering the Bergdahl story since the soldier disappeared from his forward operating base in Afghanistan on July 2.

Check back with American Veteran Online tomorrow morning to read a copy of the letter and to see AMVETS' response to the horrific allegations.

(Image: Page one of the official letter from Reps. Boccieri, Hunter, Murphy and 20 other veterans serving in Congress to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. Image courtesy of the Office of Congressman John Boccieri.)

Keeping Posted Online: Pa. AMVETS award engraved sabers to Soldier, NCO, and Airman of the Year

At the 25th annual Pennsylvania National Guard conference, Army Spc. Desirea R. Gardiner was honored as Pennsylvania's Soldier of the Year and Army Sgt. Christopher A. Grabowski was honored as Non-commissioned Officer of the Year. Each soldier was awarded the Army Commendation Medal by Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright, Pennsylvania adjutant general.

Gary Fry, past commander of the AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania, also took part in the evening's events by presenting Gardiner and Grabowski with engraved non-commissioned officers' sabers on behalf of AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania in recognition of each soldier's demonstrated leadership.

Air National Guard Airman of the Year, Senior Airman Brent Beckner, was serving overseas at the time of the conference. He will also receive a commendation from Maj. Gen. Wright and an engraved saber from AMVETS at a special ceremony later this year.

(Photos: Top: Spc. Gardiner, along with her AMVETS sabre, poses for a photo with Gary Fry and Maj. Gen. Wright during the Pennsylvania National Guard Conference in May 2009. Bottom: Sgt. Grabowski, along with his AMVETS sabre, also poses for a photo with Fry and Wright during the conference. Photos courtesy of Judy Fry and the AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

UPDATE: Taliban release video of captured U.S. soldier

Over the weekend, the Taliban released a 28-minute video of the U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan earlier this month. In the interest of good taste, American Veteran refuses to share the Taliban video on this blog.

The video has been condemned by the Pentagon as a violation of international law. AMVETS leaders have also condemned the video, which contains a statement by the captured soldier opposing the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan--a statement AMVETS believes was clearly made under duress.

Since disappearing from his forward operating base in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to protect the identity of the soldier and his family stateside. However, the release of the video prompted the Department of Defense to acknowledge that the soldier is 23-year-old Idaho native Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, who was serving with the Alaska-based 1st of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. According to a Pentagon press release, Bergdahl's duty status was officially changed to missing-captured.

This morning, the Associated Press and Military Times reported that Bergdahl's home town was well aware of his capture, but citizens were respecting the family's wishes for privacy in the matter.

Reports conflict over how Bergdahl ended up in Taliban custody. At first, the U.S. believed he walked off of his base in Afghanistan with three Afghan soldiers, apparently leaving his weapon behind. Initial reports from the Taliban suggested that he was stumbling around drunk when they found him. In the video, Bergdahl claims he was lagging behind a patrol.

In the video, Bergdahl appeared to be in good health, though he seemed frightened over the prospect that he may not make it home and his statements sounded coerced. His head was clean-shaven and he appeared to be growing a beard--two traits consistent with the appearance of many Islamist militants.

AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner reiterated his call on the Departments of Defense and State to do everything in their power to safely return Bergdahl to his unit and his loved ones. Hapner also called on the Afghan government to hold Bergdahl's captors accountable for their actions.

In his open letter, Hapner said that the Taliban video was a clear violation of international law, and chided Bergdahl's Taliban captors for their violations. Hapner's letter will be posted to the official AMVETS Web site shortly.

As this story develops, check back with American Veteran Online for updates.

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow news out of Afghanistan of the captured American soldier being held by the Taliban. Over the weekend, a video of the soldier was released. We will post more details shortly.

We will also follow this week's hearings on Capitol Hill, including the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs' follow-up hearing on the Philadelphia VA brachytherapy issue.

Late last week, it came to the attention of AMVETS' leaders that the current health care reform bill may have unintended consequences for the veterans' community in its current form. AMVETS has drafted a letter to key legislators voicing these concerns. American Veteran Online will keep you up to date on the health care reform bill and its potential impacts on the military and veterans' communities.

As always, we are eager to see content from around the country for "Keeping Posted," and if you have any other ideas or thoughts that you would like to share with our editorial staff, please let us know.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Army Corps of Engineers snubs veterans on work at Arlington National Cemetery

In May 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers posted a preliminary solicitation seeking contractors for excavation and grading work at Arlington National Cemetery. The work was specifically set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs). To view the official notification and subsequent amendments, visit the Corps' posting on

After only a few short weeks online, the solicitation changed, apparently setting aside the work at our nation's most hallowed veterans' cemetery for Historically Underserved Business Zone (HUBZone) contractors.

When the veterans' community caught wind of the change, it prompted some significant questions to the Corps about the solicitation and bid processes.

Upon further inquiry, AMVETS legislative department learned that the original posting lacked proper coding, making it appear as though the Corps was not actually looking for potential bids, but rather simply companies that would be interested in the kind of work offered at Arlington.

When the original posting went onto, only two SDVOSBs replied, and only one was actually qualified to do the work. Upon learning of this, the Corps decided to open up the work for HUBZone contractors.

However, it came to the attention of Corps administrators that the original coding was flawed, meaning that veteran contractors were not properly informed of the opportunity. This oversight prompted requests from the veterans' community to reopen the bid process for both veteran-owned businesses and HUBZone contractors that had expressed an interest, taking into consideration the Corps' clerical error.

The Corps balked at this idea, noting that their arbitrary internal deadline had passed and that the work would be posted exclusively for HUBZone contractors. To date, 23 SDVOSBs have inquired about the work at Arlington, compared to four HUBZone contractors. Only one contractor is certified as both.

It seems unconscionable that the civilian leadership behind the scenes at the Army Corps of Engineers would not acknowledge their mistake to ensure an equitable bid process. Veterans should be given first priority to maintain the final resting place of veterans.

The Corps plans to post the official solicitation for bids on this project next week exclusively for HUBZone contractors.

Contact the Army Corps of Engineers today and tell them to reopen this contract to service-disabled veteran's small businesses. To view a list of contact information for the Corps, Click Here.

(Photo: An Army bugler plays "Taps" during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in March 2009 honoring fallen military medical personnel. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, released.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

UPDATE: Taliban leaders threaten to kill captured U.S. soldier

This afternoon, the Associated Press reported that the Taliban has threatened to kill a U.S. soldier in their custody, should the U.S. fail to cease operations in two volatile regions of Afghanistan. American Veteran first commented on the soldier's disappearance on July 2.

To view the original story, Click Here.

The soldier, who apparently walked off his unit's forward operating base unarmed, has not been identified by the Pentagon. A Taliban spokesman claims the soldier was drunk when he was captured and that he remains in good health, barring the American response.

AMVETS leaders continue to call on the Department of Defense to do everything in its power to ensure the soldier's safe return, hunt down his captors, and hold them accountable for their actions.

American Veteran
Online will continue to track this story.

Live from Capitol Hill: AMVETS to testify on state approving agencies

This afternoon, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley will testify before the House VA Subcommittee onEconomic Opportunity on the evolution of state approving agencies for utilizing VA education benefits.

State approving agencies are the approving bodies in each state around the country tasked with approving academic and technical training programs for which veterans may use their VA entitlements. Kelley will join leaders from other top VSOs in explaining where the veterans' community feels these agencies should focus.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), will also hear from leaders in the National Association of State Approving Agencies and the Veterans' Benefits Administration with the VA.

To view a list of today's witnesses, Click Here, and be sure to check back with American Veteran Online for updates and multimedia links, as they become available.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Issue of American Veteran Now Available

This morning, the latest edition of American Veteran magazine went to print. The summer issue is already available online, and paper copies should reach your mailboxes in the coming days.

This month's issue features a special interview with retired Marine Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, the wounded warrior behind the Marine Corps' groundbreaking Wounded Warrior Regiment.

We also highlighted John Schupp's Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran (SERV) program, which is expanding beyond Cleveland State University with the support of AMVETS and the veterans' community.

Editor Isaac Pacheco also introduced a new "Tactical to Practical" column, reviewing gear that student-veterans may find useful when tackling their academic challenges ahead.

In this summer's "Keeping Posted," we highlight AMVETS from Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. Their stories range from a unique tribute to a fallen Marine to the continued contributions of a retired Air Force service dog.

Thank you for all of your submissions over the last couple of months. We received a wealth of "Keeping Posted" content for the summer's issue. Keep on the look out for more stories on American Veteran Online in the coming weeks.

(Photos: Top Right: Lt. Col. Maxwell smiles as family and friends gather for his recent retirement ceremony at the Marine Corps Museum in Triangle, Va., on June 26, 2009. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco. Bottom Left: Schupp discusses SERV with AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley outside of the Cannon House Office building between meetings on Capitol Hill. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

UPDATE: House Passes Advance Appropriations

On Friday afternoon, Congress officially passed the FY2010 military construction and VA budget, which included the first advance budget for the VA. The House version, which has a companion bill in the Senate, includes $48.2 billion in funds for VA health care immediately available in FY2011.

AMVETS and the other nation's top veterans' service organizations have been calling for Congress to overhaul the VA funding mechanism for more than a decade. To read AMVETS' response, Click Here.

The Senate is expected to act shortly on advance appropriations. Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates as this story develops.

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will continue to follow advance VA appropriations as the Senate looks to debate the issue. Last week, the House passed the first advance VA budget, a critical step which AMVETS' leaders were proud to see.

AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley was quoted on the Stars & Stripes blog about why advance appropriations is so important.

We will also continue to follow unfolding events surrounding VA contracting, burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and student-veterans' "centers of excellence."

Recently, AMVETS leaders were informed that last summer's provision in the Higher Education Act may receive funding for FY2011.

In the coming weeks, we will also keep you posted on the latest convention news, as AMVETS prepares to gather for the 65th annual AMVETS National Convention in New Orleans, La.

As always, we're eager to see photos and stories from the field, and we still eagerly await submissions for our "Women in Service" series. Let us know how we're doing. Leave your comments on our stories, and check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Live from Captiol Hill: Advance Appropriations for the VA goes to the House floor

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on the military construction and VA budget for FY2010, which includes the first advance appropriation provision for FY2011. Today's critical vote would establish a necessary precedent for Congress to fund the VA one year in advance, assuring sufficient, timely and predictable funding for veterans' health care.

Live video of today's floor debate is available through C-Span's Live Feed.

AMVETS and the Partnership for VA Health Care Budget Reform have been lobbying for an overhaul of the VA funding mechanism for more than a decade. AMVETS leaders are happy to see that the current Congress is seriously addressing this vital issue.

Check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates, as advance VA appropriations inches closer to becoming a reality.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pa. Congressman Seeks to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Yesterday, Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) announced a new campaign to repeal the controversial military policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," at the National Press Club in Washington.

Murphy announced that he would spearhead the effort to pass the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1283), overturning the controversial 1993 policy banning openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military.

To read Murphy's official statement on the issue, Click Here.

Murphy, an Army veteran of the war in Iraq who was recently highlighted in the winter issue of American Veteran, said that the policy prohibited the military from recruiting and retaining the best an brightest individuals, and cited how more than 13,000 service members have been discharged under the policy since it was enacted.

In recent months, the Obama Administration has backed away from its campaign promise to overturn the policy, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has voiced his willingness to investigate a "more humane" way to enforce the regulation.

Proponents of upholding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" have voiced concerns over a breakdown of discipline and unit cohesion, should the policy be overturned. In April, the Washington Post published an op-ed by four retired generals who sought to explain how repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would only serve to weaken the military.

American Veteran will follow this story closely as it develops. In the meantime, we are eager to hear what you have to say on this controversial issue.

(Photo: Rep. Murphy sits down with American Veteran magazine to discuss veterans' issues in December 2008. Photo by Jay Agg.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Capitol Hill Update: Cancer Treatment Hearing Postponed

Earlier in the week, we mentioned a hearing in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on the Philadelphia VA Medical Center's brachytherapy issues. Unfortunately, the hearing has been postponed until Wednesday, July 22.

To view the committee's calendar of upcoming events, including the brachytherapy hearing, Click Here.

In the meantime, check back regularly with American Veteran Online for updates on AMVETS' work on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Senate takes another step toward advance VA funding

Last night, the Senate subcommittee for military construction and VA appropriations approved the FY2010 budget, which includes a provision for advance appropriations. AMVETS leaders applauded the subcommittee's swift action in an effort to provide sufficient, timely and predictable funding to the VA.

The bill, which will now go before the full committee for a vote, sets aside more than $48 billion for medical services, support and facilities to be available Oct. 1, 2010, the start of FY2011.

The Obama Administration has indicated that it would support advance VA funding. However, Military Times reports that several logistical hurdles must be addressed before advance funding can take effect.

For years, AMVETS has been calling on Congress to overhaul the VA funding mechanism. AMVETS leaders will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure that advance VA appropriations becomes a reality.

The committee could vote on the budget as early as this week. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates.

To view the committee's press release, Click Here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we will look back at the Fourth of July and ways in which AMVETS commemorated our nation's birth around the country.

We will also catch up with the AMVETS Legislative Department, as Congress reconvenes. On Wednesday, American Veteran will cover another hearing on the VA brachytherapy issue, as well as the development of the VA and Defense budgets in the Senate.

American Veteran's editorial staff is also in the final stages of building the summer issue of the magazine, where we will discuss the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which is set to roll out on August 1.

We also continue to follow the situation in Afghanistan, where an American soldier remains missing in action and Marines have commenced major operations against the Taliban.

As always, we're eager to hear from Posts and Departments about the unique programs and events taking place around the country. We also continue to look for submissions for our "Women in Service" feature.

Be sure to check in regularly with American Veteran Online for updates.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BREAKING: U.S. Soldier Captured in Afghanistan

This morning, the U.S. military publicly acknowledged that a U.S. Army soldier went missing on Tuesday night in Afghanistan.

This afternoon, CNN reported that the soldier had been captured by "low-level militants" along with three Afghan soldiers. The American was subsequently sold to an anti-American war lord Siraj Haqqani and the Taliban claims he is being held in a "safe location."

Though the Pentagon confirms that the soldier's family has been notified, the soldier's name remains unavailable to the public.

Nevertheless, the thoughts and prayers of AMVETS' leaders go out to the missing soldier and his loved ones as they cope with this ordeal.

Today, there remains one additional soldier listed as missing, Army Sgt. Ahmed Altaie, an Iraqi expatriate who disappeared while visiting with family in Iraq. As always, AMVETS calls on the Pentagon and the Department of State to do everything within their power to bring all of our missing soldiers home safely.

Check back with American Veteran Online for updates as this story develops.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cmdr. Hapner's Visit to the Front Lines

Last week, AMVETS National Commander John C. Hapner had the opportunity to visit troops serving on the front lines in Iraq. Hapner, along with leaders from other top veterans' organizations, took part in a Department of Defense informational visit, which was designed to ensure that the veterans' community has a complete picture of the situations molding our newest generation of combat veterans.

AMVETS recently highlighted Hapner's trip overseas and lessons-learned on the official AMVETS Web site.

Department of Defense photographers furnished several photos from Hapner's visit, which American Veteran online is happy to share with our readers:

(Above: Cmdr. Hapner, second from right, met with NATO forces training the Iraqi National Police. DoD photo, released.)

(Above: Cmdr. Hapner, right, traveled via Blackhawk helicopter in the requisite body armor and kevlar, while visiting troops on forward operating bases across Iraq. DoD photo, released.)

Since returning from Iraq, Cmdr. Hapner has once again hit the road to visit with AMVETS across the country. However, Hapner seized the opportunity to shoot dozens of photos chronicling his experiences while in Iraq. Once Hapner returns to National Headquarters in Lanham, Md., American Veteran Online will share additional photos from Commander's personal collection.

(Top Photo: Cmdr. Hapner, second from right, poses for a photo alongside one of the remaining portraits of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Characatures of Hussein were omnipresent in cities and towns across Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003. DoD photo, released.)